Book Review: MY LIFE WITH DETH

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my life with 'dethDavid Ellefson / Joel McIver
Howard Books
2013

I really shouldn’t need to point this out, but in the interest of this blog post’s subject matter, I am a big Megadeth fan. Ever since getting my face sand-blasted off after purchasing Rust In Peace at the tender age of 17 — my first proper taste of the band, and it was a doozy — they’ve been very consistent with continually doing so, even during their low periods, more so than the Venom that spawned Megadeth’s Carnage, Metallica, ever did.

I think I popped something reaching for that mixed metaphor. Yeah, I’ll be feeling that for a few days.

Anyway, of the two Daves associated with the band, I’ve already read the biography for main man Dave Mustaine, and reviewed it quite a few years ago on my previous blog (it’s been moved here on this one, in case you were morbidly curious). A few months ago, while perusing the ebook selection on my Google Plus account, I came across the autobiography of the other Dave in the group, bassist and co-founder David Ellefson. I was rather jazzed to read this one; finally, we get the viewpoint of someone who had been with Megadeth and all the wackiness involved since the very beginning, save for a stretch where he wasn’t part of the band for…reasons.

Right at the start, Dave Ellefson writes in My Life With Deth that this was a book he really didn’t want to write. As he points out early on, these kind of biographies are a dime a dozen, and all contain the same tragic story. You read one, you’ve read them all. It’s the same kind of pattern you get with the VH1 Behind The Music series, really. Fine, understood. But, this book itself is only 256 pages long; 188 if you discount the final pages being a discography, an index (?) and the obligatory thanks section. That’s not a lot of pages to go into detail on a career that spanned three decades not only founding and playing in one of the legendary Big Four of thrash metal bands, inspiring generations to pick up the bass, but also the in-between times where he was broke and had to get a 9-5 type job just to get by. Mind you, this was with Peavey, so he didn’t exactly go back to slinging fries at a burger joint after he was first booted out of Megadeth. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here…

In My Life With Deth, Ellefson takes us through his upbringing in rural Minnesota, first getting interested in music, and working up to playing gigs in and around the surrounding Midwest area; moving to LA and befriending some guy named Dave Mustaine, forming Megadeth, getting into drugs and the struggle to break free from his addictions, his career with Megadeth to his leaving the band, his post-Megadeth ventures and careers, his resulting fued with Mustaine and eventual patching up of the relationship. Oh, he also touches on his Christian faith.

Oh, yeah. Dave Ellefson’s a professing Christian. As such, not only does he talk about this, but each chapter ends with a brief “what I’ve learned from all this” takeaway. It’s definitely not something yo see in your standard rock n’ roll biography, here.

Overall, My Life With ‘Deth is rather brief, and quite frankly seems to be missing a bit of meat. This may be Ellefson’s design, as he tells his tale less as an excuse to dish dirt and cause controversy, and as more of a “these were the mistakes I’ve made, let’s learn from this” kind of story. If you’re looking for something like Motley Crue’s biography The Dirt, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, I’m afraid. If you’re looking for a rather detailed, point-by-point analysis of one of the greatest metal bands to ever have existed…well, again, you may be less than satisfied with this. But, if you’re looking for some light reading and have some time to kill, My Life With ‘Deth is a good way to fill the time.

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Book Review: BROTHER SAM- The Short, Spectacular Life of Sam Kinison

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brother sam book coverBill Kinison w/Steve Delsohn
William Morrow and Company, Inc.
1994

Sam Kinison was Lenny Bruce at warp speed.  He was not only beyond hip, he was beyond gonzo.  He was a white Richard Pryor; a preacher-turned-comedian, a primal screamer who shrieked for our sins.  He was knwn as the “rock and roll comic” – a burly, volatile high-wire act, calculated to offend, demolishing taboos on national television with brute force.  When he lost his life in April 1992 at the age of thirty-eight, behind the wheel of a sports car east of Los Angeles, many of his fans didn’t know about his past.  The most successful comic of the 1980s was the son of a poor Illinois preacher – an unhappy child from a torn, dysfunctional family, plagued by low self-esteem and fated for disappointment.  This first full account of Kinison’s whiplashing life is written by the person who lived closest to its subject – Sam’s brother, Bill Kinison, a traveling preacher for seventeen years who gave up his vocation to manage Sam’s comedy career.  Bill covers Sam’s checkered early years; his sudden ascent to fame in 1985 and flamboyant life in show business; his personal struggles wiht liquor, drugs, and sexual excess; and the feelings of a brother doomed to take care of a brother born to raise hell.

I first discovered the comedian known as Sam Kinison in one of the more unlikely places to discover stand-up comedy – within the pages of Circus Magazine, a music rag dedicated primarily to rock and metal.  First I saw the ad for his just-released album, Have You Seen Me Lately?  Then a write-up piece describing a Kinison show that culminated with a bunch of bigger names in rock at the time joining the comedian on-stage for a jam-session.  Okay, that got my attention.  Then I stumbled upon the video for his cover of “Wild Thing” on MTV later that year while visiting my grandmother (who had cable), and being blown away by this stocky built, anti-pretty boy in a head scarf and a trench coat screaming altered (and funny) lyrics to a hard rock rendition of a 1960s classic.  I remember thinking, crap, this is that guy?  This was the greatest thing I’ve heard at the time.  Keep in mind, it was the tail end of the 1980s and I was a Midwest-dwelling 15-year-old rural boy.  Of course, finding any of his comedy albums at the time was hard, and then convincing my parents that I should spend whatever money I had on it when I did find something was even harder.  Mostly, I got my fix by borrowing a schoolmate’s copy.

Over the years, I was still interested in this man’s spectacularly intense and brief life, if not so much his comedy routines. After finding this particular biography of Sam Kinison at Half Price Books, I have a bit more insight outside of the Wikipedia page, and this from the perspective of Sam’s brother, Bill Kinison.

The story unfolds for Sam, growing up the son of a preacher, his dysfunctional family life and his own brief stint as a Pentecostal preacher, then his introduction to comedy, working his way up through the clubs, to his fateful appearance on Rodney Dangerfield’s Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special in 1985, to his prominence as a rock star comedian, partying along with the Los Angeles Sunset Strip scene, and getting lost in a sea of drugs and booze along the way, to the eventual death he endured on the way to a show soon after his marriage. As to the minute specifics…well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out. Yeah, I know; I’m a jerk like that.

As a biography, Brother Sam is a fairly breezy read. So far, it’s the only biography I could find on the man’s life, and so we’re with only one perspective. Reportedly, Sam’s widow Malika Kinison sued Bill Kinison for allegedly portraying her in a negative light; but so far, she hasn’t produced anything from her perspective yet, so it’s really all just speculation from here on that. But overall, it was a short yet fascinating life of a man that seemed to be suffering more from a personal dichotomy from the fame and let the debauchery be kind of a toxic balm for this. It would make for a very interesting biopic, methinks. Someone get on that.

Book Review: LIGHT MY FIRE: My Life With The Doors (Ray Manzarek)

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light my fire

Ray Manzarek
Putnam
1998

This is the part autobiography, part memoir, part philosophical discourse of the co-founder and keyboardist of the legendary band The Doors.

There’s been many books written on the subject of The Doors, mostly focusing on the great enigma that was Jim Morrison, the man who’s only second to Elvis in posthumous sightings. Ray Manzarek’s take on the whole shebang isn’t that much different, only that he was there since day one. Manzarek may be taken to a bit more rose-colored grandiose than it probably was, but at least it’s an insider’s viewpoint…

In Light My Fire, Ray starts off with the end of The Doors- the final recording sessions on L. A. Woman, Jim’s relocation to Paris, and the day he received the call that his friend and band mate had died. This time for real (there were other rumors, which didn’t help the situation whatsoever). He touches on his life growing up in the south side of Chicago, discovering music and playing at an early age, his college days in the U. C. L. A. film department, and the formation and early salad days of The Doors.

The best way this book works is as a memoir of the band, relaying some rather amusing tales from the early days, the joys and woes of recording and touring, and of course the highly colorful antics of Jim Morrison, all told from the vantage point of an obviously old hippie. Of interest here: An anecdote of an ill-fated confrontation with the Grateful Dead keyboardist that amuses me greatly. Never liked the Grateful Dead, and this just reinforces my distaste. There’s mention of a gig The Doors did in support of the album Strange Days at a University Of Michigan homecoming dance (of all places), where the sheer outrageousness and audacity of Jim Morrison’s antics inspired a young Jim Osterberg, later known as Iggy Pop, to undertake his own path of musical anarchic rebellion. And of course, there’s the now-infamous incidents involving the Florida indecent exposure hearings, the recording of their first album, and musician in-fighting (apparently drummer John Densmore wasn’t exactly popular with the band near the end). Throughout the storytelling and various musings are peppered various pieces of Doors lyrics, writers and a couple of times, quotes from various spiritual writings, including the Bible. Which brings me to this…

As a writer, and especially as a philosopher, Ray’s personal spirituality is displayed prominently on his sleeve throughout Light My Fire. It seems to be an amalgamated hodge-podge of Eastern philosophy, Asian mysticism, ancient Greek and Roman paganism, and just about any ancient religion you can think of, culminating into a stylized Gnosticism. Every topic, it seems, becomes a sounding board, where Ray pulls out his well-worn soap box to sound off about needing to get back to peace, love of your fellow man, getting back to our mystic spiritual roots (whatever those roots are; he never really gets around to pointing that out), creating the “New Eden”, hugging trees, licking toads, blah blah blah. Archaic 60s pap. At times he sounds like a beleaguered Dennis Hopper from the movie Flashback. Sticking his thumb in the pie-in-the-sky empty 60s ideology and pulling out…well, not a plumb.

Paying lip service to the so-called “inner Christ”, and mentioning that he became a “true Christian” after dropping acid for the first time, and being “born again” after emerging from a womb-like experience while on the chemical-educed stupor (pg. 119)- Ray nonetheless brushes off Christianity as part of the “Christian mythology” of the American establishment he so abhors. Instead, he grapples at a stylized Universal spirituality, taking bits and pieces from Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Transcendental Meditation, the Kabala, the I Ching, Astrology, Native American Shamanism- the result, having the trappings of being spiritual without having to commit to any one. A fair-weather mystic of spiritual convenience. Of course, the monotheistic disciplines of Christianity are myths. Not to be taken seriously. You know, it is possible to be so open-minded that your brains leaked out.

Speaking of mysticism, there’s quite a few instances where Ray-Ray gets a little too serious describing the band’s music. Listen, I love the Door’s music. It’s a very well-played mix of jazz, blues, psychedelic, dark poetry and existential art. I just happen to take the music as it is- music. Ray, however, when describing the recording of the song “When The Music’s Over” as shown on pages 264-265:

“No wonder the Establishment was afraid of us. We had gone Dionysian! Pan was with us. The maenads were with us. The muse Euterpe was with us. Her sisters Calliope and Terpsichore and Polyhymnia had joined us. And they were all whirling and dancing in a delirium of ecstasy, of exhilaration, of joy.”

Okay, whatever. I told you to stay away from the brown acid, dude…

To top it all off, apparently Ray’s plans for The Doors- and Jim Morrison in general- went beyond just music. Eventually, Ray planned branching off into film, and going into politics. A handful of times, he mentioned- seriously- envisioning Jim becoming President of the United States. That would have been interesting indeed. Although, considering that the 60s generation are now in politics, one has to wonder if Jim would have remained the same kind of ideology if he lived to grow old that he did in his youth. One will never know.

All said, Light My Fire left me rather torn. I loved the stories involving The Doors, but the unneeded hippie-dippie politicking just turned me off. Especially when he insulted my faith most of the time. Whatever. I still listen to the music, but really…that’s because I like the music, not because I agree with your way of thinking, Ray. Stick to music…

Book Review: MUSTAINE- A Heavy Metal Memoir (Dave Mustaine w/ Joe Layden)

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mustaine-a-heavy-metal-memoir

Dave Mustaine w/ Joe Layden
!t Books
2010

[Dave] Mustaine has battled through it all to achieve dizzying hights.  From the early, heady days of Metallica, being unceremoniously let go only to become a world-famous rock star – founder, frontman, singer, songwriter, and guitarist (and de facto CEO) for Megadeth, one of the most popular bands in heavy metal – Mustaine’s is a story that will inspire, stun, and terrify.

I’m sure the sentiment has been shared many a time, but it’s worth repeating: Dave Mustaine is totally freaking METAL.  If there’s any living human being to serve as the embodiment of my near-life long obsession of all things METAL, it’s him.  And by default, Vic Rattlehead as the mascot.  So, I’m probably the wrong person to review tis autobiography with a detached and critical objectivity in all fairness.  But then again, this is my review blog.  Screw objectivity.

Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir starts with Dave’s childhood years, and ends around the time when United Abominations was released.  His first guitar, his formative teenage years, his time with Metallica, formation of Megadeth and their rise to metal fame, his struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, the highs and lows of the band and personal life…all of this written in a very casual, frank and unflinching way.  If anything, no one can ever blame the man for mincing words.  Or sugar coating things. Which is really what I was expecting from him.

Mustaine: A HeavyMetal Memoir was a good compelling read.  I was pleased to get some in-depth perspective on some things that, heretofore I only had superficial reporting from various metal mags that, let’s face it, might have colored things a bit for sensational purposes.  His writing style is very conversational, and has the feel of sitting down at a bar or cafe’, and having a conversation.  As far as Music Memoirs go, Mustaine is one of the better ones I’ve come across in a long time.  Recommended.