Monthly Archives: August 2014

Book Review: Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks

Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes

Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks voice recorded by Victor Maymudes and edited and written by Jacob Maymudes.

Victor Maymudes was Bob Dylan’s tour manager for many years and according to Victor a close friend. Jacob is Victor’s son and discovered the audio tapes that this book is based on after a fire destroyed Linda’s, Victor’s mother, home. The house contained many of Victor’s relics from his life on the road. The tapes, however, were in the possession of Jacob’s sister.

The book opens with a sad picture of Victor Maymudes’ ashes (he died in 2001) in the ashes of Linda’s house. Jacob tells of the difficulty and hardship of writing this book and listening to his father’s voice after his death. He laments that his father is been written out of any official Bob Dylan histories. There is a build up that this will be a very touching and personal story.

Victor Maymudes opened the Unicorn Coffee Shop for the beatniks and proto-hippies to hang out at. A clever and successful idea to give this large group of people a place to hang out. Through friends he meets Bob Dylan, and here is when the reader thinks this is going to turn into a Bob Dylan biography. It does for a short time, but quickly turns into a biography about Victor Maymudes. Much of Victor’s stories are about what he did, how smart he was, and what others did wrong. I also realized that there may be some credibility issues with the original author. He smoked massive amounts of marijuana and carried a vial of LSD noting that he shared, but not everyone was up to taking LSD daily like he was. Drugs in rock and roll are pretty common place and still Keith Richards and Gregg Allman wrote coherent autobiographies.

I lost faith in the storytelling early one when Victor tells how he introduced the Beatles to marijuana and told John Lennon to stay away from the pharmaceuticals he was prescribed because they just hid the symptoms. Although nothing else seems to reach that peak of improbability in the book, there is nothing that really restores any credibility. A search on the internet reveals little on Victor Maymudes. His Wikipedia page reads like a book jacket summary and at the bottom of the page is a link to Jacob’s unsuccessful Kickstarter page for this project, but titled Victor Maymudes: Biography. Other links are to this book. It is impossible for the reader to fact check many events.

The title of the book is misleading. It is a Victor Maymudes’ biography. Although he was a friend, possibly a close friend of Bob Dylan, there is not enough connection to consider this book a Dylan biography. Patti Smith had a starring role in her biography of Robert Mapplethorpe, but many people bought the book because of her role and writing. The same cannot be said for Another Side. Victor Maymudes does with this book what he does throughout his life: promote Victor Maymudes. I do feel terrible for Jacob Maymudes for the loss of his father and the conditions of losing him. Jacob seems to be a devoted son and held his father in high esteem. I, however, cannot buy into the book. Sorry.

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Book Review: Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life and Cars

Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life and Cars by Neil Young

Special Deluxe by Neil Young

Anyone who knows me, knows I have a strong dislike for cars. It is not the car but more so the worship of the car. People playout their lives on around cars. Who is driving? Where can we park? How much is parking? How much is gas? We also design our cities and suburbs around cars. Newer housing developments don’t have sidewalks, merely a concrete path from the front door to the curb where you park your car. The corner store and the idea of a self contained neighborhood have disappeared and been replaced by large shopping centers, big box stores, and strip malls. Supporting public transportation is seen as a subsidy, while tearing up tree lined boulevards to add lanes is seen as an investment. So, I was a bit hesitant to pick up this book.

I know Neil Young’s greatest hits and Live Rust from high school where certain crowds would agree with Neil Young’s phrase “It is better to burn out than to rust.” and also quote “Homegrown.” I still know the lyrics to that one. My previous knowledge of his life was fairly limited. Neil Young was a marijuana guy and like Patti Smith found it helped release their creativity. No heroin because the idea is to create and not block or escape life. It’s a cliche, but one I give little argument. In the book Young does mention a copious amount of marijuana smoking, some drinking, and cocaine a few times. He is no Keith Richards in that sense.

Young can tell a story and this storytelling is folksy and personal. He captures a level that the reader feels is almost one on one. It’s like meeting a friend you haven’t seen in thirty years and catching up. Some stories are funny, others are about his career, and some are touching. Compared to some of the other rock star autobiographies I have read Young comes up one top. His stories seem to be more about telling a story, than telling a story about Neil Young.

While I was reading this book a friend emailed and said, did you know Neil Young is getting a divorce? I said, “No, but I am half way through the book and he is on his third wife.” The last half of the book he remained with the third wife (and remained married for thirty-six years). To Young’s credit he never speaks ill of his ex-wives or of marriage problems. He takes the high road, so to speak.

Cars, yes, there is a great deal in this book about cars (and dogs too). Each story centers around a car. The car the family drove to Florida. The car his father got before he left. Young has owned more cars than some towns have. The cars are different though than your typical rock star car collector. There is a Bentley and a few sports cars, but most are old and a bit eccentric: A Jeep pickup truck, an Eldorado Biarritz, plenty of old Buicks. Each car has its own personality some work and some don’t. Some he’s kept and others he sold quickly. Each one, however, has a story. There are watercolor paintings of the cars at the start of each chapter keeping with Youngs thinking of cars an art more than just transportation.

Throughout the book, when a car is mentioned, Young tells the reader the miles per gallon the car got and the number of pounds of CO2 the car released per mile or on an extended trip. Another point to respect about Young is he has become environmentally conscious. He has worked with bio fuels and electric cars, putting a great deal of his own money into the program.

Young is an excellent storyteller and it shows in his writing either in prose or song. Chapters are punctuated with lyrics he wrote at the time of the story. The use of lyrics in the writing helps explain the meaning. Sorry, no answer on who the Cinnamon Girl was. This is perhaps the best autobiography by a musician I have read. I am surprised say, it beats out Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and I really, really like Patti Smith. Young’s style and language communicate to the masses on a personal level. There is no “life of an artist” talk or name dropping. It is storytelling at it’s best. I am very impressed with Special Deluxe, even with the car talk.

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Book Review: A Time Such as There Never Was Before: Canada After the Great War

A Time Such as There Never Was Before by Alan Bowker

A Time Such as There Never Was Before: Canada After the Great War by Alan Bowker is a rich social and political history of Canada following the First World War. Bowker served for thirty-five years in the Canadian foreign service including the position of High Commissioner to Guyana and ambassador to Suriname. He holds a PhD in Canadian history from the University of Toronto and has taught at the Royal Military College.

A bit of a disclaimer on my part: I am a citizen of the United States and looking in from the outside at the country I grew up eighty miles from. I also hold an MA in International relations and find Canadian history something that was sorely lacking in my education. I would also like to thank Dundurn Press for their willingness to let a Yankee review so many of their publications and become a better informed neighbor.

To most Americans, Canada is like our quieter, better behaved brother on the world stage. They speak the same language, share the same common British heritage, and until recently shared the largest open border in the world. There are many similarities in our cultures and many parallels that give us a common ground. Bowker presents Canada’s history after WWI as a unique period of great change and untested waters. For both our countries, WWI brought our nations to adulthood despite our closeness there were different paths taken.

Canada lost more men in WWI than the United States and was involved in the war for a longer period. The war became a shock to the general population. No one expected the mass slaughter. Farmer’s sons volunteered never expecting to be gone for years. As a result, farming suffered in the agricultural giant Canada was becoming. America, only fifty years earlier, experienced its long bloody war and was hesitant to fight another. WWI was a wake up call to Canada and a chance for Canada as a nation to define itself outside the British shadow.

Many changes happened after the war. There was religious growth and change as evangelicalism rose and fell and atheism began emerge. Religious opinion was no longer in unanimous agreement that “khaki was a sacred color”. Race issues began to be more pronounced. Many non-French Canadians viewed Canada as English, many were English, and not open to foreigners. Slavs were not welcome, unless there was a need for farming experts. Immigrants from India were required to make a direct trip from India to Canada. There, however, were no direct trips. It was an indirect way of saying “You are not welcome.” Chinese were restricted. Blacks however avoided much of the persecution as Canada remained proud in its role as the terminus of the Underground Railroad.

The government began to feel opposition to the war in as the body counts rose. French Canadians were vocal in their opposition. The election of 1917 was bitter and rigged. At the end of the war Canada demanded representation at the table in Versailles, no longer content to being just a part of Britain.

The national government was faced with the problem of what to do with the returning veterans. Once the men came back they were demobilized. Discharges were processed at an unbelievable rate. The government worked through several programs appearing to try and do what was needed. An attempt to offer land to the returning soldiers to farm was one plan. There was not room in the workplace for returning soldiers. With the victory, 200,000 civilians employed in the munitions industry found themselves unemployed. There was no “Peace Dividend” for Canada. To compound matters the Spanish Flu devastated nations. Bowker notes that the life expectancy in United States dropped for 54 to 40 as a result of the Spanish Flu.

A Time Such as There Never Was Before condenses a great deal of history into a relatively few pages. The coverage of the interwar period is more Canadian history than most Americans will ever experience. Bowker provides detail with enthusiasm. The Information is written in a clear and stimulating fashion making the history a compelling read. The post WWI years were an exciting and sometimes trying time in Canada. Bowker does an outstanding job bringing this history to life. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: Robert Plant: The Voice that Sailed the Zeppelin

After John Bonham, there was nothing
After John Bonham, there was a void
After John Bonham, there was no going back.

Robert Plant by Dave Thompson

Robert Plant: The Voice that Sailed the Zeppelin by Dave Thompson is a biography the Led Zeppelin’s lead singer, his early life, Led Zeppelin years, and his post Zeppelin work. Thompson has written many books on Rock and Roll and Rock and Roll Stars.

If there was one band as a kid and teenager that I thought was the greatest band in the world, it was Led Zeppelin. If you asked most of my friends “What do you listen to?” the answer would have been, “Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Van Halen (sometimes substituted with AC/DC).” Led Zeppelin was whom we thought of when we thought of Rock and Roll.

Thompson takes the reader back to Robert Plant’s youth and post Zeppelin days in alternating chapters. There is an attempt to bridge the gap of years together, but it does not succeed in doing it smoothly. The author makes John Bonham’s death the center of the timeline, much like the separation of the calendar into BC and AD. Bonham was an important friend and Thompson uses his death to separate Plant’s life into two stages Before Zeppelin and After Zeppelin.

The book is fact-filled to the point of seeming more like a research paper than a biography. It presents factual information on many rumours that have circulated about the band. It also ties Plant’s life closely with Led Zeppelin even after the band broke up. Thompson gives the impression that Plant was trying to escape his previous fame with his newer works. That is believable, but the writing makes it seem like Plant and Zeppelin were Siamese twins, and Plant, at certain levels, could not escape.

I really looked forward to this biography. I thought it would bring back a rush of feelings and that nostalgic feeling of youth I get when I read a Patti Smith or Doors biography. I did not get this feeling here. Perhaps if the book was written in chronological order there would be a sense growth and shifting views in Plant’s life. Instead, there is a switching between “This is Led Zeppelin” and “This is not Led Zeppelin.” A good portion of the book covers the post Led Zeppelin life of Plant. I knew a few of the albums; Now and Zen and The Honey Drippers, and his work with Alison Krauss, but much of his later work was news to me. His anti-war message was drowned out by others like Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen who have kept more of a social voice to their music. Although thirty-five or so years later, I still have a great appreciation for the Led Zeppelin and individually, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. Their music was an important part of my growing up, I just wish this biography could have been more alive with the magic of the music and less impassive.

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Book Review: Grunt: A Pictorial Report on the US Infantry’s Gear and Life During the Vietnam War 1965-1975

Grunt by Antonio Arques

Grunt: A Pictorial Report on the US Infantry’s Gear and Life During the Vietnam War 1965-1975 by Antonio Arques is a coffee table sized book of the individual equipment of soldiers in Vietnam.

I spent the early and mid 1980s in the Marine Corps. Although well after the Vietnam War, I recognize a significant amount of the equipment and even carried some of it. From the steel pot liners, painted silver, that I wore in boot camp to the MX-99 90 degree flashlight I carried later on. Did anyone ever use the blue filter that came with the flashlight? Do any of the younger enlisted today know what a D cell is? I never realized how many personally purchased or locally purchased item were allowed to be worn. With the exception of Creighton shirts everything had to come from Cash Sales when I served.

Every aspect of a soldier’s personal gear is covered. There are a few Marine Corps items, but it is mostly army orientated. Everything from the white boxer shorts to the garrison cap is is included. Weapons, cold weather gear, smoke grenades, and the development of camouflage uniforms is shown. The book contains an incredible amount of pictures of personal gear many including the sewn in tags with the military designation for that piece of gear. The detail is exceptional and the descriptions add and explain the purpose and the changes made in the gear over a decade.

Arques takes the most mundane piece of gear and brings it to life with static pictures and some actual combat pictures. The changes in equipment over ten years was considered significant in many areas. Ten years after the war equipment, at least what I experienced, was relatively the same. Today looking back the changes are dramatic, but I still imagine troops carry the same sea bag (duffle bag). Grunt is a great piece of history for all and a great piece of nostalgia for many that served. An outstanding presentation of personal gear.

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Book Review: November Boughs

November Boughs by Walt Whitman

November Boughs by Walt Whitman was written when the poet was seventy years old. Many people’s minds become less focused with age and most creative people’s best days are long behind them. Whitman, however, is as sharp as he ever was in this collection. The collection starts with short poems that produce that same effect that Leaves of Grass gave me years ago. Even in the few lines of each poem there is enough enchantment to produce vivid imagery. It’s a bit more than just imagery when I read it. It is more like a movie that you fall into and before you realize two hours have past and you are left with a feel of wonderment.

Whitman is difficult to review mainly because his work is so difficult to dislike. There are plenty great writers who have their detractors, but I have never heard anyone say they hated Whitman. He does have some views African Americans that are very much less than positive, but he was a man of his time.

Some of the other views and thoughts of Whitman are found in the collection. The majority of the book is essays, thoughts on other poets, letters, and journal entries. Even here, Whitman’s style shines through:

The third day of mellow, delicious, sunshiny weather. I am writing this in the recesses of the old woods, my seat on a big pine log, my back against a tree. Journal entry for October 2nd.

November Boughs is an excellent collection. The short poems are easily read during a break in the day and will keep your mind well occupied after the reading. The other works, essays and journal entries give the reader a look into a great mind. A very well rounded collection on one of America’s greatest poets.

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Book Review: The Recent History of Terrorism in Canada, from 1963 – 2013

The Recent History of Terrorism in Canada, from 1963-2013 by Mark C Eddy The Recent History of Terrorism in Canada, from 1963 – 2013 by Mark C Eddy is a non-scholarly history of terrorism in Canada. Rather than the dissertation or research article, Eddy presents a clear and concise history of terrorism in Canada for the everyday reader. I found this approach a pleasant change to most work in this field.

As an American reading this book several things come to mind. First, Canada is a very free country. Canadians enjoy the same freedoms that American do, but they are not, for the very large part, the victims of international terrorism like the United States. (Personal note to Americans. It is not our freedoms that the terrorists hate; it’s our foreign policy). Second, that Canada has a history of terrorism. I vaguely remember reading about the FLQ in history. Third, I support one of the “terrorist” groups and wear their patch on my messenger bag. I have no reason to support terrorism against the Canadian government, but I do support the Sea Shepard Conservation Society…not all their methods, but their goals. Sorry, Canada.

What is most interesting in Canada’s history is the near complete lack of foreign terrorism. Canada is a very close ally to the United States, but rather than an invasive foreign policy, Canada chooses peacekeeping missions. The bit of outside terrorism came from the Turkish and Armenian dispute, where Canada was a victim of location rather than policy.

Eddy makes a very clear point that Canada is a very free and open society. That eliminates most of the need to resort to terrorism. If you have a voice and support you can get your message out without violence. One comment the author asks a French Quebecer is why is there no more FLQ? The answer is a simple one. There is no need for it any more. The impact the FLQ made before falling out of favor was enough to change the situation in Quebec for the better.

Where does terrorism remain a problem? One area is eco-terrorism and monkey wrenching. I witnessed huge areas in British Columbia clear cut of all trees and it is a depressing sight. Apparently, some Canadians feel the same way. Another area as I mentioned above with the Sea Shepard is sealing. Eddy uses a figure of up to 400,000 seals are killed a year, many by clubbing. Their use is no longer feeding indigenous peoples, but fur for wealthy Europeans. It does not take watching too many Youtube videos of seals being clubbed and still live skinned seals to make one wonder “Who are the terrorists?”

Eddy presents a well documented, easy to read history. He also takes effort to describe terrorism from the legal standpoint and the practical standpoint. There is a section covering counter terrorism, a huge undertaking for a country with so much coast line and a formerly open border with the United States. For the most part, Canada remains fortunate that its policies and relationship with the US has not made it a target for International terrorism. Eddy makes an excellent summary of Canada’s policy in his conclusion:

Canada is not a violent place to live. It has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, there is little civil disobedience or ethnic/racial conflict, and the nation does not practice capital punishment.

Canada is not a country that looks to create problems that give rise to terrorism. Although the author’s intent is to raise awareness of terrorism in Canada, perhaps it can also serve as guidance to others on how not to encourage would be terrorists.

The reviewer holds a MA in International Relations from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX

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