Monthly Archives: February 2015

Book Review — AC/DC FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s True Rock ‘n’ Roll Band

AC/DC FAQ by Susan Masino

AC/DC FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s True Rock ‘n’ Roll Band by Susan Masino is the history of one the hardest rocking bands over the last four decades. Masino has been a rock journalist for over thirty years, and has written five books, created and hosted the 94.1 JJOLocal Stage radio show from 1997-2004, and produced 8 local music compilation CDs. Masino also appears in the Van Halen DVD, The Early Years, and Let There Be Rock-The Movie.

AC/DC holds a rather unique position in Rock and Roll history. Of those who listen to rock, I don’t think I met anyone who hated the band. Of those who liked AC/DC, ask anyone to name a bad album or a bad song. Chances are they can’t. Critics will say it is because all the songs sound the same. True, AC/DC didn’t fall into the ballad fad of the 80s or change their style as pop music changed. They sound the same today as they did in the 70s. Some people called AC/DC heavy metal and in reality it has just been rock and roll. When the author interviewed the band and asked how they categorized their music, Agnus Young answered “A rock band. Just a rock band,”

I have read many rock band/singer biographies and this one stands out. It’s not necessarily because of the band, but because of the author. In most biographies, the author either wants to sensationalize or scandalize the band. The more dirt dug up the better the sales. Masino is truly a fan and her excitement shows through the entire book. She tells the good and the bad and almost seems to apologize for the bad. I learned some things from the book that after decades of listening to the band I never knew. For instance, “The Jack”, which just seems like an odd lyric is actually a reference to gonorrhea and Rosie is a real person. AC/DC played as hard as they rocked.

The AC/DC FAQ is an in-depth look at the band. Masino’s method of writing is interesting in itself. Rather than a start to finish timeline, she breaks it done into subjects. Band member biographies, individual albums, individual tours, band influences, tech talk with Agnus Young, and some of her band interviews. This style makes it easy to find what you are looking for if you are wanting to use the book as a reference. Masino writes a good deal about Bon Scott and the effect his death had on the band. Brian Johnson as the new lead singer jumped right in with the recording of Back in Black which is now the second biggest selling album in rock and roll. AC/DC defied the odds. Most bands lose their lead singer and quickly disappear like The Doors or become ridiculed like Van Halen – Van Hagar. AC/DC came back stronger than ever and are perhaps a true team of equals.

This is a detailed and professional history of the band. The personal information on band members might surprise many. The members are not Bently owners living in mansions. Brian Johnson, however, does race cars. But to balance that Agnus doesn’t even have a driver’s license although he did have a mansion built. Perhaps another example of balance and teamwork in the band. The AC/DC FAQ is perhaps one of the most detailed band biographies I have read — Informative, searchable, organized, and personal.

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Book Review — Beat Poets

Beat Poets by Carmela Ciuraru

We are a legend, invisible but
legendary, as prophesied.

Allen Ginsberg

This is a small book, almost small enough for your pocket. Inside covers a wide range of poems. It is more than Ginsberg and Kerouac, but they are included. I recognized Leroi Jones’ work, but as his later name Amiri Baraka. Twenty-eight poets make up this collection and the diversity of mood and messages are great. There is the gloom of the world and life without a future. The cold reclining on the steps of the library to a warmer personal type of poetry.

There is a bit of hopelessness in the series.

— There are
enough fascists &
enough socialists
on both sides
so that no one will lose the war.

Diana Di Prima

My address book is full
of RIPs

Jack Kerouac

balanced to some extent with:

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!
Imagine!

Frank O’Hara

The Lenore Kandel selection was enough for me to purchase her complete works. Although all poems may not appeal to all people, this is a good sampling of the period and will certainly open doors to those looking a new experience.

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Book Review — The Lords and The New Creatures

The Lords and the New Creatures by Jim Morrison

I first bought a copy of this book in 1982 and still had pages marked with cut up strips of post-it notes. I went looking for this book the other day and I could not find it anywhere. It was weird that a book that I carried abound the military in with several moves suddenly was gone. I ordered another copy and re-read it for the first time in several years. Perhaps knowing more about poetry than I did then might change what I thought about this book.

The Lords I read with new interest. The themes are easily recognizable. There is the city and its grittiness. Different rings of death, the city create different vices. There is sophisticated disease in the outer rings of the suburbs and the hard and unkind vices of the inner city. The thoughts of sex being the center ring of death makes sense in the most biological and evolutionary sense of our existence.

The main theme is the camera and cinema. The camera manages to catch the perfect form of the object or subject while the eye is imperfect. The must rely on the brain to save the image, and the brain remembers things as we want to see them rather than they actually existed. What we see is as the prisoners in Plato’s Cave Allegory see. The camera captures the true form and keeps it. Instead of Plato’s Cave, Morrison uses alchemy. Alchemy is not the father of chemistry he insists, but the search for pureness and the true nature of things. It is an interesting analogy that seems to capture the mysticism Morrison enjoyed.

The New Creatures is dedicated to Pamela Susan Courson, Morrison’s partner and common-law wife. It starts as a tribute and devolves to primitive man and finally to animals. The themes are not as obvious, but the work is more poetic in its form and style.

This is an interesting collection in several ways. The poems are not titles and use the pages to keep them separate. Poems that are longer use Roman numerals at the start of the verse to let the reader know the poem is a continuation. It is not always obvious. This is perhaps the first collection of poetry, outside of independent presses, that has no introduction or biography of the author. The back cover simply states:

Jim Morrison was the lead singer, composer, and lyricist for the Doors until his death in 1971.

A nice collection, if not a bit eccentric. Perhaps it is a bit dated when referring to cinema and photography in this age of photoshop and CGI movies. Morrison did have a degree from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and that did have an influence on his work.

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Book Review — Crisis and Reform in the Canadian Armed Forces

Forced to Change by Bernd Horn

Crisis and Reform in the Canadian Armed Forces by Bernrd Horn is a look at the post-Cold War Canadain military. Colonel Horn is an experienced Canadian Forces infantry officer and military educator. He has authored or edited more than 35 books, including No Easy Task: Fighting in Afghanistan andNo Lack of Courage: Operation Medusa, Afghanistan.

The Canadian military had a problem. After decades of preparing for war in Central Europe, its enemy was gone. This would seem like a good problem but what happened instead was that it exposed several problems that had been lying dormant.

Prime Minister Mulroney wanted Canada to be part of the post-Cold War international community bring humanitarian relief and humanitarian aid to the world. He wanted Canada to be part of the peacekeeping force in the new world, and Canada came to Somali.

Not everything went as planned and during the humanitarian mission to Somalia two soldiers brutally beat to death a Somali teen. Gruesome photographs were published and the CBC reporter received altered documents and evidence of a cover up. This act lead to the disbanding of the soldier’s unit the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment. Canadian public opinion of the military fell to an all-time low of 28% favorable rating. Horn tells the reader that it is more than simply the act of two soldiers. It is a deeply rooted problem in the military.

The Cold War set up a system of complacency for the military, especially the officers. Canada had a set role in the Cold War and Cold War exercises. It became routine. It became so routine that it had its own acronym “SALY” — Same As Last Year. There was no need for thinking. Military exercises simply became doing the same thing as you did last year. Once the scripted was written, all that was needed was to follow instructions.

SALY also created another problem. Since all one had to do is follow the same instructions over and over again, mistakes were not tolerated. Officers developed a “cover your ass policy.” If mistakes were made, make sure you are not responsible. Although this may save the officer, troops lost their confidence that their officers would stand up for them. Counter to this in my time as a Marine, I made plenty of mistakes and the culture there was different. When something went wrong, I needed to explain to senior NCOs or my officers what happened. If I acted in good faith, I would be told ” Good initiative, but poor judgement. Don’t let that happen again. Carry on.” It might sound a bit demeaning, but it was better than getting burned for making a mistake. The culture here was “if you can think of a better way try it.” Granted, if you did something stupid or outright dangerous you could expect a much harsher response.

Horn identifies the problems in the old system and explains the actions taken to fix them. The military is difficult to change since the senior people are the most entrenched and least likely to invite or accept change. Horn covers the proposed solutions and what he feels would best help the system. This is a detailed book in the area of real life problem-solving and the military system. As an American, I needed to look up the Somali Affair and a few other events such as the consolidation of the Canadian Armed Forces. There is not much for the average American reader, but American military figures are used and quoted in this book. A timely book for Canadians and those interested in the policies of other countries’ militaries.

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Book Review — The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power

The Savage Wars Of Peace by Max Boot

The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power by Max Boot is the detailed history of the wars that are not common knowledge to most Americans. Boot holds a Bachelor’s degree in history, with high honors, from the University of California, Berkeley (1991), and a Master’s degree in history from Yale University (1992). He was born in Russia, grew up in Los Angeles. He was and editor and writer for both The Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. He is also the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

A colleague from work gave me this book to read. I looked at the title and saw “Small Wars” and immediately assumed it was about the Marines. I was, however, only partially right. Ask the average American what wars we fought and you’ll get the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Gulf Wars, and Afghanistan. A few might add the War of 1812, Panama, and Korea. Not many realize how many (undeclared) wars America actually fought in its history. I was familiar with most covered in the book from boot camp on Parris Island. The Marines’ history is full these small wars throughout Latin America and Asia.

Several aspects surprised me probably more than they should have in reading this book. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, American Naval commanders had quite a bit of leeway in making American foreign policy. In an era of very slow communications, quick actions by captains set policy. Secondly, the United States and Britain had a rather cozy, if unofficial, naval alliance.

The first part of the book stresses America’s naval history and the navy as an arm of American policy and interests. Its rise from six ships commissioned in 1794, (a privileged officer corps, and dregs, foreigners and a high percentage of blacks making the the enlisted ranks) to a premiere navy with an elite amphibious infantry force. An interesting look at the army is also included. Throughout America’s history, there seems to be a division of power. The army is successful in big wars and fighting outside of the urban environment. Boot states that even today Marines clear cities and the army prefers to go around them. There is good reason for that too. A very heavy mechanized army finds it hard to maneuver huge M1 tanks down third world streets.

Some of this history may be based on tradition. The Marines spent much of the pre-WWI years and the interwar years fighting insurgencies in Latin America. It entered Vietnam as the insurgency fighting force based on experience decades before. Even then, the only small wars manual was written by the Marines. It stated, “Small Wars represent the normal and frequent operations of the Marine Corps.” It is the big wars that gain the attention and the prestige in the military…and the budget too.

In Vietnam, Khe Sanh is a battle the US wanted. A head to head fight and a way to confront the enemy. The US poured supplies and Marines into Khe Sahn to make a stand that lasted over five months. Once the siege was over, Khe Sanh was immediately dismantled. In the meantime, the Viet Cong built up strength. Forgetting everything the US learned about insurgencies, the US was happy to fight a battle on its terms instead of the enemy’s. Sadly, the victory really did not accomplish anything.

There are plenty of events covered from the beginning of America’s navy through the First Gulf War. The book was published in early 2002 and does not include Afghanistan or the Second War in Iraq although the tone of the US failure to successfully fight insurgencies is clearly set. It is almost as if this book was written in hindsight to the Afghan and Iraq war. I found this book to be very informative and well written. This is an important book as modern warfare is quickly turning into insurgency and counter-insurgency conflicts. The days of large naval battles and large scale tank warfare seem to be over. The new warfare needs to be quick, mobile, and have the ability to operate in urban environments. Boot gives us a history of our past battles and a commentary on the present.

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Book Review — The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Buddhism

Discipline is the supreme ornament and, whether worn by old, young or middle-aged, it gives birth to happiness.
Dalai Lama XIV

The Dalai Lama is one of the most recognized men in the world. For such a surprisingly well-known person in the modern world and, outside of China, he has few enemies. Business leaders pay to hear him speak, although he has much more in common with Marx than Adam Smith. He is a man of compassion and peace. His exile from Tibet, although devastating, is probably what has brought him to the world stage and allowed his voice to be heard.

The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Buddhism is an introduction to Buddhist beliefs. The belief system is formed around a few core beliefs, but none of them have to with a deity. It is about discovery. From the introduction:

“So Buddha might have been wrong, the Dalai Lama might be wrong. Actually they both encourage us to try to find out where they do go wrong.”

That is quite a statement to make about a belief system and quite a system to allow such a statement. In Buddhism, it is recognized that all is change. It is also a belief system that sees purpose in all things:

“The creatures that inhabit this earth — be they human beings or animals — are here to contribute, each in their own particular way, to the beauty and prosperity of the world.”

This ties into the vegetarianism. Buddhism does not explicitly prohibit the consumption of meat. It is killing that is prohibited. Buddha did, however, prohibit the eating of any meat that was killed on the Buddhist’s behalf. Others find some conflict with eating meat and the first precept “I undertake the precept to refrain from taking life.” The Dalai Lama agrees with the former. He tells the reader that animals have toiled to make our lives more comfortable — from our food to our clothes — and we should be thankful to all our fellow creatures. It does make me wonder what Buddha would say about modern industrialized meat production.

Importantly, much of what Buddism is is in our minds. The mind is our tool that must be sharpened. We must be aware of our actions. We must develop a stable and calm mind that remains so even in the hardest of times. It is in the time of greatest adversity that the potential to do good, for others and ourselves, is the greatest.

This book is quite small, smaller even still when one realizes there is a lengthy introduction and the last third of the book is a glossary and a mini biography of the Dalai Lama. That being said, there is a wealth of information in the Dalai Lama’s words. It almost seems like the book is condensed and the act of reading it expands it exponentially. I have only covered a few points in this review and feel that I could write more than what was written if given the opportunity. An excellent introduction to Buddhism and an excellent sermon for those already on the path.

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Book Review — Dawn of the Algorithm

Dawn of the Algorithm by Yann Rousselot

Dawn of the Algorithm by Yann Rousselot is a collection of traditional styled poetry covering unconventional territory. Rousselot describes himself as “a translator and writer living in the Paris region, originally from England, but also from Brittany, and more realistically from nowhere at all, being an expat-brat with serious issues of cultural schizophrenia.”

Good poetry gets short reviews because the poet says it all and all I am left to do is tell people “Wow!”  Wow! Dawn of the Algorithm is a short collection that covers a great range of ideas from what may be a slightly demented mind — and I mean that in the best possible way. Where else would you read of a depressed Tyrannosaurs Rex? The once ferocious creature that nightmares were made of is now a meme with comically short arms. Science does not treat him much better in finding that he might have been a feathered proto-bird. T-Rex has become the Rodney Dangerfield of dinosaurs.

There is cleverness hidden in the writing too. “Looking between the schist and diamonds “– geology or perhaps just an analogy with juvenile humor. “Film” creates an interesting story in a story. There is a rhythm in Rousselot’s that is missing from a great deal of contemporary work. The rhythm nicely compliments the subject matter. The end of the world played on Youtube in 1080p and online zombie warfare romance seem to take on an unexpected acceptance. Even when our politicians declare war on everything we will be comforted to hear it all read in the familiar voice of Morgan Freeman.

Rousselot takes the reader on a wild and exciting trip into poetry that even people who hate poetry will enjoy. Much of the subject matter is firmly in the age range of the Gen-Xers and Millennials, but it is not out of the reach of hip Boomers either. A very unexpected and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

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