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Book Review: Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk

You hear a lot of stores in twelve-step meetings—shocking narratives of brutal childhoods, shattered families, hard falls from grace, harrowing descents into degradation, desperate time spent in detox, emergency rooms, psychiatric units, and jail cells. After awhile you begin to think you’ve heard it all, that nothing will ever surprise you again about human behavior under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or about the human spirit’s ability to recover…

Dreadnaught by D. H. Peligro

Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk by D.H. Peligro is the memoir of one of the very few African-American punk rockers to make it big. Peligro is from St. Louis and had a pretty hard childhood in the projects and ghettos. Thanks in part to mandatory busing, his musical preferences were much different than what would be expected: Metal, like Judas Priest. Peligro was the drummer for the Dead Kennedys from 1981 through the breakup in 1986 and since the 2001 Jello-less reunion. He also played for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1988. 

I glanced at this book quickly and was ready to pass it by when I saw Dead Kennedys. That caught my attention. I had been a bit of a DK fan and still am. I am much more a fan of the New York punk movement and the West Coast music never appealed to me except for the Dead Kennedys. They seem much more mature and political in their music. Not the typical west coast, whiny, suburban kids singing about how bad things are. I have some respect for the Dead Kennedys. 

Dreadnaught is your typical rock and roll memoir. Good times, bad, times, lots of drugs, and many failed chances to get straight. There is nothing new in that. What is new is finding out that the Dead Kennedys were not a drug band and found Peligro’s drug use problematic. The Red Hot Chili Peppers had is share of drug problems, but here again Peligro’s drug use caused problems. Flea although not a saint, as described by Peligro, did not abuse drugs and did not tolerate abuse. Insights into the bands made up some of the most interesting parts of the story.

Although this is your typical drug abuse memoir, Peligro is an interesting person. His rise from the ghetto, his taste in music, and the people he worked with is impressive. He mentions race growing up and the problems that caused, but he never used it as an excuse once he moved out to California. Peligro does mention a skin head yelling out to “send all the blacks back to Africa” before a concert. But Peligro plays it off as the skin head’s ignorance of the band. Few people knew the Dead Kennedys had a black drummer; there were never any pictures of the band members on the albums. If you would have asked me last week to name a black punk rock band member, I would have drawn a blank. (I have since seen the documentary on the band Death.) A few more bits of information on Peligro are that he is vegan/vegetarian, even when on hard drugs, and was once a bicycle messenger. Despite the typical plot, Peligro does tell an interesting story. Recommended for Dead Kennedys’ fans and fans of general rock memoirs.

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November 26, 2013 · 01:17

Book Review: Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems

Aimless Love by Billy Collins

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins is a selection of poetry ranging from 2002 through 2011. Billy Collins was poet laureate of the United States from 2001 through 2003. He also served as poet laureate of the state of New York from 2004 through 2006. He is a distinguished fellow at the Winter Park Institute of Rollins College. Collins is also the editor of Poetry 180 and has published ten collections of poetry.

For me poetry collections are a bit like short story collections, because I know early on when I do not like one. They also are like short story collections in that I know an excellent collection very early on. In this collection by the third poem I knew that it would be an outstanding collection. I ran across this in the third poem “More Than A Woman”:

… I peered in at the lobsters

lying on the bottom of an illuminated
tank which was filled to the brim
with their copious tears.

Then moved by the poem “Absence,” I turned to “Royal Aristocrat” a poem about Collin’s old and noisy typewriter. That typewriter made so much noise he had to keep the doors shut and set the machine on top of a pile of newspaper to help deaden the sound. Times change, and he writes:

That was twenty years ago,
yet as I write with this soft lead pencil
I can still hear the distinctive sound,
like small arms fire across the border.

It’s that ability to capture moments and memories that makes poetry great. “Today” is another poem that cries out to a moment or feeling we all have experienced. Simply amazing in the flow of the words and the capturing of the feeling.

The poetry is divided into three sections from 2002 Nine Horses, which I have quoted from so far. The second section is called Ballistics from 2005, and lastly Horoscopes for the Dead from 2011. The the last two sections, both of the title poems are amazing. There is a bit of humor in Ballistics, or what I took as being a bit humor. Horoscopes for the Dead is a bit haunting and anyone who has lost someone can easily relate to it.

Poetry collections are also like short story collections because you do not need to like every poem, but the ones that you do like hold you in through the entire collection. Collins makes reference to a poet maybe writing three perfect poems in a lifetime. I do not know what constitutes a perfect poem, but I do know what I like. There were many more than three times that after reading the poem I put down the book and thought, “Wow!” After a few minutes, I would pick it up and read through it again, and once more, highlight sections, highlight the poem in the contents, and read it again. It is easy to see after reading this selection how Collins was a Poet Laureate. An amazing collection and a must read for fans of contemporary poetry.

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September 12, 2013 · 16:05

Book Review: Unsung Eagles: The True Stories America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II

Unsung Eagles by Jay Stout

Unsung Eagles: The True Stories America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II by Jay Stout is the story of the common men who answered the call of duty. Stout is a retired Marine Corps Aviator who flew F-4 Phantoms and later F-18 Hornets. A graduate of Purdue University he was commissioned in June of 1981 and retired a Lieutenant Colonel in 2001. With 4,500 flight hours and thirty-seven combat missions missions in Operation Dessert Storm, Stout knows his aviation.

Unsung Eagles gave me three surprises. First, looking at the cover I thought another book about the Army Air Corps in Europe. It’s not. Stout covers both theaters and Army, Navy, and Marine pilots. Second, I thought its going to cover famous raids. Again, no. The book covers a wide variety missions and none that stood out as famous air battles or bombing missions. The third surprise came after the realization of the first two surprises. Who would write about the “average Joe” pilot? Who else but a Marine. Of course, I am a bit biased in that last statement.

Unsung Eagles does what few war time books have done. It highlights the men who joined the war to fight. Men who left their homes and families and signed up, not the professional airmen. Many joined, and when the war was over quietly went on back to the civilian world leaving the military behind. These are the men whose uniforms are put away deep in a closet and never talk about the war except when prodded after a few beers. Twenty-two such pilots have their stories told in this fast paced history. The stories told, show all sides of the war from good deployments with plenty of support to cannibalizing planes to keep as many flying as possible. One absolutely amazing story is of a USAAF bomber pilot found himself flying in the dark behind two Japanese bombers and followed them in their landing pattern. The Japanese mistakenly assumed that the American was one of their own and proceeded to land. As the Japanese landed the American dropped his bombs on the Japanese planes and runway.

Unsung Heroes tells some fine stories of American pilots who you probably never heard of, flying missions that aren’t in very many history books, but still were very important in the Allied war effort. There were over a half million aircrewmen who served in World War II. This is a staggering number, it is more than twice the number of Marines serving when I was on active duty. Unsung Eagles is an outstanding history, and a personal history too. It is a reminder that not everyone who flew is recorded in history and that many who served then and now made important contributions that few will ever know about. Very well done. Semper Fi, Colonel.

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August 26, 2013 · 21:18

Book Review: The Mountains Belong to Me

The Mountains Belong to Me by Linda Dickert

The Mountains Belong to Me by Linda Dickert is a collection of nature based poetry. Dickert does not have much of a public profile. What I can gather is that she lives or lived in the Smokey Mountains and is a dog lover. Perhaps the most important piece of information is that all proceeds from this collection are being donated Spark Companions a non-profit organization that helps pay vet bills for those in need. Sparky, is the the name of her deceased pit bull.

The poems are in the same vein as Pope’s pastoral poems or Frost’s New England take on the outdoors. Dickert is the Smokey Mountain version of the pastoral. She looks at the seasons and natures reaction to the changes. She writes of the stars and dreams and the purity of nature:

Maybe this is why
the storm is so grand
to clear pollution and
force renewal of the
terrain as is this
magnificent mountain morning.

From the stars in the sky, to squirrels running in the forest, Dickert manages to capture the wildlife and sense of freedom in the rugged outdoors. She writes of balance in nature:

They take from the forest what is needed
And leave it as they found it.
To create Balance in nature that
Humans can only imagine.

Halfway through the book she introduces the reoccurring theme of dogs. Not just her dogs, Sparky and Fiona, but all dogs. She writes of all dogs from a hungry abandon puppy to pit bull rescues. There is much emotion written into her words. You can feel the look in the stray dog’s eyes.

The Mountains contains poems of imagery and feeling. It is easy to picture her words of an early sprouting of tulips and daffodils pushing up through the January snow. For those who live were there is a distinctive winter and spring, the words will give vivid imagery of an experience and it will remind those of us who used to live in cooler climates of childhood experiences.

I remember growing up where we all seemed a bit closer to nature, even the city dwellers. I may not have had the Smokey Mountains, but I did have a large, forested park with streams and wildlife. Today, I am lucky to have a “Greenstrip” – a strip of land undesirable for commercial use, planted with grass. It’s not a park. It’s not nature. It’s just a sanitized strip of grass calling out for a book like The Mountains to remind us of what we used to have.

A very nice collection of poetry and memories.

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August 18, 2013 · 11:16