Monday, November 20, 2017

A review of Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

Last month, Tom Petty's tragic and unexpected death left many fans saddened and surprised.  I was among the masses of people who was shocked by the news that Tom Petty, front man of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, had suddenly passed away of a massive heart attack.  He died on October 2, 2017, less than three weeks before he would have turned 67 years old.

I read many comments from people who were lucky enough to catch his last concerts.  Petty was on tour from April until late September 2017.  By most accounts, he had performed as well as ever.  I never got a chance to see Tom Petty perform live, but his music was a big part of my personal soundtrack when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.  I own a few of his albums, as well as recordings made by associated acts like Stevie Nicks.

September 25, 2017... his final concert, about a week before he died.

When Tom Petty, died I decided I wanted to read more about his life.  I downloaded Warren Zanes' 2015 book, Petty: The Biography.  After several weeks of concerted effort, I finally finished the 336 page volume.  The fact that it took me so long to finish is not necessarily a comment on the book's quality.  I was impressed by the work that went into this book.  Zanes has a Ph.D. in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester, was himself a member of the Del Fuegos, and he writes well.  I think I read more slowly nowadays because I read on an iPad and get distracted by things like Facebook.

Anyway, Zanes has written a very comprehensive book about Tom Petty's life up until 2015.  He starts at the beginning, when Petty was a boy in Gainesville, Florida, with an abusive father who "beat the ever loving shit out of him" and didn't appreciate his artistic bent.  Despite Earl Petty's attempts to quash his son's creativity, Tom Petty was destined to be a star.  He even learned how to play guitar from a fellow star, Don Felder, who is also a Gainesville native.  I knew about Felder's tutelage, because I've also read Felder's very entertaining book about his time in The Eagles.  Of course, that was published about ten years ago, before anyone knew that Petty would die so suddenly.

Zanes covers Petty's early life, including his experiences with his very first bands and the eventual creation of Mudcrutch, the band that would preclude Petty's Heartbreakers.  He covers how Petty and his bandmates traversed the United States from Florida to California, where Petty eventually settled.  Apparently, California was more agreeable for a man of Petty's artistic vision.  He brought his first wife, Jane Benyo, with him and had two daughters there.  But although Tom and Jane were married for 22 years, their union wasn't particularly happy.  Zanes does a pretty good job explaining why and remains even-handed and respectful.

I also got a kick out of Zanes' description of Petty's Aunt Pearl, his father Earl's twin sister.  Apparently, even though Earl Petty hadn't liked his older son being so artsy, he later grew to appreciate his son's musical success.  Apparently, Mr. Petty wore his satin Heartbreakers jacket all over town and would party with whomever wanted to come over and celebrate his famous son.  Zanes wrote that Petty was kind of disgusted by it and apparently Petty said something to the effect of, "God only knows how much pussy he got because of me."  No, I never knew Tom Petty personally, but for some reason, I can imagine him saying something like that.  He just always seemed like that type of guy.

I got some unexpected insights reading this book.  For instance, I never knew that the 1994 album, Wildflowers, was Petty's "divorce" album.  I also never knew that the title track, "Wildflowers", was Petty talking to himself about his situation.  According to Zanes', Petty's first wife, Jane, was mentally ill and difficult to live with.  Although they had two daughters, the second one, Annakim, was born during the years when things began to get rocky.  Nevertheless, Petty loved his daughters and even briefly had custody of Annakim.  Zanes also includes commentary about Petty's second marriage to Dana York, with whom he had a stepson named Dylan.

I was surprised to read that Zanes' book was not "authorized".  It seemed to me like Zanes had gotten cooperation from Petty and his friends.  I never got the sense that anything about this biography was disrespectful or scandalous, so I can't imagine why Petty would have objected to it.  Zanes' characterization of Petty is very sympathetic, appreciative, and complimentary.  But most of all, this book offers a detailed look at Petty as an artist.  I'm sure Zanes is now enjoying increased book sales due to Petty's recent passing, but in my opinion, he deserves it.

If you've been looking for a comprehensive book about Tom Petty's life, I recommend Warren Zanes' Petty: The Biography.  I think he did a good job.  Four stars out of five.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Brotherhood of Man...

Here's a song I had long forgotten about.  In 1976, the British group Brotherhood of Man entered Eurovision's Song of Europe contest and won with this cute little ditty...

We were actually living in England when this aired...

Such a sweet and innocent little number.  Brotherhood of Man had other hits and apparently still tours today, though I think this may have been the pinnacle of their success.  My friend Joann, who pointed this out to me today, says it's like Abba and Tony Orlando and Dawn had a baby.  70s acts really seemed to have an affection for cheesy dance steps and cutesy lyrics.  I tried listening to their other songs, but none rang a bell like this one.

Another hit, "Figaro", from 1978...

I guess I give them credit for being able to dance and lip sync at the same time (I'm guessing they weren't actually singing this while they were on Eurovision).  Once again, I feel older than dirt, especially since I was three (going on four) when this was first unleashed upon the masses.

And their first hit, "United We Stand"...

The 70s were fun... especially if you were just a wee one, like I was.  Now I wish I could go to a 70s era Wendy's and have a Frosty.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

U Stink But I Love U

Wow... a true blast from the past.  I literally haven't thought of this song since 1989 or so.  For some reason, the chorus popped into my head...  So here it is.  Mucky Pup's very unique addition to the music of my youth.


I got a kick out of the video because it's introduced by Adam Curry, an MTV veejay.  I guess this band came to fame because the creator of the Bloom County comic strip was a fan and made them the house band, Billy and the Boingers.

Well... I'm not sure they had much more going on beyond this.  Looking at their YouTube channel, I see a few more videos that came out in the 90s.  Moreover, I'm pretty sure I was introduced to this by my ex best friend, who watched a lot more MTV than I did.  But it's kind of fun listening to it again after all these years.  Damn... I am getting old.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Outfield...

Yes, another mid 80s band I had long forgotten about.  They had a gem of a hit in their song "Your Love".  People loved it.

More edgy rock.  I think it's good, but it's totally 80s.

Unlike The Hooters, The Outfield comes from Britain.  Unlike most British bands, they experienced success in the United States, but not in their homeland.  Interestingly enough, though they are Brits, their band is named after baseball.  They initially called themselves The Baseball Boys, kind of as a joke, but fan response was favorable.  Given that they sounded very American, it seems fitting that they'd call themselves The Outfield.  However, despite their baseball inspired name, they didn't actually know much about baseball until they came to the States.

Here's another hit by The Outfield, "Since You've Been Gone".

"Say It Isn't So" reminds me a little of Big Country, another band that was popular in the mid 80s.

Hell, they are still kind of appealing thirty years later, even though I'm probably only saying this because I'm older than hell now.  I see that songwriter and bassist John Spinks, died of liver cancer the same day my dad died, on July 9, 2014.  That's too bad.  He was just 60 years old.

The Hooters...

Wow... here's a band I haven't thought of in decades.  The Hooters had a popular album out when I was about 13 or 14.  It spawned several hits.  Then they kind of disappeared.  For some reason, their song "And They Danced" popped into my head this morning and I felt compelled to buy new music...  well, old music that is new only because I just now bought it.

The Hooters are from Philadelphia, but they are especially popular in Europe... or, at least they were thirty years ago.  This band has been in existence since 1980 and is apparently still around today.  But they hit the height of their popularity in 1985 or so.

This is a blast from the past...

The energy of "And We Danced" was very popular in the mid 80s.  The hard rocking guitars and harmonicas were appealing to people my age back in the day.  I listen to it now and still think it sounds good, if not a little reminiscent of McDonald's ads of the time.  I went looking to see if I could find the ad I'm thinking of, but it doesn't appear to be on YouTube.

"Day by Day"

This music kind of reminds me of Growing Pains.  We all miss the days when Kirk Cameron was cute and cool and all the girls had a crush on him.  Now he's a fundamentalist Christian asswipe.  Too bad.

I do remember liking "Where Do The Children Go"...

Wow... thirty-two years have flown by.  I'm older than dirt.  While I'm thinking about it, I will post about another forgotten 80s era band...

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Rest in peace, Tom Petty...

Damn...  I am a little heartbroken this morning to hear that Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is dead.  He had a massive heart attack and went into cardiac arrest.  Physicians were unable to revive him.

I read about his death last night, but then awoke to news that reports of his death were premature.  It's now been confirmed that Petty is gone at 66.  He joins so many great artists from my youth who have died too young.

When there was a flicker of hope that Petty wasn't going to die, a friend of mine on Facebook said, "If he pulls through, he will enjoy the iTunes downloads."  I did chuckle at the black humor and I must admit that I did go and download a couple of Petty's albums this morning.  There are still a lot that I don't own, but I figured I had to buy Damn the Torpedoes at the very least.  That was the first of his albums that I remember.  It was released in 1979 and I always loved his song, "Don't Do Me Like That".

I always loved this song for its powerful keyboard intro and timeless rock appeal...

As I mentioned in this morning's post on The Overeducated Housewife, I was reminded of Petty about ten days ago, as Bill and I were driving home from a fest in a town called Weil der Stadt.  Petty's song, "Listen to Her Heart" came on and I found myself listening closely to the lyrics.  They struck me as very sensitive and poignant.

"Listen to Her Heart"

And then there were songs he did that were just really sexy...  I always thought the song "Breakdown" was very sensual.

This is an old song, but it still sounds great today.

"Here Comes My Girl" is another really sexy number.  Timeless and pulsating with lust, this song never fails to make me think of a man who just really appreciates his girl.

Shit... I could sit here all day and play Petty's hits...  

I learned while reading Don Felder's tell all about his time in The Eagles that he was one of Tom Petty's guitar teachers.  They were both from Gainesville, Florida and, I guess, knew each other when neither was a big star.  I'm sitting here trying to imagine Felder teaching Petty and then years later, seeing his student become a rock star.  It must have been very gratifying for them both.

Well, this post is not very eloquent.  I am not finding the right words I need to express myself right now.  I'm just really sad Tom Petty is dead.  Too many great artists are dying before their time.  That makes me sad because really great music is one of the few things in life that make being here worthwhile for me.  Many condolences to Tom Petty's family and friends.  At least we're left with a treasure trove of great music to remember him by...  He had forty great years in the music business.  I'm glad I was around for them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A review of My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire by Maurice White

I normally put book reviews on my main blog, except when they have to do with music.  Since this blog is mainly about music from the 70s and 80s, I figure it's worthwhile to add my thoughts about Earth, Wind & Fire here, where it's relevant content.  

Earth, Wind & Fire happens to be one of my all time favorite bands.  I never get tired of listening to their unique style.  The late Maurice White, who died in February last year after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's Disease, was the genius behind Earth, Wind & Fire.  His life story, published in September 2016 and entitled My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire, was masterfully ghost written by Herb Powell, who manages to make White's story sound as if it's coming straight from the maestro's mouth.

I just finished My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire yesterday, having worked on it for some time.  I don't read books as quickly as I used to, although this one certainly held my attention.  The book starts at the humble beginnings of Maurice White's life in Memphis.  He was born to his young mother, a woman he referred to as "Mother, Dear"; she left when he was a toddler and he was raised by a friend of the family, a woman he called "Mama".  Meanwhile, Maurice's mother was in Chicago and had married a podiatrist.  She had several more children, including the electrifying bass playing and whirling dervish dancer Verdine White, who was at that time going by his original surname, Adams.

When Maurice was 18, he moved up to Chicago and reconciled with his mother, half siblings, and his stepfather, whom he called "Dad".  White explains why Verdine changed his surname; particularly since White's biological father was not really in the picture.  Another sibling, Fred Adams, was also a member of Earth, Wind & Fire.  

Although Maurice White was, like so many others of his generation, threatened by being drafted into military service, both he and his younger brother, Verdine, were able to convince Army officials that they had no business in the service.  Maurice would go on to form Earth, Wind & Fire and the band would evolve into one of the most dynamic and successful bands of the 1970s.

One thing I really like about My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire is that the writing is intimate and candid.  I really got the sense I was listening to Maurice White talk about his life.  He dishes on everything to what it was like to lead a struggling band in the early 70s to his work with David Foster.  He writes a bit about the women in his life, although he never did place women above his music.  I got the sense that White was a born musician and his whole life was about making music.  I was also surprised by how clean White's habits were.  More than once, he writes about how he avoided drugs, alcohol, and fatty foods.  Sadly, his good habits did not protect him from Parkinson's Disease, although they probably helped him stay healthy longer than he otherwise might have.  He lived to be 74 years old, having endured Parkinson's Disease for about 24 years.

I enjoyed reading about how White decided to name Earth, Wind & Fire.  The name is a reflection of White's deep spiritual beliefs.  I also enjoyed the fact that this book outlines White's entire life, from his earliest days in Memphis until his last days last year.  Ghost writer Herb Powell includes an illuminating afterword.  It wasn't until I read it that I realized this book wasn't written by White himself.  Powell did a really good job ghost writing this book and giving it White's voice.

I think this book is a must read for anyone who loves Earth, Wind & Fire.  It's very well-written and comprehensive.  I think it also presents White in a very positive light.  I was pretty inspired by White's story.  Maybe when I'm over this cold, I'll dabble a little more in music myself.

Maurice White...

In 1981, during their heyday.