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Monday, Nov. 25, 2013

Reading About Music

From rock to jazz, books for music fans

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Standing in the Wings: The Beatles, Brian Epstein and Me
(The History Press), by

Joe Flannery with Mike Brocken

Everyone knows of The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, but less attention has been paid to Epstein’s partner, Joe Flannery. Flannery hopes to redress that in his autobiography. The danger of growing up gay with artistic inclinations in rough, working-class Liverpool is at the center of his recollections—along with exhaustive descriptions of the port city, which may or may not help Beatles fans get their bearings. Flannery learned of the not-yet Fab Four in 1961, more than halfway into his memoir, and commences to deflate some of the legends surrounding Epstein and the band while adding to the stock of eyewitness accounts.

 

Big Star: The Story of Rock’s Forgotten Band (Jawbone), by Rob Jovanovic

Hardly anyone heard of Big Star during their existence (1971-1974), but in their demise they became the ultimate cult band. Veteran rock writer Rob Jovanovic extensively chronicles both band and band members, providing a trove of information for fans. Named after a Southern grocery chain, Big Star cheekily titled their debut album #1 Record, but the LP slipped from sight due to spotty touring and distribution. Their second album did no better and their third sat unreleased for years. In the long run, their ’60s British Invasion popcraft—the undertow of drama and dread, drenched in melody and mellotron—found an audience willing to rank them with the greatest rock bands.

 

Willin’: The Story of Little Feat (Da Capo), by Ben Fong-Torres

Little Feat never scored a hit, but they left an impression on many fans, especially rock critics, FM DJs from the ’70s and other performers who covered their songs. Ben Fong-Torres, a Rolling Stone writer from the period, assesses the band in Willin’. It’s certainly a page-turning human-interest story: the band’s founding genius-songwriter-yarn-spinner Lowell George died of a heart attack on tour in 1979. Original bassist Roy Estrada is serving a 25-year term in a Texas prison. And yet the band soldiers on. Fong-Torres did good reporter’s work, chasing down leads and trying to sift fact from legend.

 

Nilsson (Oxford University Press), by Alyn Shipton

His album titles were always a giveaway: Harry Nilsson, the performer behind Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson, had a slightly wacky humor that carries over into the first full-length biography of his life. Little wonder. Alyn Shipton drew much of his lively chronicle from Nilsson’s unpublished autobiography. A computer manager for a bank moonlighting in music, Nilsson entered the Top 40 by the end of the ’60s and palled around with The Beatles, yet a disinterest in live performance kept his career in idle. After a nomadic childhood and adolescence, Nilsson craved security, including the comfort of a recording studio over the uncertainty of the stage.

 

Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker (University of Illinois Press), by Chuck

Haddix

When Charlie Parker, one of the towering figures in jazz, died in 1955, the examining physician thought he was 53 years old. He was only 34, but ravaged by addictions to heroin and booze. Musical archivist Chuck Haddix chronicles Parker from the accounts of his associates in a detailed yet compact narrative. The saxophonist was a contradictory figure, a great soul warped by addiction. Parker was a strikingly original soloist by age 20, became one of the founders of bebop and strove for new avenues, even as his performances grew more erratic in his final years.

 

The Flaming Cow: The Making of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother (The History

Press), by Ron Geesin

Pink Floyd was three years away from the stardom of Dark Side of the Moon but their 1970 album Atom Heart Mother was a crucial milestone on the road. After Atom Heart, Floyd were still culty in the U.S. but reached number one in the U.K. Composer Ron Geesin was crucial to the album’s titular suite and sets out his differences with the band in this “making of” memoir. “Our fields of interest differed, and I can tell you that our aims differed too,” he writes about the less-than-happy working relationship with Floyd. Fans will appreciate the photos and memories of the session at Abbey Road, and devotees of ’60s London will enjoy Geesin’s take on a fascinating, fast-paced and soon-ended blip in time.

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