The First Ambitious Halloween Reading List

ambitious halloween reading list 2013I knew I hadn’t been doing very well on the most recent Ambitious Reading List, but then I checked the blog and realized I started it back in November of last year and have only since read three and a half of the books. So, with Halloween in the offing, I figured it was about time to toss that one aside and start a brand new one, this time with more of a focus.

So, I now have nine books that I’m trying to read this month. It probably won’t happen because I’m a damn slow reader, but why not give it a shot, right? Here’s the basic rundown.

The Listeners by Christopher Pike. I was a huge fan of Pike’s young adult books as a kid and figured I’d give one of his adult titles a read. I actually stumbled upon this used book store purchase while looking for the next book in the pile, but it felt appropriate to check out this month.

Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice. This is one of two re-reads on the pile this time around. I can’t remember the first time I read this book, probably late grade school or high school, but I’m curious to get back to it and then give the adaptation another watch.

The Shining by Stephen King. You might not be able to see my Kindle on the pile, but I assure you it’s there. I read this book in high school then lent it to a guy I worked with at the bagel shop when I was 16. He got fired and I never saw him again. So, it’s been quite a while since I’ve given it a read. I will follow this one up by watching all of Kubrick’s film version FOR THE FIRST TIME! By the way, it’s only $4 for Kindle right now!

Vicious Circle by Mike Carey. This is the second Felix Castor novel from Carey. I used to interview him all the time for Wizard and really enjoyed the first installment The Devil You Know. The book explores a world where everyone knows ghosts exist and have to deal with them on a regular basis.

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Since reading The Strain, I’ve actually been able to get my hands on the other two books in the series at Barnes & Noble for less than cover price of one book! I’m really curious to see where this story goes and hope to read all three installments before the TV show premieres.

The Dead Boy Detectives by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Talbot. I read this Sandman spinoff series once before and am a big fan of Brubaker’s. While looking at my trade shelf, it seemed like a good fit for the theme.

Eerie Crime & Horror by Wally Wood. I fell in love with Wally Wood’s artwork after reading Weird Science Volume 2 and have been on the hunt for more of his work since then. I picked this book up earlier this year and figured now’s as good a time as any to finally read it (or possibly just scan it for the pretty pictures depending on how good the writing is).

Creepy Archives Volume 1. Featuring stories by some of the greatest artists in the comics business, I’ve been sitting on this book for years. It’s about darn time I finally sit down and have some fun with it.

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History Of Friday The 13th by Peter M. Bracke. No kidding, I have a whole shelf filled with coffee table books I’ve never read. This oral history of one of the all-time greatest slasher franchises is one of them and seemed like a good non-fiction entry in the list.

Alright gang, so here goes. Hopefully this stack o’ books will get read more efficiently than the other. I’m already working on two of them right now, so I’m thinking it won’t be too long before the first review goes up.

Ambitious Reading List: Please Kill Me By Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

A while back I asked some of my pals what books I should check out to learn more about New York’s punk scene in the 70s. I don’t remember what nudged me to ask the question, but the resounding response was, “Read Please Kill Me!” I think I had a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble, so I picked it up. That was quite a while ago now that I think about it. Anyway, it was sitting in my to-read pile for however long and then I set up this current Ambitious Reading List and decided that it would make a great caboose to this reading experience.

Please Kill Me was written by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain in 1996, but the version of the book I has is from 2006 and includes a few extra odds and ends. The book is an oral history much like Live from New York and Whores where large blocks of quotes from the interviewees propel the story along. The beauty of PKM is the width and depth of that McNeil and McCain were able to go to get these quotes. This book starts off back with Andy Warhol and his factory as kind of the primordial soup that punk rock grew out of (once scene spawned another in a sense) through the Doors and the Stooges into the classic bands like the Ramones, New York Dolls and even a little, tiny bit into the British scene. The authors interviewed everyone from scenesters and photographers to surviving members from all the most important bands and many who are no longer with us at this point.

To paraphrase an MTV show’s intro, I thought I knew about punk, but I had no idea. I’ve said before that I wasn’t a rage-filled kid. I think I had a very practical viewpoint on the world which helped me avoid a lot of the disillusionment in the real world that fueled a lot of punk rock kids. I was into then-modern punk/pop punk but when I started getting into original punk it was after reading articles in Guitar World and watching Syd and Nancy in high school. It was almost more academic than anything. I think I started off with that Ramones anthology from Rhino that covers most of their history. I also picked up the Sex Pistols’ Nevermind the Bollocks (I liked that they only had one real record but had no idea how common that was for these legendary punk bands). My buddy Jimmy also hipped me to the MC5 as this protopunk band that was from not too far from where we lived in Toledo, so I got Kick Out The Jams and loved it.

So, I knew some stuff. I knew some of the bands, but my knowledge wasn’t deep. I heard about the Dolls, the Dictators, the Dead Boys and lots of others, but just never got around to checking them out. I also knew the scene was pretty messy, but you really don’t get the feel for how messy until you read these peoples’ experiences. Man, it was nuts. Everyone was drinking, doing drugs, whoring themselves out, having sex with anything that moves, stealing, using, abusing, the whole lot.

The interesting thing about delving into any scene like this is discovering the small ins and outs of it. I was surprised to discover that there were only about 100 people in total living this life. It was quiet for a long time and then when it started getting popular, that was kind of the end of it, which stands to reason. Reading survivors recount some of the amazing and terrible things they’ve done to one another is a pretty singular experience.

I will say that reading this book changed how I listen to the Ramones a bit. I mean, I knew they came from the same scene as everyone else, but I think the somewhat gimmicky nature of the band and the decades between their debut and when I actually listened to them made them almost cartoonish. An amazing band with crazy-catchy songs, but still one that practically wore a uniform, changed their last names to Ramones and appeared in Rock and Roll High School. Finding out that they were drug fueled hopheads and prostitutes who actually went through shock therapy changes how you listen to songs like “53rd and Third” (which I clearly never paid too much attention to lyrics-wise), “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” I’m not saying I’m disgusted or will never listen to the Ramones the same way again, it just changes how I listen to them…for the time being until my crappy memory glosses over those details with something from a movie or comic.

My one complaint about Please Kill Me comes from a lack of context and full storytelling that happens throughout the book. In Live From New York, there are these short paragraphs in the beginning of a chapter that explain some details not covered in the interviews. In this book, you’re just kind of thrown in and have to figure out what’s going on. Since I was fairly uneducated on this section of rock and roll history, that got kind of confusing. There’s also some bands that get kind of glossed over or mentioned, but never much detail is given. Like, I know Debbie Harry and Blondie was part of that scene even if they were dubbed New Wave, but the band is only mentioned circuitously. Maybe that’s because they’re not the focus or maybe it’s because certain members wouldn’t allow themselves to be interviewed, but I thought it was a little strange how one of the biggest acts to come out of that area was more or less a foot note. There is a handy section in the back that explains who people are, but a few who were interviewed were omitted back there and that can be frustrating when you’re trying to remember so many names and add some context where there might not be some.

But aside from that, I really enjoyed this book. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I’m guessing if you’re already into punk rock, the tales you’ll read about in this book won’t be too surprising. Actually, if you’re not surprised by at least something in here, well, you’re a different person than I and that’s cool.

And with that, this Ambitious Reading List comes to an end many months after the summer. I really like this format because it takes a very large pile of books I have in my to-read pile (now a purple bin in our storage unit, actually), condences them down to a varied dozen and makes me focus on them. Overall, I’d say this group was greatly eclectic and very interesting. I might have quit on one book and replaced one with The Strain, but overall, I had a great time and have not only arranged my next ARL, but even finished the first book already!

Book Review: Whores An Oral History of Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction

I had this great plan to read through all the classic literature I have sitting around in my to-read pile. I got through Gulliver’s Travels, lost The House of Seven Gables and next up was Great Expectations. Since I didn’t really want to jump into that I went and read Sonic Boom because I figured it was non-fiction and didn’t count. I still didn’t feel like reading Great Expectations, so I’m pretty much giving that up for now (though the pile will remain sitting next to my bed in chronological order) and decided to read ores An Oral History of Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction by Brendan Mullen.

I’m not a huge Jane’s Addiction fan. The only real reason I picked this book up is because I absolutely loved Live From New York An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, which was the first oral history book I’ve ever read, I like books about music and it was $0.98, as you can see in the above scan. An oral history is a biography of someone or something that basically pieces together interviews with tons of people to tell a larger story. Sean did one for Maxim about the history of Marvel that will hopefully also become a book at some point. You can read that here.

So, I read Whores in a week or two, I tend to burn through these kinds of books because they’re fast reads and usually very engrossing. And yeah, Whores was engrossing, but it also had its problems. One of the universal problems for oral histories that I’ve seen is piecing these interviews together into a coherent story. So much of telling a story depends on knowing the facts or steps and relaying them in a specific order, but when you’re talking to so many people over so many years, I can see how details get lost in the shuffle, maybe you even remember certain elements of the story while you’re going back through transcripts, but you can’t get anyone else on the phone to talk about it again. There’s a lot going on. The SNL book did a rad job of this, as does Sean in what I’ve read of his longer drafts (seriously, this thing will make an unbelievable book). And, for the most part, Mullen does a pretty good job, but there’s one huge hole that’s inexcusable in my book (heh, pun unintended). You see, Perry Farrell had this girlfriend named Casey Niccoli who was pretty integral to Jane’s Addiction for years. There’s a brief mention that they break up eventually and all that, but no one in the book actually talks about it and the next thing you know, Perry’s married to someone else. Part of the problem is that the intro tells us that the Jane’s dudes didn’t do interviews with him. BUT, it does seem like Casey did. It’d be like doing a book on The Beatles and talking about Lennon’s first wife and all of a sudden he’s with Yoko and there’s no mention of the break up. It’s weird and annoying, especially when there’s all these details about Farrell’s weird DJ persona called DJ Peretz, who Mullen credits quotes from Farrell and Peretz on the SAME PAGE!

All in all, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you can get it for $1. There were other problems I had, like why does he randomly italicize whole quotes? I dunno. But, it really made me want to grab every Jane’s Addition and Porno For Pyros that I don’t already have, which is really the point of this kind of a book. I was also fascinated by the accounts of their early days in the early and mid 80s in LA. It sounds like some crazy times. Plus, my first Red Hot Chili Peppers album was One Hot Minute, so reading about Dave Navarro’s involvement in that record (along with tons of quotes from Flea) was a lot of fun.

One other quick comment about the book, something that you should keep in mind is that it was published in 2005, so it doesn’t have anything about Carmen Electra and Navarro’s break up or the reunion of all four original Jane’s Addiction members a few years back. I’m not sure if there’s an updated version, that would be rad. As it is, the book kind of peters out at the end, kind of like Sonic Book did. There was all this detail in the beginning and then, by the end you’re getting these really quick quotes from various people, though the Carmen and Dave stuff is really interesting at the end. That’s life though, right? There’s never a real ending unless everyone’s dead.