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Mike Ragogna

Mike Ragogna

Posted: June 4, 2009 04:55 AM

Thank God It's Thursday: Book Expo '09 & The 27s plus The Singular Thomas Dolby

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This year's BookExpo, held in New York City's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center from May 28-May 31, had its usual small arena of publishers at gussied-up kiosks hawking the latest and greatest by writers known and unknown. There were hours and hours of book signings by authors anxious to write the most personal inscriptions to their least personal new friends, and though exhibitors obviously were exhausted halfway through the third day, they propped-up mostly genuine smiles and assisted each visitor. Everything from thrillers to children's stories and page lights to audio books were displayed prominently along endless aisles, hoping to lure enough distributors, educators, librarians, and even government representatives to make the grueling setups, tear downs, and sometimes hundreds of miles of travel literally pay off. Though the exhibitor count was down, attendance was up, making this, potentially--despite the crummy economy--one of the most successful BookExpos in years.

Beyond the usual new novels from novices to know-it-alls, there were a few off-the-beaten-path offerings, such as "Mephisto On Wing" written by its 76-year-old author, Antoinette Pannard. "At 76 years of age, I have a lot to say, wisdom to share and, if the truth be known, an ax to grind," Pannard told the Poughkeepsie Journal about her hardbound release. "Being of Italian ancestry and raised in a devout Catholic environment during an era when organized crime was prominent in our society gave me the dramatic and intense cultural theme needed for this story while I addressed my anger at the church with no apologies." "Mephisto On Wing" falls somewhere between Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons" and Mario Puzo's "The Godfather." There also were piles of uncorrected proofs given out at signings, one of the more intriguing being Lois Drake's "Issa - The Greatest Story Never Told," that is about the convergence of The Kushans, "...a lost Central Asian civilization with a secret order bearing the signet and possessing the power of the Ancient Ones," and Jesus, "...the teenager who leaves family and home for India..."

Moving on from the religious-themed novels (there seemed to be hundreds), Daniel Allen Butler, the author of "Unsinkable: The Full Story Of The RMS Titanic," presented his "The Other Side Of The Night," a tale of "the Carpathia, the Californian, and the night the Titanic was lost." Butler spent years researching the maritime disaster, concluding that the sinking and failed passenger rescue could have been avoided had certain nefarious agendas and actions not taken place. And there was Carol de Giere's "Defying Gravity," a wonderfully thorough bio on Stephen Schwartz, the composer of such Broadway classics as Godspell, Pippin, Doug Henning's The Magic Show, and his latest modern classic, Wicked (he also penned the lyrics for songs featured in Pocahontas, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, and Enchanted). Carol de Giere wrote the book from over eighty hours of interviews with the songwriter, and the work includes over 200 photographs and illustrations as well as insights into the creative process.

And on the graphic novel side, there was "The 27s" that takes on the myth of rockers dying at the age of 27--a reference to the famed "27 Club." Created by writer/musician Eric Segalstad and illustrator Josh Hunter, "The 27s" uses stylized artwork, and employs music history, maps, timelines, musical references and recommendations, mysticism, and involved essays to provide various theories on why the phenomenon of musical geniuses dying by 27 exists. "The 27 Club was something that probably started when they pooled these first few people," explains the novel's artist, Josh Hunter. "We don't call it that. We mention it very quickly then get rid of it because it's such a bad way to look at this tragedy." Immediately, the pair busted the Kurt Cobain myth about his mother's referencing this club. "His mother said, 'Now he's gone and joined that stupid club,' and everybody thought she was referring to his dying at 27 like some of these other guys. But what she was really referring to was the fact that he had a family history of suicides, and that was the 'club.'"

More of this club's unfortunate members include Brian Jones, Chris Bell, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Peter Ham, Robert Johnson, and Jimi Hendrix. "Neil Young had never seen Kurt Cobain actually perform," explained Segalstad. "He heard his songs, he really enjoyed the things he was doing, and he knew that Cobain referred to him as the Father of Grunge. So, Cobain committed suicide, and during that time, Young's biographer asked him what he thought happened. Well, according to the book, Young had gotten a tape of Cobain singing the old traditional blues song, 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' on Unplugged. It's the first time Neil had ever seen Kurt perform. He's watching it and says, 'Man, that sound, at the end there? It's like a werewolf, it's incredible.' The biographer then comes back and asks, 'Well, why do you think he left that little scrap on the suicide note, "It's better to burn out than to fade away,"'--which Neil wrote after his band mate died of a heroin overdose. Well, Neil doesn't want to take (Cobain's) suicide on his song, but eventually, he says it's something about the burn. There's this creative burn that every single creative soul has within, and sometimes that burn is just too hard to control and harness." This graphic novel covers this and much more territory throughout its 310 pages. "The artwork tells its own story as well," Hunter added from a more esoteric perspective. "There are these other layers, these hidden symbols and cryptic messages that, if you're alert to them, you're going to find we're packing-in as well."


Thomas Dolby - The Singular Thomas Dolby

On one of his later singles, Thomas Morgan Robertson--aka Thomas Dolby--sang, "You came close, close but no cigar, you didn't miss by far, you know you came this close..." and, unfortunately, in the U.S., it applies to almost all of his intelligent musical output. The son of a professor of Greek art and archeology, this British-born Whiz Kid always was ahead of the technology curve, his endless banks of synthesizer sounds and effects enthusiastically employed on all four of his studio albums--The Golden Age Of Wireless, The Flat Earth, Aliens Ate My Buick, and Astronauts & Heretics. His resume mainly features his eighties monster pop hit, "She Blinded Me With Science," and many classic, ground-breaking MTV videos such as "...Science," "Airwaves," "Fieldwork" (his duet with Yellow Magic Orchestra's Ryuichi Sakamoto), and the brilliantly creepy puppet-centric "Hyperactive" (the song included in the videogame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City). His credits include contributing keyboards to hit singles and albums by Def Leppard (as Booker T. Boffin), Foreigner, Pink Floyd, Robyn Hitchcock, and Thompson Twins, plus writing Lene Lovich's signature song, "New Toy." And as a producer, he oversaw many of Prefab Sprout's recordings, worked with Joni Mitchell on her synthy, political album, Dog Eat Dog, and oversaw a keyboard summit in '85 at the Grammy Awards ceremony that included Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, and Howard Jones. Beyond his own touring, he performed at Live Aid as David Bowie's keyboardist, appeared in Roger Waters' Berlin mega-concert The Wall, and backed Depeche Mode during their '88 Rose Bowl appearance. Along the way, he married Golden Globe nominee, actor Kathleen Beller, best known for her roles in the television series Dynasty, and the movies The Betsy and Promises In The Dark.

Each of Dolby's albums continued to build upon the artist's original image of a young Indiana Jones-era scientist, adding cosmic anthropologist, underground dissident, geo-theorist, dusty explorer, and funk enthusiast to his chest of costumes. His combination of theater and wisdom is almost Who-like as this single collection whisks you along Dolby's globe-trotting, science send-ups, funk fusions, and psycho-semantics. The listener is accompanied by adventurous melodies and arrangements throughout, perhaps a little sonically primal in the earlier tracks, but endearing nevertheless. Writhing within the dark intrigue of "Airwaves," "Dissidents," "Fieldwork," "One Of Our Submarines," and practically every humid moment of the backwoods-drenched "I Love You Goodbye" is a real passion in the marriage of words and music. Passion also washed through one of TD's most clever singles that never had a shot in this territory, his mesmerizing, latin jazz take on Dan Hicks' "I Scare Myself," his version so infectious that the author's live performances of the piece now adapt Dolby's arrangement. For those looking for pure pop, there's the trombone-infested "Hyperactive," the coco-reggae groove-up "My Brain Is Like A Sieve," the George Clinton counter-cover "Hot Sauce," the sexy "Silk Pyjamas," and the collection's real kick, "Airhead," a kooky mockumentary of the ditzy blond stereotype whose closing lyrics include the unexpected revelation, "It was us made her that way."

Dolby's casting of himself as a scientific pioneer in the tradition of Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Albert Schatz, or, more appropriately, Nikola Tesla, can, at times, distract from the fact that his pipes are as talented as his digits, his vocals on "I can trace my history down one generation to my home in one of our submarines" jumping about like he's one of Burt Bacharach's protégés. There's even a product of the New Age and New Wave (the pair spiking culturally around the same time as Dolby's The Golden Age Of Wireless) in their environmental/spiritual love child, "Windpower," whose lines, "Switch off the mind and let the heart decide who you are meant to be, flick to remote and let the body glide, there is no enemy, act out a future of your own design, well-tailored to your needs, then fan the flame and keep the dream alive," still apply these couple decades later.

Though the earlier material basks in the richness of its cold war paranoia, the later tracks take a 180, and things progress much lighter while maintaining a degree of gravitas. The collection's chronological approach almost makes it a time capsule of its era, moving through Thatcher/Reaganism to slightly pre-Clinton optimism in addition to it being a solid education in Thomas Morgan Robertson's growth as an artist and human. With music this interesting, it's confusing how the States came close, close but no cigar when it came to this artist. But The Singular Thomas Dolby offers us that lost opportunity to become immersed in his unique soundscapes, and it peace-outs with the somewhat appropriate lyrics, "There is a spirit here that won't be broken. Some words are sad to sing, some leave me tongue-tied, the hardest words I know are 'I love you goodbye, I love you--goodbye.'" And now that you're all running to your nearest Best Buy to purchase this fine compilation (that includes a DVD of Dolby's vids and a couple live performances), not to harsh your mellow, but you'll have to buy it as an import from Amazon since there are no current plans on releasing it in this territory.

Tracks:

CD
1. Urges
2. Leipzig
3. Europa & The Pirate Twins
4. Airwaves
5. Radio Silence
6. Windpower
7. She Blinded Me With Science
8. One Of Our Submarines
9. Hyperactive
10. Dissidents
11. I Scare Myself
12. Fieldwork - with Ryuichi Sakamoto
13. May The Cube Be With You
14. Airhead
15. Hot Sauce
16. My Brain Is Like A Sieve
17. Close But No Cigar
18. Silk Pyjamas
19. I Love You Goodbye

DVD (Pal Region 0, will play on computers):
1. Europa & The Pirate Twins
2. Airwaves
3. Radio Silence
4. Windpower - Live
5. She Blinded Me With Science
6. One Of Our Submarines - Live
7. Hyperactive
8. Dissidents
9. I Scare Myself
10. Fieldwork - with Ryuichi Sakamoto
11. May The Cube Be With You
12. Airhead
13. Hot Sauce
14. Close But No Cigar
15. Silk Pyjamas
16. I Love You Goodbye
Bonus Tracks:
17. Hyperactive (12" Version)
18. Fieldwork (12" Version) - with Ryuichi Sakamoto
19. Hot Sauce (Saucy Version)

 
 
 

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