Friday, October 31, 2014

Billy Joel:The Definitive Biography by Fred Schruers - Book Review

Billy Joel by Fred Schruers (Random House, October 2014, 400 Pages, $29.00/11.99) is the right book written at the right time by the right person. Fred Schruers, a deeply experienced writer/editor at Premier Magazine, Rolling Stone, and other entertainment publications and now with Crown Publishing, has been given unfettered access to Billy Joel, his former wives and girl friends, members of his band, and archives as wide ranging as the pages of the tabloid press and the archives of the Holocaust Museum. From this he has fashioned a well-written and thoughtful biography of one of the icons of pop music whose songs are a part of the musical DNA of millions of fans, and whose life has been widely, critically, and often superficially examined in the serious and tabloid press. Using hundreds of hours of interviews with Joel himself, his family and associates, Schruers has produced a piece of celebrity biography that examines the man for his genius and his faults. Billy Joel, now age sixty-five and still performing at a back breaking pace, has wisely provided the insight without especially limiting the analysis for this biography that treats the man and his music in detail and with deep respect while never shying away from the flaws which have made Joel and world renowned singer/songwriter as well as a tabloid personality. For those interested in Joel himself, rock and roll music, or the music business, Billy Joel is highly readable and informative.

I must admit that while I have long loved much of Billy Joel's work, even considered myself a fan, I've had a superficial picture of the man himself. My impressions: Long Island, Christie Brinkley, frequent meltdowns, mammoth tours, and a wealth of songs written over a long period of time, were at best superficial. I almost put the book down after several chapters of feeling mired in Long Island's rock scene during the early and mid-sixties, when Joel dropped out of high school, formed, joined and left several bands, and became a locally popular rock singer while experimenting to discover his voice. The names were unfamiliar to me, and I almost quit. Then, as Joel begins to emerge, so did my interest, and the book took on a life of its own, as I moved through it with joy and enthusiasm. The book is sparsely illustrated and contains, insofar as I can see from the galley I read, no index or list of sources, although credit is freely given within the text. I supplemented my reading by using three resources: Spotify to listen to Joel's recorded work, especially the live concerts, Wikipedia for additional details about individuals mentioned in the book, especially those from the recording industry, and Google Images to allow me better to visualize the people, although I really needed no help when it came to Christie Brinkley. All three of these resources were enormously useful to me, as a casual fan, but would probably prove unnecessary for one more knowledgeable than I.

Billy Joel as a Young Rocker

The biography generally maintains a chronological view of Billy Joel, presenting a detailed account of how the Joel family, prosperous Jews from Germany escaped the holocaust, arriving in Cuba and then immigrating, penniless, to New York City. Billy's father, Howard, was a classical pianist, who soon deserted the family and eventually returned to Vienna. Joel was born in the Bronx in 1949, and his mother Rosalind soon moved to Hicksville, Long Island, in the heart of what emerged under the generic name of Levittown. Billy early studied classical piano, but in the musically overheated environment was attracted to rock and roll, and never left. While never finishing high school, Joel emerges as a voracious reader with a leftward lean, and a student of classical as well as contemporary music. From his early teen years, he asserts he wanted nothing more than to be a musician. Joel performed with several bands to increasing notice, and signed several early contracts in which he gave away most of the rights to his own compositions, an error which took him many years and millions of dollars to extract himself from. The cost of his early misplaced trust in shady characters in the recording industry probably is responsible for keeping Joel on the road much more intensely than he otherwise would have been, however, it's as a performer of his own highly autobiographical and emotive songs in concert and on recordings that his reputation stands. These people and errors are carefully discussed and analyzed in the book.

Despite the fact that Joel entrusted his career to many people whose efforts were not in his best interests, he emerges as a person who prefers to approach to world from a position of trust and relative lack of anger at those whose greed no doubt damaged his career from financial, personal, and artistic perspectives. As he catalogs in his hundreds of songs, his life has been a search for love and acceptance which has involved him with some of the most beautiful and fascinating women in the world, each of whom manages to leave a scar while, remarkably, still remaining in a friendly relationship with Joel. The costs of these relationships is fully cataloged without the scatological details the tabloid press is constantly seeking. Joel himself emerges, in his off-stage self, as pretty much a homebody who wants to have fulfilling relationships with beautiful women, but whose continuing life on the road always interferes with this ideal. Similarly, he surrounds himself with large and elaborate homes, cars, and boats around the world, only to discover that while he enjoys the perquisites of being a “rock star,” they don't bring him the internal happiness he seeks. The place where he seems most fully alive is on the stage performing before huge crowds in stadiums and arenas, although there are moments when a classroom audience or a lecture seems to give him as much satisfaction. Often the grind of the road, the boredom and the over-indulgence that goes with that life, hurts him emotionally and physically.

Fred Schruers

Fred Schruers has enjoyed a successful high-profile career as a writer at Rolling Stone, chronicling an impressive body of musicians and actors, including Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Nicholson, Sheryl Crow, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Chris Rock. His writing has also appeared in Premiere, Entertainment Weekly, Men’s Journal, GQ, the Los Angeles Times, and Columbia Journalism Review. Billy Joel appears to be his first full-length book.

Billy Joel - 2014
Rick Diamond - Getty Images

Billy Joel by Fred Schruers (Random House, October 2014, 400 Pages, $29.00/11.99) is an intriguing portrait of the man in full. Music, romance, love, marriage seem to form the cornerstones of Billy Joel's life. When they fail, he becomes distraught. He says, you “need to know who you are, before you can look for who's next.” His life, career, and music have been defined by Levittown, an absent father, the baby boomer generation, a search for love and beauty, which seem to be two different, but often complementary ideals. During his life he has earned and spent hundreds of millions of dollars and sold over 140,000,000 records, making him one of the most successful of all rock artists. While Billy Joel has not written songs since 1993, he continues to write music, often in a classical vein, to present lectures and workshops on college campuses, and to perform incessantly around the world. In this very readable biography, he emerges as an interesting and thoughtful man who seems to have come out the other side with his life and many of his relationships intact, even when it isn't always happy. Billy Joel was provided to me by the publisher through Edelweiss as an electronic galley, which I read on my Kindle app. Highly recommended! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wayne Taylor Update

Wayne Taylor

A few weeks ago, while we were still in North Carolina, we took a several hours to drive through the lovely countryside west of Raleigh to visit with Wayne Taylor in his new home near Conover, NC. Wayne has recently relocated to his home state after many years of living in suburban Washington where he served for eighteen of his twenty-one years in the Navy with Country Current, the U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band. Since his retirement from the Navy, Wayne has toured with Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa. His return to North Carolina brings him back to his musical roots in nearby Maiden, NC, where he hosts a homecoming bluegrass festival over Veteran's Day weekend.

We found Wayne relaxed and happy, enjoying the Mercedes Benz sports car he won in a recent raffle after buying two $50.00 tickets. His new home is located on about eight acres of land, including a building Wayne sees as an ideal performance venue to attract bands on their way through the region, host jams, and hold other small to medium size events. The metal building, he estimates, could accommodate up to about 300 people, or provide multi-use facilities for meetings, groups, and other activities.


A gentle slope falling away from the rear of the building can provide room for an outdoor stage with seating for 800 - 1000 people and room for additional facilities. The site is very promising for future uses and will help provide Wayne with plenty to do when he's not on tour.

Meanwhile, he's anticipating the third edition of Wayne Taylor's Homecoming Bluegrass Festival, to be held in Maiden (NC) High School (600 West Main Street, Maiden, NC)  on November 8 &  9, 2014. The festival will feature Terry Baucom & the Dukes of Drive, Kevin Richardson & Cuttin' Edge, Nu Blu, Gold Heart, the Cockman Family, and more. Plan to spend a couple of days enjoying this fine event.

Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa - The Heart of Caroline - Video

We had a good visit with Wayne, were pleased to see him in such a positive place in his life, and wish him good fortune as he develops his new plans and continues to campaign with his fine band.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

George Marshall by Irwin & Debi Unger: Book Review

George Marshall by Irwin & Debi Unger (Harper, October 2014, 560 pages, $35.00/18.99) is a contemporary re-appraisal of George Marshall's life and career. Despite the fact that throughout his long military service, Marshall was always recognized for his character and ability, this biography seems to go out of its way to find fault with the man and his achievements. Whether the issue is the impossibility of any human achieving to the level Marshall's acclaim suggests or a need to find fault with a general widely thought to be one of America's finest military examples, the Ungers seem to go out of their way to fault Marshall for not always getting it right. Never recognized for his brilliance in speech nor given the opportunity to command men in battle, George Marshall still managed to rise to the highest levels of the military and to serve as Army Chief of Staff under Roosevelt and both Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense in the Truman administration. A person of seemingly modest ambition, he was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year twice and won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was promoted to General of the Army, the highest possible rank in the U.S. Army. Despite his recognition, the Ungers are always careful to explore how Marshall falls short of absolute icon status when fully examined. How could he not?

Marshall as Cadet at VMI

Marshall was born in1880 in Uniontown, PA, the son of a local businessman, but he early identified with the Virginia gentry from which his mother was descended. He attended Virginia Military Institute, where his career was acceptable, but not notable, perhaps spurred on by a denigrating remark made by his older brother. He was commissioned in the regular Army, and like so many of his age cohort serving in the peacetime Army, found promotion to be slow and rewards meager. Generally speaking, he was recognized for his organizational ability, his attention to detail, and his encouragement of his subordinates to take the initiative. He gained a reputation as an effective organizer and administrator, a role he functioned in throughout his career, never having the opportunity to command troops in battle, the usual path to top positions in the Army. Unlike his, perhaps, greatest rival, General Douglas MacArthur he neither came from a distinguished military background, nor gained recognition through his skill at commanding men or as a strategist. Marshall was a consummate bureaucrat, always keeping the spotlight on others as he rose through the ranks. Whenever the opportunity arose for him to take a command post, his superior officers much preferred to keep him in staff positions where his judgment and knowledge were seen as being indispensable. After impressing General John J. Pershing with his directness and honesty, Marshall often had the support of Pershing as he rose through the ranks after World War I. As Pershing's personal aide, Marshall came to know the people and the levers of power in Washington. After Franklin D. Roosevelt became President, his rise in the Army ranks became swifter. While not highly articulate or learned, Marshall was persuasive in both the counsels of the mighty and before Congressional hearings.

After World War I, the Army's size was drastically reduced. He foresaw the potential difficulties of Hitler's rise to power and lobbied hard to increase the size of the Army and the level of fitness to serve among officers and enlisted me. However, it was not until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that the U.S. saw the need to mobilize. As Chief of Staff, Marshall oversaw the increase in the Army's size from fewer than 200,000 to over eight million, while helping to organize war production to provide the necessary material support. Seemingly bland and unassuming, Marshall was able to work effectively with the large personalities of men like FDR, Winston Churchill, and even Stalin, as the allies became enmeshed in defeating the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) around the world. He could see beyond the parochial needs of men like Patton and MacArthur to recognize the importance of maintaining balance and perspective. While never a man of great warmth, humor, or likability, Marshall commanded the respect of all through his probity, honesty, and ability as a fair broker between competing interests. He was a bureaucrat's bureaucrat when the term was not pejorative. The most important moments in Marshall's rise in the ranks seem to have come when he spoke out in opposition to ideas proposed by those in authority. Rather than destroying his career, those moments provided him with a reputation for courage and honesty, and were rewarded with promotions and increases in responsibility, always in staff positions.

Marshall's career did not progress without areas of criticism. In subordinating Army expansion to the needs of domestic suppliers and defense industries, training was compromised and men arrived at the front with inadequate preparation. Marshall, as a consummate compromiser, allowed the U.S. to be involved in the costly campaigns in North Africa and Italy, which served to postpone the invasion of Europe in 1944, but also may have completed the training necessary to succeed. He was strongly criticized in Congress (along with FDR) for the Pearl Harbor debacle, and later was constantly under pressure from the isolationist right wing and from the demagoguery of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the fifties. When President Truman dismissed MacArthur for insubordination, Marshall, too, came under enormous pressure. While maintaining a reputation as a non-partisan, Marshall's greatest success and promotion came under Democratic administrations, which predominated during the height of his career. Nevertheless, Dwight Eisenhower was a Marshall protege whom he happily congratulated on his election as President.

Author Irwin Unger has won the Pulitzer Prize in history for The Greenback Era as well as two Guggenheim fellowships. Together Irwin and Debi Unger have authored LBJ: A Life and several other books. They live in New York City.

George Marshall by Irwin & Debi Unger (Harper, October 2014, 560 pages, $35.00/18.99) is a thorough re-appraisal of the life and career of General of the Army George C. Marshall, who presents interesting problems for potential biographers because he was distinguished for his character and bureaucratic ability rather than for his brilliance as a tactician or strength of personality. To keep this biography from becoming a hagiography, they have resolutely identified areas where Marshall's efforts fell short of the ideal. Tasked with managing an impossibly complex war and then overseeing American efforts as the new post-war country had to confront issues of the Cold War, the emergence of Israel, and the threat of world Communism, it's amazing that one man could manage to keep as many balls in the air as he did. Meanwhile, we still struggle with the outcomes of America's rise and fall in a difficult world with new and ever-changing rules. I received George Marshall by Irwin & Debi Unger from the publisher through Edelweiss as an electronic galley. I read it on my Kindle App.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mutual Responsibilities in this New Media World - Essay

Below is a lightly edited version of my Welcome Page column in last Tuesday's California Bluegrass Association. As always, my thanks go out to the CBA for providing me with this platform.

We've been resting, a luxury those of us who are supposedly retired can enjoy, in Shelby, NC and now for a week in Myrtle Beach after the five hectic, inspiring, demanding, and action-filled days of IBMA's World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh. We find attending IBMA gives us a chance to touch bases with people we often see out along the bluegrass trail, and also allows us to make a personal connection to those we only know through their recordings or on line. It's like a big, fast-paced family reunion. IBMA also gives us a chance to acknowledge the many kindnesses and thoughtful remarks people have made about us and our work. For both of us, often in very different ways, this annual feast of music and friendship remains a special gift. But it also reminds me of a debt I owe to so many people who have opened doors for us, created opportunities, and allowed us behind the scenes and into their lives to understand and appreciate the rigors of the road and the demands of performing. One of the things I hear from others, who like me are involved in sharing this world with an ever-growing public, is that too many performers and others take too little time to acknowledge the effort, time, and care that goes into greasing some of the skids of this demanding life making and sharing music.

I remember being a guest on The Mark, that luxurious bus carrying Dailey & Vincent along their demanding way. After a performance one day, we were ushered back to the owners' cabin at the rear of the forty-five foot long Prevost they ride in. The door closed and somehow some of the size and energy leaked out of Jamie Dailey as he sat in his seat and opened his laptop computer. As we chatted, he responded to dozens of remarks and observations coming from fans, let his publicist and others working to help keep their enterprise running know about the day, and checked in with others. He wrote some of what my mother used to call “bread and butter” notes, thank you notes to those whose kindnesses or mentions had helped pave the way for the phenomenal success across genre lines that has become Dailey & Vincent.

In the dozen years that we've been involved with this bluegrass world, we've seen the opportunities for growth and spreading awareness become ever greater. Bob Cherry, who runs Cybergrass, the oldest online resource for bluegrass, recognized the potential for growth represented by the Internet almost at its birth, but bluegrass grows from the roots of rural America and is often reluctant to take on new ways of communicating and publicizing itself. When we came into bluegrass, there were few band sites, no Social Media, and restricted opportunities for publicizing a band and getting recognized. Cheaply printed fliers and word-of-mouth seemed to be the major ways to spread news of festival. Cybergrass, the world's seventh oldest web site, was founded in September of 1992, and has persisted as a great aggregator of bluegrass information from other sources and originator of new material. John Lawless and Brance Gillihan began The Bluegrass Blog in 2006. It has since morphed into the bluegrass world's first media giant, a true online newspaper that functions as a Social Media site, too. As Bluegrass Today has grown, it's influence is ever more widely felt. With a full-time staff and numerous bluegrass stringers, Bluegrass Today is literally everywhere in the bluegrass world.

It's the rare band that no longer has a web presence with a web site (often professionally developed and managed), personal and business Facebook pages, and other outlets on the Net. A new world of media awareness has emerged, and it affects bluegrass in mighty ways. World Wide Bluegrass is now streaming bluegrass twenty-four hours a day around the world using numerous broadcasters in several countries. FM radio is a powerful force supporting bluegrass music, particularly in the realm of public radio and college low power stations. With all these opportunities to spread the word, what responsibilities do individual performers have?

I hear rumblings out there in the communications world that many artists neglect recognizing that publicity is a reciprocal phenomenon. How many artists put a note on their Facebook Page or Twitter feed saying “I'm going to be on the air today with this DJ. Why don't ya'll listen in at......”? Those radio DJ's, many of them volunteers, are working hard to publicize your efforts. Don't you have a responsibility to let your world know about them? I once heard Rush Limbaugh (back in the days when I listened to him) say that his only function on the air was to keep you (the listener) tuned in between the commercials. Likewise with you, the performer. Your taking time to publicize your upcoming appearances on the air, and to thank the person who put you there afterwords, is part of this game of effectively using the vast media world available to you. Recently I wrote a couple of useful paragraphs that bands put on the front page of their web sites, at least for a day or two. I was pleased about this, and complimented. I like it a lot when people who use my photographs on their web sites or Facebook pages at least acknowledge that they are my photos. Many people do just that. Similarly, I try to acknowledge song writers in the description section of my You Tube channel. It's your responsibility to acknowledge and recognize the efforts made on your behalf by the media world working to put your name before the public. It's not at all unlike the (often reflexive) thanks performers give from the stage to the promoter and the sound man. Even when the sound is bad, smart bands acknowledge the sound man, knowing the damage that can be caused a performance on the sound board. How often does the emcee, who brings a band on stage with enthusiasm and encourages the audience to call for often undeserved encores, get thanks from a band? How often does a band put its upcoming radio appearances on its tour schedule? Isn't a radio show or TV appearance another form of performane?

It's worthwhile for band members to remember that we live in a world that rewards reciprocity. That's one of the reasons why links are so important and effective on the World Wide Web. Remember that you, as a performer, live in a literal interconnected web of reciprocity benefiting all the participants. I remember calling a bluegrass performer a few years ago to urge him to build a Facebook presence. He exploded at me, saying “I already have too much to do!” A day or so later I noticed a FB page and this performer has since become a master of letting people into his life (in the places he chooses), telling where his band will be performing, and sending pointed thanks to those who help him along. The newly developed skill has been important to the progress of this particular band. Too often I hear performers say, “It's all about the music,” pointing to the few hours of performing pleasure a week that make it all worthwhile. But it's clear that it isn't “all about the music.” Much of a performers life must be devoted to burnishing the business of music to make it work. Spend some time looking at your web of support, and make sure you thank those people next time they take time to recognize your efforts.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Some Music in Shelby

After the rigors of IBMA week in Raleigh, we needed some rest, some quiet time to be with friends, write, and recuperate with long naps and good visits. Our Lake Cottage on the shores of John H. Moss Lake between King's Mountain and Shelby, NC has filled the bill for us ever since we first went there to visit Dr. Tom Bibey (Dr. Bobby Jones). While Bobby is no longer alive, we've met and come to deeply care for a group of people who live, work, and make music there. It's an important restorative place for us to be.

Lake Cottage in Shelby

Beyond burnishing friendships and quiet time to recover, two events of the week stand out. Bluegrass music is alive and well because it takes place in quiet, out-of-the-way places where pickers can congregate and enjoy being together. Over the years we've covered quite a few of these performance and jamming locations, some easy to find, others hidden away where only a few know about them or can find them. Here's one of each:

Tuesday with Darin Aldridge & Friends

Angel's Restaurant (101 E. Virginia Ave., Bessemer City, NC) serves a number of purposes in downtown Bessemer City, a once thriving, mostly industrial suburb of Charlotte with a history dating back to an eighteenth century iron smelting operation. At present it is home to several large industrial corporations. The main street is neat and tidy with plenty of room for evenings at Angel's, where Darin Aldridge & Friends play bluegrass to an appreciative audience on Tuesday evenings. The  menu includes a variety of tasty sanwiches, hot coffee, sweet tea, and local wines, prominently on display. A corner of Angel's is devoted to a small shop selling guitars and such, while the back contains a consignment shop with a variety of wares. Angel's has a warm, somewhat quirky environment, perfect for bluegrass, a tasty lunch, or quick sandwich. Around 7:00 PM on Tuesday you can find Darin Aldridge along with a group of friends he has been playing bluegrass with since he was a teenager. They play familiar old bluegrass tunes, some newer ones, and invite members of the audience to join them on stage to pick or sing a song. We went twice during our stay, enjoying each evening with the music and our local friends. 

Angel's Front

Nice Place to Visit, Eat, Listen

(LtoR) Roger Holland, Carli Arrowood, Darin Aldridge,
Mike Lynch, Jeremy Arrowood (no relation)

Darin Aldridge

Mike Lynch

Carli Arrowood

Harold & Sharon Bess, Debbie James

Jack Bingham's Wednesday Jams

In the past I've written about the Bomb Shelter, built in 1959 and 1960, a time of great nuclear fear and the Cuban missile crisis, by Judy Bingham's father, which has become a local jammers hangout and a place where several young bands got their start under the tutelage of Darin Aldridge and earlier Dr, Tom Bibey (If you're not familiar with Tom Bibey, a local doc Dr, Bobby Jones writing almost fiction under a pen name, you can still find and explore his blog here. It's especially interesting to read in the years before a malignant brain tumor short circuited a fine literary career he had scheduled to supplant his medical practice in the near future. His warm hearted and interesting writing explores the life of a small town doctor who loves to play both bluegrass music and golf.) You can see a few pictures of the Bomb Shelter here, but very few, as its location is pretty well guarded by those who enjoy it so much.

Jack's Cabin

Jack's Cabin, which he has built over the past four decades and continues to improve, stands as a shrine to both his love of bluegrass music and traditional arts. The cabin, built a short walk from the Bomb Shelter, sits on a piece of property where Judy Bingham was raised. Judy forms a small triangle with her fingers to explain that she's lived in only three places for her whole life: her parents' home, an apartment on their property, and the house she and Jack now inhabit. It seems a small space, until you discover the rich musical heritage that visited there and made music. 

Vintage Instruments

 Brook & Darin Aldridge with Judy Bingham

Jack Bingham with a Turtle Shell Turkey Caller He Made

...and One Made from a Turkey Wing

Various Turkey Callers

Collection of Vintage Picks and Pictures

Bricks from Local Kilns

The collection covers a large range of Jack Bingham's interests and enthusiasms. He's carefully collected local musical artifacts and lovingly built and preserved elements of local culture. His commitment to a combination of preservation and celebration is really quite remarkable, as is the man who has devoted so much time and energy to creating this fine collection. Although Jack has passed the age of 70, he's still building and refining his piece of Americana.

The Cabin Exterior

Around the Blazing Campfire

Judy Bingham, Brooke Aldridge & Irene

The Jam

On a small outdoor stage, local jammers get together every Wednesday at the Cabin during warm weather and inside the Bomb Shelter during the chillier months.

Dereck Wolford

Brooke Joins the Jam for a Song

As is usual when we attend jams, we got home a little past our bedtime, but filled with the warmth and fellowship that spending time with Darin & Brooke as well as the Binghams always creates. We'll be back. Maybe next time I'll have courage enough to get my guitar out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Crossing the Line by Frédérique Molay - Book Review

Crossing the Line: Paris Homocide #2 by Frédérique Molay and Anne Trager (translator) (Le French Book, 2014, 280 pages, $27.33/$9.39) is a police procedural set in Paris, the second English translation of a series of novels featuring Chief Nico Sirsky of the elite Criminal Investigation Department of the Paris Police. The first novel by Molay to be translated into English, The Seventh Woman succeeded in creating the characters in two major settings, their police function of solving intractable cases, and the domestic roilings of Sirsky's finding a new love and beginning to work through the dissolution of a marriage gone wrong. It succeeded beyond my expectations, and I enjoyed the mystery, as it resolved itself from gruesome murders to an tension filled climax. In all the areas where The Seventh Woman succeeded, Crossing the Line fails. The tensions in Sirsky's domestic life have fallen into the background, the search for the killer seems rather routine, dialogue is wooden and filled with unnecessary medical jargon, and the scenes of medical dissection and training using multiple cadavers never rise to the grisly horror Molay tells us is present. I finished reading this novel only because I had enjoyed the first enough to give the second an opportunity to find its way into my liking, but neither the plot nor the characters work this time around.

Pharmacist Bruno Guedj has died after agreeing to donate his body to science. At the lab where such things happen, his body has been dissected and various parts distributed for different medical specialties to work on. Guedj's head, along with those of thirty nine others, are to be the subject of training session for experienced dentists learning to extract wisdom teeth. During this routine exercise, one pair finds a funny looking filling and lifts it off, only to find a note concealed beneath it. The note reads, “I was murdered.” There follows an ever widening investigation into first Guedj and his family , then extending to his colleagues and acquaintances while it follows up several dead end paths before finding connections that rise higher and higher into the French social and economic structure as well as exploring aspects of medical ethics. The use of Internet chat lines to help uncover the ultimate mystery is never effective. Conversations meant to elucidate various issues seem stilted and focused on providing needed information rather than increasing plot tensions. The slow introduction of the maniacal killer, as the investigation reaches ever closer, never creates enough tension to capture the reader as it did in The Seventh Woman. All told, Crossing the Line is a sodden mess of leaden prose lacking passion, verisimilitude, or anything calculated to capture and hold a reader.

Frédérique Molay

Writing has always been a passion for Frédérique Molay. She graduated from France's prestigious Science Po and began her career in politics and the French Administration. She worked as chief of staff for the deputy mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and then was elected to the local government in Saone-et- Loire. Meanwhile, she spent her nights pursuing the passion she had nourished since penning her first novel at the age of eleven. After The Seventh Woman took France by storm, Frédérique Molay dedicated her life to writing and raising her three children. She has five books to her name, with three in the Paris Homicide series. (from About the Author in the text) These books were first published nearly a decade ago, and have been brought to the U.S. in translations by Ann Trager.

Crossing the Line: Paris Homocide #2 by Frédérique Molay and Anne Trager (translator) (Le French Book, 2014, 280 pages, $27.33/$9.39) does not live up to the promise of The Seventh Woman. Though my voice seems to be in the minority on this one, I do not recommend it. The book was provided to me in an electronic galley by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Gibson Brothers Day in North Carolina

Interview and Meet & Greet at Lowe Vintage Instrument Company

 Lowe Vintage Storefront

A Realm of Wonder
Photo: Lowe Vintage

Burlington, NC is a once thriving town made comfortable and important by its location along a railroad line where it became the center for locomotive repair and then the growth and wealth brought by the textile industry brought to the Carolinas by low wages and the proximity of cotton. Once known as Company Shops, the city changed its name to Burlington when the railroad left. Since its height, the railroads have mostly died, and both textiles and cotton have largely left North Carolina for lower labor costs and less expensive land on which to grow cotton. Burlington remains a regional center for industry and commerce and seems to be in the midst of an urban revival centered on downtown Main Street, where Lowe Vintage Instrument (327 S. Main Street, Burlington, NC) has built a lovely shop to buy, sell, and repair fine instruments amidst other shops, restaurants, a restored theater, government services, offices, banking, and other commerce. (Thanks to Bob Webster for the brief tour and orientation.)

Restored Movie Theater - Burlington, NC

The Old Railroad Station

Looking Down Main Street

Vintage Instruments, presided over by Ed Lowe and his son Will, along with Will's younger brother, provides an environment where customers can feel free to sit and play dozens of fine instruments as they seek just the right one to meet high standards of sound and performance. Each instrument has been burnished and set up to high standards by luthier David Sheppard, whose work is superb. David knows his stuff from both the shop and the stage, where he is lead singer and guitarist with his wife Ivy for the rising band The South Carolina Broadcasters . On Saturday, the newly opened shop, replacing the basement where Will and his father Ed have done business since 2004, hosted an in-store interview of the Gibson Brothers by Cindy Baucom (one of bluegrass' foremost broadcasters and IBMA Broadcaster of the Year in 2005) of Knee Deep in Bluegrass followed by a meet and greet.

Will Lowe

 Jesse Brock & Leigh Gibson Consult with Will
about an early 20th century guitar

Broadcaster Cindy Baucom Interviews Eric Gibson

Master Luthier David Sheppard Samples His Own Work

The Gibson Brothers dropped by Lowe Vintage Instrument for the interview on their way to a concert in Taylorsville, NC before heading to the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, TN for a Sunday appearance. Winners of the 2012 and 2013 IBMA Entertainer of the Year Award as well as many others over the past decade, each one of their last seven CD's has reached the Number One spot on the bluegrass charts. Their new CD from Rounder Records, featuring performance of brother duos from the mid and late twentieth century will be released in February. This will be their first recording not featuring any songs composed by the Gibson Brothers, but including music from other great brother duos, a club the Gibsons clearly belong to.

Cindy Baucom Interviews the Gibson Brothers

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Cindy Interviews Mike Barber

...While Eric & Leigh Look On

Jesse Has His Say, Too....

Recording a Song Live for Cindy's Show

The interview offered a fascinating view inside the broadcast process as well as plenty of insight into the Gibsons themselves, as Cindy Baucom asked thoughtful and probing questions going beyond the often surfacy stuff of radio interviews. The interview which will air this week on Cindy's syndicated radio show both on air and online. Check her web site for times) covered the Gibson Brothers background growing up on a farm near the Canadian border in northern New York State, as well as insight into their work and future directions. Perhaps most interesting to me was Cindy's ability to provide record relatively .hort interview segments which were focused, insight provoking, and pointed while keeping in mind the need to keep spinnng recordings on her show, which would be inserted in the production process. Baucom conducted the entire interview without a single note, while juggling her small hand held microphone, keeping focused on moving along. She's a real master of the art. The Gibson's responses were engaging and real. One of their amazing qualities is their ability to provide answers to questions they must hear frequently while staying in the present, seeming neither canned nor responding by rote...a trick in itself. At noon, the interview finished, the doors were opened and a small crowd came through to meet the Gibson Brothers, buy CD's, get autographs, and play some instruments. It was an engaging and satisfying morning.

Jesse Road Tests a 1923 Lloyd Loar Gibson

Leigh's Always on the Lookout

Eric with a Fan

Let's Give this One a Try

Headline: Jesse Goes Electric!

Mike, Jesse, Leigh, Cindy, Will & Eric

After lunch we drove the 117 miles to Alexander County High School in Taylorsville, NC to find the Gibsons already there and ready for their sound check. The High School (the only one in rural Alexander County) has a lovely auditorium seating 600 and offering wonderful sound qualities. Promoter Ray Johnson has hosted a number of shows there and sound provided by Young Audio of Lincolnton, NC was excellent.

Emcee Cindy Baucom

Idle Time Band

The show was opened by a solid local band called Idle Time Band. North Carolina is filled with music, and bluegrass represents a major component. Competition for bookings for many of these part-time bands is fierce and competitive, the opportunity to perform much less available than the number of bands ready and willing to fill the space. For instance, their were nearly thirty North Carolina bands scheduled into the showcase venues at the recent Wide Open Bluegrass component of IBMA's World of Bluegrass in Raleigh during and immediately after the Awards ceremony. The Idle Time Band, like many of these bands, is filled with musicians whose love of the music brings them together to play, but for whom the rigors and risks of the road don't call strongly enough to wrench them from jobs and family. The Idle Time Band is a worthy member of this large and able cohort.

Russell Laudermelk

John Treadway

Eric Childers

Billy Warren

Jimmy Trevette

The Idle Time Band - Baby Gone Home - Video

The Gibson Brothers

As has often been said about the Gibson Brothers, they have become an instant success after twenty years of hard work, perseverance, and thoughful analysis of themselves and their unique sound. Their success provides a model for what it takes to reach the summit. They are known for their own revealing and insightful song writing, and for their intelligence in selecting co-writers to work with as well as covers that reflect the Gibson ethos. The band is characterized by a high level of stability, with the only changes in the last ten years at mandolin. Their humorous and slightly edgy by-play emphasizes the tensions that can arise between brothers while never reaching the point of discomfort for the audience. They work without a play-list, always adjusting their program and their patter to audience responses. It comes together to create an exciting program of great music combined with comfortable and real humor.

Leigh Gibson

Eric Gibson

Mike Barber

Jesse Brock

Clayton Campbell

The Gibson Brothers - Bye Bye Love - Video

The Audience

Eric & Leigh

The Gibson Brothers - Satan's Jeweled Crown - Video

In the Lobby

At the Merch Table