I’ve got mixed feelings about Crazy From the Heat by David Lee Roth. On one hand, it is not well written. It isn’t an autobiography nor is it a traditional memoir. Important editorial choices were not made. It has moments of gratuitous “kiss-and-tell” content which comes off as a classless.
On the other hand, I learned some interesting information about Van Halen. There are parts that are laugh-out-loud funny. David Lee Roth does make a decent case for “a life well lived.” And, possibly the most important thing, this book got me to go back to the original Van Halen records and remember what it is that I enjoy about early VH.
Let’s start with the stuff that I don’t like. The book doesn’t follow a linear path of storytelling. While that may be OK, some sections are inexplicably plopped into the middle of the story with zero context. For example, the chapter focused on how people treated DLR when they learned he was Jewish. An important topic for sure - no one should treat him differently because of that fact. It is the music that matters. But, the chapter is misplaced in between some funny sections. It breaks the flow and is a less powerful statement based on its placement.
Similarly, the 20 page rant about how he got screwed by attorneys and agents. This chapter is too long. It is redundant. It isn’t new news - every band memoir makes this point. His chapter brings no new information to light or tells us how he got out from under the unfair pressure of the music-making machine. Could have cut this section and saved 20 pages, easily.
It makes sense that DLR has a serious side and has opinions on important social and economic topics. But, don’t set that scene immediately after a three page expose about his night with three prostitutes.
Which takes me to my next dislike of this book. Chapters detailing sexual exploits somehow seem creepy and uncouth. I think we can all imagine that DLR had lots of adventurous sex. I don’t think it needs to get more detailed than that. I’m not a prude and the book isn’t pornographic, but c’mon. Kiss-and-tell chapters aren’t needed.
What did I like? There are some hilarious road stories that are told very well. DLR’s voice is crystal clear and the way he tells the best stories is like you are sitting there with him. The barrel of fireworks, getting “fished,” and the hotel room super glue incidents are hilarious stories. Good, fun, ridiculous stuff.
I also enjoyed his travel stories. DLR’s point throughout the book is that the other members of Van Halen settled down early in the band’s time together. When they had time off, Eddie, Alex, and Michael Anthony would go off with their spouses or significant others. DLR would travel. He’s been to some great places and had some amazing adventures. That was fun to read.
There wasn’t enough information or description about how Van Halen wrote songs or approached the process. But, two stories worth mentioning are:
I would be interested in how DLR would rewrite the book today or how he views his time in Van Halen now, 20 years after writing this book. I wonder if the anger still exists? Because make no mistake, he was angry when he wrote this book and it shows. I find his anger humorous today. I mean, when people think of Van Halen, they think of Van Halen with David Lee Roth. Yes, people know Sammy Hagar was in the band, but Van Halen's best work, the work that you remember and want to listen to, is David Lee Roth. Maybe it was difficult for him to see that legacy at the time he wrote the book. Perhaps, he would see it now...
Would I recommend Crazy From the Heat? No. Would I tell you the stories and crank Jamie’s Cryin’? Absolutely.
I love reading about food and drink - cookbooks, histories, etc. so Bourbon Strange, Surprisingly Stories of American Whiskey by Charles K. Cowdery scratched that itch. This is the second book of Chuck's that I have read (somehow can't find my copy of Bourbon, Straight...). This book is loaded with stories and details of the people involved in the American whiskey industry (as opposed to the focus on the actual liquid, like the first book).
If you aren't a whiskey enthusiast or you don't drink Bourbon, I'm not sure this book is for you. I can't imagine an article about Diageo's fumblings in the American whiskey market would be interesting to you.
My favorites parts of this book are the later stories, staring with the chapter on Maxwell Street in Chicago. Growing up in Chicago, Maxwell St. always had a mystique about it. When we were kids my dad would drive us by Maxwell St. occasionally and tell us stories about the market when he was a kid. When I lived in the city as an adult the market was the best place to get street tacos on a Sunday. The market has had many different iterations over the decades. I'm not sure if it even exists anymore, certainly if it does it isn't on Maxwell St. Probably some condos there now...
Chuck tells a great story about a Maxwell St. blues band and day-long odyssey of driving around on endless errands procuring musical equipment, gasoline, and whiskey.
The description of the start to finish distillation process is a great story as well. I suppose I could get all that info from Wikipedia but it is more fun to have Chuck explain it. Whiskey, specifically Bourbon whiskey, is his life. You may think you know people who know a lot of Bourbon, but Chuck knows more.
There is also a great chapter on collecting. I don't fancy myself a whiskey collector, but if I choose to start, he gives several excellent strategies. He also has some input on how NOT to collect that is sage advice, such as don't go out and buy a bunch of stuff you have never tried. You might get your hands on a lot of whiskey you don't like or that isn't very good. Thank you, Chuck (I was about to do just that.)
There are a few chapters that run through so many names and dates that I lost the thread on the narrative a bit. Since there is no shortage of places, people, and laws in the story of American whiskey, information overload is easy to do. But, that shouldn't put you off. Chuck is a good writer. He is knowledgeable on the subject matter. And, he puts his personality into the pages.
If you are a Bourbon person, find a copy and give it a read.
The picture of this book shows that it is well loved. It was. My wife gave this book to her father many years ago. He devoured it just like he did the first one. He was one of my first Bourbon drinking buddies. Lots and lots of laughs with Pete Schwab, M.D.
I've read Who Moved My Cheese? about 10 times. Each time I read it, it is interesting and refreshing. It is like a reset button for my brain. Concern and confusion over changes and stress melt away because I realize that I'm in charge and responsible for my future, not anyone else.
I've chosen to work in companies that are growing quickly and make lots of changes. Oftentimes, I am the one who is the architect of change or asked to carry out changes. Who Moved My Cheese is critical to management of those changes, helping to keep people's minds flexible and limber. The book helps people's minds and attitudes get into shape and stay in shape.
The story itself is silly - mice and fictitious people run around a maze looking for cheese. They find it, eat it, run out of cheese, and freak out when the cheese is gone. It is so simple. But, what makes the story work is the commitment to the story. There are no real world examples or metaphors that pull us away from the story. We are in that story until the end.
Bookending the story is a scenario of several friends talking about their lives and the changes they find them selves going through. At times it feels heavy handed - do real people talk this way? But, the brilliance of the dialogue and situation is that it is relatable and safe for us to read. As readers, we are not threatened by direct questions about our feelings and motivations. We view the story through the eyes of others and make it safe for our brains to explore these themes.
The most important and interesting thing about this book is the reminder that life is more fulfilling and fun when you are in control. I choose the adventure. I decide how to prepare and react. For a book that is only only 95 pages, it is extremely powerful.
I've been reading the poetry of Billy Colin’s for years. It is both funny and touching. Poignant and lighthearted. In Musical Tables, he has chosen to focus on short poems, none longer than a single page, and most of them no longer than 10 lines.
While there are great poems here, this is not my favorite Billy Collins book. Reading these poems, I felt like some key detail was left out. Others, I simply read too quickly. There was nothing to digest. No meaning I could discern.
I had to slow down to read this book, a good thing most of the time - slowing down to savor the moment. But, in this case, I felt like I was re-reading a poem that still held no meaning for me.
One thing he does extremely well is making the title of the poem the first line of the poem. It is a fun little trick that he does from time to time. He also deals with death and mortality frequently, which is another favorite topic of his. But, the book isn't morbid. There are many poems about the beauty of nature and the quirky way life presents the simple things.
I recognize the extreme talent and hard work that went into this book. His dedication to the short poem is clear. The discipline it must take to edit and edit down the poem to the right length. It is spare and raw. I also admire the goal, fill a book with short poems. The urge to include one or two that were not “short” must have been intense.
I’m positive I’ll come back to Musical Tables to find the magic that undoubtedly lies within. I know it is there.
The Birth of Loud by Ian S. Port is for the guitar enthusiast and music lover. It is an excellent history of the birth of the electric guitar, Leo Fender, and Les Paul. It is full of music trivia and details. I could feel my brain making new connections. It was exciting to read.
The birth of the electric guitar is set up like this: post-war Americans wanted to party after years of toil, dance halls filled to capacity. The noise of the patrons oftentimes drowned out the sound of the band. So, bands began amplifying their sound. But, amplifying the band's existing acoustic instruments created another problem - feedback. At a certain point, the relationship between the hollow space in guitars and the amplification broke down into uncontrollable feedback.
There was another issue as well. The main guitar in these dance hall bands was the pedal steel, (most of these bands were country or Texas swing bands and featured a steel guitar). Played horizontally, this guitar was heavy and difficult to transport from venue to venue. And, as musical tastes began to change, the steel guitar was an an anachronism.
It is into this world that three friends: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and Paul Bigsby enter. Fender was a radio and sound man, a perfectionist, a loner, and decidedly not a musician. Paul was a showman, guitarist, and man-about-town. Bigsby was a somewhere in between but definitely shared the passion for music and helping to solve the issues of musicians.
Without spoiling all the fun details, at almost the exact same time in history, these three gentleman invented portable solid body, standard guitars. Bigsby's were custom and out of reach by most musicians. Pauls's was so primitive that the Gibson Guitar company laughed at his invention. Fender's guitar was cheap, easy to make, and easy to service. It was the one that put the electric guitar on the map.
During this time, a myriad of things were happening on the music scene. One of the most notable was Les Paul's recording techniques. Always trying to get the most out of his performances, Paul pushed recording further and further, pioneering multi track recording. His songs that used this technique were groundbreaking and used to great effect as the 60s and 70s blossomed.
Paul is most famous for his Gibson Les Paul guitar, which was simply an endorsement deal. Very little of the mechanics of that guitar were his. But, that guitar could handle loud volume and had a pleasing tone that most solid body guitars did not. The two main reasons for the sound of the "Les Paul" Gibson were the hum-bucking pickups and the maple top placed on the solid body. Of course it also made the guitar nearly 10 pounds, quite a difference from the seven pound Fender.
Fenders grew and in popularity. It seemed like EVERY band, not just rock bands were playing Fenders. Then, The Beatles happened. They played Rickenbacker guitars (just a short car ride from Fender's factory in California). All the sudden Fender had competition. But, since Fender had the production capability, they continued to dominate the guitar world.
And then, after hearing Keith Richards play a 1959 Les Paul model Gibson and feasting on Freddy King's music, Eric Clapton bought one of his own - a 1960 cherry sunburst top Les Paul. He literally changed music overnight with his playing on John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. And, of course then the battle really took off when Jimi Hendrix was given his first Fender Stratocaster (which originally belonged to Keith Richards...).
One is left to wonder, "What happened to Paul Bigsby?" Reading between the lines, Bigsby's guitar might have been the first solid body electric and might have been the exact template of Fender's model. But, Bigsby never truly got the credit.
After reading this book, I'm more focused on the guitars musicians are playing (it is actually a little distracting, but fun). For example, Johnny Marr playing a Fender Jaguar. Nils Lofgren playing the same. Springsteen playing his iconic Fender Telecaster. Keith Richards playing a Fender Stratocaster as well as a Gibson Les Paul. Angus Young playing a Gibson SG. Gary Louris playing and SG and a Flying V (never a big seller for Gibson, but it s a fantastic looking guitar). And, countless guitarists yet to be famous playing Fenders and Gibsons together - The War on Drugs, Dry Cleaning, etc. It's good sport.
There are many other players in this drama that are important to mention - the players and workers behind the scenes that pushed the techniques and made the sounds that shaped music today... Carol Kaye, Dick Dale, Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters, Brian Wilson, Bob Wills, Merle Travis, Mary Ford, George Fullerton, and literally thousands of others who picked up a guitar.
I definitely recommend The Birth of Loud to guitar enthusiasts and music geeks.
I'm always on the look out for management books about improving organizational process and effectiveness. I've found Stephen Covey's First Things First and Patrick Lencoini's The Advantage to be two of my favorites. Traction by Gino Wickman is my latest management book. It came highly recommended by a CEO friend that uses the Entrepreneur Operating System (EOS) that Wickman developed.
At first glance, EOS struck me as too simple. Almost every step of the process begins with the statement, "Get your leadership team together for an hour." And, my honest reaction to that was, "No shit!" It felt a little like Winston Wolf's part in Pulp Fiction. When "The Wolf" is called in to help clean up a fairly gruesome problem, his suggestion is to get some cleanser and start cleaning up. No silver bullet except the hard work of cleaning.
And, as it turned out, that was a fairly good analogy. Winston Wolf's plan worked just as "simply" as EOS sounds - you know what to do, now go do it!
Each step of the EOS is a planned part of a coordinated methodology. Understanding your values, your mission, your unique differentiators, your vision (both long and short term), your immediate plans, your issues, and how to execute all of it together. Sometimes it is difficult to experience each of these items separately. They seem like one interwoven being. Other times, these items might seem like sacred cows, "We have had the same values for 10 years! We can't change them now..." What EOS does so effectively is illustrate how all the parts of the process are interrelated. You cannot start at step five. You must start by driving alignment around company values.
Originally, EOS sounded like it is intended for small businesses, those <$5M in annual revenue. But, after talking with people using EOS, it is more scalable, actually producing tangible results for companies up to >$50M in annual revenue. There is a HUGE difference in running a company of those sizes, but if EOS is as scalable as I'm lead to understand, then more companies should be jumping into this methodology.
Wickman's book is a recipe on how to put the program in place and maintain it moving forward. He has peppered it with real client examples and gives the reader a real-life look at what is easy and what is difficult while implementing EOS. As with most effectiveness frameworks, there is an army of consultants to help your business integrate the process. In my experience, implementing a new management framework such as this is best done by a professional integrator, familiar with the system and the pitfalls that only come with experience.
For companies implementing EOS, the framework is progressive. Managers feel in control and energized by the accountability that comes with a standard methodology.
Traction is a fast read. If you bristle at the prospect of reading another management book, this one won't take up too much of your time. If you choose to implement EOS, you'll have to read it again and again as you reference the various parts of the process, but that would be the case with any management methodology.
If you are on the hunt for a methodology to grow your business and drive effectiveness and accountability throughout your business, read Traction. It will be worth your time.
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