book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Julie Andrews’ Home: A Memoir of My Early Years…

Here’s another reposted book review that I wrote for Epinions.com. It was written in November 2008, and appears here as/is.

I have always admired the great actress and singer Julie Andrews, star of My Fair LadyMary Poppins, andThe Sound of Music. I also love to read true stories, especially biographies and autobiographies. When I spotted Julie Andrews’ autobiography, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, I decided I had to read it. I wanted to know how this woman who has had such an enduring career in show business got her start.

Julie Andrews began life on October 1, 1935 on Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, UK. Her mother was an aspiring vaudevillian actress and musician and her father was a teacher. She was born Julia Elizabeth Wells, but her name was later changed to Julie Andrews when her mother got remarried to Ted Andrews, a singer and actor. Apparently, it was thought that the name Julie flowed better with her new last name than did Julia. Julie Andrews muses that she never knew how her father felt about the name change but concedes that he must have been hurt.

Using a very intimate writing style, Andrews reveals how she grew up the product of a broken home, with a mother who drank too much and enjoyed too many extramarital affairs. Along with this turbulent home life, Julie Andrews also lived through the worst years of World War II. She includes some memories of those times, when German invasions were common and feared. She writes of hearing air raid sirens and sharp warnings from the warden who passed by. She vividly describes hiding in subway stations for safety during bombing raids and comments that her stepfather, Ted Andrews, once forgot his guitar. The guitar was very precious, since it provided him his livelihood. He managed to retrieve it and entertained the masses in the subway station. I found Andrews’ tales about living through World War II especially interesting, since I wasn’t around during that time and am now living in a place where it still leaves an enduring impression.

I like Julie. She’s a woman after my own heart.

I was also interested in reading Julie Andrews’ life story because I am a singer. Julie Andrews is, of course, a wonderful singer. She was discovered by her stepfather, who revealed her powerful four octave voice and started giving her singing lessons. Andrews’ mother was a brilliant accompanist. It wasn’t long before Julie was a part of their act. Not long after she became part of the act, she became its star, complete with top billing.

Naturally, Julie Andrews’ vocal training and performances led to later training with a string of eccentric but excellent teachers. I think I would have enjoyed reading about these experiences even if I weren’t myself a singer. Andrews’ writing makes them come alive. Since I do sing, I found I could relate a bit to her experiences. Andrews also reveals that she has perfect pitch, which I also have; it was interesting to read about that as well.

Julie Andrews made her Broadway debut in 1954, when she was 19 years old. She was very successful in her role in The Boy Friend, which led to one of her best known Broadway roles as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. I found Andrews’ comments about My Fair Lady fascinating, especially as she revealed tidbits about the great actor, Rex Harrison, who played Professor Higgins. Andrews also dishes about working with Richard Burton, who was apparently very crass and egotistical.

I appreciated Andrews’ reflections on her family members. She writes about her mother, stepfather, and father, of course. She also includes information about her many siblings, stepmother, and her daughter. Naturally, she also writes about her first marriage to Tony Walton.  Andrews even includes a “shocker” about her family that I wasn’t expecting.  I won’t reveal it here because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will remark that again, I found myself relating to her a bit.  Suffice it to say, it can be very tough living in a step situation.  It’s also tough living with an alcoholic.  Julie Andrews managed to do both and flourish.

Home includes two generous black and white photo sections, with pictures of her parents and grandparents as well as Andrews herself as a little girl. There are also photographs of Andrews in her roles. Unfortunately, Andrews rather abruptly ends this part of her life story at 1962, just as she was on verge of making Mary Poppins for Walt Disney. I was disappointed at the end of this book, because I wanted to know more about her later years. I hope she comes out with a sequel.

In any case, I think Home: A Memoir of My Early Years is worthwhile reading for anyone who enjoys a good memoir. Julie Andrews writes as if she’s sitting down and talking with her readers. I could practically hear her chirpy voice in my ears as I read her very personal and revealing narrative. I wish this book hadn’t ended quite as abruptly as it did, but as it is, she had a lot to write about during the first 27 years of her life. It leaves me hoping that her next book will be just as satisfying.

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book reviews, celebrities, love, marriage, memories

Repost: My review of Carly Simon’s book, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir…

I originally published this book review on my old blog on December 14, 2016. It appears here as/is.

I have long admired singer-songwriter Carly Simon.  Having been born in the early 1970s, her music, and that of her ex husband’s, James Taylor, has been a part of my personal soundtrack for many years.  I also enjoy reading life stories, especially by people I admire.  I downloaded Carly Simon’s 2015 memoir on the day it was released, but I’ve only just read it.  I tend to download a lot of stuff that interests me and it sits in the queue until the mood strikes for me to read it.  There was a time when I would have greedily devoured this book days after its release, but I guess I’m slowing down in my old age.

Anyway, Carly’s book is entitled Boys in the Trees: A Memoir.  I like the book’s title, since it references the title song from her 1978 album, which I remember almost wearing out during Christmas break 1991.  I had a month at home with my parents and had always loved the song “You Belong To Me”.  I bought the CD and played it non-stop.  It was a comfort during those bleak winter days when I was 19 years old and hating the semester break at home from college.

Simon’s book starts with her story of growing up in New York, the daughter of Richard Simon, one of the founders of the Simon & Schuster publishing company.  She had a privileged upbringing, surrounded by family and friends.  Her two older sisters were beautiful and talented.  Her brother, Peter, was younger and the son her father had wanted.  Carly writes that she was supposed to have been a boy named Carl, but when she came out female, her father simply added a “y” to the name.  Carly Simon’s father evidently didn’t mesh that well with his third child.  He was the first of many men to disappoint her.

As Simon grew older, her father grew frail.  Sidelined by strokes, he was eventually convinced to sell his interest in Simon & Schuster.  Carly’s mother, Andrea, fell out of love with her husband and had an affair with a much younger man named Ronny.  Starting at age 7, Carly also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a visiting teenager who had seen porn and wanted to replicate it.

As a teenager, Carly Simon lived in Martha’s Vineyard. James Taylor’s family also had a home there and that was where the two of them met, when they were adolescents. In November 1972, they would marry at City Hall, wearing wedding bands they purchased for $17.95 each, at a Middle Eastern kiosk. The rings weren’t even the ones that had been on sale. Simon had been involved with other men, notably Mick Jagger and Warren Beatty. Taylor had been seeing Joni Mitchell before he hooked up with Carly. But they were destined to be together and make two children, Sally and Ben.

When James and Carly were still married.

Boys in the Trees is divided into three books.  I think Simon was wise to divide the book that way, since her story is not one that necessarily lends itself to seamlessness.  The last book is about her marriage to James Taylor, a man she clearly deeply admires and probably still even loves.  Sadly, James Taylor was apparently not a very good husband in the 1970s.  He had a pretty serious drug and alcohol problem, which Simon references, as well as a penchant for affairs with other women.  They were together when their careers were both smoking hot and, though they were able to make beautiful music together, it wasn’t enough to forge a commitment.  

Simon writes that things really went to hell in her marriage to James Taylor after she’d become a mother.  Suddenly, the children were more important and she could no longer turn a blind eye to Taylor’s dalliances.  I got the sense that perhaps James Taylor resented that.  In any case, she basically makes James Taylor of the 1970s out to be a selfish ass.  Whether or not he still is, I don’t know.

Wow… 40 years ago.

Naturally, whenever I read about another person’s relationship, I wonder a bit about the other sides of the story. And there always are other sides to include the truth. I don’t think Carly Simon is lying about what happened, and she admits to being difficult herself. But naturally, this book skews toward her perspective… not that I think cheating and drug abuse is necessarily acceptable behavior. Simon writes that she still lives in the house they lived in and much of it still bears Taylor’s design marks, some of which were not as inspired as his songwriting.

I think Carly Simon would have made a fine author had she not been a musician.  Her writing is elegant and interesting and I enjoyed reading about the many inspirations behind songs I’ve loved for years.  When she was married to Taylor, the two collaborated a lot on their albums.  It was cool to read about how Carly Simon came up with the ending coda for “Terra Nova”, a gorgeous collaboration on Taylor’s 1977 JT.  I well remember the hit song “Jesse” from the early 80s, which she reveals was actually inspired by her son, Ben.

As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression, I appreciated Carly’s revelations about her own issues with panic attacks.  She writes about one serious attack she suffered in Pittsburgh back in 1981, when she had to call upon the audience to help her.  She writes that she still gets letters from people who were at that concert, many of whom express a great deal of empathy for the situation she was in at the time.  Panic and anxiety kept Carly Simon off the public stage for several years.

Curiously, Simon’s book ends basically with her split from Taylor.  She doesn’t write about her second marriage to and divorce from poet Jim Hart, although she does mention him in her acknowledgments.  She doesn’t write much about her breast cancer battle, nor does she write about how it felt to become a grandmother.  But perhaps those stories will come later.

In any case, I really enjoyed Carly Simon’s memoir, Boys in the Trees.  I recommend it.

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book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Pat Benatar’s life story… no, she’s NOT a bore!

Here’s another reposted Epinions book review from December 2013. It appears as/is!

Ever since I was a little knothead in Virginia I have admired rock star Pat Benatar.  In fact, the very first record I ever purchased with my own money was a copy of Crimes of Passion (1980).  I remember struggling to save up about $8, walking down the busy highway next to my house to Murphy’s Mart, and handing over the crumpled bills for that album, which I then proceeded to play over and over again for years.  Thinking back on it, times were very different in the early 80s.  Anyway, I have always liked Pat Benatar’s music, so I decided to download her 2010 book Between a Heart and a Rock Place: A Memoir.  Pat Benatar wisely wrote this book with ghost writer Patsi Bale Cox. 

Benatar starts at the beginning, writing about her upbringing in New York, a tiny girl of Polish and Irish extraction among exotice Italian girls in Lindenhurst, Long Island.  Early on, she had an interest in music and thanks to dedicated music teachers in her school system, got classical training early.  She had a German voice teacher who taught her how to use her voice properly and had her singing like Julie Andrews.  But she wanted to rock and roll. 

Originally, Pat Benatar wanted to teach sex ed.  But teaching sex ed was not her destiny.  She dropped out of college after a semester and married her high school sweetheart, Dennis Benatar, who had joined the Army.  They moved to South Carolina and Virginia, two states near and dear to my heart.  Pat took up a brief career as a bank teller and was actually pretty good at the work.  But again, she wanted to rock and roll.  A singing waitress job in Richmond got her started and before long, she moved back to New York City and began singing at Catch a Rising Star, a club for up and coming singers.  She was soon on her way to rock and roll.

It wasn’t long before someone in the music business noticed Pat’s powerhouse pipes and she soon found herself with a band.  She met her husband, Neil Giraldo, when he came to audition for her band.  Benatar explains that she was immediately attracted to her guitar playing husband, a man she nicknamed Spyder.  She and Benatar divorced and pretty soon, one of the first ladies of rock was on her way to stardom.  She eventually married Giraldo in 1982.  They are still married and have two daughters, Haley and Hana. 

Pat Benatar and her husband, Neil Giraldo, are still rockin’.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed reading Pat Benatar’s story.  Looking on Amazon.com, I see a lot of folks criticized this book for being “boring”.  That’s funny, because I didn’t find it boring at all.  Benatar does write a lot about the music business, particularly her dealings with Chrysalis Records, the label who issued her first releases.  I was especially interested in what she wrote about the label’s co-founder, Terry Ellis.  I had read about him in Ray Coleman’s The Carpenters: The Untold Story: An Authorized Biography.  Terry Ellis had dated Karen Carpenter and Coleman had dished quite a bit about their relationship.  He’d made the British record producer sound like he was charming and fun, which was part of the reason he and Karen didn’t work out (Karen was more of a homebody, while Ellis liked to go out on the town).  Pat Benatar’s thoughts about Ellis were not complimentary at all.  Their relationship was all about business and apparently, Ellis was very sexist and apparently told Pa that no one came to a Pat Benatar concert to hear her sing… (REALLY???)

Apparently, the contract Benatar had with Chrysalis was brutal.  The record company demanded albums in quick succession, whether the band was ready to record or not.  Pat Benatar and her band worked very hard in the 1980s and apparently were treated like indentured servants by Chrysalis.  When Pat got pregnant, she had to deal with a lot of flak from the record company.  The powers that be wanted her to project a sexy vixen-like image, while she felt that wasn’t who she really was.  It really gives readers a look at the downside of being a rock star.

Aside from her dealings with Chrysalis, Pat Benatar writes a lot about her love for her family, especially her husband and daughters.  She writes about how she and Giraldo discovered Hana, Hawaii, a beautiful, off the beaten path town in Maui.  The two were married there and later built a home there, where they were neighbors with Kris Kristofferson. 

I am myself a singer, so I also appreciated Benatar’s commentary on singing.  I learned something I never knew when Benatar wrote about her first pregnancy.  Apparently, pregnancy makes your long muscles relax.  Since vocal chords are “long muscles” according to Pat, she found that when she was pregnant, she was able to do things vocally that she never could do before.  That almost makes me want to go out and get pregnant, just so I can find out for myself.  Unfortunately, at age 41, I’m afraid that ship might have sailed.

This book includes color photos, which I appreciated.  There’s one shot of her two daughters, nine years apart in age.  They look like they could be twins.  By the way, I loved reading about Pat Benatar’s devotion as a wife and a mother.  She comes across as very family oriented and grounded.  I also loved that she wrote that while she is a very political person, she doesn’t use her status as a rock star to promote her political views.  I think that’s a smart policy and I appreciate it.

Overall

I like Pat Benatar’s music and I think I would like her as a person, too.  I understand that some readers might have picked up this book hoping for juicy stories about celebrities or crazy stories about sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  Between a Heart and a Rock Place is not that kind of book; which, in my view, makes it refreshing.  Pat Benatar is a hard working woman who has taken good care of herself.  So she didn’t do drugs, smoke, drink, or screw her way to the top…  that doesn’t make her boring, folks.  It makes her smart.

I recommend this book, but only if you want to read about someone who is a worthy role model for young women.  Don’t read it looking for cheap gossip.

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book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Kenny Rogers shares his life in a memoir…

Here’s another reposted book review. This one was written for Epinions on October 8, 2012. It appears here as/is, although Kenny died on March 20, 2020. I miss him. His music was a big part of my childhood. So was his acting.

The other day, I ran across a news article about country singer, actor, and photographer, Kenny Rogers.  The article was about his brand new book, Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir (2012), and his publisher’s demand that he remove a chapter about his experiences with plastic surgery.  Having grown up in the 1970s and 80s, and having a mother who loves his music, I was already pretty familiar with Kenny Rogers as a singer.  I had heard a little about his photography and business ventures with Kenny Roger’s Roasters, a chain restaurant he lent his name to, and I had seen him act in Six Pack and a couple of television movies.  And I had noticed the dramatic change in his appearance after he got his eyes done…  I knew I wanted to read his story, even if there wouldn’t be anything about who botched his surgery!

Kenny Rogers… a man of humble origins  

At the beginning of Luck or Something Like It, Kenny Rogers writes about his humble origins in Houston, Texas.  He’s one of many children, born in the middle of a big brood.  His father, who died in 1975, was an alcoholic who spent all his extra money on booze.  His mother was a practical woman who worked hard.  When Kenny was young, they lived in the San Felipe projects in Houston, but were later able to move to a better part of the city when the family’s finances improved. 

Kenny Rogers attended Jefferson Davis High School in Houston and eventually got into music as a means of getting girls.  He was also athletic and went out for sports teams, but it turned out he was better at making music than playing sports.  Oddly enough, Rogers didn’t seem to come from a particularly musical family, though he does write that his older sister, Geraldine, taught him how to sing harmony when they were in church.  Rogers writes that he was immediately hooked on harmony and it became a defining feature of his sound.  He loved being part of a band because of that sound.

Speaking of bands… 

Kenny Rogers has been in quite a few of them.  Perhaps his best known band was The First Edition, which was the band he was in when he became famous.  Rogers explains how he moved to Los Angeles and rubbed elbows with some very talented folks.  He learned how to play folk, jazz, and even a little psychedelic styled music.  He learned how to alter his image so he could fit in.  And he even writes briefly of auditioning Karen Carpenter for The First Edition when their lead singer decided touring wasn’t for her.

He also writes about his famous duet partners, particularly Dolly Parton and Dottie West.  He very graciously explains why he owes Dolly Parton a great debt, since their famous duet “Islands In The Stream”, helped keep his career going after he signed a deal with RCA that seemed destined to ruin him.

Speaking of songs

I really enjoyed reading about Kenny Rogers’ hits.  He takes the time to explain the stories behind some of his biggest songs, like “Lucille”, “Reuben James”, and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.” 

Married five times…

Kenny Rogers claims that he loves being married.  In fact, he loves it so much that he’s walked down the aisle five times.  Granted, his first wife was the result of a shotgun wedding.  Rogers seems to have gotten the hang of marriage, though, having now been married to his fifth wife, Wanda, for twenty years.  Besides being a prolific husband, Rogers has also fathered four sons and a daughter.  He writes a bit about his kids.  I was heartened to read about how he managed to heal his relationship with his eldest son, a product of his third marriage and the victim of parental alienation.

His photography

Kenny Rogers is well-known as a singer and an actor, but did you know he’s also a photographer?  Rogers writes about how he became interested in taking pictures and some of the projects he’s undertaken with his camera.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed reading about Kenny Rogers’ life.  He comes across as a nice person, suprisingly down to earth and candid about his successes and failures, and gracious to all who helped him get to where he is today.  I didn’t even miss the missing chapter about his plastic surgery. 

Kenny Rogers has been around for 74 years and had some amazing experiences.  I never got the sense he was bragging about his good fortune or whining about his misfortunes.  He just comes off as someone who came from humble origins and had a rare combination of drive, talent, and luck that propelled him to success.  His story is the kind that has the potential to give people hope.

He includes photos in both color and black and white.  Just as an aside… In case anyone is wondering, no, Kenny doesn’t include the roasted chicken recipe made famous in his restaurants.

Aww… his widow and sons still really miss him.

Overall

I would definitely recommend Luck or Something Like It to Kenny Rogers fans or even people who just enjoy a good life story.  I read this book on my iPad and am pleased to report that I had no issues with that method.  Even the pictures looked great.  Five stars.

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book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Anne Murray’s life story: All of Me…

I am slowly migrating my book reviews from my music blog to this site, as I will probably discontinue the music blog as soon as I’m eligible for a final Google Ad Sense payout. It could take years for that to happen, but I have about $96 and I need $100 for a payment. The other night, I heard Anne Murray sing a duet with her daughter, Dawn Langstroth, who is also a very good singer. It reminded me that I read and enjoyed Anne’s life story. So here it is, reposted as/is, from my review written in August 2017. Maybe it will give y’all something to read that isn’t as depressing as the news is these days!

She’s had over forty years of experience in the music business, two kids, a divorce, and multiple album sales.  She’s also an institution in her native Canada.  I am referring to singer Anne Murray, who originally intended to be a physical education teacher and ended up as a huge star. 

As a kid, I used to listen to her music.  I would describe it as pleasant, comforting, and tasteful.  I can’t listen to her 1978 hit, “You Needed Me” and not be reminded of moving back to the United States from three years in England, where my dad was serving in the Air Force.  Anne Murray was one artist who never offended and she was one of the few popular singers my dad and I could listen to together.

Although I have pretty broad tastes in music and only have one Anne Murray album in my personal collection, I love a good life story.  I just finished reading Murray’s All of Me, which was published in 2009.  Given her decision to retire from the music business in 2008, it makes sense that she’d turn to books.  This one was written with help from ghost writer Michael Posner, who did an admirable job making the book sound as if it came straight from Ms. Murray’s computer.

Born in Springhill, Nova Scotia on June 20, 1945, Murray was the third of six children and the only daughter of her surgeon father and nurse and housewife mother.  Murray and I happen to share a birthday, which makes me feel kind of special…  of course, we also share that birthday with Lionel Richie, John Taylor (of Duran Duran), Nicole Kidman, and John Goodman, among others.  Although Murray’s father was a Presbyterian, her mother was a devout Catholic and Murray and her brothers were raised Catholic.  Murray went to a Catholic college for a short spell, then transferred to the University of New Brunswick which the intention of teaching P.E.

Murray was also an enthusiastic singer growing up, as is one of her brothers.  She lasted one year teaching P.E. before she was a bonafide professional musician.  Her first big hit was “Snowbird”, which made her a star in 1970.


Anne Murray sings her best known hit.  Those pants are something else.

All of Me is surprisingly interesting, as Murray explains what it was like for her as a woman in the music biz during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  She includes plenty of anecdotes about other people she knew and performed with, funny stories about life on the road, and some interesting trivia.  I especially got a kick out of her story about taking part in a bizarre TV special that pitted musicians from the East against musicians from the West.  Murray found herself competing with and against the likes of Joan Jett, the Jacksons, Sha Na Na, Boston and ELO!  I was only six years old in 1978, when this show aired, but I can promise you I would have loved it. 

Murray apparently also got confused for being a lesbian more than a couple of times.  One time, a groupie ended up in her bed, thinking Murray was into chicks.  She makes it clear that she’s a straight arrow, having married her ex husband Bill Langstroth in 1975.  The two were together until 1998, when they divorced after 23 years of marriage and two kids.

One thing I noticed about this book is that Anne Murray comes across as a very down to earth person.  She doesn’t seem to have lost her humanity when she became famous.  She stays classy and civil and doesn’t cheapen herself with tawdry comments about others.  As a fellow musician, I also enjoyed reading about the musical side of her business.  I even learned a few things I didn’t know before.

Anne Murray sings “You Needed Me”, another huge hit.

Anyway… although this book is now about eight years old, I really enjoyed reading it.  I would recommend it to Murray’s fans, but I would also recommend it to people who enjoy life stories… especially those who were around during Murray’s heyday.  I hope she’s enjoying her life now, as an avid golfer and proud mother of two grown kids.  And… on a different note… it was nice to read a book that wasn’t very depressing.  So bravo to Anne for that!

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