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

Repost: Toni Tennille tells all in her life story…

I am reposting this book review that I wrote for my original blog on August 18, 2016. It’s in honor of my Facebook friend, Marguerite, who posted about The Captain and Tennille today. Also, I genuinely enjoyed Toni Tennille’s book. She’s an interesting and talented lady. This review is as/is, the way I posted it almost five years ago.

Captain and Tennille perform during their heyday with two of Toni’s three sisters singing backup.  Toni’s sisters were also musically talented.  I’m pretty sure they’re all lip syncing here, though.   

I just finished reading Toni Tennille: A Memoir, the life story of singer, songwriter, and actress Toni Tennille, who is best known as half of the 70s pop duo, Captain and Tennille.  As a bonafide child of the 70s, music by Captain and Tennille was part of my early soundtrack.  Their cover version of Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” was a huge hit in 1975.  I grew up hearing it on the radio and at my Aunt Gayle and Uncle Brownlee’s house.  Brownlee is my dad’s younger brother and a musician; he always had hipper musical tastes than my dad did.

Captain and Tennille also had a popular variety show on ABC that aired for one season.  I never saw their show because besides being very young in 1976, I was also living in England.  As Toni Tennille explains it, in those days TV wasn’t as global as it is now.  She and her famous ex husband, Daryl Dragon (aka the Captain), were able to travel to Scotland on vacation and not be recognized by leagues of adoring fans.

Anyway, I decided to read Toni Tennille’s story when I read an article about her online.  She and Daryl Dragon got divorced not long ago.  They had been married for 39 years and both are in their golden years.  I was curious about that, but I also admire Toni Tennille’s talents as a musician.  So I downloaded the book, which Tennille wrote with help from her niece, Caroline Tennille St. Clair.  I just got around to reading it and, I must say, I found it a fascinating and enjoyable book.  Caroline did a great job in making the book seem as if it came straight from her Aunt Toni.

At the very beginning of her story, Tennille writes about being a small child in Montgomery, Alabama, playing outside.  Suddenly, there was an accident that could have altered her destiny.  A heavy wheelbarrow fell on Toni’s finger, nearly severing it.  Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where she underwent surgery.  Young Toni had shown musical talent and had an interest in playing the piano.  She lost part of her finger, but then went through many surgeries to reconstruct the digit so she’d eventually be able to play her instrument.  Bear in mind, this was going on in the 1940s, when surgeries were much more primitive than they are now and anesthesia consisted of ether. 

She continues her story with tales about growing up in an era when blacks and whites were segregated.  Her parents were fairly well off; her dad owned a furniture store and her mother was on a television show.  They had hired help.  The help consisted of several black women who looked after Toni and her three sisters.  Toni explains that her family treated the help with dignity and respect.  Racism always made the Tennille family uncomfortable.  Still, if I had to mention a part of the book that made me a little uneasy, it was that part. 

Fate led the Tennilles out of Alabama when Toni was a student at Auburn University.  Her father’s business failed and Toni had to drop out of school.  But it turned out there was a bigger life waiting for the family in California.  It was there that Toni met Daryl Dragon, who would eventually become her second husband.  Daryl Dragon came from a wealthy California family.  His mother had been a singer and his father was Carmen Dragon, a famed conductor.  All of the Dragon siblings had musical talent, but Daryl was said to be the most talented.  He was working with The Beach Boys when he and Toni met.  Thanks to Daryl, Toni landed herself a gig playing with the big time as a member of The Beach Boys’ band.

As time passed, Toni and Daryl started working together.  They became an act.  People thought they were married, so they eventually decided to make it official at a wedding chapel in Nevada.  Sadly, although Toni claims to have been in love with her husband and wrote many songs for and about him, he never seemed to return her affections.  They slept in separate bedrooms.  Daryl respected his wife for her musical abilities, but didn’t seem into her as a woman.  And that was the state of their marriage for a very long time.

Toni Tennille’s talk show.

Based on Toni’s many observations about her ex husband, my guess is that he’s more than a bit narcissistic and/or perhaps suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome.  She claims that he saw her as a possession.  He would get very jealous when she was involved in any acting job that required her to kiss another man.  And yet, when she was at home, he never kissed her very often.  He spent a lot of time alone and adhered to weird, strict diets, which he expected his wife to follow.  In one story, Tennille writes about eating nothing but yellow grapefruit for weeks.  She writes of visiting beautiful cities world renowned for food and ending up eating tasteless crap her husband favored.

The “Captain”, so nicknamed by one of the Beach Boys, was rarely without his hat.  Tennille explains that he started balding in his 30s and was very self-conscious about his thinning hair.  So he would never be hatless, even in places where it was customary or compulsory to remove one’s hat.  Toni Tennille missed out on seeing the Sistine Chapel because her husband refused to remove his hat.  He also has a condition that affects his eyes, making them look strange.  Dragon was self-conscious about the problem, which prompted a lot of fans to write in and ask what was wrong with him.  That was also a source of much shame and embarrassment for him and he took it out on his wife.

While Toni Tennille writes a lot about her career and some of the great things she was able to do, a lot of this book is about her marriage to Daryl Dragon.  And folks, I’ll be honest.  As interesting as it was to read about her marriage, it was also more than a bit depressing.  Here she was, this beautiful, talented, vivacious woman and she spent her best years married to a man who didn’t really love her.  She allowed him to dictate so many things about her life.  It wasn’t until she was in her 70s that she finally had enough and got a divorce.  However, despite the divorce, it seems the Captain and Tennille still talk.  Toni writes that they speak on the phone every couple of weeks or so.  I guess old habits really do die hard.

Despite the fact that I think Toni Tennille should have divorced many years ago, I did like her book.  She comes across as very likable and friendly.  Ultimately, she keeps this book pretty positive, yet I never got the sense she was embellishing about the ordeals she went through in her personal life.  If you’re curious, I recommend reading Toni Tennille’s Memoir.

Edited to add: Daryl Dragon died on January 2, 2019.

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book reviews, homosexuality, LDS

Repost: A review of The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan

Here’s another reposted book review. This one was written October 18, 2017, and appears as/is.

After some concerted effort last night and an early bedtime, I finally managed to finish Corbin Brodie’s 2016 book, The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan.  I downloaded this book in 2016, less than a month after it was published.  I just got around to reading it this month.  Sorry to be so slow, but I have a whole stack of books to be read and I keep finding more.

Although I have read and reviewed quite a few exmo lit books, I had kind of gotten out of the habit.  I enjoy a good story about what it’s like to be Mormon, especially when the person is an ex Mormon.  There tends to be a lot less testimony sharing in books by the exmos.  Corbin Brodie (a pseudonym, as are all the names used in this book) is no longer LDS, but he did serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was a young lad.  In those days, missions for the guys started when they were nineteen years old; since 2012, the age limit has been set at eighteen.  I am not exactly sure when Brodie served in the Sapporo, Japan mission, but it must have been before 1991, since he makes references to the Soviet Union.

Corbin Brodie grew up in Canada.  He has a younger brother named Duncan and mentions his mother was a very faithful member of the LDS church.  Brodie and his brother were raised to be as faithful as their mother was.  Although I get the sense that Brodie wasn’t exactly TBM (true believing Mormon) from the get go, he agreed to served the expected mission.  His book mostly consists of journal entries he wrote during his time abroad and while he was at the Missionary Training Center.  It also includes a few short stories.  I gather that, like me, Brodie has an impulse to write.  I’m sure writing has saved his sanity more than a few times, especially when he was living in Japan.

By his own account, Brodie got off to a good start at the training center.  He was made a leader during his weeks in Provo, learning Japanese and the missionary lifestyle.  He adjusted to life as a missionary and went to Sapporo, where over the course of two years, he went through a series of different companions.  Brodie seemed to have an affinity for Japanese and picked it up early.  In his journal, he uses a number of Japanese words for church terms.  For example, he doesn’t call his companions “Elder” lastname, as Mormon missionaries call each other, Brodie calls them “Choro”, which I gather is the Japanese term.  He refers to other church officials and the mission home by their Japanese terms, too.  I’m pretty sure that the missionaries in non English speaking areas do use the local terms instead of Elder, Sister, or President.  Anyway, I kind of liked that he used those terms because I enjoy picking up foreign words, even if I don’t necessarily enjoy learning other languages.

At 19 years old, Brodie is now living in an environment where he is surrounded by guys his age, some of whom he finds attractive.  Given that he’s a Mormon, at his sexual peak, and serving as a missionary, being gay is, to say the least, a special challenge.  Although it’s not considered a sin to have “same sex attraction” (as the Mormons put it), it is considered sinful to act on that attraction.  So, I can only imagine that as difficult as being a missionary must have been, it must have been even more difficult to be a gay missionary.  Add in the fact that Brodie didn’t seem to enjoy Japan that much (he mentions not liking the food), and probably would not have had a whole lot of time to enjoy it even if he did, and you have two challenging years.

Brodie is musical and creative, but listening to music that isn’t church approved is forbidden.  Still, he manages to play the piano sometimes.  He seems to have some good experiences with Japanese locals, many of whom don’t want to be church members, but are okay with simply being friends.  He has some good companions who are friendly and some who are “hardasses” bucking for rank or simply people with whom he has nothing in common.  Through it all, though he serves faithfully, Brodie realizes that he doesn’t really believe in Mormonism.  It’s getting harder and harder for him to pretend to have a testimony.  Finally, during his second year, just four months before he’s scheduled to leave Japan, he has a crisis of sorts.  He makes it known that he wants to leave Japan.

Brodie’s leaders do all they can to convince Brodie to stay in country and finish his mission.  They tell him if he leaves early, he’ll be on the hook for the $2000 plane ticket.  Brodie realizes he’ll have to work a long time to be able to pay off that debt.  I actually had to laugh at this, not because it’s funny, but because essentially Brodie was kind of being “trafficked”.  It doesn’t sound that different than the women who are brought into foreign countries and forced to work off the price of their plane tickets.  Also, while I’m still not sure what years Brodie was serving, $2000 must have been an astronomical amount of money at that time.  It’s a lot now.

Brodie also considers his mother, a very faithful TBM who is in school earning her social work degree.  He doesn’t want to disappoint her or his brother, who has also put in his papers to go on a mission.  Eventually, he is convinced to stay and sent to the mission home to finish out his last four months.  The mission home is less onerous, except that Brodie chafes under the rules, including the one that doesn’t allow him to cross the street to buy a candy bar without a companion with him.

Brodie’s story ends rather abruptly.  There’s no neat wrap up at the end of his journals, although he does provide an interesting afterword.  He’s now living in the United Kingdom and has a son, although he is no longer romantically involved with his son’s mother (she’s a dear friend).  He’s still gay.  After he returned home from Japan, he took about three months to break it to his mother that he didn’t want to be LDS.  And his mother, to her great credit, eventually accepted it, although it was very hard for her.

Although I don’t remember if he mentioned it, I got the idea that Brodie’s mother must have been from Scotland.  He writes of going to Edinburgh before the mission and missing Scotland.  I can relate to how much he misses Scotland, since it’s one of my favorite places.  I also got the sense that even if Brodie hadn’t been homosexual, he would have left Mormonism.  It seemed to me that his intellect was too sharp to accept what the church teaches wholesale.  He couldn’t make 2+2=5, like some people can.

My one criticism about Brodie’s book is that it’s very long.  Although his writing is very good and engaging, it was tough going getting through this book, particularly with the inclusion of the short stories.  I realize that he basically published his journals as he wrote them, but personally, I think this book would have been stronger if it had been abridged somewhat.  The short stories were of good quality, but they kind of took away the flow of Brodie’s missionary story.  I love a good short story, but I don’t like to be distracted when I’m reading.  I felt the fiction pieces were somewhat a distraction.

I do think this book would be well-received by ex Mormons, especially male homosexuals who have served missions.  I think they will be especially able to relate to Brodie’s experiences.  I was happy to read that as hard as the mission was, it didn’t seem like the whole thing was a waste of time.  He did seem to come away from the experience with friends, some of whom I hope remained friends after he left the church.

Anyway, if I were going to assign a rating, I think I’d give The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan a solid four stars out of five.  It’s well worth reading if you’re interested.

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celebrities, dogs, funny stories, music, true crime

Shit happens.

I decided to take yesterday off from writing. It was mainly because in the wee hours of Friday morning, I awoke at about 2:00am and had trouble getting back to sleep. I had been having an erotic dream. I don’t have a lot of those anymore, so I was disappointed when I woke up. Weirdly enough, I dreamt I was having sex with Wil Wheaton. I have never even thought about having sex with him, so I’m not sure where that came from. Maybe it’s because I was recently triggered on his page. He’s definitely cute, but we’re both happily married to other people, so I doubt that’s a dream that will ever come to fruition.

Once my eyes cracked open, I got up to go to the bathroom. And then– sorry for the TMI– but I got a case of the shits. After I was finished, I left the bathroom and noticed I smelled it in another room, only it wasn’t of the human variety. Arran, bless his heart, sometimes poops when he sleeps, so I thought maybe that was the issue. But I didn’t see any evidence of that, so I checked on Noyzi, who was in his bed. The smell of poop also faded downstairs, so I could tell he wasn’t the culprit. Noyzi still doesn’t venture upstairs on his own.

Then I went into my office and, though I wasn’t wearing my contacts, I could see a fuzzy, stinky, brown puddle on one of my nice rugs. It’s one that doesn’t get walked on a lot, so it’s still pretty pristine. Arran had gone in there and dropped some diarrhea. Bill got up and cleaned up the mess while I let the dogs out. Noyzi went out and pooped, too… and it was at that point that I realized we all must have eaten something bad. Later on, Bill also had a touch of the shits. My guess is was the chicken from the chicken man, who sells his wares on Thursdays. This has never happened before, so I count it as a “one off”, as the Brits would put it.

In any case, I was kind of tired yesterday and not in the mood to write. I also find that when I take a day or two off, it’s good for my brain. Gives me a chance to refresh. Gives my readers a chance to catch up, if they want to… not that many people do. Right now, it appears I have lots of folks interested in my posts about Jocelyn Zichterman, Scott Drummond, Richard Jahnke, and Erin McCay George. These are all mostly book reviews, which rarely get a lot of attention when I first post them, but later attract readers. That’s one reason why I’ve been reposting stuff from my original blog. The book reviews are fairly “evergreen”– as in they attract views and money, if this blog were monetized, which it’s not. I post the book reviews as a “service” for the interested. Sometimes I read and review books that others are interested in but may not want to buy or can’t borrow.

I spent all day yesterday watching Snapped episodes from 2013. If I were still writing my old blog, I might write about some of the cases I saw on that show. Like, for instance, Nancy Gelber’s case… I found her a fascinating subject. She’s a wannabe author who self-published a novel called Temporary Amnesia, which boasts a very complicated storyline that she claims she dreamt up when she was a teenager. She said that’s where a lot of her ideas come from– her dreams– which are apparently even weirder than mine are.

Nancy’s book is on Amazon.com and it gets terrible reviews. I would probably hate it, and I sure don’t want to spend the amount of money they’re asking for it, especially since Nancy Gelber is a criminal. However, as someone who is interested in psychology, I found her very interesting to listen to. You can tell that beneath her cheerful, chatty demeanor, she’s a hot mess psychologically. Gelber tried to have her ex husband bumped off, but “hired” an undercover cop instead of a real hit man. Then, she claimed that she hadn’t known what she was doing.

This wasn’t what I watched on Snapped… it’s another program about Nancy Mancuso Gelber.

It’s actually interesting to watch this show, as opposed to the Snapped episode. It offers more of her ex husband’s viewpoint.

What a piece of work!

Nancy says she’s going to go to hell… and admits that having her husband offed is a “horrible” thing to do, as she laughs. On this show, she seems a lot more sinister than she appeared to be on Snapped. If you see her on Snapped, she seems a lot more pleasant and normal. How scary for Jody Gelber, her ex husband. I wish I were more of an expert in psychology. She seems like a fascinating subject. I’d love to know what her DSM V diagnosis is. My guess is narcissist, for sure.

Busted! If you listen to her fake reaction to the lie that her husband has died, she sounds like a really bad actress.

This morning, after I watched the YouTube videos about Nancy Gelber, I watched a couple more about Diana Lovejoy, who in 2017, fainted when she was found guilty of murder for hire. I’m not familiar with her case at all. I just found her reaction to the verdict fascinating.

Wow…
Off she goes to the hospital… complete with handcuffs.

I probably should get back into reading more true crime, now that I’m less interested in politics. To be clear, I’ve never been all that interested in politics. I was just horrified by four years of Donald Trump and his delusional political theater of the absurd. Trump is now reportedly refusing to refer to himself as a former president. His new legal team is referring him to as the 45th POTUS, which is technically correct. BUT– their main defense in the upcoming impeachment trial is that Trump is no longer president and therefore can’t be impeached. So which is it? Rachel Maddow has a good chuckle about it in the video clip directly below this paragraph. If you ever wanted a textbook example of grandiose malignant narcissism, Trump is your guy. By the way, as far as I’m concerned, Trump was never MY president. 😉

And finally, I probably could opine about the recent uproar regarding country singer Morgan Wallen, who was caught on video drunk and uttering racist epithets in the middle of the street with his rowdy friends. He’s facing a lot of backlash… more than the idiots who stormed the Capitol last month, actually. Looks like his fans are still buying his music, even though he’s no longer eligible for music awards and his label has suspended him. I remember when the Dixie Chicks pissed off their base by dissing former President George W. Bush at a concert. They were quickly canceled by a lot of their more redneck fans and country radio. Morgan Wallen uses the n-word and many of his fans are still fine with him.

I hadn’t heard of him before this happened. I do remember reading about Morgan Wallen being canceled from a gig on Saturday Night Live because he was caught on video partying with a bunch of people while unmasked. SNL canceled him because his appearance would put a lot of people at risk. And now, they have another reason not to have him play.

I’m not big on cancel culture. I think people should have the ability to redeem themselves. Morgan Wallen, at age 27, is probably too old to be acting like a drunken frat boy, and I did see and hear the video… and there is no excuse for his behavior. I don’t know that it should ruin his career forever, but I do think that if you’re lucky enough to be able to make a living in the arts, you owe it to yourself and everyone else to realize that with that platform comes responsibility. And, sad to say, it shows an ugly side of him. Clearly, he’s comfortable using that kind of language casually, which is too bad. It’s not the word itself that is offensive– it’s the attitude and meaning behind it. And the fact that so many people are protesting about Wallen’s “right” to free speech and missing the fact that with that right comes responsibility. Yes, he has the “right” to say what he wants. BUT that doesn’t excuse him from consequences. Wallen needs to grow up.

Last night, I was listening to old school Chicago and marveling. I can’t name most of the members of that band. I’m sure being in Chicago, which has been around for many decades now, paid off handsomely for a lot of the members. It occurred to me that is a band– along with so many others– like Earth, Wind, & Fire, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and Three Dog Night– comprised of people who are passionate about music rather than just money and fame. It occurred to me how much time, dedication, effort, and TEAMWORK goes into making that tight sound. These are very talented people working together for something awesome, not to be rich and famous. I’d like to hear much more from people like them, as opposed to privileged, clueless, jackasses like Morgan Wallen. Just saying.

Well, that about does it for today. Gotta finish the laundry and practice guitar on this dreary Saturday.

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book reviews

A review of Lenny Kravitz’s Let Love Rule…

The official video for Lenny Kravitz’s hit song and the title of his book.

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I was a big fan of The Cosby Show, before we all found out what a molesting creep Bill Cosby is. Lenny’s first wife, Lisa Bonet, starred as Denise Huxtable on that show, as well as A Different World. But I didn’t know until much later that Lenny’s mom was also someone I admired, Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on The Jeffersons, another show from my childhood that I loved. With all of these relics from my youth in his life, it was only natural that I’d want to read Kravtiz’s recent book, Let Love Rule, which he co-wrote with David Ritz. Let Love Rule was just published last month and, unlike I was when his music first came out, I was an early partaker. I bought it just two days after it was released. Sadly, I no longer read as fast as I used to, and I just now finished reading it this morning.

I love a good memoir, especially when it’s about a musician I really admire. Although I wasn’t one of Lenny Kravitz’s earliest fans when he burst into the limelight about thirty years ago, once I did discover his music, I became a devoted fan. He’s someone who takes familiar sounds of other artists– people like Prince, Jimi Hendrix, or John Lennon, or bands like Led Zeppelin or Earth, Wind, & Fire, and turns them into something uniquely his. I think the first song I ever heard by Lenny was “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”, which reminded me so much of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World”, yet with a unique and original twist.

The song that introduced me to Lenny Kravitz.

Let Love Rule is a breakdown of Lenny’s first 25 years of life. Even if he hadn’t been an incredibly talented rock star, I’d say his first 25 years were book worthy. Born in New York City on May 26, 1964, he is the only child of the aforementioned elegant, Christian, Black actress, Roxie Roker, and White, Russian Jewish, NBC television news producer, Sy Kravitz. He spent his earliest years in New York, dividing his time between his mother’s Bahamian parents’ house in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Manhattan. Lenny Kravitz is a second cousin of television weather man Al Roker’s. Their grandfathers were brothers. He was named after his father’s brother, Private First Class Leonard Kravtiz, who was killed in action during the Korean War.

By the time he was five years old, Lenny– who in those days spelled his name Lennie– knew he wanted to be a musician. He started with banging pots and pans in the kitchen and graduated to guitar and singing. His mother, in particular, encouraged Lenny’s artistic and musical pursuits and took him to a lot of shows, including The Jackson Five at Madison Square Garden. His father, who was also a jazz promoter, introduced him to great jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and Sarah Vaughan. Then, in 1974, Roxie Roker won the role of Helen Willis on The Jeffersons, and Lenny moved from New York City to California– ironically so his mom could star on a show set in New York City!

Lenny Kravitz had a tough time adjusting to California. Other kids made fun of his New York accent, and he missed the dense neighborhoods and proximity to his grandparents. His father was also not a fan of California and, though he stayed married to Roxie Roker, declined to make the move to California at first. Fortunately, Lenny was able to take advantage of the many artistic avenues available in California. At his mother’s urging, he even joined the highly esteemed California Boys Choir, where he was exposed to classical repertoires. His mother pulled strings to get him into Beverly Hills High School, which was not in his neighborhood, solely so he could take advantage of the music department there.

Although he was clearly a gifted musician, Lenny Kravitz was not a good student, and he ended up having to drop out of Beverly Hills High School in favor of an alternative school. However, the teachers there still let Lenny jam with his former classmates, which included people like Slash from Guns N’ Roses and actor Nicholas Cage. Kravitz enjoyed a privileged upbringing in a nice house in Los Angeles, mixing with talented people and smoking a lot of weed, developing his craft. He also had a religious experience, even though he was not raised by particularly religious parents. When he was thirteen, he became a Christian.

Lenny and his father didn’t get along very well. They would butt heads over grades and discipline, and the elder Kravitz would say disparaging things to his son, who disappointed him by not being a good student. Things got bad enough that one day, when Lenny was still a teenager, he and his father almost came to physical blows. And although the house they lived in was paid for by Roxie Roker, thanks to salary from The Jeffersons, the senior Kravitz then gave Lenny that age-old ultimatum– “If you walk out that door, don’t bother coming back.” Sure enough, Lenny left, and never lived with his parents again.

Lenny’s mother, being a traditional Bahamian woman, didn’t want to divorce Lenny’s father. She eventually did when it became painfully clear that he was unfaithful to her and was busted by Lenny himself. That was when he really got on track to becoming the rock star he is today. He eventually met Lisa Bonet, fell in love, and together they became parents to Zoë Kravitz, now a musician and actress in her own right. Lenny clearly loved, and perhaps even still loves, Lisa Bonet very much. He writes lovingly about their relationship, and how they had so much in common. Lisa is also biracial, having been born to a White Jewish mother and a Black father. And clearly, her holistic, creative, nurturing proclivities had a big effect on Lenny and helped him launch his career. The book ends as Lenny’s career is taking off and he’s a new father to baby Zoë, whose creation was behind Lisa Bonet’s temporary departure from The Cosby Show and her permanent departure from A Different World. Lenny does spill the tea on how it went down when Lisa Bonet and Debbie Allen (who directed A Different World) told Bill Cosby about her pregnancy.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed Let Love Rule. David Ritz did a great job making this book seem like it came straight from Lenny himself. I felt as if Lenny Kravitz was sitting in a room telling me about his early life and development into a big star. I also loved some of the personal anecdotes shared in this book, especially about Roxie Roker. I always thought she was such a beautiful, classy lady, but she was also clearly a warm, caring, supportive mother, who was not afraid to discipline her son, OR even his friends when they needed it.

I could relate to Lenny’s comments about his difficulties with his father, too. My dad and I also had a difficult relationship. Lenny’s father had been in the military, as mine also was, and would alternate strict discipline with frank neglect or abuse. Of course, my situation wasn’t nearly as extreme as Lenny’s was, but I could still relate to him because there were some similarities. And there were also similarities in that sometimes, Lenny’s dad, like my own, would believe in him and come through for him.

And finally, while I may never be a rock star like Lenny is, I can relate to being a musician and wanting to make music. I understand the thrill of creating something good or even just hearing something really fantastic. I enjoyed feeling like I have something in common with Lenny Kravitz, besides being a fellow Gemini. And I love how he pulls together all of his many musical influences and makes music that thrills on another level. The first time I ever heard “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, it was being performed as a cover by my cousin, Justin, who is a professional musician in Nashville. I loved my cousin’s version so much, I had to go listen to the original, which blew my socks off.

This song still kills me, even decades after it was first released.

I guess the only thing I didn’t like about Let Love Rule is that it ends rather abruptly, just as Lenny is about to take off into the stratosphere. I know this book was only intended to be about his first twenty-five years, and he does mention that his story will continue, but the ending still felt like it came at the wrong time. It was like riding the crest of an orgasm and then never quite getting that burst of anticipated pleasure built up by excitement and tension. And I worry that when the next volume does come out, I may not be riding the crest anymore, if you know what I mean.

Still… I really enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it, not just to people like Lenny Kravitz’s music, but also anyone who was a fan of his mother’s work, or even those who just like a good story. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I think Lenny would have had a book-worthy story even if he never became famous. And I am very touched by how much he loves his family, as well as his honesty about his devotion to God.

I look forward to the next book about Lenny Kravitz’s remarkable life. I hope it’s as hard for me to put down as this one was.

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