Book Review: Let’s Spend the Night Together-Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

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“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.”-unknown

Years ago, when I was starry-eyed girl in a vintage frock and a pair of Doc Martens, I picked up a unassuming paperback book. That book was I’m With the Band written by Pamela Des Barres. I completely devoured Ms. Des Barres lusty tales of backstage romance. I couldn’t so much relate to the debauchery and drugs, but I could relate to being consumed by rock music and wanting to be close to the people who created it. Apparently Des Barres and I are not alone. And “Miss Pamela” has written about this in her latest book, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

Say the word groupie and what do you think? Slut? Golddigger? Bimbo? Des Barres looks beyond that damning word and gets to heart of several women’s (and one man’s) rock and roll confessionals. And in an odd way, I found many of these women to be strong feminists, eschewing the “lifescript” and striking out on their own unique paths.

One notable super groupie portrayed in Let’s Spend the Night Together is former burlesque dancer, Tura Satana. Exotic Satana (known as Miss Japan Beautiful) met a young Elvis Presley and claims to have taught the King of Rock and Roll how to move on the stage and in bed. To me, anyone who taught Elvis how to dance and how to give head deserves to be canonized. According to Satana, Elvis even proposed to her. Of course, we all know Elvis ended up marrying Priscilla, but that hasn’t stopped Satana from wearing his diamond engagement ring to this day.

You’ve probably heard of Cynthia Plaster Caster. She gained notoriety for casting the erect penises of famous rock stars, most notable being Jimi Hendrix. We even get a photograph of “recovering groupie” Plaster Caster holding the rock legend’s casted member also known as the “Penis de Milo.” In this chapter, Plaster Caster tells how as a shy artistic girl, she came up with her unique art form and how they were nearly stolen by Frank Zappa’s former manager.

Bebe Buell may be best known as actress Liv Tyler’s mom. But back in the day, she was also the alluring arm candy of such rock notables as Rick Nielson, Todd Rundgren and Liv’s daddy, Steven Tyler. Buell much prefers the term “muse” to “groupie.” And though that might sound pretentious, Buell does have a point. Many of these women aren’t necessarily easily disposable objects. Look at your music collection. Many of your favorite songs were probably inspired by girlfriends, lovers and wives.

I was very intrigued by Lexa Vonn. Ms. Vonn founded the LA-based publicity machine the Plastics. Vonn and her fellow glam-goth lovelies do a lot more than hang around backstage offering sexual favors. They are very instrumental in promoting up and coming rock acts. Ms. Vonn also works as a burlesque dancer and rock journalist, and confesses to having a very strong friendship with Marilyn Manson.

There are other notable groupies in Let’s Spend the Night Together. Cassandra Peterson, who you probably better as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, spent some time in the groupie trenches. So did belly dancer extraordinaire, Princess Farhana (born Pleasant Gehman). Actress Patti D’Arbanville shares her stories as does Gail Zappa, the widow of Frank Zappa. And boy groupie Pleather gives rock and roll girls what they’ve got coming. And yes, “sweet, sweet” Connie Hamzy, celebrated in the   Grand Funk Railroad’s song “We’re an American Band” (“Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act/ She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact.”) also has a chapter. I’ll spare you the details on her shenanigans. You have to read it to believe it.

However, not all groupie stories are created equal. I found heavy metal groupies Patty and Lisa tiring and tedious, but that could be because heavy metal is not my thing. And somehow I couldn’t share Tina King’s pride and joy in giving Kid Rock a blow job. Kid Rock, people!

Let’s Spend the Night Together also gives intimate glimpses of the men who play the devil’s music. Apparently Kurt Cobain liked to dress up in women’s clothing, and Billy Idol likes to have stuff shoved up his butt. Who knew? However, I’m still trying to understand the appeal of Faster, Pussycat’s Taime Downe. He is name-dropped quite a bit in the book.

In the end, I found Let’s Spend the Night Together to be a fun, juicy read. I often stayed up way past my bedtime going from chapter to chapter. Des Barres gives her subjects a great deal of dignity and respect, and writes in a wonderfully breezy “just between us girls” style. You’ve got another hit, Miss Pamela!

Book Marks

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Avid Goldberg’s memoir Avid Reader examines the golden age of publishing.

UK’s The Guardian claims navel-gazing and self-absorption is not feminism. AKA “Bring Me the Head of Lena Dunham.

Book Review: You Gotta Be Dirty-The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan

31827805As someone who is more “born to be mild” than “born to be wild,” and who is more likely to watch a rerun of My Three Sons on a retro TV channel than an episode of Sons of Anarchy, I have to admit the biker culture is one I am not at all familiar with even though I live in Milwaukee, the home of the iconic Harley-Davidson. The motorcycling enthusiast I’m most likely to come across is probably a well-heeled baby boomer whose biggest act of rebellion is not having granite kitchen counter tops.

So needless to say reading You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan was a total culture shock. For the longest time, I thought “outlaw” biker culture consisted of some rebellious rabble rousers who drank, smoked weed, did a line of coke every now and then, got involved in bar brawls and petty crimes, and had a thing for strippers and hookers. But reading Grogan’s well-researched book was a complete eye-opener.

You Gotta Be Dirty focuses mostly on the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (OMC) from its inception to the modern day. The Outlaws Motorcycle Club was based mostly in Wisconsin with some activity in bordering Midwestern states, mostly Illinois.

In the first couple of chapters, Grogan tells us the formation of the OMC and biker culture in general. It’s very extensive. Grogan clearly did his research, and I was happy to get some of the nuts and bolts of this unfamiliar lifestyle before I proceeded with my reading.

Formed sometime in the mid-1960s, the OMC initially just seemed like a rag tag bunch of somewhat disheveled rebellious young men (and their “old ladies”) who had a mad fetish for motorcycles and motorcycle culture. But by the 1970s, the OMC was feared and notorious for their extreme violence and acts of terror, especially towards people of color and women, even their old ladies. To say, members of the OMC were both racist and sexist is putting it mildly. But among the OMC’s victims included people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Men, women and children often met tragic ends due to OMC’s actions.

Among these actions including shootings, stabbings, rape, assault, torture and bombings, which educated me while also upsetting me greatly.

Several of these actions continue to haunt my thoughts; one story was about the brutal torture of one young woman whose palms were impaled with nails and later she was nailed to a tree. Then there is the horrifying death of a teenage paperboy named Larry Anstett, who while delivering the Milwaukee Sentinel, died when he picked a package left on a customer’s car. The package contained an explosive device. It went off and Anstett died from his injuries, just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And in 1994, the Chicago chapter of the Outlaws detonated a car bomb. This bomb was the third largest of its kind, just after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and later, the 1995 of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168, including 19 children; and over 800 other people were injured.

The Outlaws didn’t become famous; they became notorious and feared. Their violence went far beyond Wisconsin, causing fear among their enemies, innocent civilians, the media and law enforcement at local, state and national levels. Even their own members weren’t safe, and several of them met atrocious fates at the hands of their “brothers.”

While reading You Gotta Be Dirty I had to put it down a few times because I was so overwhelmed by the senseless violence and hateful activities of the OMC. And I must admit, I sometimes thought of keeping an Excel spreadsheet of various people involved with the OMC, some innocent, some guilty, because it was so overwhelming, yet informative. I am truly in awe of Grogan’s research ability and fortitude and at the end of each chapter, he properly provides his resources. His willingness to get the “story behind the story” is a true testament to solid journalistic standards and reporting fortitude.

You Gotta Be Dirty is a very interesting book for anyone who is interested in fugitive biker culture as whole, a total history buff or anyone interested in a world beyond their wildest nightmares. I know I certainly got an education.

Book Reviews: Ladies in Shiny Pants by Jill Soloway

41dcpgjyexl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Upon her Sunday night triumph, I just had to dust off this review of Jill Solaway’s book Ladies in Shiny Pants from one of my now-defunct blogs. Enjoy!

Jill Soloway is a talented screenwriter, director, and TV show creator who has written for television shows like Six Feet Under, Grey’s Anatomy, The United States of Tara and most recently, the critically acclaimed Transparent. And this past Sunday, Soloway won a much-deserved Emmy for best director for directing an episode of Transparent.

Along with her sister, Faith, Jill has written the live shows The Real Live Brady Bunch and The Vagina Pageant. She’s a professional colleague and friends with Diablo Cody and has written for several anthologies. And in 2005, Jill’s collection of essays Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants: Based on a True Story was published.

In Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, Jill tells us about her younger years growing up in the Chicago in the only white and Jewish family in the neighborhood, and the years that followed. At only 13, Jill and her friends would don their tightest, shiniest clothes and go to concerts hoping to meet their rock and roll heroes. Jill figured if she met her favorite musician, he would see past her young age, and fall madly in love with her. Of course, her rock and roll dreams never came true, and thusly, led her on a path of romantic confusion

A few years later, Jill loses her virginity to an older man. This doesn’t destroy her, yet she readily admits that her vulnerability and feeling less-than her prettier friends made it easy for this man to get her into bed before she was truly ready for such intimacy. However, Jill does show a sense of humor about the entire situation, later calling this guy “Lotion Bag” because he was always asking about a bag he carried around that carried his lotion.

As she gets older, Jill faces the world of being a grown up, and what it is like to be a young woman trying to navigate a post-feminist world, where getting breast implants is supposed to be empowering, yet she can’t help but watch the Miss America pageant year after year. Jill admits she feels some connection to Monica Lewinsky and the murdered intern Chandra Levy. She’s honest about her attraction to both cop bars and guys she calls “toolbelts”-hot construction workers.

Post-college Jill ends up in Los Angeles and finds success as a screenwriter, producer and comedian. But despite her success, she can’t help but snark on the absurdity that is Hollywood and her life.

Jill is funny, honest and very self-deprecating. She doesn’t shy from calling herself a feminist and she’s proud of her Jewish heritage. The over-use of exclamation points can get out of hand at times, but I see this book as a conversation with your excitable friend who uses her hands in conversation a lot. Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants reminds me a bit of People are Unappealing by Sara Barron, which I reviewed quite a while ago. Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants is a fun summer read that will make you cringe, make you say, “Right on!” and totally entertain you.

Book Marks

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How to navigate a writing conference if you are an introvert.

Avoid these writing clichés like the plague.

Underused literary baby names.

Book Review: My French Whore by Gene Wilder

mfwBeing a bit saddened over the death of Mr. Wilder, I was quite happy to find his novella My French Whore at a display at my local library. I always knew Wilder was a great actor, but I didn’t know he was also a talented writer.

My French Whore tells the tale of a gentleman named Paul Peachy. It is 1918, Peachy is living in Milwaukee. He works a thankless job as a street car conductor and his marriage is less than pleasant. He tries to get a bit of spark in his life by acting in local theater, but feels his life is nothing and he’s a mere cog in the machine, just taking up space.

To add some spark to his dull life Peachy, in the latter days of World War I, decides to enlist in the military. Peachy is deployed to France. It isn’t long before he and some of his fellow soldiers are captured by the Germans and soon will face execution. However, the every-quick thinking Peachy wiggles out of this deadly predicament using his acting and language skills. Fluent in German (his parents are immigrants from Germany) Peachy assumes the identity of a German spy named Harry Stoller and is immediately welcomed among the German soldiers.

It’s not long, as Stoller, Peachy is welcomed like a long-lost relative amongst his German “comrades.” They share fine meals together and drink the finest of wine. Peachy’s new friends bequeath him a lady of ill repute, a French prostitute named Annie Breton.

But Annie is so much more than the standard trope of “whore with a heart of gold.” Yes, she is a vessel for Peachy’s more lusty desires, but she soon proves to be so much more. She is nurturing, kind and charming. Annie, not beautiful but makes everything from cutting Peachy’s hair to serving him a beautiful meal to the art of l’amour an act of true femininity and sensuality.  And like Peachy, she has a past filled with heartbreak and disappointment, and together they share tales of woe, but find happiness in their fleeting time together. As a whore Annie often wears the war paint identified with her particular profession. But once stripped of the outer trappings of heavy cosmetics, Peachy sees how truly lovely Annie is, both on the outer exterior and what lies in her true heart and soul, which leads to one of the most beautiful passages I have read of a man speaking his true feelings to a woman:

“Well, I don’t know what you think ‘beautiful’ means, I suppose everyone has a different idea. I think it’s something that’s half on the outside and half on the inside. Without all that makeup on your face, I can see the inside a little better….”

As someone who has often felt she needs to apologize for her less than “hot” looks, this simple gathering of words brought tears to my eyes.

Away from the lovely Annie, Peachy frets, wonders how long he can keep up this ruse as Harry Stoller, and soon he finds out and his fate is sealed. But of course, you have to read My French Whore to find out what Peachy’s ultimate fate.

My French Whore is written in plaintive and believable way (and often reads as a diary of sorts). Wilder writing style is rich, yet unpretentious, and his characters ring out true, which probably has a lot to do with him being an actor. He empathizes with his cast of characters, and I greatly appreciated how he made Annie a fully-developed individual. In fact, I’m now aching to read a novella told from Annie’s point of view. Sadly, with Wilder’s demise, this won’t happen. Perhaps, this is why fan fiction was created.

I really enjoyed My French Whore (yes, I can see it being made into a movie), and it was a delight to find out writing was amongst the late Gene Wilder’s immense talents. He will be missed.

Book Marks

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Two great things happened-Phyllis Schlafly died and Ann Coulter was annihilated at the Rob Lowe Roast.

And to add salt to those wounds here are some great books on feminism as we head back to school.

Note to self: Use these slang terms before they disappear forever! I especially like the term “sonsy.”

Michelle Obama meets fledgling poets and their words make her cry.

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Book Review: Losing Our Way-An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America by Bob Herbert

losingourway-075I’ve been a long-time fan of Bob Herbert. From 1993 to 2011 he was an opinion columnist for the New York Times, and when he left the paper I was heartbroken.

But lucky for me I read his book Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America and it is the perfect read this election year, very timely and a healing balm for me after reading Donald Trump’s truly loathsome Crippled America.

Losing Our Way is divided into carefully crafted chapters, written in with the wisdom, thoughtfulness and compassion that made me such a fan of Herbert’s to begin with. They include:

  • Falling Apart
  • Falling Apart II
  • Jobs and the Middle Class
  • War and Its Aftermath
  • Understanding the Costs of War
  • Poverty and Inequality
  • The Public Schools
  • Poverty and Public Education
  • War’s Madness Runs Deep
  • Hurricane Sandy and Other Disasters
  • Cashing In on Schools
  • Mistreating the Troops
  • Epilogue: Looking Ahead

In Losing Our Way, Herbert goes into great length discussing the various issues that plague our nation and how we got to this point. He does this by writing about four crucial elements that need fixing in our country. They include our falling apart infrastructure, our endless wars and the treatment of our troops and veterans, our education system and how it is not benefiting needs of our children, and how unemployment and under-employment is affecting working people of all kinds. Finally, he offers some ideas and opinions on how we, as a nation, can stop losing our way, and make America work for everyone.

Herbert begins Losing Our Way the crumbling of the I-35W Bridge in Minnesota back in 2007. Several people fell to their deaths, and one victim, Mercedes Gordon was almost one of them. She suffered a broken back and crushed legs, needing a great deal of medical intervention. Not surprisingly, the effects of her injuries plague her to this day. Sadly, the disintegration of the I-35W wasn’t an insolate incident, and expect more to come. Many of our bridges, streets, highways,  power generators, sewer systems and other public facilities were initially built generations ago and need a great deal of repair, but are being neglected instead. Our infrastructure is also threatened by “acts of God,” which Herbert explains in his chapter on Hurricane Sandy and Other Disasters.

The fate of our troops and our returning veterans is also painfully conveyed throughout Losing Our Way. The costs of war aren’t only in huge amounts of money that have gone into fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The costs also include our troops and civilians lost to the violence of war. And then there is the aftermath of serving America in our wars. Many of our war-weary veterans return with horrible injuries requiring continuous medical intervention and physical therapy. And then there are injuries that can’t be seen with the naked eye, most of them mental and emotional. Many of our veterans are dealing with PTSD, depression, and addiction. These stories are also brought to life by Herbert’s interviews with returning soldiers, and they will break your heart.

It’s no secret our public schools are in need of serious overhaul and improvement. However, instead of putting blame on the usual suspects-teachers, teacher unions, disinterested students and uncaring parents-Herbert focuses on some of the issues that plague students and their families like poverty, family strife, violence in the community, and how these conditions need to be attended to before students can work at a top notch level. Many teachers are absolutely treasures, but they are not miracle workers. Furthermore, thanks to concepts like “No Child Left Behind,” teachers are caught up in a web of “teaching to the test” instead of focusing on a student’s individual needs and making the classroom a truly engaging community where students love to learn and thrive.

But one aspect of modern education that truly made me angry while reading Losing Our Way is how big business and business leaders have made themselves “experts” on education and have tried to alter and dismantle the school system not realizing that education isn’t exactly the same as running a business. A couple of these people include Bill Gates and media executive Cathie Black. Bill Gates meant well, but his ideas fell flat. And Cathie Black was in way too over her head; she didn’t last very long and her condescending attitude towards teachers, students and parents were completely out of line and unprofessional.

And when it comes to the place of work and the state of the middle class, Herbert has his finger on the pulse of every American who has earned a paycheck. While working Jacks and Janes are dealing with unemployment and underemployment, stagnating wages, layoffs, outsourcing and other work woes, the 1% are getting huge bailouts, tax breaks and huge salaries that don’t reflect their actual output. Guess what, “trickle down” doesn’t work. Haven’t we learned this lesson by now?

Throughout Losing Our Way Herbert carefully explains how we got to this point, but in the end reminds us that not is all lost. We can, as a nation, find out way. And it relies on those of us in the 99% and goes beyond voting. WE need our voices heard, whether it is protesting, marching in the streets, working on causes that benefit all of us, getting in touch with our representatives and writing opinion pieces on everything from making taxes fairer to those of us who aren’t wealthy to how we treat our returning to veterans to how we can truly improve our schools. Change truly begins at the bottom, not the top. And I believe just by reading Herbert’s wonderfully written and thoroughly researched book, Losing Our Way, we can stir the sleeping giant that resides in all of us.

Losing Our Way is probably one of the most important books I have read this year. Heck, it’s probably one of the most important books I have read in my lifetime!