Quick Review: A HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL by Andrew O’Neill (Headline)

ONeillA-HistoryOfHeavyMetalUKAn entertaining romp through a comedian’s history of heavy metal

The history of heavy metal brings brings us extraordinary stories of larger-than-life characters living to excess, from the household names of Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Bruce Dickinson and Metallica (SIT DOWN, LARS!), to the brutal notoriety of the underground Norwegian black metal scene and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. It is the story of a worldwide network of rabid fans escaping everyday mundanity through music, of cut-throat corporate arseholes ripping off those fans and the bands they worship to line their pockets. The expansive pantheon of heavy metal musicians includes junkies, Satanists and murderers, born-again Christians and teetotallers, stadium-touring billionaires and toilet-circuit journeymen.

Award-winning comedian and life-long heavy metal obsessive Andrew O’Neill has performed his History of Heavy Metal comedy show to a huge range of audiences, from the teenage metalheads of Download festival to the broadsheet-reading theatre-goers of the Edinburgh Fringe. Now, in his first book, he takes us on his own very personal and hilarious journey through the history of the music, the subculture, and the characters who shaped this most misunderstood genre of music.

There is so much to love in Andrew O’Neill’s A History of Heavy Metal. O’Neill’s love for the genres is clear and rings true throughout. He’s opinionated, clear in his opinions, and damned funny. As he mentions at one point, metalheads are nerds, and this book is packed with nerdy details for all metal fans of any age. For me, it evoked my favourite music journalism from the ’90s and early 2000s, but with extra humour. Continue reading

Review: BORN TO RUN by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)

springsteenb-borntorunAn interesting, if not-particularly-revelatory memoir from the Boss

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began.

Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.

He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.

Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.

Like many people, I was very eager to get my hands on Born to Run when it came out. I have been listening to Springsteen’s music my whole life, really — Born in the USA was a regular on our family stereo, and was the first album I ever loved. (I used to stage ‘concerts’ of it, using my G.I. Joe figures as stand-ins for the band…) Due to work and other reasons, it took me some time to get around to reading Born to Run, but I eventually got the audiobook. I found it quite interesting… if slightly underwhelming. Continue reading

Some Quick Audiobook Reviews…

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A quick round-up of six recent audiobook listens. Mostly, very good.

Featuring: Carrie Fisher, Frederick Forsyth, Anna Kendrick, Trevor Noah, Graham Norton, Nikki Sixx

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Quick Audiobook Reviews: Bryan Cranston, John le Carré, Mitchell & Webb and Tony Robinson

cranstonb-alifeinpartsBryan Cranston, A LIFE IN PARTS (Simon & Schuster)

Bryan Cranston landed his first role at seven, when his father, a struggling actor and director, cast him in a commercial. Soon Bryan was haunting the local movie theater, reenacting scenes with his older brother. Acting was clearly his destiny – until one day his father disappeared. 

As a young man on a classic cross-country motorcycle trip, he found himself stranded at a rest area in the Blue Ridge Mountains. To pass the time, he read a tattered copy of Hedda Gabler, and in a flash he found himself face-to-face with his original calling. Suddenly he thought this was what he would do with the rest of his life. Act. 

In his riveting memoir, A Life in Parts, Cranston traces his journey from chaotic childhood to his dramatic epiphany to megastardom and a cultlike following by revisiting the many parts he’s played on camera (astronaut, dentist, candy bar spokesperson, president of the United States, etc.) and off (paperboy, farmhand, dating consultant, murder suspect, son, brother, lover, husband, father). 

With great humour and humility, Cranston chronicles his unlikely rise from a soap opera regular to a recurring spot on Seinfeld. He recalls his run as the well-meaning goofball, Hal, on Malcolm in the Middle, and he gives a bracing account of his challenging run on Broadway as President Lyndon Johnson, pushing himself to the limit as he prepared for a tour de force that would win him a Tony to accompany his four Emmys. And, of course, Cranston dives deep into the grittiest, most fascinating details of his greatest role, explaining how he searched inward for the personal darkness that would help him create one of the most riveting performances ever captured on screen: Walter White, chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin in Breaking Bad. 

Discussing his failures as few men do, describing his work as few actors can, Cranston has much to say about innate talent and its benefits, challenges and proper maintenance, but ultimately A Life in Parts is about the necessity and transformative power of hard work.

This was a fantastic memoir. Brilliantly narrated by the author, of course. He’s had a pretty interesting life, coming to acting relatively late, and working his way up from small parts, to recurring parts, to the epic smash that was Breaking Bad. Not as much of the book was dedicated to the latter show, and was better for it — Cranston is a great storyteller, and his life has been pretty interesting. Readers will learn of his process, his dedication to his work (though also lack of pretension), his confidence in his colleagues, and also plenty of the vagaries of the entertainment industry. A Life in Parts is a really good, engaging biography. Highly recommended (even if you’re not that familiar with his work).

Published in print by Scribner (US)/Orion (UK)

On Audible

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LeCarreJ-PigeonTunnelUSHCJohn le Carré, THE PIGEON TUNNEL (Penguin)

‘Out of the secret world I once knew, I have tried to make a theatre for the larger worlds we inhabit. First comes the imagining, then the search for reality. Then back to the imagining, and to the desk where I’m sitting now.’ 

The Pigeon Tunnel, John le Carré’s memoir and his first work of nonfiction, is a thrilling journey into the worlds of his ‘secret sharers’ — the men and women who inspired some of his most enthralling novels — and a testament to the author’s extraordinary engagement with the last half century. The listener is swept along not just by the chilling winds of the Cold War or by the author’s frightening journeys into places of terrible violence but, most importantly, by the author’s inimitable voice. 

In this astonishing work, we see our world, both public and private, through the eyes of one of this country’s greatest writers.

This was (perhaps predictably) really interesting. It took me a little while to get into the book, though: to get used to his accent, which is a rather interesting mixture of RP and peculiar versions of words, and also because he didn’t seem to keen on the exercise of narrating in the introduction. However, as he warmed to the task, The Pigeon Tunnel fast became a very engaging, entertaining memoir. The book is filled with interesting insights into the times that inspired his novels, and also his experiences that resulted from his success — not least the strained relationship he ended up having with the secret services (who he never claimed to speak for). He writes/speaks of his abiding love for writing and travel. It is a welcoming audiobook, and feels like you’re having a chat with the great author, perhaps sat in a living room, in front of a fire and drinking brandy or red wine. Definitely recommended for all fans of le Carré’s work.

Published in print by Penguin (UK)/Viking (US)

On Audible

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mitchellwebbsound-05That Mitchell & Webb Sounds, Series 5 (BBC)

Comedy from the lopsided world of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, with Olivia Colman and James Bachman. 

The radio sketch series which spawned BBC TV’s That Mitchell and Webb Look returns with five brand-new episodes. Among the topics given the unique Mitchell and Webb treatment are the future of farming (battery penguins); Thomas Hardy’s exciting idea to make his books even sadder; the very confusing goings on in a cash-register shop; a horror story for slugs; the Escalator brothers inventing the world’s first horseless staircase; and the very last programme the BBC ever does….

I’m a big fan of That Mitchell & Webb Sound, and before I listened to this, I binge-listened to the first four series again. While Series 5 did make me laugh and chuckle on occasion, I’m afraid it wasn’t as good as the first four. It’s perhaps unfair to compare it to their classic sketches (“Are we the baddies?”, the original recording of Tennyson, etc.), but some of Series 5 dragged. I couldn’t help but think that maybe the writing was a little rushed, or unenthusiastic. I did enjoy the Old Lady Interview with Mitchell & Webb, and there were a few other chuckles, but previous series have had me in stitches. If you’re a fan of the series, I would still certainly recommend it, but newcomers should start at the beginning for bigger and more laughs.

On Audible

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robinsont-nocunningplanukTony Robinson, NO CUNNING PLAN (Macmillan)

Sir Tony Robinson is a much-loved actor, presenter and author with a stellar career lasting over 50 years. Now, in his long-awaited autobiography, he reveals how the boy from South Woodford went from child stardom in the first stage production of Oliver!, a pint-size pickpocket desperately bleaching his incipient moustache, to comedy icon Baldrick, the loyal servant and turnip aficionado in Blackadder. 

It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Along the way he was bullied by Steve Marriott, failed to impress Liza Minnelli and was pushed into a stinking London dock by John Wayne. He also entertained us with Maid Marion and Her Merry Men (which he wrote and starred in) and coped manfully when locked naked outside a theatre in Lincoln during the live tour of comedy series Who Dares Wins. He presented Time Team for 20 years, watching countless gardens ruthlessly dug up in the name of archaeology, and risked life and limb filming The Worst Jobs in History. 

Packed full of incident and insight, No Cunning Plan is a funny, self-deprecating and always entertaining listen.

I’d had high hopes for this memoir, but it sadly didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Naturally, I was very interested in hearing about the Blackadder years, but they made up a surprisingly small portion of the book. It felt, at times, like Robinson was trying very hard to not write about the Blackadder years. True, that is far from the only thing he has done — and we hear/read about pretty much everything — but it nevertheless felt like it got short shrift. He’s an interesting man, who has done some interesting and often entertaining work. He writes about his upbringing, his early career in entertainment, the struggles in his personal life, and his progressive politics. He is perhaps most enthusiastic about his Time Team work, and his passion for archaeology comes through very clearly. But, ultimately, I was left with a feeling that I still didn’t really know much about Robinson. It was a little strange, perhaps distantly told. Sure, his narration was excellent (he has also done the audiobooks for Terry Pratchett’s series). I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’d thought I would have liked this more.

Published in print by Macmillan

On Audible

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Eight Quick Audiobook Reviews

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A quick round-up of recent audiobook ‘reads’, with thanks to Audible UK for the review credits (except for the first reviewed, which I borrow from the Toronto Public Library). I’ve kept the reviews very short on purpose. I’ll try to keep on top of these reviews in a more timely manner in the future.

Featuring: Philip Delves-Broughton, Irin Carmon, Jessi Klein, Shana Knizhnik, Antonio Garcia Martinez, Randall Munroe, Nick Offerman, Richard Porter, Amy Schumer Continue reading

Audio Review: TRUTHS, HALF TRUTHS & LITTLE WHITE LIES by Nick Frost (Hodder)

FrostN-TruthsHalfTruths&LittleWhiteLiesAn amusing, at times moving, memoir of a life up to stardom

“No life can really be all black, right? Even during the darkest times, what got me through that bleakness was laughter and time. With enough of both of these things I reckon you could get over just about anything.”

Nick Frost burst onto our screens in a blaze of camo fatigues and weaponry as the Territorial Army obsessed loveable idiot Mike Watt in the hit cult comedy Spaced. Since then, fans around the world have watched him with a fervent devotion as he fought zombies, rescued aliens and salsa’d his way to box office smash after smash.

It’s quite a story. But it’s not this story. This story isn’t the romp from movie set to Hollywood party. This is a story of a life like no other.

With blistering candour Frost recounts his childhood growing up in Essex in a household full of love and optimism but tragically blighted by alcoholism, illness and sudden life shattering misfortune. 

Dogged by his own personal demons, Nick tells of the hilarious, jaw dropping and at times heartbreaking experiences that have punctuated his tumultuous life.

Nick Frost is possibly best known for his roles in Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz and Paul. He’s probably also best known as Simon Pegg’s best bud. After reading (or listening) to this audiobook, though, you’ll know him as a very funny, friendly, yet introverted fellow, too. I didn’t know anything about him outside of his film roles, so I was very interested in listening to this audiobook. I was not disappointed — this could be one of the top five audiobooks I’ve listened to this year. Continue reading

Audio Review: YOU’RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET (ALMOST) by Felicia Day (Simon & Schuster)

DayF-YoureNeverWeirdOnTheInternetThe much-anticipated memoir from SFF Champion and creator of The Guild

From online entertainment pioneer, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a “relentlessly funny and surprisingly inspirational” (Forbes.com), memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to internet stardom, and embracing her weirdness to find her place in the world.

When Felicia Day was a girl, all she wanted was to connect with other kids (desperately). Growing up in the Deep South, where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons,” she looked online to find her tribe. The internet was in its infancy and she became an early adopter at every stage of its growth — finding joy and unlikely friendships in the emerging digital world. Her relative isolation meant that she could pursue passions like gaming, calculus, and 1930’s detective novels without shame. Because she had no idea how “uncool” she really was.

But if it hadn’t been for her strange background — the awkwardness continued when she started college at sixteen, with Mom driving her to campus every day — she might never have had the naive confidence to forge her own path. Like when she graduated as valedictorian with a math degree and then headed to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting despite having zero contacts. Or when she tired of being typecast as the crazy cat-lady secretary and decided to create her own web series before people in show business understood that online video could be more than just cats chasing laser pointers.

Felicia’s rags-to-riches rise to internet fame launched her career as one of the most influen­tial creators in new media. Ever candid, she opens up about the rough patches along the way, recounting battles with writer’s block, a full-blown gaming addiction, severe anxiety and depression — and how she reinvented herself when overachieving became overwhelming.

Before listening to this audiobook, I was actually not that familiar with Felicia Day. Aside from seeing her in Buffy and some episodes of Supernatural, I am not at all versed in her work. Of course, being a fan of SFF and its connected media, I am familiar with her thoughts on genre, gaming, etc. So I was quite interested to read (or listen) to her memoir. What I found was… mixed. It’s certainly entertaining, though. Continue reading