Quick Review: UNREQUITED INFATUATIONS by Stevie Van Zandt (Hachette)

VanZandtS-UnrequitedInfatuationsUSHCA fascinating and fun memoir from one of rock’s great guitarists and characters

Uncover never-before-told stories in this epic tale of self-discovery by a Rock n Roll disciple and member of the E Street Band.

What story begins in a bedroom in suburban New Jersey in the early ’60s, unfolds on some of the country’s largest stages, and then ranges across the globe, demonstrating over and over again how Rock and Roll has the power to change the world for the better? This story.

The first true heartbeat of Unrequited Infatuations  is the moment when Stevie Van Zandt trades in his devotion to the Baptist religion for an obsession with Rock and Roll. Groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones created new ideas of community, creative risk, and principled rebellion. They changed him forever. While still a teenager, he met Bruce Springsteen, a like-minded outcast/true believer who became one of his most important friends and bandmates. As Miami Steve, Van Zandt anchored the E Street Band as they conquered the Rock and Roll world.

And then, in the early ’80s, Van Zandt stepped away from E Street to embark on his own odyssey. He refashioned himself as Little Steven, a political songwriter and performer, fell in love with Maureen Santoro who greatly expanded his artistic palette, and visited the world’s hot spots as an artist/journalist to not just better understand them, but to help change them. Most famously, he masterminded the recording of “Sun City,” an anti-apartheid anthem that sped the demise of South Africa’s institutionalized racism and helped get Nelson Mandela out of prison.

By the ’90s, Van Zandt had lived at least two lives — one as a mainstream rocker, one as a hardcore activist. It was time for a third. David Chase invited Van Zandt to be a part of his new television show, the Sopranos — as Silvio Dante, he was the unconditionally loyal consiglieri who sat at the right hand of Tony Soprano (a relationship that oddly mirrored his real-life relationship with Bruce Springsteen).

Underlying all of Van Zandt’s various incarnations was a devotion to preserving the centrality of the arts, especially the endangered species of Rock. In the twenty-first century, Van Zandt founded a groundbreaking radio show (Little Steven’s Underground Garage), created the first two 24/7 branded music channels on SiriusXM (Underground Garage and Outlaw Country), started a fiercely independent record label (Wicked Cool), and developed a curriculum to teach students of all ages through the medium of music history. He also rejoined the E Street Band for what has now been a twenty-year victory lap.

Guitarist in the E Street Band, long-time friend of Bruce Springsteen, Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, political activist, standard bearer for rock ‘n’ roll. Stevie Van Zandt has been, and still is, many things. As evidenced by this memoir, he is also a great storyteller. I had high hopes for Unrequited Infatuations, but it absolutely exceeded them. Fascinating and fun, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE LAST ENFORCER by Charles Oakley, w. Frank Isola (Gallery)

OakleyC-LastEnforcerAn interesting, albeit limited memoir

A memoir from Charles Oakley — one of the toughest and most loyal players in NBA history — featuring unfiltered stories about the journey that basketball has taken him on and his relationships with Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, James Dolan, Donald Trump, George Floyd, and so many others.

If you ask a New York Knicks fan about Charles Oakley, you better prepare to hear the love and a favorite story or two. But his individual stats weren’t remarkable, and while he helped power the Knicks to ten consecutive playoffs, he never won a championship. So why does he hold such a special place in the minds, hearts, and memories of NBA players and fans?

Because over the course of nineteen years in the league, Oakley was at the center of more unbelievable encounters than Forrest Gump, and nearly as many fights as Mike Tyson. He was the friend you wish you had, and the enemy you wish you’d never made. If any opposing player was crazy enough to start a fight with him, or God forbid one of his teammates, Oakley would end it.

“I can’t remember every rebound I grabbed but I do have a story — the true story — of just about every punch and slap on my resume,” he says.

In The Last Enforcer, Oakley shares one incredible story after the next — all in his signature, unfiltered style — about his life in the paint and beyond, fighting for rebounds and respect. You’ll look back on the era of the 1990s NBA, when tough guys with rugged attitudes, unflinching loyalty, and hard-nosed work ethics were just as important as three-point sharpshooters. You’ll feel like you were on the court, in the room, can’t believe what you just saw, and need to tell everyone you know about it.

I was looking forward to reading this memoir. Like many people, Michael Jordan’s prime years with the Chicago Bulls was my introduction to basketball. Oakley was one of Jordan’s earlier teammates, and is one of his closest friends, but was traded away to the Knicks just before the Bulls embarked on their epic six-championships run. This is his story, complete with honest, blunt appraisals of his teammates, the League (now and then), and more. It’s got plenty of interesting insights and illuminating stories. But in many ways, it also comes across as rather one-note. Continue reading

Quick Review: WHERE TOMORROWS AREN’T PROMISED by Carmelo Anthony & D. Watkins (Gallery)

AnthonyC-WhereTomorrowsArentPromisedUSHCAn interesting memoir about family, struggle, and basketball

A raw and inspirational memoir about growing up in the housing projects of Red Hook and Baltimore — a brutal world Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised.

For a long time, Carmelo Anthony’s world wasn’t any larger than the view of the hoopers and hustlers he watched from the side window of his family’s first-floor project apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He couldn’t dream any bigger than emulating his older brothers and cousin, much less going on to become a basketball champion on the world stage.

He faced palpable dangers growing up in the housing projects in Red Hook and West Baltimore’s Murphy Homes (a.k.a. Murder Homes, subject of HBO’s The Wire). He navigated an education system that ignored, exploited, or ostracized him. He suffered the untimely deaths of his closely held loved ones. He struggled to survive physically and emotionally. But with the strength of family and the guidance of key mentors on the streets and on the court, he pushed past lethal odds to endure and thrive.

By the time Carmelo found himself at the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in 2003 preparing to embark on his legendary career, he wondered: How did a kid who’d had so many hopes, dreams, and expectations beaten out of him by a world of violence, poverty, and racism make it here at all?

Carmelo’s story is one of perseverance and determination; of dribbling past players bigger and tougher than him, while also weaving around vial caps and needles strewn across the court; where dealers and junkies lined one side of the asphalt and kids playing jacks and Double Dutch lined the other; where rims had no nets, and you better not call a foul — a place Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised.

I didn’t know that much about Carmelo Anthony before reading Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised. As someone who follows the NBA, I’d of course heard his name and that he was a star. In January 2020, shortly before the pandemic rolled in, he snatched victory away from the Toronto Raptors in the last live game I saw. (It was a superb, albeit frustrating, shot.) So, when I had the opportunity to read his new memoir, I jumped at the chance. And I’m glad I did — this wasn’t the memoir I was expecting, but it it is an excellent glimpse into the mind and early life of a basketball All-Star. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE LAST SEASON by Phil Jackson (Penguin)

JacksonP-LastSeasonUSPBPhil Jackson’s memoir for the final year of his (first) stint as Lakers coach

An inside look at the season that proved to be the final ride of a truly great dynasty — Kobe Bryant, Shaq, and the LA Lakers

For the countless basketball fans who were spellbound by the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2003-2004 high-wire act, this book is a rare and phenomenal treat. In The Last Season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson draws on his trademark honesty and insight to tell the whole story of the season that proved to be the final ride of a truly great dynasty. From the signing of future Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the Kobe Bryant rape case/media circus, this is a riveting tale of clashing egos, public feuds, contract disputes, and team meltdowns that only a coach, and a writer, of Jackson’s candor, experience, and ability could tell. Full of tremendous human drama and offering lessons on coaching and on life, this is a book that no sports fan can possibly pass up.

I recently read Jeff Pearlman’s excellent, entertaining Three-Ring Circus: an account of the LA Lakers’ three-championship run in the early 2000s. Coached by Phil Jackson and led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the team was dominant, impressive to watch, and dysfunctional. Pearlman’s book is a warts-and-all, humorous examination of the team and the characters that comprised it. I wanted to read more about the team and the NBA of that time, so I picked up Jackson’s memoir of his the 2003-4 season. What I found was an interesting, informative, and engaging read. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: KG: A TO Z by Kevin Garnett (Simon & Schuster)

GarnettK-KGAtoZAn interesting and unorthodox memoir from one of Boston’s Big Three

A unique, unfiltered memoir from the NBA champion and fifteen-time all-star ahead of his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Kevin Garnett was one of the most dominant players the game of basketball has ever seen. He was also one of its most outspoken. Over the course of his illustrious twenty-one-year NBA career, he elevated trash talk to an art form and never shied away from sharing his thoughts on controversial subjects. In KG A to Z, published ahead of Garnett’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he looks back on his life and career with the same raw candor.

Garnett describes the adversity he faced growing up in South Carolina before ultimately relocating to Chicago, where he became one of the top prospects in the nation. He details his headline-making decision to skip college and become the first player in two decades to enter the draft directly from high school, starting a trend that would be followed by future superstars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He shares stories of playing with and against Bryant, James, Michael Jordan, and other NBA greats, and he chronicles his professional ups and downs, including winning a championship with the Boston Celtics. He also speaks his mind on a range of topics beyond basketball, such as fame, family, racism, spirituality, and music.

Garnett’s draft decision wasn’t the only way he’d forever change the game. His ability to play on the perimeter as a big man foreshadowed the winning strategy now universally adopted by the league. He applies this same innovative spirit here, organizing the contents alphabetically as an encyclopedia. If you thought Kevin Garnett was exciting, inspiring, and unfiltered on the court, just wait until you read what he has to say in these pages.

Kevin Garnett — long-time Minnesota Timberwolves star, member of the Boston Celtics championship-winning Big Three. KG is one of my in-laws’ favourite players. As I’ve mentioned (probably too frequently, now), I grew up loving the game of basketball, but completely cut off from access to the NBA. So, after reading Michael Holley’s The Big Three, I was keen to learn more about the eponymous trio. Garnett’s memoir, which I ‘read’ as an audiobook, offers an interesting, well-told, and engaging insight into one of the NBA’s great players. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: BRAT, AN 80s STORY by Andrew McCarthy (Grand Central)

McCarthyA-BratUSLumped in with the Brat Pack of the 1980s, this is McCarthy’s story of the era

Most people know Andrew McCarthy from his movie roles in Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Less than Zero, and as a charter member of Hollywood’s Brat Pack. That iconic group of ingenues and heartthrobs included Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore, and has come to represent both a genre of film and an era of pop culture.

In his memoir Brat: An ’80s Story, McCarthy focuses his gaze on that singular moment in time. The result is a revealing look at coming of age in a maelstrom, reckoning with conflicted ambition, innocence, addiction, and masculinity. New York City of the 1980s is brought to vivid life in these pages, from scoring loose joints in Washington Square Park to skipping school in favor of the dark revival houses of the Village where he fell in love with the movies that would change his life.

Filled with personal revelations of innocence lost to heady days in Hollywood with John Hughes and an iconic cast of characters, Brat is a surprising and intimate story of an outsider caught up in a most unwitting success.

I spotted this book in one of the publisher’s catalogues a little while ago, but I couldn’t place the author. The cover photo didn’t call to mind any movies that I’ve seen — although, after reading Brat, that kind of made sense: I have seen surprisingly few of the movies from the Brat Pack era, despite being quite familiar with the actors’ post-1980s work. After checking IMDb, I learned that I’ve only seen McCarthy in two roles (in The Joy Luck Club and two episodes of White Collar). I have, however, seen a lot of the stuff he’s directed. When the book became available for review, I was in-between books, and decided to dive right in. It’s a short memoir, but one that does offer some interesting tidbits for anyone interested in this particular segment of movie history. Continue reading

Quick Review: I’M YOUR HUCKLEBERRY by Val Kilmer (Simon & Schuster)

KilmerV-ImYourHuckleberryUSHCAn interesting, albeit brief memoir

Legendary actor Val Kilmer shares the stories behind his most beloved roles, reminisces about his star-studded career and love life, and reveals the truth behind his recent health struggles in a remarkably candid autobiography.

Val Kilmer has played many iconic roles over his nearly four-decade film career. A table-dancing Cold War agent in Top Secret! A troublemaking science prodigy in Real Genius. A brash fighter pilot in Top Gun. A swashbuckling knight in Willow. A lovelorn bank robber in Heat. A charming master of disguise in The Saint. A wise-cracking detective in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Of course, Batman, Jim Morrison and the sharp-shooting Doc Holliday.

But who is the real Val Kilmer? With I’m Your Huckleberry — published ahead of next summer’s highly anticipated sequel Top Gun: Maverick, in which Kilmer returns to the big screen as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky — the enigmatic actor at last steps out of character and reveals his true self.

In this uniquely assembled memoir — featuring vivid prose, snippets of poetry and rarely-seen photos — Kilmer reflects on his acclaimed career, including becoming the youngest actor ever admitted to the Juilliard School’s famed drama department, determinedly campaigning to win the lead part in The Doors, and realizing a years-long dream of performing a one-man show as his hero Mark Twain. He shares candid stories of working with screen legends Marlon Brando, Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert De Niro, and recounts high-profile romances with Cher, Cindy Crawford, Daryl Hannah, and former wife Joanne Whalley. He chronicles his spiritual journey and lifelong belief in Christian Science, and describes travels to far-flung locales such as a scarcely inhabited island in the Indian Ocean where he suffered from delirium and was cared for by the resident tribe. And he reveals details of his recent throat cancer diagnosis and recovery — about which he has disclosed little until now.

I think the first movie of Kilmer’s that I saw was Batman Forever. While reading I’m Your Huckleberry, I realized that I hadn’t seen as many of Kilmer’s movies as I thought I had. What I have seen, however, I’ve much always enjoyed: HeatTombstoneKiss Kiss Bang Bang… his is a filmography that is varied, interesting and extensive. Sure, there are franchises (or potential franchises), but his career has also included somewhat unconventional choices. In his memoir, he offers an engaging, albeit brief, glimpse into his life and career, and generous portraits and memories of those who have influenced and enriched his life. I quite enjoyed it. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: GREENLIGHTS by Matthew McConaughey (Crown Publishing/Headline)

McConaugheyM-GreenlightsA lively, entertaining memoir

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.
 
Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges — how to get relative with the inevitable — you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”
 
So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.
 
Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.
 
It’s a love letter. To life.
 
It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights — and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.
 
Good luck.

An entertaining, quite uplifting memoir. I listened to the audiobook edition of the book, brilliantly and enthusiastically narrated by the author. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: RAPTURE by Nick Nurse & Michael Sokolove (Little, Brown)

NurseN-RaptureNick Nurse’s long journey to the NBA and how his experiences led to the Raptors’ Championship

Nick Nurse distills the wisdom, insight, and experiences that helped him lead the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship in his first year as head coach.

NBA fans had modest  expectations for rookie coach Nick Nurse and his Toronto Raptors. But what those naysayers didn’t realize was that Nurse had spent the past thirty years proving himself at every level of the game, from youth programs and college ball to the NBA D League and Britain’s struggling pro circuit. While few coaches have taken such a circuitous path to pro basketball’s promised land, the journey-which began at Kuemper Catholic high school in Carroll, Iowa-forged a coach who proved to be as unshakable as he is personable.

On the road, he is known to bring his guitar and keyboard for late-night jazz and blues sessions. In the locker room, he’s steadfast and even-keeled regardless of the score. On the court, he pulls out old-school tactics with astounding success. A rookie in name but a veteran in attitude, Nurse is seemingly above the chaos of the game and, with only two seasons on his résumé, has already established himself as one of the NBA’s most admired head coaches.

Now, in this revealing new book — equal parts personal memoir, leadership mani­festo, and philosophical meditation — Nurse tells his own story. Given unprecedented access inside the Raptors’ locker room, readers get an intimate study of not only the team culture he has built, but also of a rookie coach’s unique dynamic with the star players — such as Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Low­ry, and Pascal Siakam — who helped trail-blaze the 2019 championship run. As much for readers of Ray Dalio as for fans of John Wooden and Pat Summitt, Rapture promis­es to be a necessary read for anyone looking to forge their own path to success.

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was announced (which was, I think, shortly after the Raptors’ NBA victory last summer). I started reading this a couple of days after it came out, and zipped through it. Written in an inviting and engaging style, Rapture is a quick and interesting read. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: THEY DON’T NEED TO UNDERSTAND by Andy Biersack (Rare Bird Books)

BiersackA-TheyDontNeedToUnderstandUSAn interesting, engaging memoir of a highly-driven young rock star

Before he was the charismatic singer of Black Veil Brides and an accomplished solo artist under the Andy Black moniker, he was Andrew Dennis Biersack, an imaginative and creative kid in Cincinnati, Ohio, struggling with anxiety, fear, loneliness, and the impossible task of fitting in. With his trademark charm, clever wit, and insightful analysis, Biersack tells the story of his childhood and adolescence.

The discovery of the artistic passions that would shape his life, and his decision to move to Hollywood after his 18th birthday to make his dreams come true, even when it meant living in his car to make it all a reality. It’s the origin story of one of modern rock’s most exciting young superheroes, from building miniature concerts with KISS action figures in his bedroom to making the RIAA gold-certified single “In the End” and connecting with passionate fans worldwide.

I’ve been a fan of Black Veil Brides since their second album, Set the World on Fire. This was during a time when I wasn’t reading as much music journalism as used to. As a result, I didn’t know much about the band, and when I learned that Biersack had written a memoir, I was keen to read it and find out more about his and the band’s history. They Don’t Need to Understand is an engaging memoir. I enjoyed it. Continue reading