March: Book 1

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The first book in the graphic novel series titled March opens with John Lewis in his office on the day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. He and Rosa Parks are standing in his office talking when an African American family from Atlanta comes in, asking to see Senator Lewis’s office. They realize that they are standing in front of Lewis and introduce themselves. The woman with the small children explains to Lewis that she wanted to see how far he had come. This moment sets the backstory of a young John Lewis into motion.

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Growing up as a sharecropper’s son in rural Alabama, John Lewis explains that he was always a little different. He takes the time to tell a beautiful, hilarious, and heartbreaking account of how he took a strong liking to the chickens of his family’s farm. He would feed them, look after them, look after the eggs, and preach to them. He would write sermons and deliver them to his chickens. Lewis attributes his ability to deliver sermons and speeches to the time he spent delivering them to his chickens. Strongly present in this autobiographical account are experiences seared into Lewis (and all other blacks) in the 1950s South. Lewis began noticing that he was not living the same way that the whites were. The white students rode nice school buses while the blacks rode the rickety old ones. His parents would constantly remind him to “stay out of the white man’s way,” or “don’t start any trouble.”

Lewis saw the Supreme Court decision of Brown V. The Topeka Board of Education, and, logically, remembers thinking that everything would change for him and the other black students–that he would be afforded the privilege to ride on the new buses. No such thing occurred.

In a cathartic and defining moment, Lewis recalls the first time he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice over the radio. He was delivering a sermon wherein he stressed the importance of the “Social Gospels.” King’s speeches further ignited the fire within Lewis that demanded social justice, godliness, and dignity for all humans.

As a young man, Lewis begins to consider going to college. He secures a position at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville where he works in the cafeteria, meeting faculty, students, deans, presidents, etc. He delved further into philosophy, history, religion, and the social gospels. Soon, he begins to look into Troy University, a college that was close to his parents in Alabama. Troy, however, was an all-white school at the time. He applied as a transfer student and never heard back.

It was after this lack of response from an all-white school that Lewis reached out to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For a couple of weeks, Lewis was in correspondence with King’s attorney Fred Gray and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Eventually, they set up a time for Lewis to meet King. King was quite invested in Lewis’s story of trying to get into Troy.

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In an unsettling and strongly reminiscent tone, Dr. King reminds Lewis that trying to get into an all-white school in the South could bring a lot of adversity into his and his family’s and his neighbors’ lives. King warns that they could be bombed, beaten to death, lose their jobs/livelihoods. These possibilities were frighteningly still all too real in the desegregated US. John Lewis went to his father to discuss the process of admission. Troy State would need to be sued; John Lewis’s parents would have to sign with permission, etc. At first, Lewis’s parents wanted to be supportive, but in the end, they decided against giving him permission for the very reasons that Dr. King told him earlier.

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Once John’s parents decided against pursuing the Troy University issue, John Lewis decided to go back to Nashville, TN to resume his studies. He let Dr. King know by letter, and attributes this later serendipitous moment to the “spirit of history.” In Nashville, John Lewis was attending the First Baptist church downtown when he was introduced to Jim Lawson, a man who was conducting a workshop on nonviolence. This First Baptist church had an all-black congregation who had moved churches when their integrated church still forced them to worship from the balcony. Jim Lawson was a graduate student at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt at the time. He taught the small group at the church the words and ways of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other peaceful activists. “Jim Lawson conveyed the urgency of developing our philosophy, our discipline, our understanding. His words liberated me… I thought, this is it… This is the way out” (77-79). This is when John became an active member in the sit-ins of Nashville. He explains how they studied the ways of nonviolent assembly. The students were gassed with an insect bomb in a certain lunch counter. They were brutalized by civilians. Ignored or threatened or physically hurt by police. 

This graphic novel does such justice to history by taking Congressman Lewis’s experiences and activism and making it come even more alive through the kinetic medium of comics. He went from a sharecropper’s son to a congressman. This trajectory is one that we should all be watching–learning. It is important to read the battles that were fought and won so that we can assemble and protest today. Please stay tuned. I will cover books 2 and 3 in the next blogs!

“War is all Hell”

William T. Sherman was one of the more famous generals of the American Civil War.   Best known for his march through Georgia in 1864-65, cutting themselves off from their supply trains.  His armies foraged off the territory they were traveling through, reaching Savannah right before Christmas 1864, in time for Sherman to present the President of the United States with a Christmas present of the Georgia city.  By the spring of 1865, Sherman continued his march, this time northward through South Carolina and North Carolina, where he accepted the surrender Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army.

 Sherman didn’t believe, like a lot of military officers, that war was a gentleman’s game.  For example, when boats  and trains carrying his troops were shot at, Sherman sent soldiers to burn buildings in the towns where the shots came from and placed hostages on the trains and boats.   When he was the military commander in Memphis in 1862, he sent families south through Confederate lines as retaliation for his troops being shot at.

Almost as controversial was Sherman’s policy toward runaway slaves.  As a Democrat, Sherman was against freeing slaves, the opposite view from his brother John, the Republican senator from Ohio.  When the Union army moved into Tennessee following the battle at Shiloh, slaves thought the troops were their salvation.  Sherman  gave Union commanders permission to take slaves as long they could prove they were used in the war effort.

Sherman first encounter with combat was at First Bull Run.  After that, he was sent to Kentucky when he was forced to leave to recover from mental problems.  At Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862, he fought alongside Ulysses Grant.  He followed Grant as the Union commander in Memphis.  After spending a number of weeks in Memphis in 1862, Grant ordered Sherman to move downstream and attack Confederate forces near Vicksburg, Mississippi.   Although that expedition was a failure, it set the stage for Grant’s attack on Vicksburg the following year, when, after a long siege, the Confederates occupying the city surrendered on July 4, opening the Mississippi and splitting the Confederacy.   The next target for the two generals was Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga campaign was Grant’s last in the West, before he was sent to Virginia by President Lincoln to oppose Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.   Before Sherman and Grant got to East Tennessee, the Union Army of the Cumberland was soundly beaten by Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee as Chickamauga in Northern Georgia.  Sherman and Grant’s task was to raise the siege placed on Rosecrans’ Union forces in Chattanooga by Bragg’s army, which occupied high ground around the city.   In two months, the Union Armies of the Tennessee and the Cumberland drove the Confederates into Georgia, setting the stage for Sherman’s Atlanta campaign and eventually the March to the Sea.

For much of the the next year, 1864-65, Sherman’s army strived to capture Atlanta by not confronting Joseph Johnston’s Confederate army head on, but rather using flanking attacks.  The one time he did order a full frontal attack, at Kennesaw Mountain, it was a disaster for the enemy was dug in, in well built trenches.   Sherman’s army attacked with 15,000 men and suffered twenty percent casualties.   After that, the only barrier keeping Sherman from Atlanta was the Chattahoochee River, which he crossed July 17.  After a series a battles around the city, Sherman, tired of bloodletting, settled in for a siege, which ended on September  1st, when the Federals learned the enemy had retreated.

Sherman famed March to the Sea through Georgia began on November 15.   His army was divided into two wings both heading generally southeast.  The Confederates thought Augusta on the border of South Carolina was the target, so Jefferson Davis sent Braxton Bragg to defend the city.  But right before Christmas Sherman’s army reached the outskirts of the real destination, Savannah.  Since the defenders of the city had withdrawn, the local government declared Savannah an open city, saving it from destruction.  Sherman sent President Lincoln a telegram presenting  him with Savannah as a Christmas present.

The Union army occupying Savannah rested in preparation for the next step in their advance through Confederate territory: South Carolina.  Where Sherman governed his troops actions in Georgia, that was not the case in South Carolina.  Union soldiers were looking forward to causing as much damage in South Carolina as possible because they knew that’s where the war started.  The state capital, Columbia, was heavily damaged by fire, which Sherman blamed on Confederate troops under the command of South Carolina native Wade Hampton.   As Jacqueline Campbell states, historians have debated the cause of the extent of the damage in Columbia.  Having read both sides of the argument, I have come to the conclusion it was a combination of the Confederates burning cotton to keep it out of the hands of the advancing Federals and Union soldiers getting their hands on liquor and carrying on with drunken partying while setting fires.

The Spring of 1865 found Sherman and his army in the Old North State, where the war was winding down. The original plan which he and Grant had cooked up had Sherman’s army moving north through North Carolina to Lee from the rear.  However, Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia  to Grant on April 9 at Appomattox Courthouse.  That ended that aspect of the war in Virginia.  President Davis and other members of his administration had already escaped southward by train, but making it clear he wished the war to continue.   In the meantime, Sherman was pursuing General Johnston’s army in the piedmont of North Carolina, hoping to negotiate  a surrender soon.  That happened on April 26, two weeks after Lee’s capitulation.

The books listed below include Sherman’s Memoirs;  Biographies by Eisenhower, Fellman. Kennett, and Marszalek;  Flood’s study of his relationship with General Grant;  and finally Campbell, Hess, and Trudeau’s books on the Atlanta campaign, the march through Georgia and beyond.   There is caveat about General John Eisenhower’s book:  he died before it was published and the person who edited it evidently didn’t have a background in Civil War history for the Union Army of the Tennessee and the Confederate Army of Tennessee are thoroughly mixed up the book.

Battles and Leaders of the Civil WarVolume 4.

Jacqueline Glass Campbell.  When Sherman Marched North from the Sea:  Resistance on the Confederate Home Front.

John S. D. Eisenhower.  American General: The Life and Times  of William Tecumseh Sherman.

Michael Fellman.  Citizen Sherman:  a Life of William Tecumseh Sherman.

Charles Bracelen Flood.  Grant and Sherman.

Earl J. Hess.  Kennesaw Mountain:  Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign.

Lee Kennett.  Sherman:  A Soldier’s Life.

John F. Marszalek.  Sherman:  A Soldier’s Passion for Order.

William T. Sherman.  Sherman: Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman.

Noah Andre Trudeau.  Southern Storm:  Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Steven E. Woodworth.  Nothing But Victory:  the Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865.

Persepolis

“In 1951, Mohammed Mossadeq, then prime minister of Iran, nationalized the oil industry. In retaliation, Great Britain organized an embargo on all exports of oil from Iran. In 1953, the CIA, with the help of British intelligence, organized a coup against him. Mossadeq was overthrown and the Shah, who had earlier escaped from the country, returned to power. The Shah stayed on the throne until 1979, when he fled Iran to escape the Islamic Revolution.

“Since then, this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prison defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

“One can forgive but one should never forget.”

-Marjane Satrapi

Paris, September 2002

 

In the less than two page introduction of the graphic novel titled Persepolis, author Marjane Satrapi  provides a succinct synopsis explaining the political and cultural climate of Iran leading up to the Islamic or Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. Just as she is quoted in writing above, Iran is balled up into many of our western understandings of the Middle East–a discourse that is usually riddled with overtones of violence, religious extremism, terrorism, etc. In the wake of several bloody attacks claimed by ISIS or ISIL just this year, the recent hostage switch in Iran, the Syrian refugee crisis and civil war, and fear-mongering western ideologies, the message conveyed by Satrapi through her autobiographical comic Persepolis is something we need now more than ever.

Generalized news accounts of conflicts, wars, political events, etc., are much more effective and humanized when there is some form of personal account or narrative to supplement with more macro narratives. Take, for instance, the haunting piece of photojournalism that has dominated the covers of newspapers, magazines, and online articles the past week: the photograph of a shocked, silent, and bloody 5 year old boy, Omran Daqneesh, who was rescued from the site of an air raid in the city of Aleppo. His numb gaze is the product of the Syrian civil war. There are many other children like him. Many other children, like Omran’s older brother who died in that same raid, or 3 year old Aylan Kurdi whose drowned body washed upon Turkish shores around this time last year, who are forever silenced. The photographs of Aylan Kurdi and later his morning father started an urgent conversation in Europe regarding the treatment and permittance of refugees fleeing Syria. The parallel between people like Omran Daqneesh’s story and Marjane’s in Persepolis is that readers and viewers can all see the effects of extremism on individual people–people who do not have a say in the trajectory of their own country’s embattlements.

Persepolis is both an autobiography and Bildungsroman. It begins with a young Marji who begins to explain how the revolution in Iran is affecting her and her classmates on a personal level. The great thing about graphic novels is how effectively an image can communicate information in a much more viscerally striking manner. In the image below, Satrapi provides the reader with a snapshot of events that led to the image that many of us attach to Iranian women after the revolution. The veil, or hijab.

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As stated earlier, the importance of learning the rich history of certain countries and people is invaluable to our understanding and tolerance toward any given situation regarding human rights, religion, ideology, etc. Perceptions of Iranian people and culture is challenged when we see people like Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin becoming the first Iranian woman to win a medal at Rio 2016 Olympics. Throughout her Taekwando match and after, she wore a veil or hijab which covered her hair and neck.

The matter of the hijab, chador, niqab, and burqa has dominated recent news stations as well. Over a week ago on a beach in Nice, France, a woman was forced to remove her burqini by four French police officers who were enforcing the recent and controversial ban on burqinis. Burqini is a term used for a type of swimwear that covers the entire body leaving the feet, hands, and face visible, allowing Muslim women to sunbathe, swim, etc., while covering their body. The burqini ban is mandated by French mayors as a result of the Bastille Day terrorist attacks in Nice earlier this summer.

Persepolis provides a context of humanism rather than terrorism when talking about issues dealing with the hijab and other topics related to Islamic cultural and religious institutions. While Marji rebels against the mandated veil because it does not fall in line with her’s or her mother’s beliefs, the floor becomes open for discussion and understanding when reading about a person’s individual experience with the sometimes controversial garment. In Iran, shortly after the revolution gained enough speed to begin mandating certain aspects of Sharia law, Marji is met with the same resistance and oppression that the sunbathing woman mentioned earlier faced when a group of women wearing veils chastises and threatens Marji for wearing her blue jean jacket and Michael Jackson button. In this book, the dichotomous world of right and wrong is surpassed–ultimately providing a space for considering the places in between two dichotomies.

Persepolis is usually catalogued in Young Adult sections of libraries, making way for young people to critically think about and process certain issues that are otherwise glossed over in all-too-predictable and inaccessible dialogue.

Bear in mind that this analysis of Persepolis is coming from someone who was born in 1989. I had no prior understanding or knowledge of Iran other than what has been in the news since I can remember. Persepolis is often times taught in high schools, an environment where students’s perceptions are constantly changing–their minds making room for both fictional and real human experiences.

Persepolis follows young Marji as she grapples with the changes in the political, social, and religious landscape of Iran. Marji idolizes various revolutionists, social theorists, and activists, including her uncle Anoosh who dies at the hands of prison guards of the revolution because he is considered an infidel. As Marji grows older and witnesses the country around her transform into an isolated country ruled by Sharia law, she only becomes more and more resistant to this transformation. She continues to rebel in various forms–from attending protests to wearing “westernized” or “decadent” clothing. Her mother knows how serious the revolution is. In a stingingly memorable part of this work is when Marji’s mother tells her that she is risking being imprisoned and executed. What’s worse, her mother warns her, is that virgins cannot be executed. This means that an imprisoned young woman like Marji would first be married to the leader of the revolution, raped, then executed. In fear of this brutal reality, Marji’s parents agree to send her to school in Austria. While Marji is keen on leaving the Islamic republic and its ideals in her past, she begins to realize that there are still so many aspects of Iranian culture that she is adamant about defending. She sees parts of herself “assimilating into western culture” and simultaneously gains pride in her heritage. Marji falls in love with Reza, moves back to Iran to attend university, challenges many inequitable institutions in her Tehran university, graduates, and, well, you’ll have to read the rest.

Though the images are provided in a stark palette of black and white, Satrapi presents the reader with a story that explores the gray areas. Please give this book a read. In honor of Banned Books week, which is upon us, this book has been challenged and banned in various locations.

Enjoy!

LD

Letters to and from the front, II

Recently I was prowling the book donations at the thrift store where I volunteer  and I came across a copy of  War Letters:  Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll.  The Legacy Project, which is the source from which these letters came, was founded in 1998 as a gathering place for veterans and their families to donate correspondence written by members of American armed forces to and from their families while on active duty.   Since its founding  the Legacy Project’s name has been changed to  “The Center for American War Letters,” and it’s collection is housed at Chapman University in Orange. California.  War Letters was made into a documentary on PBS’s American Experience, which can be watched on YouTube.  Unless otherwise noted, the excerpts  quoted below come from War Letters which was copyrighted ©2001 by Andrew Carroll.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States armed forces were already fighting an undeclared war in the Atlantic Ocean trying to protect conveys supplying Great Britain.  The Japanese aggression made it clear American service men and women would be scattered around the globe, especially after Germany declared war on the United States.  How were families who had relatives stationed abroad going to stay in touch with their loved ones?  And vice versa how were members of the armed forces going to get letters from remote parts of the world delivered to their families at home.   Confederate women who were left in charge of the southern plantations couldn’t rely on their postal service to deliver letters to their husbands in a timely fashion, but times and technology had changed immensely in three quarters of a century.

Writing from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was doing basic training, Morton D. Elevitch wrote to his mother: “This week they are teaching us to kill.  Now you probably looked away and shuttered.  Well, Mom, I don’t like the idea, either,  but we all know its for our good….By the way everything is done in double time this week .  We move in place and from place to place on the double — puff puff.”  (War Letters, p. 196)

Tracy Sugarman to his wife June, from Great Britain, March 1944:  “Reading material, Junie. Things like Reader’s Digest – Coronet, Cosmopolitan maybe. When you send them pooch – *have them in a package* – otherwise some news hungry soldier or sailor will swipe them & they’ll never get here I’m told”.¹

During World War II, the United States Post Office made it easier for service and their families to stay in touch with each other.  Victory Mail, or V Mail as it was commonly known made use of standard size stationary and microfilm to speed servicemen’s mail.²    Sugarman occasionally used VMail to write to his wife.  An example is here.

Servicemen would receive correspondence from home about siblings also in the service.  For example,  Bill Lynn’s mother wrote to him in September 1944 giving him news about his older brother Bob:  Dear Billie, will drop you a few lines as I haven’t from. and I have good news, from the last letter I sent you.  Bob will back in the States at the last of this month.  I sure was happy when I read the telegram from the government last night.  I hope you are well and O.K….well I didn’t know what to send you for xmas but you can be looking for a box, and I hope you will like it.  so write me soon.”  Lynn was killed in the Pacific in 1945, three days after his nineteen birthday.  (War Letters, pp. 222-223)

Some American servicemen were abroad when their children were born.  Lt. Walter Schuette wrote a letter to his daughter:  “You arrived in this world while I was several thousand miles from your mother’s side.  There were many  anxious moments then and since.  This message comes to you from somewhere in England.  I pray to God it will be given to you on or about your tenth birthday. I hope to be present when that is done.  It shall be held in trust by your mother or someone equally concerned until that time….With this letter you will find a war bond of $2500 maturity value, and list of names.  A list of names to you, honey, buddies to me.  Men of my company, who adopted you as their sweetheart when you came into the world.  It is these men who bought you the bond as a remembrance of when they were soldiers with your daddy…”   Happily, Walter Schuette was able to read that letter to his daughter, Anna Mary, in 1953!  (War Letters, , p. 227)

After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945 and the United States dropped two Atom bombs on their homeland, peace barely lasted five years.   The Cold  War was between the Communist world, primarily the Soviet  Union, its European allies, and the Chinese; and the western democracies centered around NATO.  In East Asia, counties such as Korea and Vietnam were split:  Communists to the north and NATO allies to the south.   On June 25, 1950, forces of North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea.  President Truman sent American military forces, commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, under the auspices of the United Nations to help the South Koreans.  MacArthur’s force quickly drove the Communist North Koreans back to the border with Chinese Manchuria.  But that victory didn’t last long because Chinese forces made a surprise raid into North Korea and defeated the American and South Koreans at the Chosin Reservoir, eventually driving them back to to the 38th parallel.

In a letter to his father, Pvt. Bob Hammond describes the bitter fighting at Chosin from his hospital bed in Japan:  “Three days and nights of bitter fighting went on with heavy losses on both sides.  We were outnumbered 10 to 1. We were trapped and surrounded.  We had over 200 wounded guys.  I watched  a good buddy of mine die of wounds and lack of medicine.  I cried, I felt so utterly helpless.  On Dec. 1, 1950, we were ordered to fight our way back to the Marine Div. which was 8 miles back.  We had about 30 trucks which were carrying the wounded.  We went about 2 miles and suddenly a slug ripped thru my knee and chipped the bone.  I got into an ambulance which had 16 men in it.  We moved slowly and passed a few roadblocks and before I knew it, it was dark.  They were on all sides of us and we were masecured (sic).  Our driver was killed and the ambulance crashed into a ditch.   Machine gun slugs tore thru the ambulance killing a G.I. and Capt. sitting across from me. He slumped on me and I shoved him back in order to get the rear door open.  It was jammed, but I jarred it open in few minutes and fell out….”  (War Letters, p. 335)

In the 1950’s it was Korea, in the 60’s and the 70’s it was Vietnam.  The following  is an except from a letter from a young demoralized American Marine, L. Cpl. Stephen Daniel writes to his parents telling about the death of a close friend:    Mom and Dad:  Well its Friday morning.  Last night one more Marine died.  No one will ever here (sic) or care about it except his parents and us.  A good Marine has died and there is no nation to mourn for him or fly our flag at half mast.  Yet in this one night this Marine did more for his country than any President or Senator ever did.  His name was Corporal Lee…He was a good Marine and a better person.  He didn’t deserve dieing in a damn country not worth fighting for.  He didn’t deserve diein’ for people who won’t even fight for themselves.” (War Letters, 412-413)  Eight months later, on Easter Sunday, 1969, Daniel fell victim to a sniper’s bullet and died on the spot.

War correspondence, as we seen in the few excerpts above, dealt with many concerns.  Most important it created a lifeline to connect the service person with a touch of home when they serving far away.

¹http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.05440/pageturner?ID=pm0024001

² http://postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail/

Paul Fussell

Paul Fussell was an American scholar best known for his writing about World Wars I and II.  He was a veteran of the latter conflict as a 20 years infantry officer who served in Western Europe after D-Day. He was wounded, after which he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.   After the war, Fussell resumed his education, eventually earning a PhD in English literature.  His writing on that subject is more of interest to academics, but his books relating to combat have reached a broader audience.  The Great War and Modern Memory,  Wartime:  Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, The Boys’ Crusade:  the American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-1945, and Doing Battle: the Making of a Skeptic are the most important of these. The first two that show the contrast between the cultures of the two wars will be the focus of this essay.

The Great War and Modern Memory is probably Fussell’s best known work.   It outlines the British experience in World War I and how that influenced writers, especially poets, reliving that part of their lives.   Fussell, as he does in all his books in this vein, writes about the frustrations the lower ranks have to put with in the combat environment.   According to Fussell that war is ironic; for example, battles seldom go the way planners think they will.  At the battle of the Somme in 1916, for example, the Allied artillery pounded the German positions leading generals to think that foot soldiers will be able  to walk into German trenches unopposed.  Instead, the infantry marched into withering machine gun fire and the British took 6,000 casualties on the first day.

The war was not fought the army veterans who commended the British troops who were sent to France expected.  Cavalry was useless against machine gun fire and the infantry tactics had similar success against artillery fire.    New weapons such as machine guns,  gas, airplanes, and tanks  were new ways to kill and maim.  These new killing machines kept large armies from advancing and the war on the Western front stalemated to trenches with a no man’s land in between.  Fussell writes a lot about the influence that conflict had on poets and other writers who romanced the war.   He notes the war poets, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Thomas Hardy, and Wilfred  Owen,  contributions to the Oxford Book of English Verse.

Fussell’s does in writing non-fiction what some authors, such as Heller in Catch 22 and Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five, did  in fiction.  Of course Fussell is a veteran of combat in Europe in 1944-1945, where he was a young second lieutenant in the infantry.  He dedicated The Great War and Modern Memory to the sergeant who was killed beside him in France in 1945.

After reading Fussell’s books, the difference in the American culture in the twenty years between the two wars is obvious.   In the movie theaters, talkies had arrived.  Radio brought news and entertainment into people’s homes.   Celebrities who once was seen only in the big screen now were heard on the radio on a weekly basis.  Big band leaders such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman had their own radio shows.  Hollywood produced patriotic films, some involving combat starring John Wayne who never served in the military.  Meanwhile,  in Britain, the BBC kept broadcasting educational programs while the bombs were falling on London during the blitz.

Acronyms, which were a holdover from the New Deal, were popular, especially in the military:  SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) or my favorite COMAMPHIBFORSOPAC (Commander, Amphibious Force, South Pacific).   There were some others which made their way into civilian language, FUBAR, for example.

The big difference between the American experience in the Great War and World War II was that the American government decided when to declare  on Germany in 1917, but Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor took that decision out Roosevelt’s hands in 1941.   Once in the fight, Americans had put up with shortages at home and rationing.   Not to the extent it happened Britain, where rationing continued until 1954.

A green reporter encountered an infantry squad on the front line in Europe and asked what they would say to the people at home:   “…Tell them it’s more serious than they’ll  ever be able to understand…. Tell them it’s is rough as hell,   Tell them it’s rough.  It’s rough, serious business.  That’s all. That’s all….”

Samuel Eliot Morison

I believe it was when I was in Junior High that friend of our family gave me a copy of Samuel Eliot Morison’s book Admiral of the Ocean Sea:  a Life of  Christopher Columbus.   That was my introduction to the writings of Dr. Morison, who, unbeknownst to me when I was a teenage boy, was a historian studying the naval history  of the new world.  Over the years, and he wrote and published just short of his death in 1978, Morison produced seven books relating that aspect of American history, besides publishing his fifteen volume History of United States naval operations in World War II,  and multiple books on the history of  his native New England, as well as co-authoring an American history textbook in 1930 that is it’s 7th edition.   For the purpose of this blog I am going to concentrate Morison’s book  The Great Explorers.

 The Great Explorers is an abridgment of  The European Discovery of America :  The Northern Voyages and The Southern Voyages .  When Morison wrote the preface to the latter volume, he dated it exactly two years before he died at the age of 88.  While writing these two volumes, he was traveling all over the world tracing the voyages of Columbus and the men who followed him to the coasts of North and South America, and in the cases of Magellan and Drake, circumnavigated the globe.  Morison concentrates on the voyages, how they arrived at the Americas, the ships they sailed on, not what happened after they got here.  For some reason I can’t figure out, Morison wrote about the northern voyages before the southern ones, although he suggests Columbus’ trips laid the ground work for the rest of the fifteenth and sixteenth century explorers.

Columbus made four trips to the Americas.  The first one as we learned in school was in 1492.  Although Columbus sailed under the colors of the Spanish kingdom Castile and Aragon, he was born Cristoforo Columbo¹ in Genoa long before it was considered Italian.  Columbus and a number of other Europeans believed if one sailed west across the Atlantic they would find a short cut to East Asia.   On his first voyage he took three vessels:  The Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina.  The first was 85 feet in length, the two were smaller. Morison reckoned Columbus touched San Salvador and Cuba on that trip.  The Nina was only the one that made it back.  During the second and fourth voyages Columbus visited Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola.

A quarter of a century after Columbus set foot on the “New World,”  Ferdinand Magellan was in Seville, giving up his Portuguese citizenship to become a subject of Emperor  Charles V of Spain.  Two years afterwards Magellan was in command of five ships with a commission to explore the Pacific Ocean.  His fleet sailed south along the coast of South America, through the strait which now bears his name, and out into the Pacific in the latter of November 1520.  By February the following year, he reached the Caroline Islands and by March, after touching at Guam, he was in the Philippines; where he died during a battle with natives on April 21.  Eighteen survivors made it to back to Seville on the Victoria, Magellan’s flag ship, which had sailed three and month before.

Unlike Magellan, Sir Frances Drake survived his circumnavigation and went up the west coast of the Americas besides.  Drake was regarded as a naval hero to the English and a pirate to their enemies, the Spanish.  The purpose of this voyage was two f0ld:  first, harassment of the Spanish settlements in the Americas, second, exploration. Unlike the voyages of the Spanish and Portuguese, Drake’s was funded by private monies.  There were six vessels in his fleet, which sailed in December 1577, headed by the “The Golden Hind,” armed with a total of 56 guns and, in addition to crew members, men at arms.  Each time they found a Spanish  settlement  it was attacked.    The English expedition traveled as far north as what is now known as San Francisco Bay.  Despite Drake claiming that part of Calfornia for Queen Elizabeth I,   the Spanish built a series of missions there.  The voyage ended in Plymouth harbor on September 26, 1580.  The whole expedition was profitable for the investors, the throne, and Drake as well.

Unlike Drake, John Cabot was an explorer. Cabot is the anglicized version of his Italian name, Giovanni Caboto.   Cabot’s home base in England  was at Bristol on the Avon River which empties into the Irish Sea.  Cabot made his first seaworthy trip to North America in 1497 by sailing due west to the southern tip of Ireland, then west northwest before resuming a more westerly direction, which took him directly to the island of Newfoundland off the coast of what became Canada.  For the next 36 years several Englishmen and a Portuguese, Joāo Alvares Fagundes, made voyages to Newfoundland and Labrador on the mainland. Toward the end of the 16th century, the English became involved in the search for the fabled Northwest Passage.  Martin Frobisher  made several voyages, all of which ended in failure.  John Davis was another mariner who failed to find it.

The first voyage under French colors was led by a man of Italian descent, Girolamo da Verrazzano, whose first trip led to landfall of the present coast of North Carolina.  Sailing north from the outer banks, he came the Narrows that leads into what is now New York harbor.  From there he explored the shore opposite what we now call Long Island and from there proceeded to what become Maine, where he had contact with natives.  Verrazzano was followed to North America by a native of Normandy, Jacques Cartier.    Cartier made three visited North America three times between 1534 and 1542.  On his third voyage, Cartier founded a colony named Charlesbourg-Royal after the Charles duc d’Orléans, son of the King of France.²

Morison’s book is filled with illustrations of old maps, which gives readers an inkling of the geographical ignorance that Europeans had of the western approaches to the Far East from Europe.  Particularly not realizing there was a whole large continent between Europe and Asia.  In addition to those maps, there are portraits of many of the explorers and photographs the author took from his flights which traced to routes used by the explorers to find their way west.

Author’s note:   To be sure the Europeans brought war and disease to the indigenous peoples of the “New World,”  and started a genocide that lasted in North America until late in the nineteenth century.  But Morison concentrates on the voyages, how they arrived at the Americas, the ships they sailed on, and how they navigated without any of the modern aides modern sailors have at their disposal.

 ¹ In Portugal he was known as Christovão Colom.

² Archaeologists discovered remains of the colony in 2006 at the junction of the Cap Rouge River and the St. Lawrence River.

BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS

This, I believe, is the 50th blog in this series, so I thought I would review, to the best of my memory, some of books I have read over my lifetime.  I have always had books at home.  Being I was a history major in undergraduate and graduate school (not counting MSLS degree) and history is a reading intensive subject, my education brought me in contact with even more books.
Like me, Emily Dickinson loved books and even wrote a poem about them:

There is no Frigate like a Book

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
                                        EMILY DICKINSON
 I do not recall what my parents read to me before I could read.  Babar is the first character in book I can remember.  Enid Blyton, who was a famous author of children’s adventure stories in Great Britain, had published six of the “Famous Five” series by the time I left Scotland in 1948. I think I had read them all.
When we moved to Memphis in 1949, one the first things my mother did was to visit the old Cossitt Library downtown to get us both a library card.     There I discovered Joseph Altsheler, who wrote a number of series of historical novels for what we now call middle school boys. (I was delighted to discover Altsheler’s books are still available in either paperback or Kindle editions from Amazon.)  As a sixth grader and on into junior high I read his books and a series of biographies of famous baseball players and managers and other sports figures.   In fiction my choice was also sports including John Tunis, who wrote about all sports, not  just basketball, baseball, and football.
In high school and college I had little time for pleasure reading, but when I did, I read Leon Uris, James Jones, and James Michener each of whom wrote historical novels, some based on their experiences in World War II.  Meantime, in classes, I was introduced to a number books I still have in my personal library:  The Tennessee: the Old River by Donald Davidson, which I had to read for class in Tennessee History;  and  Mont Saint Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams, which was required reading for Medieval History.  A graduate reading course in Southern history made me familiar with William Faulkner’s  Absalom, Absalom!, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and Eugene Genovese’s powerful study of the world slaves lived in Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made.    For other classes I read Nixon Agonistes by Gary Wills and The Quiet American by Graham Greene.
In the mid-1970s a colleague introduced me to a genre of fiction that has given me pleasure ever since:  the mystery.  In this vein, I just learned that one of favourite mystery writers, Ruth Rendell, died last May.   She was equally at home with psychological mysteries or police procedural  novels.  In fact, her Inspector Wexford series was adapted for television.   Anne PerryTess Gerritsen, Rhys  Bowen, Jacqueline Winspear, and, of course Agatha Christie, are a just a few of my favourite mystery authors.
Mysteries are my habitual fiction reading tastes.  In non-fiction I tend to read military (mainly Civil War, WWI and WWII) history and biography.  Such interests have seeped through onto this blog.  See, for example, previous  blogs on Shelby Foote, Winston Churchill, and John Keegan.  During the last few years, when I’ve evidently have had more time,  I have read and am reading multi-volume works such as Foote’s The Civil War, Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants: a Study in Command, Rick Atkinson’s The Liberation Trilogy,  about the American army in North Africa and Europe, Volumes 1 and 2 of Ian W, Toll’s in progress Pacific War Trilogyand Carl Sandburg’s massive biography of Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and The War Years.
About fifteen years ago, I decided to keep a log showing what I had read and the date I finished the book.   Beginning in 2002, I have, on my computer, a complete list of books I have read each year.  I also keep a record of the number of pages in each volume so I can see how many pages I have read.  (BWT: I don’t tell my wife because she thinks I read too much already!)  That came in handy a few years ago when a friend accused me of reading nothing but boring history books, I could tell that person that over the past few years I had read fiction and non-fiction equally.   And I plan on doing that as long I can read!

CHURCHILL II, 1939-1965

When Winston Churchill became the First Lord of the Admiralty for the second time in 1939, he ended his decade exile from government.   Then Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister on May 10, 1940 and Winston Churchill assumed that office.   Soon afterwards he addressed the British people and later the House of Commons.  He told both groups he could only offer, “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”   As Prime Minister he announced to the Commons he had formed a government made up representatives of Tories and Labour to meet the crisis  situation on the continent caused by the German blitzkrieg.   The French forces and BEF (British Expeditionary Force) were retreating, with the latter in the danger of being surrounded with their backs to the English Channel at Dunkirk. Eventually, the French government surrendered and BEF was rescued by an armada of boats of all sizes and shapes. Later, in September 1940, the blitz, the bombing of English cities, began;  the aerial Battle of Britain was underway.  The Royal Air Force (RAF) kept the Germans from gaining air superiority over England and forced Hitler to postpone Operation Sea Lion, the cross-channel invasion.

Earlier, when Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty, he opened correspondence with Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President of the United States.  The two men kept the communication open throughout the blitz and into 1941.  In June that year, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, turning his military might  eastward, away from Britain.  Two months later, Churchill boarded a battleship, sailing to Newfoundland to meet with FDR.   That was the first of eleven times during the war that the two men met, including lengthy stays at the White House and the president’s estate in the Hudson Valley in New York and twice in North Africa, once in Iran, and once in Crimea, in the southern part of the Soviet Union.   Stalin joined Roosevelt and Churchill in the last two conferences.  Churchill as met with Stalin without Roosevelt.

After the United States joined the war in December 1941, Churchill tried to convince Roosevelt to commit American troops and resources to defeating Hitler’s Germany instead of going after the Japanese, whose attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the conflict.   Roosevelt was convinced that crossing the English Channel to attack German forces in Europe was the best way to introduce American troops into the European theater.   Churchill and his military staff convinced the Americans to land in North Africa, to help the British fight Gen. Rommel’s German army in the desert.  With Stalin trying to the Allies to commit to a second front in Western Europe, it was decided the invasion would take place in the spring of 1944 with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower  as the commander.

As the war processed, Churchill felt his relationship with Roosevelt was getting strained.  There were a number of reasons for this:  first, after Stalin joined the summits, Churchill found himself playing a less significant role in the meetings;  Roosevelt was playing more attention to the Russian leader and less to the British Prime Minister.   Another factor was Churchill’s determination to keep the British empire together in a post-war world, which countered  Roosevelt’s policy to free nations from the British yoke after the defeat of Germany and Japan.   A final reason was the British military was having less of say in the strategic decisions how the war was being fought.  At any rate, when Roosevelt died in April 1945, Churchill felt he had lost a dear friend.

As the the Allies were getting closer to defeating Germany, the British Labour Party decided  to end its participation in the War Cabinet and got Churchill to call a General Election, that was to take place in the summer of 1945.    The election was held on 5 July, but the votes were not counted until 26 July to allow for the votes of service men and women who were abroad to be counted.  In the meantime Churchill went to Germany to meet with Stalin and Harry Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt, taking Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party with him.   The two returned to London for the vote count, which gave the Labour Party a solid majority in Commons.  The British people had rejected Churchill, who now was the leader of the Opposition.  However, six years later, Churchill was back in power.

In his second term as Prime Minister, Churchill lost an other close supporter, George VI.   The monarch died of lung cancer in February 1952, while his eldest daughter was on tour in South Africa.   Churchill became the first of twelve Prime Ministers who have served under Elizabeth II.  Churchill remained her as Prime Minister until 1954, when his health became an issue.

In the post-war years, Churchill continued to write, finishing his History of the English Speaking People and publishing his memoirs of World War II.  He also traveled abroad, notably giving his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in the  United States.   In 1952, he had a re-recurrence of the heart problems that had bothered him during the war.   In 1953, at the age of 78, he had a stroke.  In the spring of the following year, he resigned.  Following four additional strokes, Churchill died at 90 years of  age in January 1965.

Max Hastings.  Winston’s War.

John Keegan.  Winston Churchill.

John Lukas.  Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat.

William Manchester and John Reid.  The Last Lion, Vol. 3.

Secrets of Leadership: Churchill (Video)

Winston Churchill: The Whole Truth (Video)

Churchill I, 1874-1939

Fifty years ago last January, Great Britain lost one its greatest leaders.  Winston Spencer Churchill had been Prime Minister twice, once during World War II in the reign of George VI and then under George VI again, until king’s death in 1952 ;  then  under Queen  Elizabeth II, as she started her long reign.  In fact during the first half of the 20th century there were very few years that Churchill was not a part of the government of the British Isles.

Followers of “Downton Abbey” would recognize the world that Churchill was born into in 1874.  His father was the youngest son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough.  His mother was one of a number of American society women who married British nobility (see “Downton Abbey again”)   When Churchill was born the sun never set in the British Empire, when he died, in 1965, that empire had shrunk and turned into a commonwealth of self-governing nations.

In Victorian England, children born into the aristocracy saw little of their parents.  Nannies and tutors saw their raising and education.  As they grew older, boarding schools took up the learning.  With young Winston it was Harrow, not Eton.  Churchill was not much of a scholar, not bright enough for civil service.  It took three attempts to pass the entrance  exam for the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he ended his formal education, after which he joined the 4th Hussars, a cavalry regiment.

On duty with the 4th Hussars in India 1896, Churchill managed to moonlight as a newspaper correspondent, sending back dispatches on the war on the Afghan frontier.   From there, in 1899, he joined Kitchener’s army in Africa, where it was charged with avenging the  1885 murder of Charles George Gordon at Khartoum.  That ended his military career, except or a short time in the Great War.  After that, he resigned from the army and went as a reporter to cover the Boer War in South Africa, where he was captured and put on a prison-of-war camp, but later escaped.

Then it was time for him to step into politics. It took Churchill two attempts to get himself elected to the House of Commons. In 1900, he won the election for the Oldham constituency, in the greater Manchester area, in the Conservative Party.  Unlike the United States Congress, a member of the House of Commons does not have to reside in his constituency, he only needs keep a office there.   It did not take Churchill long before he disagreed his party’s policies and began vote against the Government.  Finally, in May 1904, he crossed the House and joined the Liberal members in opposition.  Four years later, he was elected from a secure seat in the Scottish city of Dundee and he married Clementine Hozier.

As part of the Liberal Party, Churchill was appointed to different positions in the government:  the Colonial Office, the Board of Trade, and the Home Office.  Much like he did in the years leading up to World War II, Churchill spoke out in Commons for the government to spend money on  the Army and Navy to match to power of the European nations who were in an arms  race with Germany.  In 1911, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, the political head of the British Navy.   He was in that position when war broke out on the continent in August 1914.   The Gallipoli fiasco  the next year brought his resignation from that post and eventually from the government.  After that he spent six months as officer in the trenches in Belgium. (See my last blog for details on Gallipoli)

After the Great War, Churchill was made Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air from January 1919 to February 1921 in the government of David Lloyd George.  However, in General Election of 1922, Churchill lost his Dundee seat. In the However, two years later he was  returned to the Commons as the Member for Epping, a seat he held until 1945  In the mid-1920’s Churchill crossed the House again and rejoined the Conservative Party.  . When Stanley Baldwin led the Conservative Party to victory in 1924, Churchill was made Chancellor of Exchequer, a post he held until 1929.  For the next ten years Winston was out of government but still in the Commons.

Though he spent a decade out of government, Churchill remained busy.  He needed to make money to make up what he lost in the way of investments due to the stock market crash in 1929.  He finished his story of the Great War, The World Crisis and an autobiography,  My Early Life.  A multi-volume biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough was finished in 1938.  When he was not writing his books, he was publishing newspaper articles and making speeches warning about looming crises in Europe brought on by Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany.   The Nazi leader’s expansion of his country’s borders was met a policy of appeasement by  the Conservative Party until the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.  Churchill was once again First Lord of the Admiralty.

 

David Cannadine, Editor.  Winston Churchill, Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat:  the Great Speeches

Winston Churchill.  Frontiers and Wars

John Keegan.  Winston Churchill

William Manchester.  The Last Lion:  Visions of Glory

William Manchester.  The Last Lion:  Alone

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, 1929-39 (Video)

Read It Again, Sam: 15 Music Biographies

I really fell in love with music at the same time that many of us do, as a teenager. I’d heard plenty of music in our house before then, from Big Band to the Beatles to Kiss to The Statler Brothers, but it took a bit for music to really grab hold of me, and to develop my own musical identity. Over the following decades that identity has shifted and morphed some, but not to any great degree. I like what I like, and you should too.

See, that is the thing. Music is a great unifying force, but we do allow it to be divisive as well. It shouldn’t really matter to me what music you enjoy, even if I think it is lousy. Often we will disregard an entire genre just on principal. Not cool. The fact is that music is something we should all be able to agree to disagree on. Let’s give that a try, shall we? I myself do not care for Led Zeppelin.

Girl in snow
This random picture is totally not a distraction from my inflammatory statement. Did it work?

I know, that seems almost sacrilegious, and it nearly caused a familial rift with my father-in-law. But here is the thing: I freely acknowledge that Zeppelin is a great and influential band. Just because I don’t like Robert Plant’s vocal stylings doesn’t mean I’m saying that they are no good. We should try to focus on the positives, not the negatives.

So, music biographies. There are a lot of them. We have dozens of them here at this library. Plus the ones that don’t technically qualify as biography, since biographies are about a person and a band isn’t a person. Books about bands go in the music section (782 in Dewey). I thought about some different ways I could approach this, and in the end decided it was about the music. Each title I selected is therefore accompanied by a song tidbit. Hopefully you will be inspired to read (and listen to) not necessarily these books (artists), but any that strike your fancy.

45 rpm records
Yes, I know what these are. I used to have a bunch.
  1. David Bowie: Starman by Paul Trynka. It took Bowie a while to make it big in the US. One of his earliest hits on this side of the pond was “Young Americans”, from his 1975 album of the same name. Backup vocals on the track were provided by a young American (pun totally intended) who would go on to have some success of his own: Luther Vandross.
  2. Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash by Pat Gilbert.  “Should I Stay or Should I Go” was The Clash’s first #1 single in the UK, albeit a decade after it was first released. It reached #17 on its initial release, and only #45 in the US. You can hear Mick Jones yell “Split!” on it, as he was startled by Joe Strummer during the recording session. The title of the song presaged the band’s breakup.
  3. In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, & Duran Duran by John Taylor with Tom Sykes. Taylor is the bass player for Duran Duran, and has some tales to tell. Note that I say “is” and not “was”. Many people view them as an 80s band, but they have never stopped recording or touring. In fact a new album drops shortly. One of their first hits was the iconic “Girls On Film”, written by lead singer Andy Wickett. Bonus points to all of you going “wait, what? Who?” Wickett was soon replaced by Simon Le Bon, and was paid £600 for the rights to the song.
  4. Take Me To The River by Al Green with Davin Seay. Green’s “Love and Happiness” was co-written with Teenie Hodges, who started on it in between intimacies with his girlfriend and watching wrestling. Loyal readers will know we are all about the wrestling here. Hodges sang (yes, sang) the guitar riff to Green while they were in the car, and they recorded it that same night.
  5. Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica by Mick Wall. Once upon a time I didn’t like Metallica, but I got better. The band broke big commercially with their fifth album, and one of the singles off of it, and their first true (power) ballad, was “Nothing Else Matters”. Singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield wrote the song one handed, sort of. He was on the phone with his girlfriend, and was using his other hand to pluck out a new melody on his guitar, which became this song. Hetfield is also notorious for writing the lyrics to his songs well after the music is written. Some Metallica demos feature him just sort of humming along for songs that have no words yet.
    da Vinci painting
    Leonardo da Vinci’s “Portrait of a Musician”. See what I did there?

     

  6. Dark Star: The Roy Orbison Story by Ellis Amburn. Orbison was at the zenith of his success in the early 60s, as he put 22 songs onto the Billboard Top 40 in those years. His song “In Dreams” was a bigger hit in the UK, propelling him into a tour with an up and coming band he had never heard of called The Beatles. He followed that up with a tour of Australia along with some chaps called The Rolling Stones.
  7. Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton. It is odd now to look back and realize that Parton was once a partner. She started performing as a child, and found success early. She was asked by country singer Porter Wagoner to join his syndicated television and road show. Fans of his program were slow to warm to her, and some thought that she would never go any farther. Her single “Jolene”, which she based off of real life experiences, proved the critics wrong, and her stardom was assured. Now, who’s up for Dollyworld?
  8. Slash by Slash with Anthony Bozza. Slash has played guitar for many projects over the years, but he is still best known for his work with Guns N’ Roses. One day in the studio he was messing around on his guitar doing warm up exercises when he came up with an interesting riff. Although he didn’t think much of it, the rest of the band did and had him play it again. Hearing this going on, lead singer Axl Rose started writing lyrics (about his girlfriend, Erin Everly, daughter of one of The Everly Brothers) and voila, a song was born. That song was “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.
  9. Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon. Gordon was the bass player and a vocalist for Sonic Youth. Back in the day she was asked to interview LL Cool J for Spin magazine and the two artists clashed. In fact, they clashed severely enough that it inspired a song, “Kool Thing”. The song has several references to LL, and the video director kept the theme going by styling it similarly to LL’s “Going Back To Cali” video. On top of all that, Chuck D from Public Enemy provides guest vocals on the track.
  10. It’s Only Rock’n’roll: The Ultimate Guide to the Rolling Stones by James Karnbach and Carol Bernson. “Gimme Shelter” was a fitting song to come out at the end of the 60s. Songwriters Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (both of whom have their own biographies) channeled the turmoil of the era into a song suitable for the end of the world. Richard said that his guitar fell apart on the last take, “as if by design”.
    Record store
    Hey, a record by my favorite band is in this pic!

     

  11. Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme by Mary Wilson, with Patricia Romanowski and Ahrgus Juilliard. Sometimes success comes quickly. Sometimes. The first handful of singles that The Supremes released failed to find that success. In fact, they came to be known as the “No-hit Supremes” around the Motown offices. The ladies didn’t have high hopes for their next song, feeling that it might not have the hook to make it a hit. “Where Did Our Love Go” did in fact have that hook, and was their first #1 single. The next four singles they put out followed suit.
  12. Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir by Steven Tyler with David Dalton. Tyler is the singer of Aerosmith, and there are a legion of stories about that band’s rollercoaster career. The one I like best is about what is probably their most famous song, “Walk This Way”. You probably think this is where I do a Run-D.M.C. name drop, but you’d be wrong. No, what I like is where the name of the song comes from, which is from a line in the movie Young Frankenstein. I may not always like Aerosmith’s songs, but I have to give props to Mel Brooks fans.
  13. Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters by Robert Gordon. Maybe this is an obvious one, but here goes. Waters recorded “Rollin’ Stone” in 1950 as a variation on the oldie “Catfish Blues”. How did his version come out? Both Rolling Stone magazine and The Rolling Stones band are named after it.
  14. Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams by Paul Hemphill. Thinking of Williams might make you lonely and tearful…wait, wrong song. The story goes that he wrote “Your Cheatin’ Heart” thinking about his first wife whilst driving with his second one. She wrote down the lyrics on the passenger seat for him. I’m assuming it was a pickup truck.
  15. Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young. Sometimes famous tunes come about in peculiar ways. Young’s “Heart of Gold” features acoustic instead of electric guitars. Why? He had hurt his back and couldn’t play the heavier electric one, hence some “softer” songs as he healed up. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt provide backing vocals on this one.
    Aquarius Records storefront
    Aquarius Records in San Francisco. I used to buy records from Aquarius Records, but not this one. It was run by an old hippie, though.

    You all have your assignments now. Read and listen, share and discuss. Here is another good list of music memoirs. Oh, and if you aren’t sure what to listen to, maybe try The Ink Spots, or The Dresden Dolls, or Sleater-Kinney, or Dethklok, or M.I.A. And please share with me what you like.