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Rob G.

Indianapolis, IN United States
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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-11-15

Not much of a secret, honestly.

As many people have noted, this is a book for the diehards. It is long. It is detail packed. It is repetitious, It is exhaustive in every sense of the word. And, to be blunt, it's an awful lot of words to say what anyone who has followed the Star Wars franchise since the early days already knows: George Lucas never really had a master plan and has been making it up or modifying the past (retcon, as the author helpfully defines multiple times) as he sees fit since the beginning.
That said, the research here is very impressive. Kaminiski has really done his homework, a chore which can't have been too easy given the contradictions of the mountains of Star Wars info available and the way Lucas plays things close the the vest, letting out only what hewants you to know at that time. It's fascinating to hear the script changes or Lucas's own words changing over time. And its fun, and a bit frustrating, to see how Lucas twisted the franchise into a pretzel to fit whatever his vision was that week.
But, I have to admit, this book wore me out. Maybe I'm not an uber fan, just a fanatic? There were only so many times I could hear essentially similar information about this change or that. The minutia is impressive, but overwhelming at times.
Still, if you want to know exactly how we got from the original 1977 movie to the whole universe it is today, I doubt you'll find a better resource.

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10 of 10 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-25-15

Rehashed material, covered better elsewhere.

I've always been curious about the history of video games and especially that of Nintendo. Once upon a time, books dealing with the subject were limited to small press items like Seth Cohen's Zap! The Rise and Fall of Atari or read more like press releases. Starting with David Sheff's Game Over, there have been many books approaching video games seriously. Though it's been a while since I've read Sheff's book, it kept coming back to mind with listening to this one as Sheff's book was really the first, and maybe still definitive, book to cover Nintendo in the west. There isn't much, if anything at all, in Super Mario, that hasn't been covered thoroughly in Sheff's book and many others.

Additionally, Super Mario is packed with errors that just shouldn't have happened. The biggest one happens during the telling of the Super Nintendo/Playstation partnership and split, the third party, and inventor of the CD-i, switches from Philips (correct) to Panasonic (incorrect) and back. Other errors, such as claiming that the Tandyvision was a unique system (it was an Intellivison clone) or that the Intellivison version of Donkey Kong Jr. was arcade perfect (nothing could be further from the truth), are annoying but with the information so easily available and so much of this book coming from other sources, there's little excuse for them.

Unfortunately, I don't think Sheff's book is available in audio form yet (and it was last updated in 1999, I believe), so this may serve a purpose. Just keep in mind, if you want to read this same information covered better, stick with Sheff's Game Over.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-30-15

Very in-depth look at Armstrong's crucial years.

The best thing about this was how it tied everything together. Armstrong's evolution was as much a part of the times as anything. This book really put things into the proper perspective of music, politics, race, etc. For some people, there may be a bit too much technical discussion of the music, though I never felt it became a theory lesson. My biggest disappointment was that they couldn't have included soundclips instead of referencing time markings on CDs. I doubt that was an option as the recordings are still copyright protected in the US. Still, a fascinating listening energetically read.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-13-15

Inside the Brill Building.

Really, this book was as much about the Brill Building and that era of pop music as it was about Bert Berns which makes sense as they're fairly intertwined. As a big fan of that era, this book was pretty fascinating. Interesting times and this book is vivid and fun. I was sorry it ended.

One comment to another review that claimed this book lifted a lot from others, specifically "The Last Sultan", maybe I haven't read enough, but I'm not seeing it. Sultan covered Ahmet Ertegun's story but here his Atlantic partner Jerry Wexler is the main interest. A lot of stuff that wasn't in Sultan, like the attempted sale of Atlantic to ABC-Paramount, is covered extensively and not mentioned at all in the other book.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-10-15

Does exactly what it says on the cover.

As a long time student of jazz, I've seen many works attempt to make sense of the long and varied history of the music. This audiobook, which was an impulse purchase, comes about the closest I've experienced to covering everything in one,tidy, work. What really impressed me was that Gioia accomplished this without leaving many, if any, notables out and with as close to a complete absence of personal bias you are likely to find in jazz writing. Even styles on the farthest edge of jazz such as acid jazz and smooth jazz are given respectful consideration, rather than outright dismissal, to say nothing of the serious treatment of fusion and avant garde, both of which are too often ignored or treated with distain bordering on disgust by many of the modern day jazz archivists.

My only complaint is a slight one. I found the language to be a little too flowery at time. Not unbearably so, but there's too much French sprinkled in and it sounds a little pretentious in places. (I think I've heard the word "oeuvre" enough to last a lifetime.) Bob Souer's narration is unobtrusive mostly, which I mean as a good thing, though I question his pronunciation for some of the names, but it could also be I've been doing it wrong all these years.

Regardless if you're a neophyte or long time fan, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better, more complete, single history of jazz.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-22-15

Comment on the other reviews.

Normally I wouldn't comment on other reviews. Opinions are opinions, after all. But, in this case, I feel it's worthwhile.

First off, with regard to the discographical information. This is a book about a musician. You're going to get information about who she played with. It matters to the story because it puts Holliday's recordings in context. In the case of Billie Holiday, I think it's especially important because singers were often seen as something less than musicians prior to Holiday changing the game. To know the level of musicians she associated with tells us that they thought of her as a peer, not merely a singer. At any rate, I hardly feel like this information is over done or over bearing. The material is always presented in the context of the narrative. It's not like we're just presented with lists of dates and names.

Secondly, that the narrator Anna Fields is affecting a "black" accent (whatever that is supposed to be) is absurd. Listen to a clip of Ms. Fields reading anything else. What you're hearing is her voice. I find it to be perfectly pleasant for the material. Different strokes and all that, but I don't see this one at all.

To the third point, that it is sometimes difficult to follow who is talking about whom, this is a point I will agree with. However, the author states in his introduction, he's had to rely heavily on transcripts of interviews made by someone else twenty years prior where only the answers were recorded. It stands to reason there'd be some confusion in what is already a pretty confusing story. Maybe it reads better, maybe it's the writing.

At any rate, I found this book to be pretty engrossing. Holiday's story is very complicated, much by her own doing, and this book makes a good attempt to cut through the myth and get to the truth. Clarke does a good job balancing Holiday the artist and her personal life, as you really can't have one without the other. I do wonder, as I commented earlier, if this wouldn't be an easier read than listen due to the convoluted nature of much of the source material. But I can still recommend this to anyone with an interest in the great Lady Day.

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8 of 8 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-17-14

Was hoping for so much more...

The rise and fall of Sega of America during the 16 bit era under the leadership of Tom Kalinske, is a fascinating underdog story. Granted, it probably helps if you are a gamer, even more so if you had been one during that time period, but who doesn't love the story of a scrappy group of ragtags who take a nothing and make it something? Unfortunately, as anyone who knows the gaming business knows, this story doesn't have a happy ending, which I won't spoil, even though it's pretty much common knowledge how the whole thing went down by now.

I hate to repeat what so many other reviewers have written, but I can't get around it. This book reads like a cheesy novelization of a movie, which is no surprise considering it's author, Blake J. Harris is a screenwriter who is co-directing the movie of this book which, if I'm not mistaken, was already in planning before this book was even published. Harris admits in the introduction he may have take some poetic license here and there and it shows. Everything that happens in this book is so dramatic!

It doesn't help that Fred Berman is performing the heck out of the text. I'm not sure how else one could do it, but he matches groan worthy dialogue with clipped, Comic Book Guy cadences and almost gets to Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany's level when reading Asian characters. The audiobook performance really emphasizes how annoyingly this thing was written.

So why didn't I just stop and hit the "return" button? Because the story is that fascinating to me. While I knew some of the details from years of reading retrogaming magazines and the book about Nintendo, Game Over, this was still very informative. I learned a lot of things, especially when it came to the origins of Sega's entry into the 32 bit era, and that was what kept me coming back.

The problem is, I have to wonder how much really happened and how much was that aforementioned poetic license. Certainly some things are a matter of record, but so many events happened behind closed doors and out of the public eye. Though I know Harris is said to have interviewed 200 people, the heavily dramatized style of writing causes me to instinctively question what I am hearing.

It would also have been really great to have seen more involvement from Sega of Japan. I haven't any idea how much Harris reached out to them and, if he did, it wouldn't be a shock to learn he was rebuffed. Still, without getting into too many spoilers, there are a lot of unanswered questions that only the people at Sega of Japan could answer, although it sounds like Tom Kalinske and all his team are probably still looking for those answers too.

The bottom line is, there's a great story here, it's just unfortunate the wrong person chose to write it. If you can stomach the unnecessary cinematic tone, and the audiobook performance to match, there's some good stuff here. It's just a shame that Harris couldn't have just written a book rather than trying to simultaneously make it into a movie.

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9 of 12 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-27-14

Entertaining look at a true one of a kind man.

In a business full of larger than life characters, Ahmet Ertegun stands out. Born into the high life, he gravitated towards dives and juke joints. Equally comfortable with the highest of high society and the backest of backwoods, Ertegun's life was a pretty pretty colorful one. Along the way, he co-founded Atlantic records, and introduced the world to many important musical acts, helping to build an impressive legacy in the music industry.

As someone who is fascinated with the music business, this is a priceless story. Ertegun's lengthy and amazing career showed him able to navigate the boardrooms that came to dominate the business and still maintain his reputation as an artist's best friend. There will never be another like him, that much is for sure.

The Last Sultan does a pretty good job of telling this story and I learned quite a bit I hadn't heard before. One thing I really appreciated was that Greenfield choose to focus more on the business side of things rather than devolve into a tabloid tell all. Considering how much Ahmet loved the fast life (and sex, drugs and rock and roll) it's pretty impressive that he steered this direction.

I'd highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the music business.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-15-14

Sometimes the Good Guys Win.

Merge is a really interesting indie rock success story. Pretty much by holding true to their core values, Mac and Laura have grown the label from stuffing 7" in a bedroom to invites to the Grammys. It's a cool story with a great soundtrack.

This book, written in 2009 for the label's 20th anniversary, is a pretty good look at what makes Merge, and the bands they choose to work with, special. Half biography of the label and it's bands and half oral history, the story moves along at a rapid pace and really leaves you with a good feeling about the whole Merge operation.

To address some of the other reviews, yeah, it is a bit self-congratulatory. What did you expect from a book written to celebrate Merge's 20 years in the business? At the same time, I didn't ever have the feeling that there was some big thing being whitewashed or anything like that. Even the breakup of Mac and Larua's relationship was covered honestly and fairly, I think.

Smugness? Umm...sorry. Didn't hear it. Nor was I bothered by Ray Porter's performance of this book, aside from the fact that the oral history part made it difficult at times to determine who was talking.

And to complain about hammering on the "big bad" major labels is to miss the point of Merge's existence entirely. The whole operation has been run since day one as an alternative to the major label system. It's baffling to me how someone can listen to a history of a fiercely independent label such as Merge and feel the case against major labels is overstated.

My biggest complaint is that the book ends where it does. Not the author's fault, but the last five years have been pretty action packed for Merge. Arcade Fire won an Album of the Year Grammy. Superchunk released two more albums. The label is now home to some pretty important back catalog from some of their heroes. And I'd love to hear how their distribution deal with ADA has worked out for them.

It's also a huge bummer that audiobook purchasers are deprived of the photographs and memorabilia print buyers have access to. Considering I've bought other books that include this as a PDF, it's quite a disappointment this wasn't done here.

Regardless, if you're interested in the label, Superchunk or an interesting chapter in the recording business, I'd highly recommend this book. Just maybe consider getting the print version instead.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-14-14

Epic, yet incomplete.

I would agree with Gareth Murphy's subtitle. There is an epic story of the record industry to be told. Unfortunately, after finishing this book, it seems like it's still waiting for someone to tell it. While this book makes an attempt, it's too rock-centric (and Euro-centric) to really live up to the title. Specifically, this books treads the well worn path from hippy idealism to Reagan era greed to the exclusion of much more than a passing glance at much else.

Things start off well enough with a history of the invention of recorded sound, which should be a book itself with all the characters and intrigue there, leading to the birth of the recording industry. I really liked this early part of the book and it gave me high hopes for what was to come. Things move along briskly, maybe too much so, until the beginning of Beatlemania and that is where the problems begin.

What follows is the meat of the book and a lot of the same faces and same stories that if you've read much about the recording industry you will already know. As the "sharks" take over, we learn David Geffen is a high-strung diva. Casablanca was a hedonistic wonderland. Walter Yetnikoff yells a lot. Etc., etc., etc. Murphy really focuses deeply on the already very well documented time period between 1966 and 1986. Then everyone gets bought up, Nirvana happens, then the Backstreet Boys, then Napster, then EMI is broken up and then a very bizarre and rambling final chapter.

Along the way, a lot falls through the cracks. Seminal jazz and r&b labels such as Stax, Blue Note, Savoy, Prestige, Chess, Modern, etc., are only mentioned in passing, if at all (most of the labels I’ve named aren't even mentioned.) Hip-hop is reduced to Tommy Boy records, Rick Rubin's story and a sentence or two about Sugar Hill Records. Country music is all but absent entirely. And on and on.

While I do understand this is just one book and we're talking about a big history, my issue is with the decisions made, not that every thing under the sun wasn't covered. For example, we get to hear a lot about Chris Blackwell and the rise and fall of Island records. A whole lot. Maybe the most space of any one story line in the whole book. But I'm still not convinced the amount of space given to telling that story is proportional to the importance it has in the larger narrative.

On the other hand, the 90s, which may have been the most profitable time in the entire industry's history, are rushed through rapidly, quite literally jumping from grunge to boy bands in a matter of minutes. No discussion of Soundscan, which drastically changed the chart situation. No mention of the hip-hop and country music booms. No mention of Interscope records or Jimmy Iovine, who is maybe one of the last of the true record men. It just seems like a major over site to me.

Also, if it didn't happen in the UK or America, it didn't happen. I suppose it was too much to expect a global approach, but there are some fascinating record cultures around the world worth of study as well. Jamaican music, for instance, is mentioned in the context of Island's story, but their own homegrown industry, at one time the largest in the world, believe it or not, is completely ignored.

And that last chapter, I'm still trying to figure out what that was about. It starts with the expected "where do we go from here" wrap up, then veers into a discussion about Jews in the music business and spirituality in general and I'm not even sure what else. At least it does help explain why Murphy goes into great detail on the Jewish backgrounds of many of his subjects throughout the book (prior to this chapter, this always seems like a bizarre tangent.) It still seems like a tagged on afterthought rather than anything really important to the history he's telling. (Again, there's probably a book on this subject waiting to be written, but this isn't it.)

If it seems like I'm picking nits on this book, you have to understand there has already been a lot written on the record business, specifically on the time period Murphy choses to focus on. I was hoping for some new insite or piece of the story that hasn't already been written about else where. While I won't argue that what's in here isn't important and entertaining, it's just more of the same stuff that people writing about the biz like to write about. I'm sure if this is your first read on the subject, you'll get a lot more out of it than I did. Just know it's only a piece of the story, not the whole thing.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful