Book Review: The Lives of Brian By Brian Johnson (Dey Street Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

The very first concert that started it all for me was AC/DC – fronted by the unmistakable Brian Johnson – all the way back in 1996. Since then there’s been no turning back as rock n’ roll has become not only my strongest subject, but my savior, largely in part to Johnson and the rest of the guys in the band that night.

It’s always been fascinating for me to learn just how the musicians I listen to get to that stage in front of me. Johnson’s life story is not unlike many before him; humble upbringings, paying dues, and plenty of mistakes and hardships along the way. Everything, from his early days with Geordie (a band name I had only ever heard over the years, though never really took the time to look up until after reading the book), to his one and only encounter with his AC/DC predecessor Bon Scott, to his eventual joining the band in 1980 and finding worldwide success, is covered here.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit too much information sometimes however, and at times I found myself wishing Johnson would simply get to the point a little faster. But to be honest, I’ve always been more of a fan of Johnson’s era of the band than Scott’s. As a whole, it’s the perfect source for those about to rock their reading material; if you’re already an established AC/DC fan, there’s no doubt this should be right up your alley, too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me By Ralph Macchio (Penguin Random House)

By: Jesse Striewski

Everyone’s favorite Karate Kid Ralph Macchio describes what it was like to go from near total anonymously, to a literal pop culture phenomenon in the blink of an eye during the mid-’80s in his new memoir, Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me.

From start to finish, it’s a fascinating ride that wastes no time getting to the good stuff. Macchio simply glosses over his upbringing and acting roots before offering behind-the-scenes insight on landing the breakout role that would forever change his life. Everything from the audition process, meeting his co-star Noriyuki Pat Morita initially, to seeing the original film on the big screen for the first time with a public audience, is covered in great detail here.

Macchio of course addresses the aftermath of being typecasted for many years, his feelings on the sequels (I especially found it interesting he’s still never viewed The Next Karate Kid from start to finish to this day!), and the path that eventually lead him to the hit series Cobra Kai alongside his former co-star William Zabka.

Truthfully, there’s not much more one can ask for from a biography than this, and I only wish they could all be as direct to the point as Waxing On. The only “complaint” (if you can even call it that) is I would’ve liked just a tad more elaboration on a few things, for instance the making of Part III. But if you’re as in to geeky nostalgia like I am, than this is the book for you (or at the very least it’ll make a great Christmas present for someone on your list who is).

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Book Review: Why I Stand By Jonathan Isaac (DW Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

I knew there was a reason NBA star Jonathan Isaac was one of my favorite Orlando Magic players, and after reading his new book, Why I Stand, it was immediately clear why. Isaac clears the air on anything and everything on his mind here, while offering insight on his upbringing and how not only he has gotten from point A to point B, but the world around us has as well. And his faith in Christ and the courage he has as a result of it is nothing short of phenomenal.

I couldn’t agree more with Isaac’s views as he calls out the hypocrisies of such groups as BLM and its followers, and likens them to the same mob-minded folks who, at the height of the pandemic, felt people who weren’t vaccinated should be forced to be. Yet he also notes how the intentions of most of these groups are well-meaning at heart, but merely misguided by the wrong, loud voices (often the ones filled with the most anger) and follow along blindly with the masses, under the guise of “doing the right thing.”

I can personally relate to Isaac all too well, considering once upon a time I might have actually fallen in the same category as many of these groups. Most people who encounter me nowadays are usually surprised to learn that I am not some sort of anger-filled alcoholic or atheist just based on the types of music I listen to (which couldn’t be further from the truth). Perhaps once upon a time I might have fit some of these descriptions, but thankfully I’ve learned to grow, and have since evolved. And like Isaac, I firmly believe the pitch fork mentality is not the way, and calls for rage should be left in the hands of a higher power, and not the eye-for-an-eye mindset of man.

To quote Isaac; “I don’t have all the answers. I can only point you to what I’ve learned and, importantly, the One who continues to give me the courage and the strength to stand up and not be afraid to tell the world there has to be a better way; there is a better way.” If only we could all agree on such a simple concept in this complex world of ours, maybe we could actually have that world peace certain factions are so dead set on achieving at all costs, no matter who they hurt along the way.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Book Review: Still Alright: A Memoir By Kenny Loggins with Jason Turbow (Hachette Book Group)

By: Jesse Striewski

Growing up a kid in the ’80s, Kenny Loggins to me was simply “the movie soundtrack guy,” as faceless in my mind as the famous “voiceover guy” for all of the big movie trailers back in the day. Of course it wasn’t until later in life I started realizing these were actual people with lives that I never gave much consideration to, with many other artists such as Loggins eventually becoming more human to me.

Reading his book I discovered even more about him than I ever expected to, perhaps even a bit more than necessary if I’m being honest (Loggins’ memoir is a tad more detailed than many others I’ve read in the past, often teetering on the brink of boredom). In fact, I nearly forgot completely that he experienced his first success prior to being a solo artist with Loggins & Messina, and had even written/co-written such classics as “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and “Danny’s Song.”

Loggins goes over every chapter of his life’s journey without missing a single note, sharing with audiences all of the highs and lows that come along with pop stardom. At times it’s a fascinating ride, while at other moments you want the point to be reached already (and on a side note, I think Loggins and I are complete opposites as far as politics are concerned, not surprising).

But I have to give thanks where it’s due; if not for hearing that opening guitar riff from “Danger Zone” the first time I saw Top Gun all those years ago, I might never have fallen in love with rock music the way I did (okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but it was a definite mind/eye-opening moment for me nonetheless). If you’ve ever felt remotely the same about Loggins’ music, you’ll likely enjoy the ride as well.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Book Review: Double Talkin’ Jive: True Rock ‘n’ Roll Stories from the Drummer of Guns N’ Roses, The Cult, and Velvet Revolver By Matt Sorum with Leif Eriksson and Martin Svensson (Rare Bird Birds)

By: Jesse Striewski

Despite having one of the longest titles I ever seen for a book before, Double Talkin’ Jive, the new account from former Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver, and Cult (among many others) drummer Matt Sorum (with assistance from authors Leif Eriksson and Martin Svensson) is a relatively short read. And although not quite as detailed as the last biography I read (ironically another drummer, Dave Grohl), it’s no doubt still a ride full of intriguing stories.

Having seen Sorum play several times over the years – first with The Cult in 2001, twice with Velvet Revolver in 2005 and ’07, and most recently touring with Motorhead in 2009 – it makes it all the more interesting to hear what was actually going on behind the scenes during many of these eras and then some.

And unlike a lot of other bios I’ve read, Sorum doesn’t waste too much time analyzing his upbringing or past traumas, but gives readers just enough insight into his background, going through many of the chapters with a rapid frequency. But the highlights are indeed that of his initiation into global titans Guns N’ Roses, up to his eventual bitter exit.

Even if none of Sorum’s former bands were up your alley, it shouldn’t be too hard to find some sort of interest in his life experiences. Give it a try and you might just find out why.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx By Nikki Sixx (Hachette Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

I had no idea I needed even more knowledge regarding the life of Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, until I started reading his latest book, The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx. But while much has already been written/published on the pioneering musician’s life, there was still a lot to uncover.

From his early childhood bouncing around from place to place after his father left, to discovering music and eventually seeking stardom via the west coast, there’s surprisingly no shortage of new stories to behold here. Perhaps the most fascinating are the lesser known ones; Sixx finally dives deep into the history of pre-Crue acts such as Sister and London, and working with the likes of W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless (among others).

It’s unfortunate Sixx often doesn’t get the due respect he deserves. Sure, as a bassist his playing may be simple. But as a songwriter and as an overall musician, his talent is nothing short of impressive. Do yourself the favor of getting to know him a little better by reading this book, and you might just be glad you do.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Book Review: Rainbow in the Dark: The Autobiography By Ronnie James Dio with Mick Wall and Wendy Dio (Permuted Press)

By: Jesse Striewski

Although I’ve seen two of the bands he fronted during his lifetime (Black Sabbath and Dio Disciples, a group made up mainly of former members of the Dio band), and have been lucky enough to even meet his former wife/manager Wendy Dio, I regrettably never had the chance to catch the incomparable Ronnie James Dio while he was still with us on this Earth.

This long overdue, posthumous autobiography, Rainbow in the Dark, describes the first half of the life of one of rock’s greatest warriors with amazing detail. From forming the foundations of early groups like Elf and Rainbow, to reaching epic proportions with Sabbath and Dio, it’s a fascinating look into the life of one of rock’s last true class acts.

Wendy Dio also helps add some personal insight along the way as well; whether discussing tumultuous break ups with former bandmates and business partners such as Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi, or the invention of the “devil horns” in those early Sabbath days, everything is covered perfectly. The only downfall? Unfortunately the story ends (as it also begins) in 1986, with Dio rising to the heights of headlining Madison Square Garden. Although it does make for a perfect ending story wise, it does leave more to desire. One can only hope there is more material out there for a part two, and the gap is eventually bridged.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen By Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill (Hachette Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

There’s been countless literature dedicated to the late Eddie Van Halen (much of which I’ve read, some I’ve even written personally myself) over the years. But this new collection by authors Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill, might just be the best thing ever transcribed on the legendary Van Halen guitarist.

Covering everything from his early youth as an immigrant struggling to adjust to American life along with his older brother (and Van Halen drummer) Alex, to rising to the pinnacle of rock stardom, this take on Eddie’s life somehow feels fresh, even virtually knowing his full life story by heart prior to reading.

Using both new and archived interviews from numerous associates (such as former bassist Michael Anthony and brief frontman Gary Cherone) of Van Halen’s to help tell the story makes for a fascinating read as well. It’s also refreshing to see every detail of Van Halen’s history as a band, including their earliest incarnation as a trio with Eddie up front on vocals and Mark Stone on bass, covered here.

The sudden loss of Eddie Van Halen late last year was the perfect example of not knowing what one had before it was gone. But Eddie will (rightfully so) be discussed and remembered for future generations to come; Eruption only helps to further solidify his legacy.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Book Review: Fathers, Brothers, and Sons: Surviving Anguish, Abandonment, and Anthrax By Frank Bello with Joel Mciver (Rare Bird Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’ve been fortune enough to cross paths with Anthrax bassist Frank Bello more than once at this point in my lifetime; in 2010, I was able to photograph each and every one of his manic mannerisms on stage with his band. Then in 2019, I was even luckier to have the chance to speak with him on behalf of Rewind It Magazine. And just last month, I was finally able to take my wife and son see him and Anthrax perform at Welcome to Rockville in Daytona Beach, FL.

Already having a pretty good idea of what he’s like as a person firsthand, I can honestly say his life story reads as though one is having a direct conversation with him. Author Joel Mciver does his best to keep Bello’s often-jumpy thoughts in line, while the one and only “God of Thunder” himself, Gene Simmons of KISS, offers his most sincere thoughts on Bello in a heartfelt forward that sets the tone nicely early on.

Sure, I could see Bello’s often brash, street-wise (perhaps even “too blunt” at times) dialogue here definitely being a turn off for some. But if you can get over that (and the book’s lengthy title), chances are you might not only like Fathers, Brothers, and Sons…, but possibly even take something from the wisdom Frank tries to pass down to readers. From one bassist (and now father) to another, my respect for Bello has always been up there. But the more and more I learn about him, the more that respect grows even further.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Book Review: Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark (Hachette Book Group) By Cassandra Peterson

By: Jesse Striewski

The moment I first saw those big, beautiful, uh…eyes, staring back at me from the cover of Elvira’s new memoir, I knew I had to get my hands on them…I mean it! And while we’ve all known her as simply the sexy mistress of the dark for so many decades now, the woman behind the character herself, Cassandra Peterson, paints a vivid picture of just how she transformed from a normal small town girl, to the voluptuous vixen she would eventually become.

From becoming a go-go dancer (and eventually a Vegas showgirl), to her days as a “junior groupie” hanging out with the likes of Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix (among others), to her inevitable path to Hollywood stardom, and all the way up to present day (including of course her recent coming out of the closet), Peterson puts it all out there on the table. There’s of course plenty of sides to her that most of us have likely never considered before that are covered, including even some dark moments of abuse and/or sexual assault.

I’ve always found it interesting gaining real insight into the lives of the celebrities I’ve grown up admiring. Cassandra Peterson’s Elvira persona is one of the very first women I can really remember desiring at a young age, and in hindsight, helped play a huge part in my actual taste in women in general. But upon reading her memoir, I realized I knew so little about her up until now; I’m glad that has finally changed.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars