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

Book Review: Twisted Business: Lessons From My Life in Rock ‘n’ Roll By Jay Jay French and Steve Farber

By: Jesse Striewski

Part memoir, part motivational material, Lessons From My Life in Rock ‘n’ Roll dives deep into the life of Twisted Sister guitarist (and one time Rewind It Magazine interviewee) Jay Jay French and what ultimately lead him to rock stardom, falling into obscurity, then rising to the top again.

From start to finish, it’s a fascinating look at a life that once started ordinarily enough, and it’s easy to relate to his years as a rebellious teenager in New York, taking and dealing drugs, and causing unrest for teachers and authority figures alike.

And his path to rock warrior status was far from the easy route that most would expect; French (with the help of Farber) details how it was a long, hard fought road, filled with numerous ups and downs along the way. But he shares his learned experiences and wisdom with readers in hopes of just maybe enlightening some of them a little.

Although I might not see eye-to-eye with him on every issue (at least not as far as politics are concerned), French is someone I do have great respect for. His book goes to show, that although you may think you know the performer you see on stage every night, there’s sometimes far more to them than simply what meets the eye.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Book Review: Way of the COBRA By Sean Kanan (Flip Creative)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’m not going to lie, I had no idea what to expect when I first learned that Karate Kid Part III actor Sean Kanan was releasing a “motivational” book (I tend to be a tad on the skeptical side when it comes to such publications). But almost instantly after picking it up, I immediately understood what Kanan was trying to achieve here with his new book, Way of the COBRA.

When I interviewed Kanan this past May (before having read the book), he explained to me firsthand; “Way of the COBRA is set up with the structure that you are a student of my dojo – the dojo of cobra life – and I’m the sensei. And ‘cobra’ is an acronym formed from the words character, optimization, balance, respect, and aubundance. And a ‘cobra’ is really somebody who is living their best, most authentic life.”

Kanan uses examples from his own life; from his relentless pursuit landing (and nearly losing, after a near-fatal injury) the role of Mike Barnes in K.K. III, to numerous other instances throughout his life. Many of the points Kanan makes throughout manage to resonate on some deep level, yet he never comes off as ‘preachy’ or ‘absolute’ in his quest. Instead, it can be equated to that of a parent passing down their years of experience and wisdom to their child.

If you’re currently seeking some much-needed guidance, or are just looking for a fresh perspective in your life, Way of the COBRA may not have all of the answers you need, but it’s a damn good starting point.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: Brat: An ’80s Story By Andrew McCarthy (Grand Central Publishing)

By: Jesse Striewski

Back in the ’80s, everyone had their favorite member of the so-called ‘brat pack,’ the group of young actors famously dubbed so by the media. I suppose if there was ever one member of said club that I related to the most, it would have to be the slightly aloof, yet seemingly down-to-Earth Andrew McCarthy. Known for his roles in such popular films as St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty In Pink, and Weekend at Bernie’s, McCarthy has made a career for himself in more recent years as a writer and director.

Unlike so many biographies of its kind, Brat is written with style and eloquence, empathizing well thought-out ideas and stories over the standard ‘tell all’ memoirs that border on bragging about excessive sex and drug usage. Here McCarthy details his childhood growing up in New Jersey (another thing we also share in common), the spark that fueled the fire for his love of acting, and the filming of all of the previously mentioned films and then some. And somehow he even manages to do all this in just over two hundred pages, making it a quick read for those who might suffer from shorter attention spans.

The only complaint I might have here? Unfortunately there is no behind-the-scenes detail of the immortal Weekend at Bernie’s II; McCarthy simply (and swiftly) glances over it as an embarrassing after thought, though most will likely forgive him for that. Still, if you’re like me and salivate over any and all ’80s trivia, then Brat will likely be just as up your alley as it was mine.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Book Review: Nothin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the ’80s Hard Rock Explosion By Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (St. Martins Press)

By: Jesse Striewski

With renewed interest in the decade of decadence continually growing each year, there’s no shortage of various media information on ’80s hard rock (a.k.a. ‘hair’ or ‘glam’ rock) and heavy metal out there these days. But this new book by rock journalists Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (with a brief forward by Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor) is truly the new bible on ’80s hard rock and heavy metal.

Largely tracing it’s roots back to the influence Van Halen had on the movement in the mid to late ’70s, here the two authors put together a collection of interviews that includes numerous musicians, producers, promoters, magazine editors, and the like, to help tell the tale of arguably one of rock’s greatest eras. Various key members of such staple acts as Motley Crue, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Quiet Riot, Dokken, L.A. Guns, W.A.S.P., Poison, Cinderella, and Warrant, – as well as numerous Rewind It Magazine interviewees from over the years – including Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister, Jack Russell of Great White, Brian Forsthye of Kix, and Rachel Bolan of Skid Row (among many others), are just some who help recall the foundation of the genre that changed it all in great detail.

The perspective is unique and fresh, despite some of the stories already found in other published works (many of those involved have previously published their own individual biographies). There’s even a brief but brilliant collection of many never-before-seen photos included as well. In short, Nothin’ But a Good Time is a rollercoaster ride of literature from start to finish, and one of the best of it’s kind currently available on the subject. It simply ‘don’t get better than this.’

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Book Review: Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion By Bad Religion with Jim Ruland (Hachette Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

Alright, so I might be a little late reviewing this one (about half a year, give or take). But to be fair, book reviews take way more time than say, an album or concert review does. But I digress, this still semi-new biography on legendary punks Bad Religion is worth every page turn.

I was initially weary as far as what to anticipate here to be honest, half expecting this to be just another excuse for someone’s ‘timely’ political agenda to get across (which eventually does become the case about three quarters of the way in, unfortunately). But once I dove in, more than anything I realized this was a well-thought out, meticulous history lesson on the band that completely changed the punk landscape in California back in the early ’80s.

Along with the help of current and former members, author Ruland digs deep into every detail about the band starting from their humble beginnings, all the way up until now. Even more forgotten (and dare I say, mysterious) eras in the band’s timeline, such as the fallout that came after the 1983 Into the Unknown album, and how the band eventually put themselves back together, are finally given the light of the day.

Chances are if you were a suburban misfit during the ’90s like myself, punk music such as Bad Religion’s played a decent role in your growth. And if you’re lucky enough to have retained some brain cells, too, you can hopefully appreciate learning a thing or two about a band like Bad Religion’s backstory.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: Confess: The Autobiography By Rob Halford with Ian Gittins (Hachette Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

The metal god himself, Rob Halford, leaves no stone unturned in this tell-all memoir, detailing his life as frontman for one of the biggest heavy metal bands on the planet, Judas Priest. And with Christmas just around the corner, it’s the perfect stocking-stuffer for your favorite headbanger.

From his bleak upbringing in post-war England, struggling with his own sexualty, to joining Priest in the early ’70s (and everything in between), Halford bares it all from start to finish (it’s not called Confess for nothing!). Fans should no doubt delight in many a story here (the early Priest stories are by far the most captivating).

When I saw Priest on the same bill as a re-united Black Sabbath back in 2004, I knew I was witnessing something truly special. These are the guys who laid the groundwork for heavy metal (still the best music genre ever created, for my money), and their tales deserve to be heard. Do yourself a favor, and take the trip down memory lane with Halford.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Book Review: So Much For the 30 Year Plan: Therapy? The Authorized Biography By Simon Young (Jawbone Press)

By: Jesse Striewski

Believe it or not, when asked who my personal favorite band is (as if it’s even that simple to narrow it down to just one in the first place), my mind usually wanders to little-known (in the States, anyway) Irish rockers Therapy?. Ever since the day a middle school friend/bandmate of mine slid me a copy of the band’s then-new album at the time, Infernal Love, I’ve been hooked. There’s just something so engrossing about them that I found so much more relatable than any other band before or since, and still do to this day.

So when I heard there was a biography dropping about them, of course I had to get my hands on it right away. And while as a writer myself, I’m envious of Simon Young for beareing the task, it makes perfect sense for someone with as much firsthand knowledge and experience as him to pen their story. Young does a a fine job meticulously detailing the band’s entire career, beginning with their early, humble D.I.Y. foundations, all the way up until present day.

However being on the more obscure side, I could see how someone not familiar with the band might get lost in the plethora of information here. While I might personally find stories like how the group landed their first record deal fascinating, I can understand why a newcomer might be somewhat turned off. But even if you are completely new to Therapy?, you might be able to still enjoy the read if you go in with an open mind.

It might sound somewhat strange, but reading So Much For the 30 Year Plan gave me an odd feeling of familiarity that brought me back to my own days of covering such songs as theirs as “Screamager” and “Die Laughing” in my very first garage band so long ago. The fact that a band oversees, whom I’ve never even seen live (though I did once write a letter addressed to the band which frontman Andy Cairns promptly replied to, which I still have framed to this day) can have such a profound impact on my own life, has got to say something about them. Even if this article is your first introduction to Therapy?, do yourself a favor, and look them up a.s.a.p., you might just be glad you did.

Come to think of it, I don’t believe I ever did thank Andy for taking the time to write me back all those years ago. Thanks man, you have no idea how much that meant to me.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Book Review: A Shot of Poison By Christopher Long (CG Publishing)

By: Jesse Striewski

This newly-released, slightly updated version of Christopher Long’s 2010 book chronicling his time spent as a working crew member for one of the most pivotal hard rock/glam bands to emerge from the ’80s Sunset Strip, Poison, is everything it’s title is cracked up to be.

Part memoir, part biography, Long explains in great detail how he originally landed his coveted position within the band’s ranks after years of friendship with bassist Bobby Dall, before becoming his “go-to” guy on tour. Long eventually lives out the ultimate music journalists’ dream a la Almost Famous, and it’s impossible not to relate many of the stories to my very own experiences over the years. Each new revealing tale leaves you yearning to get to the next page as quickly as possible.

I must admit, I didn’t catch the original edition of this book the first time around, but I’m definitely glad I was finally able to catch up on it. In a recent conversation, Long clarified the differences between the two editions to me; “The stories are generally the same, however the overall writing has been polished from top to bottom, and the entire 25-page closing chapter is all-new content.”

So whether or not you’re even a fan of the band Poison themselves per se, there should be something for everyone here who’s even had a remote interest in rock music. So put down the worries of every day life, and pick up A Shot of Poison for “Nothin’ but a Good Time!”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: Rockin’ Recipes For Autism Vol. 1 By Kenny Wilkerson (Story Farm)

Rockin Recipes - Edited

By: Jesse Striewski

This collection of culinary specialties from some of hard rock’s heaviest hitters is cleverly put together by Nova Rex bassist Kenny Wilkerson. I was initially reminded of the more metal-based 2010 cookbook Mosh Potatoes by Steve Seabury; but unlike that said edition, Rockin’ Recipes For Autism is more carefully put together, with impressive, (mostly) full-page glossy photos to go along with most of the musicians found within.

I won’t give away too many of the actual recipes themselves, but some of the rockers involved include Poison’s Rikki Rokket, Dokken’s Don Dokken, and previous Rewind It Magazine interviewees Phil Soussan (of Last in Line and formerly Ozzy Osbourne’s band) and Phil Varone (ex-Skid Row, Saigon Kick). But one of my personal favorites hands down goes to Toto’s Steve Lukather, whose Snickers bar recipe is no doubt something that’s near and dear to my own heart!

Perhaps the only complaint I’d have would be the diversity in recipes (it could have used more dessert/breakfast items s well). But other than that, there’s really not much to complain about here; this book literally delivers everything its title promises, and its net proceeds even go to benefit the foundation We Rock For Autism. As a lover of rock music for the majority of my life, and the uncle to an autistic nephew for eighteen years, there’s really very few cons I can find here. Regardless if ’80s rock is at the top of the food chain for you or not, there’s still surely something for everyone to enjoy on the menu that’s offered up here.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars