Road Work – Mark Bowden
Redemption Song: The Ballad Of Joe Strummer – Chris Salewicz
Eleanor Rigby – Douglas Coupland
Books in progress:
Best Music Writing 2008
09-9 – Road Work – Mark Bowden.
Mark Bowden is one of the best long-form journalists we have right now. He is most famous for Black Hawk Down, his book upon which the movie of the same name was based, and for his recent The Best Game Ever, about the 1958 NFL title game. But he’s been at this for decades now, building his reputation with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Road Work is a collection of his work for the Inquirer and other magazines from about 1980 into the early part of this decade. It’s great stuff, and made me think of what writers I would love to switch careers with. These were the first four I thought of:
Carl Hiaasen: crank out a hilarious, best-selling novel each year and in-between spend your time skewering local politicians for the Miami Herald.
Bill Simmons: write 8000 words about your favorite sporting events, sprinkled with pop culture references, and create a genre while you’re at it.
Joe Posnanski: work for the Kansas City Star, be one of the best baseball writers in the world, win awards.
Mark Bowden: travel the globe investigating dictators, wars, and injustice. Sell movie rights.
09-10 – Redemption Song: The Ballad Of Joe Strummer – Chris Salewicz.
I’ve read just about every major history of The Clash; why would I dive into a 500+ page book just about Joe Strummer?
The best way to describe this book is exhaustive. It’s very British in that every single detail of Joe’s life is spelled out. His family’s moves. Weeks in the studio. Friendships made and lost. And I loved every page of it.
Salewicz was a friend of Strummer’s for years and this allowed him both access to those that were close to Joe and a first-person perspective to weigh the views of others against. While he was a friend, and the opening chapters are as much about Salewicz’s mourning after Joe’s death than about the death itself, he also isn’t afraid to call Joe on the areas where he failed in life: his epic ingestion of drugs and alcohol (he may never have been into the harder drugs for long periods, but it seems like Joe lived a life not terribly different than Keith Richards), his incesant womanizing, his mood swings, and his willingness to end relationships, musical and personal, in a moment if they no longer served his purposes.
This is a great book. If you liked The Clash or are just into music, I highly recommend it.
09-11 – Eleanor Rigby – Douglas Coupland.
Liz Dunn is lonely. She’s in her 40s, single, overweight, unattractive, and anonymous. But she’s been that way her entire life, so she’s used to it and has found some kind of peace with her fate. Then, one night she gets a call from the hospital. A patient has her listed as his next-of-kin. She is about to meet her 20-year-old son for the first time and her life is going to get a lot more interesting.
I really enjoy Coupland’s writing. His books are often funny and interesting, and always reveal some emotional depth as you work deeper into them. That is all true about Eleanor Rigby, but it doesn’t measure up to the other Coupland books I’ve read. It almost as the feel of him working on things, getting some kinks out, before he moved on to bigger things. It’s not a bad read, just not a great one either.