Get Your Read On! Three Books To Cop Now
Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History 1955-Present (edited by Gail Buckland), $26.40. Visit Amazon.com
An impressively comprehensive, veritable “who’s who” of music photographers and their most iconic pictures, Who Shot Rock & Roll will leave you breathless. The electrifying photos in this tome not only cover a broad range of time periods and rock/pop genres (from punk to rap), but they showcase various photographers’ styles while maintaining its fluidity. In it, you’ll find classic photos by Anton Corbijn (such as the cover art for U2’s Joshua Tree), glamorous, high fashion shots of the inimitable Grace Jones snapped by David Corio, kinetic shots of Elton John performing acrobatic-like stunts while playing the piano at a 1973 concert in London, and pictures of Kurt Cobain during and after a live performance from Ian Tilton and Charles Peterson (who released the classic Nirvana photo book, Touch Me, I’m Sick), among many, many other highlights.
What makes these photos so phenomenal is how they capture the energy of a singular moment (a concert, a rehearsal, a tour bus, etc.) and the fashions and aesthetic norms of various eras (from The Clash‘s punk look to Bob Dylan‘s moody, Beatnik style), how they provide a solid sense of time and place that immortalizes each of the moments captured and gives them a historical context. But most of all, there’s a sense of intimacy in these photos — they don’t feel staged (even when the artists are clearly posing) but, rather, there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between performer and photographer, between the lens and the object before it. Take, for example, Ian Tilton’s photo of Kurt Cobain weeping backstage after a dynamic, physically exhausting set — sitting down, clutching his hair with his hand, his face distorted and his body slouched over, we the viewer get a sense of the turmoil inside Cobain’s soul.
Photo historian Gail Buckland edited the ambitious project, providing insightful commentary about each photographer and his/her style, accomplishments, and contributions to the music photography realm, along with quotes from each about the experience of shooting these stars. Among the hundreds of names in the book, you’ll find Annie Leibovitz, Albert Watson, Jim Marshall, Bob Gruen, Pennie Smith and David LaChapelle. It’s the type of book you’ll want to keep forever, as dear as your very own family photo album.
Never Make The Same Mistake Twice: Lessons On Love And Life Learned The Hard Way by Nene Leakes With Denene Millner, $16.49. Visit Amazon.com
Nene may not be able to run the lives of her Real Housewives of Atlanta cast mates, but if there’s one thing that woman knows how to run it’s her darned mouth. And apparently, she needed another 228 pages to do so. Nene’s fans will be relish her memoir’s conversational tone which makes it sound like Nene is right there with you, flailing her arms, rolling her eyes, and adding all sorts of dramatics. From the “honey” and “child” colloquialisms to the usage of the third person (“Nene being genuine and real” or “plain ol’ fabulous Nene”), the book is written in such a way that it feels like Nene just spoke into a tape recorder for hours and then had her co-writer, Denene Millner, edit the transcript and shape it into a cohesive (or semi cohesive) piece of work. If you’re expecting an insightful piece of work, you’ll be gravely disappointed but if you just want more of Nene putting on her I’m-a-star persona, then you’ll appreciate this book.
But, while it’s billed as a memoir and mentions of the book on RHOA suggested that it would contain some very personal information about Nene, the book reveals very little. In fact, 99% of what’s in the book has been discussed in the show: Nene searching for her biological dad, her strained relationship with Kim (she actually devotes a whole chapter to Kim which is uncanny given that it’s supposed to be Nene’s memoir), etc. The biggest revelation is that she was, in fact, a stripper prior to marrying Gregg — and even when exposing this secret, Nene is guarded and shares only a minimal amount of detail. In the end, you don’t have any more solid a take on who Nene is, what drives her (beyond the desire for fame), what her talents are (if any), or what makes her tick. But, then again, we don’t usually watch RHOA for philosophical discussions, right?
I Am The New Black by Tracy Morgan, $13.50. Visit Amazon.com
Celebrity memoirs tend to be fluff — they might entertain us with their wit or show off some adorable family photos but rarely do they ever dig deep and share the most trying times of their lives, the formative experiences that both haunt them and strengthen them. And to so so at the height of their popularity is particularly taboo. But Tracy Morgan could care less about public image or any rules regarding celebrity priority. The brother had a story to tell, his story to tell, and he did so masterfully. Two years in the making, I Am The New Black takes us from Morgan’s childhood in Brooklyn to his adolescent years in the Bronx, his brief stint as a hustler, his many odd jobs, his romance with his ex-wife and the mother of his children, his entry into the comedy world and his gradual ascent therein, his divorce, his problems with alcohol and diabetes, and much more.
Morgan’s story is inspirational — a true rags to riches tale set in the most unlikely of places — but what makes the memoir so poignant is his willingness to show vulnerability, to manifest the pain he felt over his father’s death (a Vietnam vet, Morgan’s dad battled a heroin problem for many years and, after he’d fully recovered, came to find out he’d contracted AIDS), over his estranged relationship with his mother, and over his divorce. And Morgan never portrays himself as a victim, nor does he indulge in any pity parties. Instead, he’s strikingly honest about so many pivotal moments in his life — accepting full responsibility for his part in any uncomfortable situations or failed relationships, and bravely expressing his point of view. Morgan’s anger, frustration, joy, and passion, then are all palpable in the book.
It’s unfair to assume that Tracy Morgan acts, thinks, or in any way resembles his 30 Rock character or to infer that, since he’s a comedian, his life must have always been carefree and easy. What Morgan conveys, instead, is that comedians (himself included) often resort to humor as a coping mechanism, a way to rise above the most dire of situations. And, with all his accomplishments and accolades, the strategy has certainly paid off. If you’re a Tracy Morgan fan, this is a must-read.