Well tax week came and went — I survived it. April 15 is definitely a dreaded time each year. I have the joy of filing returns in two countries. Historically it’s not a great day either as both President Lincoln was killed and the Titanic sank on what’s become tax day. Also it’s the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing today (April 19), which was simply horrifying. I remember where I was when it happened — I was at work in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington D.C. where I interned for a Congressman when I was on a break in between jobs. We turned on the TV when we heard. It was awful and shocking. After that, legislation was passed to increase protection around federal buildings to deter future terrorist attacks. Today, 20 years later, it’s sobering to remember the 168 victims, including the 19 young children who were in the building’s day care facility. Who can forget. It’s a sad day to remember.
In much brigther news, this weekend is the Los Angeles Festival of Books. I’ve always wanted to go, but I’ve never gone! I simply must G-O some year soon. I checked the schedule and here’s just a smattering of authors they have at various book discussions going on: Hector Tobar, A. Scott Berg, Meg Wolitzer, Maggie Shipstead, Mona Simpson, Per Petterson, Peter Heller, Viet Thanh Nguyen, T.C. Boyle, Bich Minh Nguyen, Lisa See, Jenny Offill, Laird Hunt, Dennis Lehane, Jonathan Lethem, Kimberly McCreight, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Joyce Carol Oates, Malcolm Gladwell and Atticus Lish. Ugh I can’t believe I’m missing it once again. I need to plan in advance next time and get a flight to SoCal to visit my folks and attend the festival. There’s such literary star power there. Have you ever been?
In other book news, the shortlist for both the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction were announced this past week. The Baileys shortlist includes the two heavyweights: Anne Tyler for “A Spool of Blue Thread” and Sarah Waters for “The Paying Guests.” Could it be Sarah’s year? The rest of the shortlist authors include — Ali Smith, Rachel Cusk, Laline Paull, and Kamila Shamsie — who aren’t too shabby either. I have Shamsie’s novel “A God in Every Stone” on hold at the library. The PEN shortlist includes Cynthia Bond’s “Ruby” and Phil Klay’s “Redeployment” along with three others. Have you read any of these? Stay tuned for the winners in May and June.
Meanwhile in reading this week, I picked up Jane Smiley’s novel “Some Luck” and 20 pages later I put it down. It felt staid to me though I’m sure I need to give it more time. I struggled with its style, though I wanted to read the trilogy its apart of. It’s sort of a bummer like Janet Maslin of the New York Times saying of Ann Packer’s new novel: “So the long, aimless slog through “The Children’s Crusade” begins with not that fascinating a family. And it ends with not that revelatory a resolution.” A slog?! Oh no, I so wanted to read Packer’s book too!
But instead of Smiley, I picked up a rock autobiography by Mick Fleetwood that I received for Christmas and consumed it. My brother gets me a good one almost every year. Over the years I’ve read books by or about: Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, the Doors, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, and Neil Young among others. I’m still saving Keith Richards’ autobiography and Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” for a super storm weekend in the future.
Anyways, Mick Fleetwood’s book with Anthony Bozza “Play On,” which came out last fall, did the trick. This week, I relived the years of Fleetwood Mac and the mega-selling albums the band put out especially with its self-titled album in 1975 and with “Rumors” in 1977, which sold more than 40 million copies worldwide —one of the best-selling of all time. This was before the days of CDs or iTunes. Back when people still bought albums. You might recall? On vinyl too. Both albums include such an array of hits which have become ingrained in the brain from all the radio airplay they received decades ago.
Fleetwood’s book follows his life with the band and the many incarnations and highs and lows the band went through from its inception in 1967 through to the present. There were quite a few different musicians in it over the years, but the same 1975 members are still touring as Fleetwood Mac today. I missed seeing them in concert a couple times over the years. But their history as a band is quite notorious from their early days —because of their epic touring, various relationships, endless recording sessions, non-stop drug habits, and rock-star lifestyles.
Mick’s lucky to be alive for sure. His book touches upon each period the band went through as well as his personal life that included: three failed marriages, two bankruptcies, and a two-year affair with Stevie Nicks of which he said: “in terms of the intensity it was a proper Hollywood affair on a par with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.” (Really? Come on). You name it, he went through it. Though in the book he seems rather at peace with it all. Like he’s making amends to people and himself for the crazy life he’s been through. As if it’s all pudding under the rug for a legendary rock ringleader who did his best to keep the band together.
So “Play On” is definitely very readable. You claw your way through it rapidly, reliving the band’s years, albums, and foibles. I especially liked when he discusses the songs and which band members created them and what they were about and how the band made the various albums. A song like Stevie Nicks’s “Sara” for example was apparently about how Mick took up with Nicks’s best friend Sara (she became wife #2) and it also might be about an unborn child she conceived with Don Henley. Oh my, you figure it out. Each band member brought such different things to the table, which in the end made the collaborations so successful. It was cool to read about their hit songs that so flooded the radio airwaves back then.
But unfortunately at times “Play On” seems to gloss over certain aspects of the band’s story and reads in places like a general outline of its trajectory. Some decades fly by while others are discussed more carefully. I only realized later that apparently much of Mick Fleetwood’s story was told in an earlier autobiography in 1990. This is his second one, which apparently goes over much of his and the band’s same history. How strange. He wanted to tell the story twice, this time it appears more sobered up and a bit more apologetic perhaps. It’s an entertaining read, but didn’t break a lot of new ground for me. As far as rock biographies go, it’s pretty standard fare but not as exemplary as perhaps Keith Richards’ or Patti Smith’s will be. Hooray the rock book genre will never die. They’re perfect reads for when you’re in between novels, or just curious about rock legends, their catapulted lives in the stratosphere, and classic songs of the rock era.
What about you do you recall the heyday and songs of Fleetwood Mac, or do you have a particular music autobiography that’s been a favorite?