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July 18, 2007

Note Books - John P. Strohm

The Note Books series features musicians discussing their literary side. Past contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, and others.

You may remember John P. Strohm from his work as member of the Blake Babies, Antenna, Velo Deluxe, Hello Strangers, and the Lemonheads. These days, in his day job he is a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama, but music is still central to his life. Last week he released his third solo album, Everyday Life.

One track from the Everyday Life:

John P. Strohm: "Sha La" [mp3]

In his own words, here is the Note Books entry of John P. Strohm:

Dennis Lehane – Gone, Baby, Gone (1998)

I’m a longtime fan of hard boiled detective fiction. I’ve read pretty much everything by Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Jim Thompson, etc. As such I’m always on the lookout for new writers roughly in the hard boiled tradition who deliver the goods. Lehane is best known for writing the great Mystic River; however, he wrote a fantastic series of novels featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, a wisecracking pair of Boston detectives and on-and-off sweethearts. I read all five books in the series over the past several months, and I really wish there were more. His cultural references are sometimes a bit odd (I recall one violent episode in a bar over someone playing a Smiths song on the jukebox); but his prose is always sharp and witty, and his books are as brutal and unflinching as the best of the classic hard boiled novels. Gone, Baby, Gone is probably my favorite. Lehane’s plots often concern horrible things happening to young children (e.g. Mystic River), and Gone, Baby, Gone is certainly no exception. I’ve learned as much about Boston from reading these books as I did from living there for six years.

Jacob Slichter – So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star (2005) / Jen Trynin – All I’m Cracked Up to Be (2006)

These two books are highly recommended for anyone in a working band. Slichter is the drummer in the band Semisonic. His memoir is a hilariously self-depricating account of his band’s rise and relative fall following their ubiquitous (okay, incredibly annoying) hit song “Closing Time.” Having been on tour much of the 1990s myself, many of his observations resonated with me and brought back hilarious memories. I imagine anyone interested in music and musicians would find this book compelling and highly entertaining.

Trynin’s book is somewhat darker and more deeply personal than Slichter’s (and somewhat fictionalized in the sense of “certain names are changed to protect the innocent” – fun for industry folk to try to guess who the characters actually represent). Trynin was among the artists who “benefited” from the major label feeding frenzy of alternative acts in the wake of Nevermind in the early 1990s. The book chronicles her experiences as the subject of an enormous major label bidding war and the subsequent buildup process (though major success proved elusive). It’s an intimate and often funny peek at the inner life of a musician – rife with insecurity and self-doubt in constant conflict with unchecked egomania. Sort of like everyone I’ve ever known.

Jeffrey Brabec & Todd Brabec – Music Money and Success: the Insider’s Guide to Making Money in the Music Business

I used to be loyal to Donald Passman’s All You Need to Know about the Music Business. Passman’s book is indeed terrific – it provided an excellent overview and foundation for me in understanding the music business and probably contributed to my deciding to become a music lawyer. I’ve recently shifted my allegiance to the Brabec brothers’ book, however. The Brabecs’ book is more thorough, detailed and provides more nuts and bolts than Passman’s (and proportionally less boring royalty calculations). I still occasionally recommend Passman’s book to my artist clients who are relative neophytes to the industry (it’s an easier read to be sure), but I am far more likely to actually refer to the Brabecs’ book. Okay, the title is pretty goofy, but so is Passman’s. Also the Brabecs (who are identical twins) really know how to sport a proper moustache. And that’s becoming a lost art these days.

Cormac McCarthy – The Road (2006)

I finally read The Road last month after about a half-dozen people I respect insisted I do so. I know: Oprah’s Book Club and all that…perhaps it’s not a particularly cool title these days. But it is a beautiful, devastating work. I read it in a single sitting, and it’s not a short book. I’ve enjoyed McCarthy’s earlier novels, but there is a tenderness between the principal characters here that is lacking in his other books, though it retains the sharpness of detail that made his earlier books so fun to read. This should be required reading for every…human.

John P. Strohm links:

John P. Strohm's MySpace page
John P. Strohm's Wikipedia entry
John P. Strohm at Flat Earth Records
John P. Strohm at Musical Family Tree
John P. Strohm at the Blake Babies site

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Interviews (authors interview musicians and vice versa)
Book Reviews


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