In Conversation with Bob Geldof’s Drummer of 25 Years and Author of Timing Is Everything (a Memoir), Niall Power

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There aren’t many people who know me who don’t know how much I love Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats. Even though I’m not always up to date with the latest camp Geldof news, it’s a love that has lasted for 40 years. So, when Bob’s drummer of 25 years (for his solo career), Niall Power, wrote to me through Facebook to advise me of his story since their last Canadian tour, I was at first delighted and then saddened by the news of his retirement from drumming due to Parkinson’s disease. However, it didn’t take long to realize that this is a man who doesn’t let life get him down, which is evident upon reading Timing Is Everything, Niall’s inspiring memoir, published in 2017.

Niall, after reading your book, I was left with the impression that you consider yourself an ordinary man, perhaps quiet and shy, certainly easy-going, who just happened to have a passion for drumming. However, although you never had a plan for your music career, you ended up having quite an extraordinary experience as a session musician, playing for many bands, including Stepaside, Les Enfants, Ordinary Man, Eamonn Gibney, Westlife and most notably, Bob Geldof, with whom you performed for 25 years.

How does a musician get as far as you have in his career without a plan?

I can sum that up in one word, ‘Luck’.

I never set out to be a session drummer and end up playing with so many bands.
As a teenager in the early 1970s, my ambition was to form my own band with my friends, write our own songs and hopefully be the rock gods of the future, like our idols, Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple.

Niall Power 1960

Niall Power in 1960.

My dad was a soldier in the Curragh Camp, Co Kildare, and there were two army marching bands who paraded past our home on most days. I loved their drummers from an early age. There weren’t many teenagers playing musical instruments in the area, so it was always going to be difficult to finalize a lineup for the band.

I was playing the unfashionable accordion and wearing a kilt in the school band during

Niall Power in 1970 on left with accordion.

1970, on left, with accordion.

the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967. But as soon as I heard The Beatles on the radio, I realized then that I had to learn how to play another instrument to be in a rock band.  I chose the drums after seeing Mickey Dolenz, drummer with The Monkees on television, larking around and generally having fun.

After a few years of practice, much to the annoyance of the neighbors, I finally mastered the art of drumming and set out to join any band that would have me. I had no plan of action for how I was going to achieve this. My armory consisted of my dodgy first drum kit, long hair, a smile and buckets of enthusiasm for the task ahead.

For someone who clearly states in the preface of your book that you are not a writer, I congratulate you on the great achievement of having compiled your memoir, Timing Is Everything, which was written on an iPad with the index finger of your right hand! That, in itself, is a testament to your passion and determination to see a project through to its completion, and your resilience in the face of adversity. You are truly an inspiration, not just because of your drumming prowess, but because of the strength of your character.

I couldn’t help but notice your incredibly positive attitude about life in general and wondered to what would you attribute it?

My attitude to life has never changed from the outset.

I had a very safe and happy childhood and I seem to have kept that feeling with me throughout my musical career. My parents always encouraged me to follow my heart, even though they probably didn’t understand how you could possibly make a living from hitting things, whilst hoping I would come to my senses and get a proper job.  I don’t worry about stuff, including Parkinson’s. Above all, I love playing and creating music, just seeing people in the audience responding in kind to the noise that we make is good enough for me. Not many people get to live out their dreams every day…it’s been some trip.

“And what a drummer. Without question one of the best. I know from whence I speak. In the course of my 40 years playing rock ‘n’ roll, Niall Power is up there/alongside/on par with/equal to literally the Big Hitters. He’s a fucking amazing player.”

 

“Man he can sing.”

 

“He glued the band together. Everyone loved him. He was the spirit of the thing. The joy of it. The love of gigging. The fierce ecstasy of playing music…What a man to travel the world with for over 25 years. What a friend to share so much of your life with. The things we’ve done and seen and been together. He’ll remember. I won’t.” 

~ Bob Geldof, Introduction to Timing Is Everything

In the introduction of your book, written by Bob Geldof, he says that the tedium of touring never seemed to affect you. How was that possible? 

Sure, life on the road can be tedious at times. You’re living in a bubble with other musicians and roadies with deadlines to meet every day. Things can get a bit out of hand, tempers flare, we’d do a bad gig, one person thought the gig was great, the other five thought it was crap. Musicians live for the road and as much as I like travelling on the tour bus (your home away from home), it’s only okay for a few weeks. I loved waking up in a different country each day and going for a walk down the Champs Elysees in Paris after being in Amsterdam the previous night. But you also need to stop touring, stop moving at the speed of sound and be at home with your own family. I have always kept a low profile on the road and steered clear of any aggravation that may have been brewing from time to time. As our tour manager ‘The Mick’ (RIP) used to say, “we’re only up for the day.” 

You played with Bob for the Live 8 concert on 2 July 2005 which was undoubtedly one of, if not the biggest, career high of your life. I know that the experience must have been surreal, but what singular treasured memory do you take away from that event? 

I have many memories from that great day in July at Live 8.

The one that sticks in my mind the most is the fact that I had to play someone else’s drum kit without seeing it first. As I play left-handed, the kit was set up right-handed for the previous band’s drummer. So, I walked on stage in front of thousands of people in Hyde Park, live to the world on television, with no time to swap things around.

The song was ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ and was probably the only song that I could play with the kit being the wrong way around. There was also no vocal microphone, so I did the backing vocals, “tell me why”, into fresh air. You can view this video on YouTube.

It was amazing hanging out backstage with all the other acts including Beatle, Paul McCartney, who signed a copy of my Beatles White Album CD cover, which I just happened to have in my pocket. Timing is Everything! 

 

Do you know if Bob has any plans to record a new album? If so, will you be singing background vocals on it? 

As far as I know, The Boomtown Rats are due to release a new album in 2019.

There are no new recording plans for another Bob solo album this year. I would hope to make a cameo appearance on backing vocals, when and if the opportunity arises.

I cannot help but ask, is there anything you can tell Bob’s super fans about him that they wouldn’t already know? 

Niall Power and Bob Geldof

2011 London. Photo by Eddy Valdameri.

I don’t usually comment on Bob, but I will say it has been a great pleasure to have had the opportunity to keep the beat behind him for all those years. I never expected it to last more than one tour. A truly amazing time that I will remember forever. His most thoughtful words to me were when I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He said, “You have a job for life in this band.” I replied, “What if I can’t drum?” He said, “We’ll find something for you to do,” so I ended up playing the spoons. 

Do you think that your remarkable memory is simply due to genetics or a result of years having to remember so many songs? 

I put the memory thing down to the fact that I loved every minute of being in a band. It’s not just the Geldof band, but all the bands that I’ve been involved with. I can recall the musicians, most of the songs and how to play them, the venues, the years, etc.; it just seems to stay with me.

Don’t ask me to add and subtract as that part of my memory is definitely missing. 

Have you ever researched whether spicy food such as the Indian curry you so love, may have a positive effect on your brain?

I never looked into the benefits of spicy food on the brain.

Many musicians have a fondness for Indian curry and while visiting a new town with the band, someone would always be on the lookout for the best Indian restaurant.
My DNA tells me that way back many centuries ago, my ancestors are likely to be of Middle Eastern origin, so that’s good enough for me.

I love that your favourite television program during the 1960s was The Monkees! I was born in 1964 but I also remember watching that show when I was a kid and loving it. Have you ever been able to play with Mickey Dolenz? Did you know that he and Mike Nesmith went back on tour last year as The Monkees Present: The Mike and Mickey Show before Nesmith had a quadruple bypass? It might not be too late for you to jam with them! 

Yeah, as mentioned previously, The Monkees were a big part of my musical influences. Every Saturday evening, they were featured on our RTE channel. We only had one TV station in the sixties and music programs were few and far between. It was always ballad singers or light entertainment TV shows with very little choice for young people. Radio was the only option to hear the pop tunes of the day like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. The Monkees were a breath of fresh air in a dull television schedule.

I met their drummer Mickey Dolenz in Nottingham, England in 1985 when he was working for a TV station. Charming man, and I told him how I would copy his drumming style with my air drumming in front of the television. He’s likely responsible for me being a left-handed drummer as he never seemed to set his kit up the same way twice. He wasn’t a drummer at all, just an actor who played drums in a TV show.

It would be cool to catch up with him again.

One of my favourite sections of your book was on the Thin White Duke. As a lifelong fan of David Bowie, your recollection of having once been his driver delighted me! Do you regret not telling him that you were Bob’s drummer? That was surely a big lesson that timing is everything!!

No, I don’t regret not telling David Bowie that I was a drummer. First rule of employment is that you do the job you were asked to do. My brief was that I wasn’t allowed to speak or ask questions unless I was spoken to. This is normal with celebrities and their hired drivers.

When the opportunity arose and I was just driving David on his own to rehearsal, we did have conversations about various things during the three weeks that I was his band’s driver. Anyway, he did find out that I was a drummer for Bob when both bands played at a concert in Paris a few weeks after my driving job finished.

He was a charming man and I’m so glad I was able to be that close to an icon of the music world.

Niall Power Dubai

Niall Power in Dubai. Photo by Mark Cowne.

Your book contains a very matter of fact outline of your career as a session drummer who travelled the world with many bands, but I noticed that you refrained from including saucy road stories about the types of antics that go on between traveling band mates. Surely, you have one or two amusing anecdotes to share in this regard? 

I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase, “What happens on the road stays on the road.”  

Well you can’t blame a girl for trying!

On the road, you’ve rubbed shoulders with some of the greats in the music world. What was the single most exciting moment that you experienced and who was it with?

It has to be my first ever time to play live onstage, at the Liverpool Irish Centre in 1975.

Niall Power age 17.

1975 London, age 17.

For the previous four years I’d been bashing away at home, wondering if I was ever going to get it together as a drummer. I was a roadie for all of 1974 with a local band called Just Four. They invited me to go to England on tour with them and I managed to befriend their support group called Midnight who were based in Birmingham. I stayed in England after the tour and moved to London to stay with my friend Jim Sullivan and his family. Jim was the guitarist when we tried unsuccessfully to start our band in the Curragh some years previously. I had told Midnight that I was a drummer looking for a job, and if they were ever changing their drummer to get in touch with me in London.
I received a letter in the post a few months later to ask if I would like to return to Birmingham and join Midnight. I couldn’t believe it, I had never played onstage with a band before and that first gig in Liverpool was a blast. I was probably terrible on the night, but you have to start somewhere and that was where it all began. 

If you could have played with any musician in the world that you haven’t played with, who would you choose?

It has to be George Harrison.

I just loved his music and his vibe. Over the years I have played in many cover bands who performed Beatles tunes in their sets, but it would have been magic to get a chance to play “Here Comes the Sun” with George. 

You have travelled all over the world in your career. What is your favourite place to visit and why?

It would have to be India. We played there on three separate occasions and I loved it. The music is enthralling, the food is incredible, the friendly nature of the people and the sheer size of the place is amazing.

Driving anywhere is a task only to be undertaken by a kamikaze.

The sounds, smells, colours and the poverty have to be seen to be believed.
A truly wonderful country to visit.

Since you retired from drumming in 2015, you have been absorbed in genealogical research, both for yourself and others. What have you been doing in this regard since the publication of your book?

Initially, I only undertook the genealogical search for my own family tree. I found this process to be very helpful for my Parkinson’s situation as it gave me something positive to do after my diagnosis.

I needed a task to engage the brain, almost like doing a crossword puzzle and trying to find answers to the clues. There are many discrepancies on old documents, and it is painstaking work trying to decipher the handwriting and make sense of the information. I’m sure it helped me take my mind off the fact that I was losing the fine motor movements on my left side and my drumming skill was disappearing fast.

I have helped some friends with their own family research, but I’m not going to make a career out of it as it’s very time consuming.

Many Irish documents relating to births, marriages and deaths were destroyed by fire in the Irish Civil War, and only the 1901 and 1911 census records are available to view.
I’m still active with regard to my own family tree and I’ve traced many relations, in Canada and the USA. 

Are you and your wife, Michelle, still farming or working as entrepreneurs? 

Unfortunately, I can’t work anymore with my left hand shaking. It’s now 11 years since

Niall Power at home

Niall in 2016.

diagnosis and the motor skills on my left side are gradually disappearing. For example, I cannot put a letter into an envelope or hold a newspaper without my hand trembling.

I’m so used to the shaking that it that doesn’t bother me anymore, and even though it’s a progressive and incurable disease, I just get on with it and make the best of every day usually tending to the garden. Michelle is my career. 

Can you tell us more about your diet and exercise regime and anything else that has enabled you to make the best of your life with Parkinson’s disease?

Most people will tell you that they altered their diet after a Parkinson’s diagnosis, which I did. I did it as a reaction rather than a necessity. It’s a scary time and the need to do anything to solve the problem is great. My first move was to get supplements from the chemist and I also tried a course of acupuncture and meditation. No real benefits from any of these.

I was aged 50 at the time of diagnosis and in reasonably good shape, so I joined my local swimming club and gym. I rarely miss a day and workout on the treadmill and the bicycle, with some light weights. Then it’s into the pool where I power walk in the water and generally have some fun. This activity may not suit some Parkinson’s patients who have issues with their walking, but I find it very rewarding. You have to find something that works for you and stick with it. Never give up. 

How would you like to be able to help others who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s? 

During the last year I spoke at a few Parkinson’s related events and basically, I just informed the patients about my exercise routine, and how good it can make you feel to do something for yourself that gives you enjoyment and has many other health benefits. 

What have you been doing since your book was published in 2017?

Since the publication of my book I’ve been trying to keep busy. I went to Australia last October and cycled around 1,200 kilometers in the glorious sunshine state of Queensland. My symptoms decreased significantly, and I will be informing my neurologist about this at my next checkup.

Timing Is Everything will be featured in the book nook at the World Parkinson Congress in Kyoto this year, and who knows, a cure may be soon be found.

Niall Power in 2018

Niall Power in 2018. Photo by Frank Smith.

In Conversation with Wayne Byrne, Author of The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out

Title: The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out
Author:  Wayne Byrne
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Released: September 2017
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9780231185356

The Cinema of Tom DiCillo

As the author of this insightful and entertaining book, he delves in deep and comes up with the goods. Through his conversations with Tom we see the thought processes and strategies on each of his films, his hopes and frustrations, and everything in between. One thing about Tom, he doesn’t hold back. We also hear from many of Tom’s collaborators, and he has worked with some of the best in this business.

In short, this wonderful book details the ultimate triumphant journey of one of independent cinema’s smartest, funniest and fiercest warriors. ~ Steve Buscemi


As a long-time fan of the award-winning, independent, New York filmmaker and recording artist, I was very excited to be among the first readers of Wayne Byrne’s well-written, fascinating, detailed analysis of The Cinema of Tom DiCillo.  Irish author Wayne Byrne’s book is comprised of a series of essays about each of DiCillo’s eight films – Johnny Suede, Living in Oblivion, Box of Moonlight, The Real Blonde, Double Whammy, Delirious, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, and Down in Shadowland – embellished with insider insight from some of the films’ stars.

Wayne, congratulations on your auspicious debut as a writer! I read somewhere that you never intended to be a writer, so how was it that you became one?

Thank you, Christine.  It’s such a great feeling whenever I hear those words.  It reminds me that the book is a real thing.  I’m getting used to the thrill of walking into a book store and seeing it on the shelf.

What I meant by that reference to never intending to be a writer was that I never consciously set out to become one, in the sense that I never said, “I would love to be a  writer when I grow up,” nor ever pursued it academically.  It just wasn’t on my radar when wondering what to do with myself.  I always thought writers were Ivy League academic types, an exclusive club that I would never be privy to, and my not being academically inclined meant it was just never a consideration.

I wrote this book out of necessity.  I wanted to own a book on Tom DiCillo and for that to happen I had to write it myself.  That is the essence of the “accidental writer” quote you are referring to.

Even though writing is now my life, there’s an element of accident, or perhaps fate, to my professional breakthroughs.  At some stage many years ago, I started writing my own movie reviews for nothing other than the fun of cataloging what I was watching.  At the suggestion of my friend I submitted this massive portfolio of amateur scribbling to the editor of a newspaper just for the sake of doing something with them.  I didn’t think anything would come of it, and looking back on those writings now, I’m surprised something did.  The editor replied to set up a meeting with me.  So, I went in and he pretty much hired me then and there as their film critic and columnist.  I couldn’t believe it!  I did that for two years, before the Arts pages were cut from the paper to allow for more advertising inches.  But it was the springboard for my professional writing career.

I’m currently a music journalist, again not something I intentionally set out to do.  I was asked by the editor of a highly-regarded magazine here in Ireland called Hot Press if I would be interested in joining them as a regular contributor.  This was after I had sold to them what I thought was a one-off freelance piece that I wrote about a musician friend of mine.  I’ve been an avid reader of that magazine for twenty years so it’s very exciting to now be part of it.  What an honor to be asked to join them.

I’m familiar with Hot Press as I’ve been to Ireland three times and read it while I was there. It’s an excellent magazine! I think that being a music journalist is possibly one of the coolest jobs in the world. Do you still have fun with it or is it simply work?

Oh I absolutely have fun. Of course there are occasions where you don’t necessarily like a band that you are reviewing, either live or their album, or you’re not familiar with an artist that you have to interview, but you have to be fair and diligent and go do your homework and have some context going in.  Often I end up very surprised that I like an album that I would normally have reservations about.  If I’m unfamiliar with a band who I’m reviewing I will often go and listen to their back catalogue.  But yes, I am fully aware of how cool a job it is.  Getting paid to go to a Morrissey concert or listen to the new Weezer album?  Hell yes!  But it is an important magazine and I treat it as such, with absolute professionalism.

Can you speak to your process as a writer? Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music when you’re writing?

My process has certainly changed over time, having become busier and juggling various writing jobs. When I began writing The Cinema of Tom DiCillo, I wasn’t under any contract, I had no publishing deal, and so I had no deadline.  While there was a certain level of uncertainty there in not knowing if all of this work was ever going to be published or not, it also gave me complete freedom of time and effort.  It allowed me to write the book I truly wanted to write.  It meant I could wait for people to become free to interview them.  If a very busy actor said they could talk to me in two months that was fine, I would wait, rather than having to move on without them.  Only when I was ready and happy with my book, and had satisfactorily covered everything I wanted to, did I say, “it’s finished!”  It took me nearly five years, from developing the idea, research, interviews, writing, editing, getting a publishing deal, proofreading the final text, arranging the illustrative materials, coordinating all the Interview Release Forms, and then seeing it published.

It sounds like a long time, but it is time-consuming, especially in wanting it to be of an extremely high quality and a definitive study of Tom’s work, and I was also learning to become a writer as I wrote.  I have no formal training and I’ve never taken a class on writing or literature; I learned as I was doing it.  I don’t know if that would work for everyone, but it worked for me.  And after it was finished, I submitted the manuscript to some publishing houses and there weren’t too many people I sent it to before I got the reply that I wanted.  I knew I wanted to sign with Columbia because they own Wallflower Press, an imprint that has released some of the absolute best books on films and directors.  It was the company I had always wished would release a book on Tom DiCillo. And now they have, but I wrote it, which is still surreal to me.

I tend to write exclusively, at home. If I don’t have my easy chair by the fireplace, then I don’t write. I don’t listen to music while working on the books, but when I’m writing about a specific film I will have it playing in the background, so I can jump in at any time to analyze a particular scene for any number of reasons: thematically, aesthetically, technically.

But when writing for the magazine I do listen to music, because I have to if I’m discussing a particular album or song, and so I will inevitably end up hearing something, some small musical flourish or nuance in a song that I didn’t hear upon first listen but I can now work it into the article or review.

One thing that you and I have in common is that we have both met Tom DiCillo and have had the pleasure of getting to know him. How did you initially meet Tom and how long did you know him before you decided to write a book about his films?

My first contact with Tom was just as a fan, contributing conversation to his blog posts. Soon enough I had cause to contact him in a professional capacity to request an interview for the release of When You’re Strange, as I was writing about it in my coverage of various film festivals.  The idea for the book came about a year into being acquainted with Tom personally, having written him several times and covered his work for various publications.  It was during this period that I mentioned to Tom that I had wanted to buy a book on his work for many years but all I could find were some career overviews in film encyclopedias and reference books; no books wholly devoted to him.  So, at some stage I put forward the idea that I wanted to write the first book on his career.

As Tom is my favorite director, I knew I was in this rare position of being able to talk to him and pick his brain.  Before I began the actual work I experienced some moments of insecurity, not knowing a single thing about how to write a book, and I started questioning how you go about doing that – do you have to go to college to be a writer? How do you become a published author?  I really didn’t know how the whole system of professional writing worked.  But when Tom gave me his blessing and support it encouraged me to just go for it, to write it and worry about becoming published later.

How difficult was it to gain access to the actors that you interviewed for the book?

Not difficult at all, thankfully, for 99% of them.  In almost all cases Tom introduced me personally to the actor and we talked and arranged everything between us.  Brad Pitt was a different story.  There was a team of “people” I had to maneuver through. I would get some positive responses such as “Brad is considering it but is very busy at the moment and will get back to you.”  This went on for a period of time and at this stage I was close to finishing the book.  I felt it was just about ready, so spending more time waiting on responses from people was starting to drag the whole endeavor out.  I asked once more, stating that I needed to know if Brad was in or out because I had to finish the book and they came back and said Brad had, after carefully considering it, decided he could not contribute at that time.  While it wasn’t the answer I would have liked, especially after the kernels of hope I had received, I appreciated that it was at least a firm answer.

Who would you say provided you with the most detailed insight into Tom’s process as a filmmaker, aside from Tom?

It’s hard to name any one person.  Everyone brought their own great insights into Tom, but Catherine Keener, Steve Buscemi, and Chris Noth gave me perhaps the most detailed account of what Tom is like as a person and as a filmmaker, because they have either worked with him a lot or have known him for a long time.  In the case of Chris Noth, he and Tom’s friendship goes back to their acting class and cater-waiting days in the early-eighties.  Chris gave me so much insight.  We spoke at length about their very long friendship, reminiscing about the old days of trying to make it in movies in New York in the 1980s, and their time working together on Law & Order.  Likewise, Steve Buscemi has known Tom since around that time as well and so there’s a great history there between them.

What was the most surprising thing that you learned about him?

It was fascinating to discover the intimate details of his life before the films and the fame: his background, his family life, his influences, his world view, and the relationships created early on with other artists.  It was those more personal moments that were revelatory, and very interesting and rewarding to me as a writer.  No detail was too minor or superfluous.  It all added up to help me create what I hope is a definitive work of this great artist.

I believe your book is the definitive work about Tom DiCillo.

I really appreciate that, Christine. I’m happy to have written something that would be considered Wayne Byrnedefinitive, but I also always look forward to any other film commentators or scholars writing about Tom, I would always be interested to hear of other people’s opinions on the films, maybe spotting something I didn’t see or analyzing something from a different perspective.  The great thing about any arts criticism is that it’s completely subjective.  Every person brings their own personal history and sensibilities to their experience of a work that makes it exclusively their own. What I see in Tom’s work could be completely different to what another writer sees, and I would always be interested to hear what other people see in his work.

I find it difficult to pick a favorite of Tom’s films, can you?

It depends on what day of the week it is.  I find it hard to pick one favorite, but I do know the ones I connect most immediately with for different reasons.  Johnny Suede will always be the most important film for me, so it is probably my personal favorite, as it was the film that opened my eyes to cinema.  It’s because of that film that we’re having this interview.  While Living In Oblivion is perhaps the definitive DiCillo film, being so perfect in every way, and being released at the time it was, it’s such a crucial piece of American Independent Cinema.  But, objectively speaking, I do think that Delirious is a frontrunner as his best work.

That said, I have programmed Tom’s films at many events (festivals, clubs, etc.) and the film that most people tell me is their favorite is Box of Moonlight.  Something about that film really clicks with audiences.  What Al Fountain (John Turturro) experiences in that film is probably something many people experience in their lives at some point, and Tom pulls it off with such cinematic skill, a deft surrealist aesthetic, and with great humor and pathos, those elements which are so distinctly DiCillo.

I agree with you about Delirious.

It’s a masterpiece. It has such a vital energy, such a range of emotion, and a stunning command of style. Tom was really firing on all cylinders on that one; the performances speak for themselves, and it has some of the best scenes of Tom’s entire catalogue.  For me it is easily the best American film of the last decade. Certainly it’s my favorite film to come out since Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

For me, one of the things I enjoyed the most about your book was that you elaborated on the themes that run throughout Tom’s films. Can you reiterate those themes for my readers?

Yes, of course.  It is one of the main objectives of the book, to acknowledge and analyze the crucial and relevant themes that run throughout Tom’s films.  I have always been very unsatisfied with critical commentary of Tom’s work, because very few, if any, acknowledge the themes at the heart of the films.  Rather, they look to the immediate context of satire, trying to pick up on sly digs here and there at these venerated institutions, painting Tom as purely an iconoclast.  And that’s fine, but there is so much more to Tom’s films than that.  I think a lot of critics overlook the pathos of Tom’s work.

Look at the thread of familial discord that runs through from Johnny Suede right up to Down in Shadowland.  Even When You’re Strange, a film about The Doors, shares many of the same themes as other DiCillo films, such as the illusion of fame, the fragility of ego, identity crises, the severed connection of family and the toll that takes on someone.  It’s amazing that all of these ideas remain present in a documentary ostensibly about one of the biggest rock bands of the last fifty years. Because of Tom’s ability to weave these deeply personal themes throughout, the film becomes less an objective biography of a band, but, for those familiar with DiCillo and his work, a very intimate portrait of two artists: Jim Morrison and Tom DiCillo.

You’re so right!  That’s something I’ve never been able to put into words, but you’ve nailed it. When You’re Strange is how I first connected with Tom so it will always have a special place in my heart as a result, but I also happen to be a big Doors fan.

I was very familiar with The Doors but never a “fan”.  But, testament to the power of Tom’s film, I am now a fan.  I now deeply admire their mysterious style of music and their prodigious musicianship.  I love the whole social and political historical context that was going on around them, which makes them a fascinating band to write about. The chapter on When You’re Strange is one of my favorite chapters in the book.  I interviewed drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger for it, which is a pretty cool thing, to have those guys in there.

I love that you mention how wonderfully eclectic the soundtrack to Box of Moonlight (Wall of Voodoo, Peter Murphy, Nick Cave) is as it was a highlight for me.  One of the things that so attracted me to Tom’s personal music project, The Black and Blue Orkestre, was how his musical influences resonated throughout their first album. Tom’s taste in music really endeared me to him. Do you feel the same way?

Tom’s involvement in music is very important to me and to our friendship.  We have spent a lot of time working on music together.  I played guitar and piano on the Black and Blue Orkestre track In Your Dreams.  I’m very proud of it.  It was very exciting working with Tom on vocals and the actor Kevin Corrigan on bass – my job was made easier working with such skilled performers.  I love Tom’s voice and the sonic universe that he creates.  It just makes you want to grab the guitar and start recording, it’s so inspiring.

Tom’s use of music in his films is also wonderful, it is so crucial to the tone and atmosphere that he creates.  And the fact that he uses some of my favorite bands – such as those you just mentioned – just sweetens the deal.

I had no idea that you played guitar and piano on In Your Dreams!  That’s fantastic! I can’t wait for Tom to release the new songs that he’s recording with The Black and Blue Orkestre. Have you collaborated with him on any of them?

Thank you, I appreciate that. Yes, that song is pretty amazing.  I love how Tom mixed that song, it sounds terrific.  I have worked on a number of tunes, but I’m not sure what songs will end up on the next release, as this is Tom’s project and I just came in and did some guitar.  I like that session player aspect of working with the bones of a track, fleshing out the sound and my work is done.  Tom then does his production and engineering work on it and I just look forward to hearing the finished version just like any other fan.

Who are some of your favorite recording artists?

Music is a big part of me.  I love everything from 1930s dance bands, to 60s surf music, to 80s pop, to hardcore punk.  I’m inspired by every kind of music.  If you are over at my house for dinner or a beer, you could hear anything from The Circle Jerks to Slim Whitman to John Denver to Madonna.  I’ve started collecting vinyl, so I’m going back to albums I really love and relishing the great sound of records, so I’ve recently been listening to the first two albums from Bruce Hornsby and The Range (The Way It Is and Scenes from the Southside), Heartbeat City by The Cars, Lives in the Balance by Jackson Browne, Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil, Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell.

I know I probably sound like some nostalgic dinosaur pining for my lost youth, when there is a whole world of new music out there, but I hear enough of the new stuff in my job writing for Hot Press (legendary Irish music magazine), so when I’m home and relaxing I tend to listen to the albums that continue to thrill and comfort.  I’m tragically unhip when it comes to music – I just like what I like.

My favorite albums would include:

Tango in the Night by Fleetwood Mac
Midnight to Midnight by The Psychedelic Furs
Déjà vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Book of Love by Book of Love
Heaven on Earth by Belinda Carlisle
Candy Apple Grey by Husker Du
Heaven or Las Vegas by The Cocteau Twins
In My Tribe by 10,000 Maniacs
Famous Monsters by The Misfits
Straight to Goodbye by Pale Divine

Wow, that’s an eclectic collection of favorite albums, but I love it!  If it’s any consolation, I’m probably just as tragically unhip when it comes to music because I still love listening to 70s and 80s music the most but maybe that’s the same for everyone who came of age in a certain time period.  The music of our youth remains special to us forever.  Are you familiar with The Tragically Hip who are from my hometown of Kingston, Ontario? I couldn’t resist slipping that in here…

Yes absolutely, I am a great admirer of The Tragically Hip.  Road Apples is a great album, and I absolutely love Small Town Bringdown EP – which has, for me, some of their best songs – Small Town Bringdown, Last American Exit, I’m a Werewolf Baby…just sublime! The production is fantastic, very much of that late-80s era. Just sublime!  You must have been able to see them live during those times, which would have been great.

What has writing this book taught you about filmmaking and The Arts in general?

That I know almost nothing about filmmaking.  I am truly in awe of filmmakers. They’re part of my intense interest in the subject of cinema.  Yes, I detailed a lot of the production methods and behind the scenes activity of Tom’s films, but filmmaking is still a mystery to me, and I hope it always is a mystery.  I want whatever magic is conjured in creating the art to remain elusive.  I want to retain some of that awe that was instilled in me upon seeing Masters of the Universe in the movie theatre when I was four.

I do sometimes ask the question of myself, “Who am I to write about or teach film?”  I have never been on a film set.  I have never acted or directed.  All I can offer are my opinions and thoughts on the films, back it up with some words from those who were there and have actually made the films, and then try and edit it into some kind of legible or readable context.  That, really, is my job.  I’m just spreading the word about movies and artists I love.  I consider myself less a writer and more a proactive fan.

Of the Arts in general, writing this book has made me appreciate the dedication of every other writer who takes the time to write about a subject that fascinates them, no matter what discipline they work in, because their passion fuels the passion of others.  I hope my book fills the gap on the shelf that Tom DiCillo fans have been waiting to fill, and I hope it inspires others in the way that other film commentators have inspired me.

Who or what will your next book be about?

This has taken a lot of people by surprise, because it’s a completely different cinematic universe to that which I cover in The Cinema of Tom DiCillo, but my next book will be on Burt Reynolds.

Some people think that because you love art films and write about independent cinema that you wouldn’t have any time for the kind of stuff that Burt Reynolds is known for, but I always ask, “well, what do you know of Burt?” and the answer is inevitably Deliverance, Smokey and the Bandit, and The Cannonball Run.  They aren’t aware of or haven’t seen the eighty other films he has made, some of which are simply fantastic works of cinema. Reynolds has worked with some of the greatest directors, and to name just a few of the brilliant films he has starred in with these filmmakers: Hustle (by Robert Aldrich), Starting Over (by Alan J. Pakula), Breaking In (by Bill Forsyth), At Long Last Love (Peter Bogdanovich), Navajo Joe (by Sergio Corbucci), Semi-Tough (by Michael Ritchie), White Lightning (by Joseph Sargeant).

My writing process on this one is completely different to that of The Cinema of Tom DiCillo.  On that book I spent five years writing about eight films.  On the Burt Reynolds book, I have one year to write about eighty films and several entire TV shows, the major ones that Burt starred in, which means Riverboat, Gunsmoke, Hawk, Dan August, B.L. Stryker, and Evening Shade.  And I couldn’t be happier, but it means I am extremely busy. There’s a lot of people to interview, a lot of films to analyze and write about, and I still have my bill-paying day and night jobs (librarian and journalist) to keep me busy.  So when I’m not in work I’m still at work.

Will it be published by Columbia University Press?

No, this book isn’t the kind of thing that Columbia would go for.  Columbia is really focused on publishing works on contemporary, influential directors who are presently relevant throughout the entire spectrum of World Cinema, and whose work has immediate academic currency, all of which applies to Tom DiCillo.  Burt Reynolds, however, doesn’t necessarily fall into those categories because he hasn’t directed a film in nearly two decades, is mainly celebrated for his acting work rather than his directing, and some people might not see the “academic” value of my writing about Cop and a Half or Smokey and the Bandit II.

My Burt Reynolds book needed a publisher who understands and shares my perspective on Burt Reynolds; that he is one of the truly great American film stars and an enduring icon of US cinema. There is something absolutely compelling about him every moment he is on the screen, and he’s one of the few actors left who you can genuinely call a living legend.  As a book of film history and film criticism it will benefit from Reynolds’ prolific and expansive work which spans many important movements through American film history, going from the Golden Age studio system of the late 50s, through the New Hollywood of the 60s and 70s, to the blockbuster world of the 80s, and indie cinema of the 90s and up to today. For this book I’ve already been talking to some great directors, cinematographers, and actors – some truly fascinating people.

I signed with a distinguished publisher who have an amazing catalogue of film books to their name and who immediately understood what I wanted to do and shared my enthusiasm for the man.  They also saw the gap in the market for a book on Burt Reynolds’ actual films because while there have been books on him in the past, they were more concerned with his personal life.  I have no interest in his personal life, but I absolutely love his films.  He’s probably my favorite movie star, alongside John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Doris Day, Steve Buscemi, and Dennis Hopper.

I’ve definitely enjoyed some of Burt Reynolds’ work that I’ve seen but I’m sure that after I read your new book, I’ll want to revisit his work.  I’ll look forward to that!

Thanks Christine! Yeah, I hope it encourages people to check out his work which has gone under the radar or is simply forgotten.  It’s also a celebration of and tribute to this great figure of cinema and his vast body of work, as well as an opportunity to appreciate the art of the films.  Burt has recurrently worked with some of the finest cinematographers, such as William A. Fraker, Nick McLean Sr., Vilmos Zsigmond, to name just a few.  You don’t read much technical and aesthetic analysis of many of Burt’s films, and so that’s partly what I’m doing.

I think I could talk to you for days, Wayne, but I should probably end our conversation here. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me and for sharing your passions with my readers.

It was my pleasure, Christine.  I hope people enjoy the book and go out and watch Tom DiCillo films. That’s really what it’s all about.

The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out by Wayne Byrne

The Cinema of Tom DiCilloBook Review
Title: The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out
Author:  Wayne Byrne
Publisher: Wallflower Press
Released: September 2017
Pages: 208
ISBN-13: 978-0231185356
Book Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  4.5

I admit that I can’t review The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out by Wayne Byrne without bias, but I can say that my bias is formed by a deep appreciation of Tom DiCillo’s films and Tom DiCillo, the man. I was fortunate to receive a review copy of the book from Columbia University Press’ Wallflower division and am pleased to give you my honest opinion about it.

I believe that the first of DiCillo’s films that I ever saw was Living in Oblivion, when I rented it on DVD soon after it was released – likely in 1996. As a life-long film fan, Living in Oblivion, a humourous, heartfelt film about the making of an independent film, was an absolute treasure to discover and has since become DiCillo’s seminal masterpiece. It wasn’t long after that when I also rented and enjoyed watching Johnny Suede, the now cult film with a cool surf music score that helped to launch Brad Pitt and Catherine Keener’s careers. Because I’ve always enjoyed Keener’s work and because she was in four of DiCillo’s films, I kept watching them and had seen at least four of them before I got to know a lot more about the filmmaker.

Then, in a strange, albeit serendipitous twist of fate, I became friends with Tom DiCillo when I discovered his blog as he was writing about the process of releasing and trying to find a distributor for When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors (which won a Grammy in 2011), over seven years ago. The Doors are on my Top 5 Favourite Bands of All Time list and as such they formed the basis for our original conversation. However, we have continued to stay in touch ever since, because Tom is a very accessible, generous man with a kind heart and genuine appreciation for his fans. Not only am I a fan of his body of work, but I admire and respect him as an artist and a human being.  I’m equally enamored with Tom’s music project, The Black and Blue Orkestre, because I love his singing voice and the combination of Spaghetti Western, Surf and Cinematic Gothic Rockabilly grooves that form the music.

But back to the book. This volume by Irish author and Film Studies lecturer / education consultant Wayne Byrne is an extremely well-written, intelligent, enthralling addition to the Directors’ Cuts series published by Wallflower Press and a must-read for any cineaste or film student. It took Byrne five years to complete, but during that time he interviewed not only Tom DiCillo, at length, but also many of the actors in his films, including Steve Buscemi who wrote the foreword.

“In short, this wonderful book details the ultimate triumphant journey of one of independent cinema’s smartest, funniest, and fiercest warriors.” ~ Steve Buscemi

Byrne’s book is an interesting in-depth look at all of DiCillo’s eight independent films (seven of which premiered at Sundance) the agony and the ecstasy of birthing them, as well as an honest, insider’s view into the independent film industry and the machinations of the Hollywood system.

In his book, Byrne analyzes the themes of identity, family, and masculinity in DiCillo’s work and supports it with “in-depth coverage of the generic and aesthetic aspects of DiCillo’s distinctive and influential film style.” Through detailed chapters on each of his feature films, readers receive “…a candid look behind-the-scenes of both the American independent film industry – from the No Wave movement of the 1980s, through the Indie boom of the 1990s, to the contemporary milieu – and the Hollywood studio system.”

Byrne studied the writing, production, and release of each of DiCillo’s films and followed them with an extensive and intriguing Q&A with him, as well as exclusive interviews with many actors and collaborators including Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell, John Turturro, Chris Noth, Maxwell Caulfield, Matthew Modine, Gina Gershon, Kevin Corrigan, Alison Lohman and John Densmore and Robby Krieger of The Doors.

Johnny Suede (1991)
Living in Oblivion (1995)
Box of Moonlight (1996)
The Real Blonde (1997)
Double Whammy (2001)
Delirious (2006)
When You’re Strange (2009)
Down in Shadowland (2014)

I own all DiCillo’s films and have watched them all again with new eyes after reading Byrne’s book, getting something new from each of them even though I’ve seen six of them previously, at least a couple of times. Perhaps that is what allows DiCillo’s work to endure throughout the years. It is clever, often subversive and upon first viewing you may think, “Well, what was that all about? That was a bit bizarre…”, but upon further viewing, you really get a feel for the director’s unique style and voice, use of colour, choice of music (often created by composer Jim Farmer) as well as the themes that inspire him. It is DiCillo’s way of viewing and expressing humanity in his work with his distinct sense of humour and pathos that makes these films stand out in the crowd of slick, violent, comic-book infested, often soulless, unoriginal movies from Hollywood that we’re seeing today. Give me the work of Jim Jarmusch, Richard Linklater, The Coen Brothers, Michael Winterbottom, Tim Burton and Tom DiCillo any day. If you agree, read this book.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot SeeBook Review

Title: All The Light We Cannot See
Author:  Anthony Doerr
Imprint: Scribner
Published: 2014
Pages: 544
ISBN: 978-1-5011-0456-5
Stars:  4.0

I am not usually drawn to novels set during World War II.  Maybe it’s because I am half German, and have no desire whatsoever to read anything about Hitler, particularly now that we are living in a political climate fuelled by a buffoon dictator just south of the border, in 2017. I do, however, love stories set in Paris, which is why I decided to give this book a try, although it was also enthusiastically recommended to me by my good friend Deborah Ledon who did not steer me wrong with her last recommendation.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 novel, is a work of art in more ways than one.  Each short chapter is like a photograph come to life, filled with colour, texture, and light, revealing one image, a small piece of the story. Doerr’s prose is so beautiful that we cannot put the book down for wanting to experience, with all of our senses, that next piece of the story. And all of our senses are heightened as we do.

The book begins on 7 August 1944 as Germany is bombing France, or more specifically, Saint-Malo, France, as a 16-year-old blind girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc kneels over a table at Number 4 rue Vauborel, holding a model of the city in miniature. She knows every centimetre of the model by touch and has memorized its street names. She can hear the bombers, who are three miles away, approaching Saint-Malo.

“Five streets to the north, a white-haired 18-year-old German private named Werner Pfennig wakes to a faint staccato hum.” He is in the Hotel of Bees, a once cheerful address where Parisians would stay on weekend holidays. Werner is in the building when bombers brandishing high-velocity anti-air guns known as 88s start to destroy everything in the vicinity of the hotel. What, we wonder, could possibly happen next?

Compelled to turn the pages of each short chapter, we study them as if they are photographs on exhibition in an art gallery. As we move through each chapter in the first 90 pages of the book, a ten-year history of these two main characters is revealed in snapshot after snapshot.

We learn about the curse of an ancient blue diamond containing a touch of red at its center, known as the Sea of Flames. The 133 carat diamond has been locked up in a cleverly disguised vault in the basement of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris where Marie-Laure’s father works as the principal locksmith.

We also learn that Werner was raised with his sister Jutta, in a Children’s Home in Zollverein, a coal-mining complex near Essen, Germany by a kind woman named Frau Elena, and that young Werner, who has a love of science, also possesses a knack for repairing radios, which may just save him from having to work in the coal mines like all of the other 15-year-old boys in the region.

Sergeant Major Reinhold Von Rumpel, a gemologist before the war, now works for the Reich. It is his mission to find the Sea of Flames for the Führer for his proposed empyrean city in Linz, Austria, at the center of which he plans to build a kilometre-long museum filled with the greatest treasures in all of Europe and Russia.

The author flips us back and forth between what is happening to Marie-Laure and what is happening to Werner from 1934 to 1944, his exquisite writing moving with the pace of a suspense thriller. And then he starts to weave in the story of Von Rumpel and we slowly discover how all three characters’ lives will intersect.

Werner’s story is particularly heart-wrenching as he is recruited by the Reich – who force 14-year-old boys to train for their Machiavellian purposes – always weeding out the weakest, with unbelievable cruelty, while staying focused on building their superior Aryan race. Werner is small, sensitive and very smart and he dreams of becoming an engineer. He tries with all his strength to hold onto those dreams as the grim realization of his situation becomes evident and he slowly understands just how evil the force that he has had to follow and support really is.

By the time I read half of this novel, my guts were gripped by the horror of how vicious human beings can be and I cried as I was reminded that although we earthlings have endured two World Wars, so many of us don’t seem to have learned anything from them as the current political state of affairs in much of the world can attest to.

However, it is the indestructible optimism and resilience of the spiritually strong, like Marie-Laure,  who give us hope that things can change for the positive in the future. When one’s will to live is as strong as hers, there may be no limit to what we can endure. However, the price we pay for surviving the struggle is steep.

By the time I read half of this book, I was filled with sadness. This is not the type of book I should be reading as throughout this winter I have struggled with stress and depression. I read on because I had to know what happens to these characters in whom I had become deeply invested. There has to be some light at the end of this literary tunnel, some redemption, joy even. After all, the title is All The Light We Cannot See…but by page 400 there is still no light.

By the time I had almost finished the book, I could barely read the last 50 pages because of the ugly, depressing, soul-destroying events that occur page after page in relentless succession. Surely there can be no light in reliving this dismal history? I understand Doerr’s metaphors and by the end of the book I could see the light he refers to in the title, but that light just didn’t shine brightly enough to make me feel that reading this book was a gift and something that I shouldn’t have missed out on. The novel has its share of beauty and light, to be sure, but the cold, hard facts of what people endured in World War II at the hands of a fascist dictator are definitely not something I ever want to relive in a story, of any kind, ever again.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom the magic strings of frankie prestoBook Review

Title: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Author:  Mitch Albom
Imprint: Harper Paperbacks
Released: October 25, 2016
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 0062294431
ISBN-13: 9780062294432
Stars:  5.0

Once in a very blue moon a book comes along that is so unique and wonderful, no – downright magical – that it immediately becomes one of the best books you’ve ever read. Those books are what I call five-star desert island classics; books I want to have with me for the rest of my life because I know I will read them again and again.

Recently, my client and dear friend Deborah Ledon recommended a book for me that she said she loved and was certain that I would love too. I bought the book, called The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, whose work I had read previously and especially adored in The Five People You Meet In Heaven (which I’ve so far read twice). Albom is a maestro of the rhythm of storytelling and I believe he has created his magnum opus with The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, a book narrated by Music itself.

Francisco de Asís Pascual Presto was born in Villareal, Spain in August 1936 in a church where his mother had sought refuge from El Terror Rojo – the Red Terror – revolutionaries and militiamen who were angry with the new government. Francisco’s mother Carmencita was aided by a young nun as she gave birth to her son, and we later learn that she died after childbirth and the nun took care of the newborn, who would not cry, in his early days as an infant. Before Carmencita dies, she sings a melody to her baby, a song called “Lágrima” (teardrops) by the renowned Spanish guitarist Francisco Tárrega, and the song is immediately ingrained in baby Frankie’s memory.

On the boy’s first birthday his guardian takes him into town to its largest store where Frankie hears a song by Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia on a wind-up gramophone for the first time, and he finally cries. In fact, he continues to cry constantly and the only thing that will ease his torment is music.

Frankie is raised by a blind guitar teacher in Spain, known to him as El Maestro, who gives him six mysterious blue strings and a beautiful acoustic guitar, educates him in music, and allows Frankie’s magnificent talent to blossom.

Throughout this extraordinary story, we travel back through Frankie Presto’s illustrious history from the 1940s jazz scene to the Grand Ole Opry, to the birth of rock and roll and Woodstock, while Frankie (accompanied by his hairless dog with no name) searches for his childhood sweetheart, Aurora York. We meet some of the great artists who influenced him and were influenced by him along the way, including Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley, Darlene Love, Tony Bennett and Paul Stanley to name a few, who help Music to narrate the tale.

I couldn’t believe it when in Part Five of the novel, Albom wrote about Paul Stanley‘s reminiscences of Frankie Presto, at the end of which he recalled:

“It’s funny. In 1999, I got a chance to play the lead in Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. I’ve never tried anything like that. But I went for it, partly because my son at the time was about five years old. And I remember thinking, “I want him to see me in this.”

Well, I saw Paul Stanley, guitarist and founding member of KISS, in 1999, in Phantom of the Opera in Toronto, and he was absolutely brilliant!

I was mesmerized by Albom’s story from the very first chapter and found myself smiling a lot, although sometimes tearing up too while reading Music’s epic tale about Frankie’s journey to discover what matters most in life and how the power of talent can change our lives. Music, fame, true love and the inevitable fall from grace shape the melody and harmonies of Frankie’s soundtrack and like all great soundtracks, leave us thinking about our own.

Like most of us, Frankie doesn’t get through life unscathed and has to deal with more than his fair share of tragedy, but music, love, and the magic of synchronicity save him, again and again.

This passage brought tears to my eyes with its simple truth:

He recalled a conversation with his teacher.

“Why do the strings make different sounds, Maestro?”
“It is simple. They work like life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The first string is E. It is high pitched and quick like a child.
“The second string is B. It is pitched slightly lower, like the squeaky voice of a teenager.
“The third string, G, is deeper, with the power of the young man.
“The fourth string, D, is robust, a man at full strength.
“The fifth string, A, is solid and loud but unable to reach high tones, like a man who can no longer do what he did.”
“And the sixth string, Maestro?”
“The sixth is the low E, the thickest, slowest, and grumpiest. You hear how deep? Dum-dum-dum. Like it is ready to die.”
“Is that because it is closest to heaven?”
“No, Francisco. It is because life will always drag you to the bottom.”

I love the messages in this story that tell us with perseverance, practice, and determination, we can overcome the largest of obstacles in our lives…and the loyalty of a good dog can sometimes save us. But ultimately, true love and leaving a positive legacy for our children, is what matters most in life, and for this die-hard romantic, no truer words have ever been written.

With this book, Mitch Albom has become one of my favourite authors. I hope that you will read it so that he will become one of your favourites too.

 

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT BROUGHT TO LIFE FOR MIDDLE GRADERS: Striking Terror by Denis Lipman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT BROUGHT TO LIFE FOR MIDDLE GRADERS
Striking Terror by Denis Lipman to be released Oct. 2016

Striking Terror by Denis Lipman

Piscataqua Press has announced the upcoming release of Striking Terror, a thriller by Denis Lipman that will, for the first time, bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to life for middle grade readers in an accessible, entertaining way. “We’re very excited about Striking Terror,” says Piscataqua Press publisher Tom Holbrook. “We haven’t seen anything like this for middle graders and teens—a fun, real-life thriller using a real-world conflict as a backdrop.”

Author Denis Lipman says this is what drove him to write Striking Terror. “When I was a kid, I loved reading about spies, detectives and mercenaries. When I looked for a contemporary thriller to share with my daughter, I couldn’t find any. So I wrote one that hooks into one of today’s important issues—it just took longer than I’d expected, as I wanted to research everything thoroughly.” Creating a hero who uses his magic skills to get out of trouble was an added bonus, the former magician says with a smile. “Think Harry Houdini, not Harry Potter,” he hastens to add. “I’ve been thinking for years about a boy who will use tricks to get out of scrapes.”

Striking Terror is the fictional story of Micah, a Jewish teen sent by his parents to stay with relatives in Israel. While settling down to a new life in Jerusalem, the amateur magician befriends a troupe of performers—and a Palestinian girl, Shireen, who is training to blow up the bus he rides to school. When Shireen chooses to abort the attack, her handlers turn on her and the two teens must run for their lives. Using every trick he knows to stay alive, Micah helps Shireen escape the alleyways of old Jerusalem into the Negev Desert. Here in a remote farmhouse, Micah and his friends have only illusion, luck and courage to fight a well-armed and murderous enemy. Then, beyond the desert, Micah and Shireen are pulled into a plot that will rip the peace process apart.

Before emigrating to the U.S. from his native England, author Denis Lipman was a professional magician for several years. His first book, A Yank Back to England (GemmaMedia 2010), is a travel memoir now in its third printing. Before moving to New England, Lipman and his wife Frances
Erlebacher ran a small advertising company in the Washington, DC area for more than 20 years, where he was also active in theater.

Piscataqua Press is a small, independent publisher that focuses on New England authors.

# # #

PRESS CONTACT: Tom Holbrook
Piscataqua Press
info@piscataquapress.com
(603) 431-2100

AUTHOR INFO: Denis Lipman
dklipman@verizon.net
(603) 319-8852
denislipman.com

BLUE AND RED MAKE PURPLE: A Musical Journey with Grammy-winning Children’s Artist, Jennifer Gasoi

NEW RELEASE

BLUE AND RED MAKE PURPLE

A Musical Journey with Jennifer Gasoi
Illustrated by Steve Adams

Available on October 1, 2016 from The Secret Mountain

Blue and Red Make Purple

This new book with CD offers young listeners a musical journey through the different colors of Jennifer Gasoi’s multi-layered and playful music. The colorful picture book, featuring original illustrations by Steve Adams, highlight the history, instruments and unique characteristics of each musical genre along with listening suggestions accompanying each song. Along the way, Gasoi offers readers a chance to create their own sounds, and discover more about the songwriting process itself.  Full lyrics are also included in this delightful music-forward title.

The accompanying CD features 12 original songs that meld styles ranging from bluegrass to Dixieland swing, folk to calypso to Cajun and klezmer.

Featured is Gasoi’s GRAMMY Award winning hit “Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well,” and traveling tunes like “Little Blue Car” and “Goin’ on a Trip,” all of them with a positive message underscored in “Bright Side of Life.” Gasoi hopes that readers will be inspired to “express themselves, tap into their own mastery, and embrace their unique gifts.”

Jennifer Gasoi is a GRAMMY and Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner. She is one of Canada’s most acclaimed children’s performers and recording artists, offering upbeat, intelligent jazz and world beat influenced original music with all-ages appeal. In addition to her frequent sold-out performances throughout Canada, the Vancouver-born singer-songwriter has garnered fans at her concerts in the United States, Brazil, Israel, Singapore, India, the U.K. and Japan. Steve Adams has collaborated with many publications over the years, such as The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and The Globe & Mail. He has also illustrated several books for children, including the award-winning picture book “The Boy Who Grew Flowers” (Barefoot Books). Both live in Montreal.

The Secret Mountain, celebrating 15 years of publishing music-forward children’s storybooks, has released popular titles focusing on classical music, including Amazing Water, Listen to the Birds, Simply Fantastic (all three by Ana Gerhard) and Sleep Softly. The extensive catalogue of award-winning storybook-music CD titles for children includes It’s Raining Cats and Dogs, Songs from the Baobob (African Lullabies), Dreams Are Made for Children (Classic Jazz Lullabies), A Duck in New York City by singer-songwriter Connie Kaldor and Tomorrow is a Chance To Start Over (Hilary Grist). The publishing house also has an impressive enhanced ebook list.

BLUE AND RED MAKE PURPLE by Jennifer Gasoi; illustrations by Steve Adams / Children’s Picture Book with Music CD (12 tracks, 34 minutes) / Hardcover, 44 pages, 8″ x 8 / Ages 5 to 8 / ISBN: 978-2-924217-79-5 / $22.95 CDN / Distributed by Independent Publishers Group represented in Canada by The Manda Group

Review Copies and Media Enquiries

Ruth JosephThe Secret Mountain logo
Tel: 514.804.4379
ruth@thesecretmountain.com
http://www.thesecretmountain.com

 

Waiting For John / An Ode To The Century Past / Imagine by Boris Glikman

The Dakota NYCWell, I finally made it to the city that never sleeps.  Of course the very first place I go to is The Dakota. I spent so many years reading about it, picturing it in my mind, dreaming about visiting it and now I am actually standing right outside its famous wrought-iron gates!

It is October the 9th, 2009. I have specifically timed my very first visit to New York City to coincide with his birthday. Surely he must come out and acknowledge his fans on a day like this, accept their greetings, perhaps even blow out the candles on the cakes some of his admirers will undoubtedly bring along.

Within five minutes of arriving at The Dakota—and what a thrill it is to see it for the very first time—Yoko walks right past me. Strangely, she carries no presents in her hands and looks rather melancholy on this joyous occasion. No, not just melancholy, more than that, she looks completely disconsolate and deflated, shrunken almost, as if some vital part of her has been amputated. But surely, once she walks into their apartment on the 9th floor, his famous wit will cheer her up and his cheeky smile will make her smile, too.

Meantime, I will stand here and wait for him to come out. I have flown across oceans to see him and see him I definitely will, despite those ugly rumours I overheard some time ago about something horrifying that apparently befell him a while back. What nonsense! Crazy things like that just don’t take place in our world. Surely fate would take extra-special care of such a man to ensure nothing bad happened to the creator of such sublime and immortal beauty. Why, I am certain he is half-lying, half-sitting on his bed right now, as I’ve seen him do in photos, picking notes on his guitar and creating more sonic jewels of ineffable wonder.

And so I will stand here and wait for him to come out, till nightfall if necessary, for I have to prove to myself that he is in fact a real person and not just an idealised construct created by mankind to satisfy its insatiable need for heroes. For it is almost impossible to believe so many timeless masterpieces could inexhaustibly flow out of one man. What if he is just an archetypal symbol of our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations for a utopian existence and so all my waiting is in vain? But no, that can’t be!

And so I will stand here and wait for him to come out, till nightfall if necessary, to wish him a happy birthday and to press into his hands some of my own poems and stories, so that he can see for himself that we both share the same ideals and beliefs.

And I will grab the opportunity to tell him how much his music has meant to me over the years, how his music gave me the inspiration and the courage to reach for peaks in my own creative endeavours, how music for me is the loftiest form of art and the most sublime means of expression. Alas, not being gifted with having celestial sounds divine arising and frolicking in my mind, I instead am constrained to convey my inner being through lame, unwieldy, coarse lumps of words.

I will let him know how I have tried to continue his mission of spreading hope and light around the world through my own writings, my own actions, my own conduct and interactions with people, for even one small candle can destroy the infinite darkness of the entire night.

Until then, I will wait, for I know if I wait long enough, he will come. He just has to come, for New York City is the place where everything is achievable, the place where impossible, ineffable dreams come true. And so if I just close my eyes and wish hard enough, surely he must appear!

“Waiting for John” comes from a series of pieces written by Boris Glikman titled “Impressions of America” after he visited the USA. This series takes a surreal and unusual look at America. Read more about Boris’ adventures here.

AN ODE TO THE CENTURY PAST

That was the age of despair, disrepair
of the damned and the condemned
but this is now, the New Utopia.

That was the time when we killed off our muses,
throwing their remains to the ravenous dogs;
our innocence disembowelled,
our hopes quartered
with five hollow-point bullets
on that cold December night. 

When six million replaced six-six-six
as the accursed number of all eternity and
six million nameless faces,
six million faceless names
were extinguished for that greatest crime of all –
Existence.

But this is now, the Neo-Utopia.

That was the age of despair, disrepair
when raven-black sun
threw rays of shadow upon the Earth
and giant bullfrogs ate pygmy antelope
bones, hooves and all.

But still we fought on, hoping for meaning to appear.
Yet when it arrived, it was only in our dreams,
dissipating the moment we awoke
and grabbed at its gossamer threads
with our crude, clumsy hands.

And this is now, the Last Utopia.

Imagine by Michael Cheval

“Imagine” by Michael Cheval


Imagine

When the city that never sleeps finally retires to bed, exhausted by its own exuberance and hyperactivity, then and only then does John appear at the memorial dedicated to him in Central Park.

Betrayed and forsaken by God, Fate and Mankind on that cold December night, John now performs for no one but himself, singing softly the sonic jewels of wonder he has composed posthumously, and still believing, despite everything that had happened, love is all you need.

He wears a hat made out of a mincer which is filled not with dead meat but with living strawberries, his favourite fruit, and his piano is a zebra-girl hybrid who died young, at the very same instant John passed into eternity.

If all this seems to be quite bizarre and beyond belief, one must remember this is New York City after all, a place where impossible and ineffable dreams do come true, if only one imagines them hard enough.

@Boris Glikman

Sneak Preview: Tomorrow is a Chance To Start Over Bedtime Story and Dream Songs by Hilary Grist

Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over by Hilary GristEscape from the city on a musical dreamboat

AVAILABLE ON JUNE 2, 2015

Adding to their growing catalog of Parents’ Choice Award-winning storybooks with CDs for children, The Secret Mountain will release Tomorrow Is a Chance To Start Over on June 2.

Hilary Grist wrote the story, created the clay characters and performs her original songs, to offer a soothing, restful experience for the whole family to enjoy together. Her smooth rhythmic text and stunning artwork cast in a soft light between sleep and waking, make for a perfect summertime treat, wafting listeners into a reposeful musical world reminiscent of Norah Jones and Feist.                         

The story is about Ira and Isabelle, two siblings living in a little red house by the sea, who decide one night to escape the sound of the city’s beeping cars and sail off to a faraway land. On their journey, they learn from a newly-made friend, a robin with a soft voice, that dreams really can come true. In addition to the narrated story, the CD offers nine heartwarming dream songs followed by an ethereal rendition of Johanne Brahms‘ classic “Cradle Song.”

The best part is that on Saturday, June 6th at 2:00 pm, Vancouver’s Book Warehouse (4118 Main Street) will host the launch of this new release, just in time for summer! In the area? Then here’s the chance to bring the kids out for a musical afternoon of live storytelling and songs. Hilary will be performing some featured selections from this new release.

CD Track Listing
1. Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over (Narration)
2. Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over
3. Fall in my Loving Arms
4. Swallow Me Up
5. Float Away
6. Le petit oiseau
7. Say Goodnight
8. City of Green and Blue
9. I’ll Be There
10. Still
11. Cradle Song

Hilary Grist is a singer-songwriter from Vancouver, notable for her song placements that have been part of nine major television shows. Not only is she a talented musician, but also a gifted visual artist who (with her creative team including her producer and husband, Mike Southworth) created the 3D clay characters shown on the book’s cover. As well, Grist has built an international following from tours across Japan, South Korea and North America. She is a graduate of the Capilano University Jazz Studies program in North Hilary GristVancouver. Her influences are as diverse as Ella Fitzgerald, and Tom Waits, along with Debussy. Accordingly, her songwriting and performance style incorporates elements of jazz, folk, pop, and classical. Grist has performed in many Canadian festivals including the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and North by Northeast. Grist recently released her fifth studio album entitled Come and Go.

The Secret Mountain is a Montreal-based publisher of beautifully produced children’s books and music from around the world, in French and English. Several of their titles, including Songs from the Baobab, A Duck in New York City, and Listen to the Birds, have won international acclaim and Parents’ Choice Gold Awards.

PRESS CONTACT
Ruth Joseph
Tel: 514.804.4379
ruth@thesecretmountain.com 

www.thesecretmountain.com

Coming Soon From The Secret Mountain: Sleep Softly: Classical Lullabies by Brahms, Schubert, Satie, Debussy…

NEW! FROM THE SECRET MOUNTAIN – AVAILABLE ON MAY 1, 2015

Sleep Softly:  Classical Lullabies by Brahms, Schubert, Satie, DebussyThe latest picture book and classical music CD in the award-winning and internationally acclaimed series, created for babies, but for the whole family to enjoy!

Sleep Softly:  Classical Lullabies by Brahms, Schubert, Satie, Debussy…

Performed by Ensemble Agora; Illustrations by Élodie Nouhen

Soothing and entrancing melodies from beloved composers are collected in this newest addition to The Secret Mountain’s acclaimed book-and-CD series. The hardbound book features whimsical, dream-like illustrations by Élodie Nouhen and brief explanatory notes describing how the song was composed and how it was arranged for this recording. The accompanying CD, recorded in France with the acclaimed wind and harp quintet Ensemble Agora, features 16 soft and sweet masterpieces that will send everyone in the family—including the crying infant—off to dreamland.

The gently rocking rhythm of Offenbach’s “Barcarolle” launches listeners into the magical world of Venetian gondoliers, and other familiar pieces, including Schumann’s “Of Foreign Lands” and Satie’s “Gymnopédie,” convey a sense of timeless voyage through cadence and instrumentation.  Fauré’s famous melody, “Après un rêve” demonstrates the power of melody and harmony to create an otherworldly experience.  The most famous track of all was composed in 1868 by Johannes Brahms: “Wiegenlied,” better known in the English speaking world simply as the lullaby song. The final piece, “Brezairola,” is a traditional song which French musician Joseph Canteloube arranged in the 1920s; this recording strips the melody to its essence, adding the drone of a bassoon in the background. The result is a relaxing 34 minutes of sound and visuals for all ages to enjoy together.

In 2014, The Secret Mountain, publisher of beautifully produced children’s books and music from around the world, released the Parents’ Choice Gold Award winning storybook-music CD Simply Fantastic: An Introduction to Classical Music. The first title from that collection, Listen to the Birds, also won international awards and acclaim the previous year.

SLEEP SOFTLY – CLASSICAL LULLABIES BY BRAHMS, SCHUBERT, SATIE, DEBUSSY… / PERFORMED BY ENSEMBLE AGORA / ILLUSTRATIONS BY ÉLODIE NOUHEN / CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK WITH MUSIC CD (DURATION: 34 MINUTES) / HARDCOVER, 36 PAGES, 8” X 8″ / AGES : BIRTH – 3 / ISBN: 978-2-924217-24-5 /$ 22.95 CDN /  DISTRIBUTED BY INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS GROUP REPRESENTED IN CANADA BY THE MANDA GROUP

Sleep Softly:  Classical Lullabies by Brahms, Schubert, Satie, Debussy…