Sherlock Holmes FAQ

On January 19th, PBS aired the long-awaited first episode of BBC’s Sherlock, season 3. Sherlock’s triumphant return to television (and Baker Street) did not disappoint. Before the last episode this Sunday, enjoy a bit of the Introduction from Dave Thompson’s upcoming book, Sherlock Holmes FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Greatest Private Detective

There are probably as many books about Sherlock Holmes as there are words in all of the stories. Or at least different words.

That may be an exaggeration, but only marginally. There is no single character in western fiction who has inspired more authors to write about him than Sherlock Holmes, with even James Bond and Doctor Who—the two that come closest—lagging far, far behind in terms of simple shelf filling. A complete Sherlock Holmes bibliography could fill a small library, a vision that is made all the more remarkable when one considers that the original stories that inspired this phenomenal outpouring would take up barely six inches of shelf space.

Just four novels and fifty-six short stories constitute the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes. To this there can be added a dozen or so other writings by Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, whose inclusion in, or exclusion from, “the canon” (as the primary series of tales is known) has fired a debate that might never end. But they would add no more than another inch of published paper, tucked away in a room that is already stuffed with so many other books that it would take a lifetime to read them all. “Never,” one might say, “has so little given birth to so much.”

Neither does this outpouring look like it is ending. The massive success of Sherlock, the BBC’s twenty-first-century reimagining of Holmes has inspired a whole new generation of writers and researchers to immerse themselves in the world of Holmes, and an older one to reacquaint themselves. Indeed, one of the most popular fiction serials of the modern age, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast, closed 2013 with the publication of White Fire, a thoroughly modern detective tale rooted in a near century-old Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Sherlock’s triumph, however, transcends all of these—that triumph itself being defined not by viewing figures (which themselves are massive) or popularity (ditto), but by the skill with which we are invited to enter a world in which the “real” Sherlock Holmes, the classic Holmes whom we have spent the past century-plus enjoying, never existed. Until today.

The original Holmes was a child of his times, the last years of the Victorian era and the first of the twentieth century. The modern Holmes is likewise a child of his times, the first decades of the twenty-first century. That is, more than one hundred years after Conan Doyle’s original stalked the streets, the intervening century has shaped the modern Holmes just as thoroughly as the prototype was shaped by the years that preceded him. Culture creates the heroes it requires. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes fit his era like a glove. British writers and TV creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s is equally well proportioned.

Conan Doyle’s Holmes studied newspapers and magazines. The modern one harnesses the Internet. The original Holmes was addicted to opium. His successor is addicted to nicotine. The original was partnered by an army doctor, John Watson, recently returned from what was then Britain’s most recent war, far away in Afghanistan. Today’s Holmes is partnered by a man of the same cut and same name, fresh from what is still Britain’s most recent war . . . far away in Afghanistan.

Parallel after parallel pile up, but the fact is, the modern television Holmes is as unique a televisual character as the original was a unique literary creation. The fact that they share the same DNA, investigate the same mysteries, and sometimes speak the same lines binds them, of course. But it also defines their individuality. Were they ever to meet face to face, the nineteenth-century Holmes and his twenty-first-century doppelgänger, they probably wouldn’t even say hello.

Sherlock Holmes FAQ

The Sherlock Holmes FAQ is a one-stop guide to over a century’s worth of mystery, mayhem, and most of all, deduction. Digging deep inside the manifold worlds of Sherlock Holmes, the FAQ is a dramatic and detailed digest of the Baker Street sleuth in all of his many guises, as TV and radio star, movie phenomenon, and, of course, literary giant.

Chapters investigate his predecessors and his successors, and discuss the influence that Holmes has had not only on other writers, but on real-life police procedures as well. The London that he perambulated in deerstalker and cloak is laid bare, plus the life and other fascinations of Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are mapped out in all their foggy, darkened atmosphere.

We meet giant hounds and fearful foes, common crooks and misdirected souls. Ghosts appear in these pages, and vampires, too – and more puzzles, conundrums, and mysteries than any mortal detective could ever hope to solve. But Holmes, as we shall see, was no mere mortal. And Sherlock Holmes FAQ is the story of his immortality.

The Doctor’s 50th Anniversary

Long live the Doctor! November 23rd will mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic series Doctor Who. Let us remember past and present incarnations with the BBC’s trailer for “The Day of the Doctor,” as well as an excerpt from Dave Thompson’s Doctor Who FAQ.

On October 29, 1966, two stories and eight weeks into the series’ fourth season, Doctor Who changed forever.

For the past month, viewers had watched agog as the Doctor, played as always by the curmudgeonly lovable William Hartnell and supported by his latest companions Ben and Polly, did battle with a new, terrifying foe, looming metallic humanoids called the Cybermen.

The Tenth Planet gripped from start to finish. The TARDIS had materialized at space tracking station Snowcap Base, deep inside the Antarctic, in the then-impossibly distant-sounding year of 1986. There they discovered all was chaos as the base tracked the course of a shocking new arrival in our solar system, an unknown planet. It was Mondas, a world that was once Earth’s twin but had drifted into the outer reaches of space millennia ago. Now it had returned, weakened and dying. But not for long.

Like some vast globular vampire, Mondas was draining energy from the Earth, rejuvenating itself with the stolen power, and the Cybermen, the cybernetic denizens of the rogue planet, were already on Earth, paving the way for a full-scale invasion. For the Doctor and his companions, the race was not simply to defeat the invaders, but also to eliminate the reason for their invasion. Mondas had to be destroyed.

It took the last of the Doctor’s strength and energy to accomplish the task. The strain was enormous; too enormous. As the three travelers made their way back into the TARDIS, victorious, the Doctor paused and collapsed. Then, with no warning whatsoever, with no precedent on which to base the events that were about to unfold, we witnessed for the first time the ultimate miracle of the Doctor’s own civilization. The regeneration of a Time Lord.

Before the shocked and astonished eyes not only of his friends, but also the nearly seven million viewers tuned into BBC1 that evening, he began to change. His clothes, his face, his entire being. Doctor Who literally became Doctor Who?

It still seems remarkable that an alien menace making its debut on the show should succeed where the older, and far more formidable, Daleks failed. But the Cybermen did it. The Doctor was dead. Long live the Doctor.

More than four decades after that momentous occasion, the idea that the Doctor regenerates into a new body as soon as his old one reaches the end of its life cycle is so deeply ingrained within the show’s mythology that even newcomers to the series think nothing of watching, and accepting, his past personalities.

Blithely, we refer to the different Doctors by number, the First Doctor, the Second, the Fifth, and so forth. At the time of writing, we are in the reign of the Eleventh. And while legend (and the occasional on-screen comment) has suggested that Time Lords do have a finite (twelve) number of regenerations, it is merely legend. The Doctor, and therefore the show, could go on indefinitely.

No more or less than the companions who have traveled alongside him, the different Doctors certainly are not interchangeable, but neither are they utterly unique. Each has brought his own personality to the part, each has borne his own idiosyncrasies, and each has both his good points and his bad. But all remain the Doctor.

Doctor Who FAQ

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.

From the Doctor’s most impressive alien foes and the companions who have fought alongside him to unimagined planets and unexpected points in history, from some of the greatest minds ever to have walked the Earth, to the most evil beings ever to haunt the universe, it’s all covered here, including the Tardis, the none-too-reliable “bigger on the inside than the out” blue box in which the Doctor travels.

Lou Reed Tribute

Lou Reed will be missed. In honor of this amazing musician, below is an excerpt from Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hellby Dave Thompson.

It’s 1975 and Lou Reed is a star. The Velvet Underground, the New York band he powered through four years of obscurity, is a legend. “Walk on the Wild Side,” his solo hit from two years back, is an AM radio staple and will one day help sell Suzuki motorcycles. His last album made the Top 10 and now his record label is on the phone, demanding a follow-up.

“Okay,” says Lou. “I can do that.”

He rummages around for a cassette player. “I’ve got something here I wanted to do way back when. I had to wait a while to get the equipment, but now I’ve got it and it’s done.” He depresses the play button. “It’s a double album. Wanna hear it?”

The record company man can scarcely control his excitement. “Are you kidding? Hey, c’mon, Lou, baby, let me have it.”

At the other end of the line, Lou smiles. “Okay.”

 For a moment, silence. Then it begins. ZZZZZZZRRRRRRRRRRRRRE EEEEEEEEEGGGGGGGRRRRRRAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRZZZ ZBBBBBBBBBB.

By the time Lou’s ready for side two, the line’s dead. By the time he reaches side three, so is his commercial potential. A lot of lines went dead when Metal Machine Music was released. A lot of loyalties, too. Four sides of eardrum-shattering feedback. Lou could rabbit on forever about it being the ultimate guitar solo . . . tell folks that if they listened hard enough they’d hear all sorts of little tunes dancing around in there . . . he could even say they should be grateful he released it in the first place.

But the fact is, Metal Machine Music HURT. And not in a wimpy “Oh my God, that’s so awful that it’s painful” way, or “If you don’t turn off the fucking Doobie Brothers, I’m going to rip my tongue out.”

It hurt in an “Oh shit, I think my brain just exploded” way. Most people returned their copy before they got to the end of side one. Others got to side four, and then they returned it. “It’s the only recorded work I know of seriously done as well as possible as a gift, if one could call it that, from a part of a certain head to a few others,” Reed’s liner notes mused politely. “Most of you won’t like this, and I don’t blame you at all.”

He first started thinking about Metal Machine Music, he claimed, “as far back as when John [Cale] used to work with La Monte Young. I had also been listening to Xenakis a lot. You know the drone thing? It took a long, long time. It’s way more complex than people realize, but that’s all right.” Originally he made the tape for his own amusement alone. “I wasn’t going to put it out, I made it for myself. John and I were always making tapes; we made sound tracks for underground movies of the time.”

But then he changed his mind.

“There are some frequencies on there that are dangerous. What I’m talking about is like in France, they have a sound gun. It’s a weapon. It puts out frequencies that kill people. They’ve had this weapon since 1945. Maybe that’s why they play such bad rock ’n’ roll.”

Metal Machine Music, on the other hand, had nothing whatsoever to do with rock ’n’ roll, bad or otherwise. It simply was, and in years to come, some remarkably intelligent critics would come up with some remarkably asinine “excuses” for its presence in Reed’s back catalog, four sides of extravagantly, exquisitely packaged vinyl, with a cover pic that looked so close to an extension of Rock ’n’ Roll Animal that even Reed smiled, “It looked like a live rock ’n’ roll album.”

But he wasn’t going to apologize to anybody who fell for it. “Nobody has ever been able to put their finger on me, because I’m not really here,” Reed cautioned shortly before the album’s release. “At least not the way they think I am. It’s all in their heads. What I’m into is mindlessness. I just empty myself out, so what people see is just a projection of their own needs. I don’t do or say anything.” Metal Machine Music epitomized those words.

“Just because some kid paid $7.98 for it,” he said the following year, “I don’t care if they paid $59.98 or $75 for it, they should be grateful I put the fucking thing out and, if they don’t like it, they should go eat rat- shit.” And two years later: “I don’t like any of my albums except Metal Machine Music. Why? Because they’re not Metal Machine Music.”

Such sentiments made little difference, of course, to a marketplace that was simply staring in aghast disbelief at Reed’s offering. Rolling Stone described Metal Machine Music as “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator,” and that was one of the more complimentary reviews. Lester Bangs was simply grateful to discover that his pet hermit crab, Spud, enjoyed dancing to it.

First-ever look at the intertwining, outrageous lives of three rock legends.

When Lou Reed and Iggy Pop first met David Bowie in the fall of 1971, Bowie was just another English musician passing through New York City. Lou was still recovering from the collapse of the Velvet Underground, and Iggy had already been branded a loser… Yet within two years they completely changed the face of popular music with a decadent glamour and street-level vibe. With Bowie producing, Reed’s Transformer album was a worldwide hit, spinning off the sleazy street anthem “Walk on the Wild Side.” Iggy’s Raw Power, mixed by Bowie, provided the mean-spirited, high-octane blueprint for Punk. Bowie boosted elements from both Iggy and Reed to create his gender-bending rock idol Ziggy Stardust.

Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell is the story of this friendship and the incredible productivity and debauchery that emerged from it. Presented here for the very first time are their stories interwoven in a triple helix of sexuality, glam rock, and drugs – as seen through the eyes of the people who made it happen.

Learning to Fly

The following is an excerpt of Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall by Dave Thompson, as it’s posted on Total Music magazine. Visit their site for the full excerpt.

The Wall was Roger Waters’s first solo album.

He never told the band, such as it was, because there were times when it felt as though there wasn’t really a band left to tell. Pink Floyd’s last tour, shipping Animals across Europe and the United States, had ended fractiously to say the least, with a final night in Montreal, Canada, that saw guitarist David Gilmour absent the stage before the encore, keyboard player Richard Wright admit that the album was decidedly not one of his favorites, and drummer Nick Mason effectively sidelined from any part in the decision-making process whatsoever.

Waters himself was utterly conflicted, on the one side relishing the lifestyle that Pink Floyd’s success allowed him to live so lavishly, but on the other hand resenting the compromises that the success demanded from him—the kowtowing to the industry, to the expectations of the audience, and to his audience itself.

Maybe he regretted the flash point that had already become a legend of sorts, when he spat full in the face of one especially enthusiastic fan on that final night of the tour. But not as much as he regretted the accumulation of all the personal triggers that provoked him to do such a thing in the first place.

Neither did his bandmates seem at all put out by the absence of Pink Floyd from their lives. Gilmour and Wright were both working on and promoting solo albums that presumably allowed them to exorcise whatever musical demons had been caged by Waters’s increasingly firm hand on the Floydian tiller, and Mason was off producing the latest LP by Steve Hillage, Green, not to mention the second album by the Damned, one of the more ambitious bands hawked up by the British punk rock movement. Rumor insisted that the punks had actually asked their record label to procure them the services of Syd Barrett, Floyd’s long-since-absent founder-member. He was unavailable, so they were offered Mason instead.

Keep reading this excerpt on Total Music magazine’s website!

Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall is the first full biography of the author of The Dark Side of the MoonWish You Were Here, and, of course, The Wall. It traces his life from war-torn suburbia to the multitude of wars he has fought since then – with his bandmates, with his audience, and most of all with himself. Packed with insight and exclusive interviews with friends and associates, Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall dismantles the wall brick by brick, revealing the man who built it in all his glory.

Bela Lugosi’s Birthday

Today is Bela Lugosi’s birthday! To celebrate the most legendary Dracula of all time, enjoy an excerpt from If You Like True Blood… by Dave Thompson.

DRACULA (1931)

Bela Lugosi may not always be viewed as the greatest cinema vampire of all time, and he certainly wasn’t the most attractive. But few of the actors and actresses who have portrayed a vampiric role, particularly among those who have taken on the best-known of them all (go on, guess), have ever seen themselves as anything but one more soul following in the footsteps of the most legendary of them all.

Bela Blasko was born on October 20, 1882, in the Hungarian town of Lugos. His stage name was thus a variation on his hometown, adopted following his arrival in America in 1921, by which time he had already made a string of movies in both Hungary and Germany.

Close to forty years of age, his impact on his adopted homeland was negligible. He made his Hollywood debut in 1923’s The Silent Command, but the talkies seemed set to murder him. His meagre command of the English language saw him confined to mere bit parts, and even there he struggled. Any lines he was given, he learned phonetically, but worse was to come.

Having been hired to direct a drama, The Right to Dream, Lugosi was fired when it became embarrassingly obvious that he was incapable of even communicating with his cast. He sued for wrongful dismissal, but the court could make no more sense of his complaint than the actors could of his direction. He lost the case and was forced to auction off his own possessions to pay the legal fees. Undeterred by such catastrophes, Lugosi remained on the fringes of the acting world, and in 1927, he was finally offered a role in which his heavily accented, beguilingly faltering English would play to his advantage, the title role in the Broadway adaptation of the smash hit London stage show Dracula. Appearing alongside Herbert Bunston (Dr. Seward), Bernard Jukes (Renfield), Dorothy Peterson (Lucy), and Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing), Lugosi was an immediate sensation. He remained in the role for three years, then returned to Hollywood in triumph to repeat the feat on film.

Dracula was a new sensation for Americans. We have already seen how, a decade previously, Hungarian director Károly Lajthay had adapted Dracula for a moving picture. Tragically, his Drakula is long lost, but its success can be gauged from the fact that just a few months elapsed before Friedrich Murnau recast the story as Nosferatu, while the London play (the first, incidentally, ever to win the approval of the Stoker estate) had been running since 1924. Now, finally, Broadway was thrilling to the vampire’s embrace, and when Dracula became one of the most successful stage plays of the era, Hollywood too was ready to succumb to the same savage seduction.

Universal Studios, the movie’s backers; and Tod Browning, the director, originally had no intention whatsoever of casting Bela Lugosi in the movie role, much preferring Lon Chaney Jr. He, however, was battling cancer at the time and was too ill to work. Other possibilities fell through. Finally, Lugosi was the only name left in the frame. He became Dracula—in every sense of the phrase.

It is impossible today to recapture the sheer power of Dracula. Again, vampire movies were new to American eyes and ears—had Nosferatu even been shown in this country before it was so rudely crucified? No, it hadn’t. Dracula, however, rode the renown of the stage show to the top of the box office, then rode its own moody atmosphere and unparalleled scenes of horror and ugliness even further. Overnight, Lugosi was reinvented from a litigious mumbler who once had an affair with Clara Bow to the hottest property in Hollywood, an international star who suddenly found he could take—or turn down—any role he chose.

It was a freedom in which he revelled to the full, although not necessarily to his own advantage. Among the subsequent movie offerings that he was offered, but rejected, was the title role in director James Whale’s forthcoming Frankenstein, turning it down in favor of a role in another European masterpiece, a remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, titled for its main character, Quasimodo.

Unfortunately, while Frankenstein rocketed to peaks approaching Dracula’s own, Quasimodo was never made, and Lugosi—who had seen that role as essential to proving he was more than a simple stereotype monster—would never really recover. Although he remained constantly in demand, he was indeed stereotyped—if not as Dracula, then at least as a mysteriously sinister Eastern European—and few of the movies he made throughout the remainder of his career ever allowed him to break out of that cliché. By 1948, Lugosi was reduced to caricaturing his finest moment in the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, a depth that apparently horrified him so much that he would not return to the screen for another four years.

Lugosi’s genius, albeit one that led directly to his downfall, was that he was so eminently believable. No matter that the count, as played by the Hungarian, was subsequently to become punishingly parodied, not only by Lugosi himself, but by countless other would-be bloodsuckers too. Throughout the 1930s, when a nervously isolationist America was spotting fresh foes under every bed, Lugosi’s Dracula was flesh-eater made flesh. From the moment he first materializes in Dracula to that in which he is vanquished at the end, Lugosi not only overcomes any incredulity that his own audience might have felt toward the entire concept of Transylvanian bloodsuckers, but he also vanquishes that of any modern viewer. He was, quite simply, too damned brilliant for his own good.

Tiring of his exile, and with his bank account again in cobwebbed tatters, Lugosi resurfaced in 1952, finally forced to accept his fate by an appetite for drugs that demanded he take all the employment he was offered. And if the only work he could get was as a parody of himself, then he would be the greatest parody of them all. His every subsequent public appearance would find him clad in full costume, while the films he now made were purposefully calculated to play on his reputation: Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, My Son the Vampire, Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, and a pair of films with the eccentric Ed Wood, Glen or Glenda? and Bride of the Monster.

All kept the wolf from the door, but they weren’t enough. In 1955, Lugosi voluntarily committed himself in the hope of shaking off his dope habit. He succeeded, but at a dreadful cost. Having shot just a handful of scenes for another Wood spectacular, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Lugosi was felled by a massive heart attack. On August 15, 1956, the world learned that Bela Lugosi, as the song later reminded us, was dead.

If You Like True Blood…

If You Like True Blood… is a popular history of vampires in classical and popular culture, by an author who has been reading and watching such things since high school, and who seriously believes The Hunger is one of the best things David Bowie has ever done.

With chapters embracing silent movies and modern erotica, mist-shrouded myth, and gothic rock, If You Like True Blood… transports the reader from the moss-drenched wilds of Louisiana to the mountain haunts of Transylvania, via introductions to some of history and literature’s most accomplished bloodsuckers. More than 200 new-to-you stories, movies, adventures, and eccentricities are staked out in the sunlight. Exclusive interview material stirs fresh plasma into the pot, and selections from the author’s own collection of vampirabilia are among the many illustrations.

Anne Rice, Peter Cushing, Sookie Stackhouse, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Marvel Comics, Bram Stoker’s Dracula-all flit not-so-silently through these pages; Vlad the Impaler, the Countess Bathory, Mina Harker, and Roman Polanski. too. In addition, authoritative appendices offer up a guide to best movie, TV, and literary vampires out there. If You Like True Blood… may not grant you eternal life, but it knows plenty of people who can.

Q & A with Dave Thompson

Dave Thompson

Dave Thompson


Dave Thompson
, author of Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall chats with Houston Press’ Bob Ruggiero. The following is a snippet of that interview. Please go to their site for the whole Q&A.

What made you decide to tackle a Roger Waters bio?

Mainly, the fact that there has never been one — and because his solo career (which has now lasted twice as long as the Floyd did) deserved it.

Of course it’s been mentioned in books about the band itself, but the waters are always muddied by the other band members’ presence (if you’ll excuse the pun). By concentrating the book on Waters alone, it gives the reader an unimpeded view of what has actually been a single, solid career arc.

To you, what is the lasting appeal — both musically and narratively — ofThe Wall to make it still so popular enough for Roger to do two world tours of it?

I really don’t have a clue; I’ve never liked it! But in simple terms, it was created as “an event,” it was staged as “an event,” and people like events. It’s a lot like when a classic movie or stage show is revived; people go along so they can say they were there.

There is more to it than that; The Wall does have an underlying message that a lot of people either agree with, or have placed their own interpretations upon. It’s almost become a political manifesto for the underdog, and there’s a lot of people who need that. Personally, I’d prefer him to be touring new music, but…well, that gives us something to look forward to.

Keep reading this interview on Houston Press’ website!

 

Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall is the first full biography of the author of The Dark Side of the MoonWish You Were Here, and, of course, The Wall. It traces his life from war-torn suburbia to the multitude of wars he has fought since then – with his bandmates, with his audience, and most of all with himself. Packed with insight and exclusive interviews with friends and associates, Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall dismantles the wall brick by brick, revealing the man who built it in all his glory.

Happy Birthday, Roger Waters!

Guest Blogger: An interview with Dave Thompson, author of Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall. Read on for some very informed opinions on Pink Floyd for Roger Waters’ 60th birthday, continued on Thompson’s blog

Now Thompson brings us Roger Waters: The Man Behind The Wall, and if you think it’s going to unspool as just one more book about Pink Floyd, think again….  Once past the opening couple of chapters, they scarcely even get mentioned again until halfway through the book. 

Q: You open the book with the making of The Wall, which I’m sure will confuse some people.  Tell us why you did that.

A: I wanted to get it out of the way.  Bloody thing.  I really didn’t like it when it came out and I’ve not really changed my mind since then.  I actually preferred The Final Cut when it came out  But it’s also the lead-in to the solo career, because it almost was his first solo album.  When it came time for Floyd to make a new album, Waters gave them two concepts, The Wall and The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.  And they chose Pros and Cons.  They changed their minds a few weeks later, but that’s how close it came.

Also because too many books, and my own are among them, are obsessed with the music that an artist made first, charting the day-to-day doings of the sixties and seventies, then treating the rest of the career as an afterthought.  Which runs the risk of encourages readers to do the same thing.

Q: Well, for many acts, it is.   

A: Okay, that’s true.  Not many people would argue that Paul McCartney’s post-Wings career is anywhere near as enthralling as his days with the Beatles.  Or that Bowie in the Eighties and beyond tells a more intriguing story than the decade that preceded them.  A Rolling Stones book that analyzed the years since Undercover would be an even bigger drag than getting old.  There’s a reason why Keith Richards’ autobiography spends more time on his favorite recipes, than documenting the creative process of the 2000s.

Q: So how is Roger Waters different?  

A: Because… okay, he’s scarcely been prolific, but the music he’s made since he left Floyd has been a master class in maintaining both relevance and opinion, without once sidelining any of the reasons we consider those qualities to be of interest.  Again going back to why The Wall is important, in a lot of ways it was a sketchbook for concepts and imagery that he would return to and… it’s kind of like a demo for everything he would write about in the future.  Plus, if we go back to the 1980s, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking and Radio K.A.O.S. were, and remain, the finest efforts released by any so-called veteran mainstream artist that whole dismal decade long.

Q: Tell us about the first time you heard Pink Floyd.

A: It was fall 1973, newly returned from the school summer holidays. One of my classmates was raving about an album he’d discovered while we were away. It was called The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, and he was so mortified by my lack of interest that he insisted on playing the whole thing there and then.

Q: You weren’t impressed?

A: I was thirteen and I was into Glam Rock.  Bowie, Bolan, Slade… wham bam thank you slam.  Pink Floyd?  Horrible, hairy… not one of them knew one end of a tube of lipgloss from the other, and listening to their endless album, I didn’t believe they had time for me.  I remember suffering through the interminable “Us and Them,” and feeling it suck all the joy from the room.  “Money” was a dour disco plod at a time when “disco” translated into anything that might make people feel like doing anything so uncool as dancing and, by the time the stylus hit “Brain Damage,” I was so dispirited that I condemned it as a pompous rewrite of David Bowie’s “Laughing Gnome,” and left the room.

Q: At which point, Bowie himself made you change your mind

A: Yeah.  The rat.  Bowie was the bee’s knees at that time.  He was really only two albums into his reign of stardom, but he was already more than a simple pop star.  He was also an arbiter of taste and, in the fifteen months since “Starman” set the children boogie-ing (in an age when fifteen months actually meant something, and wasn’t simply a moment in time that flashed by in ten minutes), he’d already bent my ears towards a wealth of music that I knew I’d be listening to for years to come.   Jacques Brel, Iggy, Lou Reed and the Velvets… Bowie had never let me down, which is all a very convoluted way of introducing my next exposure to Pink Floyd, courtesy of the album he delivered just a few weeks after my encounter with Dark Side Of The Moon.

Keep reading here!

Roger Waters: The Man Behind The Wall

To some, he is the face behind classic Pink Floyd. To others, he is the temperament behind some of the greatest albums of the rock era. And to others still, he is one of the most original songwriters of a generation that overflows with notable talent. To all, he is an enigma: a rock star who not only eschewed stardom but also spent much of his career railing against it. But to call Roger Waters a mass of contradictions is simply taking the easy way out. He is so much more than that.

Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall is the first full biography of the author of The Dark Side of the MoonWish You Were Here, and, of course, The Wall. It traces his life from war-torn suburbia to the multitude of wars he has fought since then – with his bandmates, with his audience, and most of all with himself. Packed with insight and exclusive interviews with friends and associates, Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall dismantles the wall brick by brick, revealing the man who built it in all his glory.

Happy Birthday, Sylvester McCoy!

Sylvester McCoy, otherwise known as the Seventh Doctor, is 70 years old today. Enjoy an excerpt from Doctor Who FAQ, written by Dave Thompson.

The Seventh Doctor—Sylvester McCoy (born August 20, 1943)

All rolling “r”s and mischievous smiles, physically the Seventh Doctor harked back to the Second. But emotionally, he reawakened memories of the First. Cutting to the point of cruelty, and appearing ready and willing to disassociate himself from even his closest friends, the Seventh Doctor was deep.

Even as he wrestled with the disorientation that now traditionally followed a regeneration, he seemed to know a lot more than he let on—particularly when his only foil was Mel, a spoiled brat of a girl whom he inherited from the Sixth Doctor (and truly, that pair deserved one another), and who echoed Adric’s claim to be a mathematical genius, without ever offering up any evidence of the fact.

Rather, if one can imagine a young Margaret Thatcher disguised as Raggedy Ann, that was Mel in a nutshell, and the Seventh Doctor’s dislike for her was evident every time they touched down on a new planet and he allowed her to go off on her own. Just once before (Earthshock, 1982) had one of the Doctor’s regular companions actually died in the course of duty, Adric, remaining onboard a doomed space freighter as it crashed into the Earth 64 million years ago. And the Fifth Doctor at least summoned up a show of dismay in his memory. Had Mel taken a similar exit, one doubts that the Seventh would have proven quite so respectful. Even his farewell remarks, it was later revealed, were secondhand; they were originally written as an audition piece when McCoy tried out for the role.

If the nature of the Seventh Doctor was initially partially shaped by his disdain for his first assistant, however, it was with the arrival of his second, Ace, that he became the most successful and, generally speaking, likable Doctor since the early days of the Fourth in the company of Sarah Jane, or the Third as he adventured with Jo Grant.

A companion, after all, is not simply someone who tags along with the Doctor to ensure that he has someone to explain things to. She or he is also there to allow the television viewer to see the Doctor as something more than an otherworldly alien who is good at saving the world. She (or he) is there to make certain that we love him as much as they do.

The first three Doctors understood this instinctively; the Fourth at least knew it at the outset of his reign. And the Seventh tapped back into that knowledge, at the same time—and this is where his cruelty comes into play—as he played Ace like an unwitting chess piece in a series of adventures that hindsight revealed were purposefully designed to bring out a secret that her own life had somehow buried.

It was a gambit that the Eleventh Doctor would employ in his dealings with the third of the TARDIS’s ill-starred redheads, the fragrant Amy Pond. The difference, however, is that the Seventh Doctor did not feel the need to make his machinations blindingly obvious all the time. Again, he was deep, and a secret entrusted to him would remain a secret for eternity. Whereas the Eleventh would not simply blab it at the first chance he got, he would also try and make a jokey-wokey out of it. “Try” being the operative word.

 

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.

Dave Thompson, an interview

Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Dave Thompson, author of If You Like True Blood…, joins Patrick Phillips on The Patrick Phillips Show to talk about True Blood and vampires!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

With chapters embracing silent movies and modern erotica, mist-shrouded myth, and gothic rock, If You Like True Blood… transports the reader from the moss-drenched wilds of Louisiana to the mountain haunts of Transylvania, via introductions to some of history and literature’s most accomplished bloodsuckers. More than 200 new-to-you stories, movies, adventures, and eccentricities are staked out in the sunlight. Exclusive interview material stirs fresh plasma into the pot, and selections from the author’s own collection of vampirabilia are among the many illustrations.

Happy Birthday, Cat Stevens!

Cat Stevens is 64 years old today. Enjoy an excerpt from Hearts of Darkness: James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and the Unlikely Rise of the Singer-Songwriter by Dave Thompson.

Three decades after its release in fall 1970, Mojo’s Colin Irwin would seize upon Cat Stevens’s fourth album, Tea for the Tillerman, as the consum­mate illustration of the singer’s “search for a spiritual meaning from a mean material world . . . articulat[ing] the confusion felt by many people at that time with songs like ‘Father and Son,’ ‘Where Do the Children Play,’ ‘Hard Headed Woman,’ and ‘Wild World.’”

So had he, Irwin asked, realized what a genre-defining album he was making at the time?

Stevens shook his head. “No. I was just following my heart, and the music was coming out and was being dressed absolutely appropriately with the musicians that I had, and kept very sparse and pure. It was a very purist period of songwriting and recording. I had a feeling there was something special, but I didn’t know how people would take it.”

Discussing his UK audience in that same interview, Stevens confessed, “Some people …weren’t quite sure whether to believe what had happened when I came back. To me it was just as natural as growing the beard. I had simply matured. Other people were saying: ‘What’s going on?’ I think that’s the cynical side of the record business. They couldn’t quite understand it.”

Which, he explained, was why the United States was so important to him. “In America, where they had never really heard me before, they understood immediately. And it happened.”

Stevens’s newly acquired American representative, lawyer Nat Weiss, would be coordinating the tour, with the aid of Peter Asher, with whom he recently set up a management company. Named for the region of London that Asher still thought of as home, but stoically planted across the road from his Los Angeles abode, Marylebone Productions would now be handling both James Taylor and Cat Stevens’s American activities.

Stevens arrived in the United States for the first time in early November 1970. His maiden tour was a short hop that introduced him immediately to the sheer enormity of the country; his U.S. stage debut on November 18, 1970, saw him ambling nervously onto the Fillmore East stage, ahead of the rock band Hammer and labelmates Traffic, to fill that first half hour or so while the audience were finding their seats.

It was a terrifying baptism, preserved for posterity in the words of Rock magazine’s Bud Scoppa. “From the Fillmore East balcony, Cat Stevens and [Alun Davies] looked hopelessly tiny. Just two seated figures holding guitars; no banks of amps, no massed drums, no sparkle suits.”

Scoppa portrayed the concert as a battle of wills; an audience impatient for the headliners, talking over the “funny little songs” that the little men on the big stage were strumming, but then pausing in midsentence as the singer started talking to them, speaking “between songs as if he were in someone’s apartment for the first time—polite, friendly, warm. This kind of intimacy was practically unheard of at the Fillmore, with its reputation for toughness. The kid must be awfully naive. Forty minutes later, this unknown who called himself Cat Stevens had the audience on its feet.”

Hearts of Darkness is the story of a generation’s coming of age through the experiences of its three most atypical pop stars. James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Cat Stevens could never have been considered your typical late-sixties songwriters – self-absorbed and self-composed, all three eschewed the traditional means of delivering their songs, instead turning its process inward. The result was a body of work that stands among the most profoundly personal art ever to translate into an international language, and a sequence of songs – from “Sweet Baby James” and “Carolina in My Mind,” to “Jamaica Say You Will” and “These Days,” to “Peace Train” and “Wild World” – that remain archetypes not only of what the critics called the singer-songwriter movement, but of the human condition itself.