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Welcome to iBrattleboro!
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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013


It seems every Spring I go thru a bio binge. Having just finished the Oliver Reed bio I'm on to the Janis Joplin bio Scars of Sweet Paradise. I read the NY Times review that Barry Adams posted on Facebook and had to have it.

Has anyone else got bios to recommend? I've a feeling I'll fly thru this.


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Michael Moore

One of my Christmas presents was the Michael Moore autobio, Here Comes Trouble. His stories of growing up, his family and his life post-fame are marvelous.

During a family vacation in 1965 to DC, he lost his mother in the Capitol building and made his way to an elevator. In that elevator was a new Senator from NY- RFK. RFK took him to a guard, who reunited the little Michael with his family. They then went to observe the proceedings when Congress constructed Medicare.

But it's the personal stories that are most touching. His recollection of his mother's sudden illness and death made me cry.

I definitely recommend it.



Definitely going on my list. I hadn't heard there was a new one!

The neighborhood bar I frequented was close to the MTV studios. It was also owned by Sean Penn and Robert DeNiro, and lots of famous folks dropped in. One night Cronkite came in. He'd been to the MTV studios for a meeting and told the story. He'd walked up to reception and said he was there to see so-and-so and the young receptionist lighted up at seeing him. She called up to the office and excitedly proclaimed, "Captain Kangaroo is here!" He laughed as hard as the rest of us.



The recent bio of Walter Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley was an eye-opener for me (dirty old man!).

It was an exhaustive tome, covering his entire life. Most of it was broken up by episodes of what he was covering - WWII and radio news, the start of TV news, political conventions, Kennedy, spacewalks, vietnam, the environment, and so on.

When Kennedy was shot, Cronkite was on the air almost continuously for days. When Cronkite said Vietnam was over, the tide turned. When Cronkite said corporations were polluters, we got Earth Day and the Clean Air Act.

He wasn't just a pretty face on TV - he was a reporter who often flew to the center of the story to get it right. He made sure facts were checked, double-checked, and triple-checked before putting news on the air, even if it took time. He was very competitive, though, and scooped other networks with major stories sometimes just seconds before they could respond.

Interesting was his long-running feud with Dan Rather, who he though of as arrogant and sloppy. It lasted his entire life. It was pronounced when Rather took over his news desk after Cronkite's retirement.

After his wife died, it took him about a month before he was dating again. He enjoyed the stories that came from GI bars and strip clubs - something he was able to enjoy as a younger reporter but not quite as much when he was known world-wide.

He came very close to being the first reporter in space.

This was a good bio - an interesting person, good details, and a view from a privileged place at the 20th century history table.


Ben Franklin

Finally got through my Ben Franklin biography to compliment reading his autobiography. It's basically the same story, but with more details. : )

I enjoyed his rules for having affairs - choose an older woman since she will be more discreet, talented, and appreciative.

I enjoyed how much he published under false names. It was socially unbecoming to sign your real name to your published letters for a while. Ben would write fake supportive letters of things he disagreed with, all while pointing out the weaknesses in what he was claiming to support.

Ben wanted us to get along with England and worked pretty hard to try to avoid the revolution, but reached a tipping point and became an ardent supporter of the colonies just before the war.

It was fun to review the writing of the Constitution. A bunch of 30 somethings gather in Philly for a few weeks to work out the rules for a new country. Ben was close to 80. We take so much of the Constitution for granted these days, but it really could have turned out much different.

Some argued that we should have a council rather than a president.

Some argued that we should allow presidents to serve for life, or that states only be represented in relation to population.

All in all, Franklin was amazing. Inventor of the lightning rod, mapper of the warm currents in the Atlantic, advocate for secure, reliable and quick postal delivery, statesman, writer and printer... the list goes on.

Wish he was around today.


Autobiography of Will Rogers

This was a bio put together by relatives of Will Rogers after his death (he disappeared in Alaska). They used his writings and selected bits and pieces that gave a good picture of who he was and what he thought.

He started out by doing rope tricks, then gradually added his wry observations about politics. He said he never had to write jokes as long as he could get the news from DC each day.

Again, like Menken, he had no problem speaking truth to power and calling it as he saw it. When he saw that Congress wasn't doing anything about the Depression and farmers starving, he took his show on the road, playing to thousands of people in each town he stopped in.

The book has the reader laughing throughout. He spoke of the dust bowl, and how Colorado had blown over to Kansas, and Kansas blew somewhere else. He suggested farmers in Kansas go on a roundup to find their topsoil each spring, and perhaps brand it when they found it again.

He was quote the jet-setter, too, flying around the country at a moment's notice to meet with Presidents, movie stars, writers, and his favorite - ordinary folk.


TR Diaries

Just read Teddy Roosevelt's diary(s) from when he was about 10-14 years old. His spelling isn't great, but his travels and adventures are pretty amazing.

He and his brother and sisters travel to Europe with their parents and explore it for months. They travel by train, carriage, and on foot between world capitals. They explore museums and zoos, churches, and scenery.

They are naughty, too, getting up early to jump on beds, or throwing bits of bread at the maids and being chased about.

Teddy like seeing and identifying rare animals, and eventually gets good at killing and skinning them for display in his own "museum" back home. (He uses arsenic, and is often trying to get a supply of it in a strange location when he runs out.)

He's quite sickly and is often down and out for a day or two here and there, but then back up and exploring as soon as he can.

Another diary section talks about his trip up through New York. across Vermont to White River and over into New Hampshire. Another still tells of his trip to Egypt and visit to a pyramid.

It ends with a list of sporting match results between friends and relatives that the future president was noting.

Not a "great" book by any measure, but certainly an interesting and quick read. Available at the Library.


The Beatles: Shout!

This was given to me as a gift for my birthday and I'm just nearing the end. It's another of those "I don't want it to end" books. Fascinating stories, believable insights and trivial but revealing scenes along the way. I really recommend this one. I've read a few books about the Beatles. This is the best so far. Their transition from rowdy schoolboy band to pop stardom and finally legend was a superhuman experience imposed on very human guys.



Bob Woodward's "Wired," the biography of John Belushi.


I'll second that

Woodward did an exhaustive job on that.


Black Postcards (a memoir)

I recommend "Black Postcards by Dean Wareham a creative force behind the Indie Bands Galaxie 500 and Luna who's behind the stage scene lives on the road were as fascinating as their unique and dreamlike sound. A great (the only) perspective and timeline on how the band's identity originated and how each album progressed during the 80' and 90's. Penguin Books





Up All Night

As a teenager in the 70s, your favorite djs defined you. One of mine was Carol Miller of WNEW and WPLJ in NYC and she's written an autobiography, Up All Night. For someone who was at the head of the line through some pretty extraordinary cultural phenomena, you'd never know it. Apparently she has no real thoughts on what she experienced. She reports her life as a series of events from her pretty posh beginnings to her quite comfortable golden years now. She restrainedly speaks of her loves and losses, but offers no insights, no conclusions drawn, no lessons learned. The first 2 pages are a scandalous start that grabs the reader- but that dies fast. Without thought, without depth, without even juicy gossip to make up for lacking substance, there isn't much to recommend it. Pretty disappointing.


Carol Miller


Carol Miller was one of my favorites as well, and radio stations were very important to me, especially WNEW and WPLJ. It's weird that you posted this because just a few days ago I was talking about her and trying to remember her name!



Isn't it funny that they still hold a place in our thoughts 40 years later? Scott Muni, Cousin Brucie, Murray the K... I wonder if they ever knew what an impression they made.


All Night DJs?

What ever happened to the all-night DJ?
Do they still exist or is it that I'm too old to stay up all-night myself anymore and listen?
Is NYC still the city that never sleeps or has it calmed down?

Any night owls in this group?


all night djs

Are there any live all-night stations at all anymore?
As for night owls, that'd be another favorite dj of the day, Allison Steele the Nightbird. ;)


Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts

A novel based on real life events in the life of David Gregory Roberts.

Published in 2005, you can pick up for 10$ in paperback from amazon, a great deal.

Best book I have ever read, its thick (on many levels) , but its a beautiful read. Yes, you do need to buy it because it is excellent the second and third time and well worth it. Believe me , I can't say that I re- read Clapton's, Greg Allman's and Keef's autobiographies.

Its about an escape convict who splits an australian supermax prison and moves to a slum in Mumbai and passes himself off as a doctor while living with beggars, thieves, druggies, prostitute, bollywood actors, military, shamans, holy men and then falls in with the Indian mafia and travels to Afghanistan..... all while searching for the meaning of love and our placed on earth. Thats all I will tell you, 900 plus pages and not one crummy review at amazon. While not about rock music per se, its a "rock and roll book", kind of like Midnight Express meets Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. I read this book the first time in 4 days, you will not put it down.
The author might not be a rock musician but an anarchist, heroin addict and escaped criminal. Sounds like a rock star to me! And his characters are just awesome....



Not quite a bio, but close

I just finished a collection of writings by H.L. Menken. It wasn't a biography, but there were autobiographical elements to some of the stories he wrote.

What an acid-tongued newspaper columnist! He makes all of us look wimpy and pale by comparison. Consider this coverage of the Progressive Party convention in 1948:

Wallace started off by making a thumping ass of himself in his preliminary press conference and did nothing to redeem himself by his bumbling and boresome delivery of his speech of acceptance (otherwise not a bad one) last night.

or this 1927 piece on how ugly America had become:

Here is something that the psychologists have so far neglected: the love of ugliness for its own sake, the lust to make the world intolerable. Its habitat is the United States. Out of the melting pot emerges a race which hates beauty as it hates truth. The etiology of this madness deserves a great deal more study than it has got. There must be causes behind it; it arises and flourishes in obedience to biological laws, and not as a mere act of God. What, precisely, are the terms of those laws? Let some honest Privat Dozent in pathological sociology apply himself to the problem.

He spent his life writing for Baltimore newspapers, and some of the best stories are of Baltimore in the late 1800's, with flowers growing in the streets and an abundance of 8 inch crabs for 12 cents a dozen.

One great story involves police who need renovations to their facilities. Each spring, they'd go to the docks and arrest two painters, four electricians, 8 carpenters, and so on. They would be allowed to work off their sentence, of course, and the police facilities were thusly improved.

A Vintage paperback, with an introduction by Alistair Cooke.



Menken was heavily influenced by Nietzsche, so it's no wonder he was full of thunder.

Part of our problem today is that education is so bland. It's entirely possible for a college grad to get through school without ever reading World Class flamethrowers, saying nothing of the many obscure and intense writers and thinkers who inspired and explored the fringes of thought and action.


World class flamethrowers

...that's good. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes of Nietzche: "Life means for us constantly to transform into light and flame all that we are or meet with." Another favorite flamethrower is A. Rimbaud: "A Season in Hell" always gets me fired up.


RnR bios

Seems I'm on a rock n roll bio tear now. I finished the Janis bio (highly recommended) which is a remedy for all the other Janis bios. It's an indictment of the 60s romanticism also. Very well written and fairly unbiased.

Read in 3 nights- Metallica Unbound, an early chronicle of the band that ended with 1992, before Jason Newsted was fired and Trujillo came on board. I'll have to get the rest of the story in another book. This was written by the band's first major supporter and fan club starter, and has a lot of insider trivia and info that wouldn't exist elsewhere.

Onto Pink Floyd: the Mystery and the Music. Having just leafed thru it, it looks short of prose and full of photos I've never seen. Maybe more of an inspiration to art than information about the band. We'll see.


I love bios

... but am not reading one at the moment.

A few that stand out from my memory, though...

- P.T. Barnum's autobiography is a great read. He used to carry copies around and sell them, adding chapters as his life went on. An early copy of this book will have less than a later one. He tells of being tricked by relatives at an early age into believing he owned a fantastic piece of land, only to find out it was a swamp. It taught him about humbugs, which he went on to use very creatively.

- Katherine Graham: Personal History is the story of the woman who ended up running the Washington Post. Lots of good DC insider tidbits here, with stories of Kennedy's and others. It was her husband's paper, but he was severely depressed. She took over after he killed himself. Went on to lead the paper through Watergate.

- Newspaperman - A bio of S.I. Newhouse. Poor immigrant kid grows up to run one of the largest media chains in the country. He wasn't particularly nice, and played what I'd consider hardball with competitors, but was quite successful at what he did. This had good stories of takeovers and buyouts, union-busting, and getting even.

I've got a Ben Franklin bio in my pile, but that will have to be for a later note.



It all depends on whose lives interest you, but a few I've found fascinating are:

Testament of Youth -- Vera Brittain -- autobiography of a young woman's life just prior to, and mainly during, World War I. Brittain went on to become a committed pacifist, but here she shows herself as a young woman seeking an education and a different path for herself than what was expected, falling in love, becoming a WW I nurse, losing near and dear ones.

Fun House and Are You My Mother -- Allison (or Alison?) Bechdel. These are graphic novels, the first about her relationship with her father, the second about her relationship with her mother. They're intensely psychological and maybe seem like "oversharing" to some, but for me something about how she tells the story saves it from being one of those "more than I ever wanted to know about your life" memoirs.

Small Memories -- José Saramago -- Early memories of a childhood in Portugal.


Kendall Hailey

Cool, thanks Lise!


The Day I Became An Autodidact

While not technically a biography as it only covers about three years of the author's life, The Day I Became An Autodidact by Kendall Haliley is autobiographical and informative on other levels as well. I first read this book in the early 1990s, shortly after it came out. It's the account of a young woman who decides at age 15 to drop out of school and become self-taught like Abraham Lincoln. She was inspired to do this, she says, by Jessica Mitford, who upon being asked about her college career, replied that she was an autodidact. Hailey knew at once that she wanted to do the same.

The book is written in diary form and is very witty, not unlike the Mitford's. Her accounts of life and learning are highly entertaining. She sets about reading art history, the classics, the Greeks, the Romans, Shakespeare, and more. By the end of the book, she is studying drama by acting in a theater group.

It's not all educational. Hailey's account of Hallowe'en night is hilarious --"It is Hallowe'en night and I am a wreck" it begins. She goes on to explain that she's an unusually unskilled dispenser of candy, tending toward over generosity to the early arrivals. There are family sorrows and struggles to deal with. She has a friend in college giving us a window on the outside world.

What emerges from her daily entries is a portrait of a person genuinely interested in the world and excited (at the age of 15) to take on her own education. From her account, she was tackling huge tomes, original works by difficult writers, and even hands-on projects. Instead of just reading an overview on something, she would read the overview and then all the important works referenced in it. Her education was immersive to say the least, self-directed, deep, and quite unlike the kind of education we're now standardizing into across the country.

Hailey's parents are both writers so it's not surprising that Kendall Hailey is good at reading and writing. But she's also good at thinking which I think is what makes her book so enjoyable. She has a rare voice for a real person. ;)


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