Seasons readings: New A&E books reviewed

December 28, 2009
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Some thoughts on A&E books that have been on my reading pile this month:

--In "And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records" (Backbeat Books), Larry Harris doesn't create anything of lasting literary value--and much of the who-was-hired/who-moved-on office details can be skimmed over. But there's an engaging story to tell in the record company he helped create. Part of the fun is seeing how the label inadvertently became the go-to place for disco stars (including The Village People and Donna Summer) while also developing the phenomenons of Kiss and Parliament. No surprise that there was plenty of drugs involved.

--I'm not sure if it can be called "reading," but I enjoyed doing a lot of "flipping through" "The Playbill Broadway Yearbook" (Applause Books), a hefty, fun volume (the fifth in the series). The conceit here is to take a people-driven focus to a season on Broadway. Reviews are nowhere to be found. Instead, a section devoted to each Broadway show features photos of everyone from the lead actors to the ushers and ticket-takers. Scrapbook sections are devoted to the stuff we aren't privy to from our seats in the theaters-- like company superstition, wadrobe malfunctions, company in-jokes, and memorable stage-door encounters. And ancillary events such as Broadway League Softball and the annual Broadway Barks benefit are given their due. Like a high school yearbook, it's clearly designed to get everyone included in it to buy a copy. But I enjoyed it for its sense of all-in-this-together camaraderie. And while I know that such a project would be financially impossible for locals, I can fantasize that an Indianapolis Performing Arts Yearbook would be a treasure for those who put in the hard, rewarding work of making the arts happen here. 

--"The Levon Helm Midnight Ramble" (Backbeat Books) is a wish-you-were-here photo-heavy look at the jam sessions held by the former leader of "The Band." I'll confess I haven't paid much attention to Helm since the landmark concert film "The Last Waltz," but this lovingly compiled book made me want to hear what I've been missing. It's tough to celebrates music with words and pictures but without sound. But photographer Paul LaRaia, with subjects including Allison Krauss and Elvis Costello, pulls it off.

--Sloppy copy editing and text that often feels top-of-the-head first draft mar "Geniuses of the American Musical Theatre: The Composers and Lyricists" (Applause Books) by Herbert Keyser. While the expected stories are in there concerning the like of Stephen Sondheim and Kander and Ebb, this handsomely produced coffee table book does offer insight into such not-to-be-ignored talents as Dorothy Fields, Comden and Green, and Harold Arlen. A clean-up could have made it an essential reference book.

Have you read any of the above? Or devoured other arts and entertainment-related books worth noting?

Your thoughts?

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  • Movie book
    Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris was published almost a year ago, but it's excellent.
  • yearbooks and biographies
    I saw some older editions of the Playbill Broadway Yearbook at the Half-Price Books on 86th Street a few weeks ago. They were fascinating and fun...but I spent my money on some theatre textbooks instead. Maybe I'll go back for the yearbooks, if they are still there.

    I agree with you, Lou, that it would be fun to have an Indianapolis arts yearbook. I'll add publishing that to my "What to Do When I Win the Lottery Big" list.

    I think I already mentioned Kristin Chenowith's autobiography, A LITTLE BIT WICKED, here one Monday morning. It came out in April of this year. It is warm and gossipy. (Who knew that she and the creator of the TV show "West Wing" were an item?)

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • oh, wait - WEST 86h Street
    I should have been more specific, just in case any of your readers is planning to dart over to Half Price Books and buy those theatre yearbooks ahead of me. (And it's okay if they do. My personal book budget is tapped out for a while.)

    I meant the Half-Price Books that is on the part of 86th Street that is just down the road from Ocean Japanese Restaurant and across the streeet from Steinmart and the Pancake place and New Age People and so on...NOT the one in the Castleton area, although I have found some treasures at that one, too.

    I mean the HPB where Dylan the Filmmaker is the manager and someone else, whose name escapes me at the moment, is knowledgeable (sp?) about the theatre books and takes pride in keeping the theatre book section organized.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit

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