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Lou Harry's A&E

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Arts & Entertainment, etc.

Seasons readings: New A&E books reviewed

December 28, 2009

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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