Tag Archives: Clay’s picks

Book Review: Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinksi

Light & Shade: Colight and shadenversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski

Jimmy Page, founder, guitarist and producer of Led Zeppelin, is the reason that many famous guitarists of following generations picked up the instrument in the first place.  Light & Shade provides an in-depth but easily read history of Page’s entire career in music, told in narrative segments by guitar writer Brad Tolinski and through interviews with Page himself and several of his musical contemporaries.  In this book, Page, never famously open in interviews, candidly discusses each of his essential musical phases:  top English session guitarist, groundbreaking soloist in the Yardbirds, and, certainly the climax of his artistry, the creation of 1970’s powerhouse rock group Led Zeppelin, who reigned as stadium circuit champions from the late sixties until the tragic death of their legendary drummer, John Bonham, in September 1980.

Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin are probably best remembered for their devastating brand of heavy rock, but the interviews in Light & Shade reveal how much further the band’s and the guitarist’s influence extended, mixing what many believe to be the birth of heavy metal with country blues and English folk flavors.  Indeed, hindsight has shown Zeppelin to be a remarkably versatile unit which, despite their stylistic borrowings, always had their own unmistakable signature sound and never failed to pull off their jaw-dropping performances with an effortless-sounding perfection.  Reading this book really makes you want to go back and listen to the group’s work, and yes, it is as good as you remember!  A music nerd’s delight.


Resource of the Month: SimplyMap




Are you interested in working with statistical data and geographical imaging systems?  SimplyMap can be a great resource to learn how to work with demographic data or to prepare maps and data tables for a research paper.

Although working with statistical data can be intimidating, SimplyMap has a great built-in tutorial wizard to help you.  Begin by browsing your options on the “I want to…” dropdown menu on the left, where you can choose to plot a map, compare statistical variables in a table, create a demographic analysis of an area, and more.  No matter which option you choose, the wizard walks you through every step using pop-up instructional boxes.

All statistics are provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and can be broken down by state, county, zip code, census tract, or block group.  There is a rich set of data to draw from, covering topics to satisfy any curiosity.  You could plot a map showing average household size of different neighborhoods in Chicago, or create a table showing which state spent the most money on hair care products in 2010!  Best of all, SimplyMap keeps all of your maps and tables open in separate tabs for easy back-and-forth comparison and allows you to export materials as PDF or GIF images, either as files or as emails.

To access SimplyMap, go to the NC LIVE homepage at www.nclive.org.  Under the category “Data & Demographics,” click the SimplyMap link (you will be prompted to enter your library card number outside of the library).  To begin using SimplyMap, create an account with your email address and password.  You may also log in as a guest, though you will not be able to save your work this way.  If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask a reference librarian to assist you.

Book Review: Our Noise: the Story of Merge Records–John Cook

Our Noise: the Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label that Got Big and Stayed Small, by John Cook with Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance

This 2009 book would be considered mandatory reading for a course about Triangle Area music at the turn of the twenty-first century, were anyone ever to teach one.  But it would also be informative entertainment to anyone curious about the world of independent music, and might even contain helpful object lessons to folks who want to try wading in those murky waters themselves.  It’s the story of Triangle-based Merge Records, co-founded by Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, and its journey from a home-grown imprint designed purely to release 45’s by local punk outfits (including McCaughan’s and Ballance’s own legendary group Superchunk) to international indie rock flagship.  While there is a narrative thread connecting the book’s chapters, a lot of the text is composed of quotes from Merge bandmembers, employees and cohorts, making the whole project feel like a conversation among old friends, which on some level it is, and that fact goes a long way toward explaining the secret of Merge’s success.

The reader follows the label’s improbable trajectory from its release of records by much loved but painfully obscure groups like Erectus Monotone, Pipe, and the Angels of Epistemology, to its emergence and recognition as an independent powerhouse with both the brains and the muscle to sustain the likes of household name bands like Spoon and the Arcade Fire.  The abiding question throughout remains: How did they do it?  How did they manage to survive, let alone thrive, in the predator-driven minefield of the popular music industry in an era that has seen sweeping revenue loss by Merge’s biggest corporate competitors?  A few answers might be:  A)  by staying realistic and not over-committing themselves financially, B)  by insisting on fair and transparent dealings with its bands (often with no written contract), and C)  by consistently choosing to release music because the Merge staff loved it, not because they were tempted by dancing dollar signs.  Here’s some perennially good advice to anyone seeking a recording contract:  Beware of promises made by major record label executives!

The whole book contains illuminating stories and great photo spreads, but for me the most fun parts were the stories about the label’s early travails and triumphs.  Maybe nostalgia has me in its grip, but balance sheets and marketing campaigns figure a little too heavily in the later pages, as they necessarily will when talking about big business.  I prefer the early anecdotes, when it was all about hand-assembling 7-inch singles fresh from the pressing plant in your living room, selling them one at a time out of the back of your van, and driving off with a truckstop coffee toward the next show.  DIY all the way.

Book Review: Life and Times of an American Legend – Larry Tye

Satchel: the Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye

    This recommendation comes a little late for Black History Month, but it’s just in time for baseball season. If either subject is up your alley, this book is worth reading; if you happen to be interested in both, it’s a gold mine. Author Larry Tye spent years unraveling the mystery behind the life of one of his boyhood baseball icons with great success, getting the meat of his research from
interviews with Satchel’s friends and family, fellow players and managers, and descendants thereof. Still, Satchel Paige is a man to whom mystery clings like a sweaty baseball jersey on a hot Mobile afternoon, mostly because of the lack of solid statistics and press coverage for thousands of Negro League games in the 1920’s-40’s. Thankfully, plenty of testimony survives about this truly American character.
    Born the seventh of twelve children in a Mobile ghetto, Leroy Robert Page quickly rose from his obscure beginnings to become by his mid-twenties the most popular pitcher in then-segregated black professional baseball. Those who saw him perform in his heyday say he had an unparalleled fastball, to which he soon added an arsenal of curves, slowballs and breakers, all executed with pinpoint control. Anecdotes of Paige antics are plenty, like the one about him winning accuracy contests by knocking over matchboxes placed on homeplate, or telling his entire outfield to retire to the dugout as their services wouldn’t be necessary, and proceeding to strike out the opposing side. The ultimate showman on the mound, Paige sometimes sounds like the kind of towering figure who was more tall tales than substance, and Paige himself certainly did nothing to dispel his own myths. Tye did manage to get to the bottom of the one about Satchel’s age, forever a source of sportswriter conjecture, thereby substantiating Paige’s standing record for being the oldest pitcher ever to throw in a Major League game (he was 59). But could Paige actually, as he estimated, have pitched 5,000 complete games over his career, winning 2,000? There’s no way of telling for sure, but if you ask me, that’s part of his appeal.
    One irrefutable truth about Paige is that he used his tremendous talent to build his own legend, and in so doing defied Jim Crow America to live life on his own terms. In a sport full of eccentric characters, Satchel comes close to outshining everybody as a fast-driving, barnstorming, contract-jumping, wisdom-dispensing ace who is fondly remembered by players and fans on both sides of the race barrier. A fun summer read.