Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Reviews-313:Life in the Motor City, Frank Frazetta: Icon, Great Feuds In History

313: Life in The Motor City
by John Carlisle
John Carlisle is a native Detroit journalist who has written about and photographed the city for the local "alternative" newspaper, The Metro Times. 313: Life in the Motor City is a collection of photographs and columns about the city and its various people. Most of these stories are broadly speaking positive but quirky. There are a few tales that will make you look strangely at the people described or the author, a few that might make you say you'll never visit Detroit and a lot that will make you say you want to get on the next plane and see things for yourself. 313 is the telephone area code for Detroit.

The theme of the book is that Detroiters, good, bad or otherwise are survivors and hustlers. When I write hustler I mean that in the best sense of the word though there are a few legally or morally dubious people detailed. This book shows Detroiters as people who may never quite reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but they certainly won't stop working to get there. Hard work pays. Most of the people in this book are hard workers. They make the best out of what they have to work with, which in most cases ranges from nothing at all to not very much. But they keep punching and fighting no matter what. That is the Detroit way.

Although the stories in this book were written and published before the recent events around the emergency manager and pension funds, the book definitely captures the sense of general decline that would lead to those occurrences. But the stories, though often gritty are nonetheless often optimistic. There's a lot of good news in this book. I wouldn't term it poverty porn. Carlisle is obviously interested in seeing the city and its people do well.

Some of the more interesting stories in this book are
  • A Second Chance: This is about a father and son run vacuum cleaner repair shop. The father can't charge very much for his services or compete with Sears or Walmart but tries to help out the community and leave a business for his son, who is the only one of his children who didn't go to college.
  • The Last Song: This details the closing of Pearl's Record Shop. This was a locally owned Mom-n-Pop music store and live club operation that was an East side oasis of music of both old school blues and jazz and new R&B/rap stars. Beyonce visited when she was with Destiny's Child. People like Toni Braxton and Usher stopped by. This store had such a strong connection with the neighborhood that the local hoodlums guaranteed its safety. Pearl's had no iron bars or bulletproof glass. The ONLY time it was ever robbed the money and goods were returned two days later with a note apologizing for the robbery.
  • It's a Man's World: Greek-American barber and former Green Beret Pete Kithas runs his downtown barbershop with a mixture of tough guy bravado and Old World grace. He has a gaggle of stories but few of them are suitable for women or children.
  • Rites of Spring: The Debutante Cotillion Ball, which had died out in 1996, started up again as an attempt to bring meaning back to celebrations which formally welcome young people, in this case girls, into adulthood. And if it has the side impact of bringing back social grace, and elegance and recognizing the importance of femininity and masculinity then so much the better. Debutantes and their escorts are trained in etiquette, table manners, waltzes. The debutantes also attend various outings like chamber music performances at the Detroit Institute of Arts, afternoon teas, in addition to doing volunteer work in Detroit.
  • Custom Revival: East Side Riders is a bicycle club. That's right, a bicycle club. Although it was started by two brothers who certainly have the mass and girth stereotypically associated with outlaw motorcycle clubs, East Side Riders is a bicycle club for all ages and both genders. The members make customized bicycles out of junk bikes that they find and repair on the street. They also provide some male role models and traditionally masculine skills for those kids who lack them as well as doing good work in the community.
This was a really good book which my cousin turned me on to. Having read this book I'd rather not give it back to her but since I HATE HATE HATE when people do that to me I'll have to purchase my own copy and return hers. I don't even loan out my books any more because there are so many people who conveniently "forget" to return them in proper time or worse, return them with damage they didn't have before. People. Geez.  Anyway this book fairly and accurately depicts the city I love. Some of the people featured within have left this mortal coil but their stories live on. If you are just curious about what sort of people live in Detroit or what life in Detroit is like or simply like quirky slice of life stories, you might enjoy this book.

Frank Frazetta: Icon
Edited by Cathy and Arnie Fenner
They say you can't judge a book by its cover. That's generally true. All the same Frank Frazetta was such an incredible painter and artist that I bought several books, most notably Conan reprints, simply because he was the cover artist. And I don't think I was the only one. Frazetta was simply put one of the greatest commercial artists working in the 20th century. He had a special flair for fantasy and sci-fi creations but worked in just about every genre, including comic books. Frazetta, like most great artists had an individual flair that was often copied. He influenced many who came after him but his style was never truly duplicated. In a time before the internet and video games, Frazetta's work was both pure escapism and intensely realistic. You could look at one of his paintings and almost write a story around it. You could almost walk into the painting and partake of the energy expressed. To look at Frazetta's work is to inhabit the scene he's depicting. His stuff is so meticulously detailed you could be forgiven for thinking it's photography instead of created art.

His work was intensely physical. Both men are women are presented in idealized, yet non-caricatured visions of male and female grace and beauty. Although some people have wrongly imo called his work sexist, I don't think anything could be further from the truth. What was true was that Frazetta was unambiguously and unapologetically male. He liked women. He often drew women. Sometimes he drew them with few or no clothes on. His women, clothed or not, are rarely submissive. Indeed his wife was a model for many of his fantasies. Frazetta had an eye for all forms but especially the feminine.

Most of his artwork, particularly the later works, gives off the feeling of action. It's very rare that you look at one of his pieces and experience it as a static set. Something is always going on.
Frazetta worked in a variety of media, including oil, pencil, and watercolor.  He once did artwork for Lil' Abner and Playboy magazine. Icon is also a partial Frazetta biography as much as it is a retrospective. It details his early identification by family members as a talented artist, his work to make himself better, his skills as a minor league baseball player, his tough guy Brooklyn days, his wooing and winning of his wife Ellie, his lifelong battles against ripoffs and for artists' rights, and his stunning depictions of characters from the Robert E. Howard, Karl Wagner, or Edgar Rice Burroughs universes. Ok. Enough. It's difficult to write about what can only be viewed so check out some of these representative pieces below. If you like them, pick up Icon for your library. It's the first in a three book series. It's 206 pages of art. Much like Frazetta's life, this book is oversized.

Great Feuds In History
Ten Struggles That Shaped The World
By Colin Evans
Are you the sort of person who forgives easily and quickly? Because I am not. I can forgive family or other loved ones pretty simply but other people...not so much. I'm very slow to anger but very slow to forgive and forget. Ok, I'm much better at this than I used to be. Trust me. There's a reason there's a saying that when you seek revenge, you ought to dig two graves. Nevertheless there is still and always will be a part of me that bristles at what I think of as maltreatment and seeks to repay whatever someone does to me, good or bad, in double. That's just the way I am. Sometimes I believe in that line from the Godfather that "Accidents don't happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult". I was reminded of some long past interactions while reading this book, which examines some pretty bitter rivalries that turned into heated feuds. Many of these did not end until someone died. While I can safely say I have never felt compelled to take things to that level nor do I expect to do so I also must admit that in some cases I can understand. If there's death on the line, I want to make sure I'm the one that lives to tell the tale.

Some feuds came about from simple, even petty misunderstandings. What was needed was someone who could knock heads together, arrange a sitdown and enforce a peace. When that was lacking things went from bad to worse quickly. Other feuds arose from fundamental political, philosophical and profoundly personal differences. Have you ever met someone you just disliked immediately. Let's say the feeling was mutual. What if there are only so many goodies to go around and it comes down to between you and this person. Even if you are conflict-averse and prefer to keep the peace, it's quite possible that a nastier side of your personality could emerge. You might surprise yourself.

Some of the famous feuds detailed include
  • Joseph Stalin vs. Leon Trotsky: Trotsky considered Stalin his intellectual and oratorical inferior and was shocked, angered and outraged by Stalin's post-Lenin power grab. Stalin considered Trotsky a bigmouth dilettante who lacked political realism. They also had completely different ideas about the need to have worldwide socialist revolution (Trotsky) or consolidate socialist gains in Russia (Stalin). Once Stalin had gained complete power he exiled the loquacious Trotsky, a move he soon regretted as Trotsky became even more of a pain in the fundament. Stalin had his people chase Trotsky all over the globe. In 1940, one of Stalin's hitters caught up with Trotsky and delivered Stalin's rebuttal to Trotsky's constant denunciations. Stalin's rebuttal was an icepick. There was no counterargument.
  • Elizabeth I vs. Mary, Queen of Scots: The two cousins were of different religions. Arguably Mary had a better claim to the English throne than did Elizabeth as King Henry's divorce was not recognized by the Catholic Church and thus any children born from subsequent unions (i.e. Elizabeth I) were thus the product of bigamy and quite illegitimate in the eyes of the Papacy and more importantly, France and Spain. When Mary, via marriage, became Queen not only of Scotland but also of France and rather pointedly refused to renounce all claims to the English throne, family or not, the conflict was on. 
  • Hatfields vs. McCoys: This is probably the most famous feud in American history. It was fought between the mostly West Virginia based Hatfields and mostly Kentucky based McCoys. There had been bad blood for years,especially since the recent murder of a McCoy man, an ex-Union soldier by the generally pro-Confederate Hatfields. But it was when a McCoy pig went missing and somehow wound up on a Hatfield farm and was NOT returned, that tempers flared and blood began to flow. Not even an abortive common-law marriage between the two families could stop what was to come.
The book also investigates the Montgomery vs. Patton crackup, Johnson vs. Kennedy, Hoover vs. King and a few other feuds. I enjoyed this book. It was a quick read. It detailed the people or groups on each side of the feud and their strengths and weaknesses.
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