Monday, December 26, 2016

Chemist In Limbo

I've written a fair amount on here about my experiences as a professional chemist. Over the past (almost) decade, my career has taken me in directions I never could have guessed back when I was in graduate school working toward my doctorate. As I briefly mentioned on here a month ago, the latest twist was one I never hoped to ever find myself experiencing: laid off. Now that the dust has settled, my head has cleared, and I'm knee deep in finding my next opportunity, I thought it would be a good time for an update. I also thought it would be A) a bit therapeutic for me to write about it, and B) a service to other professionals, scientists or otherwise, who might find themselves in a similar situation as a way to impart whatever scraps of insight I've gained from the whole thing. 

Where to start?  The day I was let go, I was in the middle of a web conference with colleagues from another one of my company's locations when my boss' boss came to my desk and asked if I had a minute. I followed him to his office, thinking it was our routine end-of-year meeting (we always have these in October/November) but as soon as I saw someone from HR sitting in there waiting for me, I knew immediately what was coming. They went through all of the details of why the company was eliminating my position, what my benefits would be, that it wasn't performance related, etc. Looking back on it, I handled it much better than I would've guessed beforehand. After a quick goodbye, I grabbed my keys, jacket, and headed home. I called my wife on the way to let her know what happened, we told our kids, and I finally sat down and exhaled. I told myself in that moment that, since it was a Thursday, I'd give myself the weekend to relax and then hit the ground running on Monday to start look for a new job. As the day went on, though, my initial feelings of handling it well gave way to an almost depression over the fact that my job, my coworkers (many of whom became friends), my daily routine, all of it was yanked away and gone in an instant. The typical thoughts started popping up...was I not good enough? They said it wasn't performance based, but maybe it was? That slowly gave way to a seething anger over the weekend...not at the company or anyone in particular, but just at the situation in general. Unfortunately, it spilled over a bit and I took a little bit of it out on my family, but I'm lucky that they were understanding enough to not take it personally.

When the first Monday in I-don't-know-how-many-years that I didn't have to go to work rolled around, I was filled with a mixture of dread and anxiety. How was I going to find a job? We've all heard that saying that "it's easier to find a job when you have a job," and any time in the past when I'd been actively looking for a new job, I'd never found one. Both times I moved on from one job to the next, the opportunities found *me* via headhunters or personal friends/contacts. Now I had no job and I had to find one on my own. It wasn't a panicky situation since, as part of my termination, I did get several months severance benefits, but the thought stayed in the back of my mind: now I have a hard deadline where I have to find a job or else.

I first had to confront the reality that where I started my career and where I found myself now posed a bit of a challenge. My PhD, postdoc, and the first four years of my career were spent as a synthetic organic chemist working on materials, but for the past six years I've been in R&D working on electroplated metal coatings. I've been a chemist working at an engineering company, and now I have to figure out how to position myself as a chemist (and not an engineer) but convince companies that are in the engineering space that they need me. Quite the challenge...

Going by the thought that it's all about who you know (and this is where I'm hoping to share a little bit of new insight) I first reached out to all of my friends and former colleagues who I know personally and asked them to let me know if there were any openings at their companies where they could help me get a foot in through the back door. I've been going the traditional route as well because let's face it, out of the thousands of applicants for these positions, it obviously has to work for someone, somewhere, right?. It's like playing the lottery, and with odds about as good, but it doesn't hurt to try, I suppose. I've been finding, however, that I get a better response when I use networking. Sometimes this entails reaching out to my friends, former colleagues, and other people I know, but a huge part of it has been finding hiring managers and contacting them directly.

At this point, I've had several phone interviews, am waiting for calls from people who have told me they're interested, and I've even had an on-site interview. This is a tough time of year to look for a job for a couple of reasons: first, with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's all crammed within a month of each other, so many people take time off for vacation that companies are closed and the people who I'm waiting to hear back from are out of the office for days or weeks; and second, with the end of the year fast approaching, most companies avoid spending money until their books clear and their budgets renew in January. Even companies whose fiscal years don't run concurrent with the calendar year usually wait until their next quarter begins in January before spending money and hiring anyone new.

As it stands right now, I'm kind of in a wait-and-see mode...I'm waiting to hear back from the people I've already been speaking with and most companies are not posting any new openings until the beginning of 2017. While I know that in the grand scheme of things this lay off will be a mere bump in the road that is my life, right now it's a fairly stressful and irritating circumstance. Having finally bought a house within the last couple of years, settled into our neighborhood, and made really good friends, being unexpectedly laid off completely disrupted our life. I was becoming established at my job and had a good reputation as someone who was very knowledgeable, did quality work, and was dependable; now I need to start all over somewhere else and reestablish that again. Our kids had made some really good friends, had settled into their sports teams and after school activities, and were finally okay with the move away from our home are of New England; now they'll have to start over again wherever we end up. We love our house...we've settled in nicely and have been making it our own, changing it around the way we want it, but now we'll most likely need to sell it and find a new house to buy elsewhere. In so many ways, this situation has thrown a huge spanner into the works and while I know that in a year, let alone in five, ten, or more years we'll look back on this as a minor inconvenience, right now it's very real and very much a nuisance.

Anyway, that's where things stand with me as a professional chemist right now. Once there's been a substantial new development in my situation, I'll be sure to write about it here in order to share any insight or information I've learned along the way to try and help my fellow chemists/scientists/professionals who may be going through the same thing.

For anyone reading this, in any field, and especially chemists specifically: have you been in this situation? How long were you between jobs, and what methods did you find worked the best (and worst) in your job search? Please share in the comments below and let's discuss and help each other out!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Love, Janis

A while ago,  I reviewed Alice Echols' fantastic and comprehensive biography of the legendary Janis Joplin, Scars of Sweet Paradise. Extensively researched, well written, and clearly by an admirer of Janis (but one who wasn't afraid to cast a critical eye), I declared it the definitive book on Janis. Around the same time that I bought that book, I also bought Love, Janis, written by Janis' younger sister Laura and one I had heard good things about several years ago.  Based on what I could glean from the back cover and blurbs I'd read online, Laura wrote a biography of her sister's entire life and included many unpublished letters Janis had written over the years. Armed with that bit of information, and expecting an obviously much more personal look at Janis' life, I dove into it not quite knowing what to expect but looking forward to it just the same.

Laura Joplin is six years younger than Janis, but was close to her famous older sister and thus writes from a definite position of love and affection. She starts off the book by tracing the family history on both their father's and mother's sides all the way back to the time of the Mayflower. Tracing the family's journey, the Joplins finally end up in Port Arthur, Texas, where Janis came into the world as the eldest child of Seth and Dorothy Joplin in January 1943. Born into an intellectual and creative family (Seth was a voracious reader, while Dorothy was a former singer and dancer), from the very beginning of her life Janis never quite fit in with the conservative, straight-laced society surrounding her. This was exacerbated by the Texas of the 1950s and 60s that she grew up in. Janis was a very intelligent and creative girl, especially when it came to art; she was a talented painter and even won some awards for her work as a child. What was surprising to me, especially when reading about Janis' pre-fame years, is how Laura told of a girl who was much more popular and had many more friends than has commonly been portrayed. While Janis did have her share of awkward moments and typical teenage growing pains, and certainly rubbed against the grain of her town's culture (most notably in her denouncing of segregation and racism), Laura portrays her adolescence in a much different light from how Echols did. Indeed, a common thread running throughout the book and one that became obvious to me right away was how Laura Joplin's  telling of Janis' story was much kinder, gentler, and almost apologetic when compared to the analytical and researched tone of Echols. A huge part of this is obviously down to Laura being Janis' sister and having witnessed so much of her life and career firsthand, while Echols had to rely on research, hearsay, and second-hand recollections from Janis' friends and family many years after the fact. It did seem though, in spots, that Laura was almost going too far the other way to counteract what she thought was unfair or incorrect in how Echols and countless others have written about Janis' younger days. This was most clearly seen in how she treated their parents: while Echols and others painted them as cold, uncaring, and not at all understanding of Janis, Laura tries to show them as warm, loving, and wholly supportive toward Janis. The truth, as usual, almost certainly lies somewhere in the middle. While I don't question that they loved their oldest daughter and did what they could for her, I also don't doubt that they grew to be exasperated, upset, and at some point they probably threw their hands in the air and gave up upon realizing there was nothing they could do to change her.

Laura traces Janis' life through high school and her numerous forays into college as a beatnik art student, which ran parallel alongside the development of her love of folk and blues music. Sneaking across the state line into Louisiana to hear authentic black blues and folk musicians, Janis began performing and writing her own music around Texas and developed her voice. She eventually made her way to Los Angeles and San Francisco in the early 1960s, a stint that nearly ended in disaster when she arrived back home in Texas emaciated and strung out after becoming addicted to shooting speed. The arrival back home in Texas coincided with Janis wanting to cast off her more bohemian, beatnik attitudes and try to fit into straight society...she even swore off performing during this time. However, while she was successful at this for a short time, it was clear she was forcing it. Precipitated by a break-up with a con-man fiance of hers (Peter de Blanc), whose deception she eventually sussed out, she fell back into performing and finally began making a name for herself in Texas. Eventually, she hooked up with Chet Helms, who took her to San Francisco in 1966 to audition for a band his Family Dog productions managed called Big Brother and the Holding Company. The rest, as they say, was history.  Laura does a nice job tracing Janis' career as Big Brother made their way out of the crowded San Francisco rock scene to become one of the leading lights of West Coast American rock in the late 1960s. However, after her meteoric rise following the launching pad of the Monterey Pop Festival, friction within Big Brother led Janis to go solo at the end of 1968. After getting off to a rocky start in early 1969, her new band settled down and even headlined Woodstock. By the beginning of 1970, drug use and insecurity were taking their toll on Janis' psyche, as well as her penchant to fall head-over-heels in love with the men she was dating after only knowing them a very short time. She also created her alter-ego Pearl around this time, which struck some as bizarre and gave further evidence to many around her that Janis was letting fame detach her from reality. By Laura's account, though, 1970 and her final band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, gave her some of the happiest times of her life and career. Her final album, Pearl, saw her feeling relaxed and creatively free, but for reasons that her family and friends still haven't been able to fully comprehend to this day, true happiness and contentment still eluded her. A semi-disastrous appearance at her ten-year high school reunion and her continued dabbling in heroin depressed and subdued her as summer turned to autumn in 1970. It was a fatal and accidental overdose of ultra-pure heroin that took her and the music world by surprise when she died at the age of 27 only a mere two and a half weeks after Jimi Hendrix.

Even knowing the ending beforehand, it was sad to read her sister describe Janis' final weeks and days, even more so when Janis' letters home were used to flesh out the narrative. It's these letters that make the entire book so compelling. Spanning the entirety of her life after she left home at eighteen, and covering the days when she was in college but not yet famous to the height of her stardom, the letters do the ultimate job of humanizing and personalizing (in the literal sense of the word) Janis Joplin. More than anything, they show her as she really was: just a girl from a small-town in Texas who marched to the beat of her own drum, believed in herself yet was paradoxically insecure, and was for the most part as unprepared and incredulous at the hoopla surrounding her as her own family was. Laura Joplin also does an excellent and rather poignant job of showing how, even during the tumultuous changes of the 1960s, she, her brother, and their parents never fit into Janis world and could never understand the counterculture in which Janis was among those at the epicenter. While Alice Echols' book was excellent in the way it went into real depth regarding Janis' life, career, and how they fit into the context of the 1960s, Laura Joplin's book brings Janis down to earth and softens her in a way only someone who knew her as a family member could.

While Laura does dispel some myths there are many cases where, as I mentioned above, she seems to overcompensate in the other direction to make certain events come across better than they probably were. This was most notable not only with how she portrayed their parents, but also how she downplayed Janis' sexual promiscuity (especially her lesbian affairs) and her drug use. This seemed a bit strange because it's been pretty well researched and corroborated how she behaved in those aspects of her life. However, in a way it's perhaps understandable as I can imagine those would be painful subjects for a sister to write about so critically and candidly. Apart from these and her strange tendency to describe every male friend or love interest of Janis' as though she were writing for a dating website ("he was six foot two, ruggedly handsome with tawny brown curly hair, a strong jawline, and broad shoulders"), Laura Joplin crafted a book that, while not necessarily the definitive biography of Janis (I still think Echols' book takes that honor), is still worthy and essential. It's one that I would suggest, along with Scars of Sweet Paradise, as necessary in order to get the most complete idea of who Janis Joplin really was.


Monday, November 21, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Beatles and the Avant Garde

Innovation in music and recording/audio production were part and parcel of the Beatles' groundbreaking approach to rock music in the 1960s; it was as much a part of their appeal as was their exceptional songwriting and musicianship. However, another aspect to the Beatles' success and the longevity of their music was their constantly changing sound; never content to recycle a successful formula, the Fab Four were always pushing forward for new sounds, new approaches, and new ways of communicating. This resulted in the Beatles going "a bit funny," as the Queen of England was supposedly quoted as saying to Brian Epstein in 1967 or so (whether this is apocryphal or not, it's plausible and quite humorous!).  But the Beatles "going funny" wasn't just a matter of the band expanding their consciousness with drugs the way everyone did back in the 1960s...rather, it was a very deliberate and conscious attempt at utilizing all of the outside influences that were exploding all over the arts scenes on both sides of the Atlantic. In particular, it was the avant garde artists, writers, and musicians of the era that influenced the music of the Beatles during their peak period of 1965-1968. In the new book The Beatles and the Avant Garde, author Aaron Krerowicz takes a scholarly look at the avant garde figures whose works crept into the Beatles music and how exactly they manifested themselves in their songs.

Aaron Krerowicz is the only full-time Beatles scholar in the USA and as such, has spent a fair amount of time researching the band from multiple angles. For this book, he has decided to investigate the avant garde influences that colored their music during the period spanning the middle to the end of their career (~1965-1969).  In the introduction, he lays out the format of the book in that it will have in-depth looks into the three figures whose avant garde leanings most impacted the Beatles' music: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono, to each of whom a major chapter is dedicated. Additionally, there are minor chapters on the two peripherally avant garde figures in the Beatles story, George Martin and George Harrison. It was nice to see that the author acknowledged that, contrary to forty-plus years of conventional wisdom amongst the public, it was Paul McCartney and not John Lennon who was not only the first of the Beatles to become interested in the avant garde, but was also the one who was most fully committed and knowledgeable about it. The chapter on Paul explores his earliest forays into the avant garde via the books he read, the lectures and concerts he attended in London, and the home experiments he conducted both with music and film. There's further discussion on how and when these influences showed themselves in Beatles music (most notably in the still-unreleased and Holy Grail early 1967 recording of "Carnival of Light") and how he has continued to flavor his music with these influences to this very day. The chapter on John is much the same, although as I mentioned above it was refreshing to see it stated, backed up with facts, that John was late to the avant garde party and followed in Paul's footsteps. Additionally, as with most things in his life, the (self-admitted) short attention span of Lennon's made for a full-on immersion into the avant garde with his various joint-vanity projects with Yoko Ono in 1968 before disappearing altogether by the time the Beatles split in 1970. Ono's chapter is quite interesting as, of the three, she was the most committed to the avant garde almost from the beginning of her career and continues to be to the present day...for her, it wasn't a way to shock or challenge people so much as it was simply her preferred way of communicating via her art.

Interspersed are two shorter chapters on the two Georges of the Beatles legend, Martin and Harrison. While the chapter on George Martin shows how he was interested in off-beat and somewhat avant garde comedy recordings even before he started working with the Beatles in 1962 and how, with this background, he was the perfect producer for them, the chapter on Harrison is a bit lighter in substance. George was always the most skeptical Beatle when it came to the avant garde (or, let's be honest, anything), famously quipping that he called it "avant garde a clue." Apart from his semi-plagiarized experimental album Electronic Sound from 1968, George was not avant garde at all, although I've always found it ironic how, on the two most avant garde Beatles songs ever recorded ("Revolution 9" and "What's the New Mary Jane") the only other Beatle to join John and Yoko on both was...George Harrison! There's no chapter on Ringo, and while I suppose it's understandable since, as the author mentions early on, he was the least involved Beatle in the songwriting process, I feel as though he could've been included in the chapter discussing George. While probably only known to hardcore Beatles fans, Ringo did dabble in some avant garde experimentation, most notably in the seven minute collage of tape loops and effects he created with John on the extended and unreleased version of "Flying," as well as the various effects and noises he peppered the famous (and personal favorite of mine) bootleg of early White Album mixes, the Peter Sellers Tape.  Including these would have beefed up the chapter on George Harrison a bit and covered all of the bases when it comes to avant garde Beatles, in my opinion.

Overall, this is a nice little book that is well written, easy to read, and quite informative. Anyone looking for in-depth discussion of Beatles music won't find it here, as the most detail is given to the various avant garde figures themselves and the works that influenced the Beatles' music. The book was well researched and has detailed footnotes to all references cited, although at times it felt more like reading a final university term paper than a book. While Beatles fans looking for florid discussions of their music will be disappointed, anyone who wants a scholarly look at the reasons for their music getting "weird" in the mid-1960s will enjoy this dig below the surface into how the avant garde tinged some of the greatest songs of the 20th century.

MY RATING: 7/10 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Status Update

For anyone wondering why I haven't been writing much lately: I was laid off from my job last week when my position was eliminated and sent overseas. While I am passionate about music and writing, my day job is what pays the bills. As you can imagine, my days are now consumed with looking for a new opportunity and a new gig.

I'm still writing and there will still be much more from me here, but right now finding a new job is my top priority and writing for my site/any of my projects will be fit in only when possible. I'm sure you all understand as I know that I've got very intelligent readers!

Thanks for your patience and stay tuned because there WILL be more to come!

Monday, October 31, 2016

I'll Get On My Knees and Pray...We Don't Get Fooled Again

If you read this blog, you know that The Who are one of my all-time favorite bands...I put them just slightly behind the Beatles for both their music and the indelible impact it has had on my life, and in many ways I rate Pete Townshend slightly ahead of Lennon and McCartney as my absolute favorite songwriter. 

One of my favorite Who songs, if not THE favorite, is "Won't Get Fooled Again," the epic closing track from their classic 1971 album Who's Next. According to Pete Townshend, he wrote it as a song warning about revolutions, especially revolutions just for the sake of change, positing that in the end, nothing ever really changes: the people who clamored for change end up being just as flawed as those they replaced, dooming the cycle to repeat itself.

Before I continue on, I am going to state right now that I am NOT turning this into a political post in terms of taking sides or arguing one way is better than the other. This isn't because I don't have strongly held convictions (I do), but rather because A) I don't want it to devolve into that sort of argument, especially since in 2016 barely anyone seems able to have a coherent discussion with someone holding opposing viewpoints, and B) both sides are equally flawed and need to be torn down and replaced. That's neither here nor there, however, and will be the extent of how political I get. Rather, I intend to analyze the lyrics and show how they apply to our current situation. Since Pete wrote this in 1971, my initial reaction over the years has always been to marvel at how prescient he was, but as I've gotten older I've realized more and more that the same problems and cycles of voting in change only to get none in the aftermath have been around for decades and will continue to be for decades to come. Instead than predicting the future, Pete instead chronicled a fundamental flaw of the human condition and couched his warning in an absolutely kick-ass rock song.

(As an American, I'm obviously applying this solely to our current political climate, but I'm sure the parallels are equally valid in the UK, and any other number of democratic/free countries where frequent elections take place). 

The song seems to take on extra significance every four years when we have a presidential election in this country, and none more so than in 2016. For the last eight years, everyone on both sides has campaigned on "change" and "progress," but a quick look around will show that nothing has changed and most of us are exactly where we were eight, ten, fifteen years ago, if not worse off. While the verses are frighteningly accurate every election cycle, it's the chorus that really clinches it for me:

"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again"

Granted, we don't undergo revolution when we elect a new president and congress, but we always seem to vote in sweeping change every ~20 years or so before realizing things didn't end up the way we wanted them to...we then overreact in the other direction and repeat the cycle again and again. It was George Santayana who said that "those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it," and even in the age of instant information at everyone's fingertips, we seem condemned to live this endless feedback loop.

First, here's the song in its entirety...please play at top volume in order to maximize the impact and enjoyment.

Listened to it? Great! Now, let's get down to brass tacks and look at these lyrics:

"Won't Get Fooled Again"
Written by Peter Townshend, recorded and performed by The Who
We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

(Revolution will be no-holds barred, yet the very people who stoked the flames at the beginning will position themselves to sit back, stay unaffected, and be the final arbiters of those who did the dirty work once the dust settles. This is exactly what politicians on both sides have done over the last twenty years or so whenever there's been a big disagreement between citizens over any number of social and economic issues)

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

(As stated the grand scheme of things, nothing is going to really change and the issues are going to still be there festering for the next upheaval. The only thing left to do is pray that cooler heads prevail next time and that society isn't duped again)

The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that's all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war

(The crux of this stanza is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Nothing has changed, the past is still the past, and the tin can (i.e. the issues that were the root causes of the revolution) is just kicked down the road to be dealt with again in the same fruitless way next time)

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
No, no

I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie
Do ya?
(As is usual in these situations, it's everyone out for themselves...the narrator takes care of his family while making a wry observation that those blinded by the cause (i.e. "hypnotized") and their followers think they never lie and are on the side of truth, even if they obviously aren't)

There's nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

(Nothing has changed, new slogans and buzzwords replace the old ones [this is VERY prescient for how discourse in the 2000s goes], and the problems of one side are the same as the other. We've all gotten older but no one has gotten any wiser)

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

(Pretty self-explanatory...Nothing. Ever. Changes. The people who were thought of to be terrible and needed replacing have been replaced be equally loathsome people. Sounds a lot like the Republican and Democratic parties, doesn't it?)

So there it is, the theme song for every US Presidential election since the early 1970s, and none more so than the looming 2016 contest.

And just because the song is so great and Keith Moon was a drumming legend, here are his isolated drums for the song...


Friday, October 21, 2016

You Wish You Could Throw Like My Girls!

"You throw like a girl!"

I despise that expression with a passion. But I've said it. So have you, I'm sure, and loads of people you know, too. I've even heard women say it. It's supposed to mean that you throw weakly, awkwardly, wimpy, and not the right way.

It's a load of bollocks.

Before anyone wonders, I am not turning this into any sort of political or ideological post and I will not tolerate anyone who does the same in the comments, because that's not even my point. I'm writing this from personal experiences but also in the hope that I can get anyone who hasn't come around to at least look at it from another point of view even if it doesn't change anybody's mind.

In order to set the stage, let me back up a bit. As I said above, I was guilty of using the expression growing up, and as I've already pointed out, I have heard almost as many women as men use it in its intended derogatory/chiding manner. However, my thinking began to change a lot once I became a parent. My wife and I were blessed with four incredible kids, three of whom are our beautiful daughters. I swore from the day that they were born that my girls would play sports, not cheer others on (and no offense intended to anyone who was/is a cheerleader or has daughters who cheer. It's just not something I ever wanted for my girls). I didn't realize how much I disliked the phrase "you throw like a girl," though, until I was watching the Super Bowl a couple of years ago (which my Patriots won!) with a former friend and his kids. There was a commercial which examined how the phrase makes boys and girls feel, both those who say it and those who it's said to. It was the rare ad that actually made me stop and pay attention and really hit a nerve, especially since I was watching it with my two oldest daughters (my wife was upstairs putting our younger two kids to bed). What really made it hit home for me was when my former friend was sitting there next to me mocking the ad and the kids in it while his own daughter was right there in the room! I couldn't believe it, but I held my tongue and didn't say anything (and this situation isn't the reason we're not friends any more, but that's neither here nor there). By that time, both of my daughters had been playing softball and soccer and I supported them (and I still do) every step of the way, so to realize that this term was meant to imply that doing something poorly was equated to doing it the way my girls might...I didn't like that at all.

Fast forward to the present and my two oldest girls are 11 1/12 and 10. Both play softball and both are really good at it. I've taught them how to throw, catch, and hit a softball properly and they do it every bit as good, if not better in many cases, than any boy their age. They play hard, slide into bases, get dirty diving for grounders and fly balls, and are tough. One is a shortstop/first baseman and the other is a catcher (just like her dad!). I've taught them how to throw a football with a tight spiral, how to shoot a jump shot, how to read stat lines and box scores for baseball games, and the finer points of basketball and football. My youngest daughter is 5 1/2 and good at hitting and throwing a baseball, although she prefers soccer. She's fast, aggressive, and has a good strong kick. (My 7 year old son is really good at baseball and plays basketball, but he's a boy so he gets left out of this post!). My girls most certainly don't throw, hit, catch, kick, or run any differently than any boy, and in many ways they're better than many girls AND boys their own age who play sports. So nowadays, every time I hear someone mocks another person by saying they "throw like a girl," I tell them straight up what an insult that is to my girls!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Big Papi's Final Rodeo (or, the Red Sox Are Back in the Playoffs!)

Our view at Fenway Park, August 14, 2016

Another sports/baseball related post, but that's okay because it's one of my favorite times of year...MLB playoff time! My Boston Red Sox won their division (AL East) and open up their postseason tonight in the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. Since winning the World Series in 2013, the Sox finished in last place the previous two seasons before finally fielding another winner this year, which happens to also be David "Big Papi" Ortiz' final season. It's been really exciting to see how well the team played with a mixture of veterans like Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Dustin Pedroia alongside exciting new homegrown stars like Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi. Even though there were some ups and downs along the way, the team was able to hold off the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Yankees and capture the division.  Here's hoping that the Sox can get Big Papi (and Red Sox Nation) one final parting gift ahead of his retirement at the season's end: a fourth World Series ring!

My prediction for this series is based on several factors: the Red Sox having the best offense in the American League, having nearly identical home and road records (Cleveland has homefield advantage for this series), the Sox having two great starters in Porcello and Price, and Cleveland's starting rotation being decimated by injuries. In their favor, the Indians have a much better home record than they do on the road, the second best offense in the AL (behind the Sox), a superior bullpen, and our former manager Terry Francona at the helm. The managerial advantage alone is a huge one for Cleveland, especially given Sox manager John Farrell's penchant for making poor in-game decisions. 

That being said, I predict that the Red Sox will win the series in four games and move on to the ALCS.

Whatever happens, it'll be interesting...that's why they play the games, and I'll be watching every pitch!

How about you? For all the baseball fans reading this, who's your favorite team and, if they're in the playoffs, how do you think they'll do?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (If You're a Sports Fan!)

Ah, September is almost over and the weather is finally starting to cool down as autumn approaches. This has always been my favorite time of year for a multitude of reasons, ranging from the weather to the beautiful fall foliage, my kids starting another school year, and of course SPORTS! At this time of year, football season is starting, baseball season is coming to an end and heading into the playoffs (and in my opinion, baseball playoffs are second only to hockey playoffs in greatness), and basketball and hockey seasons are starting.

For a Boston sports fan like me, in 2016 this means that the Patriots, even with Tom Brady out for the first four games, are already 3-0 and on their way to contend for another Super Bowl; the Red Sox are one game away from clinching their division, tied for the best record in the American League, and a contender for the World Series; the Celtics should be the second- or third-best team in the Eastern Conference this year with their successful season last year and the addition of Al Horford; and the Bruins...well, they're still rebuilding but they should at least be better than last year!

On top of all of that, all four of my kids are playing sports this fall: my two oldest daughters are playing softball, my son is playing baseball, and my youngest daughter is playing soccer. With at least one practice just about every night of the week and multiple games on the weekends (we had *FIVE* last weekend), it keeps us busy, but they're having fun and so are my wife and I. The improvement in all of their skills just from the spring is huge and more than that, they are all passionate about their sports.

Yep, I love fall!  Do you? If so, what are some reasons why?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Come Together: Lennon and McCartney in the Seventies

The friendship and songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney has fascinated nearly everyone who has been captivated by the Beatles in the half century since they became the most successful musical group of all time. They met as teenagers in 1957 (John was not quite 17, Paul just 15) and for the next thirteen years were each other's best friends, songwriting partners, and in a very real way, brothers. However, due to the very public falling out the Beatles had when they split in 1970, as well as the numerous nasty swipes Lennon took at McCartney in the press during the early 1970s, the conventional wisdom for many years was that from 1970 onward, they hated each other. While more information has come out over the years showing that they did reconcile by 1974 and maintain a friendship until Lennon's tragic murder in 1980, there hasn't been an in-depth look at their relationship in the decade following the Beatles' demise until now. When I was approached with the opportunity to review the brand new book Come Together: Lennon and McCartney in the Seventies by Richard White, I was very excited. Not only did the premise seem interesting, but it purported to be newly and extensively researched. With all of that anticipation, I was eager to dive in to this book when I got it; however, the reality was far different. Read on to see what I mean...

***special thanks to Neil at Omnibus Press for sending me a copy of the book to review!***

From the beginning, author Richard White makes it clear that the premise of his book is that, contrary to what the general public believed during the decade following the Beatles' split in 1970, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were indeed still friends and had definite plans to work together again...plans that sadly never ended up coming to fruition for a variety of reasons. This information has been well known for a long time, but the promise of new interviews and evidence shedding more light on these tantalizing rumors initially made the book enticing. My trepidation was heightened a bit after reading the introduction and the first couple of chapters which dealt almost exclusively with John Lennon. "Uh oh," I thought..."another book focusing almost entirely on Lennon at the expense of McCartney." For the most part, that turned out to be the case with Come Together. While there was a lot of in-depth analysis and discussion of John's life and music in the immediate aftermath of the Beatles' break-up, any mention of McCartney was tossed in almost as an afterthought, or at best in a "oh yeah, Paul did something that year, too" fashion. This is just one of the many problems I had with the book, which I'll break down into content (this paragraph) and style (the following paragraph). As far as content goes, Come Together not only didn't really offer anything new in terms of information, but it didn't even present the existing information in an effective way. Almost all of the "new" material White researched for the book seems to be from new interviews with a few members of Lennon's one-time backing band Elephant's Memory, one of the engineers from the Record Plant who worked with John, and session drummer Jim Keltner (who played on loads of John's records, but none of Paul's...more on this later). These ended up being little more than anecdotes about how cool John was, how nice he was, how excited they were to work with a real live Beatle, and how talented and hard-working he was. There wasn't much insight into his life with Yoko, May Pang, or Paul (all of which has been described in greater depth elsewhere), and was actually quite contradictory: on one hand, Keltner and the others were quoted as saying John never spoke about Paul, while on the other hand Pang (who was closer to John than anyone else during the mid-1970s) says he did. There's some discussion on their meeting in Los Angeles in 1974 when they were photographed together for the only time post-1970, and their plans (partially thwarted by Yoko) to reconvene in New Orleans in 1975 to work on music together, but other than that, for a book that is supposed to be about their relationship in the seventies, it ended up being little more than a John Lennon-in-the-1970s biography with a little bit of McCartney, too much Harrison and Starr, and not much else sprinkled in throughout. There's also entirely too much space devoted to the history of the Beatles' career and music (including a whole chapter on Sgt. Pepper!) and their break-up and the subsequent lawsuits. Again, it's been done elsewhere, done better, and doesn't fit into the narrative of this least certainly not in terms of how many pages were devoted.

As for style, this book was a real slog to get through and I was very tempted to give up halfway through, although I stuck it out to the bitter end. The writing does not flow well at all and is not particularly sophisticated. There are numerous passages quoted from well-known sources, which make up large chunks of each chapter, and one incredibly annoying habit the author has throughout the book is the repetition of entire paragraphs and themes mere pages later. For example, a discussion on Lennon's work habits would finish and the chapter moved on, only for the EXACT SAME discussion on his work habits, word for word, be repeated completely a few pages later. It's the literary equivalent of this:

...and I'm not even exaggerating. This had the effect of stretching the chapters out far long than was necessary and comes across as though it was a high school student trying to hit the page limit for a term paper using this trick. Another thing I noticed that really irritated me was how certain passages were lifted from their sources out of context in order to imply something completely different from how they were originally intended. In one case, the author wanted to show how the individual Beatles all had differing musical tastes and how they combined them to create their music; he then proceeded to use a passage from Lennon's 1971 court statement where he was originally savaging and poking fun at McCartney by saying that he (Paul) had mainstream pop tastes while he (John) and George had more underground and avant garde tastes. By taking it out of its original setting and context, White set this passage up to sound more like John having a good-natured discussion on their different likes and dislikes when it was anything but! The description of the infamous bootleg "A Toot and a Snore in '74" is also poorly done. This recording of the only known time John and Paul jammed together after the Beatles is a fascinating document from a historical standpoint, but an absolutely unlistenable mess musically. However, from reading the write-up in this book, one would think that it was simply a slightly sloppy and loose but fun jam session when in reality it's little more than drugged-up studio banter and a handful of half-hearted and soon aborted stabs at some old 1950s & 60s rock classics that the assembled group of musicians can barely remember and get through.

Almost all of the books referenced, mentioned, or used as source material in Come Together are books I own and have read, so apart from the new interview with Keltner and the others mentioned above, there's little new in this disjointed book. Even the two sections of photographs add little, as most consist of photos either of the two during their Beatle years, or random shots from the 1970s. There isn't even a photo from their 1974 get-together which makes absolutely no sense given that their relationship in the 1970s is the entire premise of the book in the first place! I found this omission to be overall emblematic of this book's numerous problems. For me, it failed in all of the criteria I look for in a worthwhile book: it wasn't well constructed or well written, it wasn't enjoyable to read, and I didn't learn anything new from it. While the songwriting and lives of John Lennon and Paul McCartney will continue to fascinate people for years to come, this book won't.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

CONCERT REVIEW: Billy Joel at Fenway Park, Boston MA August 18, 2016

My ticket stub
This review is coming to you quite a bit after the fact and I'm well aware of it, but this concert was right in the middle of my vacation and I had planned all along to unplug and relax as much as possible during my time away. Now that I've been back home for over a week and have readjusted to the normal everyday routine of life, I'm back in the saddle (desk chair?) and ready to write, so here it is!

Earlier in the week of August 14th, my wife and I took our kids to see the Red Sox play the Arizona Diamondbacks at Fenway Park. We had also invited my uncle and cousin so we met them there to enjoy a Sunday afternoon at the ballpark. It was the Sox' final home game before a long road trip and the first time our kids had been to a Major League Baseball game. They loved it and we had a great time, even though it happened to be the hottest afternoon of the week, 95 oF and humid and with the heat index the "real feel" air temp was 105 oF! A few days after the game, Mrs. Chemist and I left the kids with my parents and drove back into Boston. For this occasion, we had booked a hotel room in advance so that we could stay in the city after the concert instead of driving back late at night; it would also be the first time since we starting having our kids almost twelve years ago that we'd ever had an overnight on our own, so we were really looking forward to it. After parking the car and checking into our great hotel (shout out to the Newbury Guest House...we'll definitely be back!), we decided to stroll around and grab some dinner before hopping the T to Kenmore Square. As soon as we got up to street level at Kenmore, it was predictably mobbed with people trying to make their way the two blocks to Fenway Park, as well as people trying to scalp tickets and T-shirts. I was even offered an "intense sideburn discount" for one of the shirts...I guess he liked my 'burns! Once we got inside the park, we made our way to our seats. I had known from buying the tickets back in January that the seats were to the side of the stage and, knowing the funky angles of Fenway Park from all of the baseball games I've seen there, was a bit worried that the view wouldn't be good, but they turned out to be very nice seats. We were up above the field on the wall about halfway between third base and the Green Monster, and at the end of a row so we had a clear view of everything. The concert was set to start at 7:30pm and we were in our seats by 7pm, but it didn't actually start until close to 8:15pm. In the meantime, we ended up speaking to two very nice ladies sitting next to us who had seen Billy in concert over a dozen times. Finally, the lights went out and some classical music was played over the PA system as Billy and his band took to the stage. After sitting down at his piano, it was time to get started!

The stage from our seats

The Green Monster before the show

Dr. and Mrs. Rock and Roll Chemist in our seats waiting for the show to begin

Seeing as we were all in the oldest ballpark in the country, they started the concert off with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" before setting things off with a bang with the rapid-fire piano intro to "Prelude/Angry Young Man." The sound mix was pretty good although, surprisingly for an outdoor concert it was a little shrill and tinny on the ears. Overall a nice mix, but Billy's vocals were a bit too low and his piano a bit too high such that it got lost in the other high frequencies (cymbals, guitars) sometimes. One of the great things about his set lists is that while he has a core set of songs that he plays at every show, he mixes up the rest a LOT, pulling lots of deep album cuts and rarities into the set making each show quite different. After the opener and an excellent "Pressure," they did the first half of "Dirty Water" in honor of being at the Red Sox' home field, although Billy admitted that as a Yankees fan (to which he got some good-natured booing), he didn't know the rest! Before "Big Man on Mulberry Street" he announced that "this wasn't a hit single, so if you want to go to the bathrooms now would be a good time!" A recurring theme throughout the night was his very humorous (and oftentimes self-deprecating) banter...very off-the-cuff and real, and very funny!  Throughout the show, he kept swatting at the bugs attracted to the bright stage lights with a flyswatter, many times in perfect time during songs without missing a beat. During one break between songs, he mentioned how he hasn't "had a record in the charts in 23 years...and here I am playing baseball stadiums at 67!" This drew loud and appreciative cheers and was a nice acknowledgment that his fantastic body of work has stood the test of time and continues to do so.

He did a quick audience vote for either "Summer, Highland Falls" or "Vienna" and while I love both songs, the crowd overwhelmingly voted for "Vienna" which was fine with me as it's one of my favorite songs of his. For the instrumental "Root Beer Rag," which is a showcase for Billy's piano playing, he brought up "a local Boston musician...Bradley Bartlett, the Boston Piano Kid!" Bradley is only 13 years old, but he sat down at a piano that had been set up opposite Billy's and proceeded to play the song along with Billy note for note. The sellout crowd and loud cheers didn't seem to phase him one bit and he had the biggest smile on his face once the song was done and he got a standing ovation...a very cool moment! A pair of New York-centric songs followed and were excellent, although I wonder if anyone else who was there noticed the pockets of cheers after Billy sang the line in "Miami 2017" where they "threw the Yankees in for free!" I grinned to myself at that one. "And So it Goes" was Billy alone at the piano and was just beautiful, while the crowd singing along to "She's Always a Woman" so impressed him that he gave us a big compliment after the song ended. Guitarist Mike Delguidice sang lead on "Sweet Caroline," a Neil Diamond cover that is played near the end of Red Sox games at Fenway Park.  Personally, it's one of the new "traditions" over the last decade that as a longtime Red Sox fan (i.e. one who actually remembers what it was like for many years before 2004) that I loathe, but I duly stood up with the rest of the crowd and half-heartedly made the right motions and hollers at the appropriate times. Mike also sang a short Puccini opera song (in impeccable Italian) as a lead in to one of my favorite songs, "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant." For the set closer, as soon as Billy put the harmonica around his neck we all knew what was coming, and I think every single person present sang every word to "Piano Man." 

Set List:

Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Prelude/Angry Young Man
Dirty Water
My Life
Big Man on Mulberry Street 
The Entertainer
Root Beer Rag (w/Bradley Bartlett)
Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
New York State of Mind
The Downeaster Alexa
Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
And So it Goes
She's Always a Woman
Sweet Caroline
Sometimes a Fantasy
Don't Ask Me Why
The River of Dreams (w/Heatwave)
Nessun Dorma
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
Piano Man

We Didn't Start the Fire
Uptown Girl
It's Still Rock and Roll to Me
Big Shot
You May Be Right (w/Rock and Roll)
Only the Good Die Young

Before the band came back onstage for the encores, my wife turned to me and said she hoped she'd hear one of her two favorite Billy Joel songs, "We Didn't Start the Fire" or "Uptown Girl." Coincidentally, he led off the encore section with those two songs! Neither she nor I had looked at any of his previous set lists online before the show, so to say that was an eerie coincidence would be totally appropriate. He played rhythm guitar for the first song, while for the next couple of songs, Billy sang at the front of the stage and worked the mic stand like a 1960s rock and roll pro. The concert was brought to a close with "Only the Good Die Young"...the band went off stage, the lights came on, and the concert was over to thunderous applause and appreciative hollering. They threw a couple of covers into other songs during the set ("Heatwave" in the middle of "River of Dreams" and Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" in the middle of "You May Be Right") and delivered a powerhouse (and fun!) performance from beginning to end. The horn section was so nice to hear, as many of Billy's songs are very heavy on the horns and most bands these days try to mimic those parts with synthesizers (*cough* Paul McCartney *cough*). The entire group was tight and locked in, and you could really tell they were having a blast playing those songs with each other. Billy spent the vast majority of the show behind his piano, which was on a rotating swivel at the front of the stage so that he could spend portions of the show looking at each side of the crowd, as well as dead center. His voice was clear and strong, the result of him wisely lowering the keys to his songs as he's aged in order to compensate for its deepening.

"And So it Goes"

"Piano Man" complete with harmonica

"We Didn't Start the Fire"

"You May Be Right"

We left the concert absolutely blown away by Billy's energy, musicianship, and humor. It was one of the best concerts I've ever been to and I will definitely go see him again if given the chance. He played for over two hours and the range of material from his entire career that they played made it very hard for me to imagine anyone leaving dissatisfied. One thing I noticed right away both at the concert as well as on the T back to the hotel was the cross-section of ages and backgrounds we saw at the show: men and women of different races, ranging in age from Baby Boomers to teenagers and everything in between, all enjoying the show. I heard kids barely in their 20s on the subway after the show talking about how great it was, and it's nice to see how much of a late-career critical renaissance Billy has gotten after being dismissed by a lot of the more smug critics during his heyday of million-selling albums and chart-topping singles in the 1970s and 80s.  After getting off at our stop, we walked the few blocks to our hotel in the still-muggy night. It took a while for us to relax and decompress from how great the concert was, but after managing to get to sleep, Mrs. Chemist and I woke up early and spent the next day enjoying Boston, just the two of us, before heading back to my parents' house and our kids. It was great to combine a mini-overnight vacation with my wife with the concert, and it was definitely worth waiting eight months after buying tickets to see Billy. He may have stopped writing, recording, and releasing new music but he is still an incredible musician and performer and with that body of work to his credit, he has more than enough to draw on to make every show a worthwhile and fantastic experience. If you haven't seen Billy live, I recommend won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It's Catch-Up Time!

This week marks my return from the long, relaxing, and much-needed vacation I took with my family, and my return to the real world of the daily work grind, kids in school and on sports teams, and normal everyday life. While I was away, I purposely avoided checking my work email, answering work-related phone calls and texts, and limited my time online.  What this means is that even though I did many things that warrant being written about, I didn't spend a lick of time at the keyboard! Now that I'm getting settled back into the "real world" (or as "real" as it can be at present), I'm also getting back into the writing groove. There's lots for me to write about: book reviews, my review of the Billy Joel concert I went to last week, taking my kids to their first Red Sox game at Fenway Park, thoughts on sports, and more.  I hope those of you who enjoy reading some (or all) of my posts can bear with me as I begin to work on all of these...I promise (hope) it'll be worth the wait!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Holiday, Vacation...Whatever You Want to Call It

It's that time of the year when a nice, long break from the daily grind of work is in order. Unlike most years where I typically take several short 3-4 day breaks over the course of the year, in 2016 I've barely taken any time off. The plan has been to cash in all of my vacation days for an extended break this summer, and while I'm excited that it's finally coming this week, I'm also pretty burned out. More than anything, I'm mentally exhausted from the stresses of work and just need some time away to recharge my batteries, relax, and enjoy time with my family and friends.  Mrs. Chemist and I have a lot planned for our time away (including, among other things, taking the kids to their first Red Sox game and seeing Billy Joel in concert) and while I'll continue to write, my posting on here will probably be sporadic (if I even post anything at all while I'm away). However, you can rest assured that I'll write about our trip, the game, and the concert (among other things) when I get back. I've also got lots of ideas for posts that I just need time to flesh out and write, so hopefully the extended break will get the creative juices flowing even more than usual.

Here's to coming back more refreshed and focused as the summer comes to an end!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"I Thought I Knew You...What Did I Know?"

Or perhaps, "I Knew You Then, But Do I Know You Now?"

They say writing is good therapy and an effective way to get feelings and thoughts out in a way that's easier than doing so verbally, so here goes nothing...

This is a difficult post for me to write, and I'm warning my readers up front that I'm going to be intentionally vague about details in order to protect the people affected, but my world was rocked the other night with some news I got about someone I know. We'd been close friends for almost ten years and were in regular contact, with plans to get our families together in a couple of weeks once I'm on vacation. Then, oddly, I didn't hear from him for a couple of weeks. We'd last communicated on good terms so I had no idea what was going on and began to get concerned that something was wrong. Imagine my surprise when his wife contacted me a week ago to let me know that he was in jail for having a sexual affair with a minor. Needless to say, I was stunned: first, as a husband and father of four (three of whom are my precious daughters) I was appalled by his actions; second, I was thrown for a loop because in all the time I'd known him I never would've expected him to do something like that.  My heart goes out to his wife and two children, neither of whom he'll probably ever see again, and I've wiped him out of my life by deleting and blocking him from my phone and social media accounts. 

While all of this has been a huge shock to me, it's also shaken me regarding my ability to read people. All I've been able to think about it is how he could do such a thing? I'd known the guy for almost a decade and he was one of my closest friends. I never suspected he could or would do anything like this, not in a million years. I thought I knew him but now I'm wondering if I ever really did? Did I only know who he presented to the world while he kept the rest of his true self hidden?  It's made me wonder if I'm a poor judge of character, or if I'm too gullible that I fell for it. I also feel the tiniest twinge of guilt over cutting someone who was such a close friend out of my life so wholly and suddenly, but I then remind myself that he did that to himself and that what he did was so heinous that I can never have anyone who is capable of that in my life in any capacity.  I have a nagging fear that he'll try to contact me when he gets out on bail (which is only happening after he gets fitted with a tracking ankle bracelet) since we haven't spoken in almost a while and we were supposed to meet up later this month. I've blocked him from my phone and social media and if he does try to get in touch, I'm just going to ignore it, but it's a situation I hope I won't be in in the first place. Finally, it's set my mind racing as to whether anyone else I know has something so horrifying as this hidden within them. However, I am refusing to let this prevent me from trusting wholeheartedly in the rest of the people in my mind who haven't given me a reason not to.

Basically, this entire thing has really knocked me sideways and I'm still coming to terms with it, not only in terms of sympathy for the victims, but all of the anger, disappointment, horror, and confusion it's wrought in me. I plan on following the case as it's reported on in the papers and I don't feel any remorse in hoping for a just and severe punishment. Some things are simply beyond the pale regardless of how close you once were (or thought you were) to someone.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Pink Floyd: The Ultimate Reference

Among the numerous books about Pink Floyd that I've written about on this site, there was one I reviewed a short while back called Echoes which was subtitled "the complete history of Pink Floyd."  It was a thorough day-by-day chronicle of the band's entire existence from the birth of the band members in early 1940s through 2006. It was a chronological record of every recording session, live concert, TV and radio appearance, and record release over the course of forty years and ranks alongside similar books on the Beatles and Kinks as essential tomes for fans of those bands. However, I became aware of a new book called The Complete Pink Floyd from a publisher I was working with on another book; they asked me if I'd be interested and I of course said yes. It's brand new (published in 2016) and by the same author: renowned Pink Floyd expert Glenn Povey. At first glance it looked much the same as Echoes, although much thicker. What, if any, were the differences between the two books? That's what I set out to discover and I'll convey my findings in this review.

***special thanks to Carol at Carlton Publishing for sending a copy of the book to review!*** 

The first thing I should note is that I was sent a copy of the UK edition of the book...the US edition is the same in every way except for different cover art. Second, from the moment I opened the book it was clear that this is really an updated and revised edition of Echoes. In fact, with the death of Richard Wright in 2008 since the publication of Echoes and the final non-archival releases from Pink Floyd in the interim (2014's The Endless River), The Complete Pink Floyd can be seen more as the final edition of the book. It goes up to the end of 2015 and so includes the additional Pink Floyd reissues and releases since 2006, as well as additional solo releases and live concert appearances from Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright in the interim. The layout of the book is the same as in Echoes, with each chapter devoted to a year or cluster of years/era from the band's career. Within each chapter, the first several pages are devoted to a write-up describing their activities during that time; after this is the day-by-day diary section describing everything they did during that period. The chapters are accompanied by lots of photographs of the band during those specific eras, as well as various memorabilia, mainly concert posters/flyers and ticket stubs. Many of the entries for concerts include contemporary press reports and reviews to give an idea of how their albums and concerts were received at the time; this is especially beneficial when comparing with the retrospective views on much of their work. Where this updated and expanded edition really shines is in documenting their recording sessions, especially during the early years through their mid-career (~1975). With unprecedented access to the Abbey Road Studios archives, Povey is able to give the most detailed analysis yet of their recording career, detailing every take, edit piece, alternate/working title, and unreleased song they ever worked on. There are even some songs that were lost forever which are finally chronicled. While after a while it all becomes a bit repetitive, it's still very nice to have all of this information at one's fingertips and in one volume.

While this book doesn't really lend itself to front-to-back reading, I did just that the very first time in order to make sure I didn't miss anything. However, this is a book that is best enjoyed when being used as a reference guide for serious fans. Overall, as Echoes was, it's an excellent book although I do have a few criticisms. First, while the photographs are wonderful, there are many nice ones from the previous edition that are now missing (most notably, a shot of Frank Zappa onstage with Pink Floyd in 1969). Second, the narrative write-ups that lead off each chapter are really nice, but large chunks of them are repeated word-for-word during the sections that detail each album and single release; this just seems a bit lazy, but is only a minor criticism. The remainder of the book has extensive discographies of Pink Floyd, as well as the various members' solo releases and is an invaluable guide for any collector or fan. In all, this is the final word on Pink Floyd's day-to-day career and truly lives up to its subtitle as "the ultimate reference." If you're a serious Floyd fan, you need this book.

MY RATING: 9.5/10