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Book Review

“Rainbow in the Dark – The Autobiography” by Ronnie James Dio with Wendy Dio and Mick Wall [Book Review]

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If you’re a hard rock/heavy metal fan, you undoubtedly know the name Ronnie James Dio. Somewhere along the line, your ears have crossed paths with Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and/or Dio. If you’re not a heavy metal fan, you’ve probably, at the very least, heard of him. Somewhere along the line, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some yahoo walking down the street with a Dio patch on her/his battle jacket, or have heard a snippet of something from one of the Sabbath albums Dio fronted, or any number of the hits from the Dio albums, even if it’s been via drunken and shitty karaoke renditions.

On a broader cultural note, everyone, heavy metal/hard rock fan or not included, knows about and has seen the index-and-pinky-finger ‘devil horns’ salute. In fact, I’d bet a bunch of money I don’t have that most everyone reading this has flashed the symbol, whether in whole-hearted seriousness or ironic mocking. One of the earliest anecdotes in this, the autobiography of one Ronald James Padavona, the author makes mention of how when growing up, his grandmother used to flash a hand gesture he knew as the Maloik at certain passing pedestrians and bystanders as a spiritual protective measure while walking the mean streets of Cortland, New York. While various explanations have been proffered to the origins of the horns and their relation to heavy metal, Dio makes a pretty good claim as to the how, why, and popularity of the symbol without arrogance or the desire for recognition or anything restitutive. In fact, later when he’s discussing the enthusiastic crowds surrounding Black Sabbath and their collective use of the salute, he seems mostly elated that he was able to have his “gramma” share in and contribute to his success.

Throughout Rainbow in the Dark, the diminutive vocalist with the absolutely not diminutive vocal chords rarely, if ever, lays claim to being an innovator of the scene or culture of heavy metal, despite the man, the voice and the sounds he created becoming inseparable metal icons. For Dio, it was only ever about the music; he just wanted to write and sing to the best of his ability, no matter if he was laying down the boogie rocking blues with Elf, spinning fantastical yarns with the hard-rocking Rainbow, playing a major role in the revitalization of Black Sabbath after substances and the loss of Ozzy Osbourne threatened the band, or fronting his own group to great success.

Covering the “first half of his life story” from early childhood up to the night his band headlined Madison Square Garden in 1986 (fulfilling a dream of his and most New York musicians), Rainbow in the Dark was culled together by Dio’s second wife and long time manager, Wendy Dio and legendary rock journalist Mick Wall from stacks of hand-written pages, folders of notes, dot-matrix print outs, and cocktail napkin recollections into the book’s smooth-flowing narrative. Early on (in the intro written by Wendy, the prologue itself, and the first chapter), one of the ongoing themes becomes evidently salient; that is the idea of how quickly paths can be found or missed. If Mr. Padavona hadn’t forced his baseball-loving kid into trumpet lessons at an early age, we might never be talking about one of the greatest heavy metal singers of all time. Instead, we might be casually brushing aside discussion of a double-A ball role player, because hardly anyone who is 5’3″ tall is going to catch the eye of pro scouts beyond comments about the condensed size of their strike zone.

And if Ronnie hadn’t been forced to play trumpet, his early instructors would never have stopped in wonder about the pint-sized kid’s ability to expel lung capacity like the proverbial motherfucker. And if he hadn’t taken the advice of an early bandmate and stepped up to the mic instead of solely focusing on the bass, who knows what might have never happened? This sort of trailblazing with ambition, but without a blueprint is a theme that pushed Dio from his band leading days in the ’50s and ’60s into Elf, then into Rainbow, then into Black Sabbath, and then towards the idea of going rogue after the success of Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules and bankrolling his own band with his own money and only one riff in the bag.

Fans should also be thankful Dio survived as long and well as he did considering the variety of accidents he and his band got into while on tour back in the ’60s. There were a number of near-tragic and tragic encounters involving cars and other cars, cars and errant animals, vans and drunk drivers and even planes with disabled landing gear before most people even knew the name Ronnie James Dio. Dude had some serious horseshoes rammed up his rumpus. Readers will take note of an ongoing anecdote throughout the book that indicates he’s actually quite lucky he wasn’t taken out by the Miami mob back in the day, if we’re being honest.

But most importantly to the Dio story, is the support system he had around him as he made his musical and business moves. Early on, he always seemed to have a family or marital home waiting for him in Cortland after seasonal residencies, stints on the road, or blocks of time spent recording in studios, not in Cortland. He preferred to set himself up with understanding folks in addition to similarly hard-working, driven and talented players and demanded the best from everyone behind the scenes as well. After meeting and marrying Wendy, he had her as support in the fields of emotional, financial, business, division of labour, and anything else you can imagine that your partner would never in a million years do for you, especially after cutting ties with Black Sabbath following the release of two of the band’s more popular releases.

Rainbow in the Dark is a quick and concise read. There’s no exact indication of how much of the manuscript and Dio’s own words have been sculpted by Wall’s editorial skills and scribe’s eye, but there’s a certain Hemmingway-esque style to the written brevity and to-the-point detail. The book isn’t long to begin with, but it flies by, even if you stop to re-read the passages pertaining to how much money was and wasn’t being made at various points in Dio’s illustrious career, the risks taken in getting Dio (the band) off the ground and how simple he makes something like flying to England to find and try out guitar players on a whim sound.

We’re also not sure over what amount of time the memories and stories compiled in this book were written, the reader can feel Dio’s attitude towards the business shift, especially as his wife positioned herself as an effective and competent manager which allowed him to worry less about the stuff he never liked worrying about in the first place. He does at one point credit, not just his own manager, but all managers for their importance in elevating any musician’s career and the thankless tasks they embark upon. You can also feel Dio’s confidence emerge as he tackles self-doubt and the public’s unjust perceptions as the guy who played a role in yanking Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple, replacing Ozzy in Black Sabbath, then leaving Sabbath high and dry for a solo career spotlight. But for Dio, it was always about doing what you love — art above politics regardless of risk. After reading this, it becomes clear why he remains a respected figure in a world most people see as dark and shadowy.

By: Ronnie James Dio, Wendy Dio and Mick Wall
Publisher: Permuted Press
Release Date: July 27th, 2021
Format / Length: Paperback, 264 Pages
ISBN-10: 1642939749
ISBN-13: 978-1642939743

Book Review

“Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti” by Mark Mothersbaugh [Book Review]

‘Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti’ (Blank Industries) is a fascinating trip into the mind of a unique artist, Mark Mothersbaugh.

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Mark Mothersbaugh “Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti” book cover
Mark Mothersbaugh “Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti” book cover

Mark Mothersbaugh’s Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti is a book like no other; no argument. At first glance, a volume of over 500 identical images of a pair of stylized, staring brown eyes, with a distinctively retro (1960s) feel. Each image of the eyes is adorned by Motherbaugh’s daily graffiti (sometimes more than one a day).

That the artist feels the need to add a guide telling us how to view the book suggests that it is not there to be merely dipped into, but the repetition of the pieces also makes it hard to plan a prolonged session in its company. This would possibly suggest an element of self-indulgence on his part, but this is art, where self-indulgence becomes artistic licence. Nobody is forcing you to look into these eyes.

Mothersbaugh is better known as a member of DEVO, the Ohio new wave band who, despite forming in the early ’70s, became known as a product of the ’80s due to their cult hit “Whip It” in 1980. Their appearance, usually in overalls with red cone hats, pointedly staring at the camera, provided a Stateside version of Kraftwerk and fiercely promoted ideas of pop art, surrealism, and Dadaism. If this book can be considered an extension of the DEVO movement, it might make more sense, or maybe it should be viewed as its own mysterious entity.

Various prefaces to the actual artwork provide some context, particularly the artist’s admission that he has always, in whatever capacity, been partially sighted, which has affected his view on life and, therefore, his art, be that in music or visuals. Whilst the daubing on each page, a mixture of seemingly random statements and comic book figures certainly tick the boxes of Beatnik graffiti, the apotropaic element may need more exposition.

Mothersbaugh attempts to put pay to the common assumption that the concept of the Evil Eye is purely evil and puts forth how it can also be a method of warding off evil spirits. Therefore, looking into these artificial eyes can perhaps provide the reader with a healing or cleansing process whilst providing entertainment at a more base level. Some of the images are genuinely funny, while others raise questions and set up food for thought.

A story is offered before the journey begins of a pirate entering a beatnik-strewn café in the ’60s, revealing his evil eye from behind his eye patch, only to be challenged by the waitress who keeps the evil eye in her pants. Their face-off opens up a time tunnel to 2017 when Mothersbaugh first revealed this project. So, the humour is intentional.

Mark Mothersbaugh, photo by Brent Broza

Mark Mothersbaugh, photo by Brent Broza

Random dips into the book see a left eye warning, “Stay away from the Bassline, it’s far too funky for this,” whilst the right calls out,“Shall we Roll?” Often, the eyes are in their own conflict.

Much like Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit book, this can be taken as a design for life if the reader chooses to go that far. “Watch your step, choose your weapon, then employ it, baby!” or “Try not to crumple that banana” might be sound advice, but “Did anyone see you come in? Look no further Fool!” may be an invite into some illicit behaviour. Solid soundbites and all.

The Americana of the images remains in the past with comic strip-style characters, seemingly ripped from 1960s funny pages, veering into the grotesque body horror of Robert Crumb at times and becoming gynecological in detail when the need arises. But mainly, the drawings are easy on the eye, re-delivering Mad Men-esque sloganeering from a lost age and placing them in a contemporary mindset.

Whether the artist is creating a targeted homage to Dadaism through his stream-of-consciousness ramblings, or merely opening his mind and inviting you to look into and beyond his eyes is up to the reader to decide. Either way, this is a fascinating trip into the mind of a unique artist.

Mark Mothersbaugh’s Apotropaic Beatnik Graffiti is available from big.cartel.com for $60 and is a thing of beauty.

Author: Mark Mothersbaugh
Publisher: Blank Industries
Release Date: March 12, 2024
Format/Length: Hardcover, 548 pages

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Book Review

“The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee” by Beans On Toast [Children’s Book Review]

‘The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee’ is a brilliant series, with classic topics ranging from dinosaurs to the moon being offered up to readers with a range of ways to engage and play along with each book.

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Beans on Toast ‘The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee’ album/book series cover

UK artist Beans on Toast recently released The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee, a combo children’s book series and album. I’m a sucker for a series. More so when it comes to kids’ books. Call me a completionist, or maybe I just like the look of it on a nursery wall, but there’s something rewarding about having a full run of a children’s lit series. What’s better is when they’re a series you’re genuinely excited to read with your kid.

I was delighted by the disarming charm of the folksy collage-meets-illustration artwork, the handwritten lettering, and the stories themselves. The titular character sports a colander hat, bee-coloured shirt and shoes, and an ever-present look of delight and wonder. The art feels whimsical and accessible, as do the stories. Every book has something different to offer: “Little Bee Goes To The City” is a reflection on diversity, while “Little Bee Goes To The Woods” serves up the wisdom of patience as its setting’s lesson. Each destination offers up similarly well-coupled themes, and each of them is clever, effortless, and fun to read.

Folk singer and author Beans On Toast says in writing the series, “I feel like kid’s books are very similar to folk songs. They’re simple, to the point, with a message about being kind to the world and its people.” To that end, they succeeded in telling simple songs, but there’s so much more to them. For starters, each story is a different song, literally: every book has a different way of playing along to the book in a tune, whether it be guitar, ukelele, piano or any of a myriad of other ways to play along to the rhythmic, sing-song lilt of the words.

In addition, each book has a “Where is Bee?” section, asking kids to search for Little Bee among a scene consisting of characters from the previous pages. Equally clever is the addition of interesting facts about the theme in each book – this is great for kids who are older and able to grapple with the interesting trivia about each setting. It means there are other ways to keep kids engaged. And as with all books for kids, if your young ’un doesn’t like a particular section, it just takes a flip of the page to move on to the parts they do.

It also needs to be said the colours of the various books are visually pleasing. Each chromatic selection is underscored by textures appropriate to each theme (e.g., pockmarked earth rendered in luminescent yellow for “Little Bee Goes To The Moon,” clouds swirling under carnation pink on “Little Bee Goes To An Imaginary World,” etc.), and the variety of colours on display really lets the series stand out.

The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee is a brilliant series, with classic topics ranging from dinosaurs to the moon being offered up to readers with a range of ways to engage and play along with each book. It’s a series I’ve purchased for my little guy, and I look forward to sharing it with him time and time again.

Book Series:

“To The Sea”
“To The Woods”
“To Town”
“To The City”
“Back In Time”
“The Rainbow”
“The Moon”
“To Space”
“To An Imaginary World”
“To A Gig”

Author: Beans On Toast, Jaime & Lilly
Publisher: Play on Words Publishing
Release Date: December 1, 2022
Format/Length: Paperback, 290 pages
ISBN-10: 1399936824
ISBN-13: 978-1399936828

Beans on Toast ‘The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee’ book series

Beans on Toast ‘The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee’ book series

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Book Review

“The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass” by Aug Stone [Book Review]

The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass reads like it was written by Douglas Adams if he was raised in a record shop by Monty Python and Kurt Vonnegut.

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Aug Stone ‘The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass’

There’s something about lost media that stirs something in us these days. How often do we get frustrated when something we search for doesn’t immediately materialize with that Wiki blurb, some pics and links to socials? Unless that grid of related info pops up, we feel we’ve suddenly stumbled into the ethereal realm, the Flammarion Engraving writ digital. That experience, though, is one of the few remaining remnants of a past we can never again replicate. In the absence of fact, we’re left with the word of others. This bygone reliance on word-of-mouth folklore is how Aug Stone’s The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass (grab your copy here) unfolds, speaking in tales within tales, a cornucopia of simulacra that gets more and more layered.

The tale begins like phyllo pastry in a cold oven; things heat up as the narrator and his friend prod witnesses about the origins of the titular band in their Hero’s pursuit of BCA’s long-lost vinyl, Live In Hungaria. I have one quibble with Stone’s story: how long it takes that metaphorical oven to heat up. The witticisms, puns and wordplay that saturate the beginning chapters act like harsh feedback at the beginning of a track, challenging the reader’s endurance while the story gets its bearings.

But once the narrator and co. finish covering the lengthy background behind the band’s name, the tone and humour lock into place, and the narrative shines. The wordplay and asides suddenly gain meaning, and with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it urgency, the plot and humour achieve balance, and the book reaches a calibre that only gets more powerful as it unfolds. Just a few chapters in, I realized: The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass reads as if Douglas Adams wrote it if he was raised in a record shop by Monty Python and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s an exposition by way of music culture; comedy by way of absurdism; narrative via forgotten tales and distant memories.

Along the way are countless musical references that delight with their obscurity: Cabaret Voltaire, Cleaners From Venus, Fugazi, even a nod to Aquarius Records along the way, all while Stone progressively turns the dial up on the intensity of Buttery Cake Ass’ fateful demise. A slew of fictional bands, artists, musicians, and acts and even a hilariously robust discography are sprinkled throughout the mix. The layers of false media and fake references, on top of all the obscure ones, lend legitimacy to them, fooling the reader (at least this one) on more than one occasion. “Nigel Dinks? Never heard of him, let’s see who- ah,” I mumble as I search for a musician who never existed. Well done, Stone – well done.

By the time the story reaches its conclusion, a theme emerges that I suspect only those who are starting to approach middle age and older will appreciate. The dreams, hopes, and lofty ambitions of artists met with the chaos of life’s circumstances hit home. Chances are good that you and I, reader, will go through this life without becoming famous, and crucially, as the book points out in its closing pages, that’s perfectly fine. Go and live your life, play your heart out, and follow where your heart takes you. If it means you become a wildlife preservationist instead of a big-time record producer or a session musician who gets to have regular work but live in relative obscurity, that’s great.

The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass thumbs its nose in the face of the attention superstructure, delighting in the experience of sleeping under pinball machines and releasing records that no one outside of a handful will ever hear. “Get over yourself,” Aug Stone tells us, “and chase after the things that delight you and capture your imagination.” Do it without care for the result, do it with wild abandon. Do it, and be content with telling the stories you make along the way to the select few who will listen. You reach a time in your life when you get a chance to go from reckless abandon into an obscure, fulfilling life, and if you listen closely, you can hear your magnum opus beneath the static. Who knows, maybe a couple of kids some day will grow obsessed with what you managed to do, and you’ll be humbled when they fight for decades to get their hands on something you made once upon a time.

Author: Aug Stone
Publisher: Stone Soup
Release Date: February 9, 2023
Format/Length: Paperback, 270 pages
ISBN-13: 979-8218098865
ASIN: B0BLK872SC

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