Tag Archives: book review

In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran – Audiobook Review

I just completed the audio version of In The Pleasure Groove: Love Death and Duran Duran, narrated by John Taylor, bassist and co-founder of Duran Duran.

In The Pleasure GrooveThe band have long been one of my favorites. In fact, the very first record I ever bought with my own money was Seven And The Ragged Tiger. On cassette, of course.

I’ve been into Duran Duran’s music since I was 10 years old, because I like the sound: exotic, upbeat, futuristic, yet with an undeniable groove. It was an older female cousin who turned me onto them and I noticed that girls really liked the band – “those guys must be doing something right,” I thought, and I’ve been following their career and enjoying their music ever since the early ’80s.

John Taylor of Duran Duran

John Taylor of Duran Duran in the ’80s, living the dream. Photo: New York Times

Of course I’m biased as a fan and music lover, but I’ll still say this book was great overall. The initial description of Taylor’s upbringing and childhood seemed long at first, but it’s a relevant setting of context for the ensuing fame story, as we watch this lad from Birmingham navigate punk and disco into new wave and rock, all as a bassist and band member with artistic vision, along with those of his band mates who soon become heartthrobs, almost to their detriment.

Duran Duran Still Rocking

The guys are still at it, recording and touring to this day. Here they are at Coachella in 2011 performing their very first single, “Planet Earth,” and obviously enjoying the thrill. Taylor ends the book with a description of this very moment:

It’s an outdoor festival, so tour manager Craig will not get to give his usual cue to take the house lights down. Tonight, that’s one of God’s jobs. And what a job of it he’s doing. A glittering bauble of sunlight fights to stay above the horizon. A full moon appears – a late-coming VIP that takes a seat above the lighting gantry at 11 o’clock high. Nature presents for us a better light show than any human could ever have created.

My heart is pounding. There’s no better time than this, when I’m about to take stage and the future belongs to me. This is what the moment feels like as I walk out onto the stage one more time. Roger’s drums kick in. An eight-bar count and I’m in with him, the galloping groove that started it all for me. Thirty thousand California kids, eyes and teeth smiling, cameras and cell phones popping, a million tiny seductions all at once. And the music never sounded better.

I would recommend the book to anyone with a passing interest in what it’s like to be a working-class kid who falls in love with music, reaches the height of fame because of it, and handles the aftermath (good and bad) with grace.

What do you think? Ever read a book by a rock star? What were your impressions? Is there any music favorites from your youth the carryover to today? Let us hear from you in the comments.

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin: A Review

Note: The folks from Grammarly graciously offered to sponsor this post. I use Grammarly for proofreading online because it can free up more brain power for enjoying music.

Music is everywhere, especially when it has to do with our emotions. Music has the power to move us, physically and spiritually. It is familiarity and exploration simultaneously drawing from experience, atmosphere and energy… spatial points of reference blending in sound.

This is Your Brain on MusicI discovered this book while browsing Audible randomly for something interesting a few weeks back, and I’m glad I did. I found it to be entertaining, well-articulated and just technical enough to make solid points but not so much that I became lost in scientific mumbo jumbo. The author, Daniel J. Levitin states:

“This book is about the science of music from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience – the field that is at the intersection of psychology and neurology.”

Levitin is an experienced producer and studio engineer, who came by his musical appreciation honestly – his father offered to finance a set of headphones as long as the young author promised to use them whenever his dad was home. Sounds like good parenting to me.

Levitin later went on to become a bona-fide brain researcher and Ph.D., incorporating his musical background. This qualifies him to explore what’s happening with the brain in relation to music.

Consider how something as instinctive as “groove” works. Levitin notes: “when we talk about a ‘great groove’ in music… we’re talking about the way in which beat divisions create a strong momentum. ‘Groove’ is that quality that moves the song forward. When the song has a good groove, it invites us into a sonic world we don’t want to leave.”

That’s a pretty darned good description of groove, right there.

Beats and melodies, grooves and lyrics, disconnected ideas forging a shared energy… what happens with music is happening in our brains. So many areas of our consciousness activate together in a musical experience – like performance and interpretation happening at once. I’ve long believed music is the most powerful art form.

The book explores some of the author’s own, and other recent studies conducted on music, musical meaning, and musical pleasure, along with what’s happening in the brain in relation to music, from many perspectives – biological, physical, anthropological, and others.

“Music listening, performance and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have identified, and involve nearly every neural subsystem.”

This makes a ton of sense to me, since so many, many hours of my youth were spent listening intently to music closely, over and over, concentrating on untangling its secrets into something I could tap into and impart to others through a shared experience. It’s a beautiful thing, and this book illustrates some of the biological mechanisms that enable such magic. As a self-taught musician, I found it fascinating to consider all this from a physiological and evolutionary point of view.

Above: interview w/ Daniel Levitin on The Agenda with Steve Paikin

Levitin notes that “music is unusual among all human activities, for both its ubiquity and its antiquity.” I agree that there’s something primal about music, something as elemental as the air we breathe, as visceral as any vibration. Like the rhythms of a wind rustling leaves, hoofbeats on a plain, or a brook cascading among the echoes of a forest. It makes sense of the world through organization of energy, with the power to send us elsewhere and take us back home in our minds, something that has been happening since humans first started drumming on logs around a fire, continuing to this day in new and exciting forms.

“As our brains have evolved, so has the music we make with them, and the music we want to hear.”

Just think of a song you know, one that makes you tap your foot to the beat or sing along – maybe just the first melody that pops into your mind, maybe something you heard on the radio on the way to work… in a commercial… in college… last weekend at a friend’s house… years ago when you were just beginning to understand the world, or maybe love — what is that sound? It’s living in your brain right now and likely will be for a long time to come. This book can offer a new appreciation for that kind of art.

Update: author comments & recommendation!

What do you think? Have you ever considered how music affects the brain? What do you consider an example of a song that takes you to a certain place? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – My Review

Deep Survival by Laurence GonzalesIn the face of catastrophe, and beyond luck, survival is as much a factor of mental acuity than anything else.

I just finished Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It’s a compelling book, and I’d recommend it not only for the gripping true stories of survival and the advice these tales impart, but particularly for its examination of how our brains work. This is as much a study of psychology and introductory neuroscience as it is a dos-and-don’ts of how to handle being lost at sea, stranded in the wilderness, or any number of other life-and-death events.

Consider this passage:

The limited nature of working memory, attention, and the executive function, along with the shorthand work of mental models can cause surprising lapses in the way we process the world and make conscious or unconscious decisions.

This is an eloquent explanation of how we can become distracted and thrown off from basic logic, like following standard safety procedures – things that mountain climbers, for example, should do practically as second nature.

And on adaptability, this passage:

We all make powerful models of the future. The world we imagine seems as real as the ones we’ve experienced. We suffuse the model with the emotional values of past realities. And in the thrall of that vision, call it, “the plan, writ large,” we go forth and take action. If things don’t go according to the plan, revising such a robust model may be difficult. In an environment that has high objective hazards, the longer it takes to dislodge the imagined world in favor of the real one, the greater the risk. In nature, adaptation is important. The plan is not. It’s a Zen thing. We must plan, but we must be able to let go of the plan, too.

Phrasing like this – and applying Zen principles to survival concepts – kept me interested the whole way through.

Deep Survival

Click to hear a sample of the Deep Survival audio book at Audible.com (opens in new window)

This book’s subtitle in some versions is “True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death,” and while it certainly covers that, it explores far more – particularly in terms of how the mind handles itself in extraordinary situations.

I listened to the audiobook version from Audible.com, narrated in the authoritative yet friendly baritone of Stefan Rudnicki. Visit the Deep Survival page at Audible  to read other reviews and hear a sample.

What do you think? Have you ever survived a near-death encounter? Have you ever been lost at sea, stranded, or otherwise in great peril? Let us hear from you in the comments.