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Saturday, October 11, 2014


5 stars out of 5

It's rare that I stray from my favorite thrillers and police/legal/medical procedurals, but when I saw this one offered free with my Kindle Unlimited membership, I took a second look. Maybe it was the first three words of the title - goodness knows I can identify with that phrase. Maybe it was the awards the book earned when it was published in 2013 (such as the 2014 IPPY Award for Best Personal Nonfiction Ebook). More probable, though, is the mention of rock-and-roll and names from a generation with which I'm intimately familiar. That - and the fact that I'd just shut the book on a very unsatisfying tome I wish I'd never opened - meant starting this one was accompanied by hopes for the best.

At about the halfway point, I turned to my husband Jack and said, "This reads a lot like a 322-page 'what I did on my summer vacation' essay, except that the vacation lasts for 25-or-so years."

More telling, however, is what I uttered next: "And guess what? I'm loving every single minute of it."

Let me be clear: I love music, especially the rock-and-roll I grew up with in the 1950s and early 1960s (although with the possible exception of disco, there's really no music genre I don't like at least a little bit). So when Weissberg starts around 1967 when he went to see Otis Redding in concert as a student at the University of Wisconsin - a concert that never happened because Redding and his band were killed in a plane crash - he had my attention. And as the names kept coming - they're sprinkled liberally throughout - that attention never wavered. Then, when he revealed that his favorite concert was by the late Roy Orbison (in 1987), I was totally hooked. Orbison is of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters, and to this day I'm grateful for the opportunity to see him live (on the revolving stage of the now-closed Front Row Theater in Highland Heights, Ohio) shortly before he died.

Weissberg begins with his early years as a radio personality, after which he takes readers through a long and varied career in the music entertainment business. Normally, I'm not fond of expose-type name-dropping - I consider that just a ploy to sell books - but it's done well here. The "good" guys and gals get mentioned (like B.B. King and Bonnie Rait) as well as the not so good, but at no time is there any flowery gushing over the good ones and the slamming of the others that I personally find rather disgusting. When he added Dionne Warwick to the latter bunch, in fact, I was hoping for some real dirt; I don't recall exactly what happened, but I do remember being glad we hadn't been able to attend when she came to nearby Youngstown, Ohio, a number of years back and totally alienated concert-goers with her unprofessional behavior.

In between are lots of familiar names and more than a few I've never even heard of (which is part of the point, since Weissberg's passion was introducing audiences to outstanding, but largely unknown, musicians). All in all, this is an interesting look at the music industry from one who's seen it from the inside.

Off My Rocker: One Man's Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissburg (Sandra Jonas Publishing House, November 2013); 322 pp.

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