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Guest Blog: “It’s a Lovely, Lucky Thing to Have Children.” by Vivek J. Tiwary

“It’s a Lovely, Lucky Thing to Have Children”

51MKOlwmk1LThat’s what Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein told a distraught John Lennon, who had just learned that his girlfriend Cynthia Powell was pregnant.

As a gay man in 1960’s England, it would have been impossible for Brian Epstein to imagine ever having children. Forget gay marriage or adoption—Brian was worried about staying out of jail. Homosexuality was a felony. Brian fondly called the Beatles his “boys” and while scandal-seeking journalists have suggested that this endearment underscored salacious desires, I think it was reflective of a lovelier, though more complicated truth. For Brian, the Beatles weren’t just treasured clients—they were the children he could never have.

Like many good fathers, Brian dreamed big dreams for his boys—“The Beatles are going to be bigger than Elvis!” he proudly boasted, and “the Beatles are going to elevate pop music to an art form!” He believed that the Beatles would spread a great message of love across the globe. And he moved mountains in the service of these dreams—convincing EMI to sign the Beatles after they (and every other record label) had already passed on the band; crafting the famous Beatles’ suits, haircuts, and performance-ending bows; twisting Ed Sullivan’s arm into booking the Beatles when a British band had never made an impact in the United States; and so on. And yet the most important thing that Brian gave the Beatles was not a business item. It was, simply put, love. Engineering the great runaway freight train that was the Beatles in the 1960’s was a man who nurtured them, protected them, and encouraged them to think of their band as a family. Brian’s love for the Beatles’ was an unconditional love—the love of a father to a child. The kind of love that the Beatles sang about so often.

Luckily for Brian, the trickster amongst his boys John Lennon once said that there were only two people in his life that he actually listened to and would do what they told him to—Brian Epstein and Yoko Ono.

My own father died when I was 20, and my mother died just a few years after that. I was an only child, so the loss was devastating and exhaustive. My home felt so quiet in those years. I didn’t feel so much alone as I felt quiet… And now it’s 20 years later, I’m married to an inspiring wife, I have two delightful children—and my home is noisier than I ever imagined possible! It’s full of childish laughter, joy… and the lovesongs of the Beatles.

Tiwary_family
Vivek with his two children

I’ve loved sharing the Beatles with my children in part because it completes a circle that began when my  parents first played the Beatles for me. It feels like witnessing magic to see my kids respond to their songs almost exactly as I did, to truly see how cross-generational this band really is.

And just as I’ve loved sharing the Beatles with my kids, I’ve loved sharing the Brian Epstein story with them—because it’s the story of a man who in the face of tremendous obstacles made a spectacular dream come true. What father doesn’t want his children to grow up with that kind of inspiration?

I dedicated “The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” to my mother and to Brian Esptein’s mother, because it’s with these fab ladies that it all truly began. But in many ways, “The Fifth Beatle” really belongs to the next generation.

John Lennon said, “Make your own dream. That's the Beatles' story, isn't it?” I suppose it is. But digging deeper than that, it’s really the story of the man who made the Beatles—the story of The Fifth Beatle, Brian Epstein.

 

 

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Hillbilly Heart: A Q&A with Billy Ray Cyrus

CyrusAward-winning country musician Billy Ray Cyrus's candid and poignant new memoir, Hillbilly Heart, was published this week.

Q: You've shared many of your life stories in your lyrics. What inspired you to take it to the next level with a book, and how was writing Hillbilly Heart different from writing a song?

Billy Ray Cyrus: You know, for me, writing a book was a whole lot like the songs that I write. It ain’t always pretty, but it was the truth. I sing and write what I am living, and I live singing and writing. And this book is like the little thing the Book of Psalms says in the beginning: His truth shall be your shield and buckler. That’s why I wrote the book—to tell the truth.

Like anyone, I am looking for purpose, trying to find things that matter. It can’t be a coincidence that a kid from Flatwoods, Kentucky, thought he was going to be a baseball player and ended up buying a guitar and starting a band and going on this crazy journey. This is the summation of my life—Billy Ray Cyrus, Hillbilly Heart.

Q: Beyond diehard fans, what kinds of readers are you hoping to reach? What would you like them to take away from the highs and lows of your life?

BRC: If someone can learn from my mistakes and save themselves from making the same mistakes, then there is purpose writing the book. When I set a goal, I write it down and clarify it and visualize it, then take steps toward it. "To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." And when people "have no vision, they shall perish." "What a man can conceive and believe, he can achieve." It’s about visualization and persistence.

I wrote a chapter on my buddy Robbie Tooley, who committed suicide. I end Robbie’s story with the 1-800 number and website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in hopes that all these years later, he could help some kid out there. If this book saves one life, then there is the reason I wrote the book.

Q: You write a lot about your determination to make it as a musician. What fueled your persistence, even when Nashville was nonresponsive and your goals seemed like they were a million miles away? How can your audience capture that spirit and apply it to their own lives?

BRC: I think this goes back to purpose. I had a dream and a burning desire that the music and my life could make a difference, make something positive. Something that represented God’s light and God’s love. That somebody could take something away from it and in some way bring about a positive change, whether in their life or to the world.

Q: What's the best advice you've received about music or life? What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

BRC: If I could have read this book and gone back to being a 20-year-old, trust me, I would have skipped everything that hurt. It would have been nothing but yes and bliss and happiness. All the things that hurt or were painful, I would have just skipped those parts. I would eliminate so many mistakes, because I failed way more times than I succeeded. But then, you know, failure is the most important ingredient for success. Every time you fail, you eliminate one way that won’t work, therefore getting one step closer to a way that will.

Guest Blogger: Dylan Jones on Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell”

The Biographical Dictionary of Popular MusicDylan Jones is the author of The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music, an incredible and opinionated collection of his thoughts on more than 350 of the most important artists around the world—alive and dead, big and small, at length and in brief.

Bob Dylan has always been a master of the perverse, and the man they call Alias has often paid scant regard to the treasures his obsessive fans hold dear. Live versions of his songs often bear no resemblance to the original recordings, largely because Dylan doesn’t regard the original recordings as gospel, just the way it all went down in the studio when he did them. However if Dylan has a particular idea of how a song should sound, he’ll bash away at it for years until he gets it right. Or simply leaves it to rot. This was the fate of one of his best songs, one he thought he would never finish.

The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 (Columbia) is a synopsis of a parallel Dylan career, a shadow career spanning thirty years and fifty-eight performances. “Blind Willie McTell” is generally regarded as the best song from this shadow career – and from this record – a piano-led performance that is now considered to be a classic, a landmark song of the decade, dark and deep and all-consuming. It was an outtake from the 1983 album Infidels, a country blues protest song, a song of the South, and the failure of humanity writ large (driven by a melody borrowed rather too easily from the blues standard, “St James Infirmary”). “The singer finds not evil in the world but that the world is evil,” wrote Greil Marcus. “The whole world is an auction block; all are bidders, all are for sale.” There is no redemption here, and while Dylan played McTell’s songs when he was young (McTell’s style was called a cross between Mississippi Delta blues and East Coast blues), like pretty much everything he did, this is masterpiece metaphor all the way.

From the window of a New Orleans hotel room, the narrator contemplates the history of slavery, and the murder among the magnolias. He sings of damaged, condemned lands, “All the way from New Orleans to Jerusalem,” traversing “appalling sights and sounds” (according to Sean Wilentz, author of Bob Dylan In America). And what does the singer know from these sights and travels? That “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell,” the images conjured up by Dylan here have more resonance than usual. “The song is exquisitely concrete from start to finish,” said Paul Williams. “You can see, hear and smell everything – but it is also, and in a truer sense, the window of memory, of awareness, of feeling, where everything one has heard and seen in relation to one particular subject is suddenly conjured up in a moment of pure feeling, like Proust’s sweet cake epiphany.”

Mark Knopfler played guitar on Infidels, and when he lobbied too hard to have it included on the album after Dylan junked it (like many of the songs he left behind, he couldn’t realise what he had in his head), Dylan finished the record without him. The writer Larry Sloman recalls Dylan saying, “Aw Ratso, don’t get so excited. It’s just an album. I’ve made thirty of them.”

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Guest Blogger: Thomas Scott McKenzie, on KISS and Pop Singer Connections

Power ChordRaised on a thoroughbred horse farm in Bourbon County, Kentucky, Thomas Scott McKenzie received a master's degree in creative writing from the University of Mississippi. His nonfiction has appeared in Tin House, Paste, Premier Guitar, InSync, Stuff, and many more.

In the late seventies, parents with nightmares of Gene Simmons’ legendary tongue and their unsullied daughters could not imagine KISS collaborating with vanilla pop musicians.

But that’s what happened as the masked rockers sought to escape legends of being in Satan’s service to achieve chart success. By the mid-eighties, KISS would record songs written by the guy who got his first real six string at the Five-and-Dime and another dude with luscious locks who wondered how he’s supposed to live without you.

This kind of strange connection is one of the reasons I wrote Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes. While eighties metal (or hair metal if you prefer) is derided by music snobs, the fact is that the genre provides a rich view of larger eighties cultural history.

Such as KISS teaming up with Bryan Adams and Michael Bolton.

In the early eighties, KISS determined that Creatures of the Night should be a return to their hard-rocking roots. They were introduced to the songwriting team of Jim Vallance and a then-unknown Canadian singer named Bryan Adams.

When Creatures was released in late 1982, it featured two Vallance-Adams tunes. There was “Rock and Roll Hell,” a coming of age tale similar to Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero.”

And there was “War Machine,” a song that’s been in and out of the KISS set list for decades. With lyrics such as “Armageddon’s just a mater of time,” the tune fit perfectly with post-apocalyptic Road Warrior concepts.

KISS was egalitarian in doing what’s best for a song. Session musicians were frequently used, lead vocals traded around, and outside writers like Bryan Adams employed. Which led to working with Michael Bolton on their 1989 album Hot in the Shade.

The long-haired crooner was riding the success of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?”. He worked on an acoustic ballad for KISS entitled “Forever” with the starchild Paul Stanley. The final result was a tune that hit #8 on the Billboard charts and is commonly performed at KISS concerts to this day.

Hard rock and hair metal wasn’t an isolated fad that existed only in a vacuum. The genre boasted connections throughout pop culture. As did KISS. There are band connections and recording allegiances with Liza Minelli, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, the Village People, Miami Vice, and much more. These odd pairings and cultural coincidences were an fascinating part of writing Power Chord.

--Thomas Scott McKenzie

Why Author Eyre Price Writes Thrillers

Guest post by Eyre Price, author of Blues Highway Blues, a new thriller released June 26, 2012EyrePrice 

We’re all advised not to judge a book by its cover, but these days books are bought, sold and marketed according to very specific genre classifications and sometimes even sub-genres. Getting your sociological science fiction mixed up with your near-future science fiction can be almost as embarrassing as confusing your slipstream with your cyberpunk.

I am thrilled to announce my debut novel that released last week, Blues Highway Blues, is a thriller through and through.  

There’s a philosophical message behind the book and I’d like to think the prose is engaging, but I have no aspirations to ascend to the lofty heights of literary fiction. A (probably) supernatural figure overshadows much of the story and there are passages I hope will scare readers, but it is most certainly not horror.  A puzzle runs through its core, but I never intended its solution to be the reader’s pay-off and so I don’t consider it a mystery. There’s love gone bad and new love blooming, but it is absolutely not a romance. It’s a thriller.

While other writers may set out to induce nightmares or challenge one’s deductive prowess, my sole goal is to take readers on a road trip where I drive too damn fast, through terribly sketchy parts of town, with sinister-looking folks sitting menacingly silent in the backseat.

All of that seems like a perfectly reasonable ambition, but I wonder what that must say about me as a writer or even as a person. What is it that inspires me to write thrillers?

BluesHighwayBluesUndoubtedly, a degree of my motivation in writing thrillers comes from the frustrations and general helplessness of living in a world filled with evil. Whether you see it from the front window or in the computer screen, nobody has to go very far to witness the most unspeakable acts of villainy. If mystery is centered around “Who dunnit?” then the thriller is a morality tale focused on answering “Who’s gonna get it?” In a world where bad guys frequently don’t get anything but richer, there is something immensely satisfying in orchestrating a final act of retribution befitting a truly diabolical fiend—like, say, Blues Highway Blues’ Russian Mafioso, who wears the hero’s severed finger as a charm on a necklace.

At the same time, alhough the news is all too frequently dark and depressing; the day-to-day routine of life can still be a little, well, routine. I relish the fact that a good thriller can take a rainy Sunday afternoon and turn it into a heart-stopping, pulse-pounding joyride that leaves you too tired for Monday.

For me personally, however, I think my greatest motivation in writing thrillers comes from the opportunities for redemption that they offer. Like Daniel Erickson, my music promoter hero from Blues Highway Blues, I’m a man of good intentions who’s made (more than) his share of mistakes in life. I like to think that if it were all to hit the fan unexpectedly one day that I am strong enough to rise to whatever challenges might be put to me, that under the most extreme of circumstances I could become the man I’ve always wanted to be. The pages of a good thriller are a blue print to how such a transformation would be possible. And as a writer and reader that fills me with hope and makes me believe that although the road may be dark and twisty, it’s still best to sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

The 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winners

A Life of Reinvention--Malcolm X by Manning MarableYesterday, the 2012 Pulitzer prizewinners and nominated finalists were announced. Since 1917, the awards have honored the top journalists, photojournalists, writers, poets, cartoonists and composers working in the United States. Here's how this year's awards were distributed:

 

LETTERS, DRAMA and MUSIC

FictionNo award. As pointed out by our friends at Omnivoracious, maybe we should consider it a tie. Last year's winner was Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. This year's three-way-tie finalists were Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace.

DramaWater by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes

History - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by the late Manning Marable

Biography - George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

Poetry - Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

General Nonfiction - The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

Music - Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts by Kevin Puts

 

JOURNALISM

Public Service - The Philadelphia Inquirer

Breaking News Reporting - The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News Staff

Investigative Reporting - Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan and Chris Hawley of the Associated Press and Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times

Explanatory Reporting - David Kocieniewski of The New York Times

Local Reporting - Sara Ganim and members of The Patriot-News Staff, Harrisburg, Penn

National Reporting - David Wood of The Huffington Post. First published as a 10-part series, Wood's 2012 Pulitzer Prize stories documenting the struggles of severely wounded veterans are available in Beyond the Battlefield: The War Goes on for the Severely Wounded, which includes photography and graphics from the original series as well as a forward and several new chapters.

International Reporting - Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times

Feature Writing - Eli Sanders of The Stranger, a Seattle (Wash.) weekly

Commentary - Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune

Criticism -Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe

Editorial Writing - No award

Editorial Cartooning - Matt Wuerker of POLITICO

Breaking News Photography - Massoud Hossaini of Agence France-Presse

Feature Photography - Craig F. Walker of The Denver Post

March's Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less

100 Kindle Books for 3.99 or Less banner

It's time to celebrate the change of seasons with a fresh list of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less. Here are some of our favorites from this month's selection:

 

Under the March SunUnder the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training by Charles Fountain, $1.99

Spring training, baseball's annual six-week ritual, dates back nearly 150 years. In this fascinating history, the full history of spring training is revealed for the first time: from its start as a shoestring-budget road trip to burn off winter calories to today's billion-dollar-a-year business surrounding the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues of Florida and Arizona.

 

A Little Death In DixieA Little Death In Dixie by Lisa Turner, $2.99

Rich with the atmosphere of the American South, this expertly plotted suspense novel tracks Detective Billy Able as he works to uncover why one of Memphis' most seductive and notorious socialites has vanished. What starts as ordinary procedural work for Able soon morphs into a twisted trail of corruption, tragedy, and disturbing truths.

 

The Crossroads CafeThe Crossroads Café by Deborah Smith, $1.99

This sophisticated and poignant romance follows a beautiful Hollywood actress's escape to a secluded mountain cabin in North Carolina. A car accident has left her severely scarred, but in the Appalachians she finds unexpected love with a man who lost his family in 9-11.

 

I Will Teach You To Be RichI Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, $2.24

Written with refreshing irreverence, Ramit Sethi's six-week personal finance program takes a practical approach with a nonjudgmental style. The book's core centers around the four pillars of personal finance—banking, saving, budgeting, and investing—as well as the wealth-building ideas of entrepreneurship.

 

Born at MidnightBorn at Midnight (Shadow Falls) by C. C. Hunter, $2.99

After mixing with the wrong crowd, Kylie Galen gets sent to Shadow Falls camp by her mother. Kylie discovers her fellow campers aren't just "troubled," they're supernatural. The first book of this richly imagined young-adult fantasy series is filled with humor, teen angst, and a good dose of romance.

 

Be sure to browse through March's complete list of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less. We've taken care to select something for everybody, including taut thrillers, engaging romances, inspiring biographies, well-crafted cookbooks, and histories covering everything from Abraham Lincoln to the legendary punk band Black Flag.

 

Note: Deals expire on the last day of each month. Individual books may have additional territory restrictions, and not all deals are available in all territories.

All-New Kindle Family: Four New Kindles, Four Amazing Price Points

Kindle-family
We're excited to announce three all-new Kindle e-readers that are smaller, lighter, and more affordable than ever before, and a new class of Kindle – Kindle Fire – a beautiful full color Kindle for movies, TV shows, music, books, magazines, apps, games, web browsing and more.

Kindle New Latest Generation Kindle -- Fits In Your Pocket -- Only $79
The new latest generation Kindle is for readers who want the lightest, most compact Kindle at an incredible price.  The latest generation Kindle features a new design that is 30 percent lighter at just 5.98 ounces, 18 percent smaller, and turns pages 10 percent faster.  Kindle is now small and light enough to fit easily in your pocket and carry with you everywhere, yet it still features the same 6-inch, most advanced electronic ink display that reads like real paper, even in bright sunlight. 

Kindle is available starting today at www.amazon.com/kindle.


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Kindle Touch is a new addition to the Kindle family with an easy-to-use touch screen that makes it easier than ever to turn pages, search, shop, and take notes – still with all the benefits of the most advanced electronic ink display.  Kindle Touch is also lighter, smaller, eliminates battery anxiety with extra-long battery life and holds thousands of books. 

Kindle Touch is available to customers in the U.S. for pre-order starting today at www.amazon.com/kindletouch and ships November 21.

Kindle-touch Kindle Touch 3G -- New Top of the Line Kindle e-reader -- Only $149
Kindle Touch 3G is a new addition to the Kindle family for readers who want the top of the line e-reader.  Kindle Touch 3G offers the same new design and features of Kindle Touch – small and light, easy-to-use touch screen, storage for thousands of books, and extra-long battery life – with the unparalleled added convenience of free 3G.  Kindle's free 3G connection means you never have to hunt for or pay for a Wi-Fi hotspot – you simply download and read books anytime, anywhere in over 100 countries around the world.  Amazon pays for the 3G connection so there's no monthly fee or annual contract. 

Kindle Touch 3G is available to customers in the U.S. for pre-order starting today at www.amazon.com/kindletouch3G and ships November 21.

All three new Kindle e-readers also come with special offers and sponsored screensavers that appear when you're not reading.  Customers enjoy special money-saving offers delivered wirelessly, including discounts on local services, products, and experiences from AmazonLocal, Amazon's local deals marketplace.  Customers can also choose to purchase a Kindle without special offers and sponsored screensavers.

Kindle-fire
Kindle Fire -- New Class of Kindle -- Only $199
Kindle Fire is a new addition to the Kindle family that offers instant access to Amazon's massive selection of digital content, Amazon's revolutionary cloud-accelerated browser, free storage in the Amazon Cloud, Whispersync, 14.6 ounce design that's easy to hold with one hand, brilliant color touchscreen, and a fast and powerful dual core processor -- all for only $199.

Kindle Fire puts Amazon's incredible selection of digital content at your fingertips – enjoy over 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, apps, games, books, and magazines in vibrant color.

Customers in the U.S. can pre-order Kindle Fire starting today at www.amazon.com/kindlefire, and it ships November 15.

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 [AWD1]Ali/Shannon, can you provide images?

Introducing Kindle Singles--Compelling Ideas Expressed at their Natural Length

Kindle Singles Selected for being incisive, provocative, hilarious, or heartbreaking, Kindle Singles offer a vast spectrum of reporting, essay, memoir, humor and fiction--at a length best suited to the ideas they present. Typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words, each Kindle Single is intended to allow a single killer idea--well researched, well argued and well illustrated--to be expressed at its natural length.  Today, Amazon is introducing the first set of Singles to the Kindle Store.

Nowhere else will you find a Hollywood memoir which manages to merge sex clubs, murder and Mary Tyler Moore. You’ll also discover The Real Lebowski--an intimate profile of the Hollywood icon and Coen brothers inspiration by Vanity Fair contributing editor, Rich Cohen; The Invisible Enemy--on-the-ground reporting from inside the terrorist war in Congo by the award-winning novelist, Jonathan Littell; Lifted, Wired and New Yorker writer Evan Ratliff’s riveting yarn of a failed Swedish bank heist; and Leaving Home--Short Pieces an original offering by best-selling novelist, Jodi Picoult.