What I’m Reading:

April 2016

Of Washington and Southern Rock in the 70s

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Washington A History of Our National City by Tom Lewis (Basic Books)

Really enjoyed Tom Lewis’ tome on the history of Washington DC. Lewis writes smoothly like a finely mixed martinis…dry and satisfying. His insights into how America’s capitol was conceptualized and the arguments for and against its’ creation bring to life an overlooked dilemma that faced the new nation: how to create a national city from scratch. Or in this case from mud. Lewis traces the development of Washington DC as it is first chosen as the location (many in Congress wanted it to remain in a northern city) and how the land was surveyed by L’Enfant, Ellicot and Banneker- all interesting characters…in an interesting and epic tale.

An aspect that I was unaware of was how George Washington himself played such a prominent role himself in getting the project off the ground. Washington chose Pierre L’Enfant, over much protestations, to design the original city plan that has intrigued observers ever since. Lewis does not go into any conspiratorial aspects that many recent books about Washington DC do- but he does not refrain from providing interesting information on the Freemasons and other societies that influenced the city’s designers and architects over its first few decades and beyond.

Lewis presents his narrative in an accessible manner that brings to life how the city developed through the eyes of the people themselves. The War of 1812, slavery and the Civil War come to life vividly as Lewis presents the history of America’s national city with fascinating anecdotes and historical profiles.

American history lovers will find this book a joy to read and will want to add it to their book shelf for future reference.

Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars: The Fast Life and Sudden Death of Lynyrd Skynyrd byMark Ribowsky (Chicago Review Press)

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There have been a few critics sniping at Mark Ribowsky for his use of anecdotal comments in this interesting account of Lynyrd Skynyrd that was issued late last year. Overall though the author has written a concise and illuminating account of one of the more interesting and important bands of the 1970s. As Ribowsky notes early on Skynyrd were a band of contradictions form the beginning as they strove to combine southern rock with blues and boogie. i always liked Skynyrd, mainly for their music, but also because their lead singer had an attitude that went against the grain of so many of those 1970s posers….in an age of ego Lynyrd Skynyrd were anonymous as the trudged on with a handful of hit singles and a streak of 5 consecutive Gold albums. Then it all came to an end on a Southern October night..too many concerts..too many flights…..the free bird was free at last.

Besides providing interesting details on the band’s recording sessions, Ribowsky attempts to place Skynyrd in its’ proper pantheon of rock music in the 1970s. He seems to settle on southern rock…between the Allman Brothers and the Eagles…but I would offer a counter view that Skynyrd and Ronnie Van Zant actually owe a kinship to the Doors…and maybe even the polished sounds of Little Feat. To me Skynyrd always had rhythm and their production always lended itself to airplay on both AM and FM…no matter…they gave us some great tunes to and said what they said….if you love the music of the 1970s (and who doesn’t)…Ribowsky’s book will be one that you enjoy with a pitcher of margaritas……or Souther Comfort…

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