Saturday, June 2, 2007

Opera -- and

I've always had a problem with and the way they let people review any book whether they've actually read it or not. Okay, amazon has cleaned up its act a bit. You have to actually buy something from amazon before you can post a review (but NOT necessarily the item in question) and they give reviewers the option of using their real name [which is denoted in bold letters]. The former has especially cut down on the number of reviews cluttering up the site. Still, the problem has never been with the reviews so much as with the reviewers.
Now let me make it clear that there are intelligent people posting insightful and helpful reviews on the site. But sometimes they seem to be outnumbered by -- well, let's just say people who are so grammatically and intellectually challenged that you wonder if they're even capable of reading a book let alone reviewing one. "Ordinary" people certainly have a right to their opinion, but not everyone can express themselves well, and not everyone is a responsible critic. Some people post reviews on amazon simply because they have an uneducated opinion on a certain subject or on a book that they haven't even read, let alone bought from amazon. They just want to blather incoherently, and in general amazon lets them get away with it.
The trouble is these reviews are generally not done by responsible journalists for well-known or respected periodicals; they have not been vetted by an editorial or legal department. Sometimes the authors of the reviews have agendas that have nothing to do with the book's quality or lack of same. Just as an author can have friends or relatives post glowing notices, the author's enemies -- or competitors -- can also have a field day. But not to be paranoid, sometimes you just have the bad luck of getting some jerk who's out to take an ax to your work whether you like it or not. This can happen on occasion in responsible journals, true, but it happens more often on
Take the case of my book Opera of the Twentieth Century which came out last summer. A reviewer named Tom Franks decided to put in his two cents worth and do a hatchet job on the book on amazom. com, calling it "truly dreadful." Why does he feel this way? Because I offer many [educated] opinions of different operas and composers and how DARE I do that -- according to Franks -- when I am not somebody famous like, say, James Levine or --get this -- John Simon! He assumes I have no right to write about the opera because the publisher's blurb only says that I live in New York "which I accept," says Franks (who lives in New Mexico; is he some sort of anti-New York City bigot?) I have written on opera for many publications, attended the opera for decades, taken music courses, and listened to all of the operas I discusss many, many times. The book, in fact, took me many years to write, but does Mr. Franks ever even consider that? No, he probably just disagreed with me on some operas -- I certainly hope we have different taste -- and of course that meant that both I and my book had to be "dreadful." [Make no mistake -- a hatchet job is as much an attack on the author as it is on the book.] Franks infers that in my book I "judge operas by their immediate effect on the listener, rather than by any intrinsically musical qualities which they might have." Nothing could be further from the truth, but Franks isn't interested in the truth. Nor in being a responsible critic. (This was only his second review; I hope he doesn't do any more.) And I have to wonder, how much of the book did he actually read, and with how much comprehension? Besides, what the hell does Franks know about opera anyway -- he's a teacher of philosophy, for Pete's sake! (Why am I not surprised?)
If we were to follow Franks' logic only famous people could write books about -- well, anything! There have been hundreds of excellent books published on the subject of opera and most of them were not written by famous conductors or sopranos. Ditto for film books, biographies, and so on.
I swear I wish authors could just sue people like this who deliberately misrepresent our books for who knows what personal and stupid reasons with not a care about the work we put in or how it may affect sales [hopefully not a bit as most people are smart enough to see hatchet jobs for the mean-spirited barrels of bile from sad, bitter people that they are].
I won't even bother to speculate about poor philosopher Franks. He lives way down south. May we never meet at the opera.
On a much more positive note, I am always delighted to see some of the highly flattering comments left on in regards to my old horror novels like SAURIAN and THE DRAGON. I'm so glad that many people have enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Their comments are much appreciated, as are the positive reviews that some of my other books have received. Now these people, of course, know what they're talking about!

Friday, May 11, 2007

The One and Only

I've done a lot of television, radio, and Internet appearances in conjunction with my books, especially when it came to my books on The Rat Pack and Dean Martin. These included stints on Biography (to talk about Al Pacino), True Hollywood Story on E!, Hard Copy, American Journal, Inside Edition, and many others.
Three or four years ago I was contacted by a producer named Marino Amoruso, who had read my book on Dean Martin and wanted to interview me for a documentary he was writing and directing entitled DEAN MARTIN THE ONE AND ONLY. A car took me out to some godforsaken place on Long Island and I felt the interview went very well. (Unfortunately, this was in the days before I lost thirty pounds, but what can you do?) I felt Amoruso and his cameraman were both very friendly and professional.
I was told by Amoruso that the documentary would be shown on television, and that when the DVD came out there would be an add or clip or something about my biography in the packaging. He gave me quite the hard sell on this, in fact. I don't think this ever happened, because I never received a copy of the finished DVD, only a video cassette of what seemed like the documentary in its less than final form. I am listed as a "consultant" or something along those lines and was told that I would be paid X amount of dollars for my participation in the project.
What have I received so far?
Nothing. Nada. Bupkiss.
Not even the DVD.
Nonetheless the darn thing is out there, with me in it (I imagine) thirty pounds heavier and without my rather sexy (if I say so myself) goatee.
Still I wish everyone well. (A check would be nice, too.)
As I say, typical.
Anyway, you can still find the trade paperback edition of my book MARTINI MAN: The Life of DEAN MARTIN in book stores and at and barnesand Chock full of information. The real deal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Problem with Blogs and Message Boards

The problem with blogs and message boards is not just that there's too many of them but the quality of the people who are posting on them. I'm not saying there are no intelligent people posting or responding to messages, or that you never come across anything that's worth the time it takes to read it, but rather that the intelligent posts are far outnumbered by the ones that are often mind-boggling in their stupidity and vapidity.

Obviously I don't have much time to post on this blog, and it doesn't get much traffic, but that's okay. I think of my main site as my performing arts site High and Low NY [New York]
and it gets a lot of hits due to the varied content. I do feel bad that so far I have been unable to do what I originally set out to do with this blog, post articles that would be of some service to professional and aspiring writers. Maybe in the near-future ...

The sad truth about blogs is that if you actually have the time to post every day, or several times a day, you're probably not leading a very interesting or especially busy life [surfing the net all day responding to various message boards does not mean that you're “busy”.] That's why you'll occasionally come across these blogs where the owner posts the minutiae of his or her life in all of its tedious, unexceptional detail (...“called Austin today, then took a nap in the afternoon. Austin called back at 2. Listened to so and so on the radio. Aunt Betty's coming on Tuesday. Etc.)”

Not everyone with a blog has to be a professional writer, but you wish they could at least string a sentence together in some kind of literate fashion, but that seems too much to ask. Then there will be a string of pidgin English replies posted by cyber-friends of the blogger that are equally illiterate. And of virtually no interest to anyone but the blogger. And possibly not even him.
Then we've got blogs which consist almost entirely of items that the blogger finds on the Internet -- such as jokes that make the rounds and aren't that funny to begin with -- and posts on his or her blog. And nothing else. But if you've got nothing original to say, why bother having a blog in the first place?

A couple of times I have made the mistake of looking for information or opinions for articles I was working on by posting a question on one message board or another. Now and then I have received some excellent answers from informed individuals who have a certain knowledge of the subject and something serious to say. More often, the replies are simply uneducated opinions or worse. Everyone – but everyone – wants to post their opinion of every subject under the sun on the Internet, but most people really don't know what they're talking about. Then you get the nitwits that just post any old dumb thing because they have way too much time on their hands or they think they're being cute. Frequently the replies on message boards quickly degenerate into pun-contests, or competitions where each person tries to be wittier than the last, but when you're dealing with too many half-wits what good does it do? Some comments are admittedly funny, but others are like rejected lines from one of the lesser scripts of an already mediocre sitcom.

I must say that I have come across some fine blogs and message boards that deal with political or other issues, compiled and moderated by intelligent people, that are run like well-oiled machines, and which get dozens of comments on each and every post. I have come across blogs that post several different stories a day, complete with links, backtracks, comments about comments, and I wonder how on earth the blogger – unless there's more than one person involved – has the time to do it. Someone like that must either be retired or independently wealthy or both.

Having a successful blog is also a matter of linking and being linked to other successful blogs, but even this is a time-consuming chore.

For this blog, at least, I will post the occasional essay, and when time permits, see what I can do about getting back to my original mission.