Well, it’s been quite a while since the last instalment of Sunday Afternoon Reader – but here we are again!
Birth School Metallica Death (1983-1991)
Paul Brannigan & Ian Winwood
I fall into the classic metal cliché of loving Metallica’s first four albums and not wanting much to do with anything after that. I mean, the Black Album is a great hard rock album and all – but it doesn’t really typify what I like about them.
So it’s perhaps fitting that the first few chapters of Birth School Metallica Death are the best. Covering their formation and the recording of Kill ‘Em All. The book also provides a bit of an insight into the wider heavy metal scene of the time; it’s interesting to see how many names from that era have remained hallowed to the present day (Judas Priest) while others have sunk into comparative obscurity (Raven). Personally, it also served as a really positive reminder for me as to why I started listening to metal all the way back in high school.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book doesn’t quite maintain this same level of engagement. Metallica have been an exceedingly well-documented band in the public eye, and so there aren’t any major surprises for those with more than a cursory knowledge of their history. There are also some notable omissions, such as their close friendship with Mercyful Fate.
Finishing on the eve of the release of the Black Album, there’s a second volume which covers 1991-2014…but I think I’ll be passing on that. Birth School Metallica Death is a very worthy read, but I can’t help but think that we could see a better take in years to come.
Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath
Tony Iommi & TJ Lammers
Many rock “autobiographies” seem to consist of simply plonking the artist in front of a tape recorder, then having a ghostwriter piece it all together in some kind of chronological order. Iron Man is very much one of those books, but TJ Lammers has done a better job than most in making sure Tony Iommi’s tale is actually entertaining.
Though Ozzy is the bigger celebrity, Tony Iommi is the key figure in the Black Sabbath story. He’s the sole member to have stayed in the band the entire time, having kept at the helm during the difficult 80s and 90s. Every rock and metal guitarist playing today owes him a massive debt, whether they realise it or not. So when I came across a copy in London for only £2.50, it seemed churlish not to buy it.
Given the relatively condensed size of the book, there’s plenty of stuff that’s glossed over. He’s relatively philosophical about his own shortcomings, and full of interesting anecdotes – I had no idea he was best friends with John Bonham, for instance. But Iommi ultimately emerges as a likeable figure, who’s quite humble about his own place in the canon of rock history. This might sound like a given for an autobiography, but it’s not always the case.
Highly recommended for any metal fan, and a far better read than Birth School Metallica Death, if not as thorough.
The Hellbound Heart
As I’ve noted on here numerous times, the original Hellraiser film is one of my favourite horror movies. Given my love for the film, I thought I should finally read the novella it’s based on, The Hellbound Heart.
Though the two share a common basic plot, The Hellbound Heart is more explicit than its cinematic counterpart in its approach to sex, occultism and violence. Clive Barker has a tremendous skill at making little details very uncomfortable to read, and that skill is used to powerful effect here.
There are numerous story differences, but the most interesting for me were the insights into Frank’s motivations. He’s still a highly objectionable character, but he earns much more of our empathy this time around. While the film suggests that Frank’s summoning of the Cenobites destroys him, the book spells out that he is actually dragged off to their realm – one of many human subjects who are “pleasured” (i.e. horrifically tortured) for eternity.
Ultimately, this is a rare case of the film being better than the book. While quite entertaining in its own right, I think some of the changes made for film really helped elevate it from good to great. Though it’s not the best of the small selection of his work that I’ve read, The Hellbound Heart is still a great example of why he’s such a big name in horror. For fans of the film, it’s well worth a read, and for new readers it will serve as something of a litmus test as to whether they like Barker’s style.
Well, here’s a change of pace. Billy Crystal is an American comedy icon, whom most Australians probably know best for hosting the Oscars for many, many, many years. He’s pretty funny in interviews, and I suppose I should finally watch City Slickers one day.
700 Sundays is autobiographical, but it would be a stretch to call it an autobiography. It’s based on his one-man play (also named 700 Sundays) and it reads like a transcript. I get the suspicion that the two were developed closely in conjunction; presumably he started writing a book, decided it would be a better play, and then reworked the written material once he’d workshopped the show.
The book takes us through the first 20 or so years of Billy Crystal’s life, mostly dwelling on the relationship he had with his father, Jack. Sadly, Jack passed away when Billy was only 15 – but not before passing down any number of valuable life lessons and audience-friendly zany anecdotes.
It’s overly sentimental and schmaltzy, in part because you’re reading the material on the page as opposed to seeing Billy Crystal’s delivery. But 700 Sundays is also charming and funny – and oddly enough, will be of great interest to those with an interest in jazz history.
Non-essential, but a nice light read to break things up in between more substantial books.