Terry, Bro — This One’s For Youse!

Back in second grade I had a crush on a kid named Terry. Amazingly, Terry ignored me.

I obsessed about ways to win his attention, none of which ever worked but did result in a novella (yes, when I was 8) about heroically saving Terry after he faceplants into Niagara Falls. Anyway, Dead Spot is a grownass reworking of it, wherein the heroine’s got a motorbike instead of a Radio Flyer, and dark proclivities, and no moral compass.

Yo Terry, if you’re out there, read Dead Spot. Ebook $5, dead trees $12. You owe me, pal.

DEAD SPOT on AmazonCopyright © 2017 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

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The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard | Book Review

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The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard
by Peter Benjaminson
Book Review © 2014 Sydney Schuster – All Rights Reserved

Whether The Supremes are icons of your youth or a legend you’ve recently discovered, don’t miss The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard. Author Peter Benjaminson skips no juicy details in this splendid biography of the group’s founder and most gifted member.

 

A former investigative reporter and author of the books The Story of Motown and Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar, Benjaminson delivers a seamless portrayal of the R&B luminary who zoomed from projects to stardom at 20, descended into alcoholism and poverty, then died tragically at 32 while attempting a comeback.

Benjaminson’s exhaustive research is impeccable. Every page of The Lost Supreme comes alive with intimate recollections from Ballard and the people who knew her best.

For lovers of showbiz backstory, The Lost Supreme has it all — Ballard’s harrowing rape by an NBA star; her manipulation by Berry Gordy and Diane Ross; the power struggle between the tinny-voiced singer and the throaty, sultry one; the ludicrous contracts; the catfights; the racist attacks; the bizarre meeting with the Beatles; Ballard’s ignominious ouster from the Supremes; the fortune stolen from her; and her unsuccessful $8.7 million lawsuit against Motown.

There are many wonderful quotes, too, like this gem from Ballard about the songs from the Supremes’ first single: “… both flops, but they were good flops.” And this zinger from Mary Wilson: “Whenever Diane would insist on a lead and then sing it, we would sort of look at each other and try not to laugh. She had this weird little whiny sound.”

There are other books about the Supremes, but only this one’s author has a musician’s understanding of R&B, a union spokesman’s understanding of contract law, and a Detroiter’s understanding of the inner city. All serve to illuminate the book’s narrative without overpowering it, as when Benjaminson describes the Motown sound: “This heavy beat was a natural connection between the African past and the mechanized present … African American tradition updated by the incessant pounding of the punch press and buffed to a shiny gloss by contact with an urban society.”

Benjaminson’s writing style is clean and direct but never boring, painting vivid images of civil rights-era America while elegantly putting Ballard’s successes and struggles into perspective. He takes great care to analyze the conflicting reports of certain pivotal events that, Rashomon-like, left fans and historians alike scratching their heads for decades. With a keen talent for juxtaposing quotes and events, he unveils interpersonal dynamics overlooked in other books on this subject.

The author’s wry wit keeps things lively. About Motown’s notorious owner who mixed and matched artists, writers, and producers with wild abandon, he writes: “Gordy hadn’t worked in a factory for nothing: he knew the value of interchangeable parts.”

In short, The Lost Supreme is can’t-put-it-down reading.

The exclusive input from Ballard is riveting. By allowing Flo to speak for herself (based on extensive one-on-one interviews just before her death), Benjaminson and Ballard distinguish fact from myth in the oft-romanticized central story of a beleaguered superstar who stood up to an exploitive recording industry. It all adds up to a remarkable history, brought to life by the people who lived it.

Available on Amazon.
guitars

Don’t miss Peter Benjaminson’s article in Rolling Stone about how The Lost Supreme got thisclose to becoming a movie!guitars

Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

MARY WELLS | A Great New Bio About Motown’s First Superstar

Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar
by Peter Benjaminson
Book Review © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about the music world. Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar is a revelation. Peter Benjaminson’s fascinating exposé about this underappreciated hitmaker is a roller coaster ride that will leave you breathless. I couldn’t wait to see how it ended, even though I already knew (or thought I did).

This is the first book written about megastar Wells, and Benjaminson’s third book about Motown (along with The Lost Supreme and The Story of Motown). Clearly a devotee of R&B, he takes special care to explain why this musical genre is so compelling. But this superb book is also a gold mine of historical anecdotes — some humorous, some flat-out shocking, from wardrobe malfunctions to family deathbed fights to celebrity shootings. Lovers of showbiz dish will relish the stories about a teenaged Stevie Wonder groping Wells on the Motortown Revue tour bus, and Wells telling a furious Diana Ross to get a girdle. Reliably, Benjaminson never shrinks from airing the dirty laundry of anyone, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, one of the most feared and loathed gods of the entertainment world.

Gordy was himself a frustrated musical artist about whom Benjaminson explains: “No one found his playing or his singing all that overwhelming.” Gordy was far more successful as a producer and napoleonic CEO. Under his influence, Wells abandoned what the author describes as her “gutsy, gospel-type” singing style for “innocent, vulnerable adolescent lyrics … over a high-production, harmony-heavy vocal and instrumental background best exemplified by [Phil] Spector’s `Wall of Sound.'”

Thus in 1960 Wells became the first superstar of Motown Records. Then Gordy teamed her up with legendary songwriter Smokey Robinson, who, as Benjaminson explains, “encouraged her to sing in a higher register…. She followed his directions, then added her own smooth, knowing coyness, like a layer of delicious frosting, right on top.” Their songs catapulted Wells to crossover superpower status, where the Grammy-nominated phenom spent three years repeatedly topping charts with hits like “My Guy” and “Bye Bye Baby.”

What happened next is truly tragic. Wells’s life became a toxic stew of bad business decisions, aborted career reboots, and volatile romances. For her there would be no movies or TV shows like white pop stars got, and no more monster hits — only indifferent promotion by record companies, industrial sabotage, and substance abuse, all of which ultimately destroyed her.

Great gobs of Wells’s misfortune derived from unscrupulous managers and predatory contracts (she was only 17 when she joined Motown Records). Drugs and booze just made it all easier for her to bear. Hers is a cautionary tale that Benjaminson delivers with the warmth and understanding befitting a star of her caliber. His bulletproof reporting is built on extensive research and interviews with scores of people in Wells’s sphere, spiced with ballsy observations like this one about Wells’s first husband (band leader Herman Griffin, who performed backflips and splits while conducting):

Something other than drugs, liquor, and music was soon occupying her mind. “The audience liked to look at him as much as at her,” said Pete Moore [of The Miracles]. Mary also liked looking at Herman Griffin.

I confess to being a long-time Benjaminson fan. As a scribe, his style is delightful. Take how he characterizes two of Wells’s songs as “enlivened by what sound like farts from a low-pitched tuba.” C’mon, what’s not to like? If he wrote a book about fly swatters, I’d totally read it — and underline stuff and scrawl margin notes and make my friends read it, too.

As an investigator, his digging is so exhaustive it wears me out just thinking about it. Plus, he has a gift for distilling the maddeningly complex legal constructs of music contracts so that the lay wonks among us can appreciate their insanity, too. And he nimbly puts into perspective the numerous and often conflicting contemporary accounts of what really happened to the people he writes about.

I especially enjoy his books about showbiz luminaries, and this one is his best yet. Here Benjaminson delivers a seamless portrayal of an industry that devours its young, and what it was really like for a gifted casualty like Mary Wells.

Available on Amazon.

Mary Wells
Dead SpotCopyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Make The Stupid Stop! / Part II

On April 23 I noted the insane War of the Book Distributors over my novel Dead Spot, which is for sale over at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. When we last visited the online booksellers, Amazon sported three vendors vying for Dead Spot sales at various (mostly absurd) price points: $7.32, $111.22, and $121.73 (and mine, a thrifty $13.95!). B&N’s one vendor had Dead Spot over-optimistically priced at $142.45.

I’m completely flabbergasted to report that the Amazon copies of Dead Spot are now going for an astounding $84.97 (for the same one you could’ve had for $7.32 had you moved your ass faster) and $232.06! (Both alongside mine, still economically priced at $13.95.) The B&N copy has been joined by a second one that wandered over from Amazon, and they’re now selling for — wait for it — $239.95 and $282.53 (for the one that used to be $142.45).

No, I am not making this up! And in case you’re wondering, the three-figure Dead Spots are review copies requested by magazines that never even read them. I’ve decided that them scalping Dead Spot for $282 is an endorsement far superior to any editorial blather they would’ve barfed up.

Here’s the other thing: Why anyone would pay more than $13.95 for my book beats the hell outta me. Not that it isn’t the greatest rock’n’roll novel ever written. But if you buy the $282.53 Dead Spot, I won’t see a dime of it. Also, for $282 they should deliver it personally and give you a blow job. So buy Dead Spot from me for $13.95. At least mine are autographed.

 

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

The Joys of Self Publishing

Not sure whether to be flattered by this or pissed off because I don’t get a piece of it, but someone is selling a copy of Dead Spot on Amazon for — wait for it — $121.73!

Why? Sheer cojones, I guess. (I still sell it for $13.95.)

As Sting says about people who use “Every Breath You Take” for their wedding song, good luck with that.

Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER
http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Spot-Sydney-Schuster/dp/0615557996

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.