Bookworm: ‘Rock Concert’ will light up your eyes

Seeking a tale of heroism? Let ‘Lightning Down’ strike you

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
“Rock Concert: An Oral History as Told by The Artists, Backstage Insiders, and Fans Who Were There” author Marc Myers.

“Rock Concert: An Oral History as Told by The Artists, Backstage Insiders, and Fans Who Were There”

  • By Marc Myers
  • c. 2021, Grove Press
  • $30, higher in Canada; 400 pages

You barely made a sound until the lights were up. And then you roared. Your favorite band was about to come onstage and you, plus 14,999 of your best friends, were makin’ some noise, ready to sing along and dance, ready to feel the bass. Read “Rock Concert” by Marc Myers, and you’ll remember the days ...

In the beginning, there was R&B in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

Back then, the city, says Myers, was “filled” with artists, independent record labels, and radio stations playing R&B for Black listeners. “By 1951,” listenership had extended to white and Latino teens who got a taste for the genre and loved it; when a radio station or DJ sponsored an R&B concert, teens came “in droves.”

“Rock Concert: An Oral History as Told by The Artists, Backstage Insiders, and Fans Who Were There” by Marc Myers.

They also bought records – lots of them but visiting a record store in the 1950s wasn’t the same as now. Then, buyers could choose a record, take it to a booth, and listen to it before buying it. Leo Mintz, owner of Record Rendezvous in Cleveland, noticed that certain records were more popular than others, and he began helping radio DJ Alan Freed to find the music teens wanted to hear.

“The next natural step for Freed after radio and records,” said Grammy Award-winner Tommy LiPuma, “was a concert.”

When it became obvious that money could be made with live performances, that was the next natural step for everyone with access to performers and venues. Sure, there were things to learn – ticketing was mandatory, crowd-control even more so – but people truly wanted to see live performances by the musicians they knew from records. Later, it became apparent that they wanted recordings of the concerts, too.

As America changed, so did the rock concert industry. Cozy sing-alongs were popular, until Dylan went electric. Outdoor concerts grew outsized and outrageous, then sports arenas became the venue of choice. Today, though, rock music isn’t the “force” it was before. Says Myers, if the industry hopes to survive, rock artists will need to “connect meaningfully with” young people’s “concerns and agenda,” just like they did 50 years ago ...

Five notes are about all you need to remember where you were when you heard a certain song, how old you were, and who you were with. Five pages, and you’ll be just as hooked on “Rock Concert.”

Told in a multitude of voices from people who did the work, sang the songs, catered to the stars, played the records, or knew somebody who did, this book brings back so many memories that you may be tempted to stand on your chair and hold your lighter aloft. Stories that tell a tale of evolution – both in music and in culture – are here, but author Marc Myers packs those tales with and between little-known anecdotes and trivial occurrences that concert-goers, DJs, fans, and music-lovers will relish.

Your inner rebellious-teen will thank you for reading this book, and your real-life teenage music fan will like it, too. For both of you, “Rock Concert” will light up your eyes.

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“Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival”

  • By Tom Clavin
  • c. 2021, St. Martin’s Press
  • $29.99, higher in Canada; 320 pages

The storm’s a-coming. You can smell it in the air: rain’s on the way, maybe thunder, maybe more, but the high winds are what you hate. They make you run for shelter and pray hard. The storm’s a-coming, and in “Lightning Down” by Tom Clavin, it’s never as mild as you hope it’d be.

As a young man on the farm near Ferndale, Washington, all Joe Moser wanted to do was to fly airplanes – the P-38 Ligntning, to be specific – but though it was his deepest desire, he knew that it probably wasn’t possible: as the oldest son of a widowed mother, Joe had to take care of the farm and besides, piloting a P-38 was something only for college graduates.

“Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival” by Tom Clavin.

Joe was doing chores when he heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor and, like most young men then, he hastened to sign up to for the military. He tested for the Army Air Corps but, though the rules were relaxed, his scores were too low for pilot school and it looked like Joe was headed for the infantry until someone re-checked those scores. Suddenly, he was on his way to twenty-plus months of training before being sent to England to pilot the P-38.

“Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival” author Tom Clavin.

That was a job he turned out to be good at. It didn’t take long for him to receive a Distinguished Flying Cross and shortly after that, a promotion to first lieutenant. Writes Clavin, “He was still only twenty-two years old.”

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Surely, Joe Moser knew the danger of what he was doing, but he chose not to dwell on it. He went out every day and did his job, hoping “he would get out of this thing yet in one piece.” By early August of 1944, he’d had forty-three missions “under his belt” and he was looking forward to rotating out and going home.

But on August 13 – his forty-fourth mission – Joe was shot down and captured...

Now, here’s the thing: if author Tom Clavin had stopped right there, you’d still have a heckuva heart-pounder in your hands with “Lightning Down.”

But that’s not the end of this story, not by a long shot.

Clavin takes this tale beyond, not to a rugged POW camp run by the Red Cross, but into the Buchenwald Concentration Camp where Lt. Moser was sent after his capture, then along a forced march that reads like a fever-dream. Not one single thing in this narrative is softened: Clavin relentlessly plunges readers directly into the horror of the camp in passages that are almost numbing in their content and number and nightmarish detail, but that are broken up sometimes by moments of courage. We know how this ends – Moser is saved, right? Right? – but we really don’t know, not until it actually happens.

This book is an absolute winner for your Dad, your Granddad, your uncle, anyone who’s a veteran or a World War II buff or readers seeking a tale of heroism. Find it now and let “Lightning Down” strike you.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.