Ten Reasons to Buy: Based on a True Story: A Memoir


Number Ten: Norm Macdonald appears to have had no career advancing goals in the writing of this book. Most artists use the memoir as a vehicle to promote their career, and the idea that while they may appear to be a little quirky to the naked eye, deep in their heart, they are actually a very wonderful person. No matter how apathetic, somewhat cruel, and insensitive an author of such material is, the unspoken rule of such comedy is that the author break down the fourth wall, in some manner, to let the audience in on the joke. Norm Macdonald, the character that he has created for this book, and all of the layers in between do not appear to care that the reader regard him as a wonderful, compassionate, good guy. Most authors that approach a style similar to the book, qualify their motivations for doing what they did with follow ups that redound to the benefit of the author. Norm Macdonald does not appear to care why the reader bought his book, about their outlook on him, or if that reader feels good about themselves, and their world, when they have finished the book.

There are no politics in this book, in other words. Norm Macdonald appears to feel no need to convince us that he is actually very smart, savvy, or anything more than he is. There are no subtle approaches to politics that inform the audience that Norm is compassionate, empathetic, or nuanced. For those of us that do not care what a celebrity thinks, this approach is refreshing.

29937870Number Nine: The narrative voice in Based on a True Story: A Memoir comes from an old world influence. (How many modern books invoke the word “Hoosegow”?) That voice provides contrast to the cutting edge, nouveau humor Norm Macdonald employs in his narrative, but that contrast serves to intrigue more than it confuses. If the reader is the type that needs some sort of qualifier, or apology, for somewhat cruel, and insensitive scenes, takes, and reactions that occur throughout this book, it can be found somewhere in this kind, Midwestern sounding voice that Norm, and his ghost writer Charlie Manson, employ.

I knew nothing of Macdonald’s upbringing, prior to the reading of this book, and I didn’t care about it either. After reading the initial chapters of this book, however, I found myself relating to the rhythms and verbiage the author employed that was later explained by the fact that Norm Macdonald had an older father, and that he spent much of his youth surrounded by old, hired hands that knew nothing beyond manual labor. These were no-nonsense men that had an old world structure to their being that is too often lacking in today’s weak, easily offended culture. The locale of Macdonald’s rearing was different than mine, it turned out, but the small details of his maturation were so similar to mine that I was surprised to learn we didn’t grow up the exact same. This could be as a result of Norm’s better-than-expected ability to relate to the reader, or his ghost writer’s ability to translate Norm’s thoughts into a book that I found my voice in. The ghost writer is renamed Charlie Manson for the purpose of this book (not that Charlie Manson, the other one.)

Number Eight: There is some name-dropping in this book, but on the number of occasions in which he runs into celebrities, Norm’s character does not ingratiate himself to that person, or the trappings of that world. His character remains on the outside looking in, and there are no subsequent tropes that reveal a little guy finding his place in a larger world. This is not the typical celebrity memoir, in other words, but Norm Macdonald is not the typical celebrity. Norm’s character remains outside their world throughout, and it’s endemic to the character that he not endear himself to these people any more than he distances himself from them with insider insults.

Number Seven: For those of us that have never been able to explain why we find Norm Macdonald intriguing, this book only serves to highlight that confusion. He is an unusual person with unusual insights, raised in an unusual culture (unusual to most celebrities that is), and he has an unusual outlook on life as a result. A comprehensive nature of Norm Macdonald’s voice has never been captured as well before, and it remains consistent throughout this piece. How many talk shows has Norm Macdonald been on where he provides a brief glimpse into his mind with an unusual story that is funny in a way that the audience (and often the host of the show) doesn’t completely understand? How many of them have laughed with raised eyebrows, or other visual displays of concern for either Norm Macdonald, or themselves for laughing? That voice is here, in this book, and expanded upon.

Number Six: The shifts in perspective that Norm Macdonald achieves in this book are near seamless. Some call it style, others simply call it a proficiency for storytelling. Whatever the case is, if the reader has gained an appreciation for such minutiae in their books, they will thoroughly enjoy this. On those occasions when the seams are exposed, most of them involve Norm’s trademarked conclusions that remind the reader of the obnoxious conclusions Macdonald achieves in his stand up routines, and more famously on Weekend Update.

Number Five: A number of comedians, and top shelf celebrities have learned how to poke fun of themselves, but I would suggest that most of those people have learned the art of how to engage in self-effacing humor while allowing the audience in on the joke. There is a point by point, color by numbers approach to this form of comedy that has evolved thanks in part to Andy Kaufman, Chris Elliot, David Letterman, and perhaps Will Farrell. Other comedians have displayed the base nature of their talent by attempting to take the premise of this approach to crueler, and more obnoxious levels. It’s all good, though, because we all know it’s all in good, clean fun. We know that these jokes are all delivered in a tongue-in-cheek manner. In the character Norm has developed, onstage and off (with this book) the reader is not so sure. The narrative of “Based on a True Story: A Memoir” leads the reader to feel sorry for the character, while laughing at his naiveté, and his inability to abide by social norms.

Number Four: Although each bit in this book is a bit of one form or another, the layers of reality, coupled with the careful wording of each story leads the reader to believe that the author, the character, and all layers in between, believe otherwise. The book achieves that fine art of “the willing suspension of disbelief” in other words, that leads the reader to believe that they are being exposed to an uncomfortable level of nudity that is so sad that Norm Macdonald may either be a bad person, or a person that missed a few monkey bars on the way to maturation.

Number Three: Monty Python had a slogan that prefaced much of their material, “And now for something completely different.” For those of us that pine for something different, this book contains stories, reactions, and anecdotes that I have to imagine most authors, and almost all celebrities do their best to avoid. I have a sneaking suspicion that Macdonald’s public relations people asked him to include the “Based on” words to the title of his book. I have a sneaking suspicion that Norm wouldn’t mind it one bit if the reader believed this was the true story of Norm Macdonald’s life. Something tells me that his people, friends, associates, and business partners cautioned him to bolster the doubt regarding the material, because too many people might believe it’s his true story, and that this book may do some damage to his career.

Number Two: As one of Norm’s good friends says on a near-daily basis, “Always be closing.” As such, “Based on a True Story: A Memoir” is either building to a close throughout the various chapters, or its closing throughout. When it’s not strict to script of the respective story, hilarious anecdotes break the story up so well that one has to gather one’s self and remind themselves where the narrative was heading. The anecdotes appear to be accidental humor in other words. In the beginning of this book, I began highlighting some of the jokes believing that they would be precious jewels that I would have to remember. I do this with all provocative lines and paragraphs, but as I continued throughout the book, I gave up, knowing that when one highlights too often, the portions that are highlighted begin to lose value.

Number One: Norm Macdonald does whatever the hell Norm Macdonald wants. Is this a true narrative, Norm not does appear to care what the reader believes one way or another. Is this a readable narrative that involves the time-honored traditions of storytelling, Norm doesn’t appear to care. The storytelling format does have a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas feel to it, but other than that it does not follow the rules of any celebrity memoir that I’ve ever read. He may have informed us of some true facts regarding his upbringing, and the many things that have happened to him along the way, but he doesn’t care if the readers knows the difference, or, apparently, if those distinctions could lead to some damage of his career as an entertainer. As a result, I would say that this is by far the best celebrity memoir I have ever read, but I have the feeling Norm wouldn’t care what one way or another.

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A Book Review: of Brett Martin’s Difficult Men


Difficult menBrett Martin’s book Difficult Men, is a writer’s dream, in that it finally gives credit where credit is due.  It doesn’t give undue credit where so many other, lesser periodicals, give credit, to the stars.  It doesn’t give undue credit to the directors of the individual episodes, the “brave” networks that eventually broadcast them, or that individual studio exec that provided the show its green light.  It does give credit, finally, to those that rarely receive the amount of credit they are due in the court of public opinion, the writer.  Martin is more specific in his dispersal of credit when he says it’s not just any writer that deserves credit for the success of these shows, it is the writer, the creator, the head writer, the emperor of the room, or what he calls the show runner.

 “The show-runner,” writes Martin in a GQ piece, “is this era’s version of the Creative Titan.”{1}

The amount of credit currently given to star James Gandolfini, for the success of the show The Sopranos, is entirely disproportionate to the amount of credit owed show runner David Chase; Jon Hamm’s acting ability, and his rugged good looks are a reason that people tuned into Mad Men, but the overall quality of the show is primarily due to the writing, and the obsession, of show runner Matthew Weiner; and Bryan Cranston isn’t Breaking Bad as much as Vince Gilligan is.  Martin does give some credit to the stars, and to some of the individual writers of individual episodes, and to some of the other behind-the-scenes players of each show, but he maintains that these shows wouldn’t have been a fraction as good as they were, if they were in less capable hands than those listed as creator, or show runner.

This isn’t to say that Martin’s book Difficult Men is as obsessed with credit dispersal as I am.  He simply focuses his narrative on the history of these show runners, and the work each of them did throughout the life of the project in question.  The rest of us can’t help but be obsessed with credit, especially when so many of our friends misdirect it to the stars.

James Gandolfini is the face of The Sopranos, of course, and Jon Hamm is the face of Mad Men, so most of us can’t help but associate them with the shows, and subsequently give them all the credit.  Just as we can’t help but believe Basic Instinct is Sharon Stone’s movie, and her coming out vehicle, and the movie where she showed a vital organ.  Very few people have even heard of Joe Eszterhas and Paul Verhoeven.  Everyone knows that Christopher Reeves was Superman, but how many people know the name Mario Puzo?  How many people, on that note, know what Mario Puzo’s relationship to “Marlon Brando’s” The Godfather is?  How many of those that love Entertainment Tonight, and their red carpet interviews, know anything about what happens behind the scenes of their favorite movies and TV shows, and how many would care if they did?

Those of us that do care, and wish the creative types received more credit in the public arena than they do, have tried to stay in tune with the creative drivers of the projects we love, and we subsequently became obsessed with knowing which party deserves the credit for each production.  Martin’s book Difficult Men informs us that we have been wrong in our credit dispersal when it comes to TV.

Prior to reading this book, I assumed that in TV, like the movies, the directors rule.  Those of us that love movies, for example, know that a Scorsese movie is almost always great, regardless of the star that leads it, the screenwriter that writes it (unless it’s Scorsese), or any of the behind the scenes players involved in it.  Therefore, we obsessives have habitually searched through the credits of TV shows to see who the director was to determine if that show will be any good or not.  Martin informs us, through a Matthew Weiner quote, that movie goers are dead wrong in their assumption that directors have the same amount of power in TV that they do in the movies.

Those of us that love books, also lived with the somewhat sanctimonious assumption that individual writers were more of an essential ingredient to TV shows, but we didn’t put enough thought to the concentration of power that had to be assumed by the head writer, or “emperor” of the writing room, to keep it all consistent.

Here’s what most of us thought.  We knew that there had to be an “emperor” of the writing room, but we thought that an individual writer, of an individual episode, simply handed the finished draft to the head writer, and that head writer then either outright rejected it, or added a few notes here and there to spruce up the final product.  We thought that the head writer acted in a manner similar to an editor of a freelance magazine, and he would continually reject an individual writer’s product, until it was perfect.  We also knew each episode had a “writing room’s” influence on the finished product, but we had no idea—as in the case of Weiner and Mad Men—that the head writer, or the show runner, rewrote an average of eighty percent of every episode that was handed to him.  We were the ones trying to dissuade our star-obsessed friends of the notion that the stars were the end all of a given product, and that it had more to do with the individual writers.  Yet, we were even wrong by a matter of degrees.  Martin writes that a show runner is, in general, and specific to these particular shows, the person that dreamed up the general premise of the show, wrote the show’s bible, and controlled and edited every aspect of that show.

Martin’s description of the process is as follows: The writing team meets behind closed doors, they put in an ungodly amount of hours trying to come up with ideas for each individual episode.  One writer will then eventually take the lead on an episode, and he and the rest of the writing team will eventually come up with a 40-50 page script.  Once they have completed this script, the show runner will walk into the room, take the script to his office, and rewrite 80% of it, on average.  For most shows, the next step in the process involves a debate between the studio execs, network censors, and the show runner over what they believe will be popular and acceptable to audiences and sponsors.  With these three particular shows, however, the show runners state that this part of the process rarely involved much in the way of this intrusion.

Show runner of AMC’s Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, illustrates his role as the show runner in the following description:

“Over 80 percent (of writing on TV) is rewriting, and if I’ve rewritten more than 80 percent of a writer’s script, I’m going to attach my name to it.  If I keep 20 percent or more, of one of my writers’ scripts, I’ll give them a lone writing credit.  Basically, it’s a question of ego.  I can’t stomach the idea of someone not knowing that I was involved in it.  For the well-being of my daily interaction with the people I work with, I felt it best not to have to watch somebody go up and get an award for something I had written every word of.  I’m not Cyrano de Bergerac.”

The one asterisk to the process described above, for these three particular shows, is Breaking Bad, as show runner Vince Gilligan regards the process as a more democratic one than Weiner, Chase, or even Deadwood’s creator David Milch do.  It should also be mentioned, in this paragraph of asterisks, that Brett Martin’s Difficult Men covers a number of other shows in Difficult Men, including: The Wire, The Shield, Six Feet Under, and to a lesser degree Deadwood and Dexter.  All of these shows, writes Martin, comprise what critics call the Third Golden Age, but I regard The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad as the triumvirate of it.

Another little talked about aspect of these three shows, that turned out to be essential to the show’s long term success, was the main star’s willingness to acquiesce to the show runner’s ideas of where the character should go.  Most stars are not willing to concede characteristics of “their character”, because it will reflect upon them more than the show runners. Most stars are not willing to put themselves in compromising positions, and they’re not brave enough to look bad on screen with the fear that it could affect the rest of their careers.  Cranston, and to some degree Gandolfini, weren’t afraid to have themselves portrayed on screen in their underpants, which Vince Gilligan says is a “pretty good physicalization of their fearlessness.”  These stars had to be willing to be very “un-starlike” for these particular shows to have the kind of flawed weaknesses that eventually made them monumental.

As stated throughout Difficult Men, the egomaniacal nature of the show runners was paramount to the success of these shows.  It dictated to the stars that they would acquiesce, but it also dictated to the networks that they would have to acquiesce too.  Had any of these show runners sacrificed their egos, and gone with the “suggested” tweaks of the studio execs that eventually rejected these shows—just to finally get their project made—these shows surely would’ve been different, and possibly drained of most of the value they eventually brought to TV.

One cannot entirely blame those studio execs that passed on these shows, as they had their own bosses to answer to, their sponsors to satisfy, and their audiences to avoid offending.  To get these particular projects made, the studio runners needed a vulnerable network that was less concerned with controversy, and ratings, and in having “some say” in how the finished product would appear.

“In TV, as nowhere else, the writer is king—none more so than those emperors of the air that control every aspect of an ambitious, ongoing cable drama,” Brett Martin writes in the GQ article.

I’m embarrassed to say that I never heard of this term “show runner”, until I read this book, but I did have an idea that there had to be an “emperor” of the writing room.  I had these ideas of how a show was created, but I never really focused in on it, until HBO informed me, in their ad campaign, that I should watch Deadwood, because its creator, David Milch, used to work on The Sopranos.  AMC ran a similar campaign for Mad Men, saying its creator, Matthew Weiner, wrote for The Sopranos.  Other than maybe Steven Bochco, I can’t remember a creator given such prominence in a show’s ad campaign, and Bochco largely created shows that I didn’t watch.  I did watch The Sopranos, however, and I was willing to watch any show attached to it in anyway, especially when the ad campaign centered around the show’s artistic creativity and not the stars.  The only reason AMC used the campaign they did, writes Martin, is that they couldn’t think of another way to market a show about ad men sitting around a table talking sales.

As the title of this book suggests, the stories of these three shows involve difficult, uncompromising, and flawed males, but the real story, or the story behind the story that is not commonly talked about with these shows, involves the difficult, uncompromising, and flawed males behind the scenes that got these shows made, and finessed, until they achieved the creator’s idea of perfection.

Portions of this book are devoted to the stars of the shows, but if you are purchasing this book to learn more about them, you’re probably also going to be disappointed, especially if your perspective is that they are strictly star-driven vehicles.  And you’re probably going to be just as disappointed by the limited amount of space Martin devotes to Gandolfini’s psychosis, the Tweet page devoted to showing Jon Hamm crotch shots, and Bryan Cranston’s comfort level with being shot in his underwear in various episodes of Breaking Bad.  That having been said, Martin’s book Difficult Men, and his perspective, is probably not what most readers would  expect, nor—sadly—enjoy, but it’s fantastic.  No reader, that makes it to the end of this book, could mistake it for a gossip piece that focuses on the daily lives of stars.  It is about the creative process.  It’s about quality TV.  It is about how one show, The Sopranos, influenced some relatively vulnerable cable TV networks to pursue other, similarly “important” shows, until a Third Golden Age of television was born.

Consider the Lobster: A Review


This book starts out the way most brilliant, pop psychology books do from an angle you may have never considered before. Since this book is a collection of divergent essays, it should be reviewed chapter by chapter and essay by essay. The first essay “Big Red Son” involves comedic talk of the porn industry. To be fair to the author, David Foster Wallace, this essay was first written in 1998, and some may conclude it unfair to declare it dated, but I didn’t read this until 2012, so I am forced to say that this material has been mined for all its worth at the time of my reading. (See Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff.) The second chapter “Some Remarks on Kafka’s funniness…” whets the appetite. The general idea behind this chapter “that humor is not very sophisticated today” has been mined by those of us obsessed with pop culture, but Wallace does get some points for listing the specific problems with the current sense of humor that doesn’t understand the sophisticated and subtle humor of author Franz Kafka. He says: “Kafka’s humor has almost none of the particular forms and codes of contemporary US amusement.” This launches the Wallace into a detailed list of complaints about contemporary humor brought to the homes of TV watchers.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

“Kafka’s humor has almost none of the particular forms and codes of contemporary U.S. amusement. There’s no recursive wordplay or verbal stunt-pilotry, little in the way of wisecracks or mordant lampoon. There is no body-function humor, nor sexual entendre, nor stylized attempts to rebel by offending convention. No slapstick with banana peels or rogue adenoids. There are none of the ba-bing ba-bang reversals of modern sitcoms; nor are there precocious children or profane grandparents or cynically insurgent coworkers. Perhaps most alien of all, Kafka’s authority figures are never just hollow buffoons to be ridiculed, but they are always absurd and scary and sad all at once.”

The point that Wallace attempts to make is that his students don’t understand Kafka’s absurdist wit, because they are more accustomed to being spoon-fed their entertainment. They’re not used to having to think through something as complex as Kafka’s central joke:

“That the horrific struggle to establish a human self-results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.”

The chapter is worth reading not for its “When I was a kid, we had to walk ten miles to school” style of complaining about the youth of the day, but the illustrative manner in which Wallace complains about humor in general. A complaint this author laments may not be generational.

The fourth chapter may be the selling point for this book. In it, Wallace describes a war that has been occurring in the English language for a couple generations now. Wallace calls it a Usage War. The Usage War describes how one side, the more traditional side, AKA the prescriptive side, pleads for a return to traditional English. He talks of the other side, the more modern side that describes itself as a more scientific study of the language, updating our usage on a more inclusive plane. The latter, called the descriptive side, calls for more political correctness in its language. It calls for a more comprehensive list of words and usage that incorporates styles of language such as Ebonics and words that are more commonly used, such as “irregardless”. Previous to this reading, I heard that tired phrase “everything is political”, but I had no idea that that phrase could be extended to dictionaries. The author’s reporting on this subject is excellent. It is informative without being biased, and it is subjective with enough objectivity to present both viewpoints in a manner that allows you to decide which side is more conducive to progress in our language.

Wallace is not as unbiased in his John McCain chapter however. He makes sure, in the opening portions of an article –that was paid for by the unabashedly liberal periodical Rolling Stone— that his colleagues know that he is not a political animal (i.e. he is stridently liberal). He lets them know he voted for Bill Bradley. Other than the requisite need a writer of a Rolling Stone article feels to display their liberal bona fides, it’s not clear why Wallace would include his opinion in a piece that purports to cover an election campaign. If I were granted the honor of being paid to cover a Nancy Pelosi campaign, for example, I would not begin this piece with a couple of paragraphs describing how I feel about her politics, but such is the state of journalism in America today…particularly in the halls of the unabashedly liberal Rolling Stone.

To have such an article begin with a political screed that is different than mine, would normally turn me off, but I’ve grown used to it. (I know, I know, there is no bias.) The real turn off occurs after the reader wades through the partisan name-calling, to the languid dissertation on the minutiae involved on a campaign bus. If you’re ever aching to know what goes on in a political campaign, I mean really aching to know, this is the chapter for you. I would say that most are curious about the machinations that occur behind the scenes, but I would say that most of those same people would have their curiosity tested by Wallace’s treatment here. He says that the editors at Rolling Stone edited the piece. He says that he always wanted to provide his loyal readers a director’s cut. After reading through the first twenty pages of this chapter, I was mentally screaming for that editor to step in and assist me through the piece. It’s not that it’s poor writing, nor that it’s entirely without merit, but you REALLY have to be one who aching to know the inner workings of a campaign. You have to want to know bathroom difficulties —such as keeping a bathroom door closed on a tour bus— you have to want to know what reporters eat, why they eat it, and when. You have to want your minutiae wrapped in minutiae, until your eyes bleed with detail. It’s a cardinal rule of mine to never skip passages. I live with the notion that I can learn something from just about everything an author I deem worthy writes, and I deem Wallace to be a quality writer with an adept and varying intellect, but I had to break my cardinal rule with this chapter. It was too painful a slog.

As for the chapter on Tracy Austin, Wallace laments the fact that championship level athletes aren’t capable of achieving a degree of articulation that he wants when he purchases one of their autobiographies. Tracy Austin, for those who don’t know, was a championship level tennis player. Wallace purchased her autobiography hoping that, as an adult long since removed from the game of tennis, Austin would be able to elucidate the heart of a champion. He hoped that Austin would be able to describe for us what went through her mind at the moment when she achieved the pinnacle of her career, and he wanted to know what she thought about the accident that led to her premature retirement. He wasn’t just disappointed, he writes, in the manner that he is disappointed with sideline interviews that are loaded with “we give it 110%, one game at a time, and we rise and fall as a team” style clichés. He sums up his disappointment with the following:

“It may well be that we spectators, who are not divinely gifted as athletes, are the only ones able truly to see, articulate, and animate the experience of the gift we are denied. And that those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must (out of necessity) be blind and dumb about it—and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence.”

imagesCAY91IXCIn other words, we are able to express these ideas based on the fact that we concentrate on the arena of the mind, and their concentration lies in physical prowess. We, non-athlete types, think about the things they do, we fantasize about them, and they do them. We think about how glorious it would be to sink a championship winning basket over Bryon Russell, Michael Jordan just does it. We think about, and write about, that incredibly perfect and physically impossible baseline shot of a Tracy Austin, Tracy just does it. We see the replays of their exploits endlessly repeated on Sportscenter, and we hear almost as many different analyses of them. We then think about these plays from all these varied angles that are provided, and we project ourselves onto that platform. We don’t think about all the rigorous hours a Michael Jordan spent in gyms preparing for that moment, we simply think about that moment, and what it would mean to us to have conquered such a moment. So, when one of these athletes steps away from that stage to offer us a few words about that moment and those few words center around the “I just did it” meme we are profoundly disappointed. To paraphrase Yoda, “They don’t think, they do, or they do not.” They use the force granted to them though spending a greater percentage of their lives in gyms, on tennis courts, and in weight rooms. They concentrate on muscle memory to prevent the mind from interfering with their eventual completion of the act. If we, non-athlete types, were in a similar situation, we would think about the significance of the history of the game, the profundity of the moment, how this moment may affect the rest of our lives, how many people are watching us, if Bryon is a better athlete than we are, and if he will block our shot, what the fellas are going to say about this play after the game, and we become so immersed in the enormity of the moment that we probably think too much to make the shot. The point is that they’ve made that shot so many times, in so many different ways and games, that they simply rely on muscle memory to make the championship shot. They may think about that shot, as long as it takes them to project it, but once they step on the court, they go on auto-pilot and complete the mission. They would love to give Hemingway-esque descriptions of their game, that satisfied us all, and lands them in a weekly spot on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, but for all the reasons described here they are simply not capable of it.

I used to wonder what announcers were talking about when they said, “He’s too young to understand what this means.” This kid, as you call him, has been playing this game his whole life, and he’s lived the life of the championship level athlete, which means sacrificing the norms of daily life that his peers knew, and he’s done all that for “this” moment. What do you mean he doesn’t know what it means? It dawned on me, after a couple struggles with it, that “this kid” doesn’t know what this moment would mean to that announcer … or those of us at home watching. In that post-game interview, then, we’re looking for something, some little nugget that we can identify with. When we get phrases from the cliché vault, we’re so disappointed that they didn’t put more effort into identifying with our sense of their glory. We’re frustrated that they couldn’t reach us on our level. Yet, as Wallace states, it is the essence of a championship level athlete to be “blind and dumb” during the moments that define them, and we all know this to one degree or another. We’ve all seen these championship level athletes being interviewed about their individual moments thousands of times, so why do we continue to be so frustrated with them, and does this continued sense of frustration begin to say more about them or us?

Ace Frehley’s book: No Regrets. A Review


Ace Frehley has No Regrets.  It’s the title of his book.  He has no regrets, apparently, about wasting whatever God-given talent he was given, and he has no regrets about doing little-to-nothing to make his “right place and right time” in history to make it a little better. That’s great Ace, you stuck your middle finger right up into what Gene and Paul have been saying about you, but what about those young fans that defended your legacy for much of our young lives?  Do you have No Regrets about all that?

Ace FrehleyThis review is being written by a fan.  This writer may not be a die hard fan anymore, but I was.  There was a time when Kiss was my whole world, and in those days Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton was my favorite person in the universe, and Ace Frehley was number two.  I still have a soft spot in my heart for the man, but Ace Frehley’s new book No Regrets has even tainted that.

Ace Frehley states that he is clean now, and like so many other rock bios that adorn the shelves of bookstores across America, Frehley takes the vantage point of an outsider commenting on his past debauchery.  Alcohol and drugs were the way Frehley dealt with the ups and downs of stardom, but he has No Regrets about this. As comedians in the past (Pryor and Carlin) have done, Ace chooses to laugh at his lifestyle choices.  He chooses the “now that I’m clean” meme to detail for us the hilarity of being so out of control that you don’t know what you’re doing.  As a lifelong Ace Frehley fan, I found many of the Ace Frehley stories funny, troubling, and disenchanting, but Ace has No Regrets.

The “breath of fresh air” arrives when Ace details for us the tale of Kiss.  Ace is more honest and forthcoming about the formulation of Kiss than any of the other members have been to this point.  The reader begins to realize that Ace is going to be the first to tell this story without a marketing plan. There is no Kiss mysticism attached to this version of the story, the Kisstory, such as the stories faithful Kiss readers have been inundated with by Paul and Gene. This is the Kiss story as told by “the fun and spontaneous member”.  This is the more “real” version of the story.  Unfortunately, the more “real”, Ace Frehley version of the story substantiates many of the charges made against Ace’s apathy and his poor work ethic.  The No Regrets book also substantiates the charge that Ace wasn’t particularly elemental in the formulation of the eventual Kiss product, that he was basically just along for the ride, and that he has No Regrets about any of this.

In one particular story, Ace says that the producer of the album Destroyer, Bob Ezrin, began pushing Ace to come up with guitar solos for the songs on the album.  Ace complains that the pushing was counterproductive for what Ezrin failed to understand is that the spontaneous nature of artistic creation cannot be pushed.  Ace’s lone contribution on a majority of the Kiss songs was a brief solo between the verses, and he couldn’t even come up with that by the time Kiss’ Destroyer album came out.  At this point in the story, I would’ve been mentally lambasting Gene and Paul for presumably leaving out some necessary details of the story.  That’s not the case here of course.  This is Ace telling the story.  As I said, it’s all troubling and disenchanting, but he had No Regrets.

The question that this reader has for Ace on this particular issue is: “How much time, between albums, did you have to work on these spontaneous solos?  I know spontaneity cannot be generated on the spot, but it can be cultivated over time, so that it becomes easier every time out.  This is called art.  Artistic creations take time, devotion, and discipline.  I’m not a blind fan don’t get me wrong.  I recognize Kiss music for what it is.  I don’t put it on par with Monet or Picasso in the world of art, but even Kiss music takes a degree of involvement, work ethic, and commitment. Ace Frehley was a significant part of a group that put out products that many of us spent our allowance on, but Frehley thought Bob Ezrin pushed the man’s artistic sensibilities a little too hard, because Ezrin didn’t understand the gentle process of artistic creation.  My educated guess, based on the characterization of Ace Frehley, by Ace Frehley in the book No Regrets, is that he arrived in the studio unprepared, and he got mad at Ezrin for getting mad at him about it.  Yet, Ace Frehley has no regrets.

Few have questioned Frehley’s God-given gifts, but he apprently did little to formulate and finesse those gifts that were given to him.  What were you doing between albums Ace, other than touring? The answer: Sex, drugs, and alcohol.  No Regrets.  You read Ace detail this portion of his story, and you realize that Ace may have been paying a little bit too much attention to his press clippings.  He may have been listening to those adoring fans that put him on a pedestal a little too often.  He may have thought there was a degree of mysticism to his art that couldn’t arise as a result of a request from a meager human, but it had to be waited for in the manner of some divine artiste.  Say what you want about Gene and Paul, and many have (Ace does in this book in good ways and bad), but Gene and Paul knew there was nothing divine about what they were doing.  They simply worked their tails off for the legacy they eventually achieved.

Ace chastises the Kiss bassist Gene Simmons throughout the book as a man who took the Kiss product a little too seriously throughout the process of building it.  Ace talks about how he couldn’t do it.  The movie “Kiss Meets the Phantom” is an example of the “Kisstory” that Ace admits he basically sat out.  He looks good in hindsight for having sat that one out, for the movie is generally considered a bomb.  Ace talks about how he didn’t enjoy making the album “The Elder”, and how he generally sat that one out too.  Ace then talks about how he wasn’t much of a part of the making of the album Destroyer either.  The latter is a little more painful to him, as evidenced in his words, but this may be due to the fact that Destroyer is generally considered to be Kiss’ best album.  Hindsight shows Ace regretting that he wasn’t a greater part of the successes, but he doesn’t mind telling us he had little to nothing to do with that which is generally considered less successful artistically and financially.  How convenient.

Ace condemns Gene as a business man who has no friends.  He says Gene needs to cut loose and have a beer every once in a while.  To be fair to Ace, he does thank Gene and Paul for everything they built, and he’s not as negative as I thought he would be.  I read where Gene leveled Ace in many areas, and I expected the return fire to be explosive.  He pounded home the point that Gene has no friends by saying that the Gene Simmons Roast only had comedians in it (and family members), but he doesn’t have as many negative things to say about Gene as this review and others may lead one to believe.

Those of us that were Ace Frehley loyalists for much of our life, have one quick question for Ace.  The question is based on the fact that we defended Ace among our friends, those that informed us what Gene and Paul had said about him.  Why would you write this?  Why would you tell the world that you didn’t have as much play in the formulation of this Kiss product as we thought you had. Why would you tell your biggest fans that you were basically along for the ride, for much of the time?  Why would you say that other than some minor artistic differences, there’s no real huge story to your departure? Or, that you just got sick of it?’  Ace does mention the fact that he may not be alive if he were still in Kiss, but it’s clear that that was totally on him by that point.  The only one that encouraged Frehley into greater debauchery, Peter Criss, was long gone by the time he quit, and Paul and Gene were basically dry as stated time and again throughout the book.  Did Ace envy the success Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash had with his autobiography?  Did he know that his story was similar, and he wanted a piece of that pie?

In a promotional interview for this book, Ace did on The Today Show, Ace talked about how proud he was to add published author to his list of accomplishments. That’s great, some of us thought, and it’s a laudable goal for any high school dropout.  The question is what did you have published?  Was it a novel, a short story collection, or bio that detailed for the American public a dossier of artistic accomplishments?  What this published author managed to have published was a tome of a wasted opportunity, a waste of talent, and a largely wasted life.  My guess is that Frehley saw all of acclaim and sales that went to Guns and Roses guitarist Slash and realized that his story was similar.  It’s as entertaining as Slash’s was, and it’s received as much praise, but at what price?

The reader is left with the idea that Ace led a blessed and lucky life, but when it came to actually working, and finessing that gift to even greater heights, Ace got turned on and tuned out. Ace will undoubtedly receive a lot more praise for being “more real” with his story, but those of us that considered ourselves true fans, we wish he had been a little less real to keep the Ace myth alive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun (and in spots a funny) read, but it’s also a little sad and disenchanting.