Tag Archives: Reviews

Never Read Your Heroes?

I have a hit-and-miss relationship with autobiographies, memoirs, and other nonfiction literature. Mikel Jollett’s memoir, Hollywood Park, was fantastic and gave me insight into the man as well as some of my favourite songs. I was a big fan of Mikel and his band The Airborne Toxic Event before I read the book and an even bigger one after. Amy Schumer’s, The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo, was terrible. I was a big fan of her standup and general presence before I read the book and she fell completely out of my sphere of “even remotely giving a shit about her” after. I will say that I was a fan of hers on Instagram during her pregnancy, but otherwise, she might as well be invisible. 

Kevin Smith’s, Shooting The Shit With Kevin Smith, didn’t do anything for me either way but I also read it at a time when my fanboi feelings for him were waning so we’ll give him the win for not tipping me off the edge and allowing my man-crush to resurface a few years later. Bob McKenzie and James Duthie, two prominent sportscasters here in Canada, each wrote books, Hockey Dad and The Day I (Almost) Killed Two Gretzkys, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I got to meet both of them before a Stanley Cup playoff game in Philly back in 2010, so that impression no doubt helped when I read their books (they were both friendly, gracious, and generous with their time). 

More recently, I picked up a copy of Tim Cotton’s, The Detective In The Dooryard, a book based on his musings running the marginally famous Bangor Maine Police Department Facebook page. I love his writing on Facebook but found the book to be mundane. Each essay on its own was good, but when I read a bunch of them at once it started to turn into mildly humorous white noise. It might make a good bathroom book. 

Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, surprised the heck out of me. It was fantastic. I knew little about the former First Lady other than what I’d seen in the news between 2007 and 2016 and her book opened my eyes to her struggles and sacrifices – particularly the sacrifices. 

After reading Ms. Obama’s account of her life and seeing through the windows she opened into life inside the White House I started reading her husband’s book, Promised Land. I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t heard Michelle speak much before and could “hear” her voice when I read the book but with Barack it was different. I don’t know if it was simply a case of having someone’s voice in my head as I read it or if it was something else, but POTUS’s book stood out as being more self-congratulatory than that of FLOTUS. 

It was certainly long enough, clocking in at 700 pages – and doesn’t even cover anything after they got Bin Laden – and while I appreciated the detailed insights on how to get stuff done in Washington, Obama’s writing style played right into the criticisms of his early day debate and Q&A. Sum it the hell up, man. Seriously. Every chapter was this long, meandering journey and despite owing his mistakes and learning, he could have done without patting himself on the back so often. 

He did do an excellent job of highlighting the opposition to his agenda and the struggles he and his administration faced but it amounted to little more than preaching to the choir. Anyone so much as considering voting for a Democrat already knew about the obstruction tactics of Mitch McConnell and the GOP.

After reading Obama’s tome, I can see why the people who don’t like him don’t like him. I think they’re wrong in their assessment, but I do have a deeper understanding of why his detractors are so fervent in their dislike of the man. It speaks to what has become an impassable divide between the Left and the Right in modern-day America. I’m less surprised with the 2016 election results now than I was back then. 

This brings me to my main observation of the work. At its root, Promised Land is little more than a 700-page “up yours” to Donald Trump. Obama goes to great lengths to point out, on almost every page I might add, all the ways in which he was better than his successor. Better orator, better legislator, better debater, better strategizer, better writer, better human. Again, he wasn’t wrong, but it’s nothing new to anyone who agrees with him, and those who don’t couldn’t care less. Having him spell it out page after page after page only serves to widen the chasm between the two sides.  

Was it an informative and at times an entertaining read? Absolutely.

Was it actually written by Barack Obama and not some ghostwriter? For sure (though I can guarantee you the team of editors that worked on it earned every bit of their paychecks).

Will I read Volume 2 when it comes out? Nope. 

You Owe Me Nothing

I was going to do a completely different post this week, but then I came across this train wreck of a comments thread on Goodreads and I just had to voice my thoughts on it. Unfortunately, the author (of the book, not the review) has since deleted all of his comments, fortunately, some genius decided to capture it via archives.is (which should scare the crap out of anyone who suffers from the delusion that they can post something online and then bury it later).


I had to read the whole thread because apparently I enjoy the carnage of watching someone completely self-destruct. Every time the author commented I would think, he can’t possibly make this any worse, and then he went and made it worse. The real work of art here is how he swiftly took one negative review of his book and turned hundreds, if not thousands of potential readers into people 100% guaranteed to avoid anything he’s ever written or will ever write. That expression, “There’s no such thing as bad press”? Well, Dylan Saccoccio is finding out the hard way that there are clearly exceptions to that rule.


There are many reputable authors out there who will all give a writer the same advice on responding to reader reviews: don’t do it. DO NOT ENGAGE! Reviews on book sites like Goodreads, Amazon, Barns & Noble are not for writers. Reviews are for readers. You can write the best god-damned book the world has ever seen and there will still be people that think it sucks donkey balls. Get over it. You know what should thrill you to the teeth? The fact that someone literally took hours out of their day to spend time with something that you created. You may have even received some money for this transaction. If you are a writer, it’s almost guaranteed to be less than a cup of coffee, but someone out there, probably a complete stranger, spent time AND money on your creation. If that’s not enough for you then I think you’re in the wrong business.

You know what readers owe us? Nothing. Nada. Bupkis. Zilch. Diddly squat. Nothing. Did I say nothing? I did? Well, I’ll say it again, NOTHING. To put it bluntly, readers owe us exactly one-fifth of sweet fuck all.

Robert Niles has a couple great quotes and was speaking as it pertains to reporting, but this sentence is wholly applicable for all types of content:

“They [citizens] have the right, and ability, to go about their lives without ever once glancing at your publication…”

In short, by simply picking up a copy of your book or stopping by your blog and giving your work more than a second glance they’ve already given you a whole lot.

Be thankful for that.

In summary, read my stuff. Maybe you love it, maybe you hate it, or maybe you’re somewhere in between. Either way, I’m glad you spent some time with it. That is, after all, one of the reasons I create it in the first place.

Shameless plugs:

~ Andrew.

Tommy Can You Hear Me?

A while back I wrote a post on how the general consensus is that for books that are made into movies, the book will almost always be better. After seeing not one, but two stage versions of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” I have come to the conclusion that musical theatre is to music as movie adaptations are to books.

Rock & Roll music made into a movie with some of the
biggest names of that time in showbiz

There’s a reason there’s the musical expression “phrasing”. Music, you see, is a language. From our friends at Wikipedia: “Phrase and phrasing are concepts and practices related to grouping consecutive melodic notes, both in their composition and performance.” Music, much like the words on the page, allows the mind to wander, fill in the gaps, and fill the consumer with wonder and amazement.

Neither the 1995 nor the 2013 editions of “Tommy” did any of that for me and mostly for the same reasons. I expect a certain style when it comes to musical theatre, but I also have expectations when it comes to live music (not just concerts, but any non-recorded music). Live music should be bigger, louder, full of emotion and energy. It should invoke feelings, and lots of them.

I know, I know. $75 freaking dollars – for balcony?!

Granted, I was only 21 when I saw the 1995 show but I was no stranger to theatre. For its time the visuals were outstanding but I found the actors to be disengaged and tentative, almost as if they were afraid to make a mistake or personally offend the original creators. The music was definitely loud enough, but it was lacking most of the criteria I was expecting.

Now with a few more years behind me (eighteen to be precise), I can look at the performance from this week and, well, basically say the same things. Most of the players were pretty engaging, but I found the lead (teenage Tommy) to be weak. It was as if during the whole performance he was wondering what he’d be having for dinner after the show. The new fancy backdrop visuals were distracting and didn’t add any value. The music could have been louder, and it was lacking intensity. It was as if someone threw a towel over the guitarist’s amp and took away his distortion pedal.

Stratford Festival ticket deal for the win!

Now here comes a comparison with another stage show based on popular music: Abba’s “Mamma Mia!” (this could very well be the first time someone’s ever compared Abba and The Who. A quick Google search turned up 40,700,000 results of which I looked at the first two pages and found no such comparison. Feel free to check out the other 40,699,960 results and prove me wrong).

This principal difference between the two plays (aside from the vastly different plots) lies in the music and the musicians themselves. Abba songs are not rock & roll. Abba songs are poppy, toe tapping ditties and they lend themselves quite nicely for use in a live musical. Abba songs aren’t bigger than life; the stage production brought them to life and then gave them more heart. Songs by The Who absolutely ooze rock & roll. Songs by The Who are not toe tapping and the lion’s share are far from anything I’d classify as a ditty.

They are amplifier exploding epics that make you want to smash things.

You know what I expect when I hear someone play The Who? More freakin’ guitar, that’s what. Cowbell is to Blue Oyster Cult as guitar is to The Who and from what I heard in Stratford – and in listening back to the original 1995 stage recording – Peter Townshend should be rolling over in his grave (wait… what? He’s not dead?! Oh. Sorry, Pete. Moving on…) At the end of it all I simply found “Tommy” to be a little too much tea & crumpets and not enough rock & roll (finale excepted – it was great in both performances).

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised though. Music, really good music, packs so much into each song that it has got to be really difficult to breathe more life into it, short of performing the song live at an actual concert. Could this be a reason for there being such a lack of stage musicals based on popular music? I happen to think so. That being said, if anyone wants to go out and put together a stage production of RUSH’s 2112 I’d be all for it. Lord knows that would at least allow for a better comparison than ABBA.

RUSH’s 2112 “Starman”


Boats Against The Current

Back on April 28 I published a post on the hype surrounding the recent theatrical release of The Great Gatsby. I surmised that the prevailing thought of the general public would be that the movie, even with all of its Leonardo DiCaprio-ness, would not be as good as the book. Now, to be fair, in that case I had not actually read the book so I was pulling from general opinions on the subject and personal history with other works of fiction. I did end with the statement that I would probably read the book and I would definitely see the movie, with any amount of luck in that order.

Well, I haven’t read the book yet, but last night my wife and I got a sitter and went out to see the movie. Here’s how things were set up heading into my first Gatsby experience:

  • I had a vague idea of the plot 
  • I knew previous versions of the movie were not remarkably well reviewed
  • I made a point of avoiding reviews, but did overhear a stranger say the movie was “not very good”
  • I am not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan
  • For some reason, the movie was also being shown in 3D
  • For some reason Carey Mulligan reminds me of Michelle Williams
Carey Mulligan
Michelle Williams

So there you have it. I am about as clueless as you can be on the subject, with only a slight bias clouding my judgement (there’s the Leo thing, but I paid my 10 bucks so I was willing to give him a shot, and there’s the whole post I did about people thinking the book would be better. Other than those things I’m completely neutral).

When it finished, this older lady sitting next to me asked me what I thought and I had to be honest with her. I said, “Sadly, I have not read the book so I can’t make the comparison, but I liked the movie.” On my way out, my wife and I were discussing it and I summarized my thoughts more succinctly:

A good story is a good story.

And that’s exactly what The Great Gatsby is. It’s a good story. If the latest film stayed even remotely true to the novel I can see what all the hullabaloo was about. That F. Scott Fitzgerald guy was on to something, I’m sure of it. I can also see why some people would put the story into the category of “Classics”. It had murder, intrigue, fantasy, love, sex, conflict, alcohol, and lavish parties – all set in a suburb of New York City. Hell, if all of those things aren’t the ingredients for a good story, then I don’t know what would be.

So it happened that a funny thing occurred after I went to see a movie… For all the right reasons I left the theatre desperately wanting to go read a book.

~ Andrew

Kev Makes Good

If you read this blog you know about  my history with the writer/director Kevin Smith. It’s been a hot & cold, up & down, tumultuous & tenuious “relationship” that has been going on for more than a year. Well, last night in Toronto, in front of 500 die-hard fans and countless thousands of others on the big screen in over 500 theaters across North America, Kevin and his organization did what they do best, and in the process provided me with some much needed closure.

Upon hearing of his live show in Toronto I sent Jordan Monsanto and Meghan Quinlan an email asking if my art swap deal could be realized. In what can only be described as “lightning fast” reply Jordan indicated she’d put the request in to the venue to have myself  +1 put on the guest list. That was Monday. I was assured a response by Friday. It came and a friend and I were off to the show.

Trying something different, Kevin was doing a live podcast with Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob Get Old) at a movie theater and simulcasting it to theaters all over North America (I’m told over 500 screens). After the hour long podcast Kev and Jay would do a Q&A taking questions from Twitter as well as the live audience.

A few weeks before the show I received an email from Jordan indicating that the venue had oversold the show and were eliminating everyone’s +1’s from the guest list. At first I was a little miffed, but I still had a ticket and I had a friend who was already going (more on that in a second) so I wouldn’t be flying solo. Arriving at the theater I realized something: the venue has control. The bag check, pat down, electronic wand treatment they were giving people was ridiculous. According to Jordan, they weren’t even allowed a merchandise table, which is unfortunate as I was going to leave Kev a gift that I made from my alphabet photography:

“SMOD” by Andrew F. Butters

I lied and said I was only in the possession of a cell phone, and no camera and took my seat. Front row, just to the right of center:

Row AA is good, right? Why yes it is!

Kev doing his thing. Mewes lounging on the couch.

I decided in advance that I would not go to extraordinary lengths to get Kevin and Jay my photography, or to get to the mic to ask a question. I was going to just sit and enjoy the event, and am I ever glad I did. I had a front row seat to a one of a kind event surrounded by TV cameras and hundreds of other great fans. My friend, who recently quit his job and is now writing full time had other plans.

Robert Chute wrote a book, Self-help for Stoners, and really wanted to get to the mic and give Kevin the book (to whom he had dedicated it, along with Joe Rogan). Well Robert had his moment, and he didn’t make a giant douche of himself (which is easy to do when your host does a lot of poop jokes). I completely failed Robert when I didn’t get a picture or video of it! For this I completely apologize and can only say that Kevin was completely gracious upon receiving the book. I was so close to the stage that when Robert handed the book to him I could see Kev off point to the cover and then hear him say, “Oh yeah, I know you!”. So, go read this book (I’m talking to you too Kevin!) Don’t let the title fool you, even if you’re not into smoking pot, the book is great.

So one thing Kevin wanted to do with the show was get in a lot of questions. This would probably be the only downside I saw to the event. Personally, when I go see Kevin Smith I go because he often answers a question with a 45 minute anecdote that leaves you gasping for air, holding your sides, peeing your pants laughing. Because he was answering rapid fire questions in an effort to get as many in as possible (presumably to ensure interaction and continued interest from the remote theaters watching) the responses, while well put together, genuine and honest, just weren’t the type that are in Kevin’s wheelhouse. As such, moments felt rushed, which is hard to do for a 3 hour event, and he didn’t get the chance to really work up the audience and deliver many “hit ’em out of the park” punch lines.

All in all though, it was a remarkably enjoyable experience, and Kevin’s love for Toronto and Canada in general comes through quite naturally, even when he’s not plugging his final movie, a Canadian tale about hockey titled “Hit Somebody”. I can say for sure I’ll go see it, and so will at least a few thousand other Canadians who watched Kevin and Jay rock the stage at the Scotiabank Theater last night.