Month: September 2018

CunananI remember with vivid clarity the day that Giovanni Maria “Gianni” Versace (1946-1997) was shot and killed in front of his home in Miami, Florida.  My friends and I were in shock and in the wake of the shooting, we kept hearing the name Andrew Cunanan (1969-1997).  None of it made sense but from the news we did learn, Cunanan was a one man crime spree and through fate, he crossed paths with the world-famous fashion designer.  Twenty-one years have passed since Versace’s death but the fashion line that bears his name continues to remain strong.  Several days after Versace was shot and killed, Cunanan took his own life aboard a houseboat that was eventually seized by the City of Miami.  In the days after his death,  more information about his erratic and deadly lifestyle came to light and also revealed how law enforcement missed vital clues contributing to what Maureen Orth calls the largest failed manhunt in U.S. history.   By all accounts, Cunanan should have been caught long before he walked up to Versace on July 15, 1997.  However, miscommunication and in some cases prejudice against homosexuals, resulted in investigations crippled from neglect, allowing Cunanan to remain at large before committing his final murderous act.  The world now new the name Andrew Cunanan and it would never be forgotten.  But just who was Andrew Cunanan and how did he make the FBI’s Most Wanted List?  The list is reserved for the most dangerous of criminals and typically a suspect such as Cunanan would not normally be found on the list. His use of extremedly deadly force rightfully earned him a place among the most deadly killers on the run in America at the time.  Maureen Orth, a journalist for Vanity Fair, covered Versace’s murder and was familiar with Cunanan before the final events in Miami.  In this chilling account of Cunanan’s path of rage, she recounts his life helping us understand how and why he descended into madness.

Orth takes us back in time to the Cunanan home were Modesto “Pete” Cunanan (1930-2005) and his wife Mary Ann (1938-2012) raise their several children.  Andrew quickly becomes his dad’s favorite, but even his charm would not be enough to keep the family together as his father fled to his native Philippines in 1989.  The event would have a profound effect on the young child and unbeknownst to many, the seeds of chaos had already been planted. What is evidently clear in the book is that from an early age Cunanan displayed many of the characteristics that would be shown in adulthood and vividly remembered by those he encountered.   And as he makes his way to manhood, he becomes more immersed in his homosexuality and it is at this point in the book picks up speed and Orth takes us deep inside the world of gay men.  I should point out that Cunanan was not a “gay killer”.  While he did commit murder, it was not based off of his orientation nor were his victims targeted because of their orientation.   And I also believe that readers uncomfortable with homosexual subject matter should avoid the book altogether.  But for those who have been fascinated by the Versace murder and Cunanan’s story, it is necessary to understand this world to understand Cunanan.  Further, the misunderstanding of this world is one of the factors behind the failure of authorities to capture Cunanan earlier in their investigations.

If Bret Easton Ellis had not written American Psycho in 1991, he could have easily used Cunanan as the model for the book’s central character Patrick Bateman, but with a few minor tweaks.  Every killer has that one moment where something snaps and they begin their rampage.  Cunanan was no different and once he began his murder spree that would spread across several states,  he left a trial of violence that will undoubtedly shock many readers.  At times the book may seem like a Hollywood production but this is not fiction, the events were real and the aftermath devastating.   Selfishly, Cunanan chose suicide instead of standing trial for his crimes.   He did not leave behind any journals or notes explaining his motives.  In fact, it seems that his own goal was to kill.   Orth does an incredible job of taking us through the events as we follow him across the U.S.  From one city to the next,  he adds a new victim leaving law enforcement in the dark as to why and how he was able to keep evading authorities.  Tensions ran high and even the FBI, drawn into the case through cross-state crimes, found itself deeply wanting to apprehend the monster. When Cunanan was found dead, authorities and the public breathed a sigh of relief.  His death would not bring Versace back but it did mark the end to a path of destruction that surpsisingly did not claim many more victims.

If you want to know the story behind the hunt for Cunanan and the crazy yet glamorous lifestyle he lead, then this is the book for you.  It is not a biography of Versace although she does include a good of information on the Versace empire.  This is Cuanan’s story and the deadly path he took as he slowly made his way to the home of the world’s most popular fashion icon.

ASIN: B004478APW

True Crime

LutherOne of the definitions of the word irony is an incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.  What seems to be given can ultimately turn out radically different and such was the case in the life of the late Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. (1951-2005), known simply to fans and friends as “Luther”.  To the world, he was a household name and his classic Here and Now has been played at countless weddings across the country.  His voice was unique with no singer coming to close to its richness and smoothness.  When he died on July 1, 2005,  many fans were in a state of shock and the idea that Luther Vandross was no longer among us seemed surreal.   Sadly, it was true and his voice was silenced as he departed this life and now rest in peace, having left behind a legacy that will far exceed his time on earth.  But how much did we really know about Luther and what was happening in his life behind the hit songs and glamorous stage appearances?  Craig Seymour once wrote for VIBE magazine, and interviewed Luther becoming very familiar with the singer but even he was unable to completely penetrate the walls Vandross had erected around his personal life, taking many secrets with him to the grave.   But what he has captured is presented here in this sharp biography that will surely suffice for Vandross’ fans.

Typically, we tend to view the lives of celebrities strictly based on what we see in magazines, on television and even on the internet.  Gossip has a dark tendency to follow any celebrity extremely successful or controversial.  And for male celebrities, the absence of a female counterpart fuels the rumor mill of possible homosexual tendencies.  Vandross fought all of these throughout his life and while many have their suspicions, the rumors have always remained just that.  Vandross was adamant about maintaining the privacy in his persona life but upon closer inspection there was far more than meets the eye.   The son of a working class couple, born in New York City,  rose through the music industry to become a titan.  However, no one could have predicted such feats on the 20th day of April, 1951 when May Ida and Luther, Sr., welcomed him into the world.  Vandross’ life is typical of that time until tragedy becomes a staple and his family found itself struggling to keep itself alive. Words cannot truly express the surprise and possible shock the reader will encounter with regards to the lives of those that compose the Vandross family.  Their plight would form a cloud over Luther’s head for his entire life, reminding him of the preciousness of being alive another day.   But before he made his own departure, he created a legacy and a reputation that will remain with us for years to come.

Those that knew him either loved him or disliked him for various reasons.  Personally, he never professed to being perfect but like every great artist, life is far from simple.  The blessing of a voice full of soul and the inability to find the very love he sang so passionately about, created a cruel irony that he was unable to escape from.  As a singer, he crossed paths with nearly every giant in the industry, collaborating on projects with several artists including the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin (1942-2018).  The relationships were not always cozy and Seymour does not shy away from Vandross’ conflicts with Franklin or those with Anita Baker and even the 90s all-female group En Vogue.  But one thing they can all agree on is that there was only one Luther and no one can ever take his place.

For years, it had been rumored that Vandross was a closeted gay singer.  While he never confirmed or denied any rumors, he only permitted knowledge of being in a relationship. With whom was never known to the public.  And while Seymour does not have a full proof smoking gun coming from Vandross himself, there is a revelation by someone close to Luther that might prove to be the clue many people have been looking for.  Personally, I could care less about Vandross’ love life.  I have always enjoyed his music and felt that whomever he was romantically involved with is his personal business.  But as an entertainer in the public life, it is a subject which was and is unavoidable. Luther handle it exceptionally well but I am sure that inside, it took a toll on his mental and emotional well-being.   Fitting that the title of this book contains the word longing for that is exactly what Vandross was doing as he belted out love songs while coming to terms with his own quest for love and closure regarding the death of his father Luther, Sr.  In death I can only hope that he found the peace that escaped him here on earth.  And if we listen closely to his many songs which we will play over and over again, we can listen carefully for the messages contained within their lyrics. The is the life the late and great, Luther Vandross.

ASIN: B00JNL0TK8

Biographies

hutton This November will mark twenty-seven years since the death of Farrokh Bulsara (1946–1991), known by his stage name of Freddie Mercury. On November 2, 2018, moviegoers will be able to see the anticipated biopic Bohemian Rhapsody starring Rami Malek as Mercury.  The film is on my list of those to view before the year is over. I do not know what to expect from the film but I certainly do hope that the filmmakers accurately portray the events in Mercury’s short but extraordinary life.  When he died on November 24, 1991, the music world mourned the loss of one of its true greats.  Today, if you hear a song by Queen on the radio, you can rest assured that at least several people will be happily singing along, knowing every word to the classic tune.  The longevity of his music is a testament to his genius as a songwriter and the talents of his band.  The world has yet to see another artist that possesses the aura that Mercury did.   Incredibly, for all of his public antics,  the singer was highly private and in fact, the world only learned of his battle with AIDS less than twenty-four hours before his death, through a carefully prepared statement.  In his final moments, he was surrounded by those closest to him, including his partner at the time, Jim Hutton.  Contained within the pages of this book is Hutton’s story of his time with Mercury and life after his death.  Hutton died on died January 1, 2010, from the effects of lung cancer and will not be able to see the film about his former partner when it is released.  But I believe he can rest in peace knowing that even today, Freddie’s fans are still as fascinated by him as they were when Queen was tearing up music charts.

I instantly loved the book once it began and I think the reason for that is Hutton does not talk extensively about Queen or the music business.  On occasion he does mention a new song that Freddie was writing or a hit that was released, but the primary focus is his relationship with Mercury and what made him tick.   Readers uncomfortable with homosexual subject matter might decide to take a pass on the book.  While there are no descriptions of sexual acts, the story is about a gay couple.  Lovers, ex-lovers, domestic issues and the like appear in the book showing the human side of the man deemed by many to be a music God.  Hutton is very direct in his words, possibly because of his Irish roots and Freddie, like most musical genius is not a simple character but multi-dimensional and composed of many traits, some interesting and others amusing. But from Hutton’s words, we can see that to know him was to love him.

If you have decided to read this book or consider reading it, then I take it to mean that you are a fan of Queen or interested in Mercury’s life.  Whichever applies to you, I believe that this book will appreciated.  In comparison with publicity photos and recorded video, this side of Mercury is not from a script but a reality of his very private side filled with shopping sprees, property in multiple countries, lavish parties, the gay scene, a long-term relationship and a love of cats.   To say his life was unorthodox would be an understatement.   Mercury lived on his own terms and every day was a new adventure. The thrills are high and the pace fast but there does come a point in the book where the inevitable appears and it is the part the reader might dread the most.  Roughly about halfway through the book, Mercury’s health begins to become an issue. Hutton,  was not oblivious to Freddie’s lifestyle before they met and even after they became an item.  And during era in which AIDS wreaked havoc on the gay community, mortality became a dark cloud over daily events.  As Mercury makes his descent towards the end, Hutton is there with him and his recollections of those times highlight the devastating effects of AIDS on the human body in the days before advanced drugs kept the virus in the stage of HIV only.  But through it all, Freddie remained stoic, accepting his fate and embracing death as the next phase in his life.  And there to support him was the partner whom he could always trust, his beloved Jim.

If you like this book and have more questions about Mercury’s life, I highly recommend Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne.  It will not let you down.

ASIN: B00U8IVOVI

Biographies

diop.jpegThere are many questions about the origin of man, the human race has yet to find conclusive answers for.  We know that ancient civilizations existed and flourished before some  mysteriously ceased to exist.  Relics, structures and writings have survived giving us clues about their lives. Of all of the ancient civilizations, the most inspiring and sought after remains Ancient Egypt.  The pyramids and Sphinx are marvels that have puzzled engineers for thousands of years.  Without the benefit of blueprints, we can only offer guesses as to how and why the structures were created.  But from the temples, mummies and monuments that have survived, it is evidently clear that ingenuity was one of its greatest traits.  Africa has been cited as the cradle of civilization, serving as the home to the oldest tribes known to man. The Christian Bible and Hollywood have done their part in bringing the stories to life, and in the process put Ancient Egypt on center stage.  The Pharaoh Ramses II in The Ten Commandments, beautifully played by the great Yul Brynner, has become a commonly accepted image of the real life Ramses II.  But how accurate was Brynner to his real life counterpart?  And what did the Ancient Egyptians look like?  It is tempting to think of them based on those we see in Egypt today.  But we should know that history often includes many surprising facts, some which we may have never guessed without revisiting the past.   Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986), of Diourbel, Senegal, was a noted historian and anthropologist, who studied the origin of the human race and in his eye-opening account, he seeks to find the truth about the role of Black Africans in the origin of civilization.

Any reader considering this book must be able to clear his/her mind of images today of the continent of Africa.  Not only are the images typically disheartening, but they have no resemblance to the time period of which Diop is speaking.  Here we go back in time thousands of years when Egypt was the most powerful nation of earth and home to  knowledge sought by truth seekers from afar.  Among these was Herodotus, credited as the first historian of the modern world.  The famed scholar recorded a journal of his travels and with regards to the Egyptians, made note of their negro appearance.  But Diop does not stop there and revisits the words of other scholars who visited the ancient kingdom and saw with their own eyes, the Egyptians and Ethiopians described by many of them as Negroes.

Some may be asking what is the point of proving that the Egyptians were negro?  That is a very good question and I do believe the book speaks for itself.  But I will say that the reason is that for thousands of years, the negro has been viewed as substandard and Africa has historically been viewed as a land of savages that needed “culture”.   Those who study history will readily know how imperialism wreaked havoc across the continent as tribes were decimated while Christianity and Islam fought for converts.  The late Harry S.  Truman once said “the only new thing in this world is the history you do not yet know”.  True words indeed.  What is key to keep mind while reading this book is that history has for too long, been written to make those of color look inferior.  But truth typically reveals much different pictures.  For those readers who are African or Black American, you may find this book hits close to home.  Personally, it confirmed many things I learned in high school regarding African culture.  But sadly, across most history textbooks, you will be hard pressed to find these facts.   Every Easter, The Ten Commandments  is played on television. The film is a cinematic masterpiece regardless of what one believes about Christ, and the performances by Charlton Heston (1923-2008) and Yul Brynner (1920-1985) made the film legendary.  But the film ignores the truth about the Ancient Egyptians and the role of Africans in the origin of civilization.  The revelations in the book in no way seek to negate the contributions to society of Ancient Greece, Germany, the Sumerians or Mesopotamia.  But the crux is that nearly all of these societies took their cues from the Egyptians who were much different from what many of us have believed for thousands of years as history was redacted or re-written.

The book is not an attempt to disparage other nations.  Diop seeks only to highlight the truth which has been hiding in plain sight.  And the artifacts, hieroglyphics and statues he uses in the book give credence to his words.  Without question, he proves that there was more to the Ancient Egyptians than many have been willing to acknowledge.   It might be worthwhile to brush up on world history, in particular the periods before Christ to keep up with Diop.  His scholar background resulted in the book being on the heavy side with dates and names.  A chart might be necessary for those readers who intend to continue down this path of research.  Nevertheless, any reader can follow along and understand the concept of the book.  Admittedly,  there are many things about Ancient Egypt that we may never answer and Diop does not profess to have all of them.   How and why the pyramids were built is still a mystery.  We may never known how Egyptian architects made exact measurements without the aid of modern technology.   Notably, in our lives today, we have many things that come from them that have been retained over time.   In short, we owe our lives to them for they are our ancestors along with the Aztecs, Mayans and other ancient civilizations that possessed incredible knowledge and customs which still amaze us today.

ISBN-10: 1556520727
ISBN-13: 978-1556520723

Africa

PickettThere is something about soul music that is incredibly hard to put into words.  Its ability to reach the listener and touch them in ways they never knew give credence to the title of its genre.  The men and women who perfected their craft singing soul music became legends in the process.  Many of them are no longer with us having died either violently or tragically.   Planes crashes, murder, drugs and diseases formed the nexus of poison from which they chose.  Nevertheless, their voices still reign supreme and remind us of an era which we will never see again.   James Brown is known as the “Godfather of Soul” but in reality there were other challengers to the throne, most notably the late Wilson Pickett (1941-2006).  He is best known for his classic hit “In the Midnight Hour”  which helped propelled him to legendary status.  But behind the music was a man whose life was anything but ordinary.  Instead it was filled with genius, vices, love and heartbreak.  Pickett’s death on January 19, 2006 at the age of just sixty-four years of age, was the final chapter in the singer’s life which had steadily declined in his final years.  However, to this day he still remembered as one of the best to ever do it and his legacy is cemented in the many memorable songs he mastered during his time on this earth.

But just who was the real Wilson Pickett?   And how much of his on stage persona crossed over into his personal life?  Tony Fletcher was born in Yorkshire, England and some might find it surprisingly that a White Englishman chose to chronicle Pickett’s life. But by Fletcher’s own admission, he grew up listening to soul and the book became a passion.  Regardless of his country of origin, he has thrown his weight behind this excellent biography of the late singer.  The story begins in Prattville, Alabama when Pickett enters the world on March 18, 1941.  His early life was quite chaotic with the young Pickett moving from state to state as he discovers himself and his talent for singing.  It isn’t long before he begins to ply his trade and once his career took off, it took him on a ride that some can only dream about. The heights he reached in his career were astounding and his induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame was the figurative icing on the cake.  His true goal stayed out of reach and until the day he died, he never did get the Grammy Award he coveted.  But he did top charts and sell out arenas and his music has stood the test of time.

Like all great musicians, there was a very dark side to Pickett stemming from his unorthodox childhood and indulgence in drugs and alcohol.  Combined with Pickett’s hair-trigger temper, the concoction resulted in acts of violence on many occasions, some of which would land Pickett behind bars later in life.  Domestic violence also reared its ugly head and not even band members could escape his wrath.  In later years he would attempt to make amends for those acts but his reputation as unstable would never leave him.  The descriptions of Pickett’s acts of violence and comments from those who were their as a witness or as the recipient, are mind-boggling but also an inside look into the paranoia that nearly consumed Pickett.  As his drug use increased, so did his paranoia as he begun to spin out of control.   His downfall placed him on  the list of celebrities whose lives were nearly or completely ruined by drugs, alcohol, money issues and in some cases, crime.   Their daily lives became a walk on a fine line between genius and completely insanity. For Pickett, his genius behind making hit music and captivating audiences was betrayed by his backstage antics and precarious mental state.  Some speakers in the book speculate that he may have had a mental condition that was never diagnosed.  Whether that was the case, his actions can only be described as surreal.  Fletcher brings the past to life leaving the reader mystified at Pickett’s actions.

Remarkably, nearly all that knew him, loved him even with his sometimes dangerous flaws.  In death he was elevated to a higher status on order of soul singers whose natural talents were believed to have been given by divine intervention.  Some of the make an appearance in the book such as Robert Dwayne “Bobby” Womack (1944-2014), Riley B. “B.B.” King (1925-2015) and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Louise Franklin (1942-2018).  Womack is a critical part of the story and those sections will undoubtedly pull the reader in.   Pickett’s lovers including ex-wife Bonnie Covington and his children would all be witnesses and the targets of his rage and his relationship with his son Michael is perhaps the most surreal example of parental fail I have ever seen.  But that was Pickett, the good, the bad and the brutal.  After his death they would all come together giving him the proper send off to the next life. The world lost a musical legend who suffered from inner turmoil, paranoia and ultimately vices which he could not shake.   This is the story of the life of Wilson Pickett, a soul music legend.

ISBN-10: 0190252944
ISBN-13: 978-0190252946

Biographies