Thursday, November 26, 2009

Book Review: The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene

Rapper 50 Cent’s life as a hustler (aka drug dealer) in Queens and subsequent rise to fame as a rapper and entrepreneur served as the inspiration and the framework for the book The 50th Law.  So what is The 50th Law? The back cover of the book bears the imprint “Nihil timendum est.”, Latin for “fear nothing” and that’s the gist of The 50th Law's message. Fiddy, a fan of social science writer Robert Greene's 1998 book,The 48 Laws of Power, approached Greene to work on a possible project. The result was the The 50th Law, a street-smart primer on power and self improvement.

Greene’s prose and research hinges on historical and psychological underpinnings interspersed with tales of Fiddy’s life on the streets. Napoleon, explorer Andrew Selkirk, and the philosopher Seneca have a lot more in common with a rapper like 50 Cent (and other successful modern people who’ve overcome adversity) than you might think.

Touchy-feely self-help books and the “everyone’s a winner” mumbo jumbo favored by women’s TV talk shows and California psychic/chakra types may make people feel good temporarily, but they don’t spur the complacent into action. Robert Greene ‘s  rational, proactive approach in this book, as in his previous works,The 33 Strategies of War and The 48 Laws of Power  will do just that. I discovered Greene’s work after reading a list of The 48 Laws of Power on some random website. I noticed that I had unwittingly followed some of those laws during several happy and productive times in my life. So there is something relatable about Greene’s writing for people from all walks of life.

The 50th Law distills the doctrine from Greene’s other books, including the brilliant The Art of Seduction. While The Art of Seduction brimmed with examples (and quotes) from the lives of European courtesans and philosophers, The 50th Law quotes Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I knew very little about 50 Cent before reading this The 50th Law and have only a cursory knowledge of the rap world, but I have utmost respect for him as a businessman and artist after reading this book. Now as for all those controversial feuds with other rappers mentioned in the book, that’s way over my head. Maybe a rap expert can clarify all that for me.

The fact that 50 Cent is a co-author might scare away middle of the road types looking for some life coaching, but that would be a mistake. There’s a lot of good advice here. Whether you seek fame or fortune or just want to live life on your own terms, The 50th Law will shake you into repositioning yourself for success. The book isn’t sugarcoated or simplistic, but it’s not Machiavellian either. I know many people use that term to describe Greene’s work, but I don’t agree. The 50th Law is a dose of reality, assertiveness and common sense.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review-Bowie:A Biography by Marc Spitz

Writing an icon’s biography must be a daunting task. You have scads of material to sift through and an adoring public ready to criticize any false turn you may take regarding said idol.

That was evident with the biographies of John Lennon and Michael Jackson. Then some rock star biographies have so many career twists and turns to cover, any controversy is just gravy. Marc Spitz's book Bowie: A Biography is one of those books. Spitz explores David Bowie's chameleon-like personas, from Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke. David Bowie championed reinvention long before Madonna. Rock journalist Marc Spitz, (whose last rock bio was about Green Day), obviously did a lot of research via magazines, other books and original interviews. Tony DeFries, whose management company ran Bowie’s career in the 1970s, and other characters that passed through Bowie's life, are recounted. Spitz reveals long lost, gossipy tidbits from Bowie’s past, among them, a party at a disco in DJ Wolfman Jack’s house.

There’s a dizzying amount of rock ‘n’ roll history here. Bowie publicist and all-around rock chick Cherry Vanilla explains “You had to be on, on,on” Perhaps that’s where all the cocaine came in handy during the mid-'70s.  Spitz covers Bowie's "lost" years in L.A, his friendship (and work) with Iggy Pop, the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth, and his notoriously erratic (and rumored cocaine-fueled) debut TV appearance on the 1974 Dick Cavett Show.

Many of the events in Bowie’s life merit a full recounting; the Ziggy Stardust/glam rock era is explored in-depth, but there’s not a lot of detail after the mid-'80s. Spitz’s account recaps Bowie’s career but offers little insight into the man and what makes him tick. There’s always a family tragedy in the lives of most rock stars, and Bowie’s story is no different. Spitz details David’s relationship with his older half-brother Terry — who helped inspire David’s musical beginnings — in the first few chapters. Terry committed suicide in 1985. David's wild, open marriage (and bitter divorce from first wife Angie) is the only off-stage scenario that gets much attention, and the obligatory first chapter about his childhood. We get a sense of the journey, but Spitz doesn’t give us a sense of Bowie's off-stage persona or tie together the recollections and make sense of them.

Spitz conducted no new interviews with Bowie himself, but interviewed Bowie cohorts like photographer Leee Black Childers, Cherry Vanilla, ex-wife Angie Bowie, Joey Arias, Peter Frampton, Spider from Mars Woody Woodmansey, and a whole cross-section of Bowie associates. So there’s no shortage of juicy stories and behind the scenes' minutiae.

However, Spitz does relate a few stories of his own life as a Bowie fan. He saw Bowie hailing a cab in NYC, but didn’t approach him. Sidetracks like this in a biography are fine if they’re  short and add to the point. In Bowie: A Biography, they happen a bit too often.

Despite a few shortcomings, Bowie: A Biography packs a lot into its hefty 448 pages. That’s more than enough to jog the memory of any Bowiephile and lead to more memories not extensively covered in the book. Remember Bowie's duet with Cher on her TV show? I know, you’d rather forget.