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Book Review: Grass for his Pillow

by Lang Reid

This week’s book was sent to me for review, directly from Asia Books, so I felt duty bound to read it. Written by Lian Hearn, an obviously talented lady who studied the Japanese language and has written the Tales of the Otori. This book, Grass for his Pillow (ISBN 0-330-42734-2, Picador paperback) is the second of the trilogy (shades of the Lord of the Rings movies).

The book is set in a sort of Japan of old, with the principal characters being Takeo and Kaede. Takeo is the heir to the Otori clan, but in actual fact was adopted and belongs to the secret “Tribe”. He also has supernatural powers, which makes him a much wanted player in the battles between the clans.

Kaede is the other central character, an heiress who controls much of the areas under question and is therefore another important player. In those days the men were the powerful ones, to whom allegiance had to be paid, but the resolute Ms. Kaede is intelligent enough to be able to see her way through the maze.

Takeo and Kaede are lovers, but are initially unable to unite the warring parties, as Takeo’s allegiance to the Tribe means that the Otori are after him, as well as the Tribe. He appears to be in a lose-lose situation.

However, with many battles fought, several scores slaughtered, and the odd bit of deft lethal needlepoint by Ms. Kaede, the couple manage to get together before the last page, in true romantic novel format. But the final answer comes in Part 3 Brilliance of the Moon, which is out soon.

Perhaps I have a problem with unfamiliar names. Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago baffled me and defeated me. I tried several times to read it, but the further I got into the book, the more it seemed like I was reading a Moscow telephone directory. I have to admit I had a similar problem with this book. The plethora of Japanese names tumbling in, one on top of the other, made me think I had woken on the Japanese bullet train with a severe case of amnesia while holding the extended menu from a Japanese restaurant. I didn’t know where I was, despite the inclusion of a map in the front of the book of the “Three Countries” (easily denoted as the West, the Middle and the East) with towns such as Kumamoto, Hagi and Terayama clearly shown.

Again, despite the list of characters in the front, with the principal players from the Otori, the Tohan, the Seishuu, the Tribe plus others so succinctly catalogued as “Others” such as Lord Fujiwara and even the names of five horses, for the equinophiles, I was left continuously thumbing backwards to see who belonged to whom, who had taken what from whom and who wasn’t paying the rent.

For those who want a medieval Japanese cross between the Matrix series and the Lord of the Rings, this book is for you. It has no Hobbits or strange naked jumping creatures or people in black trench-coats that can fly, but it has everything else.


Mott's CD Reviews: Hagar, Schon, Aaronson, Shrieve (HSAS) -Through The Fire

Mott the Dog Remastered by Ella Crew

5 Stars *****
What a band! A true eighties super group. What on earth possessed them to get together? I have no idea. Why they disbanded? Not a glimmer either, and they only made one album, which was even stranger, as apart from one classic cover they were all original songs - and it was a Live album. (Even being with all the crowd noise cut out.)

So, who have we got here? Well, on lead vocal is one of America’s finest ever singers and charismatic front men - plus all round maniac - Sammy Hagar. He is an ex of the greatly lamented Montrose, and the not so lamented Van Halen (or Van Hagar as they became known at the time), plus, of course, of a glittering solo career.

On lead guitar we have one of America’s most respected axe men (a real musician’s musician), Neal Schon, ex Journey, ex Santana, and ex an amazing stint with Paul Rogers.

On bass guitar is one of the best showman this dog has ever seen treading the boards. It is the great and incomparable Kenny Aaronson, who also happens to be one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. Kenny is of ex Foghat, ex Derringer, ex Joan Jett, ex Blue Oyster Cult, and ex Bob Dylan.

Then behind the drum kit is Mr. Michael Shrieve, a solid man in more ways than one. As ex Santana, his drum sound was almost as important to that band as was the guitarist’s.

So, after that slightly over the top opening, what’s the music like? Do you really think this Dog is that stupid to give it such a big build up, and then dish it? No, of course not. They simply pour Rock & Roll out the speakers. First song up is ‘Top Of The Rock’, a great name for an opening number and a great number indeed. Schon is at his hard rock best, peeling out the opening riff before falling back into the up-tempo groove with Aaronson and Shrieve, to allow Sammy Hagar to come in over the top. That proves this dog’s point that he is one of the best singers to come out of America’s Rock and Roll circus, and when Hagar is singing about being on top of the world, I’m a believer. A couple of times Schon is allowed space to come roaring back into the songs, where he absolutely nails a couple of solos whilst Aaronson and Shrieve fill out the sound not leaving space for even an Iron Filling.

‘Missing You’ continues in similar fashion, leaving the listener stunned like getting a perfect one-two from Lennox Lewis in the opening seconds of your one shot at the championship.

Surprising for a band on its debut.

We then get three songs all joined together into one epic of immense scale, a tale of ancient time. All is revealed in wondrous expectation by the storytelling powers of Sammy Hagar. The other three lay down really hard and heavy grooves with some faster than the eye can see soloing from Neal Schon. But it is the tightness of the whole band that leaves your jaw dropping. Most groups of musicians would not attempt an epic of this proportion unless they had been together several years and had several safe studio albums under their collective belts. This quartet, however, pulled it off with great aplomb, trooping straight out onto the stage and laying it down in front of a live audience.

Cover songs are always a bit dodgy, obviously risking the chance of being held up in comparison to the version by the original artist. The more well known the song, the more difficult the challenge. Taking on an all time classic like Procol Harem’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ takes either great bravery or shows suicidal tendencies. Our bunch of intrepid heroes turn in a version that can only be said is as good - if not better - as the original. It starts off with Sammy Hagar’s voice only supported by some acoustic guitar ... then the band build it to a crashing climax, including one of the best solos Neal Schon has ever laid down on the live stage.

The album closes out with three more hard and fast songs that leave the audience baying for more. I would be very surprised if any of the musicians on this album have been involved with a finer body of work. As I said, I have no idea why this lineup only lasted the one album, but it is a real corker. It will leave behind a fine legacy to a fine band. Presumably the lure of greater financial gains took their toll, but this lot could have conquered the world of Rock & Roll if they had just given themselves a little bit more time.

Songs
Top Of The Rock
Missing You
Animation
Valley Of The Kings
Giza
Whiter Shade Of Pale
Hot And Dirty
He Will Understand
My Home Tow

Musicians

Sammy Hagar - Vocals
Neal Schon - Guitars
Kenny Aaronson - Bass
Michael Shieve - Drums


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