Sunday, June 27, 2010

Six Days a Week -- A Review of Travels with My Amp by Greg Godovitz

If you think that being a rock 'n roll star is glamorous and lucrative, think again. It's hard work with long hours and no paid holidays or vacations, according to Canadian rock legend Greg Godovitz. Bargain-basement accommodations on the way up leave much to be desired. And if you want to know where your money goes, you'd better have solid financial management or a clean, sober mind, both of which were lacking in Godovitz's rise to fame. But he doesn't regret any of it and provides all the gritty details in his stunning autobiography, Travels with My Amp. So, buckle up your seatbelt and get ready for an action-packed, cocaine soaked, music loving ride in the Goddomobile. No, wait. On second thought, unfasten your belt -- Godovitz would hate you to be restrained.

Travels with My Amp starts with Greg's teenage love for music that will last a lifetime. He comes of age during the British Invasion and quickly loses interest in school. By the time he's 15, he's playing in a band called Fludd with his best buddy Brian Pilling and Brian's older brother Ed. In 1975 Greg becomes dissatisfied and leaves Fludd to form Goddo, a rock trio consisting of Greg on bass and vocals, Gino Scarpelli (born in Italy and former Brutus lead guitarist), and Marty Morin on drums (later replaced by Doug Inglis from Ottawa, previously with Powerhouse). In 1976 the band produces an earsplitting, party animal sound that appeals to anyone who likes Rush or Journey. Hard to believe that one of Godovitz's primary influences was the Beatles, because many of Goddo's songs are hard rock, except for the beautiful ballad "Chantal;" we can more easily see the profound influence of Hendrix on Scarpelli.

These "pretty bad boys" as they deemed themselves, tour Canada and eventually the US, beginning with high school auditoriums and university pubs, and graduating to crowds of 50,000 people when they open for Aerosmith at the CNE Stadium. In his glitz and glam, and pink velvet suits, Godovitz is driven by a passion for music, entertaining and clothes; he has a maniacal energy, and is as masterful a performer as he is a writer and storyteller. We cheer when he meets his childhood idol Paul McCartney and we cry when he loses his best friend Brian to leukemia. We cringe during high-speed car chases, and growl during his drunken stupors when Greg breaks beer bottles over people's heads, dives headfirst into hotel pools fully clothed, and slices his wrist open to demonstrate to a waitress how rare he wants his steak. But before we conclude that he's hopelessly obnoxious, he beats us to the punch by saying there were times he was an asshole.

These boys rarely lacked female company and the feminists among us may find the steady parade of groupies, not to mention a flagrant sexual double standard, disconcerting. But, that's the way it was. Despite the endless sex, there's not one mention of the word condom or paternity test in TWMA -- those were the days!

There are ethical and philosophical issues involved in writing an autobiography. How much of your own life story belongs to you, since it will necessarily divulge information about other people that they may want to keep private? Godovitz is brutally candid and consequently, not always kind. He spares no one including himself, but this is precisely what makes him so endearing. We feel that we truly know Greg because we've traveled with him from his first apartment, which lacked running water and electricity, to the Sistine Chapel and Egyptian pyramids.

Goddo broke up in 1983, largely due to living in cramped quarters, personality differences, and constant pressure of working six nights a week for money they rarely saw, or blew on limousines, hotels and drugs. But they reunited in 1989 and recently celebrated their 35th anniversary, although they are all involved in other projects: Inglis with "The Bob Dylan Tree;" Scarpelli, returning to his Italian roots and working closely with his son Gene and family members in the rock band "Scarpelli," as well as classical and folk music. And Greg is producing artists, freelancing on guitar and bass, and collaborating with Paul Dean of Loverboy.

Travels with My Amp is a must read, for the rock history -- Greg met everyone from Angela Bowie to Brian Jones, to the main players in the Yorkville music scene -- and the wonderful journey from boyhood to fatherhood. It's fast-paced, well-written and razor-sharp funny. Unlike Eric Clapton, Godovitz is not particularly pensive or remorseful. Clapton wrote his autobiography to make sense of his life whereas Godovitz writes to record it; the mere fact this king of excess is alive to share his fascinating and often hilarious tales is nothing short of a miracle.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review of Blue Vendetta by Hugh Ellis

Title: Blue Vendetta
Author: Hugh Ellis

ISBN: 978-1-4392-2377-2

Publisher: Hugh Ellis (Booksurge)

Blue Vendetta
What if your precious wife died from rare complications during pregnancy? That would be a tragedy and you would be shocked and grief stricken. But if the same woman could have been saved, but had been denied care by a callous, cost-cutting healthcare management organization, that would be a different story. Your sorrow would quickly turn to rage and a desire for justice.

This is the situation that Bob Mitchell finds himself in, in Hugh Ellis's blockbuster novel, Blue Vendetta, when his lovely, 28-year-old wife Julie finally gets pregnant, after trying fertility drugs. Everything is going along smoothly and the couple is ecstatic until Julie begins to experience strange pain under her rib cage. Her otherwise excellent obstetrician Stephen Basil is perplexed. He knows that something is wrong with her laboratory levels, so he calls "Blue Star," the HMO.

Like most corporations, Blue Star is more interested in profits than people. Their dynamic CEO, John Markman, grew up with a modest family income, and vowed that he would not want for anything again. At Blue Star, Markman spent 90% of his time investing the hard earned money that people paid for premiums, to pay for essential health services, or so he claimed. Meanwhile, Markman earned a $250,000 quarterly bonus for saving the company millions of dollars. How did he save that money? By denying as many services as possible, and not adequately informing doctors or subscribers that there was an appeal process.

To complicate this, Blue Star had been granted immunity from medical liability by the government, which was simply trying to make it easier for employers to insure more people. So, Markman and his team felt secure denying legitimate requests, and Stephen Basil's request for further tests for Julie was one of them. The Catch-22 for Dr. Basil was that if his diagnosis had been proven correct, the company would have paid for the tests. But an MRI could have cost $10,000 or more. That's quite a stretch for a physician to go out on a limb by ordering the scan, because if the test had been normal, the cost would have come out of Dr. Basil's pocket. Consequently, Stephen Basil did not order the proper test for Julie Mitchell and she died unnecessarily. But her husband, Bob, just happened to be the District Attorney in Allen County, Indiana, so he sued the HMO in an unprecedented case, charging the corporation with murder.

Blue Vendetta is a powerful story and a page turner. It is clearly biased against profit-based medical insurance, and we have little sympathy for the company that takes cold and calculated actuarial risks with real people's lives. The characters are well developed, although I would have liked another chapter or two on Julie, so that I could have gotten to know her better before she died. There is an exceptionally well researched courtroom scene. The book gets off to a strong start, loses momentum about two thirds of the way through, but has a powerful finish. It is a well-written, engaging and thought-provoking drama that is particularly pertinent for the times.

Sigrid Macdonald, Reviewer for