Book Review: Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live

I’ve done two reviews so far and I actually finished my 3rd book about a month ago but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet so here it is.  It’s a behind the scenes look at Saturday Night Live through the years as told by the cast and crew through authors Tom Schales and James Andrew Miller.

3rd book – Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live

Written by Tom Schales and James Andrew Miller

Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live

I watched my first episode of Saturday Night Live when I was around 11 years old.  It was around the time of the 1992 Presidential election and SNL was a good way for a kid like me to relate to politics because they made it funny.  Phil Hartman played Bill Clinton and Dana Carvey played both George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.  It was funny to watch them make these politicians look so petty, juvenile and self-deprecating.  It became even funnier when I grew up and realized that’s how politicians really were even if they weren’t as blatant as their SNL counterparts.

The book is broken down into chapters by eras.  The first chapter goes over the first five years, also known as the “golden years” when Saturday Night Live was a ground breaking new show, then a chapter for the next 5 years when Lorne Michaels stepped away and so on.  The best thing about the book though is it’s not a couple authors writing in their own words what they heard second hand from the SNL vets but actual direct quotes from them strung together by topic.  It could get interesting when someone would paint someone else in a negative light and then in the very next paragraph there would be that person responding.  When something was covered it was covered by everyone, no one’s view point was left out.  The authors were very fair in that regard where the story never got skewed in one direction or another.

There is not a lot of blockbuster information in the book.  They did a lot of drugs in the 70′s.  Belushi was crazy, Fairley was a mess.  The interesting part was finding out exactly what went on behind the scenes.  Our now esteemed United States Senator from the state of Minnesota Al Franken recounted a story about him and his former writing partner Tom Davis buying their first ever bag of cocaine.  They spread the cocaine on their desk in their office and while trying to figure out how they wanted to do it John Belushi ran into their office, jumped onto their desk and snorted both lines.  They sat there in shock not knowing if they should be pissed that Belushi snorted all of their cocaine or amazed at what he had just done.  The stories that the guest hosts recalled about going through dress rehearsal and being convinced that Belushi was way too fucked up to make it through the show and then showtime came and Belushi absolutely killed it.  Belushi would save his best work when an Oscar winning actor would host the show.  He plodded through the week and rehearsals and the actor would be caught off guard when Belushi absolutely crushed him during the live show.  The guy was a comic genius and it’s too bad that his life ended before he could entertain many more people.

One of the more clever tools by the authors was building up moments by the order that they put the quotes.  When they got to the death of Belushi you were just waiting to read the reaction from Dan Aykroyd.  They went pages and even printed 2nd and 3rd quotes from people before they finally ended the section with quotes from Garrett Morris (who is disappointingly used sparingly through the book although he even admits the 5 years were so drug hazed that he doesn’t remember much), Jim Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd.  That was probably the best stuff in the whole book and any fan of Belushi should probably check it out.  I’ve always been a big fan of Saturday Night Live and I bought the first 4 seasons on DVD so it was very interesting to hear the people tell the stories of the people who were gone before my time – Belushi, Gilda Radner, Michael O’Donoghue – they all made me laugh but I had never watched an episode of Saturday Night Live while they were still on this earth.  I know Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and all those guys enough by now seeing them in all of the movies and interviews I’ve seen them in so it was cool to get an almost 1st person view of the ones that were gone.

Besides the first cast my favorite is the one I broke myself into Saturday Night Live with – the early to mid-90′s cast.  It’s almost hard to imagine that two of the featured players from the cast, Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, have become multi-billionaire media moguls and I watched them first starting out, struggling to get skits on Saturday Night Live.  It’s amazing that those two guys started out by sharing an office with Chris Farley and David Spade at 30 Rock.  Imagine if you told them then how many millions of dollars they would gross in Hollywood movies alone let alone comedy and TV specials, they would have probably laughed you out of the room.  My generation unfortunately got its Belushi, literally, in Chris Farley.  One of the amazing things about Saturday Night Live is how two guys could almost live a mirrored life like those two.  Right up until the very end when they died of the same exact mixture of heroin and cocaine.  It is pretty eery when you think about it.

A lot of people came out good and some people came out bad by what they said in the book.  Interestingly enough the guy who came off the most humble, to me at least, was Chris Rock.  While some of the other actors who didn’t get the experience that they were hoping for on Saturday Night Live they would criticize the writers, the other actors, or Lorne Michaels Chris Rock said flat out what the problem was during his time there – the writers simply didn’t know how to consistently write good material for a black comedian.  But he said he understood it and went on to give SNL credit for making him who he was today.  He wasn’t the least bit bitter and acknowledged that everything he learned about running his TV shows and comedy specials he learned from his time at Saturday Night Live.  It was pretty cool of him to acknowledge that even though he didn’t really have to.  He also heaped a shit ton of praise on every writer, producer, and fellow cast member that he worked with on the show.

Then there is Lorne Michaels.  He’s always been somewhat of an idol of mine.  He’s a creative genius.  He might not always have the best ideas but he continues to chug along and it doesn’t seem like he’s changed all that much except for the natural maturity of the aging process.  When he started the show he was the same age and Chase and Belushi and those guys.  He was kind of like a brother to them but as the generations have passed he became more like a father.  He talked about how he just let Belushi do his thing and never got in his way but when Farley came around he learned his lesson and sent him to rehab over 10 times.  Unfortunately not even Lorne could save him.  The entire last chapter is all about Lorne but it almost seems unnecessary at that point, like icing a cake that already has icing.  By time you get to that chapter you feel like you know him already.  He is Saturday Night Live and he’s been there almost every step of the way.

In a lot of ways Saturday Night Live is like the Boston Red Sox in my family.  My parents watched it when they were younger.  As a matter of fact when I was growing up my family would show us all of the comedies with the Saturday Night Live actors in them because they were their favorite comedians.  I grew up watching Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray.  Hell, I think the first time my father ever showed my Animal House was when I was 12 years old (the edited version of course).  Then I matured during my teenage years watching Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley movies.  Just think of how many movies that you’ve seen in your life that have starred a Saturday Night Live alum.  There are not many bad ones either.  From Animal House to Horrible Bosses these guys have been making us laugh for over 30 years.  It would be cool for this show to survive beyond Lorne Michaels (Conan O’Brien, I’m looking at you) because I’d love to pass this down to my children as well.  If you like Saturday Night Live and you like to read get this book because it almost puts you right there backstage with all of them.

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Book Review: When The Game Was Ours

I did my first review back in January (A Song Of Fire And Ice) and I’m just getting around to my 2nd review of the Magic and Bird biography written by Jackie MacMullan which I finished a few weeks ago.

2nd book – When The Game Was Ours

Written by Jackie MacMullan

This is a must read for any Boston or LA sports fan, or even just a Magic and/or Larry fan in general.  I was born in 1981 and Bird was a broken down player by time I knew what I was watching as a basketball fan and obvious my most vivid recollection of Magic was “The Announcement” when I was 11 years old.  Also the Olympics which were recanted with some great stories in this book but I’ll get to that in a little bit.

When you start reading the book and it chronicles Bird and Magic playing together as back-ups on a college national team it hits you (at least if you weren’t around for the start of their rivalry) that these guys had been going at it since they were basically out of high school.  They were two kids recruited by some of the same schools, played against each other in the finals of the NCAA tournament and then were each drafted to long time rivals on either side of the United States and proceeded to help build simultaneous dynasties that faced each other in 3 championship series.  They also had their last hurrahs (save a forgettable 1996 Magic comeback) at the 1992 Olympics with the Dream Team in Barcelona.  They should have gone into the Hall of Fame together and the would have had Magic not come back to play for the Lakers in 1996.

As people probably know Magic and Larry didn’t have much of a relationship in their early days playing each other.  While Magic was easy going Bird was rigid and an intense competitor and Magic was put off by Bird’s attitude.  Bird didn’t want to know Magic, he didn’t want to be friends with him and Magic took that personal but it wasn’t personal to Larry, it was just they way he thought it should be.  The two didn’t become friends until they got together for a Converse commercial at Bird’s ranch in Indiana.  The commercial almost didn’t take place as the two players kept making outlandish requests in order to facilitate the deal.  Bird requested that the commercial be filmed at his place in Indiana convinced that Magic would reject.  Magic broke the stalemate by agreeing to do the commercial in Indiana, much to the surprise of Bird and the chagrin of the Lakers faithful and in particular his head coach Pat Riley.  While filming the commercial Bird and Magic spent quality time together and the rest, as they say, was history.

As a Celtics fan this book is especially enjoyable because of the stories that Bird shares about his time in Boston.  Bird wasn’t exactly a media sweetheart during his playing career so it was cool to hear him kick back and tells some stories about the good ole’ days.  Two stories stuck out the most, both of them occurring the night of two of Larry’s three championship wins.  The first was in 1984 after the Celtics had just beaten the Lakers.  Bird and fellow Celtic Quinn Buckner were in a van trying to get back to their cars at Hellenic College in Brookline to drive them back downtown for a post-game celebration at a bar called Chelsea’s in Faneuil Hall.  While they sat in gridlock traffic Bird decided that he was sick of waiting and they would get the cars later.  He and Buckner exited the van and started walking back towards downtown on Storrow Drive.  Some fans noticed them and stopped and yelled at Larry Legend.  He told them to keep quiet and asked for a ride back to Faneuil Hall.  The bewildered fans drove Bird and Buckner back downtown and the driver asked if they could join them in the bar.  “Sorry, champions only” was Bird’s response.  The second story is from 1986, after Bird’s 3rd championship.  His back had begun to act up by then and he was older and been through it before so he went home early after a short night of celebrating.  His teammate and one of his closest friends on the team, Bill Walton, showed up at Bird’s house to celebrate.  Larry told him he was going to sleep but Walton said that he didn’t care, that he just wanted to sit in Larry’s kitchen and listen to the Grateful Dead all night.  Sure enough Bird woke up the next morning and when he went downstairs he found Bill Walton, alone in his kitchen, listening to the Grateful Dead with an almost-empty bottle of Wild Turkey on the table in front of him.

The announcement section was an interesting part as well but that stuff has been re-hashed over and over again.  A few of the interesting facts that the book gives you from Bird’s perspective – Bird said he had never not wanted to play a game until the one after Magic’s announcement.  It was the only game in his career that his heart wasn’t in.  The other was that Bird said he was as devastated when he heard the news about Magic’s HIV as he was when he first found out that his father had committed suicide back when he was in high school.  That illustrates just how close they had become.

Another great part of the book is the chapter that chronicled the Olympics.  Magic soaked up the spotlight while Larry tried to stay out of it.  He would sneak out the side door of the hotel and travel incognito to go watch the Team USA baseball games.  They chronicled the intense debates of basketball supremacy between Bird, Magic, and Michael Jordan and how Bird would tell Charles Barkley and the others to shut up when they tried to interject because they’d never won a championship.  One other popular theory among basketball fans, particularly ones from Boston in the 80′s, that is basically validated by both Bird and Johnson in the book is that Isaiah Thomas was indeed one hell of an asshole.  It’s actually what cost him a shot at being on the Dream Team.

This book is really a must for everyone who was caught up in the rivalry between the C’s and the Lakers in the 80′s.  It gives you a behind the scenes look at two of the most iconic athletes of the era and outlines a relationship that you will likely never see again in sports.  If you a reader and you like sports go out of your way to get this one.

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Book Review: A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones

It’s a new year so it’s time to expand from the scope of the sports world (sort of, as I’m sure half of the books I read will be sports related).  I’ve got this shiny new Kindle Fire to read books on so I figured why not review them all on here.  So I’ll read a book and then review.  We’ll see how many books I get done by the end of the year.

1st book – A Game Of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire: Book 1)

Written by George R.R. Martin

This was the first book in George R.R. Martin’s seven part series called A Song Of Ice And Fire.  So far 5 of the 7 books have been published.  This was the first one, released in 1998.  Obviously the popularity of this book sky-rocketed when HBO developed a series based on Martin’s fantasy series called Game of Thrones.  I watched the series and then decided to read the book to compare and contrast.  I’ll probably just do that for every book since I like to not know what’s going to happen while I watch the TV show and the books are also long as hell so I wouldn’t want to read them all in a row anyway.  The first book ends exactly where the first series of the show ended.

This is a fantasy series but what I like about how Martin wrote this book is that he focused less on the fantasy part of things and more on the characters.  I’m not a huge fan of fantasy myself but he draws you in with the strong characters that he develops.  Eventually you are invested in the characters and you don’t really care all that much about what’s going on around them, be it crazy and far-fetched or not, as you find yourself just caring about the fates of the characters regardless.  The other interesting thing he does is present an otherwise normal world at the beginning where the fantasy things like sorcery, dragons, and giants are now seen as a myth passed along through the generations and the characters are only introduced to these things as the reader is as well.  So when you are shocked to see the weird things appear the characters are too, so you don’t feel so bad.  Another thing that I like is how he laid out this world he created.  He sort of put a modern political twist in a medieval setting.  Basically there are 7 “kingdoms”.  The kingdoms are basically states when it boils down to everything.  The family that runs the capital is the biggest and most influential and all other establishments in the kingdom are loyal to the capital.  The capitals will mix and match, marry into another one of the kingdoms to form alliances, etc. and those are easily broken when the bound is broken (death, et. al).  That would be convenient if everyone is normal and trustworthy but then one guy cheats on another lord’s daughter and war breaks out.

Martin breaks down chapters by accounting events from a certain characters point of view.  There are 8 different characters that have points of view in the first book.  That is fine because characters will come and go and meet up with other characters in different view points.  It’s actually an interesting way to tell a story because it keeps things organized but you learn different things about all of the other characters by how they interact in certain view points.

As I said this is a very character based book.  The chapters are as much about the characters and the decisions that they make and the alliances that they forge and the people that they love or hate and why as it is about the wars and the beasts and the ghosts that they come across.  My favorite characters are Tyrion Lannister and his trusty sidekick Bronn, King Robert Baratheon, Arya Stark, and Lord Varys.  I’m sure people all have their different favorites but you can tell who Martin is pushing you to like in his writing.  Tyrion Lannister is the midget son of Lord Tywin Lannister who is the father of the Queen, Cersei Lannister and the her twin brother, Jaime Lannister, a knight known as the Kingslayer (guess why?).  One of my favorite parts of the book is towards the end in Tyrion’s final view point chapter when he is talking to his father after their battle.  You can tell, as can Tyrion, that his father is finally realizing that while he may have a beatiful and cunningly sinister Queen for a daughter and a dashing and brave Knight for a son, his dwarf is probably the one who is most similar to him.

The thing I am most looking forward to learn more about in future books is a thing called “The Wall”.  The Wall is a huge ice wall that separates the 7 kingdoms, uniformly called Westeros, from whatever is north.  All those fantasy things I talked about earlier supposedly live up north.  The Wall is supposed to protect them from those things but as I said, those things are just myths even to the people in the story so The Wall is not taken seriously in other parts of Westeros.  Which is a little silly when you think about it because why would your ancestors build a big ass wall of ice if there was nothing to protect the kingdom from.  Anyhow you get the feeling that you are going to find out more about the things beyond The Wall in books to come.  Another thing that I like about the book, that you don’t totally get in the TV series, is the description of past events.  In the show they will talk about things that happened in passing but in the book Martin actually describes some things in detail that explains things a lot better, things you wouldn’t otherwise totally understand if you just watched the show.

I’d give a strong recommendation to this book whether you are a fan of fantasy or not.  A strong recommendation to those who like strong character based books, which I see this as more than a fantasy novel.  Even if you hate fantasy but love character books give this one a shot because as I said before, the fantasy stuff is kept to a minimum in this one.

My next book is “When The Game Was Ours” by Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Jackie MacMullan

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DO NOT READ OR CLICK BELOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN GAME OF THRONES SEASON 1 AND WOULD NOT LIKE TO BE SPOILED

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