Book Review: Liberty

No, this isn’t a book about the second amendment to the US Constitution; it’s a book about Liberty DeVitto. Who’s that? He was Billy Joel’s drummer for the longest time (Billy Joel lyric humor, there). I always really admired the drumming in Billy Joel’s band, because there were always so many creative percussion techniques, but the drumming never stole the show–just drove the music.

I do like the cover!

Liberty: Life, Billy, and the Pursuit of Happiness, by Liberty DeVitto, did a great job answering my questions about the percussion in my favorite Billy Joel songs (admitting here that I got less and less fond of Mr. Joel as he sounded more and more like a lounge singer to me). My favorite part about this book was that he told the story about every single song on every album up until the time Billy dumped him from the band. But, that’s decades of albums! I got to found out who did the castanets on “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” and other important (to me) musical nuggets. It’s a real musician’s book, for musicians, which makes sense, since it was published by a musical publisher (Hudson Music – I’ll talk about that later).

I’m glad I heard DeVitto talking about the book on NPR one afternoon, or I never would have bought it, or probably heard of it. I really learned a lot about how the generation just before mine grew up, and even got some insight into why some folks love New York. And, DeVitto is brutally honest about his upbringing, his own mistakes, and his very dark side. I’m glad he had drumming, or he probably wouldn’t have made it past his 20s.

He sure wasn’t very good to women through most of his life. He barely even gave women he was in relationships with names, and had a deep sexism and disrespect for women that turned me off a lot. The good news is that he grew, eventually, and thinks his current wife is actually a fellow human being worthy of respect, not an annoying object.

So, basically, he’s not a particularly likable guy, but he probably figured that out, himself. I do give him props for naming every single person he did music with, saying how they influenced him, and giving credit where it is due. Thank goodness he had nice things to say about Karen Carpenter and Ronnie Spector, even though they were women, or I’d have quit reading!

Enough about good ole Lib. Let’s talk about the book. Whoever designed it got a D+ at best in their book design class. More probably, they didn’t take one at all, and instead someone took a Microsoft Word file, added table of contents tags, and printed that mother out. They could at LEAST have turned on widow and orphan control, though. The headings at the bottoms of pages with no words under them, combined with the single lines at top and bottom of pages, made me shudder.

Also the fonts and tiny margins. Oy. They sure chose some inelegant fonts. I’ll spare you. And TYPOS. The name of a town in Italy is spelled two different ways on the same page. Pity a poor proofreader!

Leland, you took a great picture, and Mike, the cover is nice. Joe and Rick, don’t give up your day jobs.

I’m guessing that whoever printed the book charged by the page, because there is exactly ONE blank page in the book, other than the ends pieces, which are on thicker paper. That’s right. It just marches right along from title, to a quote, to copyright (on the wrong side of the page and where, OMG, people admitted to design and typography), to a dedication, to the table of contents (crammed onto one page with some crazy tabs), to acknowledgements, the foreword by Billy, to a prologue, and finally to the book. No blank pages to rest your eyes on here! Keep moving along, folks! The text is also crammed in, since it’s both justified and sans spacing between paragraphs. That makes it dense. Thank the Maker for the rather large asterisks that separate sections. Ahh, breathing room.

I did look up Hudson Music, and they are a company that specializes in drums and drumming. They have a biography series on great drummers, of which this is one. They probably do a way better job on music instruction and such, and I salute any publisher who supports musicians, no matter how critical I may get. Still…

…Okay, this was obviously a labor of love and as close to vanity press publishing as it can get, but I want to point out to any of you who want to be authors that making your book look like a professional book is important, at least to many of your potential readers. I don’t mean just publishing snobs, but people for whom reading a book is an aesthetic as well as intellectual experience. Take the time and effort to make the book look good and showcase your words well.

And Liberty, enjoy your happy ending. I’m glad you got to publish your book. You worked very hard on it, and it shows.

Musical Mysteries: Sounds in the Head

Talking Appliances

This morning, Lee and I were chatting about the things that make noise in our bedroom. The main “culprit” is our beautiful ceiling fan. In the last year or so it’s started making noises. And often it sounds like it’s “talking.”

The fan in question. This was taken 4 years ago. We have art and furniture now.

It says things like “wilderness wilderness” and “this is Fred this is Fred” and “harmony bound harmony bound” – all depending on how it’s creaking on a particular day. It’s endlessly entertaining while drinking our morning coffee, but can be annoying if you’re trying to get to sleep.

I got to wondering, do other people have talking machines? I can remember making up words to the windshield wipers and turn signals in past cars. And I know people with LG appliances have made up words to the songs they play at the end of a cycle (the company even has a web page about their songs!), but the fan actually talks. A mystery.

I couldn’t find a photo of my washing machine, but it looks somewhat like this.

My guess (and hey, I used to be a linguist, so it may even be an educated guess) is that our brains prefer to organize sounds into things that are familiar, and the rhythms of the fan sound like speech rhythms, so the brain sticks words in there.

I didn’t find any research on this topic. On the other hand…

Wormy Head

The other great musical mystery is inside my head. It has to be the most deeply embedded earworm in the history of my brain. I have had the song “It’s My Life” by Billy Joel playing for many months (at least since January, since I mentioned it in this blog post). I vaguely remember when it started commenting to someone that the new song in my head wasn’t even one I particularly liked. I guess the Billy Joel in my brain took offense, because he is now omnipresent. Different parts of the song are playing at different times, which is a break.

When I went to learn more about earworms (the name of which is a calque of a German word, Ohrwurm) I was relieved to Learn we all get them.

According to research by James Kellaris, 98% of individuals experience earworms. Women and men experience the phenomenon equally often, but earworms tend to last longer for women and irritate them more.


Yes, I am an irritated woman. The Googles gave me these five ideas to block and earworm. I’ve tried them repeatedly:

Here are five strategies, backed by science.

  1. LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE SONG. Earworms tend to be small fragments of music that repeat over and over (often a song’s refrain or chorus). …
  4. CHEW GUM. …
These do NOT work for stopping earworms. I laughed when I saw the description of this image is “a lot of lying earplugs.” That’s right, LIARS! Photo by @kinek00 via Twenty20

The NPR article I read said that 90% of people get earworms at least once a week. I’ve come to really like it when some OTHER song shows up for a while! Sadly, “I never said I was a victim of circumstance” usually returns pretty quickly. It looks like I may be in for a long cycle. Harriet Brown, the author of the Scientific American article I read that lists lots of ways to get rid of an earworm concludes the article by admitting she has had one for over 30 years and now views it as “the soundtrack for my life.”

Make it go away! Photo by @vivivisuals via Twenty20

Um, I hope I don’t end up like the person who had the longest documented earworm, the murderer Jean Harris.