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VINE VOICEon October 27, 2009
Just absolutely brilliant! Robert Hilburn fell into the career he was suited for: rock critic for the LA Times. Hilburn's specialty is not melody but a deep belief in lyrics. And what a perfect time for this specialty starting his career in the 60's and 70's! What sets this critic apart and makes this book so special, is that many of his subjects recognize his intelligence and form close relationships with him leading to this brilliant memoir. While the title covers Lennon, and this story provides magnificent incite, Hilburn also had long standing, unique relationships chronicled in this book with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Bono of U2. Yes, there are many more but the insight in these legends is particularly fascinating. Close to the end he gets Dylan to agree to an interview about the songwriting process. Now that's real journalism! What a coup! His in depth discussions with both Bono and Springsteen are also fascinating.

An interesting departure in this book is his discussions about Rap Music. It would be easy for a middle age white man to see no value in this new art form that to this day inspires loath from most middle aged Americans. But Hilburn gets it and early on writes about what they are portraying and rates early Rap albums among the year's best drawing much criticism. There is a particularly compelling interview with Ice Cube on this subject.

Overall, this is one of the fastest, most inspiring books I have read in recent years that is chock full of great information. I couldn't recommend this book higher.
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on November 25, 2013
I expected more from this book. For me, Hilburn offered no new insights into the music or the lives of the well known and thoroughly reported-on artists featured in this book. I have my own opinions of them, I hold most of them in high esteem as he does, and knowing that he really likes them too and has hung out with them as much as possible is neither here nor there to me. Maybe the fact that he once wrote a set list for Bob Dylan is news - okay, Mr. Hilburn, you are the coolest rock critic ever. Nor is Hilburn especially revealing - except perhaps unintentionally - or reflective about himself. He mentions almost in passing that he lost his first marriage to his relentless pursuit of the next great rock musician. Words fail me at his "wow, was I surprised" response to Phil Spector's arrest for murder, after Hilburn has just described witnessing Spector's unhinged behavior first hand. The book is smoothly written and easy to read, I cruised through it hoping it would eventually be more than it was.
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on November 21, 2009
This book is primarily a personal memoir by Robert Hilburn of his career as a music critic whose primary focus was rock and roll music. There are some nice tidbits but no profound insights or stirring revelations. Hilburn definitely succeeds in presenting superstars as just regular folk, as evidenced by the title, but his adoration of the subjects does not allow for any deeper understanding. It's a good read, but a bit frothy and fan- oriented.
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on September 17, 2016
When I first started reading this, I thought it was going to just be this Forrest Gump-type of story, where this guy Bob Hilburn just stumbles into various scenes that just happen to have famous musicians in them. I was turned off by Bryan Grazer's A Curious Mind, as just a bunch of name drops by a famous guy who can get sitdowns with other famous guys.

My concerns were gone about three pages in! Hilburn did stumble into his life kind of accidentally (music reporter for the LA Times), but he was there. He lived the life he talks about. It doesn't come off as name-dropping, at all. He was welcomed into these musicians' worlds. His stories are human and believable. Name just about any Hal of Fame musician from the 60s to the present, and he has a story.

I'd recommend this book to anybody!
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on April 6, 2010
Growing up, I raced to open the L.A. Times on Sundays, Tuesdays and Saturdays, when Robert Hilburn's column ran. It was a bonus week when he covered a concert and a review ran on a fourth day. Before Google, before Amazon.com, before iTunes, Hilburn's column was my window into what was good in rock music. His taste was my taste. John Lennon. Steely Dan. David Bowie. Sparks. Elvis Costello. Talking Heads. Everyone he liked I liked, and when he said someone sucked, he was right.

I loved Hilburn and wanted to emulate him, and he further found a way into my heart when he personally answered my letter asking how to become a rock critic. He took me seriously. He didn't really say anything that others hadn't told me: Work hard and write a lot. But I couldn't get over how he had taken the time to write back. I've written other reviewers, and I'm still waiting to hear from them.

Years later, I discovered another reason he was so good at what he did when I got my wish and reviewed a dozen or so concerts for two newspapers and found out the downside of the job: You had to sit through excruciatingly bad sets, too.

This book answered some of the questions I had about Hilburn: where he came from, what brought him to rock music, what formed his tastes. But--and here's the funny part--it displays both too much of the man and too little.

I loved Hilburn's criticism, in large part because the man can write. And his memoir is no exception. It's a quick and good read. But then Hilburn revealed several things about himself that I can't get past. One is how snobbish he was about what he did. When John Lennon died, Hilburn writes about how he bristled over fans' displays of grief. He says that he kept thinking they had no right to be sad. He felt he was a friend of Lennon's and they weren't. I'm glad I never got that sense of snobbishness when I read Hilburn's columns, and it's shocking to read it here. As one of those fans, I felt as though I was punched in the gut by my hero.

I also couldn't believe how fluid Hilburn let the lines get between himself and those he wrote about. The book's title teases this connection, but as a former reporter who had very strict ethics about keeping working relationships professional, I felt a good measure of disgust that Hilburn blended those lines.

When I was in journalism, I always ran up against real life. I was sooooo tired when the news desk woke me up at 5 to cover a fire. I hated not being able to enjoy Friday nights because I drew the Saturday morning duty. My body couldn't keep up with covering a city council meeting until 1 and then pounding out two stories for the next day's paper. I didn't mind covering a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, but I did mind missing my own family's celebration. How, I always wondered, did the successful journalists do it? Well, it turns out, Hilburn didn't. When there was a conflict between family and a big music event, he chose the event--even when he didn't have to. He didn't want to be at home. So there was no conflict. I read these accounts fascinated but disenchanted. I also got mad when Hilburn relates how he tried to talk Bono out of getting "sidetracked" by activism. How is that Hilburn's business? I wondered.

Finally, I was let down by the memoir because Hilburn draws the curtain just when I want him to get more personal. He writes that his decision to choose music over family led to his divorce, but his writing gets sketchy here. I'd like to know what those discussions were like. How was his wife handling it? I wondered. I don't know. Hilburn doesn't say. I'd like to know if professional journalists give up family because of the passion for music or the excitement of hanging out with celebrities--or whether they merely want an excuse to be away from home. Hilburn never quite says.

It's funny. I've written so little about the music, and of course, the music is the reason to read this book. He has ongoing conversations with Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Bono. What a trifecta. Hilburn is truly great talking about what it is about the music and the artists that gives birth to melodies and words that become the soundtrack of our lives. As someone who struggled to do that a number of times, I can tell you that it's not as easy as Hilburn made it look. And it's magic when it happens. Enjoy this book.
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on November 21, 2009
Robert Hilburn does an amazing job in this book! I love music- especially rock n roll, so this book was a delight. It is apparent throughout this book that Robert Hilburn provides some of the best documentary ever written on legends like John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, U2 (Bono specifically), Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, etc. Hilburn writes in a refreshing, intriguing manner that had me flipping the pages well past my bedtime. I really enjoyed how he tells the stories of many artists who are hesitant to warm up and open themselves to him at the beginning. But with time, Hilburn's charm and musical knowledge win over the artists and the relationships that follow are insightful in so many ways. Many artists' lives, habits, relationships & musical upbringing remain unknown to many of the fans who are intrigued by them; Hilburn breaks down this shroud of secrecy and offers all us readers an inside look into the artists we all love and cherish. Congrats, Robert- this book is a pleasant masterpiece and clearly stands out from the endless rock n roll and music biographies out there!
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on March 16, 2014
I sought this out after starting to read Hilburn's bio of Johhny Cash.As a musician all my life and as a reader/researcher of many things music over the past 60 years,I've come to the conclusion that 90& of what's out there is crapola,made to cash in and/or attract money from glossy packagings,no heart ,no soul involved.Hilburn is not part of that 90% as his deep love and understanding of music is remarkable as is his deep respect for the people he tells of in this book.To use a cliche,I could not put the book down,as it was so refreshing in its sincerity.I actually felt I knew these artists in a way I hadn't before.That so many of them trusted Hilburn speaks for itself.I can't see anyone being disappointed from reading this book.It's a reall-deal.
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on October 24, 2009
I loved this book. My ex-husband, and I, would always turn to Robert Hilburn for his take on new music. Because of Hilburn, we became aware of John Prine, for one. (I just saw U-2 in concert, and they have held up to Mr. Hilburn's high standards, in my opinion.)

A funny thing....because of the "freshness" of his reviews, I always felt that he was a contemporary of ours. 'Turns out, he's a lot older. (Sorry Robert.)

Nirvana, M. Jackson, N.W.A., they're all here. Dylan has remained a favorite for forty five years, some good "stuff" on him.

Thank you, Mr. H., for wonderful insights from a true believer in the power of music to transform, enlighten, and educate. L.A. Times 4 stars. :)
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on September 18, 2013
I listened to it on audible and then bought a paper copy. The author seems to be a really nice guy, which may be part of the reason he gets the interviews ahe does and build strong relationships with per formers. He has great stories, and many of them add depth to an understanding of rock and roll, including the people in it. I highly recommend the book - and the audible version is a very nice listen.
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on July 29, 2013
I consider(ed) myself an R & R aficionado. However my fairly extensive knowledge is primarily on the surface. Robert Hilburn really gets into the philosophy vs who wrote and or sang what. Super read!
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