Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: “Neil Sedaka: Rock’n’Roll Survivor” by Rich Podolsky

Writer Rich Podolsky has done it again. The book is “Neil Sedaka: Rock’n’Roll Survivor: The Inside Story of His Incredible Comeback,” released Sept. 9, 2013. In short, it’s a five-star winner. But it’s also a fast (and fun) history lesson in how rock music “got this way” and how it’s possible to soar, then crash and burn in popularity, and then rise up like the Phoenix, on wings of, well, Sir Elton John for one, and lyricist Phil Cody for another, and regain your spot among the stars in the rock and roll galaxy. That’s the book in a nutshell. But wait, there’s more!

For a few moments, Podolsky time-traveled backwards sufficient enough to pop his head back into New York’s Brill Building, to grab Sedaka by the shoulders, and then escort him into the 21st century, chatting and talking the entire trip, like two old friends who’ve known each other forever, and you, the reader, are the invisible visitor who gets to listen in without interrupting.

All along the way, Sedaka frankly shares with Podolsky some of the best up-close and personal stories about his incredible career comeback that makes for one of the most refreshing, and fascinating, reads of the fall. Who’s this book for? It’s for anyone who loves rock and roll and knows without explanation how “tra la la la la la” turned into Love (keeping you together), Laughter (in the rain) and how to go from Solitaire back to Rock Star, with a little help from some friends.

Neil Sedaka was born with the innate talent to sense exactly what it was that people needed to soothe and comfort their broken hearts. His melodies, harmonies, and gift of crafting songs has spanned five decades, plus, and yet, his life has been anything but easy. He started out with no chance in...well, you know, and he became a songwriting giant and eventual in-demand performer whose name was as well known as Connie Francis, Bobby Darin, and Cousin Brucie Morrow back in the grand old days of the 1960s.

You’d think that a decade of success would be “enough,” for anyone, but when the creative juices burn within you and won’t let you alone long enough to sleep, “that’s when the music took” Neil Sedaka to long for a comeback. But first he had to find the depths of anonymity and being overlooked and validate that life was, indeed, the pits. Still, he had his family. But for an artist, the lifeblood of existence comes from creating new work, finding it validated, accepted, and ultimately embraced by the same people who loved you first, then dumped you. Those are the ones you want back, bigger and better than before.

Neil Sedaka went through his “hungry years” alright. He was forgotten for quite a while in fact. But it’s the process of getting back up out from under the anvil of anonymity, and fighting back up the Billboard charts, while standing atop the shoulders of two men, one who was personally moved and influenced by his music and another, who really had not been much of a fan before. Pretty cool for a comeback formula, eh? Podolsky’s story reads fast, you can’t wait for the next chapter, and the next, and you appreciate the storytelling skill that Podolsky has for giving you Neil’s story in Neil’s words.

The entire comeback story is framed importantly between two impressive bookends: the Foreword by Sir Elton John, and the Afterword by Phil Cody. The Brit and the Aussie are the secret ingredients to the hitmaking machine of Elton’s Rocket Records, and Cody’s brilliant lyrics.

Songs of love, songs of romance, songs of break-up, make-up and back again kept flowing all through the 1960s, in large part due to finding a team of similarly gifted songwriters who crammed like sardines into cubicles in the Brill Building while Don Kirshner and Al Nevins tried to keep enough paper in the printer to send out the sheet music.

Podolsky’s Sedaka bio is the natural follow-up to his excellent book, “Don Kirshner: The Man With the Golden Ear,” published in 2012. Podolsky’s take on Sedaka’s story views him as something like Phoenix, rising from the ashes of being forgotten, cast aside and entirely inconsequential save as a fill-in-the-blank on the New York Times crossword puzzle to a present-day still-in-demand, lucky-to-get-him singer.

You just have to read the book to hear the theme music running through your head because you know you are going to want to know everything about this exciting tale. Phil Cody is a name well-known to every liner-note-loving reader, rock historian and music-trivia fiend. If you need a little help, think “Laughter in the Rain,” which launched Neil’s comeback path.

Then there’s “Solitaire,” which was a big hit for The Carpenters, but, with Sedaka’s wise entry as a guest mentor in the second season of “American Idol,” “Solitaire” became such a signature song for Clay Aiken, that Neil actually presented Aiken with a framed copy of the sheet music and told him that the song was now officially “his.” Now any true Sedaka fan knows all the Cody lyrics to “The Immigrant” and admit it, you choke up when you hear it. You know you do.

“Wild Phil” Cody rides again when you hear “Bad Blood,” the duet sung by Neil Sedaka and Sir Elton John, and then another endearing duet on “Should’ve Never Let You Go,” with Neil and his daughter, Dara Sedaka. Don’t forget that singing runs in the family—the late Eydie Gorme and Neil are cousins, and Dara can well stand tall on her own song stylings. It was indeed a prolific collaboration for Sedaka’s comeback to connect with Phil Cody and it produced the same “magic” in music that had been ever as much a part of Neil’s collaboration with the late genius, Howard (Howie) Greenfield.

There’s a special kind of magic where Neil Sedaka, and his music, are concerned. In reading Podolsky’s book, you start calling Mr. Sedaka “Neil” when you talk of him to others, you feel like you were right there with him and you’ve been where he was then, and you were transported to where he is now, and you are refreshed. The invisible curtain that separates “knowing” and “being known,” one music lover to another, is lifted, quite expertly by Rich Podolsky. The journey of the book flies by, a fast 242 pages all gone too soon, and when you’re done, you sit there and smile at where you’ve been, who you’ve seen, and how you feel now that you know. Indeed, it is because “that’s where the music takes me.” Bravo and kudos to Podolsky, and for Mr. Sedaka, another standing “O” because you so richly deserve it.

To get your copy of this book, click here.

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