Category Archives: Books

America’s Casablanca — A Book Review

Before I ever wrote a word about The David Winker Affair — it had just broken in the news — I was ranting about Miami Corruption to a friend. I already knew I would write about Winker because what I had already learned rubbed me the wrong way.

That’s when my friend said, “You’ll get a much better understanding of Miami Corruption today, if you read ‘American Casablanca‘”.

Boy, were they right!

America’s Casablanca: A “True Novel” about Miami’s Emergence from Bankruptcy and Corruption, by José García-Pedrosa, is a true eye-opener about Miami politics and how it’s been crazy after all these years, to quote Paul Simon.

However, let’s get the least important stuff out of the way first: This book is clearly self-published and screams for an editor. A h/t is given on the last page to Dr. Norma Martín Goonen, for editing and helping shape the book. However, she may have been too close to the author. Although they met after the book was written, they were married somewhere along the way. And, I suspect, her normal employment is not writing or editing. There are typos galore and an odd lack of a space after many quotation marks, a habit that became infuriating over 300 pages.

Furthermore the events related in the book, of which Garcia-Pedrosa was a participant, is a complicated web of people and motives spanning decades. An editor in on the ground floor — so to speak — at the beginning of the project, might have given the book a different outline. There’s far too much back and forth in the chronology. Some of that is necessary. However, some of it was intrusive, especially as events accelerated near the end of the book. There were times I wasn’t sure the meeting being described took place before, or after, the meeting just described. In this book it could be either. A few words here and there could have made things clearer, but a better outline could have solved the problem. I’m sure it’s something Garcia-Pedrosa grappled with; his solution didn’t work for me.

Having said that, this is not a book you read for the fancy prose. This is a book you read to see current City of Miami District 3 Commissioner, “Crazy” Joe Carollo, meltdown time after time over the many decades he’s been a Miami politician, sucking off the government teat while bullying opponents, misusing his authority, having people followed, and lying about just about everything.

Sound familiar?

Here’s where this book review takes a slight tangent:

I had no idea this book would be [mostly] about Crazy Joe. He turns up as early as the preface and is the focus of every chapter, even if he doesn’t make an appearance. The events depicted in American Casablanca happened, for the most part, because of Carollo. Every one of his shenanigans back then echoes in present day Miami politics and informs my Miami Corruption Tapestry, starting with The David Winker Affair.

I don’t want to take that tangent here, so look for it as Part Four of The Miami Corruption Tapestry, coming soon to a browser near you.

Tangent over.

As a self-admitted carpetbagger, having only lived in South Florida since Hurricane Wilma, I was unaware of most of the events related in this book. Therefore I had never heard of Xavier Suarez referred to as Hurricane Xavier, but that’s a moniker he gave himself along, with “a meteor the size of Texas”, “an earthquake”, and — later — “not deranged” as the media happily reported on his every stumble.

Others called Suarez different things as his 2nd term of Miami Mayor began in 1997. His continued antics led to stories of chaos in the Miami Herald, NYT, USA Today, TIME Magazine, and the London Economist, which called him El Loco in its headline.

However, it wasn’t long before Joe Carollo, who lost the election, challenged the results in court over the issue of bogus Absentee Ballots. He was successful. After some more court decisions, which eventually tossed all Absentee Ballots, even the honest ones, Suarez was disqualified. Crazy Joe was appointed the Mayor of the City of Miami.

Essentially, this book is the inside story of those roller-coaster years. The author, José García-Pedrosa, was hired by Suarez to be Miami City Manager (one of the most powerful positions in any city) having been hired away from Miami Beach, where he held the same position.

As it happened, Carollo hated García-Pedrosa for an incident from all the way back in 1982. As Miami City Attorney while Carollo was a Commissioner, García-Pedrosa ruled Carollo had violated Florida’s Sunshine Law.

It took 15 years for Carollo to get his revenge and he was as vengeful as anyone named Crazy Joe could be. García-Pedrosa only served 5 months as Miami City Manager and was fired by Mayor Carollo 3 times in his last 2 weeks.

While Carollo really needed no reason to fire the City Manager, because he served at the pleasure of the mayor with Commission approval, he threw every mendacious and false claim he could invent at the author, including charges of criminal conduct. Nothing was ever proven against García-Pedrosa.

Naturally the author is biased participant in the events, so it’s worth taking a whole shaker of salt while reading the book. Clearly he has an axe to grind.

I found myself Googling many aspects of this story and the publications that wrote about it contemporaneously: Miniskirt mayor, George Magazine, 60 Minutes, The New Yorker, along with Spanish language cartoons. There were many threads I wanted to pull on, all of which led me to agree that Miami politics has been a 3-ring circus for a very long time.

Which naturally leads to the Miami Herald, the newspaper of record during this period. Bottom line: The Miami Herald has always been a lousy newspaper, which this book proves over and over again.

While García-Pedrosa has an agenda, so did The Miami Herald, and he proves it.  It was willing to look past Corruption and Cronyism to come to the defense of Crazy Joe with mendacious articles or editorials that didn’t dig any deeper than the surface.

The Miami Herald is still useless in holding elected officials accountable, as any Miami Muckraker will tell you. It will look the other way, provided its executives can still hobnob with the movers and shakers at all the charity balls; a strata of society that the average Joe/Jane never reaches. The Miami Herald‘s view of us way down here is obscured by those clouds below them.

The most recent example of this paper’s idiocy is the recent endorsement of Katherine Fernandez Rundle for Miami-Dade County’s state attorney. This endorsement perplexed everybody and anybody who cares about social justice. Rundle had already served 27 years in the position and — SOMEHOW! — never found a police officer to have committed crimes against citizens. Never even took one to court

Even The Miami Herald realized this endorsement was bullshit when it wrote:

This is not a full-throated, unequivocal endorsement of the incumbent. Her 27-year tenure has been at times flawed, at times infuriating, at times befuddling. She can, and must, do better.

Miami New Times had the perfect rejoinder:

Some would say it was both infuriating and befuddling when Rundle opted not to charge the corrections officers who locked 50-year-old Darren Rainey, an inmate at Dade Correctional Institution, in a scalding shower and left him to die. And when Rundle said she couldn’t prosecute Jesús “Jesse” Menocal, a Hialeah police officer with a history of using his power to prey on women and girls because there were no witnesses to make the case. (This, despite the Herald’s own investigation, which found that prosecutors never interviewed three out of four witnesses and dismissed the women as gang members and runaways.)

Yet somehow, the editorial board pulled off the gymnastic journalistic feat of citing those “missteps” and still giving Rundle the thumb-up for another four years. The Herald argues that Rundle has the “muscle” and “valuable experience” to push for reforms in police departments, jails, prisons, and courtrooms.

This is not a review of The Miami Herald, so I’ll leave it here. Suffice to say García-Pedrosa proves it was bird cage liner back then. Current events show it still is.

The author almost lost me at the beginning of Chapter Eight — You’re Fired, which began with several passages about a section of Miami called “Germ City”. This small section struck me as being racist. It was only 4 paragraphs — and I could have read more between the lines than is really there. [I tend to see the world with Racism Coloured Glasses. Read page 157 and 158 of the book and tell me what you think.] Those paragraphs disturbed me greatly and I almost gave up reading the book.

However, the author did lose me near the end of the book for 2 reasons:

  • He relates his involvement in the international squabble between Cuba and ‘Merka, which has little to do with the events in the book, other than another way to criticize Carollo;
  • As Miami closed in on another Mayoral race, García-Pedrosa engaged in the same kind of backroom machinations that I have always found distasteful to try to become the next Mayor , even to the point of an attempt to change the city’s residency requirements in order to run for mayor.

Bottom line: It’s a whole lot easier to understand the crazy politics of Miami today by reading about its recent past in America’s Casablanca: A “True Novel” about Miami’s Emergence from Bankruptcy and Corruption, by José García-Pedrosa.

Nineteen Eighty-Four ► Throwback Thursday

It was on this day in 1949 that George Orwell’s seminal work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was first published.

Generations of readers have looked upon 1984 as a dystopian cautionary tale. However, with the elevation of Emperor Trump it feels more like a How To manual.

One doesn’t have to press too many buttons on the Googalizer Machine to find pundits comparing the current regime in the Oval Office with the events in the book. Here’s just a small sample:

Orwell’s “1984” and Trump’s America

Revisiting Orwell’s ‘1984’ in Trump’s America

How ‘1984’ can decode Trump’s first 100 days

Welcome to dystopia – George Orwell experts on Donald Trump

George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is a best-seller again. Here’s why it resonates now

Key concepts from George Orwell’s “1984” might explain
why it’s Amazon’s best-selling book in the age of Trump

The normalization of Donald Trump began in “1984”: How
George Orwell’s Newspeak has infected the news media

1984 Isn’t the Only Book Enjoying a Revival

Teaching 1984 in 2016

Orwell named the book by reversing the last 2 digits of the year in which it was written, giving the year 1984 a resonance it would not have had otherwise. According to the WikiWackyWoo, Nineteen Eighty-Four had been published in 65 different languages by 1989, more than any other English language book.

It’s also a book whose time has come, and gone, and come again.

Everything old is new again.

Book Review: Shell Shocked by Howard Kaylan with Jeff Tamarkin

Actual cover by the actual Cal Schenkel

SHELL SHOCKED; My Life With The Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. . . .
by Howard Kaylan with Jeff Tamarkin

A few years back my buddy Alan scored some tickets to Hippiefest, the Rock and Roll nostalgia show then schlepping across ‘Merka during the Summer of Love, aka 2009. As is our wont when attending concerts, we went early for the people watching.

It could have been was the name “Hippiefest.” Or else it could have been the fact that Hippiefest included, along with The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, Joey Molland of Badfinger and Leslie West with a tribute to Mountain; all ’60s icons. Regardless, the audience was a veritable sea of tie die. Alan (who is 13 years younger than me) and I laughed and made fun of all the old, decrepid Hippies wallowing in ponytails and nostalgia — until I realized I was one.

Howard Kaylan, of the aforementioned Flo & Eddie’s Turtles, has now written his life story, which turns out to be a very funny book about far more than Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll — although it’s got plenty of that, too. This is a book about the very continuum of Show Bidnezz itself, filled with unexpected twists and turns and populated with cameos by the unlikeliest of people, including Soupy Sales, Ian Whitcomb, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Care Bears, Johnny Carson, Jerry Lewis, Orson Bean, and Twiggy, just to name a few. And, of course, the book is also jam-packed with stories about those in the music business that you’d expect, like Marc Bolan, Frank and Gail Zappa, Ray Davies, John Sebastian, Chip Douglas, Bob Ezrin, Alice Cooper, The Beatles, Brian Jones, and Jimi Hendrix, among many others. [The last 3 encountered on the same magical night.] The list of cameos goes on and on, but none of it comes off as name-dropping on Kaylan’s part. He’s just telling his stories.

Flo & Eddie’s Turtles at Hippiefest during the Summer of Love of 2009

For me the most revealing scene takes place near the beginning of the book. Howard was still a kid and he’s on his first great Road Trip, riding in the back seat as his dad drove clear across the country to take a job with General Electric in Los Angeles. The Kaplan [sic] family stopped in Las Vegas and took in the free lounge show of Louis Prima and Keeley Smith. Kaylan admits:

Louis and Keeley invented a style of cabaret that my singing partner Mark [Volman] and I later adapted (all right, we took it, okay?) and still use in every single performance. Louis would clown it up, big time, while the lovely Indian maiden, Keeley, would stand as stiffly as a mannequin and sing in her mesmerizing style, seemingly oblivious to her husband’s mad antics. Only eight or nine short years later, those two fat front men in the Turtles were cashing in by doing the very same thing. If you don’t know who they were, maybe you remember David Lee Roth’s big hit “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody”? That’s a note-for-note cover of Louis Prima’s arrangement. Seriously, if you are still drawing a blank, get a DVD or go on YouTube and check out their nightclub act from the ’50s and ’60s. They were amazingly ahead of their time. Hey, Sinatra loved them. The whole business loved them. They molded me.

[Full disclosure: “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” is a song that I have nailed many times during drunken Karaoke nights. I always do the Prima version, even though the Karaoke machine thinks it’s David Lee Roth’s version.]

By the time you get to the end of Shell Shocked Kaylan has detailed several more Road Trips, each more hilarious than the last. However, it was Kaylan’s stories about The Business of Show, like the Prima/Smith tale above, that gave me a new view of the entertainment industry. I had always viewed the invention of Rock and Roll as The Great Dividing Line™ between then and now. The Brill Building had figuratively burned down. Nothing was ever the same. However, Kaylan’s life story comfortably straddles that line between Old Show Biz and Everything That Came After. Show Bidnezz is, and has always been, a continuum, with Kaylan’s memoirs just the latest piece of the puzzle.

One of the most amusing stories in the book is also the subject of “My Dinner With Jimi,” the 2003 movie about Kaylan’s first visit to Swingin’ London, flush with his earliest Turtles fame. I won’t give anything away other than to say the telling of the story in the book is much funnier than the movie (written by one Howard Kaylan, tackling his first full-length movie script). I don’t know if it was the direction, the silly ’60s costumes and wigs, or the barely adequate acting, but the movie never grabbed me. However, Howard’s telling in the book makes it clear why someone wanted to film that story. It’s HIGH-LARRY-US. As a Show Biz Raconteur™ Kaylan delivers the goods time and time again in Shell Shocked.

Freak Out was the antithesis of bubblegum

What makes Howard’s story so interesting is that he’s far more than just a single thread in the great Rock and Roll tapestry. Yet so few people know him by name. They’ll be familiar with hits like “Happy Together,” “Let Me Be,” and “Elinore,” but The Turtles were not a group known individually.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a Johnny-come-lately to The Turtles oeuvre. Oh, sure I knew the hits, but back in the ’60s I had a predjudice against anything I considered “bubblegum.” That’s why I was a Zappa fan from Day One. Freak Out had one of the ugliest bands I had ever seen on the cover and bought it for that reason alone. I listened to it so much I knew every note and I could quote by heart the liner notes that said:

“I’d like to clean you boys up a bit and mold you. I believe I could make you as big as the Turtles.”
~~~~~A Noted L.A. Disc Jockey

That’s why it was such sweet irony that a few years later the two lead singers for The Turtles, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, had joined Frank Zappa and not the other way around. However, due to what must have been one of the worst contracts in the entire music bidnezz, Volman and Kaylan were not only prevented from using The Turtles name, which is slightly understandable, but were also prevented from using their own names, which is simply incomprehensible. That’s why they were forced to adopt the noms de song of The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, eventually shortened to Flo & Eddie.

It was only as members of Zappa’s band that I came to appreciate Kaylan’s backstory and the subversive quality to The Turtles music, especially the latter LPs. However, it was as the voices of Zappa, singing about how touring can make you crazy, that gave Volman and Kaylan street cred, not only to me, but millions of Zappa fans around the world. Sadly their connection with Zappa came to an abrupt end when the 1971 tour disintegrated in disaster. First came the fire in Montreux, which burned the stage and all their equipment; an event witnesses by Deep Purple and memorialized in the song “Smoke on the Water.” The band gamely voted to continue the tour with borrowed equipment. A week later, while performing the encore at London’s Rainbow Theatre, a jealous fan jumped onstage and pushed Zappa into the orchestra pit.

At this point in their career Flo and Eddie were forced to reinvent themselves and strike out on their own again. [Even more full disclosure: It was at this low point in their career that I met Flo & Eddie and came to their rescue. I tell that tale in Flo and Eddie and Mark and Howard.] Flo and Eddie albums followed, as did backing vocals for some of Rock’s most iconic artists and songs, and then comes the family-friendly cartoons. Name any other artist talented enough to go from singing about sex with mud sharks to Care Bears.

All of these twists and turns are told with great verve and humour by Kaylan (although he chose to leave our meeting out). Kaylan kept a diary from his earliest days, which must have been an enourmous help, considering the Rock and Roll lifestyle makes many mornings cloudy.

A Zappa era song sung by Flo & Eddie about the Rock and Roll lifestyle.

Any quibbles I have with Shell Shocked are minor: 1). While Kaylan dishes the dirt, with most of the stories being told on himself, the most negative portrayals in the book have to do with ex-managers and other Show Biz people who ripped him off. However, Kaylan avoids naming names. Someone must have warned him about defamation lawsuits; 2). I had hoped to learn more about how he felt during the Kafkaesque period when he wasn’t allowed to ply his trade under his own name. Sadly he doesn’t talk about his feelings here (or elsewhere) in the book; 3). The actual business dealings with Zappa and, post-Frank, Gail Zappa. Gail continues to release posthumous Frank Zappa recordings that feature Flo and Eddie. My understanding is that Howard sees no money from these releases. However, Kaylan was very circumspect in describing Gail in the book and I get the sense he held a lot back.

Howard Kaylan, star of stage, screen, and now book lists

This is mere nitpickery on my part, only realized in retrospect for this review. I certainly didn’t miss it in the reading. From cover to cover Shell Shocked is a terrific, rollicking trip through the world of Rock and Roll. It gets the Aunty Em seal of approval.

SHELL SHOCKED; My Life With The Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. . . . by Howard Kaylan with Jeff Tamarkin; Backbeat Books, Paperback, ISBN 978-1-61780-846-3 304 pages, index, pictures