Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Gospel Side of Elvis--Book Review

Joe Moscheo spent time with Elvis both professionally and as a friend. As a member of The Imperials Moscheo sang backup to Elvis for four years. With that you might expect some more insight than what is given here. In The Gospel Side of Elvis Moscheo gives a fairly sanitized view of the King. We should really expect that since Priscilla Presley wrote the foreward to the book.

Moscheo may be a good singer but he is not a writer and this book could have been much better had the publisher employed a ghost writer and maybe a better editor. The writing style comes off amatuerish and repetitive at times. We hear over and over about Elvis gathering folks around a piano and singing gospel songs after his concerts. Interesting but why did he do this? We learn a bit about Elvis's upbringing and how maybe that influenced him but as far as delving deeply into Elvis's interest in gospel music this is lacking. The gospel albums he issued are very briefly discussed but Moscheo should have researched the recording of them and what went in to them and why certain songs were recorded. Elvis won his Grammy awards for his gospel music but this was just glossed over rather than any in depth research done as to why.

While those with an interest in everything Elvis will want to read this account from a person with up close ties those who want more answers will need to wait for a more authoritative work to come out on the subject. In the mean time anyone interested hearing the gospel music of Elvis should start with Amazing Grace His Greatest Sacred Performances.

In Honored Glory-Arlington Cemetery

There are few places on the earth as moving as Arlington National Cemetery. I was lucky enough to visit there last March and hope to return again soon. There's just too much to do in a day. That being said a good place to start learning about the cemetery is Philip Bigler's wonderful little book In Honored Glory Arlington National Cemetery The Final Post.

In a quickly read 151 pages Bigler gives us a brief overview of Arlington. He touches on its history. For instance how many average Americans know Arlington House was the home of Robert E. Lee? The history of how this wonderful land became a cemetery is covered as are many of the major burial locations. From the space shuttle memorials to the Kennedy brothers, to the failed Iran hostage rescue, to the tomb of the unknowns (from which the book takes its title), to the current war on terror Bigler quickly covers it. The book contains many b/w photos, a listing of famous burials and locations, a trascription of the John F. Kennedy gravesite inscription, eligibility requirements, a listing of headstone symbols, a bibliography, and index.

While I give this book a very high recommendation I must admit it left me wanting more. The book however is only meant as an overview or introduction and in that regard it succeeds on all levels.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The South to Posterity--early Confederate writing defines historiography as the body of literature dealing with historical matters. Douglas Southall Freeman deals with early Confederate historiography is his work The South to Posterity An Introduction to the Writing of Confederate History. First published in 1939 in many ways this work seems outdated based upon the mountains of research that has been published since. That being said Freeman is considered one of the gods of Civil War writing considering his legendary 4 volume biography of Robert E. Lee for which he was award a Pulitzer Prize and his equally masterful 3 volume work Lee's Lieutenants. Not a Civil War buff check out Freeman's massive 7 volume biography on George Washington. Freeman knows his sources and we would be foolish to not pay attention to what he says.

Freeman was writing in a time before many of the great standards of Civil War literature were available. Much of what he deals with are accounts from those who were on the battlefields. It is from these first hand accounts that much of later written history is derived. For those of us with an interest in Confederate history we should search out these titles that are recommended. Many are available as relatively cheap reprints or for free at a local library. Of course what could beat owning your own set of Official Records which clocks in at a mere 128 volumes and nearly 14,000 pages.

Freeman was ahead of his time in many ways. His writing is clear and easy unlike some scholarly work that is dull and difficult. He realized the value of women's writing and the morale building it did to soldiers. He understood the importance of these letters and how it depicted life at home. He feared few of these letters survived. While most did not many more have surfaced than he believed. Freeman also included a chapter on what he felt had yet to be written. This includes several subjects he felt deserved more writing and also biographies that were needed.

This is certainly only a starting point for those of us interested in the Civil War and Confederate history in particular. Of course that is why the word "introduction" is in the title. As for me I'm in search of reading copies of the R. E. Lee A Biography series.

Avoid holiday disasters--Funny stuff

I received this little book for Christmas and while it does have some practical advice it is really just funny. The book is The Worst-Case Scneario Survival Handbook:Holidays. There are several books in this series and if this one is any indication they might all be worth checking out if you can find them cheaply or at the library. Some examples of practical advice are How to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew, How to put out a grease fire, How to treat food poisoning, and How to untangle Christmas tree lights. Funny ones include How to fend off a charging reindeer, How to repurpose a fruitcake (think doorstop or maybe use it as a dumbell during your next workout), How to treat a tongue stuck to a pole, How to climb down a chimney or rescue someone caught in a chimney, or learn how to wrap a gift when you don't have wrapping paper or tape (use post it notes, aluminum foil and maybe some chewing gum).

160 plus pages of fun. Don't believe me? You will if you ever have to deal with a runaway parade balloon or have to stop a runaway one horse open slegih or want to silence carolers at your door.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Smyrna Beach Sugar Mill

Located just off Highway 44 in New Smyrna Beach are the remains of the Cruger-dePeyester Sugar Mill. The remains of the mill date to the 1830's. What is left is mostly some coquina walls and a couple small pieces of machinery the rest having been carted off either to the Dunlawton Sugar Mill just north in Port Orange or taken away by those dealing in scrap metal. There are some interpretive signs but no literature for the visitor to take with them. According to one of the signs during the 1890's a story in the Atlantic Monthly hypothesized that these were the remains of a chapel. Some even suggested that Christopher Columbus had been in the area. Of course these were just romantic dreams.

According to the signs sugar cane was made in the following fashion: 1) A steam powered cane crusher extracted juice 2) The juice was then heated until it thickened and then ladeled into cooling troughs 3) The crystalized sugar was then packed in barrels to dry in a storage room called the purgery. 4) Once dry it was ready for sale.

Also on property is a short and rather disapointing nature trail. Plan on the walk taking about 5 minutes at most and don't get your hopes up for seeing anything too interesting. The property also has some picnic tables and facilities. It would be a nice area to have a picnic lunch. Overall if you stop to see the ruins plan on spending no more than half an hour. The park is free and closes at dusk.