"Letters to Philip" by Charlie Shedd

Letters to Philip: On How To Treat a Woman was one of several books I read while preparing the father of the bride speech I gave at my youngest daughter’s wedding. This 128-page bookfirst published in 1968is truly an oldie-but-goodie. Pastor/counselor Charlie W. Shedd offers tons of wisdom and insight on building a great marriage. Many of the points, though, are dated and quaint. A valuable book but unfortunately I doubt many people under 50 would find it useful.  

I finally read "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy - wow!

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy is a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of living your life according to the dictates of society. Ivan Ilyich grew up climbing the social ladder, structuring his life according to what was considered proper by the upper echelon of society. He married his wife because he thought it was time for him to get married — but she was demanding and their relationship was unpleasant. His children and his friends were self-absorbed. Outwardly Ivan Ilyich seems to have led a successful life, achieving promotions and a nice house. But on his deathbed facing a terminal illness, he comes to the overpowering realization that his obsession with propriety and decorum had left his life meaningless and unsatisfying. It’s the kind of intense book that you think about for days after you finish it. A masterful work. (The length — just 60-plus pages — is a bonus.) Check the price at Amazon here.

I finished reading "Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice From the Best in the World" by Tim Ferriss

Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by four-time #1 best-selling author Tim Ferriss is fascinating look at how some of the world’s most successful people approach the challenges of life. Ferriss reached out to more than 100 top performers in the world (including writers, athletes, business owners, spiritual leaders, actors, entrepreneurs, investors, and more). Ferriss asked them to answer some version of the same basic 11 questions (some of them answered all of the questions, some answered a couple of them, and some crafted unique responses).
I found myself focusing on the responses to 3 of the questions: what failure set you up for success later on?; what advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the "real world" and what advice should they ignore?; and, what are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
As far as the best advice for young people about to enter the real world, I really liked what TED curator Chris Anderson had to say. Anderson said "pursue your passion" is terrible advice for students about to enter the working world (page 409). What people in their 20s really need, Anderson says, is to work on personal discipline, learning and growth; the passion will develop in due time. Amen to that! Lots more good tips like that in Tribe of Mentors — plus plenty of mundane advice as well.
Tribe of Mentors is a handy, valuable compilation of useful advice from high achievers across many different walks of life. Truly intriguing to get a glimpse at how some of these high achievers approach challenges, and sometimes you might find tips that you can use. Click here to check the price at Amazon

Larry Norman: the troubled troubadour of Christian rock

Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music:Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Thornbury is a fascinating look at a complex figure. With iconic long white-blonde hair, Norman was the father of Christian rock, and arguably the most consequential Christian artist of the past 50 years. 

Thornbury is a very talented writer, and it is fortunate he had access to Norman's archives, including handwritten diaries, journals, photos, studio record logs, passports, plane tickets, letters, newspaper clippings, as well as tape recordings Norman made of several conversations with his first wife as well as business meetings. (Wait, what, tape recordings?)

Plenty of interesting stuff about the early days of the Christian rock movement, the ups and downs of Norman’s career and his marriages, and his fathering of an illegitimate son (more about that below).

It was a little jarring to read about Larry Norman's continual relationship problems: he barely got along with anybody. Norman seemed to consistently "derail" relationships throughout his life, Randy Stonehill once said. That’s putting it mildly. On page 187, Thornbury writes, “Once close friends, the relationship between Phil Mangano and Larry Norman began to disintegrate." The same could be said of almost everyone who entered Larry Norman's orbit, whether through a personal friendship or a business relationship. Eventually they ended up feeling hurt or manipulated or betrayed by Norman.

The level of broken relationships in Norman’s life is far beyond what you would expect from someone who was merely eccentric, or even a creative genius.

So, what is the explanation? Norman often blamed his difficulties on a 1978 incident when he was on a United Airlines flight. Norman said an airplane ceiling panel came loose and struck him on the head, causing significant physical and mental problems. Yet Phil Mangano was on that flight, and has said the incident was not that serious.

I wish Thornbury had explored the mental health angle. There is certainly a solid basis to suspect Norman had mental health issues: Pam Alquist says in the documentary Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman, “Larry told me there was a lot of mental illness in his family and he wasn’t (mentally ill) because he had Jesus. And yet over the years he had a lot of idiosyncrasies.”

Norman's career does have similarities with another musical genius, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Wilson had a long struggle with drugs and mental illness (schizoaffective disorder), and experienced significant conflicts with Mike Love and others.

My one major complaint about this book, and the reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5: I don’t think the book adequately grappled with the issue of Norman’s illegitimate son. Thornbury plays it coy: he acknowledges there is anecdotal evidence that Norman had an out of wedlock son, but since a DNA test was never taken, he won’t say with 100% certainty that Norman was the father. Come on now, you don't need a DNA test to do the right thing.

Yet, reading Chapter 13 it seems obvious that Norman and his sister-in-law Kristin Blix put up roadblocks that made it difficult for a DNA test to be completed before Norman diedin much the same way Norman slow-rolled Daniel Amos and the release of their Horrendous Disc album in the 70s. (Page 197.)

(BTW, after Norman died, journalist Arsenio Orteza did a pretty thorough accounting of the saga for World Magazine—including verified emails between Larry and Daniel—here; Daniel’s mother lays out her side of the story here.)

It is unfortunate that Daniel Robinson suffers one more indignity in Thornbury’s book; in the footnotes, he is called "David Robinson" instead of his real name, Daniel Robinson (see photo below). 

Larry Norman was troubled soul who spoke prophetically to the Christian church, even as his personal life was a mess. Thornbury has written a compelling and engaging book that will make you think. See it at Amazon here.