The Ten Commandments by Kevin DeYoung: A Warm, Engaging Study of God’s Revealed Will

The Ten CommandmentsThe Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them

by Kevin DeYoung

eARC, 208 pg.
Crossway, 2018
Read: September 23, 2018

My initial thought when I saw this book was: do we need another popular-level work on The Ten Commandments? We’ve got so many already, like: Ryken’s Written in Stone, Horton’s The Law of Perfect Freedom, Packer’s Growing in Christ. We’ve got Douma’s, Watson’s and Durham’s (newly republished) on the heavier end of the spectrum, too. Why bring out a new book by DeYoung? Still, I was intrigued, so I requested a copy.

Not too surprisingly, I’m glad I did. This is typical DeYoung: a strong, affectionate, orthodox take on the Law delivered in a very accessible and affable manner. He made me think, he made me reconsider a thing or two, and he reminded me of a few things I needed reminding of.

He begins this work against the framework of the secular “anything goes” point of view, where everything certainly does not go — as much as we as a culture might rail against an external source of morality — there are things that simply cannot be said or done. Giving us a choice between humanity’s unwritten, assumed code — or God’s revealed will. DeYoung then goes on to list reasons for the study as well as the following of God’s Law.

The other important groundwork comes from the midst of his very strong chapter on the First Commandment in which he describes the role of the Law for New Covenant believers. It’s still applicable, still binding — just in a different manner. I think this could’ve been developed more — maybe in its own chapter, but what we got here was good. I do particularly appreciate his metaphor of transposition. The Law in the New Covenant is the same for believers as it was in the Old, it’s just in a different key.

Following the introduction where he lays out his framework, DeYoung turns to consider the commandments individually. This is the bulk of — and the heart of — the book, with a chapter devoted to each commandment. If the book has any value, it’ll be found here, and there’s a lot of it to be found. I briefly considered summarizing each chapter, but why steal his thunder. Also, he’s not carving out anything new here, so there’s little need. What’s new is his expression of the timeless truths, his way of explaining and applying them. If you want a quick summary of what he’ll say about each commandment read The Heidelberg Catechism questions 92-115 or the Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 39-85, and you’ll get a pretty good idea.

Instead, I’ll just comment on a few highlights and a couple of problems I had (your mileage may vary). I found his comments regarding the Fourth Commandment to be helpful, but hesitant — in his effort to not be legalistic, or overly dogmatic, he comes across as wishy-washy. I appreciated most of what he had to say about the Second Commandment, but again, he’s hesitant enough in some of his application to stumble a bit. Which is not to say that the bulk of those chapters weren’t good and helpful — they were. I think he could’ve been more consistently so.

Conversely, the chapters on the Eighth and Tenth commandments were incredibly helpful. If you ask me, these two are where the American Church and American Christians stumble more often than we realize (or care about). Publicly, Protestants are expounding so much energy on certain applications of the Sixth and Seventh commandments that one would be tempted to think that 8-10 are concerns of the past. DeYoung doesn’t let the reader think that for an instant, and if you don’t come away from these chapters with a good dose of conviction of your own sin, you probably didn’t read it too closely.

The chapter on the Third Commandment was invaluable also. It’s far too easy for Western Christians to reduce this to “don’t be a potty mouth” and far too hard for us to really get what the importance of “name of the Lord” is. DeYoung does a yeoman’s job on both fronts and does a good job expounding the meaning of this commandment.

You’ll never walk away from any of these chapters thinking that DeYoung is writing a hellfire and brimstone jeremiad against the Church, you, or anyone. He’s sharply critical of a lot of general culture, and individual inclinations, but that’s to be expected. There’s conviction and inspiration both to be found in these pages — all delivered in DeYoung’s warm, almost conversational, style — a strong blend of wit and charm with the steel in his words. I won’t get into it, but his chapter on the Third Commandment contains one of the funniest anecdotes (more in the telling than the story) I’ve read from him. Ignoring his content for a moment, his writing style is what will keep me coming back to DeYoung’s books for years to come.

I think I’ve said before, I’m not a big one for study/discussion questions in books — I like to think the engaged reader doesn’t need them and someone leading a discussion/study of a book will be clever enough to come up with their own. But, I’m obviously swimming against the tide on this because publishers keep printing them. That said, on the whole, this is a pretty good set of questions and would help someone who likes those kind of questions for their own use or for those using the book in Family Worship, Sunday School, or Bible Study.

In the end, my question, do we need another popular-level book on The Ten Commandments? Is answered yes: we need frequent — constant — reminders of the revealed will we’ve been called to obey, so we never stop striving for that perfection and never cease calling on the Spirit’s assistance. We also need to remember how great our sin and misery are so that we constantly live lives of repentance. So bring on DeYoung’s good summary. And others as well — and we need to read them, as well as the older popular-level works. And then we need to push ourselves and read some of the less-popular level ones as well.

This is a good, short set of meditations and reflections on the perfect law, the law of liberty for a contemporary audience. It’s approachable, it’s warm, it’s pointed, and it’s Gospel-centered. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. It functions well as a refresher for those who need one, and a good starting point for their own study of The Ten Commandments. I’m buying a copy (at least one) for my personal library and will be encouraging my household to read it — and anyone else who asks.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Crossway via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook) by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne: A Mix of Common Sense, Cynicism, Self-Aggrandizement, Clever Writing, and a Great Narrator

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook)The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 17 min.
HarperAudio, 2016

Read: October 1, 2018

I’d seen this book around, and let my eyes slide right off given the title. Clearly, it wasn’t for me. Then a couple of months ago, I heard it referenced in a couple of podcast interviews (no, I don’t remember who talked about it — but at least one of them said something thoughtful about it) and my cubicle-mate listened to it at the same time and seemed to enjoy it. So I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, really.

I’m also glad that HarperCollins’ website gives such a thorough blurb about the book, which will save me so much time — so let’s take a moment to read what they said:

           In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be “positive” all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. “F**k positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.” In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—”not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

Sure, some of that is overblown — its point is to sell you the book, right? But, by and large, that’s a good summary of the book’s highlights. Manson’s point isn’t to stop giving a f*ck period, it’s to give fewer f*cks in general and to make sure the f*cks you give are for the right/important stuff in life. That’s pretty basic, but pretty easily ignored advice: everything seems important, but not everything is. Focus on the important stuff, care about that, and let the rest go — if it works out, great. I’m not sure if this is different from Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — but it probably has more laughs and profanity.

Manson is entirely too impressed with himself (or at least he comes across that way), and he never convinces me that there’s a reason to heed his advice over anyone else’s. But on the whole, what he says makes a lot of sense. Do I think that ultimately, this is all a house of cards that won’t stand intense scrutiny? Yup. But I think that of every bit of man-made advice — Manson’s is more amusingly delivered than most, and won’t get the devotee into too much trouble if they apply this recklessly.

Roger Wayne’s narration elevates the entire thing — there’s not a moment that I don’t confuse his voice for Manson’s. It felt like I was attending one of the most intense self-help seminars in history and that Manson got going and just wouldn’t stop (not that anyone tried to make him). Wayne added voices (his Disappointment Panda voice is the best character I’ve heard in an audiobook since Luke Daniel’s take on Hearne’s Oberon), flair and a sense of passion to the text. When Manson approached poignancy, Wayne made it all the more so. Fantastic work.

I’d probably give this 3-stars if I’d read the text — amusing, thought-provoking, with some good advice. But, you add in Wayne’s narration? I’ve got to bump it up to 4. Seriously, he’s just that good. This isn’t a book for everyone (I know several readers of this blog that should avoid it just for the language), but for those who are capable of sorting out the wheat from the chaff — this is a fun and potentially helpful read.

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook) by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur: A close-up look at the Cartoonist and His Creation

I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to get this header to look decent — and I give up. It’s just going to look awkward given the length of the title.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook)Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip

by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 9 min.
ListenUp Production, 2014
Read: September 25 – 27, 2018
Nevin Martell, like just about everyone who ever read him, is a Calvin and Hobbes fan — what’s more, he discovered the strip at the right age and was able to appreciate it as only a child can — without being self-conscious about reading a comic strip and with devotion. Years later, when trying to write something more meaningful to him than another book about a pop star, he decides to write about that strip and its reclusive creator.

The reclusive part of that sentence is the key — Watterson had (and has) pretty much dropped off the face of the earth as far as your typical person is concerned. A few select friends, business acquaintances and family members can get in touch with him, but no one else can. This isn’t crippling to a book about his comic strips or himself, but it sure hampers it (especially because those people who can get in touch with him are just about as reticent as he is to talk about him or his work). Unencumbered by access to Watterson himself, and his perspective on his life and career was like, what his influences were, what made him make the creative decisions, etc. Martell dove into research — things written about and by Watterson, archives of his previous work (when and where available) and interviews with colleagues, editors and the like.

In the kind of detail only a scholar or a fan can appreciate, Martell describes Watteron’s childhood, college, and pre-Calvin and Hobbes career; then he discusses that comic strip — major themes — and its publishing history; Watterson’s battle to keep control of the strip, its merchandising/licensing; then he describes Watterson’s retirement. As much of that as he can, which isn’t much. Following that, Martell focuses on things like the impact of Watterson on the industry, his relationships with other cartoonists and is influence on those who followed.

I wish he’d given us more (and maybe he gave us all he could, but I don’t think so) from Watterson’s contemporaries/those he influenced in the field of comics (or related fields — he spoke with a novelist and Dave Barry, too). Martell spoke to many and gave us a lot of what he was told — but I’d have appreciated more coming from professionals about Watterson’s strengths, technique, stories — whatever. Sure, it might have gotten a little redundant, but something tells me that it wouldn’t have been too bad. These were my favorite parts of the book, and I could’ve listened to another hour of them easily.

I’m not convinced that I was ever as invested in Martell’s journey as he seemed to think his readers would (should?) be — and I’m okay with that. I know I tend to overshare here a tad myself — so I understand the impulse. Or maybe I’m just callous, and everyone else got into it.

As far as Arthur’s work narrating — there’s not a lot to say. This isn’t a work of fiction where he can play with characters, pacing, and whatnot. It’s a straightforward text and he does a capable job of reading it in a straightforward manner. I did have to remind myself a couple of times that I was listening to someone Martell’s words rather than listening to him — which I guess is a good thing.

It was a pleasant book, nothing too challenging — and it reinvigorated an impulse to go read a collection or two of Watterson again on my part (and some of Larson’s The Far Side, too — I’m sure there’s an interesting book to be written there, too). It’s not a must-read, but it’ll scratch an itch for those who have an interest in the subject.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

In the Year of Our Lord by Sinclair Ferguson: Sinclair Ferguson brings out the heart as well as the life of Church History

In the Year of Our LordIn the Year of Our Lord: Reflections on Twenty Centuries of Church History

by Sinclair Ferguson

eARC, 229 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2018
Read: August 26 – September 16, 2018
The seeds of this book were first published in a book Ferguson co-authored called, Church History 101: The Highlights of Twenty Centuries — he’s now taken those chapters, done more research (being retired has freed up some time for him to do some reading), and expanded that into this great survey of Church History.

After a stirring (yes, really) introduction that lays out the purpose of this volume, why the study of Church History is important and what can be gained from even the figures from Church History that may disagree with — Ferguson dives in to his survey. I really can’t say enough good about this introduction — which feels odd, that’s not supposed to be the best part of a book (and it isn’t, actually — but it’s good enough that it really could be). The body of the book is twenty chapters — in case you couldn’t guess, that’s one chapter for each completed century Anno Domini (and Ferguson is committed to the usage of that).

Each chapter starts with an excerpt from a noted piece of writing from the century in question — like The Martyrdom of Polycarp, On the Incarnation, Gottschalk;s Shorter Confession concerning Double Predestination, and Savonarola’s The Triumph of the Cross (noted, not necessarily commonly known, obviously). Following that Ferguson summarizes the events of that century — focusing on particular figures or movements that stand out. Most of these will be at least familiar to the reader by name, if not for activities and attributes. Then he closes the chapter with some words of application to the contemporary Church and a hymn from that century — most of those hymns I was totally unfamiliar with, and am so glad I was exposed to them.

The core of the chapters, the history of that century — as summarized as it may be — is so helpful. I’ve taken classes covering a lot of those chapters — and read enough on my own that I was pretty familiar with the material covered. But I learned something about even those eras and individuals I’ve studied extensively — maybe not a lot, but enough to justify the time. And even those things that were primarily review for me were well worth reading — the story of our family is one we should hear over and over again and this book is a prime example of what we need to hear.

But what about those who haven’t taken the classes, or haven’t had that much exposure to Church History outside of the last century — or maybe the first couple of centuries? This book is even better for them. It’s primarily intended as an introduction to Church History, and it excels at being one. First of all, it gives you the good bird’s eye view from the day after the last chapter of Acts to the present. Which is a perspective that’s all too easy to lose in the details — we’ve got to see the forest. But the trees are also important — and Ferguson gives enough detail (while remembering that these are brief summary chapters) that the reader can get a handle on a particular century and learn enough that they can pursue what they’re interested in. I know from reading that Celtic monasticism is something that I want to read more about (and not just by rereading Thomas Cahill), but that there are other things from that period that don’t spark my interest in the same way. Some people will react that way to Gregory I or Thomas Chalmers or something else — and Ferguson has provided the reader with enough to start on to feel comfortable pursuing that interest.

Whether for review or as an introduction — the meat of this book is just what the doctor ordered.

Even if the history wasn’t that helpful, Ferguson’s application and the hymn made the book worthwhile. Sometimes that application is comforting, sometimes it’s challenging — it’s always helpful. And the bonus of having that hymn? That’s a wonderful, devotional way to bring history to life — that’s the same Lord, the same faith being proclaimed in these words. Loved that. Starting the chapters with a doctrinally rich (if occasionally problematic) excerpt reminds us that our faith is first and foremost about truth, about ideas — but those find expression in the heart and life of the believer — as seen in the hymns.

Yes, it’s a weakness that this book focuses on the Western Church — particularly that represented in the English, Scottish and American branches. Ferguson admits that at the beginning, but that’s his tradition, that’s his background — and that’s the background for most of his, readers, too — so it’s what’s most relevant. To go beyond that would result in a tome unwieldy and not that handy for his audience (as great as it would be to see).

The structure of head (excerpt), life (history) and heart (hymn) is a fantastic outline for this book — and everything hung on that outline is clearly-written, helpful to the Christian and relevant (if only to say “don’t be like that.”) Ferguson knocked it out of the park with this one, and I can’t recommended it highly enough. Great for personal use, family devotion, Sunday Schools, Home Schools — you name it, there’s someone who can benefit from this book.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott: Hilarious, Unique, Addictive are some Adjectives I use to describe this Incredibly Entertaining Book

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott
eARC, 412 pg.
Unbound, 2018
Read: July 24 – August 7, 2018<br/

In my intro post for this Tour Stop, I said that this book was “almost indescribable” and I really mean that — the blurb for the book says, “deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs.” And that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to get to the heart of it. The answer to the first question in the Q&A is a pretty good description, though. But if you don’t want to read that (which I get, you’re wrong — but I get it), I should probably try to convey what you’ll find here.

Let’s take a look at the letter they wrote to Starship. I don’t feel too bad about talking about this letter in detail because their take on their song “We Built this City” is common (I used to own, for example, a t-shirt that made the same joke, just in briefer form). Now, their letter goes into a great amount of detail about the nature of foundations, different types of them, etc. and how this makes their “design project” the “most ludicrous” in the history of architecture. This kind of thing is funny, and a collection of these sort of letters — as well-written as these are — would be worth the time to read and would make you laugh — I’d give it a pretty high rating, encourage you to get it, etc.

But what separates this book from similar tomes, what makes it special is that on the very next page, you get to read a response from Martin Page, who co-wrote the song. Page mounts an impassioned defense of the song — full of references to Rock classics as proof. I’ll spare the details so you can appreciate Page’s inspired choise in response. Each letter printed in this collection is answered by a songwriter, musician, or other representative of a musical act. Some of these responses debate the premise of the Philpott’s letter, some answer in the same vein, others take the premise and run with it in their own way — some appear to be in on the joke, others appears to be flummoxed that anyone would take their lyrics in this insane manner.

In particular, Tears for Fears, The Knack, and NuShooz/J. Smith had great responses — Kimberly Rew (of Katrina and the Waves) is my current favorite. EMF must have either absolutely loved or utterly hated writing their response, I cackled at it. The Human League and Wang Chung composed very long responses — some are as short as a paragraph or three. I really could keep listing some other distinctives about the responses, and great ones to look for — but this is already getting pretty long.

They also include some lIttle notes or postcards like the one to ELO, talking about the impossibility of their name; to “Mr. John” about the unacceptability of violence on any night; or to John Parr (involving canonization of a particular Muppet, and the danger of exposing him to flame) — I just reread that one and cracked up, again. These probably couldn’t support being stretched into a letter of any length, and there are no responses printed — but are very likely the most funny parts of the book.

There’s an elevated vocabulary used by the Philpotts — this isn’t an uneducated reaction to lyrics. The letters are frequently erudite and earnest. The letters don’t come across as something written for comedic effect — yes, they’re funny. But that’s not the intention. Somehow, that happens without turning the joke back on them for misunderstanding the lyrics, either. They’re a strange kind of tribute, but this kind of close reading of a lyric is a form of flattery.

Many of the acts haven’t made much of an impact in the States, and I clearly don’t know enough about British Pop Music to understand each of these — but thanks to youtube and lyrics websites, I was able to get the gist of what I was supposed to be reading about (and I was able to enjoy those I was feeling too lazy to look up). But by and large these are acts and songs that are well-known enough that this book is accessible to readers from around the English-speaking world (and maybe larger, I’m not an expert on music listening habits). The acts run the gamut from Herman’s Hermits to Judas Priest and many, many points in between.

I cannot stress enough how much fun I had with this book — I read whole letters or notes aloud to family members, and/or forced them to read one for themselves. These are the perfect literary equivalent of potato chips, you can eat a handful at a time and then leave the bag for later (along those lines, it’s possible to read too many at once). The letters are short enough that you can just dip in and out of the book. And, I can assure you, these are the kind of thing you can return to later and still enjoy — not unlike a good pop song (huh, wonder where I got that imagery?) A combination of satire, analysis, tribute and comedy — without any meanness or cruelty — Dear Mr Pop Star will appeal to music lovers from all sorts of eras. Do yourself a favor and grab this today.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for my participation in this tour stop.

—–

5 Stars

Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott: Hilarious, Unique, Addictive are some Adjectives I use to describe this Incredibly Entertaining Book

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott

eARC, 412 pg.
Unbound, 2018
Read: July 24 – August 7, 2018<br/

In my intro post for this Tour Stop, I said that this book was “almost indescribable” and I really mean that — the blurb for the book says, “deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs.” And that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to get to the heart of it. The answer to the first question in the Q&A is a pretty good description, though. But if you don’t want to read that (which I get, you’re wrong — but I get it), I should probably try to convey what you’ll find here.

Let’s take a look at the letter they wrote to Starship. I don’t feel too bad about talking about this letter in detail because their take on their song “We Built this City” is common (I used to own, for example, a t-shirt that made the same joke, just in briefer form). Now, their letter goes into a great amount of detail about the nature of foundations, different types of them, etc. and how this makes their “design project” the “most ludicrous” in the history of architecture. This kind of thing is funny, and a collection of these sort of letters — as well-written as these are — would be worth the time to read and would make you laugh — I’d give it a pretty high rating, encourage you to get it, etc.

But what separates this book from similar tomes, what makes it special is that on the very next page, you get to read a response from Martin Page, who co-wrote the song. Page mounts an impassioned defense of the song — full of references to Rock classics as proof. I’ll spare the details so you can appreciate Page’s inspired choise in response. Each letter printed in this collection is answered by a songwriter, musician, or other representative of a musical act. Some of these responses debate the premise of the Philpott’s letter, some answer in the same vein, others take the premise and run with it in their own way — some appear to be in on the joke, others appears to be flummoxed that anyone would take their lyrics in this insane manner.

In particular, Tears for Fears, The Knack, and NuShooz/J. Smith had great responses — Kimberly Rew (of Katrina and the Waves) is my current favorite. EMF must have either absolutely loved or utterly hated writing their response, I cackled at it. The Human League and Wang Chung composed very long responses — some are as short as a paragraph or three. I really could keep listing some other distinctives about the responses, and great ones to look for — but this is already getting pretty long.

They also include some lIttle notes or postcards like the one to ELO, talking about the impossibility of their name; to “Mr. John” about the unacceptability of violence on any night; or to John Parr (involving canonization of a particular Muppet, and the danger of exposing him to flame) — I just reread that one and cracked up, again. These probably couldn’t support being stretched into a letter of any length, and there are no responses printed — but are very likely the most funny parts of the book.

There’s an elevated vocabulary used by the Philpotts — this isn’t an uneducated reaction to lyrics. The letters are frequently erudite and earnest. The letters don’t come across as something written for comedic effect — yes, they’re funny. But that’s not the intention. Somehow, that happens without turning the joke back on them for misunderstanding the lyrics, either. They’re a strange kind of tribute, but this kind of close reading of a lyric is a form of flattery.

Many of the acts haven’t made much of an impact in the States, and I clearly don’t know enough about British Pop Music to understand each of these — but thanks to youtube and lyrics websites, I was able to get the gist of what I was supposed to be reading about (and I was able to enjoy those I was feeling too lazy to look up). But by and large these are acts and songs that are well-known enough that this book is accessible to readers from around the English-speaking world (and maybe larger, I’m not an expert on music listening habits). The acts run the gamut from Herman’s Hermits to Judas Priest and many, many points in between.

I cannot stress enough how much fun I had with this book — I read whole letters or notes aloud to family members, and/or forced them to read one for themselves. These are the perfect literary equivalent of potato chips, you can eat a handful at a time and then leave the bag for later (along those lines, it’s possible to read too many at once). The letters are short enough that you can just dip in and out of the book. And, I can assure you, these are the kind of thing you can return to later and still enjoy — not unlike a good pop song (huh, wonder where I got that imagery?) A combination of satire, analysis, tribute and comedy — without any meanness or cruelty — Dear Mr Pop Star will appeal to music lovers from all sorts of eras. Do yourself a favor and grab this today.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for my participation in this tour stop.

—–

5 Stars

A Few Quick Questions about Dear Mr. Pop Star


I had the great privilege of asking a few questions of Mr. Dave Philpott regarding this great book. It was tough to come up with the questions, the temptation to get into some of the particular letters/responses was great — I also had a song or two I thought about trying to get their take on. But I restrained myself — at great personal cost. But it was worth it — these are some of the best answers I’ve received in one of these. . .

This seems to be largely a UK-based endeavor — for the sake of my largely US audience, could you introduce Derek & Dave Philpott and the background for this project?
To be totally frank with you we are just two ordinary blokes. I’m obsessed with music, am extremely knowledgeable about it and it’s my day job, So I revere and view artists and songs from a skewed perspective. My father though knows nothing about music, is completely detached from it and doesn’t know or care if a tune is by a world famous artist or a band in a garage down the road. Hence, when Mick Jagger sees a red door and wants to paint it black, I marvel at an angst-ridden motif of despair and the hopelessness of the human condition from the pen that bought us ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. My dad though, oblivious to Mr. Jagger’s pedigree, will say:

‘’What a fool! If he doesn’t put a strong undercoat on there it’s going to turn up purple. Your Uncle Len did that once and..’’

…and then he’s off on a diatribe about bad D.I.Y. or, as I believe our American friends call it, Home Improvements. How it would always work is that I would play him a song, or perhaps even give him a copy of the lyrics to a famous tune, let him digest it for a while and then wait for the gold, which would normally just be him wittering on for a while about the record interspersed with details of how his day would pan out and what the neighbours were up to. I would note this all down, edit it and it would form the body of a letter to the artist. In 2008 we put together a website of about 50 or 60 letters, which we would add to regularly, and then we set up our Facebook page. We thought it was funny enough that these unanswered missives were sitting there in the misty ether. We found ourselves with a fierce fan base and then one day, about two years into the project, we got a reply from one of the artists themselves. Crucially this contact was secured not through official channels but from a mutual fan who knew the pop star personally. We then realised that this could be an interactive dialogue with the rock and pop stars and that, importantly, we could get to these artists through ‘the back door of the industry’. This could be through friends of friends, roadies and crew, the bass player’s cousin or any indirect route. This made the process a lot more personable, as we were being recommended by people who knew who we were and what we did and that it was all a bit harmless and daft. Eventually we got to the point where the rock stars were telling each other. I wrote to a pop star last year, asking if they would like to get involved and if they knew who we were, then the immortal reply “Oh god, I’ve been dreading and looking forward to being asked one day!” came back and we were absolutely thrilled.

We made sure that we got the full consent of the artists to use their replies and that they were happy for us to share them. Every single one of them told us that they were more than happy and they all got behind us and some even supported us by telling their own fans about us.

Owen Paul told us, in not so many words, that he felt that this is so obviously an organic project which he’d seen this grow over years and if we had been a couple of journalists then he just wouldn’t have got involved because it would be contrived rubbish.

It took us a long time, nearly an entire decade in fact, but we ended up with enough material for a book which we self published after an amazingly successful campaign on Kickstarter, through which we were able to raise £18,000. The success of that volume bought us to the attention of our now publisher, Unbound, who encouraged us to do a second.

Is there an artist/group or song that you’ve tried to write about but just haven’t gotten things just right?
Yes, indeed, the one that springs to mind first is Stiff Little Fingers. Many of their songs are based around The Troubles in Ireland which started in the late 1960s, an era that my Dad lived through and, due to being that bit older, knows more about than I. He was quite rightly very uncomfortable about deriding the subject matter and lyrics, so we decided that we would poke fun at ourselves by writing a letter to them where we deliberately got the wrong end of the stick by misunderstanding the song for comedic effect. Looking back I think that that letter completely changed the project for the better – we realised that we could turn the joke on ourselves and this allows the artist to hit back at us. For the new book Dr Hook and Tears for Fears both informed us that they couldn’t find the inspiration to reply to our first efforts because they weren’t up to our usual standards, probably because of the fact that at the time we were compiling the whole project, and had our eye off the ball. So we screwed up the first letters and started again, thought it through and came up with completely new letters which they lapped up and their responses were magical. They were absolutely right.
Of the responses you’ve received from artists/groups, which has been the most surprisingly good? Either you didn’t expect a response quite along the lines of their letter, and/or theirs was better than you expected? (I’m sure you have some on the other end of the spectrum, as well, but we’ll ignore them)
From the new book it’s Geoff Deane from Modern Romance, Chris from The Waitresses, Mott the Hoople, Wang Chung and Nik Kershaw. They absolutely slaughtered us with their wit and inventiveness. Although I have to say that we are always impressed at the answers that we get back, the effort that the stars put into their replies is astounding and we’re flattered that they give us so much time and attention. Each letter is a wonderful surprise.
You’re obviously enjoying a measure of success from artists and readers (otherwise this book wouldn’t exist), what’s the most interesting criticism you’ve received — either from a reader, critic or musician? Has it changed your approach to anything?
Feedback from our friends online is vital to us and this is why we’ve always tried to be as interactive as we can on our Facebook page, which dad does try to be a part of as much as he can, but he is obviously from a era where things were a little less ‘immediate’ and a lot more polite. Sometimes when we send messages via Messenger and there’s a ‘seen tick’ but no reply, Dad feels that this is incredibly rude, but it’s just the way things are now in the world. He like so many pensioners comes from a more courteous past.

There is a certain luxury of this real time interaction with the people who follow you though, in that you can bounce ideas out there via status updates and see how new material is received in general. If it chimes and makes people laugh then you can integrate it into letters. Also when we first began our letters were fairly flowery – we would spend sometimes weeks perfecting them, making sure that we never repeated words, writing very elaborate scenarios to tie in with the different songs. Perhaps we were trying to be a bit too clever to impress the artists. But the feedback we got told us that we could actually lose a lot of the purple prose and just get straight to the point and this has crucially changed how we write now. Being succinct actually means that the focus is more on the replies and probably makes our missives easier to respond to, as they not bogged down in unnecessary language.

Also a lot of anoraks on the prog forums were incensed, claiming that we’d invented the responses from some of their heroes as ‘there is no way that Mr. XXXX would respond to this outrage’. I loved that – it meant that we really were getting somewhere.

Of all your letters in this particular volume what are the one or two that you’re most proud of?
Bruce Woolley’s is a masterpiece. Also as fan of Gong, getting Daevid was a massive deal for me. It was one of the last things the great man did before he left us, and he absolutely loved it. I was going to include it in the first book but felt it was too soon after his passing. Then I was dithering about putting him in this one and I had a vivid dream, in which he visited my house, knocked on the door and said,

“I am ready to speak”

Thank you very much for your time — and for this book. I had such a great time reading it, I hope you have great success with it!
Bless and thanks, Mr. Newton