In my simple and feeble mind, some of the best books written are those that give the reader the feeling that they’re sitting right across the table or living room from the author as they’re telling their story. Interestingly, most of the books that fit that description have been written by those who have made their mark in music history. The latest – and, perhaps, the best written of that group – is Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. by Howard Kaylan.
In my interview with Mr. Kaylan (here), he describes himself as a linguist. I couldn’t agree with him more. As in the interview, he is articulate and well-read in Shell Shocked. He opens the book with a story that will shock the reader and make them cringe (hint: it involves the Nixon White House and some white powder). He ends the tome with a tone that reflects a man very comfortable in his own skin and has reflected – and continues to reflect – on his life today and the lessons learned from the past.
In between, the pages are filled with an entertaining series of stories that shed light on the history of one of the most successful and profitable bands in music history. The reader will learn about Kaylan’s upbringing and the formation of The Turtles, of course. There are stories involving a who’s who of rock music and pop culture royalty. Names like Hendrix, Jones (as in Brian), Lennon, McCartney, Zappa, Sales and many, many more pepper the pages of this excellently written book.
Of all the stories (both entertaining as well as sad), to me the most poignant one is wherein Howard tells the story of his last visit with the late, great Harry Nilsson. In sharing the sad physical state of Nilsson, Kaylan shares the resulting change of heart and thought that ultimately led to radical changes in lifestyle for himself and as well as his bandmate, Mark Volman.
Obviously, Turtles fans will most definitely want this book in their personal library. I would add, though, that historians of both rock music as well as pop culture will also want to read this great book and have it in their library for future reference.