Discover more from Steady Beats | Matt Tillotson
The Mix Tape, Vol. 32
Welcome! This week, as we try figure out what day it is and if it’s still ok to eat those holiday leftovers, I have a couple of book reviews to share.
The Power of Favor, by Joel Osteen
So, I read a Joel Osteen book. On purpose!
“The Power of Favor” is his latest book, and honestly, I get the feeling if you’ve read one Osteen book, you’ve read them all.
Osteen, the minister of Lakewood Church in Houston, oversees a vast evangelical empire, including a large television network and numerous best-selling books.
Critics skewer Osteen for preaching the “prosperity gospel”— the message that following God will, in simple terms, make you wealthy and fabulous. Critics of prosperity gospel say it shifts the focus from God to the individual.
Indeed, certain passages in this book are cringeworthy:
Going to the mall, say, “Lord, thank You that Your favor will help me find what I need.” The favor of God will help you get the best deals.
The Power of Favor has its faults. It’s overly simplistic. It’s repetitive. It focuses too heavily on using God as a fulcrum for ease and material wealth.
And yet, the book isn’t completely without merit.
Osteen hammers home a helpful mindset: that God is for us, and we can only be our best selves and accomplish our greatest goals through and for Him. Nothing wrong with that.
He reminds us that God is our source—not our paycheck or business—and that we should seek him and give thanks in all things.
If you’re looking for a dose of hope and a reminder that God is for you, and life can suddenly change for the better, then there are worse things to read than “The Power of Favor.”
700 Sundays, by Billy Crystal
700 Sundays is not the book I anticipated.
It’s written by Billy Crystal, so it’s hilarious, right?
Crystal does use humor in his autobiography. But the book is—while not altogether dark—colored with sadness.
The book’s title comes from the number of Sundays Crystal had with his father, Jack, before Jack died suddenly of heart attack, in a bowling alley.
Billy Crystal was 15. Jack was 56.
Jack Crystal lived a unique and interesting life, running a small record store, producing jazz records on the family label (“Commodore”) and running concerts for some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 50s and 60s:
So when I was a kid growing up, my father was now managing the Commodore Music Shop and he had become the authority on jazz and jazz records in the city. And this little store—it was only nine feet wide—was now the center of jazz not only in New York City but in the world, because that little mail order business was now third worldwide behind Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, just selling Commodore and other jazz records.
Commodore’s roster included Billie Holliday:
But her most important song was one called “Strange Fruit,” which was very controversial because it was about lynching black people down South. Nobody wanted to hear this song. When Billie introduced the song at the Café Society, nobody wanted to be reminded about what was happening in our America of 1939, and nobody would record “Strange Fruit.” Even her great producer at Columbia Records, John Hammond, wouldn’t touch it. She was frustrated, so she turned to her friend, my Uncle Milt. And he told me years later she sang it for him the first time a cappella. Can you imagine that? That aching voice and that aching lyric. “Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root, black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees . . .” He told me, “Billy, I cried like a baby. And I said to her, ‘Lady Day, listen, I don’t care if we sell one record. People must hear this song. They’ve got to hear this song. We’ve got to get this made somehow.’” So they worked out a special arrangement with Vocalian Records, and Billie Holiday, a great black jazz artist, and my Jewish Uncle Milt together recorded “Strange Fruit” a song about lynching down South, the song that Time magazine in December of 1999 would call the song of the century. I’m so proud to say it’s on the family label, the Commodore.
As musical tastes changed, Jack watched his record label fade. And his store was swamped by the emerging wave of large record chains taking over the industry.
Jack’s life would never be the same. Neither would Billy’s. And too soon, his father, lost, unsure of his next steps in life, was gone.
Crystal writes about “The Otherness” the weight one carries around after the loss of a loved one. He was sixteen, and real life had had its way with him far too soon:
I called it the “otherness” because that’s how I felt. I wasn’t here. I wasn’t there. I was in an other place. A place where you look, but you don’t really see, a place where you hear but you don’t really listen. It was “the otherness” of it all.
He struggled. His mom struggled.
Eventually, with the support of extended family—particularly his Uncle Milt, who became a powerful record producer—Crystal found his way to comedy, something he always knew he wanted to do even as a kid.
Crystal also writes honestly about his mother’s death, and even though he was 57, it was every bit as painful as losing his dad when he was young.
You won’t read tales from the sets of “Soap” or “Saturday Night Live” here. Crystal’s book isn’t about fame and fortune.
Crystal wrote a book about family, and change, and loss. And it’s a great read.
Thanks for reading!
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