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Wednesday
Aug012012

Quick review: 'Street Player: My Chicago Story'

"Street Player: My Chicago Story" is Danny Seraphine's biography of his time as drummer in one of the world's most successful rock bands. 

What was originally Chicago Transit Authority quickly evolved into simply Chicago, and became a hit machine from the late 1960s through the 1990s. I've beeen a longtime fan of the band -- mostly the '60s and 70s output -- and particularly Seraphine's spectacular musicianship, so I read "Street Player" from a fan's perspective. 

To my knowledge there's no authoritative history of Chicago, so Seraphine's story shares a rich backstory about a prolific band whose blend of rock and jazz remain mainstays of American radio. And Seraphine hangs it all out, sharing warts and all of a band that lived the rock 'n' roll lifestyle 24-7 and had ups and downs you'd expect from any large family living under intense presssure to stay on top. Seraphine and co-author Adam Mitchell aren't gifted writers but the detail from 40 years in the music biz makes for a fast read.

"Street Player" is also a frustrating read because Seraphine's strong personality can grate over time. He co-founded the band, helped shape its sound and early success, and later played a lead role in getting control of the business side (including questioning financial deals that eventually led the band to fire longtime mentor/producer James Guercio).

But his emphatic vision for the band's traditional jazz-rock sound doesn't resonate with bandmates, who are more comfortable chasing hits in mainstream pop. As the band's sound grows softer, Seraphine experiences an odd stage in which he returns from a long band vacation physically unable to play basic drum parts, a shocking admission from a drummer whose performances on pieces like "Ballet For a Girl in Buchannon" rank among the best in rock history. That's quickly followed by a divisive incident in which Seraphine hits a crew member he thinks has dissed a relative. 

As Seraphine spins out of control, the band loses confidence in his ability, gets tired of his antics and fires him.  

You see this confrontation coming yet Seraphine expresses complete shock with the decision. At this point in the book, Seraphine reacts by spraying the hate like a machine gun, directing all kinds of low blows at his longtime friends and bandmates. It's a sad turn from someone who clearly remains disillusioned and unable to move on (his new band is pathetically called California Transit Authority).  

You feel like you're only getting half the story, which is always a risk with tell-all biographies. In Seraphine's case, his lack of grace and brittle ego do little to generate enough sympathy to believe there is another side to the story. 

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