Book Review: Lifting Shadows: The Authorized Biography of Dream Theater

Awhile back, I announced that I had acquired a copy of Lifting Shadows: The Authorized Biography of Dream Theater by Rich Wilson and intended to review it, though I suspected it would be useless from a functional standpoint. Having actually read the book, I stand by this statement–if you’re a hardcore Dream Theater fan, you likely pre-ordered the book as soon as you learned of its existence; if you’re not, you will no doubt look at the price tag (A total of $83 to ship to the US) and wonder “Who in their right mind would pay that much for this book?!”

Well, right mind or not, I paid that much for this book. Or more accurately, I paid that much for these books–Lifting Shadows is actually two books. The first, Images, is essentially a 175-page picture book of the band’s career, starting in high school and ending in late 2007 with the release of their newest album, Systematic Chaos. A companion CD is also in this book, taking selected tracks from various rarities/fan club releases/etc the band has released. The second book, Words, is the story “proper” of the band, again, essentially starting with the core of the band in high school and continuing to effectively the present day.

Despite the overall lack of the usual excesses of Rock N’ Roll, the story of the band itself is nonetheless captivating. One thing I personally found fascinating was how much of a part label politics play in the making of an album–the band’s issues with their label in making Falling into Infinity have been documented elsewhere, but I found it amusing that the band were pressured to hurry up and release Awake so that their label’s financial bottom line would look good for the quarter. As is said in the book, “It’s a wonder albums ever get made”.

There are two things that bothered me about the book (Besides the price tag, that is). The first is something that the author couldn’t really help–while pretty much everyone involved in the band, past or present, had something to say about their time in the band for the book (Charlie Dominici and Derek Sherinian being the obvious ones, but also figures from the pre-DT days, and one-time DT vocalist Steve Stone), the early part of the book in particular suffers somewhat from the absence of Kevin Moore. This isn’t Wilson’s fault; Moore has wanted nothing to do with his past since leaving Dream Theater, repeatedly declining offers to appear at special DT shows. Nonetheless, maybe because of his silence over the years, it would definitely have been nice to get his side of the story on things, in particular one story James LaBrie told about one show where they had agreed to start wailing on a heckler. James dove down and started pounding the guy, and Kevin…stayed right behind his keyboards. The second thing that annoyed me about the book were various typos. Not factual errors, by any means, but little things like misplaced punctuation, misspellings, etc. that would occasionally make me stop and go “wha?” Granted, there are times I’ve made some pretty bizarre typos here on this site, but then you’re not paying a huge amount of money to read it.

Overall, Lifting Shadows is very good from a story standpoint. But, unless you’re a superfan of Dream Theater (In which case you likely already own this), it’s simply not $70 good, even taking into account the cool case with the Dream Theater symbol it comes in.


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    • James on February 29, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    It’s funny, these niche bands (and I include Rush in this) seem to have books written about them without any editorial help whatsoever. Dream Theater has never had a huge commercial hit (not a big deal) but they are just kind of on the fringe being known. “They’re still around” is the comment I’ve heard around these parts. That being said, releasing an expensive archive of the band really is for die-hards only– I doubt anyone not already exposed to Dream Theater is likely not to suddenly see the book and randomly drop close to 100$ for it.

    But non-the-less, it’s always facinating to read the stories of those who “make it” in the music business (whether it’s super stardom or just enough to make a real living). I like to contrast Bad Religion and Dream Theater, two bands on opposite spectrums who simply cannot make songs in each others genres despite having qualified musicians to do so. 4/4 in your face straight forward punk vs. complicated, indulgent fantasy metal. Never shall the two meet.

    Anyhow, glad you liked the book :) Is there a part where the dudes talk about practicing “12 hours a day, everyday” like everyone claims to have, even the bass player from Green Day?

    • emptyeye on February 29, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Yeah, in the book, Mike Portnoy actually says something to the effect of “we’re the biggest band nobody has heard of”, which is basically correct.

    And like you, I too find this type of story fascinating. I’m a sucker for band biographies in general (See also my review of The Beatles: The Biography, and I read Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga before that), really. I knew that bands are constantly battling their labels over things great and small–Zeppelin were constantly fighting with Atlantic over cover art of all things–but I didn’t realize how small a role a given band actually played in the timing of their album releases.

    Speaking of money, my understanding from reading the book is that DT actually make pretty good money, but then immediately funnel it back into the band via improving the live show or whatnot, which I suppose is why they’re constantly (Even moreso than most bands) in that “new album-tour-repeat” cycle.

    And yeah, there’s definitely a part where the relentless practice schedule is discussed. In particular, John Myung was/is apparently known for practicing for hours before (And somewhat counterintuitively, cooling down after) a show. This being DT, I’m inclined to believe they really do–or at least did–practice obsessively.

  1. Interesting comments guys. From a personal perspective, I am gutted by the amount of typos in there too. We employed an editor / proof reader who managed to miss over 100 of them. I also was unwell at a critical time and unable to re-read the final text. So apologies once again. I also had concerns over the price tag, but when broken down into the component parts, I don’t think it was too excessive – a CD for say $15 and two decent quality hardbacks at say $25 plus a case for the package. Anyway, all feedback is good feedback and look out for a single hardback version sometime in 2009.
    Rich Wilson
    Lifting Shadows

    • Silverluna on July 12, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Hey. I find it pretty cool that you got a message from the author himself. Hope he can check out my comment on my LJ. I’ll leave the URL here, just in case Rich were to wander over. . . Here’s hoping, right?

  1. […] check out Rich Wilson’s comment on my review of Lifting Shadows. I apologize for not acknowledging it sooner, but I’ve been a […]

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