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Get to Know: Neil Ratner MD 'The Rock Doc'

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The Rock Doc

Here's one doctor's visit you won't mind making, in fact you'll thoroughly enjoy your time with Dr. Neil Ratner. And you don't even have to make an appointment to see him, or travel to his office; just pick up a copy of his new memoir "Rock Doc." In the medical world Ratner is an anesthesiologist who counted Michael Jackson among his clients, and "Rock Doc" begins with a recollection of his first contact with the King of Pop, a phone conversation about anesthesia that Jackson would require for an upcoming surgery, and an account of the procedure. But Ratner's life in the music business actually began well before he added the MD to his name.

Like many a young person, Ratner wanted to be a professional musician while also dreaming of being a physician. His rock 'n' roll story begins during the Vietnam War era, when he was a drummer for a group called Talbot's Bus while studying at the University of Vermont. The fortuitous letting of a New York City apartment led to a friendship with Rick Derringer, who happened to live upstairs in the same building. Ratner and Derringer became fast friends, and Ratner was able to interact with visitors to the Derringer household, like Todd Rundgren and Patti Smith. The connections led Ratner to be offered a job as the road manager for Edgar Winter, and with stars in his eyes Ratner left college and hit the rock 'n' roll road.

Ratner's storytelling in "Rock Doc" rivals that of any rock star's memoir as he relates being on the road with Winter, Humble Pie and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. He doesn't leave out his mistakes either, often recalling how he learned the ropes the hard way. But mostly the book finds Ratner filled with wonder, not just at the shoulders he's rubbing, but that in retrospect he managed to pull it off at all. Ratner also spent time on the road with Pink Floyd; the stint was brief and so is the coverage in the book. Eventually the subject comes back around to Michael Jackson, who interrupts Ratner's Thanksgiving meal with his family with a sobbing phone call and a plea for help.

The bulk of the book details how Ratner became one of Jackson's most trusted confidantes and good friends. The riveting read includes Ratner's revealing to Jackson that he had once struggled with drug addiction himself, comforting Jackson after the death of Princess Diana, the pair's meeting with (at the time South African president) Nelson Mandela, other adventures in Africa and Ratner's time with Jackson at Neverland. Jackson gave Ratner the amusing nickname of "Rat," which Ratner never liked but tolerated; Jackson also gave Ratner the nickname Rock Doc.

"Rock Doc," while summarizing Ratner's life story, is really about Michael Jackson. Many of the book's numerous photos are of Jackson and from Ratner's personal archive. With Jackson's reputation having been sullied recently, it is refreshing to see Ratner humanize him here.

"Rock Doc" is available in paperback, Kindle and audiobook formats here.

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