RIFF AND READ

Sex
Madonna
(Warner Books)

Give the woman credit. She pushes our buttons and we open our wallets. It's that simple. Never mind that Erotica, the album that goes with the book, is a dance-beat stiff. That's not a concern, because money, not music, is Madonna's muse. Despite the hype, this oversize, metal-plated peepshow isn't shocking in the least. Sex is a dumb ego trip staged by a well-toned megalomaniac who wants to rule the world with her breasts.

The "text" makes those salaried sickies who crank out Penthouse's "Forum" section look like Thomas Mann.

Madonna has talked about "opening doors" with this book. Other than the vault door in her bank, the only portal of enlightenment this soft-core ego fest will generate is that the mystery (if there was any; remember the Penthouse shots?) is now gone. Plunk down $50, and you'll see Madonna naked, ad nauseam. Hopefully, now that her "weapon" has been overexposed, her impact and income will decline. Then she makes a couple of bad recordings, stars in a couple of lousy movies and who knows?--Robert Baird

Keith Richards: The Biography
Victor Bockris
(Poseidon Press)

Keith Richards was doomed to be a lurid read. Its author begins by acknowledging a debt to the "inspiration" of Albert Goldman, the hack writer who turned the life of Elvis Presley into a 500-page National Enquirer story.

But the rest of the book's sensational tone is unavoidable because of its subject, the 49-year-old Rolling Stones guitarist with the penchant for self-destructive behavior. Keith Richards is more or less a running list of the man's bad habits--from his frequent fistfights, car accidents and near drug overdoses to the nights in jail and his amphetamine-fueled schedule.

Not that Richards' music doesn't get its share of attention, as when Bockris hips us to the Richards-Mick Jagger squabbles over the direction of Stones albums like Some Girls. But the book's main thrust remains one of chronicling the misbehavior of another one of rock's bad boys. Unlike his mentor, Goldman, Bockris doesn't need to twist the facts to produce a prurient bio; the candid quotes from Richards himself are jaw-dropping enough. Too bad no attempts are made to explain why the guitarist favors his death-defying lifestyle. Bockris could have taken the book to a new level had he chosen to slide beneath Richards' quintessential-rocker image and encourage the man to question himself. Instead, the reader is left at the end of the book thinking that Bockris is none the wiser for his research.

This shallowness makes Keith Richards vastly inferior to meticulous rock bios such as Shapiro and Glebbeeks' Jimi Hendrix, Electric Gypsy. Even Stones bassist Bill Wyman's Stone Alone offers a more complex portrayal of Richards than is found here. Still, the nose-thumbing insanity ever-present in the Keith Richards story will keep you reading. Bockris shows that it takes a sensationalist like himself to avoid underplaying the outlandishness of a figure like Richards. The serious, definitive bio on the ax man will probably be written after he unplugs for good and the lasting influence of his chop-chop, bluesy guitar is defined by its absence. For now, 400 pages on how the lean and mean Richards continues to screw fate will do just fine.--Dave McElfresh

American Rock N' Roll Tour
Dave Walker
(Thunder's Mouth Press)

Books like this usually start out as great, can't-miss ideas and end up being cheesy, nearly useless hunks o' drivel. For a prime example, check Chuck Eddy's Stairway to Hell monstrosity. Here, though, New Times staff writer Dave Walker has put forth a readable, informative and entertaining look at rock n' roll landmarks. It's just the thing for driving a spouse, girlfriend or parent verifiably nuts on a long road trip.

The big attraction is Walker's lively writing style and his sardonic wit. To those who miss Walker's famous "Cap'n Dave" character in New Times, this volume will read like an old friend. One common problem with specialty guides is that they were meant more for the coffee table than for the glove compartment. Happily, Walker avoids this pitfall by including enough practical information and rudimentary maps to make this a usable guide. In other words, you can actually find the Woodstock concert site, or, if you've got your hip waders with you, the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash site in Gillsburg, Mississippi.

Though he's an Arizona native, Walker avoids a Western bias, meticulously inventorying New York City landmarks, for example. Although the history is often skimpy, this book is stuffed full of rock trivia. Predictably, there are lots of omissions. My hometown, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a town with landmarks like the now-departed Syria Mosque, is not mentioned. The sections on Austin, Texas, and New Orleans are also curiously thin. And, lastly, does the franchised Hard Rock Cafe really deserve 15 listings?

But this is nit-picking. Omissions might easily be remedied in the book's next edition. Best of all, Walker displays a poet's eye for sick trivia throughout. His description and photograph of the "Elvis" McDonald's in Memphis, Tennessee, for example, make this book worth the price.--Robert Baird Rock N' Roll Road Trip

A.M. Nolan
(Pharos Books)

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