RIFF AND READ
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
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
(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
Published closely on the heels of Dave Walker's book, this rock n' roll travel guide carries the weighty subtitle The Ultimate Guide to the Sites, the Shrines and the Legends Across America. That promise notwithstanding, this glove compartment-size volume is an excellent, city-by-city examination of rock landmarks.
Eschewing the scope of Walker's American Rock N' Roll Tour, Nolan zooms her focus in on 16 cities. With great detail, she then ferrets out gobs of history on the venues, studios, music stores and birth and death sites that make places like New Orleans and New York City such living shrines to rock history. She's especially strong when it comes to the history of punk and alternative music. In each entry, the obvious sites are listed first. After that come fascinating sections like "Hangouts and Homes," "Schools" and "Detours." The "Detours" sections are particularly interesting. They're where Nolan tries, with some success, to compensate for the book's 16-city focus. Under the Austin "Detours" listing, for example, Nolan includes sites in San Antonio, Houston and Lubbock, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Clovis, New Mexico. If that sounds like a stretch, it is. Clovis is at least a two-day "detour" from Austin.
More than anything else, Rock N' Roll Road Trip is a mountain of rock trivia. Lacking maps, it isn't a nuts-and-bolts travel guide. But the mass of information Nolan lays out is impressive and invaluable. And the photographs in this book are knockouts--everything from a striking aerial view of Denver's Red Rocks Amphitheatre to great concert shots of, among others, Fugazi, Hsker D and MC5.--Robert Baird
Musicians in Tune: Seventy-Five Contemporary Musicians Discuss the Creative Process
Jenny Boyd, with Holly George-Warren
(Fireside/Simon & Schuster)
A doctoral thesis on rock n' roll's creative process, including serious discussions of addictive behavior and the "peak experience? Before you turn up your nose and shout, "Let's party, dude," consider that co-author Jenny Boyd, a Ph.D. in psychology, is the sister of Patti Boyd, who married both George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Jenny herself has been a part of Britain's--and to a lesser degree, America's--rock scene since the Beatles. What this means is that she's had extraordinary access to and cooperation from 75 musicians ranging from Queen Latifah to Vernon Reid.
A four-year project, Musicians in Tune is a scholarly but readable psychological examination of how the above-average musician's head works. Boyd and George-Warren plow through, deftly separating ego from sincerity. Boyd's personal relationships with many of the subjects is what makes this book worth reading. Keeping the psychojargon to a minimum, Boyd weaves in the kind of honest, telling quotes that only a friend could get. These differing perspectives give the book its power to illuminate the dark corners of creativity. While Musicians in Tune may not explain how music happens, it helps to show why it does.
A consultant to the innovative drug-rehabilitation center Sierra Tucson, Boyd wisely gives the book perspective by recounting the story of her own dissolute rock n' roll past. The antidrug message here is subtle: Boyd clearly respects and admires the musician's gift and simply hates to see it wasted.--Robert Baird
Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession
Patriarchal rock writer Greil Marcus had a brilliant idea when he conceived Dead Elvis. What could be more interesting than a book-length explanation of how the only King that America's ever had can remain a weekly tabloid headline 15 years after his death?
Too bad Marcus didn't write a book to match the premise. Dead Elvis is basically a collection of 16 previously published articles on Presley, revamped to vaguely pursue the reasons behind the continuing Elvis enigma. But the reader is more likely to see Elvis in a Taco Bell than to find an answer in Marcus' meanderings.
We are offered the script of Jungle Music, an unintelligible, imaginary play meant to show the importance that Elvis, Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley and their musical peers had in forming rock n' roll. We need to be told?
Another chapter centers on piano crazy man Jerry Lee Lewis, with Presley mostly relegated to the shadows. An essay titled "A Corpse in Your Mouth: Adventures of a Metaphor, or Modern Cannibalism" will have Elvis fans chewing their knuckles before a weak Presley connection is made. As for the book's visuals, Marcus felt that any piece of contemporary artwork or advertising that barely alluded to Elvis merited inclusion.
When Elvis does take center stage, Marcus tends to ramble aimlessly in a quest to define the sociological implications of his career. The author even goes so far as to compare Presley to Abraham Lincoln and Herman Melville.
When Presley comes out of seclusion next year--no longer holed up in Wyoming as a car mechanic and having struggled through Dead Elvis on his lunch break--he'll give Marcus a telephone call on behalf of us readers: "Damn, Greil, a lotta big words just to say y'all still don't know why you miss me. I shoulda saved my 25 bucks until you figgered it out.--Dave McElfresh
101 Ways to Make Money Right Now in the Music Business
Have you, in a quiet moment, ever asked yourself the question this volume opens with: "Why not make good money at something that excites you?" And what musician, club owner or critic hasn't pondered Bob Baker's great imponderable: "Why is it that some people in the music business make tens of thousands of dollars a year, while others wallow in poverty most of their lives?" Here's a tome that answers these and nearly every other question you've ever had about the music business in 140 pages that gush with enough naivet to insult the average fourth grader. The editor and publisher of a St. Louis music monthly called Spotlight, the clueless Baker has it all figured out. He covers everything from "radio disc jockey" to "piano tuner." In this slim volume, you'll learn (courtesy of Bob) how to run a pawn shop, program a drum machine, sell musical gifts and novelties, make guitar straps and procure those pesky "miscellaneous hidden gigs." Along the way, Baker even demystifies simple tasks like running an independent record label and being a concert promoter.
Best of all, though, is the chapter on becoming a "rock n' roll hair stylist." According to Bob, there's big bucks in hair bands. All you have to do is get a couple of "popular local artists" as clients and, before you know it, you'll be "your city's premier music-business hair person." From there "your notoriety could extend across the country." The chapter ends with a phrase the sums up this moronic effort: "The sky's the limit.--Robert Baird
Hard Bop: Jazz & Black Music 1955-1965
David H. Rosenthal
(Oxford University Press)
It has taken almost 30 years for someone to write an overview of the hard-bop period of jazz, a decade straddling the 50s and 60s and borne of the bebop of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Little wonder no one, until now, felt up to the task. In contrast to the lighter, slicker feel of cool jazz, its West Coast counterpart, New York-based hard bop is not as easily pigeonholed. Author Rosenthal makes a valiant stab at corralling a difficult era of jazz development.
How can a writer bring cohesion to a music scene that ranges from drummer Art Blakey's penchant for dark, brass moods to the gospel-influenced piano-funk of Horace Silver? Rosenthal handles the problem by showing that hard bop was an octopus, each arm in need of separate attention. Chapters are dedicated to explaining everything from hard bop's coupling of tenor sax men with organists to a history of the hard-bop record label, Blue Note.
Compared with other jazz-period studies such as Ira Gitler's Swing to Bop, Rosenthal's book loses out. Missing are the musicians' personal anecdotes, which could have portrayed the time with the color it deserves. Aside from beginning and closing chapters that explain the birth and demise of hard bop, no real feel for the era is displayed. The players are presented as a community of musical neighbors with little in common--not really true, the reader discovers, when checking out the endlessly overlapping lineups of the period's recordings. With no other full-size overviews of hard bop available for contrast, we're left with a sometimes confusing collection of parallel histories.
Even if future publications prove Hard Bop to be a less-than-perfect book, it remains a comprehendible explanation of the years separating Charlie Parker's 100-mph improvisations from John Coltrane's atonal wailing. Unquestionably, making sense of this bop is hard, and Rosenthal's book is, at least, the first to piece together the borders of this complicated puzzle.--Dave McElfresh
Bill Graham Presents
Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield
Bill Graham Presents is an incredible achievement. This narrative biography is an engaging, behind-the-scenes look at the role played by the king of music promoters, from the psychedelic era to the present. Seeing that span of rock history through the eyes of Graham, a nonmusician a generation older than the countless bands he led to fame, makes for a fascinating read.
The book was completed just before Graham was killed in a helicopter wreck about a year ago.
Without ever directly addressing the point, the book reminds us that the San Francisco-based promoter laid the foundation for many landmark moments in rock music. Graham tells us about opening the Fillmore auditoriums on both coasts and believing in bands like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane when they were only local acts. We're shown the role Graham had in organizing both Woodstock and the doomed concert at Altamont Speedway. The promoter gives us the inside scoop on organizing rock for charity and how it nearly fell apart with the Live Aid and Amnesty International shows.
As one might expect, the dressing-room tales are wonderfully colorful, and Graham is ready to tell even the most self-incriminating ones. Included are detailed accounts of physical brawls with Led Zeppelin's security force, as well as the fistfuls of money given to the Rolling Stones and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to encourage encores. Graham is never hesitant to mention names or allow criticism of himself. At one point, he unabashedly states that a monetary scuffle with the Band led to his closing of the Fillmore auditoriums. But to its credit, the book gives Band guitarist Robbie Robertson equal time in offering his viewpoint.
Bill Graham Presents is a history of the excesses and ludicrous moments in the developing rock scene, with the incredulous Graham forever shaking his head at the figures he showcased. We're given a thousand anecdotes about our rock n' roll heroes, while also getting an uncomplaining glimpse of the headaches and overwhelming mechanics of bringing music to the masses. It's as though Graham offers the reader a stageside seat to watch the best and craziest acts from Haight-Ashbury days onward. The book may prove to be the greatest show Graham ever produced.--Dave McElfresh
Jazz Spoken Here: Conversations With Twenty-Two Musicians
Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin
(Louisiana State University Press)
It should be officially named "The Interview magazine" syndrome. It's a proven fact that question-and-answer interviews are boring to read. The key to luring people to read a Q&A is the intrinsic value of its subject. An interview with Kenny G, for example, would not be worth reading. One with John Coltrane, on the other hand, would be printed ambrosia. Using that formula, Enstice and New Times staff writer Rubin have stacked the deck in their favor by including such fascinating (and now-deceased) subjects as Art Blakey, Bill Evans and Charles Mingus. The interviews were conducted from 1978 to 1985.
Overall, Jazz Spoken Here is too deep to appeal much to the casual fan. Jazzers, however, will find it a rich mine filled with details, like Sonny Stitt introducing himself to a startled Charlie Parker on a Kansas City street or Clark Terry discussing Buddy Bolden's trumpet technique. Besides the subjects, this collection works because both Enstice and Rubin are skilled interviewers who did their homework before each interview. The one gaping omission is the book's lack of any female jazz figures.--Robert Baird
She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll
Gillian G. Gaar
When you watch a band like Hole perform, the words to that old cigarette ad drift back into your mind: "You've come a long way, baby." After 30 years of being only singers, women rockers are now adding new creativity and perspective to every genre of music, including high-testosterone sanctum sanctorums like death-metal and grind-core. Women are now routinely outgrossing (financially and otherwise), outwriting and outplaying a lot of guys. Megastardom is defined by Madonna and Bonnie Raitt. Female players are founding members of important alternative bands like Sonic Youth and the Pixies. In short, women ain't stuck looking up to just Suzi Quatro and Billie Holiday anymore.
Because women have finally begun to break down the sexist barriers that have made them second-class citizens of rock n' roll, it's high time for a comprehensive "herstory" of rock n' roll. A senior editor at Seattle's thriving music tabloid The Rocket, Gaar has written a readable, well-researched and, for the most part, well-conceived history of women in rock n' roll. She's interviewed most of the major female figures in rock--from Ruth Brown to manager Linda Clark. And as well as writing about the obvious choices--Janis Joplin, the Supremes, Carole King, Madonna--Gaar has also unearthed material on pioneering unknowns such as the Gingerbreads and Deadly Nightshade. The writing throughout is concise. Gaar's discussion of the early women rockabilly pioneers, for example, is peppered with nuggets like the story of Cordell Jackson, the real-life rockabilly legend who blew Stray Cat Brian Setzer off the stage in the recent beer commercial. Perhaps this book's strongest feature is the way Gaar treats the "girl group" novelty acts of the 50s and 60s. Instead of berating them as fluffy or wailing over the wrongs done them by the music business, Gaar paints a balanced portrait of what they accomplished despite the fact that they were hemmed in by the sexist attitudes of that time.
There are two problems with this book. The first is the glaring, utterly puzzling lack of even a mention of female grunge-alternative bands like L7 and Hole. By wading into the evil boys' club of white guitar noise, bands like those two have really knocked the door from its hinges. The fact that Gaar lives in Seattle and works in the "Seattle Scene" makes this all the more unbelievable.
The other problem is Gaar's questionable analytical skill. By defining k.d. lang's latest album, Ingnue, as "a series of ballads," Gaar is exposing either a lack of critical chops or the fact that she didn't listen to the album. In her discussion of lang, one of today's most important female artists and the culminating metaphor of Gaar's thesis, Gaar fails to credit lang's collaborator, Ben Mink. By lang's own admission, Mink has played a critical role in her recent career. It's clear that in her rush to validate women, Gaar has forgotten to mention some important men. The odd thing is that She's a Rebel generally goes out of its way not to be a male-bashing feminist indictment. It's a thoughtful treatment that acknowledges what men have and have not done for women in rock n' roll.
None of these things takes away from the fact that this is an excellent and much-needed book. As Yoko Ono says in her glowing introduction, it reclaims much lost history and proves that for someone like Lesley Gore, the "struggle was not in vain.
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