Rock of Pages
Just as there's a lot of dreadful music worth avoiding, there's also no shortage of truly rotten books about music to waste your time. As a culture, we're inclined to think that just because a book makes it into the library, it's literature. But anyone who's ever checked out a copy of Dee Snider's Teenage Survival Guide or Takin' Back My Name by Ike Turner knows that isn't the case. What follows is a run-down of arguably the worst music books ever written. These paper-wasting diatribes -- which together present a good case for a discerning book bonfire -- are categorized by different flavors of awful:
Please, God, Give Me a Post-Music Career
Musical has-beens pray that diehard fans will shell out for books detailing the hardships of their now-lost fame. God knows how Temptations by ex-Temp Otis Williams and Supreme Faith by ex-Supreme and Diana Ross adversary Mary Wilson merited publication, let alone I Will Survive by one-hit wonder Gloria Gaynor.
While Pamela Des Barres' groupie autobiography I'm With the Band was a wonderfully nasty read, Rock Bottom is a done-to-death overview of rock excesses written by a fizzling fuckster who thinks that sitting up in front of a word processor makes her a music sociologist. And though some may applaud the lovey-dovey tales of marital success filling The Unimaginable Life by '70s light-pop crooner Kenny Loggins and wife Julie, the book's metaphysical claptrap and high sugar content should make readers damn near appreciative of goo-free spousal brawls.
It's Not Just a Song
As Van Morrison sings when comparing his career to real life, "It's just a job, you know, it's not sweet Lorraine." Nonetheless, some writers conjure up heady arguments insisting that their favorite artist deserves a bust in the Louvre. Graham Lock's adoration of wacko jazz saxophonist Anthony Braxton in Forces in Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton struggles to make sense of the musician's goofy penchant for using geometric figures and notepad doodles as composition titles. Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play by Ben Watson spends an excruciating 556 pages stretching for associations that connect Zappa with Karl Marx and Plato.
Stairway to Heaven: The Spiritual Roots of Rock 'n' Roll by Davin Seay and Mary Neely quotes loads of mundane lyrics referencing either God or dissatisfaction with life in an attempt to convince us that rock 'n' roll is forever making some sort of spiritual statement. Writing at a more sophisticated level, literature professor Aidan Day desperately tries to read wisdom into the amphetamine-fueled lyrics of a young Bob Dylan in Jokerman: Reading the Lyrics of Bob Dylan. Regarding "Subterranean Homesick Blues," Day states that "the nervously abbreviated lines and the overinsistencies of alliteration and rhyme register the sense of a culture's stunting of the possibilities of individual growth." Huh?
Let Me Explain Myself
Music's most notorious egos have found it necessary to elaborate in print on their philosophies or past indiscretions. The Real Frank Zappa Book by supreme egotist Zappa is the poorly written equivalent of a bad talk radio show.
Czech leader Vaclav Havel had once praised Zappa's music, apparently leading Zappa to consider himself a political equal and inspiring the book's endless rants on the guitarist's embarrassingly simplistic political views. Zappa planned to run for president (really?) on these issues, making the worst Republican candidate look like Abraham Lincoln.
Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell is a pious book-length testimony on how God forgave him and, if she's lucky, will forgive Tanya Tucker for hurting his feelings. And though Waylon Jennings relates the story of an admirable career in Waylon: An Autobiography, his endless reminders of how badass he allegedly still is weaken our recollections of how badass he really was.
How the Beatles Will Send You to Hell
Loads of hard-core Christians wrote anti-rock books throughout the '80s, assuring us that innocuous bands like the Eagles were really Satan's servants. Some of the worst books are The Devil's Disciples: The Truth About Rock by Jeff Godwin, Larson's Book of Rock by Bob Larson, Satan's Music Exposed by Lowell Hart and Salem Kirban, and Rock And Roll: Proceed With Caution by J. Brent Bill.
Read them and you'll discover how you've been spiritually warped by the Rolling Stones ("miserable drug-eaten hedonists") and Bruce Springsteen (who "introduces 'This Land Is Your Land' as an alternative to 'God Bless America'").
Bob Dylan: Saved! The Gospel Speeches by Clinton Heylin transcribes the painfully pious between-song patter of Dylan in concert during his Christian period. ("Maybe I'll have to start singing on street corners," whines Dylan. "Still, I'll give all the praise and glory to God.")
Lacking the Jesus angle, but scrounging desperately for creepy dead rocker morality tales, is the eighth-grade-level Hellhounds on Their Trail: Tales From the Rock 'n' Roll Graveyard by R. Gary Patterson, who reveals that serial killer Richard Ramirez listened to AC/DC! And Rolling Stone Brian Jones had a third nipple -- a "witch's tit" -- on the inside of his left thigh!
I Was the King's Best Friend, Really
Because Elvis was such a regular guy, loads of irregular relatives and associates have found it necessary to tell us 1) how boy-next-doorish the King really was, and 2) how, by God, they were always there when he needed them -- which seems to have always been quite frequently.
Two of the most dreadful examples of such fame-chasing by association are I Called Him Babe: Elvis Presley's Nurse Remembers by Marian J. Cocke and A Presley Speaks by uncle Vester Presley.
Gail Brewer-Giorgio in Is Elvis Alive? relates how a recorded phone call from a supposedly dead Elvis assures us that he's just gone into hiding because of show-business pressures. No explanation is given as to why the King would create such an elaborate death scenario and then purposely blow it all sticking a quarter into a pay phone.
Imagine There's No Heaven
Claiming that Elvis and John Lennon talk to you from beyond the grave sure as hell beats merely owning a scarf or an autograph. Too bad neither star has much to convey from Dead City.
In Elvis Speaks From the Beyond by Hans Holzer, Presley uses a medium to bring us commoners amazing revelations: He loved his daughter, life goes on, and you should watch your health. Lennon sidles up to a few earthlings in John Lennon Conversations channeled by Linda Deer Domnitz, John Lennon in Heaven by Linda Keen, and Peace at Last: The After-Death Experiences of John Lennon by Jason Leen. Thanks to them, we now know that Lennon loved Yoko and was glad to be reunited with his dead mother.
Secretly Killed by Communists
We seem to have a hard time accepting that famous people die in stupid, tragic or mundane fashions like us lowlifes. Hey, no way -- a conspiracy/cover-up must have been the cause! In Who Killed John Lennon? by Fenton Bresler, the CIA is the culprit.
Paint It Black: The Murder of Brian Jones by Geoffrey Giuliano insists that a construction worker drowned the Rolling Stone -- never mind that the always fucked-up guitarist had already been sacked from the Stones for being unable to stay conscious, far from the water, in the studio.
The Truth, National Enquirer Style
Albert Goldman's biographies, The Lives of John Lennon and Elvis, were so obviously twisted toward the sensational that even readers hungry for smut found his endless outpouring of lurid tales unbelievably mean-spirited. Lennon was an anorexic, dyslexic, plagiarizing loser who was probably homosexual. Elvis was an overeating, incontinent sexual deviant who was probably homosexual. Goldman's dead now, and we can only hope that Lennon and Presley met him at the Pearly Gates and beat the shit out of him.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.