Extended travel of late means I’ve just finished a couple more rock books of note on Sam Phillips and the Replacements!
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, by Peter Guralnick
I had just a cursory knowledge of Sun Records and Sam Phillips. If you’re in the same boat, this is a good history lesson on the Memphis scene in the 50s. Guralnick was a friend of Sam’s and relied on him big time for his two Elvis books, so this story line takes most of what Sam says and thinks about the period at face value. Of course there are great stories about Jerry Lee, Cash, Ike Turner, and Elvis, but beyond that are the people, family members and mistresses that surrounded Phillips throughout that golden age and later. It also does a good job explaining how independent labels functioned and the shoe leather (and tire rubber) it took to break artists…and then how the majors would come in and sign the rising star for big money. There’s also vintage gear talk!
Thanks to a heavy travel schedule, I’ve been doing some rock reading on flights over the last month and here are some capsule reviews of recent rock books. If you’ve read these or other newish rock books, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.
Chrissie Hynde — Reckless
Chrissie takes you on a tour of ’70s Ohio rock clubs and the early punk scene in London — and in case you don’t believe her stories, she’s sprinkled in some personal photos of Sex Pistols and the Clash to prove her point. She was at the Kent State protests, where four students were killed, she chronicles the rise and fall of the classic Pretenders lineup, and generally seems like a truthful narrator. She stops the story in the ’80s, which is fine with me, but some have criticized. Do you really care about reading about “Loose Screw” — I don’t. One small quibble could be that she can seem a bit above the fray relating what went down, but she’s entitled to retain a bit of mystery. I was a bit worried about this one because of some lukewarm press reviews, but this is a quick read and worth your time.
Elvis Costello — Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink
This is one of those memoirs that doesn’t follow a straight-line narrative. Elvis jumps around from childhood, to various spots in his early and late career. There is a lot about his father, Ross McManus, and his Dad’s jobs as a singer in big bands and a small solo career. One of the big takeaways is Elvis’ deep interest of nearly all musical styles, especially country. Reading this book, you’ll want to have access to a good streaming service, because he name drops a lot of records throughout, and you can’t help but want to check out what he’s writing about. He also explains some of his lyrics and what he was trying to get across to in the songs. Elvis gets a little personal with his thoughts on wives, girlfriends, and other rockers but not too deep. This book’s tone is warm, forgiving, and about as far away from his initial, prickly persona, as you can get. Elvis himself seems amazed at that early “pinup” version of himself.
Warren Zanes — Petty — The Biography
This is an authorized biography that had tremendous cooperation from a bunch of people around Petty and the Heartbreakers. Zanes is Dan Zanes’ little bro and you get a little bit of the pain he felt being a teenager in Del Fuegos, which opened for Petty in the ’80s and then blew apart. This is a pretty deep look into the band dynamics of the Heartbreakers, Mudcrutch, and some of the other people Petty has played with over the years. There’s also a lot of detail on how they made the first two records with Denny Cordell and then left to go with MCA and Jimmy Iovine, who is interviewed extensively. Stevie Nicks weighs in on everything from music, to Tom’s first marriage, to his well-hidden heroin addiction in the years leading up to the release of “Echo.” The star of the book, to me, is drummer Stan Lynch, who doesn’t mince words when talking about the conflicts within the Heartbreakers, which led to him getting fired. The book peters out somewhat at the end, and doesn’t give much background on more recent releases (such as personal fave “Highway Companion” in 2006). There’s also not much on the Wilburys and Zanes is forced to quote from Dylan’s Chronicles to get Bob’s thoughts on the grand tours they did together in the ’80s.
P.S. Warren Zanes put out a great album in 2003 called “Memory Girls” — well worth checking out if you have not heard it.
I recently read a review for the following book, http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16293348-bang-bang, so I can’t claim to have thought of this idea but In the book, above (keeping in mind I haven’t read it), it sounds like Maxwell, the killer, brings his silver hammer down upon the head of his victims.
Here’s a part of the book’s description:
Youthimax is a cure-all miracle drug from Johnson and Johnson which has all but eliminated death in modern society. Which is great news. Unless you work at a funeral home. The O’Rourke Funeral Home in West Philadelphia has fallen into obscurity, along with it’s two sole employees. Max and Bligh waste the days away sleeping in coffins and counting shovels until that fateful day that they decide to become serial killers. The drunken Bligh finds serendipitous instructions in the Beatles tune “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and convinces his partner that it’s only right that Maxwell kill with a silver hammer. With little business and less regret, Maxwell and his alcoholic train wreck of a partner become the most infamous serial killers in Philadelphia history…
This sounds like a job that the minds of RTH can take off and run with. So, give us your best elevator pitch.
Late last night I finished reading the Richard Hell autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, which the machinery family gifted me for my 50th birthday. I loved it. Thank you, machinerys!
Considering I once suggested that Hell was a member of the multi-untalented ranks, led by showbiz’s supreme multi-untalent, Ben Vereen, I was leery about cracking open this gift. I did, however, cut my teenage punk rock teeth on “Blank Generation,” never failing to edge up in my seat in anticipation of the song’s short, twisted guitar solos that endeared me to the Voidoids’ unlikely bald, bearded, professorial guitarist Robert Quine. The entire Blank Generation album, in fact, was special and energetic, if a bit clumsy compared to Television’s Marquee Moon, led by Hell’s original partner-in-crime, Tom Verlaine.
Ah, hell, I’m a control freak! I’ve always been Verlaine guy deep down. I figured I’d learn some stuff about him, Quine, Friend of the Hall Richard Lloyd, and other mythical figures from my teenage years, a group of punks just a generation or so older than me who were laying down their legacy 90 miles up the turnpike.
The first thing I noticed, as I read Hell’s tales of his childhood is that the guy could write. It’s rare to find an artist autobiography that not only has a voice, not only has the voice of the artist, but has something more, something not always evident in the artist’s work. I knew Hell had intellectual pursuits and was a poet and writer and all that jazz, but based on the Hell I grew up “knowing” through his music and original persona, I had no idea he could be so thoughtful and succinct. What did I know? This book was heading up to be an exercise in exposing my own ignorance and prejudices. When it comes to this form of exercise, I’m Charles Atlas.
Rather than try to pose as a book reviewer and come off even more idiotic than usual, I’ll simply list my 10 reasons for loving Richard Hell’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. I highly recommend you picking up this book—well, most of you.
SPOILER ALERT: My 10 reasons will give away some key autobiographical details that are rolled out in the course of the book. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know in advance that Hell, for instance—oh, never mind!
Hopefully, it’s rapidly approaching that time of the year when you will be able to sit down with a glass of something cool and refreshing, and open up a good book.
You may not choose Simon Reynold’s Retromania, but last week’s NY Times Summer Reading Book Review contained synopses of three possible contenders. Do any of these appeal to you?
The Stone Roses, War and Peace. By Simon Spence. Read the cautionary tale of the number one contender for the “Band Who Blew It”!
I Would Die 4 U, Why Prince Became an Icon. By Toure. Based on a series of lectures presented at Harvard, including “Prince’s Rosebud.”
Yes Is The Answer And Other Prog Rock Tales.Edited by Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell. A series of recollections by people in the know. Rick Moody shares that Carl Palmer “dabbled in funk,” and other interesting bits and pieces.
What will you be reading this summer? Any recommendations for fellow rockophiles?
The work of graphic designer Mike Joyce is a marriage made in heaven: Typography and Punk. Joyce has transformed the d.i.y. flyers announcing punk and indie shows–the collaged, the Xeroxed, the disposable–and treated them to Swiss modernist style (anyone seen the documentary Helvetica?).
These posters, re-contextualized, visually engaging, and slightly humorous, are an homage to great gigs (see how many you’ve attended), and the formalized text and images that arose out of Switzerland in the ’50s that focused on cleanliness, order, objectivity, and readability.
How many positive things can you cite in this photograph? (Click photo for original source of photograph.)
Sometimes I stumble across a photograph of a musician that somehow suggests many things “right” about the state of the featured musician or musicians. This is one such photo. How often do we get to see David Byrne with his guard down? How often to we get to see his studious side, as he carefully tunes his cool 12-string Gibson guitar, rather than the outcome of his studies? The world needs more photos of David Byrne like this—and for the love of god, not another one of his solo albums!
Reports on either of his books are welcome. Has anyone read them yet?