One of my favorite rock biographies that I’ve ever read is a dog-eared copy of a book penned by former road manager Johnny Green & Garry Barker called, A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash. I’ve passed this one on to friends and gotten it back by mail with compliments more than a few times in the past from touring bands, giving it out with the promise of a (hopeful) return. Each time someone spots it, I have the urge to give it away just so that it can be read and enjoyed by someone else.
A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash by Johnny Green, Garry Barker
It’s made it into my all-time favorite rock biographies because of its ability to grab hold of my imagination no matter what part of the book I open a page to – The Clash in the late 1970s. Watching Rude Boy always kind of gave me that feeling too and I think that’s where this book got me as well – it sucked me right in through the eyes of Someone Who Was There, possibly getting spit on, sweat on and kicked, but there – sleeping in the tour bus, and knee-deep in the chaos. It made me feel like I was part of the crew, along for the ride. No BS, and a really strong narrative!
The Replacements’ Let It Be (33 1/3) by Colin Meloy
Another cool collection that I highly recommend, not necessarily all “rock biography” per se, but still worth a mention, are the books from the 33 1/3 series. I’ve only read The Replacements’ Let It Be, by Colin Meloy (lead singer for The Decemberists), but thoroughly enjoyed it, and I plan to pick up others. Meloy’s touching and personal essay detailed how hearing The Replacements album Let It Be impacted his life and that of his best friend in his early teens.
This series always has the same cool graphic cover, differing photo depending on the artist – which makes it a great choice for collectors, and Continuum Books seem to be rapidly adding more and more titles to this series as time goes by, not necessarily making it easy to collect them all, but if you start now, you might just have a go… I hope to pick up a few more in the coming weeks. And with the inexpensive cover price of each book for under 10 dollars, you can’t beat it for a quick read.
A few highlights from the series:
- Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno (of Nothing Painted Blue)
- The Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck (of Velvet Crush)
- The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds by Jim Fusilli (NPR’s All Things Considered contributor)
- Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis by Warren Zanes (writer)
- James Brown’s Live At the Apollo by Douglas Wolk (writer)
- The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street by Bill Janovitz (of Buffalo Tom)
- The Kinks’ The Village Green Preservation Society by Andy Miller (writer)
Here’s what Stylus said about 33 1/3’s publication about Love’s Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans:
“Hultkrans’ Forever Changes is a paramount achievement, the type of book almost every music obsessive hopes to write. It makes me want to learn more about Forever Changes. It makes me appreciate the album in a totally new way and forces me to consider its lyrics with more care and emotion than I have since my first listen. It reveals a history and psychology within the album that casual listeners are sure to have missed, and even Love obsessives might not fully grasp. It is totally worth your $10.”
Rob Jovanovic is another favorite author and worth checking out. I’m still treading through his book about the band Pavement, Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement, and although it took some time – his exhaustively detailed book on the band Big Star entitled: Big Star: The Short Life, Painful Death, and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop.
“‘We got fired after the first show in Michigan.’
Big Star played more shows in the six-month period from December 1973 to May 1974 than all the other shows in their thirty-plus-year history combined. The deluge of concerts started with a promotional jaunt to New York. ….”
To those interested in reading the Big Star biography – be ready for a heady amount of footnoting as well as a few funny anecdotes and some touching memories surrounding the bizarre death of Chris Bell, but as a cursory warning: there may be a pinch too much information on The Box Tops, and their song The Letter before you get into the actual meat of Big Star, the band.
This week, I began reading my latest Rock Odyssey, an autographed copy (I’m excited, what can I say?) of Dan Matovina‘s Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger. Badfinger are hands down one of my favorite bands, but already knowing pieces of Badfinger’s troubled past, I don’t anticipate this to be an easy read, and in the words of a friend, “Man, you’re an emotional glutton for punishment!” The Halls of Rock are not without Glory OR interesting stories, I’ll say!
Matovina’s book was originally published in the late 90s after compiling nearly thirty years of his own archival interviews with the band among countless assembled others, with a second edition in 2000 as a result of a correction from Mike Gibbons (former Badfinger drummer, now also deceased as of Oct. 2005, R.I.P.). Dan also helped to produce the first The Very Best of Badfinger for Capitol Records under the helm of former Zombies’ guitarist Paul Atkinson, as well as the recent remastering of terrific releases 7 Park Avenue and Golders Green (two CDs of Pete Ham demos and rarities) for Rykodisc. Dan informed me that I’ll probably still need to read it twice in order for it to all ‘sink in,’ and at nearly 430 pages, and accompanied by Without You – a 72-minute CD with rare bonus, demo tracks and lost interviews, I don’t disbelieve him.
Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger (with 72 minute cd) by Dan Matovina
And after this? I’ve already got my next book lined up: Tom Cox’s columns and book for The Lost Tribes of Pop (writer for The Observer in the UK).
“Lost tribes of pop: The Roadie
He can strum ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and eat his bodyweight in chicken jalfrezi. Tom Cox finds the backbone of British rock in the Midlands …” (more)
I’m hoping to lighten the mood a little!