Mar 142016

It’s clear that Phillips was kind of a “my way or the highway” type of personality, which works up to a point, but led to the demise of Sun and Phillips spending the rest of his life as a wealthy radio station owner and finally a rock n’ roll gadfly. Phillips comes across to me as a benevolent (to some) dictator, who didn’t really want to play ball with anyone, so just dropped out of the record business—but what a run while he was in it. His personal life is wild—he  basically stayed married to the mother of his two sons, but lived with a long-term mistress, and other shorter term gal pals, for decades.

The last quarter of the book is a slog, as Sam tries to burnish his own legacy after the death of Elvis. The accolades start rolling in as people get nostalgic for “the Sun Years” (all that stuff was put out by the guy he sold the company to for a million dollars). All in all, it’s a worthwhile read and fun to listen to some of the more obscure Sun artists—The Sun Records Story—a lot of it is on YouTube and streaming services.

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr

Boy I feel old. This books dissects a big chunk of my youth and I feel like I’m reading about the Beatles in Hamburg. Cripes, was it all that long ago? Yes…yes it was.

I thought I knew all there was to know about the Replacements, but this right here is the definitive book. Usually I don’t like an extended examination of the younger years in rock bios, but when Tommy Stinson is recruited to join the band at 12, well you can’t get around it. This book is chock full of interesting early stuff—previous band names Dogbreath, and The Impediments. I never thought of how close to the edge of poverty they lived until they got their Sire record deal. Even then, Bob Stinson seems to never have given up his job as a restaurant cook. Of course, Bob was soon booted.

Mehr goes through each record in great detail. I knew Twin Tone was low budget, but the stories surrounding the label hammer that point home in spades. The author also casts a dubious eye on the production values for Tim and its “tinny” sound. It’s rock legend now that the Mats sabotaged their own career, but the crap they pulled again and again is staggering when it’s presented on page after page. There’s some good backstage stuff—Bowie sees Tommy and Paul Westerberg all dolled up before a TV appearance and remarks “Aren’t you the bright young things!” Tommy sees some SoCal mohawk-wearing dudes at a show and deadpans, “Oh wow…punk rockers.” Paul tells a hair band that Flying Vs will give them VD.

The author also describes various shows, both good and band. Their infamous stint as openers on a Tom Petty tour gets quite a few pages and, for those of you who saw some of those shows, you’ll get a kick out of the details. Personal aside: He mentions an early at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center show that my buddies and I and about 15 others attended. And an outdoor 1983 Navy Island show in St. Paul that included R.E.M., Lets Active, The Suburbs, and local heroes, The Phones, which was the best day of my life up to that point.

There’s plenty of stuff to get bummed out about—not only is Bob Stinson’s sad demise told in great detail, but Paul had serious, serious alcohol issues that are explored in more depth here than I’ve ever read. There’s material from and on everyone from Jim Dickinson, who produced Pleased to Meet Me in Memphis, to Dylan, to Peter Buck, and the Young Fresh Fellows. I can highly recommend this one—and again, it’s a great excuse to dig out Hootenanny, Pleased to Meet Me, Stink, even All Shook Down—damn it’s all good to me.


  8 Responses to “Rock Book Capsule Reviews, Early 2016 Edition”

  1. I heard a good interview with Guralnick recently, on Marc Maron’s WTF. This post, which I’m sorry I didn’t see waiting for posting for some time, reminds me that I wanted to let you know I read Costello’s book. I really liked it, but the last couple of chapters were a real stretch. He seemed intent on throwing all sorts of details in at the end, few of which added anything new. Anyhow, I love the guy, and felt like I was hanging out with him for a week.

  2. Appreciate these reviews. I’m unlikely to ever feel that I want 500 pages on the ‘Mats but this review has me wavering.

  3. ladymisskirroyale

    BTW, Chris Mars continues to have an interesting art career. Google some of his stuff.

    And thanks for the reviews, funoka. I wish I had more time to read but also have some travel coming up so am looking for good reads. The closest thing to music journalism I’ve read recently is a couple of those 33 1/3 books, one on “Doolittle,” which was pretty darn interesting, and one on “Dummy” which I gave up on half way through because of all the tangents.

    That said, has anyone else noticed that the music writing in The Newyorker has significantly improved since SFJ left?

  4. diskojoe

    I have a bit of a black log, erm back log on rock books. I do have the Costello & Sam Phililips books that need to be read, as well as Johnny Rogan’s bio of Ray Davies. That ‘mats book sounds interesting as well. Can anyone recommend any half-decent books on Bowie?

  5. C’mon — you want real story behind Run It, don’t you?

  6. Mars comes off in the book as the mostly sane Mat, but he had his moments before he quit. Remember the Chris Mars solo albums? Book says he aimed Popular Creeps directly at Paul and Tommy.

  7. tonyola

    I can recommend The Complete David Bowie, which even-handedly discusses all his albums, songs, movies, videos, etc. along with all his musical ventures.

  8. misterioso

    It’s not a bio but Peter Doggett’s The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s is pretty good in terms of the records.

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