Jun 212021

Am I the only person who finds the author’s name inappropriately large and confusing, in the context of the artist and his real name?

Townspeople, it’s that time for cracking open summer music reading. My birthday just passed, which means I’ve got some new books piling up. I’ve been digging right into this oral history on David Bowie, listening to all the Bowie albums being covered as I read. So far, for all my complaints, I’m clearly enjoying it, but maybe in a bit of a “hate-read” way.

You may recall my longtime difficulties with Bowie. Despite the fact that I love 30 songs by him, he’s just…not my kind of guy. The focus of this oral history is on his devouring – aesthetically, sexually – side of him. It confirms so much of the foreign – to my sensibilities – vibe I’ve always gotten from him. He seemed like he was so ambitious, so eager to create a persona – two qualities I actually don’t have an issue with – but he wasn’t doing it for himself, the way my natural music hero John Lennon seemed to be doing. Instead, he seemed to do all this to insulate his inner void, or whatever. I’m thoroughly enjoying this book, I am ashamed to say, but the story so far, through Aladdin Sane and his dumping The Spiders, is making me a bit queasy.

I’m curious to see if this rock bio can end without chapters on our hero hanging out with Phil Collins and Sting at exclusive Caribbean resorts. I hate when that happens.

What music reading do you have underway or lined up for the summer?


  33 Responses to “Summer Music Reads?”

  1. I tried to read that thing a year ago or so and gave up. Mr. Jones’ head was stuck way too far up Bowie’s ass for any kind of objectivity. Good biographers are hard to come by.

    Speaking of which, I’m currently reading the Double Life of Bob Dylan by Clinton Heylin. Know that my days are planned out carefully to maximize reading time. Turns out Dylan was a hoarder of Ripley’s proportions and kept just about everything that he ever wrote, recorded, drew, you name it. In 2016, he sold his lode to the University of Tulsa for 22 million. For six months or so, Heylin was given permission to research the artifacts for this latest tome. And man oh man, is the tome a page turner. Clinton Heylin is to Dylan as Mark Lewisohn is to the Beatles. If you’re a Dylan fan, this read is an absolute must. It is thee best Dylan book. Period.

    I did find one mistake. Heylin writes that Dylan was floored by Johnny Cash’s debut single, “I Walk the Line.” I found this shocking, coming from someone who was as anal about facts as Lewisohn. I attempted to contact Heylin but didn’t have any luck finding an email address. This wasn’t a pince nez thing. The book is more or less a masterpiece, and I didn’t want its perfection marred by such a blaring error. Al, if you have contact info for Heylin, I’d really appreciate it. And Heylin would most probably appreciate it as well.

    Reading a killer book is certainly one of the great joys along with having wild sex, eating superbly prepared food, playing in a band, etc. Life is good. Really good.

  2. Moderator,

    During the final third of Saturday’s evening get together, when you and Townsman andyr decided to call it quits with the rest of us and cap off the remaining hour or so with interactive fantasy baseball via your electronics, I was going to ask you whether or not you agreed that Townshend’s White City is indeed a novel, certainly a left hook classification for a rock album. Is it possible that his intention was to try and gain acceptance from practitioners of a more widely respected art form? Horse’s Neck, his collection of short stories, was published around the same time, so I’m thinking this might not be such a stretch.

    Or was it just good old fashioned turd polishing? I’m inclined to think that that’s probably the case, based on the fact that he’s sucked for the last 35 years or so.

    Not hijacking your thread here. Honestly looking for insights. You and I read the Townsend autobiography. I can’t recall if any of this was addressed.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    P.S. Upon arrival for our next grub and gossip meal, you’ll see a small wicker basket on the coffee table. If you could park your device there for the evening, I’d really appreciate it.

  3. BigSteve

    I just finished a book that I’m afraid I cannot recommend — Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century. I’ve liked other books by Simon Reynolds, especially Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. I guess I was hoping to find more good glam rock to listen to, because I certainly didn’t listen to it at the time. The second tier glam stuff like Jet sounded completely worthless to me, and to be honest I’ve always thought that T Rex was slim pickins. Even Slider and Electric Warrior wear out their welcome pretty quickly. This book seemed like an excuse to so an artistic biography of Bowie without doing a full bio, and those parts were fine, even tough they didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know. The worst part was the ‘legacy of glam rock’ section at the end, which was a lot of shit about Lady Gaga, which I just thumbed through as quickly as possible.

    Next up is Begin the Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years by Robert Dean Lurie. The early chapters seem good. Recent reads that I can recommends are:

    Hawkwind: Days Of The Underground: Radical Escapism in the Age Of Paranoia by Joe Banks
    Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure by Maria Golia
    Nick Drake: The Biography by Patrick Humphries
    Sing Backwards and Weep: A Memoir by Mark Lanegan
    Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green by Jimmy McDonough
    Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys by Lol Tolhurst

  4. “I’ve always thought that T Rex was slim pickins”

    Yes! Don’t get me wrong, I really like two or three songs by them, but they are definitely in the category with the New York Dolls of Bands Whose Greatest Hits Records Could be a 45.

  5. EPG, I wouldn’t be doing justice to Townshend if I offered immediate insights on White City. Let me live with the album/novel for a while, really live with it, as he would want us to do. As for the Bowie book, I don’t know that the author has his head up Bowie’s ass. I find the oral history to tell almost nothing positive about Bowie. I’m actually starting to get offended on his behalf. I don’t know why anyone would bother writing an artist bio if they weren’t focused on how great the artist’s work was. That Lou Reed book, which ended with 4 chapters of cut-and-paste reviews of his late-period albums, put more energy into discussing the music of, say, Magic & Loss.

    By the way, I didn’t get a chance to ask you an important question about that Richard Thompson book you told me you were loving a couple of weeks ago. Was it still good when you got to the Mitchell Froom-produced albums? Did it reach the inevitable exclusive Caribbean resort hangouts with Sting and Phil Collins?

    I’m continually amazed in this Bowie book that Marc Bolan was considered a rival for more than 2 months. Bowie’s turds are more interesting than anything but the 5 T Rex songs worth hearing repeatedly.

  6. cherguevara

    I read a slew of music books about a year ago, but only have one on my current “to read” pile, and that is “Kraftwerk: Future music from germany.” It looks interesting. The into states that the book is not a bio of the band, with gossipy stories and insight into the band members’ personal lives. Rather it is meant to focus on the cultural impact and meaning of the band. I think it will be fun, as soon as I finish the book that is my current boondoggle.

  7. 2000 Man

    The owner of the record store I go to doesn’t sell Bowie. I’m not quite sure why, but I tried to order Metrobolist when it came out and he told me he never sells Bowie and when Bowie records find their way in the shop he puts them on the radiator no matter the value. That seems a little crazy to me, but I found a Hurriganes album and Rich Kids – Ghosts of Princes in Towers there the last time I was there and I just like the guy so I don’t care what he thinks of Bowie.

    I didn’t know anyone thought of T. Rex the way I did. The first time I heard Electric Warrior I loved it. The second time not as much and after getting to know it for years it’s just an okay album. It’s like the more you listen to it, the less there is to listen to. It’s like vapor or something. I think if I play it a couple more times I won’t even like Jeepster anymore.

    It’s summer so my reading is almost all detectives in smoky rooms with double crossing broads. I love that stuff. Matt Helm can be more than a little politically incorrect, but I like the books a lot. I did finally find my copy of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung that I’ve been looking for for ages. I think I might read that when I finish my Kindle loan from the library.

  8. Yikes. You guys are going to chase Happiness Stan right off the site with these unending potshots at T Rex. You’d think they were Herman’s Hermits with the amount of slagging they’re taking.

  9. Happiness Stan

    Happy belated birthday, Mr Mod! I’m with you on Bowie, I think. With the exception of Space Oddity, Man Who Sold the World and Low, I’ve never rated his albums as others seem to, and thought it was something wrong with me

    Bolan was definitely his glam equal on their home turf from 72 to 74, no question, with Slade, Sweet and Gary Glitter running them a very close third to fifth.

    Of the two, I gravitate towards the bopping elf these days. The first three Tyrannosaurus Rex albums are practically flawless, he got a bit patchy once the singles started selling and from Telegram Sam onwards very much ploughed the same groove.

    Bowie was just as much a singles act, which seems largely forgotten these days as people try to persuade one another that Station to Station, Heroes and the execrable Lodger are more than one good song with almost a dozen b sides.

    The second time I saw Bowie he was terrible, the third completely mesmerising. The first I didn’t really see him at all, someone told me at the end of a Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers gig that I’d been standing next to Bowie throughout the entire set. Just knowing he was a Modern Lovers fan lifted him in my estimation no end and I can forgive almost anyone almost anything for that, even Tin Machine.

    The last book I read was Roger Daltrey’s autobiography, which doesn’t really add as much to the legend of the Who as it might. Dave Hill from Slade’s So Here It Is is great fun for anyone in need of a quick glam top up.

    I’m some way into a very slow read of Kenney Jones’s Let the Good Times Roll, which is rather fun. I used to feel guilty about not reading as much as I used to, these days I tend to read when I’m laid up with flu, which, fortunately, isn’t often, but means I’m even more ignorant now than I used to be.

  10. BigSteve

    2000 Man: “The first time I heard Electric Warrior I loved it. The second time not as much and after getting to know it for years it’s just an okay album. It’s like the more you listen to it, the less there is to listen to. It’s like vapor or something.”


  11. Moderator, the Richard Thompson book was a good read, not great but definitely worthwhile. It more or less ends in the mid 70s. Like Robbie Robertson, Thompson too knew when to pull the plug for the sake of the reader. I don’t recall reading about any trips to the Bahamas to hang with Phil Collins, Mick, and Chris Frantz.

    I too never got the T. Rex thing. The Moderator said it best. Why listen to T. Rex when you can listen to the better version of him, which is Bowie. Honestly, the T. Rex catalog can be arguably defined as “Get it On (Bang a Gong)” and 60 or so other tracks that are more or less “Son of Get It On (Bang a Gong)”.

    There’s certainly no “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” in there.

  12. And thank God for that!

  13. BigSteve


    I’m looking forward to reading this book, Tracey Thorn of EBTG writing about her friendship with Lindy Morrison, drummer for the Go-Betweens. ‘Women in rock’ is not usually at the top of my reading list, but I really liked Thorn’s first memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen, and I love the Go-Betweens.

    Speaking of the Go-Betweens, Robert Forster’s memoir Grant and I, about his late songwriting partner Grant McLennan, is really great. If you have any interest in the band, I can’t recommend it highly enough, but you’ll need tissues for the end.

  14. Happiness Stan

    EPG, how’s it going?

    As a child of the glam era I find writing off Bolan as a Bowie knock-off incomprehensible, but it’s a view I’ve heard often enough to afford it some respect.

    I imagine it’s the same cross cultural divide which leaves me unable to distinguish anything other than a couple of songs by the Band, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Delaney and Bonnie, although I don’t think I’d even be able to name, let alone hum, anything by the last of those, and a large part of why I’ve never bothered to listen to a Bruce Springsteen album.

  15. You’re on to something. There probably isn’t another band as popular in the U.S. as Lynyrd Skynyrd that is completely unexportable to other countries. You get the shit-hot guitar playing, but their whole vibe must not translate at all.

  16. My God, I haven’t been able to check into the Hall for a few weeks and when I do I run into this buzz saw of a thread.

    You T. Rex detractors are all idiots – and I mean that in the kindest way, from one Townsman to another Townsman. More later either in this thread or a separate one; I have to calm down first.

    The Richard Thompson autobiography is horrible. EPG, of all the wacky statements you have ever made, suggesting that it is good is the wackiest (and I say that as a person who 100% subscribes to your contention that there has been no good music since 1982 or is it 1983?). I cannot believe it was written by the person who wrote Meet On The Ledge as a teenager or Beeswing (the song) or a couple dozen others. It is writing on a high school level, totally pedestrian. It glides over every interesting topic that anyone would want to read about. There’s a tragic accident killing the drummer and his girlfriend and it merits about a page and a half. He effectively leaves music for 5 years to live in a Sufi commune and there’s next to nothing about that. And I could go on in that vein.

    And if he is going to make stuff up like the hokey dreams section at the end, well, I’ll take Dylan’s fictions in Chronicles any day.

    Regarding Clinton, he is extremely knowledgable – even more so after having access to the archives – but can be pretty boorish as well (and some people would say I am being very polite). And there are other errors and in a way that might remind someone of a certain ex-president, he won’t acknowledge them, even when presented with evidence (don’t let that recording from 30 years before you say Dylan wrote it, from before Dylan was born, change your view that Dylan wrote it). EPG, I’ll send you his email separately.

  17. I mentioned to Al the Clinton Heylin comment in EPG’s post because, a few week’s back, Al had told me how Heylin was very disliked among Dylan scholars because when confronted with proof that certain “facts” he presented were incorrect, he would willfully continue to repeat them.

    I must say, the idea of EPG interacting with such a character was delightfully entertaining, in a taste of his own medicine sort of way.

  18. I’m with you on the Heylin book, Al. No problems there.

    The Richard Thompson memoir was a good read. I really didn’t know a whole hell of a lot about him, so my experience was not unlike seeing the Queen movie. Again, it wasn’t great, but it was definitely entertaining, and I learned a few things. I can’t comment on the appendices because I didn’t read them. Looking for change within the folds of the couch seemed like a better idea than finding hidden meanings in Thompson’s dreams.

    And pardon me for my tardiness in getting up here. I lost track of time in the shower singing “Mambo Sun.”

    With all due respect, to have a hissy fit over an RTH collective yawn for the T. Rex catalog is nonsense. The only difference between him and someone like David Essex is. . .actually, there is no difference.

    Historically, I understand the man deserves his due. As far as the actual music is concerned, forget it. The only thing it’s good for is that it comes in handy when I’m having a bout of insomnia, and I can’t find where I put the Nembutal.

    I don’t think it’s too much to ask for your own British 14 track best of to defend what you see as filet mignon and what I see as lukewarm Ramen without the flavor packet.

  19. cherguevara

    Such a cold dismissal of Station to Station! That’s my favorite Bowie album, he’s at his most languorous, slow and seductive, which is ironic since it’s his most coked up album. There are audible influences of soul, disco, glam, Lou Reed and Krautrock and the band is killing – I’m not sure why Dennis Davis is not a more oft touted drummer, as he lays down a solid pocket for the duration of the whole thing. The album sounds great and the production is tasteful and economical. There are only 7 songs, 3 of which often appear on compilations (so they were singles?) – TVC15, Golden Years and the best rock disco song of all time, Stay. Those aside, it leaves two slow burners – Word on a wing and Wild is the Wind, the former keeping an easy groove, the latter has a desperate, torch song quality to it, along with the title track which opens the album with a somewhat menacing build, taking its time before it shifts gears into essentially a second song in the back half. If you’ve written off this album, give it another try.

  20. Cher, yes! It’s my favorite of his aside from the Big Three Spiders albums. I could live without Golden Years but that title track is outstanding.

  21. Happiness Stan

    Taking the songs individually I could probably get through Station to Station. I possibly ought to give it another chance, but have to work at getting myself in the mood for Bowie these days. I always thought the production sounded thin and sterile, at a time when I wanted fat and dirty.

    At the height of British punk, it just didn’t cut it for me, although it was often on round mates’ pads. I lost interest in what he was up to when he released Young Americans, which came out about the same time people started noticing that all T Rex singles had sounded the same for too long, and even Slade had dropped the crazee spellings and were releasing ballads.

    Just as most of us end up like our parents, all musical movements eventually turn into the Carpenters. It was bad enough in 1976 that the Carpenters themselves were ubiquitous as well.

  22. BigSteve

    Station to Station is where my Bowie fandom begins. The sexuality thing really freaked me out at the time, and the Anthony Newley vocal stylings of the early years is hard to take. I can only really get into Bowie after his voice dropped. On Station to Station I’m not a huge fan of Wild Is the Wing and Word on a Wing. The more rhythm-based stuff is what I love. Stay is my jam.

  23. BigSteve

    Btw my favorite Bowie book is Bowie In Berlin: A New Career In A New Town by Thomas Jerome Seabrook.

  24. Happiness Stan

    BigSteve, I think you’ve put your finger on it when you say your fandom started here, but there’s still more than a quarter of the album which doesn’t work. For all his greatness, which I completely buy into, there’s always the Laughing Gnome factor, something on every album, like the twin WTWs on Station, which sit there like an overextended boil on its head shouting “will this do?”

  25. BigSteve

    Cut the Crap last? No way! I am outraged.

  26. OK. The top was more odd than the bottom.

  27. Give ‘Em Enough Rope is the ultimate Every Other Song album. Half of that album blows; the other half is outstanding. I think I agree with that guy’s rankings if you put …Rope after Sandinista and the UK version of the first Clash album: First Clash (US version), London Calling, Sandinista, First Clash (UK), …Rope, and then the big drop-off albums.

  28. As for Station to Station, I generally like that album despite not liking a few of those long, melodramatic songs. I can do without “Stay” as well. “Golden Years” runs out of gas about two thirds of the way through, but it’s still great. “TVC15” is worth the price of admission. In this Bowie book I’m not slogging through, there’s a brief mention of the cool mix for that song, one of the only musical passages in the whole, sordid oral history.

    God, why does anyone write an artist biography only to focus on the Penthouse Forum aspects? That’s worse than buying Playboy for the interviews. How on earth can someone have interviewed 192 people on Bowie and not dug into the details behind writing some of those songs, the little break that happens in the middle of “Young Americans,” the backing vocals on that live album from Philly’s Tower Theater, the indiscernible lyrics on the break of “Changes,” etc? Do these people not have ears? If I had any connection to Bowie and the author of this book rang me up for a few quotes on the orgies we used to have, I’d have to say, “Come on, man, you can wank off on your own time. Let’s talk about the music.”


  29. hrrundivbakshi

    Mod, here’s your “Give ’em Enough Rope” trivia question for the day: what’s the connection between Lennon’s “Live Peace In Toronto” and GeER?

  30. I have no idea, HVB. Did Sandy Pearlman have something to do with Live Peace? Did Julie bust someone in Toronto?

  31. hrrundivbakshi

    Stan Bronstein played sax on “Drug Stabbing Time.” You know, Stan Bronstein, famously of Elephant’s Memory!

  32. WHOA! This is why we Rock Town Hall.

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