Mar 072011

Blah blah blah...

For god knows what reason a recent issue of Rolling Stone has a cobbled together piece on The Clash. I love The Clash and for years read everything I could on them, but there came a point when I could no longer stomach another hashed-over exercise in myth-making. Tell me something I don’t know already, maybe even some details on how particular records were made. Instead, as this Rolling Stone article does, it’s more of the same-old, same-old: band members from broken homes, The 101’ers, Keith Levene and the London SS, the dawn of Thatcherism, idealism of The Clash contrasted with the nihilism of the Sex Pistols, Bernie Rhodes, the sprawling blah blah blah of London Calling, etc. Enough! The same goes for another one of my favorite bands, The Beatles.

I’m finishing a biography of Elvis Presley, written by one of his Memphis Mafia cronies. I think this is the first Memphis Mafia memoir I’ve read. His close personal friends shed new light on the man. Last night I read about the time he smoked pot. For me, at least, there may be plenty more to learn about the King. I feel the same way about Bob Dylan. Until I see a police report and photos from his motorcycle accident, I hold out hope for learning new details about this great artist.

For what favorite artist would you like to see a moratorium placed on new biographies? Is there anything new you may learn about one of these artists? Perhaps a fellow Townsperson can revive your interest in reading a new biography on said artist. For instance, if anyone can tell me a single new thing about The Clash that I don’t know already, I’ll promise to finish reading this boring Rolling Stone article.


  24 Responses to “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know Already: Artists in Need of No Further Biographies”

  1. Syd Barrett. There must be 15 biographies on the guy by now, and they all rehash the same meager details. There’s just nothing else to be said.

  2. The Doors. Now what we need more of are biographies of Val Kilmer and his rockin’ alter ego Nick Rivers.

    Oh and all the Billy Joel fans here will be thrilled to know that the man’s official biography is being released this June.

  3. A moratorium on Pink Floyd bios altogether is probably a good idea.

  4. bostonhistorian

    In re: The Clash. Have you read Marcus Gray’s “Route 19 Revisited: The Making of London Calling”? There was a lot of new-to-me info in that book, especially about the recording process. I can’t imagine that Rolling Stone has anything particularly interesting to add to the story

  5. alexmagic

    Honestly, I have pretty much zero interest in reading about any of the pre-band biographical details of any artist these days, and outside of a “how the album was made” deep dive on some great albums or songs – which tend to engage me more when presented in the classic audio/visual set-up where a producer or artist is at the mixing board, bringing up interesting parts of a track, etc. – I don’t even have that much interest in the details of the active lives of performers, either.

    I’m much more interested in talking about what I like/don’t like and what works/doesn’t work about the music itself, or the performances thereof, that come up here, pulling in details of the people behind them when relevant. Or completely irrelevant, but entertaining.

    The exception to all of this is, I’d probably be interested if someone were to really pull together an extensive history of one of those tragic/tragi-comic trainwreck bands like Van Halen, KISS or Skynyrd. Or maybe a collected oral history of the Beach Boys over the last 20 years. Those are all stories that I think a good writer could really knock out of the park.

  6. bostonhistorian, I had no idea such a book existed. Thanks for restoring hope! That’s what this thread is all about: losing hope and then, possibly, having it restored.

  7. BigSteve

    Let’s have a moratorium on ALL rock biographies (said the man who just finished one on Steve Earle and just started one on Lester Bangs). They don’t really tell us much about the music. I’m fine with criticism, and I’ve enjoyed several critical books on Bob Dylan (especially Christopher Ricks’), but finding out when wife #2 was left for wife #3 is useless. ‘The making of’ type books would be much preferable, and I wish every artist I was interested in received the equivalent of Lewisohn’s work on the Beatles, telling about the studio, takes, who played what instrument, etc,.

  8. I can’t see another Beatles related bio adding anthing new. I will read Dylan’s next Chronicles, but not any other Dylan book at this point. Same with the Rolling Stones, after Keif and Woodie’s 1-2 punch, I’m good.

    I re-read David Lee Roth’s book every few years, Now it is too far out of date…but next week is Sammy Hagar’s book. I’ll read that. Also new Steven Tyler book. Will he discount what he said as part of the Aerosmith book?

    I’m reading Leiber & Stoller’s Hound Dog right now and it’s fantastic. Even bought a best of Coasters to listen to while I read.

  9. That reminds me: I really liked Chris Salewicz’s Strummer bio, and I think Mr. Mod might like it too. It has a lot of stuff about Strummer the man, and since Salewicz was a friend, there’s a fair amount of brotherhood-type stuff. That’s part of what you like about the Clash, right, Mr. Mod?

  10. Definitely, I’m ALL about the brotherhood! Yeah, I do need to read that one too.

  11. the prophet

    I actually enjoyed Keith Richards biography. He gets arrested in every major and mid-major city in America. Plus, he disses Mick. Jolly Good and Tally-ho!

  12. Jungle, I did the same thing. Read L&S’s Hound Dog, and immediately bought 50 Coastin’ Classics. Both book and CD compilation are outstanding.

    Mod, I’ll lend you Route 19 Revisited. It’s REALLY long. It’s supposed to be about recording London Calling, but it does the entire band bio thing first, runs through the pre LC recordings, and then after hitting on London Calling goes through all the post LC recordings.

    The London Calling stuff is well done. It’s very detailed, but mostly with stuff you like: who played what, the dynamic between different band members, how they got some of the sounds. Lots of background on song germinations and lyric influences. Do you need 5 full pages on Jimmy Jazz? Maybe not, but then you wouldn’t know what Satta massagana means.

  13. Mod, did you ever get around to reading “Passion Is A Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash” by Pat Gilbert? I thought that one was the least myth-making, most clear-headed telling of the band’s history, and had plenty of info I hadn’t seen previous to reading it.
    I agree about the RS interview, though; thoroughly redundant. Maybe it was aimed at a younger demographic, one that hasn’t read all that stuff a million times before? I can’t think of another reason, apart from nostalgia, for that article to exist.

  14. “Satta Massagana” (roughly translated as “Give Thanks”) is a song by The Abyssinians – exactly how that shout-out fits in with the lines which directly follow it in “Jimmy Jazz”, I don’t know, but it sounds good.

    I’d put in a vote for Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys. No more….no more…(unless it’s one of those “making of” books. I’ve really only ever read “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” book, but as another musical minutiae nerd, those kind of books are always welcome).

  15. That Lieber & Stoller book really is excellent!

  16. Never read that one either, bobby. I’ll have to look it up. Thanks.

  17. I know that song – I think it came up on my iPod just a couple of days ago. I’ll have to listen for that.

  18. BB,
    I asked Lady Chicken for the Passion is the Fashion book after your recommendation (so I satta massaganna for that), but she couldn’t find a copy, so she bought me the other one. I think I’m as full of The Clash as I need to be now. (though it was great rediscovering London Calling)

    If I remember correctly, Wouldn’t It Be Nice has more bio material compared to musical analysis, but that stuff is pure gold. Pure crazy gold.

  19. I’ll take it after you, Mr Mod

  20. No more Stones anything!

    Have they put together yet a 5 CD Best of collection of their post 1981 live albums?

  21. True enough, Chickie, but there are about 8 – 10 other books out there covering the Wilson/Beach Boys story, and that’s about 6 too many. Brian’s book was good, as was “Heroes & Villains”, but it’s all pretty redundant outside of those two – apart from a couple covering studio stuff, but I have yet to read those, so I can’t speak to their quality.

    Pat Gilbert’s Clash book is still listed on Amazon, which is how I got it.

  22. Gack! I liked Keith’s book, and if there were books covering the studio details, I’d be open to those. Also, an anthology of unreleased & out-take material (like a legit version of the “Black Box” bootleg set) would be okay with me, too….if it cut off after ’78, or so.

  23. I’m reading Keith’s book now and it’s pleasant enough but ultimately unsatisfying. He needed to either add a lot more info about the recordings or a lot more detail about the Rock Star Life. I give high marks to rock bios which are heavy on the sordid details, even if I can’t stand the music (i.e Papa John Phillips).

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