Posted September 7, 2005
YOU CAN JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS CONTENTS
Funny thing, brain chemistry. This columnist was recently afflicted by a rare and exotic strain of brain flu that clogged up the creative instincts, scrambled the analytical capacity, caused several nights of insomnia and left me in such a pitiable state of mental and physical exhaustion that I could barely read a football scoresheet. So I read the Motley Crue autobio instead.
I think it was brought on by woman troubles. The brain flu, that is, not the Motley Crue book, tho' they seem to have had an unusual amount of woman troubles themselves, except for Vince Neil, the singer, whose only woman problem is of the “so many chicks, so little time” persuasion.
It’s not a bad read, but for the best of rock and roll writing, you can’t go past the Lester Bangs collection "Psychotic Reactions and Carburettor Dung." Bangs is still the only guy that wrote about rock and roll in a real rock and roll style. He wasn’t just a great rock and roll writer, he was a great writer, full stop, end paragraph, end story. He did to a typewriter more than what Keith Richards did to a guitar; he redefined the act and the possibilities.
Take "I saw God and/or Tangerine Dream." It’s basically just a concert review, okay? But read it out loud to an appreciative listener or two and you’ll fall about laughing your guts out. Here’s a guy who went to the gig, rocked into the office after little or no sleep and Banged out an utter masterpiece of comic writing, all in the cause of telling Creem readers what went on when a gang of po-faced Krauts decided to take their pretentious attempts at art that last little bit too seriously.
Just about the best book about a specific piece of about rock and roll would be Stanley Booth’s "Dance With the Devil", about the Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour (it has a different, more stupid title in paperback.) Ol' Stan hung out with Keith for another 3 or 4 years and took another eight or so to actually write the book, but it's a wonderful tale, due in no small part to his own upbringing in the South and immersion in the music thereof, which informs the whole story with a sense of the history behind the music that the Stones rendered into something wild and new and extremely profitable. Come to think of it, it has been several years since I read it, so I should do myself a favour and dig it out.
Most books about the Rolling Stones are basically shitty, but this one has the goods. Tony Sanchez (Keith’s one-time drug procurer) wrote a scandalous little tome that’s worth the time if you can find it. I borrowed it from the Sydney City library, but it’s since been stolen.
Danny Sugerman's "Wonderland Avenue" is a tale of bad-drug-ugliness, full of wretched stupidity and undeserved good fortune, that hasn’t been topped in its particular field. It serves as a cautionary little piece about what can happen when you get too much, too soon. Yeah, but like that stopped anyone? "Wow, I’m hanging out with rock stars, I'm 17, fuck, I better make sure I don’t fall prey to temptation or else I might end up mopping the kitchen floor with Iggy Pop’s head!"
Would you have said so? It’s worth noting that Danny died before he hit 50. And he did mop his floor with Iggy’s head.
Nick Kent's "The Dark Stuff" is a brilliant alternative history of rock and roll. Nick Tosches' "Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll" is full of tales about unsung heroes, R&B guys in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s who concieved this thing that we love, and all credit to him for caring enough to research and write it. It’s one of the more invaluable pieces of early rock and roll history.
I just took a quick look at my rock and roll bookshelf and, blow me down, most of the tomes therein are more concerned with soul and R&B. That’s mostly because they’re much better written and deal with a sound and scene and movement rather than the dreary travails of rock band (this could be a whole new column in itself). So, rather than dredge through the merits of Peter Guralnick’s weighty "Sweet Soul Music", I’ll just tell you to grab Andrew Loog Oldham’s "2Stoned", an awesome tale of that moment when the world changed forever, and Barney Hoskyns' "‘Waiting for the Sun", a widescreen history of the LA music scene which is just about the history of popular music anyway. After all, where do all the big record companies have their headquarters?
Anyway, I better stop before I turn into one of those pontificating wankers churning out lists of things you should do, the David Stratton of rock and roll books. What’s that? I am?! Get outta the road, kid! But before you do, make sure you read "Catcher in the Rye." Yes, it was the book Mark David Chapman was clutching when he put four bullets into John Lennon, but… Chronologically, it predates rock and roll, but it is exactly rock and roll. So, before you go waste a few hours reading a book “written by” a Black Sabbath roadie (yes, there is one), read "Catcher in the Rye" three or four times.
Play loud, read deep, live fast and long.
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