Category Archives: Music

Sticky Fingers

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Sticky Fingers –
The Life and Times of Jann Wenner
By Joe Hagan
Canongate – £25.00

As your company was failing (again) and as a special favour (Two Virgins was first), I gave you an interview, which was to run one time only, with all rights belonging to me. You saw fit to publish a book of my work, without my consent – in fact, against my wishes, having told you many times on the phone, and in writing, that I did not want a book, an album or anything else made from it.

               John Lennon (‘Temptation Eyes’)

It was so clear, and he didn’t care at all what kind of attention he got. He didn’t care if it was negative or positive, as long as he got attention.

                Jane Kenner (‘Atlantis’).

I have to absolutely embark on this review by initially giving full marks to Joe Hagan for his top-notch, soaring honesty.

In Sticky Fingers – The Life and Times of Jann Wenner, he really has done an outstanding job in researching, writing and accounting for an (astoundingly) open thesis on someone, who, for all intents and egotistical purposes, really doesn’t sound like a particularly nice fella.

There again, much, if not most of the music industry is essentially riddled with unpleasant people. And that, to be sure, is putting it mildly.

I could, like John Lennon, describe the music industry as being full of cunts – but one does like to keep ones option(s) somewhat open by not tarnishing every smug and self-serving, totally dishonest and free-loading Judas with the same sacrosanct brush as Simon Cowell – or any array of others, who between them, have triggered irreparable, cancer induced damage into popular music.
Popular music as we once knew (and revered it) that is.
But that’s another story.

Amid these 511 pages (excluding Notes, Selected Biography and Notes), Hagan tells the annoying, semi-saccharine, yet highly exasperating story of how Jann Wenner became the infamous editor of Rolling Stone.

A man for whom the term the good, the bad and the ugly was surely devised.

Reason being, does Hagan ever regale as much- or what?
Already in the Prologue, he writes: ”[…] at its base, Rolling Stone was an expression of Wenner’s pursuit of fame and power. He reinvented celebrity around youth culture, which equated confession and frank sexuality with integrity and authenticity. The post 1960s vision of celebrity meant that every printed word of John Lennon’s unhappiness and everything Bob Dylan said or did now had the news primacy of a State of the Union address. It meant that Hunter Thompson could make every story he ever wrote, in essence, about himself. It also meant that climbing into bed with Mick Jagger was only worth doing if you had a Nikon handy. Self-image was the new aphrodisiac.”

One cannot help but wonder how Wenner himself might actually feel about (a lot of) what’s written herein being published. One can only surmise that he has some kind of rawhide skin, that is surely thicker than that of the likes of Stalin.
Or that which ought to be allowed…
For instance, how might he feel upon reading the following, which was said by Bill Graham – ”the thick-browed Holocaust refugee turned rock promoter who was regularly demonized as a ”profiteer” in Wenner’s newspaper” – to Rolling Stone writer Tim Cahill, ‘: ”Let me tell you something about the dishonest, slimy little paper you work for, mister, and that…evil…slimy little cunt, your editor. There are only a few people I’d like to take out to the street and kick the shit out of […].”

Having met Bill Graham whilst living in New York, I do have to say he struck me as a very reasonable sort of fellow. Opinionated maybe, and never short of a word or two; but quintessentially fair-minded and bullshit free. So I am inclined to wonder what, other than the profiteering quip, Wenner might have done to warrant such wrath.

Suffice to say, one beckons for things to resolutely be told as they’re resolutely meant to be told; and so far as Sticky Fingers is concerned, there really is no beating about any literary bush. None whatsoever.

If the above opening quote – which is an actual letter Lennon wrote to Wenner – isn’t enough to endeavour coming to terms with (let alone live down), then how about the following, which surely substantiates Lennon’s anger: ”Before the Lennon interview was published, Wenner told Alan Rinzler that ”Lennon Remembers” might make a great book and that Rinzler should ”put it up for bids” once the interview was published. But there was one little problem: John Lennon had specifically said he didn’t want the interview published anywhere but Rolling Stone. In fact, Lennon told Wenner that he owned the interview. And Wenner had agreed. Rinzler waved away the promise, unmoved by Wenner’s handshake deal. He told Wenner that the book was a surefire moneymaker for the 1971 holiday season, mentioning a publisher that would offer big money for the book rights.”

As the late great Kurt Vonnegut used to say: ”and so it goes.,” on and on and on and on, throughout all twenty-four chapters (spread across Books I, II and III) of dire discrepancy and rock’n’roll revelation.

A certain facet of revelation, which, if you really think about it, makes for terrific, tittle-tattle type reading on the one hand; although profoundly disturbing reading on the other.

Either way, compliments to the author.

David Marx

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So Here It Is

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So Here It Is – The Autobiography
By Dave Hill
Unbound – £20.00

There’s something exquisitely humbling about this book.
Tender even, which in all honesty, I found somewhat surprising.

Reason being, when one thinks of Slade’s idiosyncratically incongruous guitar player, Dave Hill, one cannot help but think of he with the rather elongated, beaming smile. He with the ludicrous outfits – all colourfully fraught and undeniably flippant – replete with a seemingly inadvertent ideology which subscribed to that of water off a duck’s back.

So to read about Hill’s recent struggles with depression, not to mention the altogether poignant openness with which he writes about his mother, is both endearing and commendable.
Endearing and commendable for all the right reasons might I add.
Primarily, that of the degree to which he doesn’t hold back throughout So Here It Is – The Autobiography, the following being a prime example: ”Looking back on it, it seems to me that she was controlled by guilt, and anything that disturbed her life, however trivial it might have been, she saw as a punishment. It was like the world only existed to get her back. She didn’t feel as if she could enjoy anything because she felt she didn’t deserve it.”

Such words, really aren’t the sort one would expect to read by someone who regularly shook their arse in front of millions of viewers on TV. Could you imagine Sting being anywhere near as frank or as open?

The likes of Shane McGowan would undoubtedly be as open out of sheer necessity. As would the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave. But these are all terrific songwriters. Songwriters, with a story to tell.

But Dave Hill? The Super Yob?
Surely not?

Surely indeed.
Each of these twenty-two chapters are written in such a way that one cannot help but want to delve further and continue reading; a facet, which, so far as rock’n’roll (auto)biographies are concerned, is exceedingly slim on the ground.

For instance, I found Rod Stewart’s Rod – The Autobiography (2012) embarrassingly heinous. Other than inexorable bravado, it contained nothing along such regal lines as: ”Just as my life has been a journey that’s unfolded in these pages, so writing this book was a journey of its own. I approached it by wanting to answer a few questions I had about my life, my parents, my health, Slade, about how I got where I am now. What was the real story of my mom and dad?Why were Slade such a huge success and why didn’t we emulate that in the States? Where did my depression come from, and how did I survive that and my stroke? Those were all things I wanted to think more deeply about and, in doing that, in researching, in talking to people who have been involved in my life along the way, things have become clearer. As you’ll have discovered by reading this book, I haven’t got all the answers – I don’t think anybody ever has – but a lot of things have come into sharper focus for me” (‘So Far, So Good’).

He’s right, in that nobody ever has all the answers – unless of course, you’re Bono – which, when aligned with much of Dave Hill’s reflection throughout these 253 pages (excluding a Foreword by Noddy Holder, Acknowledgements, Index and a List of Supporters), accounts for So Here It Is – The Autobiography being such a candid and top-quality read.

David Marx

Stats, Records & Rock’n’Roll

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Stats, Records & Rock’n’Roll –
Fine-Tuned Infographics To Rock Your World
By Daniel Tatarsky & Ian Preece
Carlton Books – £25.00

The book travels through the centuries – from the very earliest music created by hitting stones with bones, to the latest developments in musical creation and delivery like the mp3. Eighty fact-filled spreads bring you all the way to the social-media era, where an artists number of followers and virtual friends is often more important than the actual number of records they sell. Talking of records, now that vinyl has come back into fashion, you’ll also find absorbing details of the various media upon which music has been delivered to our ears, as well as the diverse number of broadcast systems, stations and players.

                                                                                  (Introduction)

There are a number of ways of approaching or reading this book.

One can either be acutely mathematical about it; in which case, such crass, terrible and rather pointless acts likes Cardi B and Rhapsody unfortunately come into play (who in their right mind would ever consider calling themselves Rhapsody for fuck sake? I’d sooner call myself Leukemia). Wherein music counts for…well…nada, while image and of course, marketing, is so profoundly sacrosanct and of such vital importance, that even the very word, sacrosanct, is itself, deemed a salacious mockery.

Naturally, one can take the organic approach to Stats, Records & Rock’n’Roll –
Fine-Tuned Infographics To Rock Your World, wherein all and any hope of musical inspiration, will be re-defined beyond the point of any expectation (not to mention explanation) whatsoever.

Indeed, apart from the book’s Introduction – a segment of which opens this review – these 175 pages are lacking in any form of clarity and depth.
They kind of read like a cross-word in the making.

In other words, the book doesn’t really feel complete, although there are admittedly, a few things here and there that do make for ever so marginally interesting reading.

For instance, ‘Country Musicians Not Entirely From The Country’ on page 42, ‘The”Curse” Of The Mercury Prize’ on page 104, ‘The Summer of Love’ Songs on page 142 and ‘Beating Number One’ on page 158, where the authors write: ”The pace of life has increased dramatically over the past few decades, and it’s unsurprising that the beats per minute of the best-selling UK singles per calender year reflect that. During the first few years of the charts, in the 1950s, the average BPM was a mere 99: ‘I Believe’ by Frankie Laine bottomed out at just 66 bpm. Since then, there has been a steady climb (rapid leaps provided by The Beatles and the fast-paced 1980s) and the 2010s are the first decade that hasn’t had a single best-seller timed at under 100 bpm.”

So, other than a few assorted nuggets of trainspotter induced karma – hey, takes all sorts – I should imagine Stats, Records & Rock’n’Roll will appeal to those with a penchant for numbers and facts and erm, more numbers and facts.

David Marx

Anatomy Of A Song

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Anatomy Of A Song –
The Inside Stories Behind 45 Iconic Hits
By Marc Myers
Grove Press/Atlantic – £9.99

Writing about songs and songwriting in general, can on occasion, make for fascinating reading; although so much depends on a number of very important, varying issues: what’s being discussed, what’s not being discussed, the story behind the writing and of course, the actual song itself.

With this in mind, any book of this nature is also utterly dependent on what the artists may or may not have to say. As such, Anatomy Of A Song – The Inside Stories Behind 45 Iconic Hits is a little hit and miss.

The background behind a number of the forty-five songs chosen herein, read like something of an elongated, rather dull biography of some of the artist(s) involved. For instance, the horribly over-rated ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf, is a prime example of much ado about fundamentally nothing.

I for one, really couldn’t care less about where the band’s lead singer, John Kay lived, how his band secured a record deal or how he met his girlfriend. I think I’d sooner read about the history of knitting – which, in and of itself, is a pretty dismal pastime if ever there was one. Likewise, a number of the songs discussed: ‘Groovin” by The Young Rascals, ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane and even ‘Carey’ by Joni Mitchell.

All three are hardly stand-out songs; but, so far as this collection is concerned, the stories behind them don’t exactly make for inspired reading.

Yet, luckily for Marc Myers, Anatomy Of A Song does miraculously leap into life towards the final third of its 323 pages, when such far more interesting artists as Jimmy Cliff (‘The Harder They Come’), Elvis Costello ((‘All The Angles Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes’), The Clash (‘London Calling’), and R.E.M. (‘Losing My Religion’) are discussed.

Moreover, it is when the author interviews Stevie Wonder in relation to ‘Love’s in Need of Love Today,’ that the book really comes to life: ”To this day, I never sit down and formally write songs. They emerge from the process of listening to what I’m doing on the keyboard. I just play, and songs sort of happen. Like a painter, I get my inspiration from experiences that can be painful or beautiful. I always start from a feeling of profound gratitude – you know, ”Only by the grave of God am I here” and write from there. I think most songwriters are inspired by an inner voice and spirit. God gave me this gift, and this particular song was a message I was supposed to deliver.”

So yeah, books that essentially traverse and dissect the coming together of songs, are in themselves, reliant on those songs. This goes a long way in explaining why this particular book is, on the whole, linear and lifeless.

David Marx

Springsteen – Album By Album

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Springsteen – Album By Album
By Ryan White
Introduced by Peter Ames Carlin
Carlton Books – £15.99

     The older you get, the more it means.

Bruce Springsteen,
Stadium of Light,
Sunderland, UK (21/06/2012)

A few days ago, it was announced and confirmed that Bruce Springsteen’s stint on Broadway (five nights a week) has now been extended to run until next June, 2018.

What with tickets being not only exceedingly hard to get hold of, but selling and changing hands for literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars; I find myself wanting to clamour onto a Manhattan rooftop – somewhere in the vicinity of the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th Street – and through a large megaphone, scream the following words:

Hasn’t Bruce Springsteen made enough money yet?
Isn’t four-hundred-and sixty million dollars enough?
Isn’t four-hundred-and sixty million dollars (and counting) enough for him to at least think about giving a little something back? Back to his incredibly devoted fans – who, for many, many years, have always, always stood by him?
Just how much more money does he need to accumulate playing live, in order ”to provide for my family” (page 499 of his book, Born To Run)?
Indeed, how many risible hoops do his fans need to continue jumping through – as if dumbstruck, performing seals, with nothing better to do than outwardly fawn; while simultaneously hurling a menagerie of credit cards out unto the starstruck wind, ad infinitum – until such a time as fairness and decency descend?

To a certain degree, it’s a real tough and confusing one.
I myself have been a huge Springsteen fan for years. As such, it’s almost impossible to dismiss all the great music he’s put out over the years. BUT, isn’t it high time for him to remember what it was once like being a fan himself?

When the above mentioned book, Born To Run was published, he did a book signing in London, yet had the audacity to charge fans £20.00 to queue up! Supposedly to pay for security. Whatdafuckingfuck? Surely his label could have splashed out a few quid to pay for a couple of gorillas to ”protect him?”

It is indeed quite upsetting/disturbing, to come to the cold, harsh realisation that someone you’ve admired for so many years, has evolved into someone for whom the only thing that now truly matters is money.

As a result, listening to ‘Thunder Road’ just isn’t the same any more.
What’s more, it never will be.

What was it Dylan once said, ”it’s funny how money brings out the worst in people,” which is why I prefer to remember a time when Springsteen was indeed, wild and innocent. With a huge dollop of emphasis on innocent, which is where this altogether terrific book comes in.

Other than being a well-considered and highly authoritative overview of the artist’s work, Springsteen – Album By Album, is a lavishly compiled, hardback compilation, that harks back to a time when Bruce Springsteen still had a hungry heart. From his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ right the way through to High Hopes, the book is littered with thought provoking drop-quotes (such as the opening quote of this review) and is filled with some truly great – colour and black &white – photographs covering Springsteen’s entire career.

Written by Ryan White, and with an Introduction by Peter Ames Carlin – whose book Bruce I reviewed in 2012 – these 288 pages invariably drip with nostalgia. And all things considered – Springsteen’s aforementioned, current penchant (if not infatuation) with money for instance – this ought not be deemed a bad thing. After all, as long-standing side-kick, Steve Van Zandt said of Springsteen in 2011: ”He had the balls to be cornball […] to risk being sentimental.”

Hmm, but clearly not that sentimental.
Not sentimental enough to give his fans some sort of financial break – that’s for sure.

Rather than trying to secure tickets by lining the pockets of countless agents and touts, middle-men and of course, Bruce Springsteen himself; or queuing up for literally hours on end in the cold in the hope of seeing Bruce play a few acoustic songs, you’d be far better off watching the nigh endless Bruce footage on YouTube and buying this truly wonderful book.

Wonderful in the sense that one can still glean a fragment of the truth.

David Marx

 

Just Around Midnight

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Just Around Midnight –
Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
By Jack Hamilton
Harvard University Press – £23.95

     Hendrix’s race produced a crisis in popular-music discourse. He presented a mix of stereotype and subversion, seemingly playing to racist cliches of black menace and sexuality while performing music that contradicted contemporary expectations of black sound. One of the most common accusations lobbed at Hendrix in this period was that of racial inauthenticity, or even race treachery. After Monterey a young Robert Christagau wrote a scathing appraisal of Hendrix’s performance in the pages of Esquire, describing Hendrix as ”terrible” and accusing him of being ”just an Uncle Tom” who ”had tailored a caricature to [the audience’s] mythic standards and apparently didn’t even overdo it a shade.”

    In early 1968 the Washington Post wrote that ”Jimi Hendrix is the P. T. Barnum of rock. He assesses, and fills, the needs of his crowd. His blackness is an Uncle Tom blackness.” The article also noted that ”it is entirely necessary, in fact, that Hendrix is a Negro. His music is Chuck Berry filtered through the Beatles and the West Coast electronic freak-out, back through a black man to a 99 per cent white audience,” a sentiment conveyed more caustically by Richard Goldstein, who remarked in his own review of Hendrix’s Monterey performance: ”his major asset seems to be his hue.” Rolling Stone magazine eschewed the Uncle Tom epithet but wondered if Hendrix was simply a ”psychedelic superspade.” Never one to be outdone, in a New York magazine article entitled ”SuperSpade Raises Atlantis,” Albert Goldman mused on what he saw as Hendrix’s preference of ”playing to almost exclusively white audiences” and”consorting with white women” and concluded that ”Hendrix’s blackness is only skin deep.”

                                                            (‘House Burning Down –
                                                            Race, Writing, and Jimi Hendrix’s War’)

Looking back to the time when music journalism and rock criticism in general came into its own around the mid to late sixties, it’s surprisingly shocking, if not down right disturbing, to comprehend the degree to which certain writers were both degrading and openly racist toward black American artists.

Jimi Hendrix (and Motown’s Berry Gordy) in particular, as the above opening quotes from this book’s eye-opening fifth chapter more than sadly illuminates. That the writers themselves (Robert Christgau, Richard Goldstein and Albert Goldman) are white, should come as no surprise; although what is astounding, is the fact that said publications would openly be seen to print such abominable garbage.

Who on earth was/is Christagau to talk of ‘caricature’ and WRONGLY accuse Hendrix of being ”just an Uncle Tom?” As for the appalling Albert Goldman – he who was ”never one to be outdone”- well I’m not even going to bother wasting my or your time.

That said, Just Around Midnight – Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination is an unquestionably marvellous and rather brilliant book. Apart from being exceedingly well-written, it’s audacious and courageous, not to mention racially charged.

Making it all the more important.

Important, in that it places Jack Hamilton’s work amid so much of the equally charged trajectory of the American psyche into current, questionable perspective. An altogether torrid state of affairs admittedly, but as Emily Lordi of the University of Massachusetts has since said of these 276 pages (excluding Notes, Acknowledgements and Index): ”As musically detailed as it is theoretically expansive, Just Around Midnight reveals that popular music of the 1960s was defined by more vibrant inter-racial collaborations and more violent anti-black erasures than we could have imagined. This is a beautifully written and provocatively argued work of intellect, heart, and soul.”

I couldn’t agree more.
A terrific, all round astonishing and revalatory read.

David Marx

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967
By Brian Southall
Carlton Books – £16.00

Now that we only play in the studios, and not anywhere else, we have less of a clue what we’re going to do.

     George Harrison

The year 1967 seems rather golden – it always seemed to be sunny and we wore far-out clothes and far-out sunglasses. Maybe calling it the summer of love was a bit too easy; but it was a golden summer.

     Paul McCartney

I was never overawed by The Beatles, but I was aware that this was a very special moment in time for anyone who was there […]. I have to admit I was pretty moved by the whole thing.

     Eric Clapton

Let it be said that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of books on The Beatles, but what sets a few of them apart, is – apart from the essential subject matter – the all round approach. And as the title might suggest, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967, is a most definitely focused book on a most definitely challenging, high-spirited year, in which so many things took place.
Regardless of The Beatles themselves.

Set against the backdrop of the (ever increasing) Vietnam War; among other things, 1967 saw Ronald Reagan sworn in as Republican Governor of California, the arrival of The Doors, The Monkees and Jimi Hendrix, not to mention Pink Floyd’s debut single ‘Arnold Layne.’ Britain also had its first ever victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with Sandie Shaw’s ‘Puppet On A String.’ The film industry saw the release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s controversial Blow-Up, and then there was the marriage of Elvis Presley to 23 year-old Priscilla Beauliu in La Vegas. June saw both the beginning and the end of Israel’s Six Day War, while China became the first Asian nation to develop an atomic weapon (in testing a 3.3 megaton H-Bomb). Messrs’ Jagger and Richards were briefly imprisoned, folk legend Woody Guthrie died in New York, while on August 27th, The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein died.
Perhaps marking the end of an era.

Oh, and then there was also the release of ”the greatest pop single of all time” on February 17: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane.’

With all of the above in mind, the book benefits as a result of being handsomely illustrated in such a way as it’s allowed to breath. Thus enabling the reader to fully appreciate and take in the outstanding collection of colour photographs as well as what’s written: ”Alongside exciting innovations in music and fashion – which introduced the world to a host of new sounds and shapes – 1967 heralded a greater awareness of politics and the power of protest. It all went hand in hand with a youthful enthusiasm for happening, festivals, be-ins and love-ins.”

Indeed, world events and what The Beatles were doing in the studio, was, in 1967, simply breathtaking; as The Who’s Pete Townshend makes clear (in the chapter ‘It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…’): ”For me, Sgt. Pepper and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds redefined music in the twentieth century: atmosphere, essence, shadow and romance were contained in ways that could be discovered again and again. No one believed the Beatles would ever top it or even bother to try.”

Whether or not the band did top it is wide-open to differing debate. For me personally, I prefer the albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, while others prefer the so-called White Album and Abbey Road.

What isn’t wide-open to debate is the very fine and attractive quality of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967. As a tomb of knowledge that homes in on what is clearly one of the most important albums ever recorded, it really is the dog’s under-carriage (in that it’s nigh un-put-down-able): ”In its 50 year history, the album has garnered 17 platinum awards in Britain (each one awarded for 300,000 sales), collected a diamond award in America for sales that exceeded 10 million, as well as an unparalleled number of gold and platinum discs from almost every nation on earth. With music fans reminded in 2017 of the extraordinary music The Beatles created half a century ago, it will be interesting to see how many more sales the album notches up.”

Or any of their albums come to that!

But if it’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band you want to delve into and generally find out more about, then this terrific book’s an absolute must!

David Marx