Tag Archives: David Bowie



By Andreas Schulte-Peevers
Lonely Planet – £14.99

Bismark and Marx, Einstein and Hitler, JFK and Bowie, they’ve all shaped – and been shaped by – Berlin, whose richly textured history stares you in the face at every turn. This is a city that staged a revolution, was headquartered by Nazis, bombed to bits, divided in two and finally reunited – and that was just in the 20th Century!

                                                                            ‘Welcome to Berlin’

There you go: simple, succinct and severely to the point, which, depending on how you like your literary explanation(s) delivered, is just as it should be. And if said opening gambit doesn’t entice you to either visit Berlin or continue reading, then I don’t know what will.

As is per norm with Lonely Planet Guides, Berlin really is a tour-de-force when it comes to both detailed description and colorful display. Replete with a pull-out map, each of its 320 pages bequeaths the traveller with everything they will fundamentally need to know with regards this most durable and wonderful of cities.

From The Berlin Wall (”It’s more than a tad ironic that Berlin’s most popular tourist attraction is one that no longer exists. For 28 years, the Berlin Wall, the most potent symbol of The Cold War, divided not only a city but the world”), to the Berlin Art Scene (”Art afficiendos will find their compass on perpetual spin in Berlin. Home to 440 galleries, scores of world-class collections and some 33,000 international artists, it has assumed a pole position on the artistic circuit. Adolescent energy, restlessness and experimental spirit combined and infused with an undercurrent of grit are what give this ‘eteranlly unfinsihed’ city its street cred”), this travel guide does indeed wield a mighty potent punch.

To be sure, it’s hard knowing just where to start, as one can readily dip into any section of this rather fast-paced book, and be idiosyncratically enlightened and informed nigh immediately. Whether it’s ‘High on History,’ ‘Party Paradise,’ ‘Museumsinsel & Alexanderplatz,’ ‘The Reichstag,’ ‘Laidback Lifestyle’ or ‘Cultural Trendsetter’ you’re after; Lonely Planet’s Berlin absolutely won’t disappoint. Simply because the photos are fab and everything is explained in an easy going and most convivial manner.

For instance, ‘Literature & Film’ on page 259 opens with: ”Since it’s beginnings, Berlin’s literary scene has reflected a peculiar blend of provincialism and worldliness, but the city’s pioneering role in movie history is undeniable: in 1895 Max Skladanowsky screened early films on a bioscope, in 1912 one of the world’s first film studios was established in Potsdam and since 1951 Berlin has hosted a leading international film festival.” The section then continues in more depth on such subjects as: Literature, Modernism & Modernity, New Berlin Novel, Film, Marlene Dietrich, After 1945 before finally concluding with Today.

So in all, this colourfully compact travel guide really does cater for everyone: from yer all round curious back-packer to yer everyday culture vulture.

There again, we are talking about Berlin; upon which the authoress, Andreas Schulte-Peevers also writes: ”To me, this city is nothing short of addictive. It embraces me, inspires me, accepts me and makes me feel good about myself, the world and other people. I enjoy its iconic sights, its vast swathes of green, its sky bars and chic restaurants, but I love its gritty sides more.”

Me too.

David Marx


Uncommon People


Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

”That night there was a tribute on the BBC’s rock programme Whistle Test. Annie Nightingale, the presenter, said something like ‘a lot of us wouldn’t be doing what we are doing now if it hadn’t been for John Lennon.’ I sat on the edge of the bath and blubbed, which is not my habit. Her words touched me off because they related to me, not to John Lennon. I haven’t cried about the death of a famous person since. I have come to realize that if we do so what we’re crying for is ourselves, our lost youth, the days of happiness we associate with the person who has died.”

David Hepworth absolutely isn’t alone when it comes to having ‘blubbed’ upon hearing the most shocking news of John Lennon’s death. I too, was somewhat inconsolable for a number of days thereafter.

Days, which, if anything, were riddled with the utmost of dark, disbelief.

A mode of morbidity, which author, broadcaster and presenter, David Hepworth, continues to further expand upon in this most excellent book’s chapter, ‘1980 – Death by fan’: ”The Beatles created a great deal of happiness. The by-product of that process was fame. Fame on a mad, massive and eventually injurious scale. In killing a rock star, the ultimate somebody, Mark Chapman, the ultimate nobody, probably hoped he would cross over. He hoped he might obliterate the distance between his own puny life and the hero’s life that he saw Lennon leading. His action foreshadowed in a uniquely terrible way our increasing desire to put ourselves at the centre of events, when our proper role should be as a spectator or appreciative listener. It underlined just how big rock stars had become and how much some people still expected those rock stars to be able to mend their own broken lives. It wasn’t anything to do with what the rock stars said or did. It was to do with what people expected of them.”

Indeed, such expectation can and continues to be manipulated to such a (deplorable) degree, wherein any mode of correction – let alone common sense – is invariably laced with wide-open and quite often, grossly misplaced interpretation. An interpretation, which, in the case of the odious Chapman, was overtly fraught with both madness and fantasy.

To such a preposterous degree in fact, that almost all and anything was unfortunately permitted. This including the murder of a Beatle.

But what makes Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars such a compelling and concise, brilliant read, is not it’s translucency and sincerity, but the way it has been so compellingly put together.

Beginning with ‘1955 – the first rock star’ (Little Richard) and concluding with ‘1995 – Revenge of the nerds’ (Marc Andreessen), these 324 pages (excluding Foreword, Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) traverse the entire gambit of nigh all one needs to know and embrace so far as all and any pertinent rock stars are concerned.

To be sure, the mere term ‘rock stars,’ might in many peoples’ eyes, be considered a tad naff and dated. The latter of which, in all (musical) honesty, it may well be. But, as Hepworth colourfully points out, there’s a colossal amount of romanticism entwined within the term: ”The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. But like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.”

Like many things of yore, some terrific things have passed unto yesteryear; never again to be embraced with anything resembling the slightest kernel of truth.

Let alone talent.

As Hepworth immediately makes clear in the book’s Foreword: ”In the twenty-first century it seems rather inappropriate, to use a popular twenty-first-century term, to describe Kanye West, Adele or Justin Bieber as rock stars. These people are cut from a different cloth. The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and above all the advent of the mystique-destroying internet. The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock and roll, which in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands.”

Hmm, what was it David Bowie once sang: ”Watch out you rock’n’rollers.”

Having reviewed his debut, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Moment (which too, was nigh un-put-down-able) I have to say, Uncommon People is an absolute gem of a read.

It’s fresh, it’s jam-packed with new information, and the chapters on Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana simply drip with glittering, honest revelation. Simply terrific.

David Marx

The Age Of Bowie


The Age Of Bowie –
How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference
By Paul Morley
Simon & Schuster – £9.99

The most honest way of writing about David Bowie and all the David Bowies he became in the 1970s as he turned his entire existence and his musical technique into a collage of impressions, memories and experiences is to create a collage in response, to exaggerate the exaggerations and the excess.

Paul Morley has always been a writer to be reckoned with.

Whenever it’s brought to our attention that he’s written a new book, one instinctively knows it’ll be very well written, thought provoking, idiosyncratically incisive, and will probably venture into subjective areas not entirely expected.

Such was the case with the most outstanding The North: (And Almost Everything In It) which I reviewed on this site upon publication. And totally unsurprisingly, such is also the case The Age Of Bowie – How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference. For not only is Morley a huge Bowie fan, the prospect of him writing about him, was always going to be a wholly satisfying, literary undertaking. Continue reading

Shock and Awe


Shock and Awe –
Glam Rock And Its Legacy
By Simon Reynolds
Faber & Faber – £25.00

In his 1969 book Bomb Culture, Jeff Nuttall recalls the mid-sixties moment when art-school attitudes filtered into the beat-group scene: ‘Shoes were painted with Woolworth’s lacquer. Both sexes wore make-up and dyed their hair… ”Kinky” was a word very much in the air. Everywhere there were zippers, leathers, boots, PVC, see-through plastics, male make-up, a thousand overtones of sexual deviation…

SAHB’s combo of musicianship, ‘cartoon violence’ and Harvey’s charisma made the group one of the major concert draws of the British mid-seventies. They stole the show at the Reading Festival in 1974, performing ‘Anthem,’ one of their crowd-pleasing numbers, with a troupe of bagpipers coming on-stage. ‘Framed’ was staged as a crucifixion, Cleminson recalls, with Alex ‘pinned up somehow on a cross we’d dragged on-stage.’ When they played ‘The Faith Healer’ – their greatest, hardest-rocking song – the sun was going down. ‘Alex just stood there, singing, ”Let me put my hands on you,” and you could feel the atmosphere going electric. Just one of the most magic moments I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I’m amazed that a really great book addressing the musical idiom that was Glam and all its tremulous trajectory, hasn’t been written until this one. Unless of course, there is one (or perhaps two) I just don’t know about.

Either way, Shock And Awe – Glam Rock And Its Legacy is a lively, entertaining and altogether fascinating read. It sheds oodles of light on a musical era that was as idiosyncratic as it was influential, and in so doing, sets numerous records straight in one literary swoop of profound, nihilist nostalgia.

Indeed, all the main players – plus a few more besides – are here.

Everyone from David Bowie to Marc Bolan to Mud and Mott and Slade and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, are herein discussed and regally brought to bear amid all the pomp and brazen bravado that they did bequeath. As author Simon Reynolds declares in the book’s Introduction: ”I felt the pull of a time when pop was titanic, idolatrous, unsane, a theatre of inflamed artifice and grandiose gestures. This long-gone, real-gone era seemed the opposite of what pop had become in the post-punk eighties: adult, responsible, caring and socially concerned.”

One absolutely cannot help but agree here.

The idea of Slade’s Noddy Holder discussing the plight of Ethiopia, just wouldn’t, and couldn’t have been taken seriously; whereas Paul Weller aligning himself with the Red Wedge Movement a mere decade later, was not only taken seriously, but in some accounts, wholeheartedly acted upon.

That said, there are numerous sections throughout these twelve chapters, where the writing might well be considered sonorous. Semi-serious even.

In the chapter on Bolan, ‘Boogie Poet,’ Reynolds confronts the whole idea behind Mod when he quotes and writes: ”Mods were effeminate in certain respects – some even wore make-up – without necessarily being in touch with their feminine side or having much time for actual women. Bolan’s ‘The London Boys’ captures the male-dominated vibe of the movement, which was all about boys dressing to impress other boys, not attract girls. Modettes were peripheral figures, never faces. Boy mods ‘simply were not interested… too self-absorbed,’ writes mod scholar Kevin Pearce. Pills played a part, overriding libido (along with other biological needs like food and sleep) in favour of self-admiration and a tribal feeling of collective glory.”

While in chapter four’s ‘Teenage Rampage,’ he not only addresses the comparative validity of the band Slade, but also delves into some of the history of the Black Country: ”In their heyday, though, Slade were taken very seriously. ‘In a few years’ time we may all be saying that Slade are the most important rock group to have emerged since The Beatles,’ wrote their biographer George Tremlett shortly after the release of their film Slade in Flame […]. You can hear the Black Country’s distinctive ‘sing-songy’ accent in the between-song banter of Noddy Holder on Slade’s biggest-selling album, Slade Alive! The stronger retention of Germanic words and unusual expression like ‘Ow bist?’ (How are you? via How be-est you?’) reflect the insularity of the locale, which includes towns like Dudley, Sandwell, Smethwick, Wolverhampton and Bilston, where Don Powell grew up. ‘People always used to say that we came from Birmingham,’ recalls Powell, ‘and we had to explain that although Birmingham is only ten miles away, it might as well be a totally different country.”’

Already the author of seven books (among them Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 and Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music And Dance Culture), Simon Reynolds can stand back and be mighty proud of having written a true gem in Shock And Awe – a book that is essentially, un-put-down-able.

So if you’re looking for that perfect gift for anyone who was around at the time, this is it.

David Marx

1971 – Never A Dull Moment


1971 – Never A Dull Moment
Rock’s Golden Year
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

          It was the best of times because in many respects it seemed to be the first of times.

What an utterly inviting, engaging and rather revelatory read 1971 – Never A Dull Moment has turned out to be.

As a regular reviewer of books, it can become relatively easy to slip into the subliminal slipstream of literary nonchalance, whereby the many inexorable words on the page are no longer punctuated by any form of inspired attraction. Although such is most certainly not the case with regards this glittering testimonial to the year 1971 – the year David Hepworth has described as ”rock’s best year.”

To be honest, it’s hard to disagree.

One need only randomly refer to any of the book’s twelve chapters (one for each month of the year along with a Prologue and an Epilogue) to ascertain just how idiosyncratic, how invigorating, how very, very valuable and important, popular music once was. A time when the music industry, and dare I say it, society at large, wasn’t so (kn)obsessed with a plethora of boy-bands and/or wailing tarts – for whom the parameters of music continues to entail nothing other than a cloying cleavage and all the vocal finesse of Benito Mussolini.

Reason being, 1971 was still a regal time of unquestioned innocence; which Hepworth is (unsurprisingly) keen to already alert us to in the very first chapter ‘January,’ wherein he writes: ”Smokers every where. On tube trains, in pubs, in offices, even in hospitals. No joggers, no health shops, no gyms, no leisurewear, no trainers, no mineral water, no Lycra, no fast food, no obesity. Wiry people […]. The only people with tattoos got them in the services […]. No security industry. No gates on Downing Street, no full body scans, no surveillance cameras, no speed bumps. Football fans pay two bob at the turnstile and then shove […]. no political correctness.”

No political correctness, yet there was still such a thing as society.

There again, Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet of Einsatzgruppen hadn’t yet arrived to evoke such sullen economic mockery amid the myopic naivety of the working class. No wonder rock’n’roll meant precisely that: rock and fucking roll.

Four blokes like The Who, making a great B-I-G colossal noise that actually meant something. That actually endeavoured to at least traverse such opium dullness as that of today’s grey, dull, barren, not to mention seismically redundant excuse of a pathetic music industry.

Indeed, from The Who’s Who’s Next to David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, from Carole King’s Tapestry to Led Zeppelin’s IV, from The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers to Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells A Story, from Pink Floyd’s Relics and Meddle to John Lennon’s Imagine; in 1971, there really wasn’t, as this book’s title more than aptly suggests, a dull moment.

As Hepworth states in the book’s Epilogue: ”The middle of the road was the only place to be. Underground was over ground, anything could be a hit. It was into this moment of panic and opportunity that all these 1971 masterpieces were hurled […]. If my twenty-one year old self could have been transported from 1971 to 2016 he would be struck dumb by the laptops, the phones, the affluence, the foreign tongues on the street, the idea that music could be accessed as if from a tap, the fact that three out of five stories in the news were about the sex lives of famous people and the puzzling realization that he couldn’t just go out on Saturday evening and buy a ticket on the door for any show in town.”

The high-octane realization ought to surely be the fact that there are no shows in town actually worth going to, while those that are, cost somewhere in the region of almost a hundred pounds per ticket…

To be sure, one could conclude that for those of a certain age, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment is a truly terrific book; but to be perfectly honest, for anyone remotely interested in the truth and what the sanctity of music once meant (and perhaps, could once again), this book will and ought to appeal to those of any age.

David Marx

More Letters Of Note


More Letters Of Note –
Correspondence Deserving Of A Wider Audience
Compiled by Shaun Usher
Canongate Books – £30.00

If nothing else, this simply wonderful book reiterates the degree to which an entire medium of literary beauty has, for all intents and rather depressing purposes, almost disappeared.

Letter writing, that all too brilliant and potentially poignant pastime, does indeed shed oodles of inadvertent light on who ever is doing the writing. Alas, the mere fact that most letters are quintessentially naked, accounts for their being real and revelatory, personal and perplexing, as well as idiosyncratic and, dare I say it, unnecessarily insulting – if not a tad over the top.

The following 1973 letter (‘Your Type Is A Dime A Dozen’) to Anthony Burgess from none other than Hunter S. Thompson, being a surprisingly perfect example of the latter:

Dear Mr. Burgess,

Herr Werner has forwarded your useless letter from Rome to the National Affairs Desk for my examination and/or reply.
Unfortunately, we have no International Gibberish Desk, or it would have ended up there.
What kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us? When Rolling Stone asks for ”a thinkpiece,” goddamnit, we want a fucking Thinkpiece… and don’t try to weasel out with any of your limey bullshit about a ”50,000 word novella about the condition humaine, etc…”
Do you take us for a gang of brainless lizards? Rich hoodlums? Dilettante thugs?
You lazy cocksucker. I want that Thinkpiece on my desk by Labor Day. And I want it ready for press. The time has come & gone when cheapjack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past.
Get your worthless ass out of the piazza and back to the typewriter. Your type is a dime a dozen around here, Burgess, and I’m fucked if I’m going to stand for it any longer.
Hunter S. Thompson

Suffice to say, not all of the letters throughout this meticulously designed and rather handsome book are of a similar persuasion. I merely wanted to clarify the degree to which honesty prevails throughout these 351 pages, by quoting the above (somewhat colourful communication) in its entirety.

Naturally, there are numerous flip-sides to that of the above.

Richard Burton’s profound proclamation of love towards Elizabeth Taylor amid ‘You’re Off, By God,’ more than substantiates as much: ”You may rest assured that I will not have affairs with any other female. I shall gloom a lot and stare morosely into unimaginable distances and act a bit – probably on the stage – to keep me in booze and butter, but chiefly and above all I shall write. Not about you, I hasten to add. No Millerinski Me, with a double M. There are many other and ludicrous and human comedies to constitute my shroud.”

As does ‘It’s Burning Hell Without you,’ in which Dylan Thomas writes to his wife Caitlin Thomas from New York’s infamous Chelsea Hotel: ”There is nothing to tell you other than that you know; I am profoundly in love with you, the only profundity I know. Every day’s dull torture, & every night burning for you.”

From record producer Steve Albini writing to the band Nirvana, the poetess Sylvia Plath to her family, Marge Simpson to Barbara Bush, John Lennon To Eric Clapton, William Burroughs to Truman Capote, Samuel Goldwyn to Walt Disney and countless others, More Letters Of Note is an outstanding, veritable merry-go-round of personal missives. Replete with a number of excellent photographs and reproductions of some of the letters (including John Lennon’s and David Bowie’s), all of them clearly have something to stay.

A few of which will forever remain in the memory.

None more so than a letter written by US President, Abraham Lincoln (‘Sorrow Comes To All’), to a distraught 22 a year-old, Fanny McCullough whose father, Lieutenant Colonel William McCullough, had been killed in America’s Civil War: ”It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.”

David Marx

The People’s Songs


The People’s Songs –
The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Songs
By Stuart Maconie
Ebury Press – £9.99

As is always the case with Stuart Maconie’s books (and I do believe I’ve had the the utmost pleasure in reading all of them), they’re always idiosyncratically informative as well as well as adroitly and entertainingly well written.

To be sure, Maconie recently appeared at The Arts Centre in Swindon, where my colleague Sean Hodgson at Swindon 105.5 got to interview him. Thus suggesting that he is very much a man, a broadcaster, an author as well as a rambler – replete with (individual) pork pie – of the people.

As is his most recent literary offering The People’s Songs – The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Songs, which goes some way in reiterating as much.

These 428 pages, are, as John Harris wrote in The Guardian: ”Elegant and approachable, definitive but also self-deprecating.” I really couldn’t agree more, as Maconie’s writing is indeed approachable and definitive. Although one of the most attractive aspects of his work, whether as an author, broadcaster or whatever, is his all round, self-deprecating demeanour. A quality which, like that of the Starship Enterprise of the Star Trek persuasion, ensures that no matter how much uncalled for negative criticism or ridicule may be hurled his way, it simply re-bounds off without so much as having made an iota of a difference.

That’s not to say Stuart Maconie is utterly blasé. That’s to say his self-deprecating design has always served him well. Exceedingly well in fact. Regardless of whatever arena he happens to be working in.

Yet it must be said: his quintessential background in popular music via journalism has nigh ensured that his knowledge, along with that of the trajectory of his elongated enthusiasm, really is second to no-one. One need only read the Introduction to this more than insightful and most readable of books, to realise this: ”I’d argue that what we call pop music – that mongrel hybrid of rock, vaudeville, folk ballad, dance music, classroom hymns, street corner soul and classical music, that art form so plastic and pliable that it can embrace the wildest avant-garde experimentation and the most primitive and basic chants and beats – is a uniquely British invention. A music that has no one stylistic constant but a defiant, unsanctioned concept at its heart, the ability to speak to people, to affect people, to occupy people, to transform their lives or divert them for a moment, to console, to enrage, to amuse, to arouse. This then is a music that happens without the approval of critic or teacher or politician or pulpit. It both nods to history and makes history. But it happens without anyone’s permission.”

It is such informed and considered writing that partially explains why I’ve read all his books (Cider with Roadies, Pies and Prejudice, Adventures on the High Teas and Hope and Glory) and will probably continue to do so.

Furthermore, where else would you read such an acute declaration as the following (where Maconie writes of song number fifteen): ”Bowie may look outlandish in his multi-coloured faux snakeskin jumpsuit and his Star Trek boots, but his message is one of reassurance and optimism, whispered like a late night DJ into the ears of teenagers glued to their radios. As well as ‘Over the Rainbow’ there are nods to other great moments in popular song: the staccato Morse Code guitar line hints at both ‘Wichita Lineman’ and the Supremes ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ while the circular la-la’ed outro recalls T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’ and The Beatles ‘Hey Jude.”’

Other than containing a veritable wealth of pop induced knowledge, The People’s Songs says more, and has the literary potential to do far more for the country as a whole, than (m)any of Britain’s celebrity obsessed troll-twats, corporate hyenas, or overtly, overpaid football players.

That the England football team have just returned to England following a dismal display of high-octane, piss-poor quality, is absolutely no surprise. That this wonderful book hasn’t (yet) been been embraced the length and breadth the country however – is.

David Marx