BOOK REVIEW | "BROTHERS BE, YO LIKE GEORGE AIN'T THAT FUNKIN' KINDA HARD ON YOU?" BY GEORGE CLINTON & BEN GREENMAN
seriously, was there ever any doubt that a memoir by the visionary behind FUNK icon GEORGE CLINTON of PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC was going to be anything else but amazing?
worry not because BROTHERS BE, YO LIKE GEORGE AIN'T THAT FUNKIN' KINDA HARD ON YOU? (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2014) definitely delivers the goods and is required reading for anyone interested in music. any era, any genre. period. i mean, PRINCE even referred to him as "the father of this funk mothership." so get on board.
in many ways it reads like a history of the evolution of FUNK music, from GOSPEL and DOO-WOP, MO-TOWN and SOUL/R&B to JAZZ and BLUES-based BRITISH INVASION bands to PSYCHEDELIA and later FUNK and beyond. you really get a deep sense of CLINTON's appreciation for not only the power an brilliance of songwriters but also the performative nature of music. that instinctual ritual of connection between an audience and a deep groove. it was that sensibility that allowed him to sense when culture was shifting, which in the late 1960s was definitely the case, and ingeniously position his group PARLIAMENT between R&B and the PSYCHEDELIC BLUES-based rock bands of that era. for a band that never veered to much into political concerns outside of pro-free thought anthems like FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW, it could be argued their very presence as a musically ferocious freight train of BLACK MUSICIANS was inherently political during that era. such allowed them to play both the underground CHITLIN CIRCUIT and white college towns concurrently across the country.
there is so much to unpack in this book that i could write forever about it, but here are some quick thoughts in no particular order:
1. the fact that CLINTON utilized his HENDRIX-inspired out there space imagery as a way of using personas (in a very MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN manner) to sidestep being pigeon-hold stylistically, politically and in terms of radio programming. it allowed him ironically to keep the focus on the music and maintain his personal identity separate from his stage personas.
2. most of the generations of players (such as EDDIE HAZEL, BOOTSY COLLINS & BERNIE WORRELL) in both groups were from the NEWARK and PLAINFIELD communities in NEW JERSEY area where CLINTON grew up and had owned a hair salon
3. the idea that having multiple bands on different labels extended the buy-in from the record industry into the PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC operation. essentially the WU-TANG CLAN model decades before WU-TANG CLAN.
4. the idea that he used MOTOWN RECORDS as a model for franchising out the PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC extended family of associated acts insured he had constant product to keep the brand out there.
5. CLINTON's opinion that the EAST COAST HIP HOP groups did a better job of utilizing PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC samples in creating new juxtapositions than their WEST COAST peers, whom CLINTON felt used the material wholesale with little to no imagination.
6. the idea that keeping your ears open to new concepts from the youth is a way of renewing your interest in music and combat jadedness is a must. throughout his career to the present CLINTON has sought out musicians, producers and collaborators that have challenged and enriched his work and it was a deliberate choice on his part. it kept his music fresh.
this is easily one of the most enjoyable memoirs that i've come across since starting this blog and highly recommend it to anyone interested in music from the last half-century. CLINTON is a deliberate, steady voice that cuts through the mix and gives a fair assessment of his failures and achievements, warts and all. his memoir is required reading.
ever since i saw GREGG ARAKI's stridently apocalyptic THE DOOM GENERATION (DESPERATE PICTURES, 1995) film in high school i was a fan of ROSE MCGOWAN. she really seemed to exude an inner confidence that manifested in her physical being. and really that was read on her throughout her early career. that she was this impossibly beautiful, no bullshit force of nature.
in her recent memoir BRAVE (HARPERCOLLINS, 2018) that was released in the aftermath of the #METOO and #TIMESUP movements that had a long overdue cascading effect on the male-dominated AMERICAN entertainment industry, MCGOWAN eviscerates any notion that HOLLYWOOD is not a cult that we are all subservient to in one fashion or another. and she should know, being raised as a member of CHILDREN OF GOD as a child in ITALY, escaping and then living broke on the streets with no security system until being plucked out of obscurity by a production assistant.
for me, her life details were only interesting in that they empowered her overriding thesis that any system (whether they be political, religious, regional or even personal in nature) which demeans our individual sense of identity and self-worth is inherently destructive and should be eradicated. in her case, this focus of her ire is the entertainment industry and the networks of supplicants that allow power-brokers to go on unchecked in sexually assaulting young women as had been done to her by (now newly convicted) HARVEY WEINSTEIN of MIRAMAX/THE WEINSTEN COMPANY notoriety. it wasn't just that she was raped by an influential producer of OSCAR-nominated films who subsequently black-listed her, it was also the fact that other managers, co-stars, agents, producers, directors, etc. knew about her situation (as well as other similar victims) and did nothing in fear of upsetting the apple cart. some, like former partner and director ROBERT RODRIGUEZ even had her reenact her trauma in his PLANET TERROR (DIMENSION, 2007) film.
i share her disdain for an industry that routinely cannibalizes itself. i also greatly admire her sense of courage in relating her story, even as such no doubt will expose her to professional retribution in loss roles. but i doubt she cares about that anymore. she is on a new powerful path of advocacy for the exploited. perhaps my initial reading on her was correct.
one of the really prescient observations MCGOWAN makes in the book is how as consumers of the media, we are all susceptible to its messaging. all of us. whether we consciously reject or acquiesce to it matters not at all. as a member of a media-consuming population we are inculcated with belief systems and biases that are deep at root in our ability to self-define who we are as individuals and our role in society. she takes ownership of her role in that "cult" she describes us all being subject to. i respect her for that.
BOOK REVIEW | "OFFICIAL TRUTH: 101 PROOF - THE INSIDE STORY OF PANTERA" BY REX BROWN WITH MARK EGLINTON
its been over 15 years since DIMEBAG DARRELL's murder, but he's seemingly been omnipresent in the METAL community in spirit ever since. OFFICIAL TRUTH 101 PROOG: THE INSIDE STORY OF PANTERA (DA CAPO, 2013) is PANTERA/DOWN bassist REX BROWN's attempt at making sense of his former band's legacy and laying bare the warts-and-all narrative of how their insatiable drive to succeed over time alienated themselves from each and ultimately led to their estrangement and break up. the bizarre, unforeseen shooting of guitarist DIMEBAG by a mentally ill midwestern fan in DECEMBER 2004 only further heightens the loss felt by fans for this once indomitable juggernaut of a band that basically single-handedly maintained METAL as a cultural entity in the ALTERNATIVE ROCK doldrums of the 1990s.
in essence, BROWN promotes his perspective that PANTERA fell apart due to over touring over a 15 year career that found them rarely taking extended breaks. initially this was due to their commitment to each other to make it in the business, but later it seemed they were worried about maintaining their lifestyle and appeasing fans worldwide. the narrative forwarded by fans in the years after DIMEBAG's murder there has been much blame and consternation being forwarded singer PHIL ANSELMO's way for his issues with heroin and dalliances with DOWN, SUPERJOINT RITUAL and various other side projects. BROWN counters this line of thinking arguing that the reality was that they needed a break and the brothers ABBOT (DIMEBAG and drummer VINNIE PAUL) by the end did not have communication with ANSELMO enough to come to that sort of conclusion.
its funny how many people mocked METALLICA for their documentary SOME KIND OF MONSTER (THIRD EYE, 2004) in which they hired a group counselor to work through interpersonal issues, but they had the last laugh as they are still together performing almost 20 years later. for all their macho, alpha-male posturing, PANTERA couldn't look each other in the eye and admit they needed help reevaluating their business choices in light of physical and mental health concerns.
speaking of which, one repeated line of criticism for this book are the shots BROWN takes at VINNIE PAUL for his immaturity and stubbornness. nobody argued that such were untrue, just that they didn't see the point in kicking a guy down after a family tragedy. i disagree, if anything BROWN comes across as a pretty relaxed, even-keeled and not particularly emotional narrator. i found him to be pretty reliable, but what do i know? his criticism of VINNIE PAUL was done in order to relate accurately the internal dynamics of the band and how there was a clear dividing line between the brothers and BROWN and ANSELMO. what comes across glaringly is the idea that BROWN served as a middle man in PANTERA. a middle man between the band and management, accountants, lawyers and even feuds between members themselves. lots of tough choices that needed an unemotional adult participant often found their way to BROWN, which was ironic given that he rarely talked in interviews, leaving the rest of the band members to give off the impression to their fanbase that they were in control.
this book is sort of his take on everything, and given ANSELMO's reluctance to speak on the issue and the recent passing of VINNIE PAUL years after his brother's murder, this book will likely be the final take on that issue by an actual band member.
tragic story about a great band that i really enjoyed as a teenager. its well-written and overall comes off pretty level-headed. if you are a fan of PANTERA or a lover of METAL in all its forms, SLUDGE METAL, DEATH METAL, THRASH METAL, NWOBHM, DOOM METAL, BLACK METAL, METALCORE and beyond, this book is worth your time.
ACID FOR THE CHILDREN (GRAND CENTRAL, 2019) by legendary RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS bassist FLEA is a poetic, thoughtful memoir that looks back on an unconventional childhood and attempts to make sense of how such influenced his life path. structurally this book is connected by a series of brief vignettes which adroitly mimic the fractured manner in which we carry our memories and define our self perception. i think for an artist that is celebrated for both his musicianship and his sensitivity, this was a good choice in that it allowed him to express his life in brief impressionistic chunks that don't necessarily need to relate to one another, but in totality relate a unique perspective on the author.
one prominent theme is the idea of parenthood. his conception, particularly of fatherhood, is complicated in that his mother leaving a conservative but principled husband for a bohemian failed jazz musician presented to contradictory models for manhood, both of which informed his self-perception.
this push and pull of discipline versus expression is seemingly everywhere in this book. jazz versus punk rock. his sensitive nature versus acting out without consideration for others. in a previous review (linked HERE) of bandmate ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION, 2004) i railed against him being an arrogant egoist who essentially mooched off his supremely gifted rhythmic section. at the close of this book, FLEA puts his dear friend in proper perspective, explaining that his non-musicianship provided the proper context to showcase the lightning in a bottle nature of their creative spark. it were these very qualities that i seemingly misread that unlocked their potential in that it forced them to come up with their music from a new angle, a different perspective. and i respect that.
reading this memoir, which again only dealt with his childhood up to the first RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS gig, made me consider my own similar upbringing as a THIRD CULTURE KID. though the term is never uttered in this book, to me the whole thing screams it. his constant search for a surrogate family is a common experience for those who move all the time, as FLEA surely did in transferring from AUSTRALIA to upstate NEW YORK to LOS ANGELES. his need for connection through the arts, first as a listener and furious reader and then as a musician and thespian, in a sense shows the fruits of his pursuit to find an extended safe zone. THIRD CULTURE KIDS are famous for being able to make connections and despite his insecure trepidations initially in each new locale, he found connections through basketball, music, mischief and (unfortunately) drugs.
ultimately this memoir is artfully written in a way i had hoped for as a fan of his music. my hope is that he follows this up with another one that takes us through his experiences with the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion.
one can hope.
i can think of few things in life that have brought me as much joy and probably informed my sense of identity from a young age as MONTY PYTHON (the other being the films of MEL BROOKS). it is my opinion that the boundless, kinetic enthusiasm of ERIC IDLE was a big part of their formula, perhaps only matched by the droll, domineering physical encroachment of JOHN CLEESE that seemed to counteract such, propelling their comedy with forward momentum.
regardless, IDLE is well aware of his mortality at this point and his recent memoir ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE: A SORTABIOGRAPHY (BROADWAY BOOKS, 2018) is a concise, thoroughly hilarious look back at his childhood, career and friendships over the years. i think it is a testament to his humility, and quite possibly his ENGLISH modesty, that as much as this memoir is about his achievements, it is equally about his collaborations and the uplifting, connecting power of humor.
it seems compelling that for a life so thoroughly lived and enjoyed, his childhood was one of deep isolation, with his father having died shortly after the war in a freak accident and duly being shipped off to boarding school at a tender age to fend for himself. now i attended boarding school and dealt with bullying in my early teens, but nothing like his situation where corporal punishment was the norm and having a personality was deemed antithetical to being a good ENGLISH schoolboy. something they literally tried to beat out of you.
like some of the PYTHONS, he went to CAMBRIDGE (others attended OXFORD) and got involved with THE FOOTLIGHTS comedy society and gained the experience, confidence and connections that propelled him forward into his career, much like CHICAGO's SECOND CITY, LOS ANGELES' THE GROUNDLINGS and NYC's UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE have done so stateside in recent generations.
his back history and intelligence is impressive, but what i enjoyed most about this book were his insights into deceased friends like GEORGE HARRISON, ROBIN WILLIAMS and MIKE NICHOLS. each are lovingly given chapters dedicated to their misadventures and wicked sense of humor. you really get the sense that during his heyday in the 1970s, comedy was as much part of the counter-culture as ROCK AND ROLL and the commonalities of the two was something i wasn't aware of to the extent he presents it in the book. in the case of their two legendary films, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and LIFE OF BRIAN, it was literally the BRITISH music community that funded them when no other corporate entities would dare touch them.
the memoir ends with his recent international touring with MONTY PYTHON counterpart JOHN CLEESE, where they find themselves utilizing comedy to sooth AMERICANS traumatized by the election of DONALD TRUMP. he even includes one of the best extended putdowns of TRUMP that i have read to date.
so the memoir was worth it on that alone. if you are a fan of his work or comedy in general, i highly suggest you consider reading his memoir.
REST IN PEACE GRAHAM CHAPMAN & TERRY JONES
no, this book has nothing to do with that criminal ALEX JONES and INFO WARS. sorry BILLY CORGAN.
INFORMATION WARS (ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS, 2019) is a recent offering by RICHARD STENGEL, former UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS under BARACK OBAMA from 2013-2016, that addresses the weaponized DISINFORMATION methods used by our adversaries in recent years. specifically the RUSSIAN FEDERATION and ISIS. STENGEL also outlines the US STATE DEPARTMENT's efforts to combat this new hybrid threat and how ultimately TRUMP and his allies mirrored these tactics to gain power.
you know, some light weekend reading.
i guess first it is useful to define what DISINFORMATION actually means, which is the deliberate use of false information in order to manipulate a subject. this is different then MISINFORMATION, which is wrong information provided by mistake with no ill will involved and PROPAGANDA, which is the use of information in general to manipulate a subject.
as you can see, DISINFORMATION is another thing entirely from PROPAGANDA, which STENGEL argues is a more neutral entity on par with RHETORIC that can be used for good or evil. DISINFORMATION is meant entirely to obfuscate objective truth and question the nature of information itself, leading someone ultimately to determine that everything is relative and not worth fighting for. essentially that is the end goal of a DISINFORMATION campaign. it is essentially an attack on INFORMATION.
and that is the world we live in currently, where REPUBLICANS mirror DISINFORMATION tactics to the point that most AMERICANS have shut out the pursuit of truth entirely.
when this book is at its strongest is when it illustrates succinctly why DISINFORMATION is so effective using numerous case studies. you really get the sense that AMERICA is just entering into a new reality that much of EUROPE has already dealt with through these RUSSIAN HYBRID ATTACKS in places like GERMANY, UKRAINE, UNITED KINGDOM and THE BALTICS.
how do we combat this threat? stay vigilant and question the veracity of your information diet. do some research. don't be a passive consumer and don't trust what you see on FACEBOOK.
it all seems hopeless. as a former ENGLISH teacher i feel hopeless given how bad our collective MEDIA LITERACY skills are given the state of public education today. who knows? maybe next generation.
great book. depressing as all hell, but eye-opening and impressive in its scope and focus. definitely worth reading if you get the opportunity.
it must be a special breed of curse to be celebrated for something that you felt little ownership of in creating. such was the case with DARRYL "DMC" MCDANIELS of the legendary NYC HIP HOP group RUN-DMC as detailed in his memoir TEN WAYS NOT TO COMMIT SUICIDE (AMISTAD, 2016) where he details how allowed a situation to foster where his voice was not respected or given attention, which led to drowning out his frustration in alcohol and long fugues of intense depression. his story is one of coming to terms with himself and establishing parameters in his life through the support of family.
speaking of family, one interesting aspect of this memoir is his coming to terms with learning that he was adopted as an adult. at first this was a cutting revelation that cut to the core of his identity, but over time he learned that he only gained a new family. with his voice in tatters due to an unusual congenital defect in his larynx and his relation with REVEREND RUN nonexistent, this new information freed him to learn about himself through advocacy and charitable work associated with orphans, adoptees and foster children.
for me what was interesting about this book was his self-expressed nerddom as a child being interested in reading and comic books and school. the RUN-DMC thing happened as a lark that turned into a career wavering to the expectations of record companies and yes-men that didn't have his interests at heart. the fact that HIP HOP stardom was something that got in the way of his original pursuits in college is beyond interesting.
ultimately he concludes that being of use to people and helping others is what he values in his life, not chasing fame or record sales or reality television. one other thing, REVEREND RUN comes off horrible in this memoir. he seems very much like someone focused on chasing money and uses those around him to that end. even his spirituality is called into question due to his association with a prosperity ministry which basically is made of televangelists using him for his clout with the urban community. makes sense but seems sad nonetheless that RUN would be so susceptible to being involved in such a cult. be apparently he is.
if you are a fan of DMC and appreciate brutally honest memoirs, the healing power of music, and the redeeming power of family, this book is certainly for you. if you like your nostalgic vision of classic RUN-DMC unscathed and untarnished, definitely look elsewhere.
to say KISS is controversial is putting it mildly. virtually all my friends HATE this band and everything they stand for: crass commercialism, misogyny, dubious musical ability and heavy reliance on gimmicks. these points are all well taken, but my response has long been that unlike most bands, KISS are unapologetic about who they are, including all those aforementioned attributes. they aren't even concerned with mercurial things like authenticity or artistic credibility, they just want your money and to out-perform and entertain every band on any bill ever. ironically, you could even say they have a very working-class mentality despite their reputation. dare i say DIY PUNK ROCK ethic?
in fact, in his memoir KISS AND MAKE-UP (THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2001), GENE SIMMONS basically recounts his upbringing, career choices and life philosophy and sees about reminding other rock bands that everyone is in the KISS business. and for me that is the main takeaway of this book. all bands have an image that they are selling and every time they sell related merchandise (apparel, posters, etc.), they are inherently in the branding business. maybe KISS takes it to another level selling everything from condoms to caskets, but essentially its the same concept.
a lot of this concern with money and capitalism can no doubt be traced to SIMMONS tight-knit upbringing by his single mother of HUNGARIAN JEWISH descent who was the survivor of her family from a concentration camp during the HOLOCAUST. they had little money and few prospects in ISRAEL, where SIMMONS was born and he oddly enough grew up isolated and obsessed with TV and especially AMERICAN culture. at 8 he immigrated to NYC and settled with his mother in QUEENS where he stumbled initially being fluent in the AMERICAN dialect, despite being fluent in 4 other languages. the torment of those years of being called slow and stupid by other kids for his speaking skills certainly contributed to his combative psyche and he makes no bones about the fact to him, money is purely a conduit to power and influence.
an interesting thing about SIMMONS throughout the book is his disregard for the wider ROCK AND ROLL community. in his mind he was and always will be an outsider. he went to shows not to bask in the glory of the songs ore the communal atmosphere of the audience, but rather to take notes on set design, lights and stagecraft. there was no big message they were attempting to convey or specific consciousness they wished to express, which is incredibly interesting given the revolutionary ethos of the counter culture that has come to define rock music from ELVIS to NIRVANA. there is always a push and pull with culture that pushes the limits of what is acceptable in polite society. KISS in this respect is as shallowly corporate as PEPSI or DISNEY. they are completely populist in that they serve the audience they seek, which is the widest possible.
i just find it interesting, and not in a pejorative way, that someone could be so completely fixated on extracting financial benefits rather than thinking of other intangibles as legacy or cultural influence. it is fascinating to me because ROCK AND ROLL is the bastion of social misfits and experimenters and SIMMONS isolated upbringing should have promoted such. instead he made artistic choices based on popularity, such as his work with people like CHER, MICHAEL BOLTON, DESMOND CHILDS, etc.
fascinating book in that regard. the lecherous sex stuff as well as the infighting between band members bored me to no end. this book would not pass muster in the #METOO era since women are just used and discarded like tissue paper throughout his story. there seemed to be some cognitive dissonance between this behavior and his adoration and hopes for the future with the birth of his daughter. that was confusing.
again, interesting read and recommended for anyone looking for a completely unique look at music not as a vehicle for expression, but financial gain. good luck.
i read the biography MR. PLAYBOY (WILEY, 2008) by UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI history professor STEVEN WATTS about HUGH HEFNER, the now-deceased founder and editor-in-chief of PLAYBOY when i was on my first trip out of ALBANIA during my PEACE CORPS years. i remember reading it on overnight trains between BOSNIA, SERBIA and CROATIA, all countries (along with ALBANIA) with a distinct brand of TOXIC MASCULINITY and a culture that finds women having to display themselves and holding themselves to near impossible beauty standards. what i am attempting to say is the book seemed to mirror my surroundings.
in many ways HEFNER gets the wrap for popularizing this casual chauvinism that in recent years has reached a dark nadir with the rise of the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and his serial penchant for sexual abuse. it is still compelling to consider that so may women voted for him, college-educated working women. TRUMP notwithstanding, HEFNER was a complicated figure and his legacy is still controversial and hotly debated and WATTS very much seeks to present these competing takes thoughtfully of this 20th century cultural icon in his warts-and-all biography.
to understand HEFNER, you really have to go back to the post-WWII period. with the economy in high gear there was an expansion into suburbia that had lasting effects on AMERICAN consumer culture. with home ownership within reach to most white families (i'm not kidding myself with all the BS surrounding REDLINING at the time), there was new pressure to keep up with the joneses and a new mentality of conformity was rampant. its easy to see such as an outgrowth of the war effort a few years prior. match that conformity with the unique AMERICAN prudishness towards issues of sexuality and you get this interesting dynamic where urges and identities are suppressed.
a modern equivalent to this that i've witnessed is JAPAN. in JAPAN, men are breadwinners, period. the economic structure is stratified and hierarchal in the extreme and behavior both public and private is highly scrutinized and codified. when the JAPANESE uncork themselves of these shackles, it is truly interesting as their are bars there that service any number of fetishes that you don't see anywhere else. one example are bars meant to look like subways where patrons are free to grab and take up-skirt photos of models hired for such a purpose. it is truly bizarre but something that could only happen in JAPAN because of their repression.
i think what made PLAYBOY originally interesting was how HEFNER went after this uniquely conservative/puritanical/prudish attitude of AMERICANS towards issues sexuality, reproduction and women's health. part of that is political as women weren't treated equally (and in most cases still aren't) in terms of political and economic rights. sexuality in media has long been something to be mistrusted, just look at the femme fatale figure of early 20th century literature or repressive victorian ideals of conduct and dress. its all and confinement. to me this is uniquely AMERICAN as i have been to several countries abroad where there is such thing as non-sexual nudity. you may not believe me, but do yourself a favor and visit WEST AFRICA or NORTHERN EUROPE. what PLAYBOY did in AMERICA is exploit this culture of prudishness and turn it on its head.
somebody was bound to do it. almost inevitable. the resulting depiction of women from a distinctly MALE GAZE is the legacy of HEFNER. it was hinted at before in film and litearture but post-PLAYBOY it was undeniable and we live in that culture still and it holds us back from an adult conversation about women's reproductive rights as there are whole regions that want to go back and treat women like chattle.
HEFNER most certainly didn't see things this way given that his daughter co-directed his publication empire since the 1980s and he advocated progressive positions on issues of women in the workplace, equal pay, maternity leave, etc. he was even involved with the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT during his day, from which WOMEN'S LIBERATION dovetailed off of. the impact of providing a platform to MARTIN LUTHER KING JR, MALCOLM X, MUHAMMED ALI and many other "subversives" that were focused on by J. EDGARD HOOVER's illegal COINTELPRO surveillance apparatus during this period cannot be overstated. they were regularly misquoted purposefully in national print publications at the time. PLAYBOY gave them an unedited mouthpiece to state their convictions, along with those that criticized the publication itself and its presentation of women. that has to be commended.
i conceded HEFNER wasn't perfect and arguably did harm to the self-image of women throughout the 20th century. he also sublimated the collective masculine ID in some fashion that has basically informed all matters of the MALE GAZE the can be found in print, commercial, information and research media. this assumption of the MALE GAZE informing how men and women interact is something still being negotiated on a number of fronts and luckily is being infiltrated by a better understanding of co-equal definitions of gender identification and sexuality.
luckily these prescriptions seem to be slowly dying away and toxic masculinity is being replaced by a more aware, compassionate brand of masculinity. of course the old guard is still kicking and screaming and in the case of TRUMP, tweeting.
it is sad to me that HEFNER's legacy of promoting civil rights and civl liberties is now posthomonously intertwined with that of TRUMP. oh well, it is.
much like his other release ACCESS ALL AREAS: STORIES FROM A HARD ROCK LIFE (DA CAPO PRESS, 2017), which i covered in a previous review, legendary THRASH METAL guitarist SCOTT IAN of ANTHRAX is a more than capable narrator of his own life story in his debut book I'M THE MAN: THE STORY OF THAT GUY FROM ANTHRAX (DA CAPO PRESS, 2014), which sees him overcome a troubled childhood with a neurotic mother, two failed marriages and surviving the music industry over 30 years with his mind and band intact.
it may be due to his long-term sobriety (minus a few PANTERA and OZZY tours) that the detail of his recollections seem to be precise and noteworthy. i made the point before in the other review that his writing style is very utilitarian, much like his guitar playing and this is holds true with this book as well. he tends not to embellish and hold himself to account for past misjudgments and moral lapses, which only further gains his voice credence in the reader's mind.
of interest to me with this book, which is very much a traditional chronological affair (unlike ACCESS ALL AREAS which is more a series of interesting stories), is the beginnings of THRASH METAL and MEGAFORCE RECORDS. specifically the stories IAN chooses to tell about his friend and legendary bassist/composer CLIFF BURTON (R.I.P.) and the formative years of METALLICA and ANTRAX. sharing the same indie label and manager provided him a front row seat to their early development which is compelling in historical terms. you really get a sense of the brotherhood of that early scene that carried on throughout their entire career, most famously in the BIG 4 concerts that happened this past decade.
i have to say that i also enjoyed his humor. too many times METAL bands take themselves and their image way too seriously (i'm looking right at you SLAYER) and even though ANTHRAX come off juvenile and goofy from time to time, in the end they come across as themselves: a bunch of METAL dudes from NYC.
and i can't fault them for that.
if you're interested in THRASH METAL, this book is worth your time and is a painless read, which is not always the case (cough, cough COREY TAYLOR).
it has been said that the lasting cultural impact of 1980s HARDCORE was the touring circuit they networked one city at a time. this circuit of VFW halls, LIONS CLUBS and basements across the nation was the common proving ground for INDIE bands of that same era and underground ALTERNATIVE bands of the 90s. this self-published printing (now long out of print) of his tour journal finds BLACK FLAG frontman HENRY ROLLINS in GET IN THE VAN (1995, 2.13.61) giving the reader a first-hand account of the hardship and endurance it took to get out the message.
in ROLLINS we see a guy that knows his place. he appreciates his good fortune in being asked to join his favorite band at a moment when they sought to reshuffle roles within the band. one theme carried on throughout journal is this theme of isolation and alienation from the straight world he so passionately wished to escape from. the longer he is on the road, the more severe that estrangement becomes, for his former peers (exception being friend IAN MCKAYE) can't appreciate his position. they see a rock star on tour where his actual reality is sleeping in vans, moving equipment, fighting skinheads, fighting concert promoters, lack of food, lack of sleep and lack of money. on top of that they are blazing through under-appreciated markets that don't have a frame of reference for their version of PUNK ROCK quite yet. they are very much the pioneers that got scalped to borrow horrible offensive and culturally antiquated turn of phrase.
ROLLINS attitude throughout is one of defiance. he talks about hating his audience, his bandmates and the straight world in general. his misanthropy seems rooted in a deep-seated internal fortitude to bear any burden, carry any cross for his band. what seems interesting in retrospect is how much he has transitioned since the myopia of his early 20s, when much of these entries were written. he is the very embodiment now of adventurousness, traveling tirelessly and choosing to use any of his various platforms (spoken-word albums, documentaries, podcasts, tv shows) to promote the understanding of culture across borders and inclusivity. it is basically the opposite trajectory of MORRISSEY, once the embodiment of transgressive gender politics and now just a sad mouthpiece for the extreme-right in ENGLAND (sighhh). as someone who traveled a lot growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, i definite sympathize with his misanthropy and retreat into himself when confounded with radical change and senseless violence during what amounts to his formative years. its comforting to know he transcended such self-destructive ideations.
one of my favorite aspects of this book is the friction between AMERICAN HARDCORE bands and their BRITISH counterparts. at the time it had only been a handful of years, but the chasm culturally between these two cousins was pretty wide and ROLLINS spares no quarter in taking on what he considered shitty bands that couldn't play their instruments. i take this as a grain of salt given the fact BLACK FLAG were the tip of the spear for a new more potent wave of PUNK ROCK and for them there was a definite "us vs. the world" mentality, but it is interesting nonetheless on purely sociological grounds.
the journal is a bit hard to get through and is quite repetitive but at its most potent you get a real sense of the absurdity of touring life, fan adoration and the unique hardships of being a trailblazer. true, ROLLINS was the 4th singer of BLACK FLAG, but none of the others toured like his version of the band, which makes them the de facto committed to popular memory.
in the 80 and 90s with maybe the exception of scene favorites JANE'S ADDICTION and FISHBONE, the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS were the de facto definitive ALTERNATIVE band from LOS ANGELES. incorporating disparate elements of PUNK aggression with off-kilter FUNK feel and time signatures, their sound was unique in an era where originality was a virtue. their revolving door of guitarists (HILLEL SLOVAK, JOHN FRUSCIANTE, DAVE NAVARRO) and the foundational core of FLEA and CHAD SMITH provided one of the great rhythm sections of all-time.
but this is ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir and i'm not gonna lie, he's the weak link in my opinion. i'll just say that up front. even on their best releases, his word-salad approach to lyrics and frat-boy demeanor and general public womanizing was something to be tolerated and not applauded (this is even more problematic given the later accusations that have come about in recent years way after the publication of this book).
getting my bias out of the way, SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION 2004) by ANTHONY KIEDIS and LARRY SLOMAN is mainly about the three major relationships of KIEDIS' life up until this point: his father BLACKIE DAMMETT, his best friend and bandmate FLEA and drugs, specifically heroin. for as much as this book is about his unconventional nomadic upbringing and later numerous trysts and relationships over the years, which all seemed pretty boring quite frankly, in the end I foung this book to be about an extroverts need for attention in a community only too willing to grant such.
i can only imagine what growing up with a failed-actor, drug-addled father would do to a young psyche. the messages spoken and unspoken about one's self-worth in a HOLLYWOOD community that trades on humans like they are commodities. not to mention how women were treated as arm candy in an ambitious arms race for fame and notoriety.
I found KEIDIS to be pretty shallow on most subjects in the book with the exceptions being his thoughts on those three relationships and how they informed him as a person. in some ways this book feels like a celebration of his friends and the LOS ANGELES artistic community that challenged and supported his band. for that I applaud him, but it doesn't alter the fact that on some level he's a LARS ULRICH-like impotent mouthpiece where his talk is supported by the actual talent and virtuosity of those around him.
or maybe i am too hard on him, this was written during a renaissance in his career after two successful reunion albums with legendary guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE. maybe he was coming to terms with the fact that he was a chauvinistic douche. i doubt it.
if you are fan of KIEDIS, definitely check out this book, if not do yourself a favor and listen to a FAITH NO MORE or MR. BUNGLE record. When is MIKE PATTON gonna put out a book, anyway?
NYHC: NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-1990 (BAZILLION POINTS, 2014) by TONY RETTMAN is a compiled series of interviews regarding the origins and influence of the HARDCORE community in NYC by the participants that were there. It would seem that this book is more of a document cementing the legacy of the NYHC scene for and by the community itself, rather than as an entry point to those that were not there. part of that is due to the structure of the book itself.
unlike UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (book review linked HERE) which covered similar ground for the LA PUNK scene but gave each participating voice a chapter, this book chooses to go paragraph by paragraph. this results in more participation and coverage at the risk of redundancy as often many people kept repeating the same thing over and over again. the impression it gave me was the uniformity of opinion regarding the history of the scene and that concerned me a bit just in terms of the anthropology of it all. when humans get together and agree on things so thoroughly it usually means either there is a hierarchal power structure playing out or a very strong peer group influence.
when i think of the music produced by this scene, especially the celebrated marquee second wave bands (AGNOSTIC FRONT, CRO-MAGS, MURPHY'S LAW, SICK OF IT ALL) what always stood out was the uniformity of its sound and approach. call me crazy, but music is universal and the whole idea of "you had to be there" or "you wouldn't understand because you weren't a part of the scene" is a weak argument for substandard product. i'm not trying to be harsh on the music itself, but at times it is almost laughable when people from this scene talk about how it wasn't fair that bands like NIRVANA gained popularity at their supposed expense. bands from the pacific northwest came from an equally insular scene that celebrated diversity and inclusivity, often at the risk of alienating more conservative elements in their ranks. the NYHC bands where conservative in their approach to their craft and politics, which veered from reactionary to downright thuggish.
what i gained from this book was a wider appreciation for the origins of the NYHC scene, which grew out of a legendary punk scene that celebrated a diverse community of artists (PATTI SMITH, TELEVISION, THE RAMONES) and initially attracted a like-minded next wave (BAD BRAINS, KRAUT, THE MOB, THE UNDEAD, THE NIHILISTICS) before the second wave took cemented the rules of the scene from there on out.
i made reference to the LA PUNK scene already but it followed a very similar trajectory. to me it is always interesting how with social movements new opportunities beget new rules and both scenes are guilty of such. it is just human nature i guess. i wonder with our modern digital social media world where access to music is immediate via the internet and streaming services whether or not such regional genres can develop apart from one another. i doubt it.
in this way i think a book like NYHC: NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-1990 is a beacon to a mode of culture that can literally never be repeated as technology has erased the potential of such. whether that is good or bad i don't know. my only hope is that it won't lead to more uniformity because then we all lose.
written at the turn of the millennium in a jovial, conversational style in first person, WHITE LINE FEVER: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (CITADEL PRESS, 2002) by legendary MOTÖRHEAD frontman LEMMY KILMISTER is an engaging look back at a most interesting career in music and the legend's almost ZELIG-like ability to be connected to various cultural movements and figures over the years.
i would like to get the drawbacks of this book out of the way before i go all fanboy, because obviously the draw of reading this is to learn more about one of my all-time favorite bands, who really cemented the attitude of PUNK ROCK in a more technical METAL landscape, even if he was a precursor that ultimately transcended both scenes. the tone of the book feels like you are in the presence of a great storyteller at the end of a bar drag on about his life and the reasons for past decisions to date. this is a double-edged construction for a book since all bases are covered chronologically but can come off a bit forced and repetitive at times, especially give the life of a successful musician with the requisite recording and live performance schedules. about halfway through this book i had a good idea of how the trajectory of his narrative was going to pan out and the book didn't disappoint, which was unfortunate as you want the reader to not be lulled into boredom by being predictable.
which is odd given the subject of this book. KILMISTER led an anything but normal life, even by ROCK AND ROLL standards. he was an ENGLISHMAN who grew up primarily in WALES to a single-mother and grew up in the 60s scene where he was able to see THE BEATLES pre-fame at the CAVERN CLUB, roadied for JIMI HENDRIX and found himself a part of the 70s PROG ROCK culture fronting HAWKWIND before ultimately venturing out with the PUNK/METAL juggernaut MOTÖRHEAD for the rest of his life.
while this book does provide some interesting asides and stories about his upbringing and friends, famous and not, throughout his life, the tone of this book feels like that of a ROLLING STONE in the BLUES sense, in that he doesn't seem to stick too long to any subject before moving on to something else. this includes losing friends (and even a lover from his youth) to heroin. heroin is a drug he acknowledges despising because it took so many of his peers but often instead of diving deeper he glibly goes on about getting on with his life. on one hand you get the sense that you are listening to the ultimate ROCK AND ROLL survivor, but it feels like a lost opportunity in that these disappointments are what inform his decisions and trajectory as a major cultural figure for over 30 years (at the point of publication). as a reader i wouldn't mind if more attention were paid to such instead of giving it the same care as his many screeds against cliche fair like record companies and concert promotes.
thats my gripe. i wish this book had been a bit more in depth on his life but really, this is his book to have written the way he wanted. i don't think this is the definitive MOTÖRHEAD book but i look forward to reading such when it is ultimately written.
when i began doing this blog thing in earnest i knew that i was going to need to provide some sort of regular content. since i've always been reading memoirs and biographies of musicians as long as i can remember, writing about them seemed a natural fit.
we've got many coming up in the new year including next week's review of the late LEMMY KILMISTER's 2002 memoir WHITE LINE FEVER. so look for that coming very soon!
here are links to all those reviewed this year: