much like his later JIMI HENDRIX biography ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS (SCEPTRE, 2005) which we reviewed (linked HERE), CHARLES R. CROSS in HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN (HYPERION, 2001) arguably provides a definitive account of another troubled SEATTLE musical icon, KURT COBAIN of NIRVANA.
and i don't think that is an irrelevant connection to make. aside from both being part of the bullshit "27 Club," they both navigated multiple worlds and transcended less than hospitable family situations. HENDRIX dealt with issues related to RACISM and VIETNAM, as well as dealing with fame that came from his genius remolding of BLUES and ROCK traditions and bending them to his singular artistic will, essentially defining his era. COBAIN similarly reinterpreted INDIE ROCK and HARDCORE punk culture into what later was termed GRUNGE and ALTERNATIVE ROCK and effectively transformed 90s culture in his image.
both in my opinion dug from a deep well of pain that was rooted in isolation (HENDRIX being an army brat and COBAIN the forgotten, neglected son of a painful divorce) and their gifts were transmitting that depth of feeling into music that touched the world.
HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN is a well-researched, dry affair that relies on public records, published interviews and background info from COBAIN's family and former bandmates and peers. you get the sense from reading it that CROSS strove to create a definitive document and it reads as such. that choice has its pros and cons as there are moments when as a reader i do not feel that COBAIN was in his right mind and could be counted on for accurate information. case in point: his excuses of stomach pain necessitating his abuse of heroin. seems like an excuse to a layman, but i understand CROSS' dilemma. bullshit excuse or not, that was the logic that informed his decision so he needs to report it. i just wish junkie excuses like that would have been given some context by professionally as, no doubt, there are people out there that will mimic such in their misguided fealty to COBAIN as some type of doomed demigod or divine messenger. people are crazy and the story of COBAIN seems to be a teachable moment as any to provide the proper support needed to readers dealing with issues of drug abuse or mental illness.
or maybe that isn't the job of the author. i don't know.
well-researched and expertly written in an almost academic way with little flair. a must for any fan of COBAIN, NIRVANA and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene in general.
back during my first 3 months as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA during the requisite training awkwardly termed PRE-SERVICE TRAINING (in my opinion the minute you got off the plane in country you became a volunteer despite what anyone says to the contrary) i read LAWRENCE WRIGHT's PULITZER PRIZE-winning book THE LOOMING TOWER (KNOPF DOUBLEDAY, 2006) bout the philosophical roots and systematic/organization machinations that lead to the 9/11 ATTACKS.
you know, some light reading.
the book is expansive and really gets into the long-term friction between AMERICAN CAPITALISM and the rampant tribalism that marks the ARABIAN PENINSULA that lingers on to this day. that friction is first seen in a young foreign exchange student SAYYID QUTB who is crestfallen by what he perceives as the loose morales of the AMERICAN society he encounters during his time at the UNIVERSITY OF NORTHERN COLORADO in the 1940s. his writings on his return to EGYPT mark the beginnings of the extreme strain of ISLAM that calcifies and much later is exploited by the likes of AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI and OSAMA BIN LADEN.
the book is very much about how ideas are birthed, spread and imposed organizationally by those with the means and vision. it just so happens here that this idea is terrorism.
what made this book interesting for me as a PEACE CORPS volunteer was ALBANIA's inclusion in the book. during the nearby KOSOVO conflict of the late 1990s, SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC was basically ordering the genocide and ethnic cleansing of MUSLIMS in the region (also including BOSNIA). this provided the perfect platform to franchise their organization in EASTERN EUROPE, and so in the capital TIRANA. with the help of the AMERICANS, this cell was caught in 1998 and provided key information in understanding the structural implementation of the AL-QAEDA operation en masse.
as a PEACE CORPS volunteer more than 10 years later this information was, of course, omitted from what we were told of the region. most of the volunteers were idealistic idiots anyways, so it wasn't like they were seeking out outside information anyway. when i brought up the 1998 cell in an information meeting the security officer almost turned white, attempting to provide proper context for this omission. but whatever. i got it even then. ALBANIA is one of those countries that can go either way, having a complicated and interesting history that finds it at the crosscurrents of influence by the east and west, christian and islam, land and sea. as an act of self-preservation it is understandable that they would maintain dialogue with all actors in the region, and they do. i always felt as a volunteer that we were the canary in the gold mine, but that is a story for another day.
this book is informative and expertly written in an approachable, very readable manner. i highly recommend it and i'm glad that there is now a mini-series on HULU that is attempting to share its insights. it should be required reading for all AMERICAN citizens interested in understanding the power of religion to corrupt absolutely.
co-written and released around the time of his second studio album, recent departure from VELVET REVOLVER and return to STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, famed ALTERNATIVE ROCK frontman SCOTT WEILAND's memoir NOT DEAD & NOT FOR SALE (SCRIBNER, 2011) is a frustratingly clipped, half-hearted attempt at an open dialogue of a supremely gifted musician with his fans, family, critics, bandmates alike. you really get the sense that despite his charisma and gifts as one of the premier vocalists of his age, his guard was forever up, especially regarding his reasons for abusing drugs which affected his career multiple times and, ultimately, took his life.
i dont know, maybe its me but this book came out shortly thereafter his exhaustive and expensive divorce was finalized and the recent publication of that same ex-wife's tell-all book. in many ways this memoir feels like a cash grab. i say that because in this book he doesn't come off like a knowledgeable narrator of his own life since things just sorta happen. he comes off like a passive viewer, not even a participant. we formed the band. this song was about my ex-wife. this song was about heroin. nothing is ever expanded upon, just referenced or briefly mentioned. which really sucks, because he had such a unique vantage point on that era given his stature as one of its premier and most successful lyricists and vocalists, along with KURT COBAIN, CHRIS CORNELL, EDDIE VEDDER and LAYNE STALEY among others. just a shame this book wasn't more insightful. for someone that saw himself as transcending cliches, this book is one never-ending cliche. the cliche of taking advantage of your fanbase.
even the painful parts of his childhood, events such as being sexually abused and his parents divorce, just sort of happen and never inform anything later in his life, career or personal life. even the birth of his kids just happens.
deeply disappointed by this memoir and i don't recommend it at all. seems like a wasted opportunity, which probably could also be a summation of his career in general.
all that being said, i still love his first solo album 12 BAR BLUES and i highly recommend fans of classic 1990s TRIP HOP check it out.
i should state first off that A TRIBE CALLED QUEST is in all likelihood my favorite HIP HOP group of all time. just wanted to inform you of where my biases lie.
as ive stated before i first really became acquainted with HIP HOP during my formative middle school years living abroad in NIGERIA in the mid 90s. though my classmates i was aware of TUPAC, CYPRESS HILL, SNOOP DOGG, THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G., N.W.A. and WU-TANG CLAN among others. it wasn't until a few years later in high school when i was attending a boarding school in MASSACHUSETTS that i was introduced to A TRIBE CALLED QUEST. for me there was a humor, an intelligence and a sense of sonic and lyrical craftsmanship that sold me not only on the group, but the genre as a whole. Q-TIP and PHIFE DOG were my gateway drug of sorts. through them i became doubly interested with new ears to the aforementioned groups as well as others like MOBB DEEP, PUBLIC ENEMY, DE LA SOUL, OUTKAST, SOULS OF MISCHIEF, NAS, BLACK SHEEP, RAKIM, GANG STARR, JAY-Z, UGK and future MCs like J COLE, EMINEM, A$AP ROCKY and EL-P.
for this reason i find HANIF ABDURRAQIB's examination of the musical and cultural legacy of 90s HIP HOP in his book GO AHEAD IN THE RAIN: NOTES TO A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS PRESS, 2019) through the vehicle of this seminal group particularly compelling, as they were emblematic of the higher aspirations of the greater scene. by that i mean they were sponges that celebrated their peers and black culture in general irrespective of geography.
author ABDURRAQIB makes no bones about his personal connection to the TRIBE narrative, often intertwining his lived experience as a midwestern black muslim with their music as a soundtrack. it is not a biography by any means, but more an extended appreciation for one fan's perspective of their contributions HIP HOP culture, warts and all. he definitely covers lots of aspects of their worldview and discography, but perhaps my favorite part of this books was his letter to the mother PHIFE DAWG, a fellow poet. he makes the connection that her experience as a TRINIDADIAN immigrant and the cadences of her native patois had an influence on both her use of rhythm in her poetry as well as that of her son's lyrics. seemed touching and poignant.
i can't really do this book justice as it is incredibly well-written and touches on topics like music production, pan-africanism, friendship, brotherhood, pride and family. well worth reading if you get the opportunity or share a love for this seminal EAST COAST HIP HOP group as i do.
BOOK REVIEW | "THE CHRIS FARLEY SHOW: A BIOGRAPHY IN THREE ACTS" BY TANNER COLBY AND TOM FARLEY, JR.
photo by nacrowe
i've already made explicit my love for comedian CHRIS FARLEY and his all-too brief career (check out that article HERE), but after reading this loose oral biography THE CHRIS FARLEY SHOW: A BIOGRAPHY IN THREE ACTS (VIKING, 2009), co-written by his older brother TOM FARLEY JR and compiling quotes from his friends, family, colleagues, childhood acquaintances and peers alike what becomes apparent was his complex humanity that far transcended his public persona.
what struck me about this book was not the stories of his kindness towards strangers or even the revelation that he was a vulnerable, deeply empathetic person that drew strength from his catholicism. no what struck me about this book was his relationship with his father. in my estimation this book is not about CHRIS FARLEY, it is about TOM FARLEY SR and CHRIS FARLEY. TOM was an academic standout who graduated from GEORGETOWN and was a rising talent with within the WISCONSIN GOP, even knowing then-SENATOR JOSEPH MCCARTHY. he was destined to become a lawyer but shortly after beginning law school had two heart attacks a promptly moved back to WISCONSIN and supported his family by running a company that paved roads for the local government. his job was basically to take people out to restaurants and schmooze them over lunch/dinner. he'd do this several times a day throughout WISCONSIN depending on the clientele.
in essence, CHRIS (much like his brothers) adored his father and sought to please him throughout his career. CHRIS' only ambition was to be on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, the show whose member JOHN BELUSHI was a favorite of his father. throughout this narrative of his life, CHRIS made fateful decisions based on the flawed logic of his father. whether that be delusions about whether or not they both had a problem with food or alcohol (both were alcoholics that were morbidly overweight). even when he got to 600 pounds, his father held psychological sway over CHRIS, who wouldn't lose weight as a means of solidarity with his father. even creative choices that were detrimental to his career, and against the advice of peers, agents and his own better judgement, were made by the outsized influence of his father. for one, he did BEVERLEY HILLS NINJA (SONY PICTURES, 1997) not because of the quality of the script but because TOM had convinced him to take the money.
to me this makes sense given that they had an IRISH-CATHOLIC clan mentality and again, for CHRIS his goal in life was to make his father laugh. its just tragic that he didn't get help because his generosity and sense of humor was inclusive and such a positive force in an unseen number of people's lives. there was a vulnerability to his work. a humility. this was a sad painful book to read if only because he was such a singular talent that was beloved by his peers at every step of his career and to this day he is still such a beacon of unbridled joy.
the fact that he self-destructed so spectacularly and was such a lonely figure is heart-wrenching. selfishly, like so many others i would have loved to see the DAVID MAMET-directed "FATTY" ARBUCKLE biopic that was in development at the time of his death. what an apt project.
anyway, this book was beyond compelling and well-worth seeking out if you are interested in SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE or the history of AMERICAN COMEDY. its a tragedy that is so GREEK Its uncanny. what a sad, sad story.
so when i think of extroverted ROCK AND ROLL showmen, the first two names i think of are DAVID LEE ROTH and the STARCHILD himself, PAUL STANLEY of KISS. if you have never heard his legendary epic "rock talk" rants in-between songs compiled in the very unofficial compilation PEOPLE, LET ME GET THIS OFF MY CHEST (linked below), do yourself a favor check that out. OH. MY. GOD. that and watching NORM MACDONALD clips on youtube are the only things guaranteed to bring me out of a bad mood.
STANLEY is pure kinetic energy and the ultimate frontman, as he seemingly has no bounds to his enthusiasm in the high church of ROCK AND ROLL. admittedly i am closet KISS fan, as anyone that knows me will attest. where others see a bunch of talentless charlatans, i see true believers in the redeeming power of music... plus they blow shit up. there is nothing deeper to explore in their music. LOVE GUN is what it sounds like, a song about his dick. and why not?
so when i went about reading his memoir FACE THE MUSIC: A LIFE EXPOSED (HARPER COLLINS, 2014) i was at first taken aback but then quickly understood that as a child STANLEY was a nice little JEWISH boy from QUEENS that was painfully introverted. this was due to his being born with a congenital defect called MICROTIA that left him without a right ear, essentially giving him no peripheral hearing or ability to triangulate distance. the idea that through sheer will he became an influential musician just speaks to his drive. and for me that is the secret of KISS and their merchandising empire. along with GENE SIMMONS who likewise grew up in QUEENS an immigrant ISREALI who was made fun of for his accent during his childhood, you really get the sense that music and shameless self-promotion was their meal ticket out of NYC and unto bigger stages. were their songs good? meh. one thing i appreciate about this memoir is when STANLEY openly admits when their songs were shit, specifically whole swathes of the 1980s. i dont think i have ever read another musician be that dismissive of his own work in a memoir before. even SIMMONS stands by MUSIC FROM "THE ELDER" and other schlock they crapped out during those stale years.
i appreciate that honesty.
are there problems with this memoir? of course. MISOGYNY and NARCISSISM are pretty rampant and unchecked throughout this book. i don't know if he truly understands how full of himself he comes off at times. and his talk of sexual conquests is just as boring and disgusting as in SIMMONS memoir, but i guess that was the time and place. i wasn't there thankfully so i don't know.
an aspect i really enjoyed was all the mudslinging at on-again/off-again original members PETER CRISS and ACE FREHLEY. he goes to great lengths to dismiss the basic "dog tricks" CRISS performs as drumming during their reunion gigs, not to speak of his inability to stand up for himself and hid behind his rotating array of wives. FREHLEY, much as in SIMMONS' book, comes off as a lazy drunk that had talent but wasted it. i sense some admiration of sorts deep down there but ultimately a resigned frustration at someone that did not share his drive or need to push his gift to his limits. SIMMONS gets pegged as a self-promoting charlatan who takes credit for the work of others, namely the business prowess of STANLEY and their manager. STANLEY views himself as someone that found happiness and joy in his second marriage and the redemptive power of children. ultimately he hopes for the same for SIMMONS.
this book was probably 100 pages too long and it drags in places, but i thoroughly enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading FREHLEY's book where i hear he rebuts STANLEY and SIMMONS about their claims of his supposed laziness and ANTI-SEMITISM. can't wait.
for me SARA MARCUS' unflinching examination of the RIOT GRRRL movement of the early 1990s in GIRLS TO THE FRONT: THE TRUE STORY OF THE RIOT GRRRL REVOLUTION (HARPER COLLINS, 2010) was a challenging read.
i think part of that was the nature of the movement itself, which despite being started by a small cluster of artists and musicians in OLYMPIA and franchised out to WASHINGTON DC and various towns and cities beyond thereafter, was essentially not centralized. this meant there was no clear voice by design. it was meant to be a localized support network for women to bond over their trauma and abuse and re-channel such pain into political and creative efforts that were, again, local in scope. MARCUS gives a direct overview of the career trajectories of the major bands within the scene, namely BIKINI KILL, BRATMOBILE, HEAVENS TO BETSY and HUGGY BEAR, but only as a means of contextualizing how the brand was dispersed and ultimately transformed by those thousands of girls across the UNITED STATES that got the message. and that friction is the crux of this book to me.
what started out as a personal communal idea of a connected supportive sisterhood in the face of a culture that diminished and infantilized their role in society and objectified their physical being was commendable beyond reproach. where it all broke down, as is a familiar narrative with second-wave feminism in general, was along lines of identity, specifically race. this was pre-INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM, which essentially expanded the idea of womanhood beyond that of the white, educated, largely middle-class demographic and expanded along lines of race, education and class. and much of the conflict of this book was internal with coastal acolytes not checking their own privilege at the door. but learning is difficult even when participating in a revolution.
so basically this book is complicated because the ideas they were confronting were complicated. during this period women were in danger of losing their constitutional right to control their own bodies and were the subject of harassment and increasingly elevated levels of rape and sexual abuse as teens (1 in 4 is what the book states). so to fault their efforts as imperfect or pedantic in nature is not the point.
the point is they forced a conversation in popular culture that we are still having to this day and in essence, for bands today, male or female to do benefits or be outwardly vocal about their views against ABUSE AGAINST WOMEN should be accredited to their advocacy.
as a guy reading this book i was constantly wondering what room their strident worldview had for male allies of the cause. such was never really addressed in the book but this is fine, not a criticism. the movement can almost be described as a primal scream against male oppression and the corporate machine that marginalizes women and markets them with messages meant to minimize them down to the physical presentation.
for me i found this book to be rewarding in that it presented the worldview of this movement which still has value to this day in the work of artists and bands addressing these issues with full confidence thanks to the fearless RIOT GRRRLS and their transformation of the consciousness within the stateside PUNK ROCK and INDIE ROCK scenes nationwide.
its the type of book i will be revisiting and thinking about long after this review is published. in essence any movement, much like in MONTY PYTON's comedy LIFE OF BRIAN is subject to the whims of its adherents re-contextualizing idea and ritual into new traditions that may not square with the original intent. its like a game of telephone and the RIOT GRRRL movement was no different.
insightful read. highly recommended.
a few years back, right after my return stateside after teaching abroad for almost a decade, i found myself interviewing a rapper from the BRONX that my cousin was producing and recording. i was gathering information for a future press release. one of the questions i had for him were his lyrical influences and what he drew from them. right away he said GUCCI MANE and THREE 6 MAFIA since they both kept it absolutely authentic and only rapped about their communities (ATLANTA and MEMPHIS, respectively) and their struggle in the drug game and music industry.
given this cosign, i was excited to read the recent memoir THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF GUCCI MANE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2017) hoping to get some insight into how this GUCCI MANE perceives his relationship to his community and artistic legacy. it was a little disappointing that for such an electric, effervescent personality, his memoir largely doesn't deliver on its promise, instead resorting to a paint-by-numbers literal walkthrough of his childhood, court dates and petty beefs with other rappers (YOUNG JEEZY) and various empty purchases. to an extent i understand and expect that memoirs are partly an exercise in self mythology except for that rare occurrence when an artist really feels the need for a MEA CULPA or to set the record straight on some aspect of their career/persona that has been misinterpreted by the public. neither seems to be the case here as again, the book focuses on the timeline of his life from the poor backwoods of rural ALABAMA to his move to ATLANTA as a young adolescent and his introduction to both HIP HOP and selling dope, which led to his rise to fame and battle with the authorities, rival gangs and rappers, drug addiction, mental illness, etc.
again, things here just seem to happen to him. its a pretty somnambulistic way of perceiving your existence, but its his book not mine. seemed a shame because his lyricism is incredibly inventive and humorous at that. as my friend from the BRONX properly surmised, he also has a distinct voice and persona that exudes authenticity. which is again why this book was a bit of a disappointment.
i wasn't looking for details into the inner-workings of the drug game or readouts of his numerous court appearances. most of that i can find elsewhere. i was looking to learn more about what makes the guy tick.
if you are a fan of GUCCI MANE and SOUTHERN HIP HOP than this might interest you, otherwise i'd steer clear and maybe consider other recent autobiographies by the likes of DARRYL "DMC" MCDANIELS of RUN-DMC (review linked HERE) or SCARFACE or THE GETO BOYS (review linked HERE).
the interesting thing about MICKEY MANTLE on the field is that the guy never reached his full potential and yet still had a singular HALL OF FAME career. in the 1951 WORLD SERIES while getting out of JOE DIMAGGIO's way during a fly ball he suffered a terrible knee injury after tripping on an exposed drain pipe in a freak accident. this was before modern medicine and it insured he played in pain the rest of his career. this was all during his rookie season.
so when i think of MANTLE on the field i think of endurance and pain tolerance. in her excellent biography THE LAST BOY: MICKEY MANTLE AND THE END OF AMERICA'S CHILDHOOD (HARPER PERENNIAL, 2011), WASHINGTON POST baseball reporter JANE LEAVY showcases that a similar argument can be made for a man that was broken spiritually long before he stepped on a major league diamond. its an enlightening yet sober assessment of an AMERICAN icon.
essentially MANTLE was famously groomed from an early age by his father to be a switch hitter, making him hit the metal side of a barn over and over in their rural OKLAHOMA property for much of his youth. his father ELVIN basically nurtured his talent, but at a price. his love for his son was more or less conditioned by his on-field play, such was the vicarious nature of their relationship. the concept of being a potential breadwinner for your family as a child is a damaging to the psyche, just as it was later for MICHAEL JACKSON and others, and it relayed a concept of self-worth that was conditioned on external factors. it lay the groundwork for later womanizing and extreme behavior that was internally rationalized because of his athletic performance.
the other major point given by LEAVY was the previously under-reported fact that MANTLE was sexually abused as a young child (4-5 years old) by his older teenage half-sister. the humiliation endured and internalized over the years informed his sense of self and sexuality, which partly explains his later behavior throughout his adult life.
the idea of being celebrated as the paragon of masculinity during your prime yet feeling inadequate based on actions taken against you for which you have no control is beyond compelling. his life was one of endurance and pain management both on and off the field, and the fact that he was trapped from discussing such pain because such would shatter his public image by discussing a taboo subject like CHILD ABUSE seems to me a uniquely AMERICAN story.
why is it that we can't deal with reality? why do we love our myths? what does that say about AMERICAN culture?
THE LAST BOY is a great read whether you appreciate baseball or sports in general or not. if anything this book is great because the subject under scrutiny is not MANTLE himself but rather our collective needs as AMERICANS to hoist up athletes and public figures as ICONS and DEMIGODS, depriving them of their own humanity. MANTLE is a case in point.
outside of PRINCE and maybe RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, GUNS N' ROSES is one of the best live bands i have ever witnessed. there is a looseness and sleazy groove to their sound that is very much in the best tradition of FUNK that i feel is often overlooked. makes sense because SLASH and AXL ROSE, at least on the night i saw them years ago GIANT STADIUM, where in top form and just slayed.
in his memoir IT'S SO EASY: AND OTHER LIES (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2011), GUNS N' ROSES bassist DUFF MCKAGAN recounts his career trajectory from a young SEATTLE street urchin punk kid to being a crucial member of a legendary band to battling drug abuse and gaining sobriety as well as freedom through (gasp) formal education, martial arts and rediscovering family.
it is quite the narrative arc and i want to say straight off that this is one of the better written memoirs i have read in recent memory. this shouldn't be too surprising given his columns for SEATTLE WEEKLY and PLAYBOY over the years that this debut book is recalled from. what i love most about his writing style is that it is conversational yet direct. he isn't trying to win you over with his vocabulary, although you get the sense that wouldn't be difficult for him given the depth of reflection and insight into his former selves that shared his same frame over a lifetime of interesting choices. rather than a tale of exploits, it is more a story of evolution and personal growth, as referenced in the title of a notoriously misogynistic song for which he wrote lyrics. he doesn't necessarily disown that song but acknowledges such were by a different person who wasn't then a father of two daughters. i appreciate that. that was me then, this is me now.
you really get the sense that MCKAGAN is writing this for other musicians who feel cornered into a lifestyle that isn't conducive to personal growth or (again, gasp) responsible long-term decision-making. nobody did debauchery like GUNS N' ROSES and the dude was such a notorious drinker that THE SIMPSONS named their fictional beer in his honor. think about that for a moment.
that same dude kicked his addictions and got a handle on his demons as well as his finances by pursuing a finance degree in order to better serve his fellow musicians with sound advice instead of relying on industry leeches that have sucked dry the marrow of many an artist. it is glorious to hear him speak about studying for exams backstage while on tour of soccer stadiums in SOUTH AMERICA. just a glorious juxtaposition.
even if you are not a fan of the music of GUNS N' ROSES or VELVET REVOLVER, this memoir is worth your time. it defies expectations and shows that through discipline and determination, even the most seemingly wayward souls out there can have a commanding second act.
couldn't recommend it any more forcefully.
my brother works at a place in NEW JERSEY where they fix consumer electronics on-site and an older customer came to him with an issue with her phone. he went about solving her problem by analyzing it and quickly realized by its contents who his client was and asked "are you?..." to which she replied "yes." my brother then went in the back area and started working on the phone and told his 20-something co-worker "just so you know, thats DEBBIE HARRY out there."
"who is DEBBIE HARRY?"
FACE IT (DEY STREET, 2019), the recently published memoir by legendary BLONDIE front-woman, actor and fashion icon DEBBIE HARRY is that rare outward statement by an artist that directly addresses their public persona. here HARRY incorporates dozens of portraits by fans through the years as a way of showcasing how enduring a cultural legacy her musical creation has been and how it has carried on much like that of her beloved idol MARILYN MONROE. all artists have personas and the idea of authenticity is a fraught concept to begin with, and i think that incorporating the fan aspect as a literal house of mirrors is an interesting take on the idea of fame.
because a lot of this book deals with BLONDIE before they became famous. it showcases a hungry upcoming band struggling in a post-apocalyptic downtown landscape in NYC during the 1970s when the social contract that binds us temporarily broke down. but in that chaos was a risk and reward with cheap housing and ample space to create. no doubt this story is important for her to tell because it showcases the psychical and emotional sacrifices she made pre-fame to chase her dream of being an artist. not a singer, but a multi-dimensional artist in a rich tapestry of like-minded souls that only an extended network like NYC could provide with the adjacent ANDY WARHOL/PAUL MORRISSEY scene and slow-churning band of misfits that made up the early punk scene.
a lot of times BLONDIE gets trapped into being NEW WAVE as their sound clashed with the likes of RICHARD HELL, TELEVISION and THE RAMONES, but this book puts that argument to shame. BLONDIE were PUNK. PUNK enough to do DISCO. her argument bases itself on her band's intent, as they were constantly pushing out their sound over several albums to expand and incorporate elements of JAZZ, ELECTRONIC MUSIC, AFRICAN and LATIN rhythms, R&B, HIP HOP and beyond. its hard to argue against that. plus not everyone needs to be PATTI SMITH.
the crux of this memoir seems to be her relationship with the BLONDIE character, which is really just a dialogue we all have with our pubic image. this is beyond prescient and meta when you consider that everyone with a social media account (cough, cough or blog) is putting out an image that may or may not jive with their real-world counterpart. HARRY dealt with this in real-time throughout with her career to unique extent that is probably only matched by movie stars and other high profile female musicians that are marketed based on their sexuality. most of the female musicians i have written BOOK REVIEWS for over time in this space (RONNIE SPECTOR, PATTI SCHEMEL, LILLY ALLEN, KIM GORDON, PATTI SMITH and CHRISSIE HYNDE) have largely had to deal with this issue, whether or not they abandoned it at some point. it is just an awful aspect of our culture that women are subject to being expendable once their perceived "beauty" has expired. for me HARRY is an archetype for this dilemma and her memoir shows her constant expansion into new territory and new creative relationships to date. to LADY MACBETH that shit and unsex her there. how do you follow up your third successful album, by collaborating with NILE ROGERS and having your album cover created by H.R. GIGER, duh. seems the logical choice for a commercial career trajectory.
i feel HARRY is still criminally underrated as an artist and this memoir does its part to argue in favor of her contributions separate from her BLONDIE persona.
but then again i am totally biased. like her, im from NEW JERSEY.
BOOK REVIEW | "DIARY OF A MADMAN: THE GETO BOYS, LIFE, DEATH AND THE ROOTS OF SOUTHERN HIIP HOP" BY BRAD 'SCARFACE' JORDAN
when i encountered SOUTHERN HIP HOP icons THE GETO BOYS in high school my first impression was their earnestness. they weren't attempting to showcase how clever they were with their wordplay, flow or prowess with the medium. they were not attempting to impress with anything other than the direct power of the narrative of their music which focused on issues related to street life and being black in a corrupt system (legal or illegal) out to get you. along with WILLIE D and BUSHWICK BILL (R.I.P.), rapper SCARFACE showcased unadulterated authenticity that was never in question and was so overly earnest and direct (almost ERNEST HEMINGWAY-esque) that it could be mistaken for humor at times, something that was exploited to full comedic effect in numerous classic scenes from OFFICE SPACE (TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, 1999).
along with CALIFORNIA-based acts like ICE-T, N.W.A. and TUPAC, HOUSTON's THE GETO BOYS were part of a generation of HIP HOP acts that took the cue from NYC's PUBLIC ENEMY and publicized injustice and corruption in their local communities for all to hear across the country, reigniting the social consciousness of the genre. no wonder his message was too much for the suits and white media to handle, even before RODNEY KING and the L.A. RIOTS.
in his autobiography DIARY OF A MADMAN (DEY STREET, 2015), BRAD "SCARFACE" JORDAN likewise maintains his direct voice and authenticity as he unsparingly evaluates his upbringing and life decisions in and out of the rap game. what i found most interesting in his memoir was his outspoken appreciation for writers, producers and engineers not associated with rap that included but not limited to LOU REED, ELTON JOHN & BERNIE TAUPIN, PINK FLOYD & ALAN PARSONS, KISS, BLACK SABBATH, CHAKA KHAN, and PARLIAMENT among numerous others mentioned throughout. SCARFACE has this reputation for his almost journalistic, unflinching eye for details and it makes sense that growing up he had a curious ear that didn't limit itself to specific genres. of course he grew up in the era before HIP HOP, but this sensibility of looking for peers outside his comfort zone stuck with him throughout his creative process. whether producing beats or about to commence a writing session, he speaks at one point about his process of chilling out and listening to a series of songs by different artists to get him in the proper space to create and be original.
thats another thing, he really makes the repeated point that biting on another's style gets you clowned on where he is from. that resonated with me as i have seen the pressure by people around me to make certain types of beats, not because they are good, but because that is what's fashionable at the moment. i get that pressure. ive seen it firsthand.
all autobiographies are about the subject presenting themselves in the light they wish to be contextualize themselves and for SCARFACE this means providing a window through his music to the oppressed. by that he explicitly state the black community that is being suppressed by institutional racism and a legal system designed to limit their agency. he knows full well that these truths are hard for WHITE AMERICA to swallow, but he sees his job as an artist to reporter his truth and the truth of his community. whether such gets labeled as glamorizing sex, violence and drug usage by a WHITE MEDIA is a matter beyond his control.
i thought he eloquently made his point regarding WHITE AMERICA throughout the whole book and his case was compelling, but what really got my attention was how he detailed the exploitation of his former label RAP-A-LOT RECORDS and its founding CEO JAMES PRINCE. that a homegrown black enterprise exploited his creativity for years is quite a story and the fact that the more corporate DEF JAM RECORDS set him straight financially and recognized his value and paid him for his worth is one of the big ironies of this narrative. one of many.
if you are fan of SOUTHERN HIP HOP, THE GETO BOYS or are interested in the history of HIP HOP or the inner-workings of the business, this book is a great choice narrated in a direct, matter-of-fact style. served straight up.
JUST KIDS (ECCO, 2010) is the transcendently written, award-winning (2010 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION) debut memoir by the legendary PUNK ROCK writer/singer/poet PATTI SMITH. more importantly it is a touching coda to special relationship between SMITH and transgressive photographer and collaborator ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE. this book is very much a celebration of his life and legacy and the bond that saw both push forward with their respective transformative and epoch-defining creative output.
i have already written at length in a previous piece about my affection for her past and present work, so i invite readers to check such out as i will not go into such here but wanted to acknowledge such. in essence, like BOB DYLAN or LOU REED, she is one of those select few artists whose creative choices influenced what was possible for future artists to date. but upon her arrival in NYC in the 1960s after leaving a troubled past in central NEW JERSEY, she was just another insecure, sensitive, literate soul seeking connection in the big city. it really is amazing how resilient she was given her strict, isolating upbringing as a JEHOVAH'S WITNESS and having to deal with real-life issues like having an abortion in the context of such a conservative time with draconian ideals of femininity. to me she is the artist that showed the way that women could compete with men on their own terms. period.
in MAPPLETHORPE she found a fellow bohemian street urchin with an artist's visual eye. his work is both transgressive and beautiful as it depicts the underrepresented JOHN RECHY-like world of unbridled and proud homosexuality in a world that didn't recognize or appreciate such. his work is a beacon to both freedom and expression. when you consider that many of his photographs were created during the birth and later height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, you really get a sense of its courageousness and strident individuality.
their bond, both romantic and later artistic was a true collaboration. both created work that was direct and piercing and completely transgressed notions of gender and sexuality. to learn of their early struggles is both bittersweet and unflinchingly romantic in a nontraditional sense. their work was their children and his ultimate demise after succumbing to the effects of AIDS in the late 80s is truly tragic.
but what a beautifully written expression of their bond for posterity. lovingly crafted as only a poet can, this is likely the most superbly written memoir i have read to date.
i encourage anyone and everyone to seek it.
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.