i recently went about revisiting MARILYN MANSON's memoir THE LONG HARD ROAD OUT OF HELL (HARPERCOLLINS, 1998) that he co-wrote with NEIL STRAUSS during the early peak of his career post ANTI-CHRIST SUPERSTAR. it's funny how much this book is a product of its time with MANSON more or less self-defining his image in a pre-COLUMBINE media landscape that largely took his bait and made him into a scapegoat for society's ills.
this book came about a few years before his interview in MICHAEL MOORE's documentary BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (UNITED ARTISTS, 2002) where MANSON presented himself as a thoughtful commentator on AMERICAN culture and society with respect to gun violence. he told MOORE that basically the media turned them into martyrs through their non-stop news coverage, providing incentive for future mass murderers. dude was totally on point and we are still dealing with this death spiral of bullying, media coverage and access to automatic weapons.
i would argue that he comes across as equally thoughtful in this book, if for other reasons as here he seems interested in familiar early career ROCK band fodder like infighting between ex-bandmates, record labels, rock journalists, groupies and a healthy amount of requisite self-mythologizing.
its odd thinking about all these ALTERNATIVE ROCK bands from the 90s that pushed back against society during the CLINTON administration (RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE similarly comes to mind). where are these button-pushers now when we need them? or is it that the buttons they pressed no longer work in our overly-saturated social media landscape that trades and sells on outrage. maybe MANSON and his ilk (OZZY OSBOURNE, ALICE COOPER, etc) are anachronisms from another era when people cared enough to get angry and protest. that's what i kept thinking when recently rereading his memoir, which i recommend for its intelligence and debauchery. just like the man himself.
then again, i don't know what to believe anymore about his character. recently his former girlfriend EVAN RACHEL WOOD made public allegations that he "groomed" her as a teenager when he was in his mid 30s back in the late 2000s. another former girlfriend, ROSE MCGOWAN, has praised him for his steadfast support and outspokenness as a fervent ally of the #METOO movement.
so... yeah, i dont know.
maybe he is a monster after all. maybe he isnt. not sure who to believe here.
any time there is a progression in literature, art or (in this case) music, there is a transition period when new ideas are experimented with and eventually solidified into new forms and orthodoxies. in his memoir I DREAMED I WAS A VERY CLEAN TRAMP (ECCO PRESS, 2013), PUNK ROCK originator and pioneer RICHARD HELL of TELEVISION, THE HEARTBREAKERS and THE VOIDOIDS fame sets straight his account of the narrative of the CBGBs mid-70s scene and the literary aspirations that underpinned it.
what is lost in the worship of THE RAMONES, SEX PISTOLS and others that popularized PUNK ROCK in the late 70s was how at its root the scene traced itself to the lower east side of MANHATTAN in the mid 70s was eclectic and quite avant garde. in many ways the NO WAVE scene that followed it in NYC largely kept its spirit alive. HELL does not attempt to hide the fact that he is not a trained musician, but rather he is a lover of books, poetry and ideas despite his being a high school dropout with a troubled childhood. it is his love of the written word that elevated him and helped him initiate a community that is largely intact today. for me that is his greatest accomplishment as his work is still relatively obscure in comparison to colleagues like BLONDIE, PATTI SMITH, THE TALKING HEADS, THE DEAD BOYS and the aforementioned RAMONES.
his take on that scene is interesting in that he felt PATTI SMITH was full of shit with a mediocre band that mimicked early TELEVISION, that BLONDIE was lackluster and an excuse for people to gawk at DEBBIE HARRY and that THE RAMONES were a one trick pony, a surf rock band on speed. i found it very interesting that he felt such animosity for SMITH given that she seemingly had such similar literary ambitions as himself, these barbs almost come off as projection, but interesting nonetheless.
throughout his memoir makes repeated note of reasons why he never gained commercial success, those being his band(s) lack of a repeated streamlined sound or core identity brought on by his literary aspirations. he also recognizes his aloofness in interviews that came off as conceited and self-absorbed, whereas the next generation played the game. in many memoirs it is common to see people become jaded and jealous of those they influenced to greater fame and notoriety. HELL here, to his credit, heaps praise on the SEX PISTOLS for taking his sense of fashion, worldview and aesthetics and fine-tuning them for maximum impact. it seemed he was living vicariously through their nihilism and unguarded critique of BRITAIN's rigid social class system and conservative government.
this memoir was a little dry in places as HELL has a tendency to lose the plot in places and give expert descriptions of people and places that have no real value narratively, but when he does share his opinions on the scene, both its origins and legacy as a means of setting the record for posterity, those moments are golden. the book closes in 1984 when he sought treatment for his heroin dependency and quit music to begin his writing career.
SATCHMO: MY LIFE IN NEW ORLEANS (DA CAPO, 1954) as its title succinctly states, is a memoir by JAZZ great and AMERICAN cultural icon of the first order LOUIS ARMSTRONG concerning his humble beginnings in NEW ORLEANS at the turn of the century up to his departure for CHICAGO to join fellow NEW ORLEANIAN musician KING OLIVER and his CREOLE BAND.
to call his early life humble is really putting it mildly, since you get the sense fairly quickly how destitute and poverty-stricken his area of NEW ORLEANS was at that time. surviving most have been absolutely brutal. ARMSTRONG throughout the book offers only a few details here and there concerning the lengths at which him and his mother MAYANN and half-sister MAMA LUCY resorted to for food and shelter, his bigger concern was shedding light on the strength and support of the overall black community at the time. in fact, this memoir is really a love letter to those people and that period of time before he became famous.
that community extends mainly to the small arts community at the time which played in JUKE JOINTS and brothels in NEW ORLEANS. as a young teenager ARMSTRONG would play at brothels in the famed section of STORYVILLE (before it was shut down by the UNITED STATES NAVY and local law enforcement) both for the clientele in lounges as well as in more intimate settings, providing a kind of soundtrack to the night's illicit proceedings. what is interesting is the absolute lack of philosophizing or judgement placed on the participants. these are all people attempting to survive doing what they have to do, and for that they are worthy of his respect, even in retrospect.
ARMSTRONG also elucidates on the extreme violence that was a part of life during that period. in a sense, most of it had a sense of honor about it. participants in such pugilism only engaged in dirty tactics when provoked by others to do so. again, the motivation for such scrapes were due to arguments concerning money or women, often in gambling houses or brothels. ARMSTRONG tells about women arguing over men resulting in death and physical disfigurement as teh result of ugly brutal fights utilizing razors.
again and again, ARMSTRONG does not denounce these people and their actions, instead thankful that his focus was solely on music and providing for his mother and sister. he had priorities regarding the survival of his family which were not shared by others that squandered their earnings or made poor choices.
a great, quick read which really gets at the heart of a community that shaped the new AMERICAN century. NEW ORLEANS was and is a jewel of AMERICAN CULTURE and i am glad this book exists. well worth checking out.
if you are in NYC definitely check out LOUIS ARMSTRONG's house in CORONA, QUEENS. it is one of the most emotionally moving places i have ever been as it provided ARMSTRONG his first and longest-lasting home. on the road most of his life, his last wife as part of agreeing to marry him made him promise to settle down in a new home. the modest house in QUEENS is fairly mundane with no real frills of a man of his enormous stature. he was just part of a community that really took him in as one of his own. its the perfect coda to this memoir which depicts his love and adoration for his youth in NEW ORLEANS. his grave in nearby FLUSHING is similarly unadorned and absolutely befitting a true man of the people. i'm pretty jaded and i get teary-eyed thinking about his love and embrace of NYC and how the city loved him right back.
nostalgia is a weird thing.
i get it. its comforting for people to have an unrealistic memory regarding the past. they delude themselves into believing that the past was this halcyon period where people were more authentic and pure, probably due to a lack in modern technology. its a misguided revisionist delusion of hipster proportions and, of course, it is bullshit.
in his expose on the scandals of the stars of early cinema at the beginning of the 20TH CENTURY in HOLLYWOOD BABYLON (PAUVERT, 1959), cult filmmaker KENNETH ANGER essentially eviscerates any quixotic notion regarding the purity of that period. it salaciously examines the supposed exploits of major players from that era including CHARLIE CHAPLIN, FATTY ARBUCKLE, CLARA BOW, MARION DAVIES, BUSTER KEATON, JEAN HARLOW, MAE WEST, ERROL FLYNN, LUPE VELEZ, LANA TURNER and the supposed various misdeeds carried out by them or their affiliates, including rape, murder, drug abuse, "communist" infiltration, violence, theft, etc.
rereading this book, which was originally published in 1959 but then subsequently banned for over 10 years (my copy is the 1976 first edition DELTA repressing), reminds me of TMZ. although that may be a slight insult to TMZ since on balance they usually report facts accurately. their interpretation of such may be suspect. i dont know if HOLLYWOOD BABYLON is accurate and i have my doubts, but at the very least it is a gossipy window into a touchstone of AMERICAN culture, the entertainment industry, which tends to operate on different rules of morality than mainstream society. i guess power and influence does that to you, even way back then at its infancy during the pre-PRODUCTION CODE era.
as a cinephile, ive always found it interesting when we collectively give celebrities a pass for grave misdeeds, whether that be MEL GIBSON (anti-semite), JERRY SEINFELD (dated a teenager when he was 39), STEVE JOBS (denied paternity of his daughter), PEYTON MANNING (tea-bagged his female personal trainer), JOHN LENNON (abandoned his child) or even ALBERT EINSTEIN (racist against asians). perhaps projecting our dreams and emotions on humans is futile act since inevitably they will let us down and mirror our own fall from perfection. they are human after all.
and maybe that was ANGER's aim with his notorious book of gossip from a previous generation, to showcase their humanity. and to kill nostalgia.
in his incredible memoir WORDS WITHOUT MUSIC (LIVERIGHT, 2015), composer PHILIP GLASS looks back at a life and career filled with music and attempts to make sense of it. now i wish to say straight off that this is one of the most thoughtful, erudite memoirs i have read in recent memory and that likely i will be returning to it in the future when i feel the need to think about the origins of the wellspring of inspiration and creativity. it goes without saying that this book is a must-read whether or not you appreciate 20th CENTURY COMPOSERS or classical music in general. just wanted to get that out of the way right at the beginning.
for me distinguishes GLASS throughout his memoir is both his intense discipline and his equally ravenous need to experience and understand cultures and musical traditions outside of his own. having left BALTIMORE to attend the UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO as a teen and then pursue composition at THE JULIARD SCHOOL, only to further refine his skills for two years with celebrated tutor NADIA BOULANGER on a FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP in PARIS, GLASS took his studies seriously and pursued them with dedication and passion.
just as equally he followed his passion for musical traditions outside his comfort zone, especially INDIAN music (for which he took more than 20 trips throughout his life) as well as indigenous traditions in SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, BRASIL, MEXICO and the ROMA populations of EUROPE. for him, projects were an opportunity to further develop his ability to appreciate and understand unfamiliar traditions that potentially he could incorporate their technical innovations into his compositions. for me, it is this capacity that makes his work special, even if it may be hard to decode on a layman level.
being a former ENGLISH teacher, there were capacities in my students i would have to build up, but ultimately the point of such was for them to utilize these new tools to find and articulate unique insights. GLASS talks about this edge of understanding is where innovation lies and i could not agree more. his compositions, like my classrooms, were spaces for pushing limits of understanding, even looking foolish in the process. my thought was always that if i did the same thing over and over again, that there is no progression, just brute repetition with no purpose. putting discipline to use only further opens us up to new understandings, or in his case, compelling musical landscapes hitherto unearthed and unexplored.
i also appreciate his description of being in the creative moment. that the person who creates is not witness to their own creative process. GLASS would have people ask him why he put a note in a certain place or why he chose a certain tempo, and in all honesty he couldn't respond. this is since despite his great knowledge of musical composition and a variety of world traditions, when in that creative moment he is just responding on instinct. i found that compelling not only as an accurate description of my own experience when writing, but also as an interesting notion to put in a memoir concerning one of the most celebrated and dissected composers of the modern age. to take back music to an experiential phenomena as opposed to that which is academic and laborious studied ad nauseam is refreshing.
just like the act of creation, when a listener hears music they are completing the process, the cycle. there is one passage in the memoir when GLASS asks a student what is in book of compositions. the student responded with "music." "wrong" he states, "its dotted lines on a paper." music is interpreted and created anew by musicians and composers who work in tandem with the audience to experience a composition. there is no ideal, platonic version of a piece of music. it is continually being reinterpreted.
and for me that is what i love about music, art and literature. its fluidity of meaning given the context of time, geography and culture of its audience. again, i will return to this book in the future. could not recommend it anymore fervently.
THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM: RUSSIA, EUROPE, AMERICA (TIM DUGGAN BOOKS, 2018) by YALE HISTORY PROFESSOR and celebrated writer of ON TYRANNY (review linked HERE), TIMOTHY SNYDER is without doubt one of the most consequential and depressing books I have ever read. at its core it deals with the philosophical underpinnings that have guided the development and exportation of the concept of UNREALITY as a weapon by the RUSSIAN government on their geopolitical foes the EUROPEAN UNION and the UNITED STATES.
the two main concepts SNYDER utilizes to explain this scenario are the politics of both INEVITABILITY and ETERNITY.
essentially the post-WWII period has seen the UNITED STATES believe implicitly that market capitalism leads to institutions that secure democracy. this belief was beyond reproach and essentially gospel to which resulted in the assumption that such was inevitable. provide new markets and the corresponding political infrastructure will organically appear given time, it was inevitable. the politics of inevitability basically follow a narrative that a nation tells itself about how it got to where it is, that "the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done" according to SNYDER.
VLADIMIR PUTIN and basically all totalitarian dictators deal with the politics of eternity, where "eternity places one nation at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past." in this situation there is no history. icons and events of the past are merely collapsed into the present at the behest of the leader. the body politic is infallible and pure, all problems are the result of foreign influence.
this is book is basically the history of how PUTIN took his particular brand of RUSSIAN politics of eternity based on the writings of IVAN ILYIN and imposed them first on his people before testing it on the UKRAINE and later WESTERN EUROPE and the UNITED STATES.
for me the most captivating takeaway of this book is just the brazen disregard for factuality in the lies RUSSIAN propagated worldwide during their invasion of UKRAINE. its dizzying to keep up with them which is essentially the point. the success of the RUSSIAN media echo chamber to define the situation to such an extent that foreign journalists from both the left (THE NATION, THE GUARDIAN) and the extreme right (FRENCH NATIONAL FRONT) bought in is truly devastating. the truth is that the UKRAINE was a democratically-elected sovereign nation that was seeking entry into the EUROPEAN UNION as a way of modernizing its infrastructure and ridding its body politic of corruption, but RUSSIA was able to convince governments and though-leaders worldwide that this was a regional civil war.
domestically there was the lie that broadcast on state media that they were fighting fascism, when in fact they were fighting on behalf of a fascist. that UKRAINE wasn't a nation but part of a mythological NOVOROSSIYA, a "NEW RUSSIA. that foreigners were behind the deaths of RUSSIAN children and sought to promote their decadent values on the RUSSIAN populace.
the weaponization of a fictional UNREALITY was later used in AUSTRIA, HUNGARY, FRANCE and ITALY to varying degrees but found its next prime target in the BREXIT referendum. it is still ironic that regions in the UNITED KINGDOM that garnered the most financial assistance from EUROPEAN UNION were the ones that voted to leave it, but that is the power of cyber-warfare and the creation of narratives to people that don't know their own history. its tragic. the weakening of the EUROPEAN UNION is a continuing geopolitical goal of RUSSIA and the UNITED KINGDOM played right into it.
which bring us to TRUMP and the 2016 election. the story from here on out is familiar to anyone that paid attention to the MUELLER REPORT, but again what interested me was how this idea of promoting UNREALITY worked so well. that sense of purity and eternal victimhood played seamlessly into the conservative GOP worldview in the wake of a GLOBALIZED ECONOMY. it almost worked too well relative to other countries. our "exceptionalism" being defined by our own hubris at believing our own hype. and our collective gullibility in a weakened, corporate, un-diversified media culture that has been overturned by FACEBOOK and its lack of editorial principles. essentially in both form and function, our collective experience as AMERICANS has devolved more and more to the level of RUSSIA each of the past three years since TRUMP came to office. white rural TRUMP voters are okay with shorter, worse lives given that a minority somewhere in he country has it worse. its a shame what he has achieved by stoking AMERICA's unchecked legacies regarding inequality and racism.
and speaking of which, this book puts the anti-historical and anti-science histrionics and narrative manipulations of TRUMP into a useful, comprehendible context. i recommend his book whole-heartedly as a must-read for any concerned citizen of western civilization. my hope is that it isn't too late and that we vote the bastard out.
LIFE (LITTLE BROWN & CO, 2010), written by the iconic ROLLING STONES guitarist / songwriter KEITH RICHARDS is one of the most expansive memoirs by a musician i have come across in recent years. it is exceptionally well written and conceived and was an enthralling read mostly due to the scope of its narrative.
following his early life you really get a feel for how early ROCK & ROLL was transmitted abroad and reintroduced by a bevy of talented BRITISH musicians who were steeped and obsessed with forgotten and dismissed stateside BLUES traditions. in a very real sense, these BRITISH INVASION bands reintroduced AMERICA to her own musical traditions.
for me that early period is the most interesting section of the book. you get a sense for how hostile the club scene in LONDON was initially to bands exploring the BLUES in the early 60s, instead focused at the time on ROCKABILLY and early ROCK AND ROLL. THE ROLLING STONES initially were just a group of CHICAGO BLUES obsessives (i.e. the roster of CHESS RECORDS) that aspired to be the best cover band of that music in town. songwriting wasn't even in the picture for them. one interesting tidbit during this period was the fact that there was a loose underground collective of record collectors that would play newly imported hard to find vinyl singles at house gatherings. these obsessives would argue about the authenticity of the artists while RICHARDS and MICK JAGGER were there only to glean off ideas about how to deconstruct the actual compositions themselves. its hilarious to think that these BRITISH obsessives thought they knew about the BLUES enough to judge them. its sad that when these musicians (like MUDDY WATERS) came to play ENGLAND they were booed for not fitting the prescriptive view of what a BLUESMAN should look and sound like (i.e. ROBERT JOHNSON). typical BRITISH snobbery. but you get a sense of what RICHARDS was fighting against.
this book goes deep into various parts of his career and personal life, as well as his relationship with drugs. its funny because RICHARDS has a public persona for being a modern-day PIRATE or DRACULA figure who, much like LEMMY KILMISTER, has consumed in inordinate amount of pharmaceuticals and yet somehow has carried on into his elder years. in actual fact throughout his memoir RICHARDS makes repeated commentary about the mistakes made by others regarding drugs. he speaks of using in moderation and consuming a base amount to maintain a steady level alertness, something he did to stay up for days on end recording albums in the late 60s and early 70s. he never upped the dosage in search of a higher plateau. it was all about stability.
this concept regarding stability also seems to be how he navigates relationships both personal and business alike. despite his bacchanalian reputation for debauched depravity, i mean he is practically the poster child for ROCK AND ROLL excess, he speaks about things like groupie-culture as less about sex and more about companionship while on the road for years on end, especially in the earlier years. its counter-intuitive from your expectations going in, but THE DIRT this is not. he comes off practically like an ENGLISH gentleman.
but again, for me this book is less about the extracurriculars and more about his appreciation for music and the art of collaboration. in many ways his strength as a musician, aside from his songwriting prowess, is to seamlessly integrate himself into a rhythm section, maintaining the groove without showboating or drawing attention to himself. they had JAGGER for that, the ultimate peacock. JAGGER for himself is given praise throughout but also consternation for his betrayal of the band in the 1980s when seeking a solo deal with the same company on the back of a recently signed multi-album deal for the band. JAGGER collaborates when necessary but ultimately is made to look like a selfish opportunist of the first order, seeking glory for himself which very much goes against the ethos of the band.
i could go because this book is beyond expansive and well-worth the time of anyone interested in ROCK AND ROLL, BLUES, COUNTRY MUSIC or the historical progression of popular music in the 20th century. can't wait to read JAGGER's perspective if such ever comes out.
photo by nacrowe
what i found most compelling about LONELY BOY: TALES FROM A SEX PISTOL (DA CAPO, 2017) by legendary SEX PISTOLS guitarist and punk icon STEVE JONES, was not his rehashing of his libido or knack for stealing (although both are quite impressive) or even his heroin abuse and long arduous battle thereafter to attain his sobriety, it was his dispassionate dispelling of the mythology surrounding PUNK ROCK that caught my imagination.
PUNK ROCK is a unique genre in that despite its reputation for being anti-establishment and for breaking rules and crossing lines, it is actually quite conservative. hearing him JONES tell the story of how the SEX PISTOLS got on and by extension PUNK ROCK as a whole is beyond interesting and is eerily reminiscent of the conceit behind LIFE OF BRIAN by MONTY PYTHON. that film almost exclusively is an examination of the power and evolution of ritual. JONES at times is almost gleeful in disparaging PUNK orthodoxy relative to notions of the DIY ETHIC, anti-commercialism, being "in it" for the music and not women, not signing to major labels, etc. for him that is all bullshit that was created by outsiders. outsiders being rock critics at BRITISH publications and fans that followed them post GRUNDY INTERVIEW and post-notoriety. the rituals of "lobbing" and "pogo-ing" and the fashion aspect of it where all stuff that got ahead of the bad and took on a life of its own which was separate from their initial intent, which was largely an insular matter.
its hard to think of a more long-lasting cultural phenomenon than PUNK ROCK. its ethos has infiltrate every youth movement since. for me it is compelling that JONES isnt afraid of showcasing what a lout he was as a youth and how his choices then wouldnt jove with modern notions of what the genre is supposed to exhibit. and why should he?
its also important to look at his womanizing, drug abuse and general laddish behavior in context given his terrible upbringing and sexual abuse by his stepfather growing up. by no means does this excuse his behavior, but i can sympathize with its impact on JONES' psyche and how it contributed to his worldview from a formative youth onward. sadly this type of event is not uncommon. i commend him for being so honest about such a touchy subject as child sexual abuse, took really courage and i respect him for that. this biography is largely a telling of how that damage informed his life and creative output. again, what bravery.
when i see the SEX PISTOLS now in hindsight given all that has passed since then, i interpret their music as a primal scream against that hierarchy and the underbelly rising to the top despite society's (and the music industry's) best efforts to the contrary. the fact that their sound and image was co-opted, sanitized, repackaged and market thereafter is only a testament to its lasting cultural potency.
this is a book well worth looking into if you are interested in PUNK ROCK, POST-PUNK or ENGLAND under MARGARET THATCHER. could not recommend it more strongly.
for anyone unfamiliar with the BEAT writers and their impact on modern culture, well beyond poetry, the graphic novel THE BEATS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY (HILL AND WANG, 2010) is an excellent starting point. while providing a fairly definitive, warts-and-all overview of the three main writers associated with the movement in JACK KEROUAC, ALLEN GINSBERG and WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, it also deftly chooses to contextualize them within the greater SAN FRANCISCO POETRY RENAISSANCE scene that found them with writers like KENNETH REXROTH, MICHAEL MCCLURE, PHILIP WHALEN, WILLIAM EVERSON, GARY SNYDER, ROBERT DUNCAN, LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI and GREGORY CORSO as well as other important related figures like AMIRI BARAKA, CHARLES OLSON and ROBERT CREELEY. this breadth of scope results in a wider perspective about the greater influence of a movement that largely defined an era in art, poetry and literature that is still reverberating today.
i appreciate very much that the art and text both don't attempt to gloss over the fact that the three main figure (KEROUAC, GINSBERG and BURROUGHS) were involved in activities that put them at the edge of society. i understand back in the 1950s being openly homosexual was an issue and that our society has come a long way in accepting all forms of sexuality, but all three were confirmed pederasts which is still remains major taboo (for good reason). not that i am conflating the two. the all also engaged in petty crime and drug sales across state lines and in the case of BURROUGHS, manslaughter. some (KEROUAC and BURROUGHS) where petty, xenophobic, racist, solipsistic and in later life (ironically) bitterly homophobic. they were a collective that took sexuality, drugs, the written and by extension experiential consciousness to their polar extremes, which very much informed the breadth and potency of their work. the authors don't condone such, but merely present such in a straightforward manner in order to evoke a clarity of message and mission.
the choice in showcasing their exploits within a context of the greater literary and academic scene at the time and shortly thereafter provides necessary insight into how they were perceived at the time and why they are referred back to constantly today as touchstone influences.
in an era that demanded conformity during the rise of foreign fascism, their ability to wave their own freak flag of individuality provided an example of unadulterated freedom and personal liberty, for good or worse, down the line. hard to tell which.
text by HARVEY PEKAR, NANCY J. PETERS, PENELOPE ROSEMONT, JOYCE BRABNER, TRINA ROBBINS and TUL KUPFERBERG.
art by ED PISKOR, JAY KINNEY, NICK THORKELSON, SUMMER MCCLINTON, PETER KUPER, MARY FLEENER, JEROME NEUKIRCH, ANNE TIMMONS, GARY DUMM, LANCE TOOKS and JEFFREY LEWIS.
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.
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.