Holiday Gift Guide 2011
Rock 'n' roll X-Mas
Books and DVDs roundup 2011
Published: November 23, 2011
Rock literature aficionados shouldn't be surprised to find oral histories on the likes of Men Without Hats, and still others devoted to the wit and wisdom of shock-rock "punk" cult hero GG Allin, in our near future. Such a prediction may not be totally fair to Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum's I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story ($29.95, Dutton), an exhaustive and well-researched oral history that provides pretty much everything — and then some — anyone who came of age in the '80s and grew up with it would ever want to know about the video television monster and monopoly that made the world safe for "The Safety Dance." But how else to process the autobiography-philosophical tract on the nature of evil and sin by Slipknot lead singer, Corey Taylor? His Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument between Being Born Bad & Damaged Good ($24, DaCapo) includes all the inanities and sexual depravities (but not the titillating kind) one might expect from the masked man. Even Ace Frehley published his own story this year, No Regrets ($26, VH1 Books) — and while it still hadn't been seen by this reviewer at press time, advance publicity promised much information about Gene Simmons' perpetual on-the-road crabs during KISS' heyday; one can only hope it also features the tidbit Peter Criss once told me about Gene having it in his contract that every single person had to address him as "God" during the original band's final pre-reunion tour. Hell, 2012 has been promised an autobiography from Courtney Love, which should be a fine addition to fiction and abnormal psychology sections in the 10 or so bookstores still left in the United States. As this writer once wrote in an unpublished letter to the L.A. Times when Ms. Love used that paper to announce the forthcoming publication of the diaries of her late husband, who she termed "one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century" or something like that: "If Kurt was one of the most brilliant minds of the last 100 years, what was he doing married to Courtney Love?" But I digress ...
Rock critics: Believe it or not, music criticism was responsible for some of 2011's finest books, with Kevin Avery's impeccably researched Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life & Writings of Paul Nelson ($29.99, Fantagraphics) leading the pack. Nelson — who was very generous of spirit to young writers in the early days of pop criticism — was a pioneering rock (and film and folk movement) critic, as well as an unsung leader of the form that became known as "new journalism." He influenced Bob Dylan's art, providing the bard with many of the musical roots he'd return to throughout his career (in fact, Dylan got busted stealing a bunch of records from Nelson and his roommate when he was still Bobby Zimmerman in their native Minneapolis); "destroyed" his own A&R career at Mercury Records in the '70s by signing his beloved New York Dolls (and Ohio's brilliant Blue Ash); and became a close friend and confidant of such figures as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Warren Zevon, Rod Stewart and Jackson Browne (and that's just for beginners). And yet, after he'd seemingly decided that both society and the art forms he loved had let him down, Nelson drifted into writer's block and what can only be described as madness before his 2006 death from starvation at age 70. Avery has done an outstanding job assembling a collection of the writer's work, fully illustrating why he was such an influential presence in his time. But, sadly, especially in our time, it also reads as something of a cautionary tale — and if you read this and Jim DeRogatis' Lester Bangs biography together, you might wonder why on earth anyone would ever choose rock criticism as a career in the first place. (Then why did Bill Holdship choose rock criticism? —Ed.)
The great Ellen Willis, who was the New Yorker's first rock critic from 1968 through '75, died from cancer the same year as Nelson. But combining Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music ($22.95, University of Minnesota) with the Nelson book will help give a younger reader a glimpse into a time when criticism and journalism did matter and could even be considered a noble pursuit. Willis — who may be better remembered as a radical leftist and feminist during the latter part of her career — still resonates with words she wrote about music decades ago. Hers were some of the finest pieces ever on Lou Reed and the Velvets, as well as Janis Joplin and CCR, among many others. It's satisfying to read her treating Elvis in a fair manner during the late '60s and early '70s; or pointing out, in early '69, that "the Stones' sensibility has always been — at least in part — a revision of and a reaction to the Beatles'"; and arguing, "a bit prickly because I've had this argument before," with postpunk fools, who even then were mistaking history for nostalgia or sentimentality (or both), by suggesting such detail on the part of an artist is to "acknowledge the '60s instead of trying to pretend all that stuff never happened." Wise words; excellent reading.
Nick Tosches wrote the foreword to Avery's Nelson bio. And while I haven't yet read his own 2011 tome, Save the Last Dance for Satan ($12.95, Kicks Books), which expands a Vanity Fair piece (which I did read) about the record biz, mobsters and hoodlums all intermingling during the post-Elvis early '60s of seemingly musical innocence, Tosches remains in a pantheon of music history scribes, stylists and critics occupied by the likes of Bangs, Nick Kent and only a few others. His Dean Martin biography and "Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n Roll" columns for CREEM, among other things, are the stuff of legend — so this offering from Norton Records' Billy Miller & Miriam Linna's offshoot of their old Kicks magazine promises a dandy and rewarding reading experience. Berkeley, Calif., native Joel Selvin covered the San Francisco music scene for 32 years, from 1972 through 2009, for that city's major newspaper, The Chronicle. But while Smartass: The Music Journalism of Joel Selvin ($19.95, Pantheon) has some in-depth reporting on Frisco music, ranging from lots on the Grateful Dead to Sly Stone and Bill Graham, Selvin's beat spanned the entire Golden State musical landscape, including excellent pieces on Merle Haggard, Tom Waits and his infamous exposé on the late Kevin Gilbert's suicide and the showbiz manipulation by Sheryl Crow that was behind that whole tale. And really, who can resist a Dennis Wilson profile that begins with the Beach Boy exiting Michael Love's meditation chamber to announce to the journalist: "I just jacked off in Mike's room"?
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