Holiday Gift Guide 2011
Rock 'n' roll X-Mas
Books and DVDs roundup 2011
Published: November 23, 2011
Chuck Eddy's Rock And Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism ($24.95, Duke University Press) captures a singular critical voice from, arguably, the last great period in which criticism (and physical publications) still mattered. Eddy, who was most recently music editor of the Village Voice until the corporation in charge of that "alternative" weekly decided he was expendable, spent a good portion of his childhood in Michigan, and "Detroit" ends up with the longest section in this book's index, with much attention given to such hometown heroes as Eminem, the White Stripes, Kid Rock and others. The emphasis here is on criticism as opposed to feature writing and reporting — his early CREEM cover-feature on the Beastie Boys isn't here, for instance — but Eddy (who's credited with sparking the idea for Aerosmith, Run DMC and Rick Rubin to join forces) is one of the rare critics who's fun and interesting to read even when vehemently disagreeing with some of his contrary opinions. That's no small feat. Many of his detractors don't seem to get how funny he can be. Chuck Klosterman — who wrote the book's foreword — calls him "the other Chuck," but, in many ways, it isn't really incorrect to call him "the real Chuck." (This writer was especially pleased to see the collection conclude — aside from a somewhat depressing "where to from here?" afterword — with Eddy's 2009 Village Voice "Critics Poll" feature, in which he singled out yours truly as one of the few voters who didn't adhere to what he thought was a disturbing, Animal Collective-led, lemmings-like consensus; this came right after a then-popular, now-ghost town-like, always mean-spirited local music blog had termed my same list, which was also published in this paper, "pathetic." That made my day; bless you, Chuck.)
Biographies: One place where music writers can still matter and not appear expendable, it would seem, is in helping rock morons ... er, stars look like they know how to write prose and tell a linear story. I kid, I kid! But to prove a point, Mitch Ryder's long-awaited and promised autobiography, Devils & Blue Dresses ($29.95, Cool Titles) could've certainly benefited from a good editor and co-writer-journalist. Ryder remains one of the greatest musical legends this city ever produced, of course ... so suffice it to say that beyond a bizarre revelation or four (but not nearly enough), this book is more often than not a mess and total wasted opportunity. Much, much better on the Detroit tip is Fever: Little Willie John's Fast Life, Mysterious Death and The Birth of Soul: The Authorized Biography ($25.99, Titan Books), for which Detroit News writer, former CREEM editor and Motown expert Susan Whitall gets top billing over Kevin John, eldest son of the late D-Town legend. The man who originally recorded Otis Blackwell's "Fever" influenced everyone from James Brown to Stevie Wonder (who penned the foreword) and Marvin Gaye. And Whitall's billing is obviously well-deserved, since the veteran reporter uses the material provided by the John family, as well as her firsthand material, to shape this into a cinematic-like tale that presents exactly what the last three words of its subtitle claim. A nice addition to Detroit musical history.
Another really fine example of how well collaboration between star and journalist can work is Sammy Hagar's Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock ($26.99, It!/HarperCollins), co-written with the aforementioned Joel Selvin. Hagar has endured a lot of disdain over the years for basically coming off as a rock-star version of that not-so-bright but amiable surfer-dude who always had the best pot we all knew back in high school. But with Selvin behind him, he's structured an absolutely fascinating read, even for someone like me who, beyond Montrose's debut album and maybe Van Halen's "Why Can't This Be Love," never gave this dude much thought. A short passage about partying with Steve Marriott one night is alone worth this book's existence. And despite there being two (and usually more) sides to every story, his no-holds-barred chronicles of the atrocious and addictive behavior of the Van Halen brothers, not to mention his David Lee Roth tales ("He's a fuckin', bald-headed asshole," an exasperated Hagar tells the New York Post near the end of that pair's tour together, with events then climaxing and exploding via an angry Diamond Dave screaming backstage: "You calling me a faggot? You fucking fag!"), ultimately turns the very notion of "rock stardom" (or, better, "god-dom") on its head. Like I said, genuine literature shaped from the minds and mouths of morons.
Ironically, Bob Mould, who co-wrote See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage & Melody ($24.99, Little Brown) with Cobain biographer Michael Azerrad of Our Band Could Be Your Life fame, is someone I did pay a lot of attention to back in the day (that first Sugar album is still a power-pop masterpiece) — but his autobio doesn't fascinate nearly as much as Hagar's does. It's a pretty straightforward career exploration — and definitely worth a read for fans of that era and, especially, Hüsker Dü. But the dirt here doesn't get much deeper than a weird Michael Stipe making fans enter through a window rather than a door; the drama not much heavier than the conflict between Mould and Grant Hart. And the music gets short shrift. But those who admire Mould for being a gay pride role model, at a time when society in general, and punk in particular (not to mention pro wrestling, which the singer-songwriter also pursued at one point), still wasn't all that accepting, will probably find much here to like (even if his "outing" by Dennis Cooper in SPIN finds Mould admitting that he was angry at the magazine for 15 years for quoting him directly). His ego is big, something that's reflected in a line like: "In my mind, it was no longer 'I wonder if we're better than the Replacements.' We were playing with REM and I was thinking 'Next?'" Um, nothing wrong with believing your band is the best in the world, but with that example, you fail, Bob.
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