Holiday Gift Guide 2011
Rock 'n' roll X-Mas
Books and DVDs roundup 2011
Published: November 23, 2011
Scott Weiland found an excellent co-writer for his Not Dead & Not for Sale: The Earthling Papers: A Memoir ($24, Scribner). (What's with all the artsy long titles this year?) David Ritz co-authored Ray Charles' autobiography and did a great Marvin Gaye book as well. So one wonders how much input he had into this insufferable bore, which is often as pretentious as its title and the van Gogh-wannabe photo of the singer on its cover suggest. I guess some people do dig this poofball — how else can you explain a book deal? — but he's always struck me as the kind of former high school jock who initially did heroin 'cause it was in the "Rock Star 101" syllabus and then — oops! — found himself a total fuck-up for life. Weiland's former Velvet Revolver bandmate Duff McKagan has basically spent his career dealing with difficult (which is sometimes a polite way of saying almost-psychotic) frontmen. But even though he has his gripes with Axl Rose — most notably for never showing up on time for concerts during their Guns N' Roses heyday — this is a guy who never has anything too harsh to say about anyone, which is probably why he's the only former member of the band to have joined Rose onstage since the split. Duff was my apartment building neighbor in Los Angeles for a year right before the band exploded, and his book (which he wrote himself!), It's So Easy & Other Lies ($26, Touchstone), is as sweet-natured as he is in real life. A lot of it is a retread of stuff already reported in Slash's book and other GN'R histories. But his tales of addiction and its near-death results are harrowing, and, overall, this is a fine addition to the saga.
Of course, there are thankfully many non-morons involved in rock and its history as well. Human Switchboard leader and former record-biz exec Bob Pfeifer proves that with his first novel, University of Strangers ($12, Power City Press), an alternative universe look at modern celebrity culture and paranoia, featuring a few detailed autobiographical experiences from the author's own life.
But there has never been any less of a moron in rock history than John Lennon, who got a definitive treatment this year via the 784-page Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music by NPR rock critic and Beatles historian Tim Riley ($35, Hyperion). Who would have thought there'd be more to say about the man and his myth 31 years after his tragic death? But Riley gets as close as a biographer can get to the truth behind much-debated and -disputed topics. Consider it the total antithesis to the repugnant Albert Goldman's putrid 1988 book. (The author here doesn't even mention Lennon's assassin by name, as it really always should be.) Riley's Lennon is no angel. But as George Harrison added in an interview, after first agreeing with that sentiment, shortly after JL's death: "But he was as well." In Riley's hands, though, there's no doubt that he was a great artist — one of the greatest — and, like Courtney Love's husband, one of the most brilliant and important minds of the 20th century. It'll make you fall in love with him all over again.
Lennon also makes up one-eleventh of the main subject material in former Entertainment Weekly writer David Browne's Fire & Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970 ($26, DaCapo), which makes a convincing case for that year as one of rock's most pivotal, with a new breed leading the music out of the utopian Aquarian and then disillusioned post-Altamont age ... and into the corporate rock and mainstream arena that was to rule from that point on. In fact, the book concludes with former Fabs associate Peter Asher booking his management client James Taylor into arenas, charging a then-whopping $7.50 for tickets, with the subsequent tour the first to use video TV screens to play to the masses. Alice Cooper and the Eagles, not to mention the revised Fleetwood Mac, were all waiting just down the road.
John Lennon co-wrote "Fame" with David Bowie, of course, so he plays a small role in David Bowie: Starman, by former MOJO editor Paul Trynka ($25.99, Little Brown), for my money at least, the best rock bio of 2011 not about the Fabs. The author conducted 250 new interviews (including material from Detroit's own Scott Richardson of SRC fame, who toured with David and Angie during the Ziggy era and became Mrs. Bowie's lover) for this eye-opener — and even the most devoted Bowie fans will undoubtedly find stuff here they never knew before. And it's as well-written of a page-turner as Trynka's earlier definitive Iggy bio, Open Up & Bleed, was. The latter remains the best, probably most accurate, and definitely most readable book about the Stooges, James Williamson, etc., etc. — and Starman will surely now take that same role when it comes to Thin White Duke lit.
Other notable bios: The Stooges: Head On: A Journey Through the Michigan Underground by Metro Times' own Brett Callwood ($19.95, Wayne State); Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell by Tony Iommi with T.J. Lammers ($26, DaCapo); New York: Bob Dylan by June Skinner Sawyer ($14.95, Roaring Forties Press); This Is a Call: Life & Times of Dave Grohl by Paul Brannigan ($26.99, DaCapo); Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank by Barbara Sinatra ($24.99, Crown); Dancing Barefoot: The Patti Smith Story by Dave Thompson ($24.95, Chicago Review Press).
Coffee-table, art and gift books: You may have noticed that the bios section here didn't mention Steven Tyler's 2011 autobio — but that's only 'cause I never got a review copy. Which was a shame, since Tyler didn't get nearly enough exposure this past year. I'm prejudiced, but I do think Aerosmith fans would be just as well served and rewarded by Richard Bienstock's Aerosmith: The Ultimate History Of the Boston Bad Boys ($35, Voyageur Press), a beautiful visual history of the band, with accompanying critical assessments from yours truly, as well as Chuck Eddy, Jaan Uhelszki and Bud Scoppa, among others. No company does these rock history photo books, with critical perspectives, any better than the Minneapolis-based Voyageur does — and this year's crop also featured Brit critic Chris Welch's Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History ($40); rock poster historian Paul Grushkin's, Dead Letters: The Very Best Grateful Dead Fan Mail ($29.99), which features some beautiful psychedelic artwork sent to the band over the years; and, the grandest of them all from my perspective, Rockabilly: The Illustrated History, edited by Michael Dregni ($30), which chronicles that wonderful twang from the birth of the King featured on its cover straight through to the Cramps, Tav Falco & Panther Burns, the Rev. Horton Heat and beyond. Contributors include Greil Marcus, acclaimed Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick, Sonny Burgess, Wanda Jackson, and many, many more.
Olivia Harrison's George Harrison: Living in the Material World ($45, Abrams) is the companion volume to Martin Scorsese's recent excellent HBO-aired documentary on the great man. A must for his fans and Beatlemaniacs in general, with the often tragically underrated Beatle getting his own Beatles Anthology of sorts ... though I'm really waiting for the DVD of the documentary. A book of unseen Beatles photos, The Last Beatles Photographs: The Bob Bonnis Archive, 1964-1966 ($29.99, It!/HarperCollins) made a media splash this year with its newly discovered shots, including a 26-page section of the lads backstage and on at Detroit's Olympia Stadium in August '66. (A companion book of Bonnis' archive of Rolling Stones photos from that same era is almost as impressive.) And Linda McCartney: Life in Photographs ($69.99, Taschen) includes many of the pop star shots that were in the late, lovely Linda's now out-of-print 1993 book, Linda McCartney's Sixties: Portrait of an Era (which has been selling for as much as $100 for mint copies) — not just classic Beatles shots, but also the Stones, Hendrix, Joplin, Neil Young, the Doors, etc. Even more of this oversized volume, however, is devoted to her more artistic work and, especially, the Macca family. Say what you will about their music (and it really shouldn't be negative unless you're incredibly cynical), but Paul and Linda were obviously terrific parents and one of the greatest love stories in all of rock. And the proof is in these pages.
A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival by Los Angeles brothers Harvey & Kenneth Kubernik ($45, Santa Monica Press) is, quite simply, the best book ever on that legendary 1967 "Summer of Love" musical event. It's not only the wonderful, sometimes dazzling photos from the likes of the great Henry Diltz, among others, and the vivid remembrances by artists and attendees alike, that make it such a beautiful book. As he did in his recent Laurel Canyon history, Harvey frequently concentrates on the less obvious facets of things, basically ignoring what others have already chronicled, while encapsulating not just the brief idyllic nature of the time but also his subjects in a single sentence. Such as describing Bill Graham "handling artists with the sensitivity of Josef Stalin." Or Micky Dolenz thusly: "For a brief, dazzling moment, he was the center of what was happening, the gracious host to a new generation of pop aristocracy." Terrific book.
Legendary rock photog Bob Gruen's Rock Seen ($45, Abrams) feels like it weighs a ton — but there's about a ton's worth of great photos within, including some of the most iconic in rock. And even with several pages loaded with classic images only a little larger than postage stamps (most of the book is full-page portraits and live shots), one would be happy to see even more images from his archives. Not just of Lennon and the Dolls — the subjects of his two previous books — but almost every artist that ever mattered, including the Ramones, Pistols, Zeppelin, the '50s rock 'n' roll pioneers, and cover boys the Clash, captured at a time when they billed themselves as, ahem, "the only band that matters." Back in the time when such things really did seem to matter.
DVDs: Mott the Hoople mattered so much to David Bowie that he gave them one of his finest Ziggy-era songs and then produced an album for them in an attempt to take them to superstardom. It was the tragic but colorful Guy Stevens — who later produced London Calling for that aforementioned only band that mattered — who originally put this band of talented louts together, though, in an almost Monkees-ish way. Bowie and the late Stevens (and, sadly, Mick Ronson) don't appear in The Ballad of Mott the Hoople ($26.99, Start). But most of the other principals — including the always articulate Ian Hunter, whose Dylan-isms merged with a Stones-like hard rock is what made the band's sound what it was — are featured in this fantastic documentary, which presents a strong case for Mott as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. A lot more live material — like, the whole concert! — from their 2009 reunion would've been greatly appreciated, though.
The Hollies: Look Through Any Window, 1963-1975 ($14.99, Reelin' in the Years) is a long-awaited new addition to director David Peck's "British Invasion" series (previous volumes have spotlighted the Small Faces and Herman's Hermits), which takes a Beatles Anthology-like approach to lesser-known bands of the era. Featuring 22 complete performances, including a few early ones that demonstrate these guys could surprisingly rock), the doc makes it clear how they managed to go from the Merseybeat-ish "Bus Stop" to the great pseudo-Credence rip "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" during the course of a career, spotlighting the eventual battle between Graham Nash's "progressive" instincts and the band's pop aesthetic. Much like the Beach Boys, these guys never came off as "hip," no matter how much they tried, but a live version of "Look Through Any Window" included here is enough to take your breath away.
And speaking of live, the Rolling Stones' Some Girls: Live in Texas '78 ($14.99, Eagle Rock) captures that band in July of its 1978 summer American tour, which was the last really great tour the band did before settling into their role as a fun and entertaining but basically nostalgic big rock show act. (The disc, whose bonus features include the Stones' September '78 appearance on Saturday Night Live, is also included in the new deluxe box version reissue of the Some Girls album.) But threatened by the barbs of the newly emerging punk rockers, and with their supremacy at stake at the time, the band had something to prove. Some Girls was their musical answer — and the subsequent shows were the last time they really seemed "dangerous" and could still lay claim to the "greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world" title ... when, yes, such things still mattered, though perhaps only God remembers why.
We got Bill Holdship on ice up in Battle Axe, where he writes like a madman.
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