Rock and Roll Literature

Recently, I pulled from my constantly-expanding pile of unread books a five year-old biography of a songwriter who was briefly associated with Bob Dylan in the early 60’s. As the author described the sessions that led to one of the musician’s only two albums, I suddenly had an urge to search for said album.
Thinking back to that moment a few days later, I came to what should have been a rather obvious conclusion. Shouldn’t any music-related publication lead a person to wanting to hear more of the music of the subject?
Most of the time, I’d have to say that this is indeed true. More than a few times, descriptions of recording sessions or albums have been accompanied by said album blasting on my stereo. Yet that’s not always the case, as you’ll see in the following reviews.

Riot On Sunset Strip
Domenic Priore

For an extremely brief period of time (’65-’66), the center of the American rock ‘n’ roll universe was Hollywood. More precisely, a two mile stretch of the city featured more innovation than probably the rest of the country combined. Riot On Sunset Strip captures not only the music of that era, but it’s impact on art, movies, television, and even animation.
Verdict on whether the book inspired me to listen: Yes, the description of both legends and one-hit obscurities led to many searches for unfamiliar artists and albums. Unfortunately, much of the music is lost forever, with the exception of a handful of “Nuggets”-ish compilations.

Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band
Joe Bonomo

As the subtitle accurately describes, the career of the Fleshtones could be narrowed down to “30 years, 2,000 shows, 1,000 blue whales, no hits, no sleep”. It’s always been about fun, and not stardom, for Peter Zaremba, Keith Streng, and the rest of this (should be) legendary band. Bonomo accurately describes not only the positive points in the band’s history, but also the frustrations, addictions, and boredom of never being the right band in the right place.
Verdict: As they say on the web, Ohmigod! Old CD’s were immediately copied onto the Ipod, and old vinyl was dusted off after years of storage. Now if I only was confident enough to attempt to drink some blue whales, the band’s poison of choice.

Ron Wood

Life’s always a party for the Rolling Stones guitarist, and his penchant for alcohol seems to have engrained in him from birth. “Woody” paints a wonderful picture of life in 50’s Britain, along with his career as side man for Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, and, of course, Mick and Keith.
The partying does eventually take a toll, both physically and financially. As with many similar tales, there’s also rebirth as rehab does finally work just in time for the most recent Stones tour.
Verdict: While an entertaining bio, Wood actually spends precious little of this book on the actual music he helped create. Not once did I really have any urge to pull out any music he’s associated with.

Twenty Thousand Roads
David N. Meyer

Gram Parsons is obviously considered the James Dean of country-rock, and his legend is one of the main influences during the rise of alt-country in the mid-90’s. Despite tribute albums, concerts, and a bio-pic or two, little is really known of the man widely credited with combining rock and country. David Meyer attempts to tell the entire story, and in doing so undermines a number of myths about Parsons’s family and music career.
Verdict: Sure, I’ll admit to pulling out the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album and a few other Parsons titles. Did I become fixated on Parson’s entire catalog, though? Not really.

Million Dollar Bash
Sid Griffin

Former Long Ryders guitarist Sid Griffin attempts to tell the true story of the infamous Basement Tapes sessions involving Bob Dylan and the Band in the summer of 1967. Besides new interviews with the surviving members of the Band, Griffin’s musician ears are integral to pin-pointing exactly when and where each of the dozens of songs that have circulated over the past four decades were created. Griffin also sheds new light on what exactly happened when Dylan supposedly crashed his motorcycle, putting an end to the manic Blonde On Blonde era.
Verdict: Multiple bootlegs, along with the official Basement Tapes album, received quite a few airings during those days when this book rarely left my side.

Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth
Richard Barone

An autobiography from the former lead singer of a band that hardly anybody remembers? Yes, it seems like a preposterous idea, yet the Bongos’ story, and Barone’s career after their demise, is actually quite a ride. Although rarely mentioned these days, the Bongos actually made a relatively big splash in the early 80’s. During a time when it was mainly British acts ruling the New Wave airwaves, the Bongos had a handful of minor radio hits and enough MTV play to warrant multiple national tours. Since then, he’s released a number of solo albums but is better known these days as a producer and arranger. Frontman may lack the star power of most rock bios, but Barone’s self-analysis of what keeps an artist creating makes for an interesting read.
Verdict: Most of the Bongos material is long out of print, but a deluxe edition of their debut, Drums Along the Hudson, was reissued a few weeks before this book came out last summer. Truthfully, after a couple of plays the disc was filed next to the BoDeans in the CD room.

Rock On
Dan Kennedy

When Atlantic Records hired him in 2002, Dan Kennedy thought he had found his dream job. Instead of helping promote deserving bands hit the top of the charts, though, Kennedy found himself designing promotional copy for a Phil Collins “Love Songs” compilation. Even worse, he had to concoct a campaign for a Jewel single that mocked commercialism yet was sponsored by a perfume company. Wait, it gets worse. His superiors were either stuck in the past or had no music experience, and the company was in negotiations to be sold to a liquor manufacturer. You can’t make this stuff up, but sadly this same story could have been written by any employees of any of the major labels around this time…or now.
Verdict: Hell no! In fact, it’s these kinds of tales that makes me wonder why I’m still addicted to the power of the three minute single.


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