Rock and Roll Literature

Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story
By Laurie Lindeen

Ok, I have to admit that I was excited by the prospect of this book for one main reason. Former Zuzu’s Petals’ leader Laurie Lindeen is married to Paul Westerberg, and like many “Wester-nerds” around the world I devour anything remotely associated with the former Replacement.
Paul is certainly a part of Lindeen’s story, and she ultimately reveals unexpected tidbits of his private life (including a few stories of us creepy fans), but he’s definitely not the hook that sold her story to her publishing company. Instead, this is the story of an insecure female rocker (who also suffers from multiple sclerosis) whom moves from Madison, Wisconsin to Minneapolis to form a band with her two best friends.
The chapter that tells of Lindeen’s entrance into the Minneapolis music scene may be one of the best descriptions of the city I’ve ever read. She accurately captures the quirks of both the layout and the people that inhabit the city. Well-known musicians are obviously a big part of her life, but this is not a tabloid-ish tale of her encounters with those that are at the very least semi-famous. Those noted (most notably members of the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum) are present simply because they are part of Lindeen’s story.
Despite some disastrous early gigs, Zuzu’s Petals begin to gain some notoriety in the city and are eventually signed (after months of begging) to Twin Tone Records. The English rock mags first take note of the band, which leads to an English tour noted mainly for a promoter who is clearly ripping off the band.
As the band gains notoriety across the country, Lindeen quietly start dating Westerberg, whom she had initially met years earlier at a ‘mats show in Madison. As the tours begin to physically, mentally, and personally wear down the trio (along with a realization that the major labels have zero interest in the band), Lindeen eventually discovers that domesticity is more desirable than being a rock star.
Similar indie rock stories have been written in recent years, most notably by Semisonic’s Jacob Schlicter and singer/songwriter Jennifer Trynin, but those are tales of musicians who at the very least flirted with success. Lindeen’s story is the story of the vast majority of artists whom work for years and years with little to show for it outside of good and bad memories.

Love Is a Mix Tape
By Rob Sheffield

Best known for his somewhat snarky takes on pop culture for Rolling Stone, Sheffield’s memoir of life with his beloved “real cool hell-raising Appalachian punk rock girl” who suddenly collapsed and died in their home in 1997 should strike a chord with anybody who has ever created a mix tapes for the objects of their affections .
What brought the pair together in the late 80’s was their love of mix tapes, and each chapter opens with the track listing from the tape that was their soundtrack of that chapter’s timeframe. Some of these tapes are full of typical hipster indie-rock; others consist mainly of cheesy Top 40 dance music.
No matter what you think of the pair’s taste in music, one cannot help but be touched by how this couple inspired each other throughout their time together, and how even a decade later her memory haunts Sheffield. This could have easily been a cheesy chickflick-ish story, but Sheffield’s wit and quirky writing style makes this a real-life High Fidelity.

Babylon’s Burning
By Clinton Heylin

There have been plenty of books that attempt to document the history of punk rock, but acclaimed journalist Heylin, best known for biographies of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, may have eclipsed everything that came before.
The majority of the book details the late 70’s heyday of the original punk movement, exhaustively documenting the scenes in Australia, England, New York, Cleveland, and L.A. What makes this book stand out from previous attempts is Heylin’s willingness to strip away the many myths that had gradually became accepted facts. He’s also not afraid to throw out his opinion on the garden-variety punk bands that rode the coattails of the success of the Pistols and Clash.
When the initial wave of punk virtually collapsed in 1978, Heylin continues the story with what is now known as postpunk. After examining the stories of acts such as Gang of Four, P.I.L., and Joy Division, Heylin should have probably concluded his book, but he crams the entire 80’s into less than 100 pages to conclude the book with the rise of grunge. Yet even in those few pages, Heylin’s effective story-telling makes one forget about the many artists that should have been included.

Rip It Up and Start Again
By Simon Reynolds

Simon Reynolds absolutely despises punk rock, which he makes clear in the opening chapter of this postpunk history. To his ears, the Pistols, Clash, and others were just recycling rock ‘n’ roll’s past, albeit with louder guitars and faster tempos.
In his opinion, it was the bands that emerged after the Pistols disastrous final performance in San Francisco that actually created sounds and formats that owed no allegiance to prior movements, fads, and genres. The only problem with this thesis is that many of the bands documented in this exhaustive book ARE generally considered part of the original punk rock scene (P.I.L., Pere Ubu, Wire, Fall, Talking Heads, New York’s No Wave movement). In fact, in the Heylin book reviewed above he derisively calls Reynolds’ definition of postpunk as “All the Music I Liked When I Was Young”.
Despite this petty disagreement over labels, one cannot argue that Reynolds has missed anybody. This is the real beginning of what we now know as indie rock, and I have yet to find anybody who can pick out a band that’s missing from these pages. It’s more likely that you’re going to discover a dozen or so bands that even the best college stations missed in those days. Even better, there are plenty of surprises. Who knew that mid-80’s synth-fluff bands such as the Human League and Scritti Politti started their careers as noisy experimentalists? Who knew there was more to Dexy’s Midnight Runners than “Come On Eileen”?
It should also be noted that Reynolds makes no attempt to link these acts with today’s music. Although current bands such as Interpol, Kasabian, and Arctic Monkeys certainly owe much to the bands on these pages, Reynolds concludes his book in the mid-80’s when the original movement died. Indie rock certainly carried on, and is arguably more popular than ever today, and the next era is hopefully Reynolds’ next project.


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