:: Saturday, July 08, 2006 ::
Rock Lit 101: best rock and roll books of all time
David Schultz of Earvolution has posted his list of the 10 greatest rock and roll books of all time, and I'm feeling so unschooled. I've only read two of the ten on his list, those two being Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, which is a collection of Lester Bangs writings, compiled and edited by Greil Marcus, and Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which is a book about rock and roll, true, but it is also so much more. I did flip through Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume 1 at a bookstore recently, and came that close to buying it, but decided to hold on to the cash instead.

Anyway, here's Schultz's unranked list, with excerpts from his review. But you should read the whole thing for yourself. It's well done.
Chronicles: Volume 1 - Bob Dylan (2004). "Assuming that you already know who he is and what he’s done, Dylan tells his story the way he wishes to tell it: with disjointed eloquence."

FM: The Rise And Fall Of Rock Radio - Richard Neer (2001). Neer, a former DJ and program director for New York City's classic rock station WNEW, "relates anecdotes of the heyday of New York classic rock radio when DJs like Scott Muni and The Nightbird Allison Steele were given free reign to play the music that spoke to them, effectively becoming the link between artists and their audience."

The Commitments - Roddy Doyle (1987). The tale of a Dublin soul band, known to most of us from the film version of the story. "Most novels with music at the thematic core fail to captivate the reader because the writer lacks the skill to have the music sing on the page. In describing the music played by The Commitments, especially James Brown's "Night Train," Doyle's syntax, grammar and wordplay reproduce on paper the exact notes heard in the concert hall."

The Mansion On The Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen and Springsteen and the Head-On Collision Of Rock and Commerce - Fred Goodman (1997). The story of how "the square peg that was rock and roll got crammed, kicking and screaming, into the round hole of corporate America." This one just jumped to the top of my must-read list.

Death Of A Rebel - The Phil Ochs Story - Marc Eliot (1989). A "well-researched biography" of the underrated but influential folk singer. "Evidencing Ochs' timeless breadth, his Vietnam era protest songs still resonate and find relevance in today's political climate. ... Unfortunately, Ochs' forthrightness and candor had a price: quickly targeted as a subversive by the FBI, Ochs descended into the depths of debilitating paranoia and depression." I have a feeling Big Bro might like this one, if he hasn't already read it.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet - Salman Rushdie (1999). "Rushdie's retelling of the myth of Orpheus focuses on Ormus Cama and his wife Vina Aspara - think Ike & Tina Turner without the spousal abuse - that possesses the same hold on a marginally alternative reality's music scene as The Beatles do in ours."

Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey In Rural North Dakota - Chuck Klosterman (2001). Klosterman, an unabashed and unapologetic metalhead, takes on "the arguments of the genre's detractors head-on." He "focuses on the inclusiveness of the themes found in heavy metal, contrasting them to the exclusive, 'we're cooler than you' motif present in other genres. Klosterman disproves, or at least rationalizes in fascinating detail, the misconceptions about male chauvinism and Satanism always attributed to the genre."

Psychotic Reactions And Carburetor Dung - Lester Bangs (1988). The mad genius of Bangs, the premier rock journalist of his era, shines through in this collection of his writings. "Bangs possessed the ability to write about music in a way with which music fanatics could immediately identify and casual fans could understand. Bangs wrote with a sense of urgency; he believed that music could be vital to one's existential well-being."

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test - Tom Wolfe (1968). "Within Wolfe's insightful, descriptive pages lies the intellectual inspiration for the 'acid rock' genre."

Parental Advisory: Music Censorship In America - Eric Nuzum (2001). "Noting that censorship has less to do with defining appropriate expression than it does with defining appropriate people, Eric Nuzum boils all censorship movements down to their basic ingredients: racism, classism and elitism."
If I were to compile a list, it would have to include the Lester Bangs reader, but also a couple of oral histories chronicling the early punk movement: Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, and We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen -- as well as Jon Savage's classic, England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond.

How about you?

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:: Andrew 09:24 + ::

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