Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rock 'N' Roll Book Reviews

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon
From "When Warren Zevon was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2002, the rock star ordered his manager, Brigette Barr, to exploit his illness in any way that might bolster his soon-to-end career. In those last months, Zevon recorded a final album, 'The Wind,' which included a version of Bob Dylan's 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door.' He told friends he wanted to die quickly to help it get nominated for a Grammy. (It won two.) He returned to heavy drinking, after 17 years of sobriety, and begged Crystal to write an honest biography with nothing airbrushed out, she says. She apparently took him at his word. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead describes how Zevon, who died in September 2003, aged 56, minimized sleep and maximized drugs, guns and women. He toted a .44-caliber Magnum, beat his wife, raged at his children and lamented his commercial failure compared with acquaintances such as Jackson Browne and Don Henley of the Eagles, the book says. The book balances this lurid account with Zevon's good side: A hard-working songwriter, Zevon is hailed as a genius by celebrities throughout the book. Browne says Zevon had 'literary muscle.' Bruce Springsteen cites his dedication. Stephen King, Gore Vidal, Bonnie Raitt and David Crosby add their praise. Crystal reports that Zevon was dismayed when 'Werewolves of London,' written as a throwaway, was chosen as a 1978 single over more crafted alternatives such as 'Tenderness on the Block.' The book shows how Zevon produced magic in the studio, though it's less insightful about how he could even function. Taken together, it makes an eloquent case for the rocker's reassessment and rehabilitation."

I Like Food, Food Tastes Good: In the Kitchen with Your Favorite Bands by Kara Zuaro
From "The book’s formula is simple: Zuaro takes us through many types and portions of food, from morning through late at night, and writes a short preface for each recipe about both the band and the food in question. Most entries also include quick words from band members, but the most entertaining include lengthier quotes or, even better, recipes fully written in a band member’s distinctive voice. Zuaro’s cookbook...marries an independent, DIY ethos with the sometimes exotic, sometimes wearying rock-and-roll touring lifestyle. In her introduction, Zuaro explains that she started collecting rocker recipes after realizing just how much the sometimes-literally starving artists she interviewed as a journalist appreciated food."

Let's Spend The Night Together by Pamela Des Barres
says Entertainment Weekly: "Des Barres profiles two dozen fellow band-aids in an exuberant attempt to rehab the word groupie, from harlot to muse. The veracity of these raunchy tales is up for grabs, but the claims of Kurt Cobain's cross-dressing and Chuck Berry's scatological obsession are scandalously entertaining. The tone of Let's Spend the Night Together seems to be celebratory — one fan admits to having sex with 30 musicians in one night — but the utter emptiness of these women's lives emerges most clearly, even if they don't believe they've been used. 'They wanted us there,' says one woman of her music idols, 'and they treated us like goddesses.'"

Redemption Song - The Ballad of Joe Strummer by Chris Salewicz
From The Guardian UK:
"The blindly evangelical phase of my Clash obsession came to an end sometime during their seven-night residency at the Lyceum in the autumn of 1981. For the first time it seemed that one of us, and maybe both, was going through the motions. I missed the White Riot tour and had spent four years making up for it. Acquiring a copy of the limited edition "Capital Radio" EP meant that pension planning would be something for other people. (In fact they fetch about the same £50 today as they did a quarter of a century ago.) Wresting possession of one of Topper Headon's drumsticks from a scrum of skinheads at a gig in Cardiff - monogrammed "Topper's Boppers", which was a surprise - was to get hold of a holy relic.
The Clash fizzled out ignominiously a few years after that underwhelming night at the Lyceum, having morphed into the Clash Mark II, aka "the dodgy Clash". But looking back I still don't find that four-year crush - for that is what it must have most resembled - embarrassing. During those years the Clash, and Joe Strummer in particular, changed lives like no band since and very few before. Those lives might well have changed again a few times, but that extraordinarily potent combination of idealistic heart-on-sleeve leftwing politics, perfect pitch musical heritage and impeccable rebel style was utterly irresistible to a certain sort of male who came to musical consciousness sometime in the late 70s. When Strummer died aged just 50 in 2002 it was easy to pick out plenty of other paunchy, greying fellows looking lost and misty-eyed.
Chris Salewicz's huge new Strummer biography captures well this sense of loyalty and loss. As an NME glory-days writer he draws on his semi-insider status - Strummer called him "Sandwich" - to provide a dogged soup-to-nuts detailing of the life. It can be hard going, but we learn a lot. Strummer's diplomat father wasn't quite the toff of legend. Strummer's despised public-school background provided him with very little in the way of an education. (Although his charisma and apparent self-confidence see him neatly fit into the tradition of former public schoolboys who rise to the top of radical organisations.) His politics came from the pre-punk 70s squatting and pub rock scenes - "more Merry Prankster than disciplined socialist". But the hippy reinvented himself in Brigade Rosse and H-Block T-shirts. And this being the Clash, there were not only songs, but also policies and edicts. However, as Salewicz puts it, Strummer was always the "personification of Carl Jung's view that all great truths must end in paradox". Despite the strident right-on-ness, he still went through more women than he did guitar strings. And that famous Telecaster was pretty battered. In 1983 the Clash were paid half a million dollars to headline an American festival. They performed beneath a banner that read "Clash Not For Sale". And just as Strummer wasn't really leading a revolution, he wasn't even really leading his own band. Mick Jones, despite his "Radio 2 tendencies", provided both musicality and a guilt-free, working-class radicalism that was disastrously missed when Strummer ousted him in 1983.
For someone who so persuasively urged communication, Strummer was apparently uncommunicative about his own insecurities. His elder brother - who had become obsessed with the occult and Nazism - had committed suicide. Strummer had his own propensity for depression. In the years after the Clash he acted in films, wrote soundtracks and fronted for other bands. But he had taken seriously his impossible role of filling the political and cultural voids of his followers and he soon found himself drifting, with an awful sense of self-awareness, into the limbo world of someone who used to be the voice of a generation.
The way Salewicz tells it, Strummer found a route back via the hippyish camaraderie of camp fires at Glastonbury, domestic stability and his new band, the Mescaleros, earning their own critical respect. The title of the book echoes a late collaboration with Johnny Cash on a Grammy-nominated version of the Bob Marley song, and five weeks before he died Strummer was joined on stage, for the first time in 19 years, by Mick Jones at a benefit for striking firefighters. The Clash were always masterful at shaping their own mythology and here was the circle made complete: Strummer at last at peace with both himself and his legacy. Salewicz deploys a vast weight of fact and opinion to point up this upbeat conclusion and, despite the nagging sense that he is wishing as much as knowing, you can't help but pray that he is right."

For five separate excerpts from Redemption Song, head on over to via this link.