Sunday, July 28, 2013

Great Rock Books I Have Read, Part 2

Paperback Writer: The Life and Times of the Beatles, the Spurious Chronicle of Their Rise to Stardom, Their Triumphs and Disasters, Plus the Amazing Story of Their Ultimate Reunion Mark Shipper, 1979

Even before John Lennon's demise it seemed a new Beatles book was published about every two weeks, and Paperback Writer was in some ways a response to that glut. It is a blissfully funny parody, a fictionalized madhouse version of the Beatles story (the premise being that author Shipper interviewed Ringo Starr, lost his notes on the way home, and decided to make the whole thing up), and it skewers not only the stifling worship fans have laid on the band but the Beatles themselves. Puns abound in record-breaking number, from a photographer's name (F. Stop Fitzgerald) to a great running joke concerning Ringo's faltering solo career:
By 1976, Ringo Starr was no longer enjoying hit records with the same sort of regularity that he had in the early 70s. An occasional record appealed to him, like Elton John's Philadelphia Freedom, but by and large he found little to enjoy.
The last quarter of the novel has to do with a fictional Beatles reunion, and it's where Shipper's teeth start to sink in longer. Having failed on their own (especially John and Yoko's ill-fated team-up with Sonny and Cher, The Plastic Bono Band), the Fab Four reluctantly and under great pressure return to the recording studio to re-create their magic. Unfortunately, time has taken its toll, and the Beatles are reduced to a spate of uninspired and hilariously terrible songs, such as George's "Disco Jesus" and John's paen to Gilligan's Island:
Bob Denver, Jim Backus, each day they attack us
With laughter, fun and mirth
Their much-anticipated tour is a disaster, as their new material meets with stony silence and righteous anger. Frustrated, the Beatles end their ban on older material, and the moment they hit the first chord of one of their early hits, the crowd goes wild, and all is forgiven. Later, exhilarated but puzzled, the band struggles to understand why fans wanted a reunion, when all they really wanted was the Beatles of old, exactly as they were.
“I guess,” McCartney said as he took his wife’s hand, “it’s because you can’t live in someone’s past and live in their future, too.”

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock'N'Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'N'Roll, Lester Bangs, edited by Greil Marcus, 1988

You can read a review of this book  in this blog post from November 2012. In the meantime, here are some great Bangs quotes that say more than any burble I can muster.

"A hero is a goddam stupid thing to have in the first place and a general block to anything you might wanta accomplish on your own." - "Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves"

"Realizing that life is precious the natural tendency is to trample on it, like laughing at a funeral." - "Peter Laughner"

"I'm not saying that all college students are subhuman — I'm just saying that if you aim to spend a few years mastering the art of pomposity, these are places where you can be taught by undisputed experts." - "The Clash"

"John Lennon at his best despised cheap sentiment and had to learn the hard way that once you've made your mark on history those who can't will be so grateful they'll turn it into a cage for you." - "Thinking the Unthinkable About John Lennon"

"It is a fact that nine-tenths of the HUMAN RACE never have and never will think for themselves, about anything. Whether it's music or Reaganomics, say, almost everybody prefers to sit andwait till somebody who seems to have some kind of authority even if it's seldom too clear just where they got it to come along and inform them one and all what their position on the matter should be. Then they all agree that this is gospel, and gang up to persecute whatever minority might happen to disagree. This is the history of the human race, certainly the history of music." - "Untitled Notes"

The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, by Dave Marsh (1989)

There are few rock critics who annoy as many rock fans as Dave Marsh, and there are few rock critics who enjoy annoying rock fans more than Dave Marsh. This is a book that purports to classify and list the 1,001 greatest pop singles ever made, and then says why they are so. Pop culture lists are meant to be subjective, but hardly any of them are. Marsh doesn't even pretend. He like his pal Lester Bangs grew up in Detroit, and his Motown-centric pedigrees plainly show. He smartly plants his flag on classic AM radio Top 40 pop rather than on what passes for 'rock', and ends up with a joyous collection of some of the greatest commercial culture ever created. You can actually read the list for free here, but it's fairly pointless to do so without Marsh's passion and scorching wit.

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