The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Rock 'N' Roll X 4
I guess July is the month for themed reading. First it was three books about Lance Armstrong. This week I finished four books about rock 'n' roll.

Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: How a Wild Rock 'N' Roll Life Led to a Serious Golf Addiction by Alice Cooper with Keith and Kent Zimmerman - Since I'm taking my brother to an Alice Cooper concert next month for his birthday (he'd love this book except he hates reading), I figured it was a good time to learn more about the legendary performer. Despite having little interest in golf, I thoroughly enjoyed this autobiography (ditto for my wife; she stayed up all night reading it). Cooper describes a familiar career trajectory: get famous, get addicted (alcohol in his case), get clean, relapse, get clean again. Interspersed throughout the mostly chronological story is a 12-step program, the steps of golf addiction. Although Cooper started golfing earlier, it wasn't until after his second stint in rehab that he became fanatical, often playing 36 holes a day. The touring lifestyle involves a lot of waiting around, and golf fills that time better than drinking. Fortunately, this book isn't just about golf or recovery. Cooper spins tales about his life, music, touring, and famous friends. He writes about meeting Elvis, hanging out with Groucho Marx, and writing an album with longtime Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin. I just wish the book was longer. Anyone with an interest in golf or 1970s rock 'n' roll should enjoy Alice Cooper, Golf Monster.

Rock Star Babylon: Outrageous Rumors, Legends, and Raucous True Tales of Rock and Roll Icons by Jon Holmes - This English book was originally titled Status Quo and the Kangaroo, but since that band is a forgotten one-hit wonder in the States ("Pictures of Matchstick Men"!), the American publisher chose a more general title. Unfortunately for American readers, the book is still very British, packed with pop culture references that few outside the UK will recognize. Holmes also features too many semi-obscure British stars, although the better stories transcend that unfamiliarity. Those caveats aside, Rock Star Babylon is an entertaining collection of rock and roll mythology. Some of the stories are true, some might be true, and others are surely false. The classics are all here: Led Zeppelin and the shark, Keith Richards getting his blood replaced, and of course, the singer getting his stomach pumped (here about Marc Almond of Soft Cell (remember "Tainted Love"?) but also told about countless others). Holmes is an outrageous writer, which is good and bad -- he's hilarious when he's ripping on a band you hate, offensive when he's similarly sniping at your favorites. Sometimes he plays loose with the facts, but he never claims that anything in the book is true anyway. Rock Star Babylon recounts dozens of amusing, sometimes disgusting tales of debauchery, excess, and bad behavior. A few stories are duds, but there are enough others to make it worthwhile. By the way, if you suspect that the band Faith No More has ever stayed at your hotel, bring your own hair dryer!

Bandalism: The Rock Group Survival Guide by Julian Ridgway - I often discuss what I'm reading with one of the servers at the restaurant down the street (hi Lindsay!), and she seemed a bit perplexed about this one because I'm not in a band or planning to start one. But Bandalism appeals beyond the narrow audience of aspiring rockers. Ridgway takes prospective bands step by step from formation to rehearsal to record deal to first album to touring to second album... and that's about it because the rest of a band's career is just a matter of repeating the recording-touring cycle. Although this is another British book with some obscure band references, it isn't as bafflingly foreign as Rock Star Babylon above. Anyone interested in rock music and the interpersonal dynamics of band members should find it as instructive and funny as I did.

VH1's 100 Greatest Albums edited by Jacob Hoye - Halfway through the year, I'm still finding books that I started long ago and never finished. This book contains a ranking of the greatest rock/pop/soul albums and describes what makes them so. Each album gets one to three mildly informative pages, most including a photo of the cover. One can quibble with the choices, but they were selected by 700 music industry people deemed worthy by VH1 so that's what you get. While that approach prevents any real stinkers from showing up, it also makes for a rather predictable and unadventurous list. The book's greatest flaw, however (the reason I didn't finish it sooner), is that it goes from #1 to #100. Without the suspense of wondering which will be the best, it's all downhill after the first few pages. I'm almost certain that VH1 broadcast this as a countdown, so why change it in book form? All in all, this book is just okay, a broad list with little depth.

Current tally: 61 books finished, 58 books acquired

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