‘Tis the season for a celebration of music in words; and in the spirit of giving, an offering of a few last-minute choices for the rock fanatic on your holiday list…
I’m The Man—Scott Ian (2014)
Scott Ian is a maniac. The founder and guitarist for one of the most famous and influential speed metal bands ever freely admits so over hundreds of pages of raunchy, touching and incredible stories that make up the personality that helped move a street-grunge, sub-genre of metal into an empire.
Ian, a ’70s kid with an unrepentant worship for KISS and the NY Yankees, a survivor of a broken family and an obsession for the loud and fast, pulls no punches on his relationships—both personal and professional—while bringing the reader inside the trials and tribulations of making it big in the most grassroots of bands. I’m The Man also provides interesting portrayals of the groundbreaking fusion of metal and rap that Anthrax helped to forge in the late 1980s, as well as the rise of the genre and the band’s hand in helping to topple the hair-band fad.
Fresh from his spate of one-man shows and new DVD release, Swearing Words, and now a memoir, Ian is something of a heavy metal renaissance man. “I just felt like the Swearing Words tour was something that I needed to satisfy my curiosity,” Ian told me recently. “If I hated it…well fine, I would never do it again. I ended up loving it.”
Also fast on the heels of I’m The Man and the Swearing Words compilation is a DVD of a South American concert that Ian describes as Anthrax’s “signature performance,” Chile On Hell. “Our main thing was just capturing the energy that happened in that venue, because it was so insane in there,” says Ian. “The split-screen stuff really kind of got our vibe. If you’re going to a concert and you’re watching a band, you’re not only just watching one dude; your eyes are seeing everything. That’s why we thought, ‘Why not show all of us?’ Split the screen up, you know, just give it that kind of dynamic.”
It is quite frankly a dynamic Ian captures in his memoir, which accomplishes the most important aim of any autobiography; to allow fans a rare glimpse into the motivation and inspiration of the artist, to which Scott Ian does not disappoint with I’m The Man.
Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye—Robert Greenfield (2014)
“And lo these many years, the time has indeed finally come for me to say goodbye to the band for whom my career, not to mention my life, would have been radically different in so many ways,” writes rock journalist and author of three seminal Rolling Stones books, Robert Greenfield, in his engrossing Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye. Titled after a lyric from the haunting Stones hit, “Angie,” where the book finally winds up, his tightly presented journals and retrospective passages complete the author’s off-and-on 43-year association with the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll band.
The main focus of the work surrounds the Stones’ final tour of England prior to tax exile that would begin in the South of France and bounce through Los Angeles and later Jamaica. Greenfield, a master storyteller, provides first-hand witness accounts of what he deems the last innocent tour the band would conduct; boarding trains, in the back of private cars, and lounging in modest hotels while playing two-show-an-evening concerts of almost all unreleased music.
Using the same eagle-eye for detail and dialogue found in his 1974, STP – A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones and the wonderfully depicted, Exile On Main St. – A Season In Hell With The Rolling Stones in 2006, Greenfield based the book on two of his spiral-bound notebooks filled with incredible anecdotes and discussions with members of the Stones and their entourage as a working reporter for the London bureau of Rolling Stone magazine.
Having just completed but not yet released the band’s first post-Brian Jones studio album on the new Rolling Stones label, Sticky Fingers, and enduring the ongoing lawsuits for the disaster of Altamont, this is a soon-to-be rock business monolith literally and figuratively bidding farewell to its country of birth and its hip, counter-culture 1960s past.
Greenfield sets moods as well as any rock writer and brings you into this crucial transformation with not only direct interaction with participants throughout the tour, but italic-laden asides that help solidify his original notes with the advantage of four decades of hindsight. And although it is hard to fathom an iconic outfit that has outlasted just about every rock and roll stigma for 50 years running could be in real trouble of splintering, Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye sets the record straight.
This book is a must for Stones freaks who have doubtless poured through volumes about the band but may have missed this snapshot in time when everything from the relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would forever be transformed and the enormous legacy of the Stones’ ’70s musical canon would be realized. Kooks, Queen Bitches And Andy Warhol: The Making Of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory—Ken Sharp (2014)
Culled from a series of lengthy interviews and archived material from the period, author Ken Sharp takes the reader back to 1971, when David Bowie was still scrambling around to create the characters that would forever endear him to millions and stamp his place in the theatrical circles of rock music.
Arguably Bowie’s finest work, the playfully eclectic and wonderfully English styling found on Hunky Dory would be the bridge to his incredible chameleon-like career to come. Kooks, Queen Bitches And Andy Warhol: The Making Of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory provides insider perspective and ushers the grander story into the writing, planning, rehearsing and recording of this masterwork under the guidance of soon-to-be legendary producer, Ken Scott.
Sharp is the master of the oral history, allowing the voices from the time to resonate throughout the book, providing unprecedented access into the minds of raw but influential talents such as Bowie and his musical Sherpa, Mick Ronson. Every song’s construction and theme is dissected, from the timeless “Changes” to the inimitable “Life On Mars” to the quirky derivative passes through “Andy Worhol,” “Queen Bitch” and “Kooks.”
It is a book that needed to be written, for, as Sharp informs us, Hunky Dory is the sometimes overlooked classic that afforded Bowie a musical foundation and influenced a generation of songwriters to play with words, cultural touchstones and forge a cult of personality that begs to evolve.
Birth, School, Metallica, Death: The Biography Volume One—Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood (2014) (Additional reviewing by Chris Barrera)
After 30-plus years of rocking the world, the heavy metal band Metallica stand tall as musical icons. Birth, School, Metallica, Death is Part One of a two-volume history by British authors Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood. This installment chronicles the band’s rise as early-’80s thrash metal stand outs and concludes with the group on the cusp of cross-over stardom with the pending release of the game-changing Black Album.
Those among us who saw the acclaimed VH1 Behind The Music episode, the story is well known, but for newer arrivals to the tale, the book captures a time before the internet when groups relied on word of mouth, fanzines and self-distributed cassettes and EPs to spread their music across the world.
Birth, School, Metallica, Death touches on all the major moments: the firing of lead guitarist and future Megadeth leader, Dave Mustaine, just days before the band began to record its first full-length album; the rousing success of Metallica as an opening act for heavyweights such as Ozzy Osbourne, despite no radio airplay or music videos; the untimely death of bassist Cliff Burton in a tour bus crash; the hiring and hazing of new bassist Jason Newsted; and finally, the torturous collaboration with producer Bob Rock that squeezed out the gem that would be the Black Album.
All the members of Metallica give their side of the story, as do past management figures, industry types and British scribe Malcolm Dome, who appears to have been present every time Metallica hit the shores of England.
Despite being apparent fans themselves, the writers pull no punches in detailing the less-favorable elements contained in the Metallica/Alcoholica saga. Drummer and band mouthpiece, Lars Ulrich, and singer/guitarist, James Hetfield, earn derision for their abusive treatment of perpetual “new kid” Newsted. The …And Justice For All album is called out for its bloat and uneven mix in which the then-disliked bassist, Newsted, had his tracks lowered so far in the mix to render them practically nonexistent.
Part Two will, of course, feature more highs and lows, including famous performances at Woodstock II and later accompanied with an orchestra, countered by the mental and physical toll that could have split the group forever, but instead created high drama caught on film.
Part One gets the show started.
Write The Record: The Village Voice And The Birth Of Rock Criticism—Devon Powers (2013)
Quite simply the finest and most introspective account of the origins of writing about rock and roll ever assembled in one delightfully penned package. Author Devon Powers, an assistant professor of culture and communication at Drexel University, tracks the rise of the Village Voice as an unlikely influence on the burgeoning 1960s counter-culture, providing it with the gravitas to begin dissecting jazz and be-bop recordings and their effect on their communities—at first locally in New York City, and then nationally, which leads predictably into the intelligentsia ascribed to rock with the advent of the folk movement into mainstream (Dylan going electric, etc.) to the focal point of the Beatles’ impact on music criticism.
The originators are here; Richard Goldstein, who was the first to conflate revolutionary movements with the advent of rock, giving it a wider literary voice and framing social revolutions, both lyrically and culturally; something that was, according to Powers, a blessing and a curse. And also the master, Robert Christgau, whose humble beginnings pushing the boundaries of rock writing for the Voice eventually made him the bravest, most despised and most powerful voice of music criticism in the world. It almost seems laughable now, with blogs and websites and millions upon millions of lists and comments of pop music filling the internet and social media today, but Christgau’s Top 100 lists and his later Rolling Stone Record Guide were the Bible for rock fans everywhere for decades.
Writing The Record sheds much needed illumination on why we are so opinionated and unflinching when it comes to rock and roll, hip-hop, rap, metal, funk, or even pop music today. Once the playground for the teen set; a fleeting fad of odd clothes and weirdly crude songs, rock and roll became a movement for the world’s youth and later one of the most lucrative businesses ever exploited. Part of its rise and imprint on our lives, especially the lives of those who ended up part of its legacy, begins with the lines once written by those who were as moved as any of us that they had to shout about it in print. Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith—Aerosmith with Stephen Davis (1997)
In the words of the members of Aerosmith, America’s funky, junky, raunchy boogiefied answer to the Rolling Stones, Walk This Way is a brutally honest, sometimes shocking, sometimes hilarious, but always revealing autobiography. Reading like one long interview, author/editor Stephen Davis probes beneath the rage of inspiration and rock star miasma to get to the core of Aerosmith, from inception to disintegration and unlikely resurrection that may have led to one of the rarest of showbiz phenomena; a second act that actually outshines the original one.
Get in the studio, on the stage, beyond the rumor and inside the turmoil of struggles and stardom, while visiting with those who helped make Aerosmith a seminal rock band for over four decades. There is a sense when reading Walk This Way that each subject in and around the band is busting to get grudges off their collective chest, mining foggy memories about song origins and coming clean on stupefying drug abuse, in some cases, founders—guitarist Joe Perry and vocalist Steven Tyler—speak glowingly about cocaine, heroin, booze and weed as if fuel and fire, sketching the eroding of faith, ego and kinship, as those chemicals begin to take their toll.
Uncompromising and unapologetic, this is the story of addiction, both in artifice and music, a true romp through 1970s to 1990s excesses that may well be the best rock star confession and celebration of band comradery ever assembled into one compilation. It is also one hell of a fun read.