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The TP Book Club

The TP Book Club
December 31, 2020 01:58AM
Since the "Sweet Dreams" thread started veering off into other books, let's drop that info here. Who needs Oprah, right?

Not only did I read/look at both Debbie Harry and Chris Stein's books, Mrs Fab and I saw them speak in a live interview over a year ago. The missus ran down to grab a couple seats in the front row. Got 'em both autographed. Both fantastic - Harry's book "Face It" is exactly what you would want it to be. Plus lots of visual coolness, like her fave pieces of fan art. She saves this stuff! She matter-of-factly describes being raped, but says she felt worse about all their expensive gear being stolen. It doesn't seem like a put-on. This chick is cool like a whole gang o' cucumbers. And they were both quite gracious and witty in the live interview.

Stein's book is an ace collection of black-and-white NYC snaps. All well and good, but Harry's is the must-read.

"The Beastie Boys Book" - the two surviving members, plus an assortment of guest writers, make for a big fat, thoroughly entertaining smorgasbord of words and visuals. Gotta say that for me personally, it was a very strange, oddly moving experience. I wasn't expecting it to be as personally touching as it was, but ya see, I'm about the same age as the Boys, my family's from NYC and I used to frequently visit, I live in LA where they moved to, and I've followed their career since their pre-debut album "Cookie Puss" single. I was even an extra in one of their videos. Auto/Biographies always seem to take place in some far-off land where everything was in black and white, but since I was right there, going to the same clubs and spots both in LA and NYC, buying their albums when they were new, etc, I had the uncanny feeling that, in some way, I was reading MY biography. My own memories kept getting mixed with theirs, which had me reminiscing on times past, friends lost, etc. It was certainly informative, fun and funny, but also for me, kinda heavy.

Anyway. They really make the case that Adam "MCA" Yauch was not only the musical genius, but the motivating force of the band. It's no wonder they coudn't imagine simply getting a replacement and moving on. No Yauch, no Beasties. They both seem quite in awe of his technical skills and imagination, e.g. visiting his apt and finding him crafting an actual tape-loop of Led Zep's "When The Levee Breaks" beat, wth tape running from his reel-to-reel deck all over, out into the hall. They frequently exclaim, how did he come up with this stuff?!

They also make the interesting point that Jam Master Jay was the brains behind Run-DMC's creative breakthroughs. Which again, explains why when he was killed: no Jay, no Run-DMC.

Next in my queue: "Marc Bolan Killed In Crash" by some guy Ira whatsisface.

So Brad, hit us with reviews of those books you mentioned! So I don't have to go look em up!
Re: The TP Book Club
December 31, 2020 02:44AM
> No Yauch, no Beasties.... No Jay, no Run-DMC.

It's especially hard with a trio, to replace a key member. The dynamic that a really good trio finds simply leaves no room for slack. Cream, Blue Cheer, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, James Gang, Rush, ZZ Top, The Jam, Hüsker Dü, The Minutemen, Volcano Suns, The Police, Nirvana, King's X, Green Day, Muse ... once each band found its classic lineup, it was settled. Motörhead went through a number of lineup changes (actually a lot fewer than you might think, given how long the band lasted), but most fans agree that the "classic" lineup of Fast Eddie Clarke, Philthy Phil Taylor and His Lemmy-ness simply never was equaled.
Re: The TP Book Club
December 31, 2020 09:27AM
Just finished the Chris Frantz "Remain In Love" and posted a review yesterday. Since Chris was an affable guy, all the drama here was provided by David Byrne... and his analog in Ramones, Johnny Ramone! The chapter of the first European tour with Ramones was like a sub-book in and of itself. Both guys seemed to get more miserable and distant the more successful they got, and bullied their bands mercilessly; although passive-aggressively in Byrne's case. But the analogies between the two were interesting. One of the delights of Frantz and Weymouth's story was the from left field success of their other band, Tom Tom Club. I would have liked a little more focus on that great band, but Frantz did reveal that Tina had started her autobiography as well, and I'm very eager to read that one!

Former TP subscriber [81, 82, 83, 84]

For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®
Re: The TP Book Club
November 21, 2021 12:55AM
I just got around to reading this, and it struck me as dull points-scoring against Byrne. Frantz can't even write about Tina except in the most idealized way, and I have no idea what he thinks of Jerry Harrison. But he doesn't even write much about Talking Heads' music after REMAIN IN LIGHT. I'm sure there's a lot of truth to his depiction of Byrne as a cold jerk, but the way Frantz presents himself and the sheer pettiness of some of his criticisms of Byrne - compared to cheating other members out of publishing royalties, who cares if Byrne trashed a hotel room one night in 1979? - doesn't make him look all that great either.
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Re: The TP Book Club
December 31, 2020 10:16PM
Currently I'm reading two music-related books: Complicated Games: Inside the Songs of XTC by Andy Partridge with Todd Bernhardt, and How Music Works by David Byrne.

The former is a series of interviews with Andy, conducted by Mr. Bernhardt. Each interview focuses on a particular song that Andy wrote, and gets the stories and recollections behind each one -- from what was going on with Andy's life and within the band, to the details behind the production and songwriting considerations. It stretches from Andy's earliest songs with XTC to at least one that he recorded for the Fuzzy Warbles series. (Despite the title, Colin Moulding never gets asked about his songs.)

The details of these recollections, of course, will be of keen interest to XTC fans. But over the course of the book, Andy's attitude, along with the way he makes it increasingly clear that he's his own worst enemy, becomes harder and harder to take. (It's laughable when he talks about deliberately writing "Senses Working Overtime" in the hopes of getting a hit single. He comes up with that terrific chorus, and then hits an off-chord while writing the verses. The sound of that chord inspires him to write the verses about the miserable lives of medieval serfs. Sure, it became XTC's biggest single, at least in the UK ... but God knows what the execs at Virgin thought about that dichotomy.)

Apparently, Andy has a big chip on his shoulder, about XTC's lack of financial success and the shortage of acclaim he's received as a songwriter, compared to others of his generation. At one point, he brings up a "listicle" he read about the fifty greatest British pop songwriters. It pisses him off that Elvis Costello made that list, and he didn't. It also bothers him that Elvis Costello has grown very rich, compared to Andy. I couldn't stop rolling my eyes at moments like that, thinking, "Dude, you made your choice to stop touring, and to accept the drastically lowered profile that inevitably comes with that. Maybe Elvis came up with a larger percentage of clinkers than you did ... maybe. But he stepped up to the plate a lot more frequently too. Not to mention that he still tours pretty regularly. Sure, the music business is cruel ... but if you want to get famous for your music, you need to learn how to cope with the business."

Meanwhile, Byrne's book is a combination of his autobiography with his treatise on all the influences that shape music as it gets created -- not just his music, but all music. And not just the desire to express oneself and one's emotions, but the external circumstances around its creation. (He posits that most traditional African music has been performed in outdoor spaces, which is a big part of why it's so rhythm/percussion-based. Similar music would sound like pure noise in a cathedral ... where the music that's been created is much more linear and much less rhythmic. Likewise, as rock got bigger and moved into arenas, it steered more toward power chords.) Those parts of the book come across, sometimes, as a doctoral dissertation. So if that's not what you're after, I could understand if Byrne's book feels like a brick to you. But I've enjoyed it a lot, and found the more academic portions to be thought-provoking. My wife, a former doctoral student, has enjoyed it thoroughly.
Re: The TP Book Club
December 31, 2020 10:40PM
I agree with the Byrne book, fascinating stuff. But the autobiographical part is certainly different from Chris Frantz’ account. No admission of bullying leadership style on Byrne’s part.
Re: The TP Book Club
January 01, 2021 04:57AM
> I agree with the Byrne book, fascinating stuff.
> But the autobiographical part is certainly
> different from Chris Frantz’ account.

Having read the autobiographies of all four original Kiss members, it's clear that people who experienced the same events will remember them differently. (Gene, unsurprisingly, paints himself as the main driver behind Kiss' outrageously successful '90s reunion, while Paul says he almost had to twist Gene's arm into it.)

And some events will get glossed over or skipped entirely, particularly if those events might make the writer look bad. (Peter talks about finding out, nearly at the end of the five-year reunion, that Ace had gone to Gene and Paul behind his back, during the early planning stages, and negotiated more pay per show than Peter would be getting. Gene and Paul both allude to this in their books, although they don't admit that they gave in to Ace's demands. And Ace? The entire reunion barely gets a full chapter in his book.)
Re: The TP Book Club
January 01, 2021 01:01AM
This year was particularly rough for my family, as my beloved niece died of leukemia just a couple of months after her 18th birthday.

One of the musicians from which I took a lot of comfort this year is Ben Watt, both solo and with Everything But the Girl. So the combo of my Watt fandom and struggling with my niece’s battle with AML led me to read Watt’s memoir Patient.

It’s a straightforward and at times pretty harrowing account of Watt’s diagnosis and treatment of a very rare and potentially fatal auto-immune disease. Very well-written and pretty unsentimental (mostly).

I don’t know if reading it helped me or not, but I’m glad I did.

Late in the year I became obsessed with EBTG’s album Amplified Heart. I’m currently checking my mailbox daily for a copy of Tracey Thorn’s Bedsit Disco Queen.
Re: The TP Book Club
January 01, 2021 11:42AM
Sometimes I think I enjoy reading about music as much if not more than actually listening to it. Crazy, I know.

Breno mentioned a couple authors I’ve really come to enjoy. Simon Reynolds ‘Rip it up and start again’ is exhilarating.... I’ve come to love his writing since. Always insightful and he has keen instincts.

Chuck Klosterman ( Fargo rock city) is always good reading.... despite himself. He might spend a chapter trying to convince you the second Cinderella album is one of the all-time greats; but his writing is so impasssioned and engaging that you’ll wonder if he’s on to something.

Chuck Eddy is another writer in the same ilk. He might compare and champion aztec camera, teena Marie and anthrax all in the same paragraph. It’s refreshing to read someone with just a genuine love of music.

I love record guides in general. TP guides of course, christgau, the all-music guides... anything that might lend some guidance when you’re diving into uncharted artists or genres. (which Canned Heat or Shalamar lp should I start with? Etc etc)

I think I like books that cover eras, scenes or genres rather than a detailed look at one particular artist. That’s just me. I’m a sucker for any book of album cover art, also.

If you ever see either of Garry mulholland’s books in your local used bookstore (‘this is uncool’ or ‘fear of music’), consider them. They list respectively the greatest songs and albums since punk and disco. He’s a fine writer.
Re: The TP Book Club
January 01, 2021 12:39PM
I've read a lot of what's been mentioned here thus far. On my blog, I have a page with a list of every book read/reviewed since I started blogging. Delvin's post reminds me that I used to be a pretty big XTC fan until I started reading books on the band and realizing what a massive jerk Andy Partridge is! I own "Chalkhills + Children" and "Song Stories" and by the time I read the later one, I was done with Partridge. Poor Colin!

The Byrne book is endlessly fascinating for the "dissertation" parts! I especially appreciated his unblinking forays into the finances of music creation. But yeah, another massive jerk. With bandmembers like him, who needs enemies?

Former TP subscriber [81, 82, 83, 84]

For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/01/2021 12:41PM by Post-Punk Monk.
Re: The TP Book Club
January 01, 2021 12:42PM
> Chuck Klosterman ( Fargo rock city) is always
> good reading.... despite himself.

I agree, although the chapter where he describes his drinking habits sure is disturbing. (That book was published several years before Chuck got married. I take the fact that he's still married as a good sign.)
Re: The TP Book Club
January 05, 2021 02:41AM
John Doe has edited two books about the LA scene, “Under The Big Black Sun,” and it’s post-punk sequel “More Fun In The New World.” They are not “oral histories” as such, rather each figure gets their own chapter to write brief memoirs. I have small beefs (THREE Go-Go’s, with frequently overlapping stories, and no Stan Ridgeway?) but pretty interesting. You all probably know the basics, it's the funny little personal anecdotes that make it. The sequel is a bit anticlimactic, and not essential, tho still some compelling moments.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/05/2021 04:16PM by MrFab.
Re: The TP Book Club
January 05, 2021 09:57AM
I don't read many music biographies or books on music, for that matter. But I do have Captain Beefheart: The Biography arriving soon from Amazon. I've also read Rip it Up and Start Again and enjoyed it very much.

About 25 years ago I read This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band. That's a really good book as I remember it, though as you can imagine, Robbie Robertson comes off as the bad guy.
Re: The TP Book Club
January 05, 2021 05:38PM
Last year I also read Party Out of Bounds by Rodger Lyle Brown. It's a history of the Athens, GA music scene. Good book, although its ending also is anticlimactic ... although that may well be because everyone on the scene who gets interviewed in the book seems to agree that it ended that way. (You know how it is -- once a band like R.E.M. makes it big, and attention turns to the scene that spawned such a band, it's just not your town's scene anymore.)

According to Brown's epilogue, Athens still has a vibrant, active music scene, but it's not limited to bands that sound like R.E.M. anymore. (I can believe that. Here in Seattle, I can attest that the region has a lot of good bands ... and that none of them sound anything like Nirvana or Soundgarden.) He does say, though, that the scene isn't as "innocent" as it once was. Where those earlier bands had to find their own ways in the music business, today the University of Georgia offers programs that help musicians learn more about the industry.
Re: The TP Book Club
January 05, 2021 09:45PM
I agree that the Byrne book is a brick. I mean it's actually physically heavy.
Re: The TP Book Club
January 06, 2021 10:19AM
Some of the good music books I've read in recent years are Robert Dean Lurie's Begin the Begin, about the early days of R.E.M. in Athens. As a decades-long R.E.M. fan, I became an avid fan in high school in Indiana, well after the band’s launch in Georgia at the tail end of the 70s but before the Internet. So I spent part of my high school years looking in microfiche articles from papers in the South to learn about the early years of R.E.M. Those printouts are probably still in my parents’ house. That said, this book offers innumerable details about the band’s early days that never made it into the press coverage. There are a lot of familiar stories about the making of the records, starting from the Hibtone single of “Radio Free Europe” and up to the end of their I.R.S. albums, but the more revelatory pieces are about the personalities of the Athens scene from that era, many of whom Lurie interviews. He tends to insert himself a bit overmuch in the storytelling, and there are some odd remarks about R.E.M.’s politics that detract from his narrative at times, but it’s still the most effective collection of stories available about the setting and inspirations for R.E.M.’s classic early records.

Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty by Ben Ratliff, which I didn't love, but was an interesting thesis: focusing on different ways of listening to music, whether by "density" or "weight" or "uplift" or other amorphous sensibilities, across genres.

Different for Girls: A Girl's Own True-life Adventures in Pop by Louise Wener was breezy, fun if frothy read about the brief rise and stardom of Sleeper, a band I happen to like quite a bit, at the height of the Britpop frenzy in the middle 1990s. Wener is a wry, engagingly self-deprecating narrator, and a handy guide to an era that is now receding into the past, and never really connected to most Americans anyway. Wener is certainly a lively presence as she walks the reader through the musical highlights and and hijinks that defined the era. The weird thing in the book is that it was released in America and Britain under completely different titles — JUST FOR ONE DAY in the UK (after the Bowie lyric) and DIFFERENT FOR GIRLS (after a Joe Jackson song title) in the US. So I read this in the British edition and had a puzzling sense that it was a different book — it’s not.

Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time by Ray Padgett is a pleasant and enjoyable book but one that reads like a collection of thoughtful blog posts rather than a coherent overall book, which makes sense, since this grew out of a blog. The subtitle gives away the entire premise of the book. There are some obvious selections (i.e. Hendrix' version of "All Along the Watchtower") but I appreciated the selections of DEVO's version of the Stones' "Satisfaction" and Pet Shop Boys' renditions of "Always on My Mind" (which most of us may know as a Willie Nelson song, but was viewed as an Elvis Presley cover). Padgett doesn't offer a lot of broader context, but I actually learned some useful things: Like the historical origins of the term "cover," and the fact that "covering" a song really only emerged in the modern era of pop and rock, because prior to easy access to recorded music, most folks experienced songs only as sheet music or live performances. And he helpfully explores the difference between covers and parody in terms of copyright law, especially in a digression about Weird Al Yankovic, where the legal distinctions can become a bit dicey in terms of legal ownership and control of a piece of music. One of the recurring themes in the book is the role of race, and the history of white artists taking songs out of the African American context and bringing them to the mass audiences, and the problematic issues raised there: artistic integrity, cultural context, control over economic revenues. This goes back to Elvis of course — even though Elvis was frequently covering songs popularized by Black artists, but written by white songwriters, like "Hound Dog" — and through Talking Heads and their version of "Take Me to the River" and into the present day. (He doesn't present many examples of a Black artist covering a song popularized by a white star; "All Along the Watchtower" was a Dylan deep cut that few people have heard in the original.)

Since Padgett started writing about covers on his blog, the genre has gotten a bit overwhelming, as he notes, with "string quartet tributes to Limp Bizkit" and "lullaby tributes to Jay-Z" as well as innumerable YouTube-only one-off covers, by acoustic singer-songwriters covering hip-hop and other cross-genre gimmicks. I listen to a covers-only podcast and (especially in the midst of COVID) the number of artists throwing out covers as Bandcamp singles and other projects is a bit absurd. So the value of a book focused on great pop music covers may be diminishing, but it's still pleasantly diverting.

Certainly the most atypical book was Rock and Roll in the Rocket City: The West, Identity, and Ideology in Soviet Dniepropetrovsk, 1960–1985
by Sergei I. Zhuk. A fascinating book although clearly with a very niche audience, this is an in-depth academic exploration of how Western cultural indicators penetrated and permeated the society of the closed Soviet Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk — including but not limited to the Beatles, Western popular films, British hard rock and heavy metal, and disco. Over the course of the four decades covered in the book, the Soviet Communist authorities tried and largely failed to navigate a difficult path, between banning Western influences altogether, allowing “ideologically trustworthy” music and popular culture, and eventually becoming complicit with the black market importers of smuggled vinyl and video cassettes because the local economy was reliant on discotheques. Many of those politically connected “discotheque mafia” businesspeople would later become the oligarchs of the future post-Soviet Ukraine, including Yulia Tynoshenko, whose childhood diaries provide a rich entree into the world of the music- and film-obsessed Ukrainian elite of the 1970s.

Because Dnipropetrovsk was the city in which the USSR built rockets for its space program and ICBMs, the Soviets had a great commitment to protecting its residents from ideologically suspect influence. It was a closed city, diplomatically, economically, and culturally. This, of course, made its young people desperately interested in even the smallest scraps of Western culture, whether years-old Western movies remade through Romanian or Czech copies, or sheet music from songs by Dylan or the Beatles that was deemed acceptable to be printed in Soviet magazines. Eventually the capitalist motives captured even the Komsomol members and leadership charged with arranging the wildly popular Soviet discotheques — Intended as sober ethnomusicological venues, they became drinking and dancing hotspots like anywhere else in the world, but with your old bootlegs by Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and the inescapable ABBA. The personal diaries and journals kept by the young Communist activists enthralled with Western pop and rock and films are particularly interesting.

This is a great book in its way but it’s certainly not perfect. The editing is a bit clunky with too many repeated explanations and abbreviations in Russian and Ukrainian spelled out. The author falls into a classic academic condition of the post Soviet Union by using quantitative indicators for everything in long paragraphs of figures, when a simple chart or table would be more helpful. (I used to edit papers by Russian ichthyologists and it was insanely frustrating.) But his personal roots in Dnipropetrovsk and his knowledge of the cultural landscape is immensely valuable and he provides many personal photos of the lives of everyday people from that time period.
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Re: The TP Book Club
February 20, 2021 07:16PM
Thank you muchly for this write-up zwirn (and all).
Re: The TP Book Club
February 23, 2021 11:44AM
Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh

I was never a huge Vic Chesnutt fan; I saw him in concert, just once. Not a huge Kristin Hersh fan, either, although I own a few of her solo and band records, and have seen her twice, decades apart — with Throwing Muses opening for R.E.M. in 1989, and in a solo acoustic set just in 2019. But while these two were never central to my own listening, I always recognized that their very distinctive, off-kilter songwriting skills were critical in the generation of music in which I spent my formative years, the college rock of the 90s. So I didn't even know how closely tied Hersh and Chesnutt were — she tells the sad-funny-scary tales of touring in Spain and Canada, living on the artistically fulfilling, if commercially negligible, margins of the music industry.

I needn't go into Chesnutt's well-known past: the addictions, the car accident, the near-quadriplegia. Hersh know him for just a splintered moment before he was put in a wheelchair for the remainder of his difficult life. But despite the pain of Chesnutt's life and its difficult ending, much of Hersh's memories focus on the joy that she and Chesnutt experienced together, with their respective and long-suffering spouses. Indeed, the most joyous stories involve two perfectly-mismatched couples, Chesnutt and his wife Tina and Hersh and her husband Billy, a bunch of self-professed ugly people, flawed people, misfits whose beauty was created in their partnership and their music. There is a lengthy tale of road trips through Spain and assorted shenanigans; one delightful anecdote involves a Mary Margaret O'Hara concert and party in Toronto.

This story gets painful and ugly. It's not a secret that Chesnutt eventually took his life, after a divorce from his wife, and increasing isolation from his friends, Hersh included. But while the story ends in tragedy, it doesn't end without some more of that rare beauty, including when Chesnutt steals the show at an R.E.M. tribute in New York City, the last time she ever saw him alive, with a performance of "Everybody Hurts" with fellow Athenians Elf Power.

Hersh's writing, largely in the second person, is both idiosyncratic and luminously particular. She writes unapologetically of feeling ugly and writing songs to get the ugliness out; Chesnutt's songs in comparison were moments of oddball beauty and whimsy amidst a sense of cornball humor and horniness. It's particularly heartfelt in her appreciation for Tina Chesnutt and her agony when that marriage, and her own, ended, amidst the stress of endless touring and the challenges of mental illness and addition.

Really an essential read if you know the music of these two songwriters, and even if you're a lesser fan, a fascinating one. And if you're completely unfamiliar with their work, this deeply personal memoir will make you want to learn more.
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Re: The TP Book Club
November 22, 2021 09:45AM
This has been announced: a Mark Hollis bio. I’m concerned that it appears like no one from Talk Talk was interviewed, but it’ll be the only one of its kind thus far.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/19/2022 05:43PM by jon.
Re: The TP Book Club
July 09, 2024 11:56AM
An American edition of this has been released, with revised copy based on new interviews with folks. Contrary to what I thought before, there are plenty of interviews with band members and producers, but still no family members. I'm about 2/3 of the way through it - anything about his personal life is mostly speculative ("If he grew up in this neighborhood, he'd've gone to this primary school" and the like), but there's a lot of detail about making the records. I'm enjoying it.
Re: The TP Book Club
November 22, 2021 03:26PM
lots of cool UK music books on sale this week: [repeaterbooks.com]
Re: The TP Book Club
November 23, 2021 10:44AM
I don't care about most of the bands covered in this, but it looks like an interesting read anyway: [www.amazon.com]
Re: The TP Book Club
December 16, 2021 02:23PM
I just got this on Kindle and am looking forward to it:

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