Published June 20, 2015
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I talked a bit about Rachel Dolezal last week – me and everyone else on the planet – but I want to mention her again because I read something in a Vanity Fair article that reminded me of the whole controversial controversy. I was minding my own business reading an article about why soldiers miss war when it’s over or they leave it, and the writer, Sebastian Junger, mentioned “white Indians.” White Indians is what they called early settlers in America from the late 1600s to the 1890s who ran off to live with Indian tribes and took on Indian traits and culture. Sound familiar? Sound like Rachel Dolezal or your neighbor’s kid up there in Iowa who thinks he’s a Compton gang banger? Does anyone say “gang banger” anymore? I was just thinking of the Compton’s Most Wanted song that says, “Me sell dope? Officer, I’m a rap singer, won’t go down like a Compton gang banger.” Great song, it’s called One Time Gaffled ‘Em Up. But I digress. People have always engaged in these kinds of cross cultural excursions. In fact, when some of the white Indians were “rescued,” as soon as no one was looking they ran back to the tribes they’d been “rescued” from. A lot of writers at the time noticed that Indians never ran off to join white society. In 1782 a French writer with a ridiculously long name said, “Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those aborigines having from choice become European.” Not from choice, he said, because plenty were forced into Christianity and slavery and European cultural norms.
What struck me in the article though was the explanation for that kind of thing. And that is: people crave close community. They naturally want to be in small tribes and live closely and rely on their tribemates. It’s an inborn thing, and the more we move away from that kind of living, the more some people are going to go out and look for it wherever they can find it. In an Indian tribe, the black part of town or a survivalist cult – it’s all the same, it’s just people wanting to belong to a close knit group. Or what they see as a close knit group. When you look at it that way, what Rachel Dolezal did is understandable. Funny though, but when we think of the settler days here in America we usually think, “Oh, that’s when things were different, families were close, communities were close.” Apparently not, if people felt compelled to run off and join Indian tribes. The closeness we instinctually crave is not what passes for closeness in European or white culture, it’s much more ancient than that. Maybe everyone should get off Rachel Dolezal’s dick and recognize that she may be a little nutty, but essentially she’s doing what most of us want to do: belonging somewhere.
Okay, let get on with the show here already. I originally titled this “10 rock and roll memoir reviews,” because I though that would be easy, since I have 50 books about bands. But when I moseyed on over to the bookshelves I found that I didn’t have as many memoirs or autobiographies as I though I did. I have row after row of books about bands and music, but not so many written by the musicians themselves. Which may be for the best, considering most musicians are not writers. I do have more than eight memoirs, but some of them are by people in the same bands and I didn’t think it would be interesting to hear reviews of, you know, three guys from KISS or three guys from Aerosmith, so I had to throw a few out. Though I may mention them anyway, because there’s no law that says what I say here has to have anything to do with the title.
DOES THE NOISE IN MY HEAD BOTHER YOU? BY STEVEN TYLER (AND DAVID DALTON)
One of the more entertaining rock and roll memoirs I’ve read, but I expected as much since Tyler is a good talker. He plays with words in a way that makes him fascinating to listen to, but that kind of thing doesn’t necessarily translate well to print. His be bop skit skat rama jam language makes him hard to follow sometimes, but I think he – and his co-author David Dalton – captured Tyler’s manic geek preacher style in a lot of places. I don’t mention his co-author to bust his balls, I should say right off the bat here that I doubt if most of these books were 100% written by the people whose names are on the covers, whether a co-author is given credit or not. I’m pretty sure a couple of them were, and a couple read like they were, even though an outside writer was involved. But back to Tyler. Did you know he did a lot of drugs? He did. And you get to learn all about them here, and about his kind of ‘out there’ attitude toward rehab. Does anyone enjoy rehab? I don’t know, I’ve never been, but there are probably a hundred rehabs between the people who star in these eight books, so it’s what you might call a recurring theme.
Tyler admits that he was in rehab again during the writing of the book, so he doesn’t seem to be a guy who is really dedicated to staying away from drugs. But I suppose if you have enough money you can afford to go off the rails, go to rehab, and go off the rails and go to rehab again as many times as you’d like. The drugs haven’t killed him yet, so maybe he’s immune. One thing he’s not immune to though is his own ego. Which is another thing that crops up in a lot of these books, but not all of them. Tyler calls it LSD or Lead Singer’s Disease, and he’s got a bit of a point there, in that having a tremendous ego is kind of a job requirement if you’re going to be the lead singer of a rock and roll band. And he’s musically talented, which some lead singers aren’t, so his ego is as justified as any of them. But he loses me a bit when he repeats several times that people who didn’t like him didn’t like him because they were jealous of his incredible talent. There’s ego and there’s delusion, and some people like Tyler trade in both. There’s also ego and talent and self-deprecation, which is a more rare combination, but one you can find here and there out in the wild.
I read this because I loved Aerosmith back in the day. The first time I saw them they were opening for Edgar Winter or someone in a hockey arena somewhere in the twin cities. I broke my foot a few days before the show, but I went anyway, on crutches, and they were ridiculously incredible. Just fucking stunning. That was probably early 1976, after Toys in the Attic but before Rocks. Since they were opening they only played for half an hour, which was the standard opening slot in those days, and I think that 30 minute slot is perfect, because you can go full blast for 30 minutes and leave people with a memory like I have: that it was great. If you’re up there for two hours there’s going to be a lull, you can’t avoid it. The last time I saw them was at another arena in San Diego. The show was just okay, typical rock star arena greatest hits shit, and after the show they emptied out the place and then the band came back on stage to film some performance bits for Wayne’s World II. It went on for hours and I couldn’t leave because my girlfriend was doing wardrobe for the movie and sitting there on the side of the stage watching take after take of some song I just wanted to die. Or go to sleep, because it was really late. But I do remember thinking, “Man, I would have killed to be able to sit here when I was 15 years old,” and I would have, so remembering that got me through it.
NO REGRETS BY ACE FREHLEY (AND JOE LAYDEN AND JOHN OSTROSKY)
Well Ace had two co-writers, someone explain that? Did one get halfway into the project and bail because Ace was difficult to corral? Did he get fired? Who knows, man, but when it takes three people to write a book you’re venturing into screenplay territory, where the things are written by committee, and you have to be afraid of the results. I suspect it was just hard to get Ace to focus, so I don’t think I’d want to be tasked with making his story into a book. He was a typical rock and roll kid, and by that I mean he wasn’t really down with the whole school thing and he liked to get high and drunk, but he grew up in New York so he also ran with a gang for a while – as did KISS drummer Peter Criss, but we’re not talking about his book here. One of the things I liked about Ace’s book was that he spent a lot of time talking about the early years of KISS, the first four albums, and that was when I was really a KISS maniac. 14, 15, 16 years old, they were made for teenage goobers like I was. I read a lot of these rock star books for information like that, the early years, that’s what I really want to know about, but a lot of them kind of gloss over that, or sum it up on a couple pages then suddenly they’re on jets and playing in arenas. That’s some bullshit, because most of these guys, especially back in the 70s, did a lot of time on the road building up their fan bases. I’m not sure why so many of them don’t think that part is interesting enough to write about – that’s the best part!
It could be that Ace talks about those days more than some of the later stuff because he was way too fucked up to remember anything once they became really famous. So yes, this is another off the rails then to rehab book, and it doesn’t even get too deeply in to when Gene and Paul kicked him out of KISS and went on with a rotating cast of lead guitar players who weren’t Ace Frehley. It must suck to get kicked out of a band that you made famous, but again, I get the impression that Ace was slightly too fucked up to really remember how he was feeling about that. Ace has a very distinctive playing style. I can always tell it’s him within a few notes, and like it or not, that’s what makes for a great rock and roll guitarist. Page, Hendrix, even Johnny Thunders – unmistakable sounds. Ace brought that to KISS, and the rest of the guys in that band – it was just riff rock, dumb songs, you know, perfect rock and roll for a teenage boy, but Ace is what made KISS KISS. His sound and his personality. Kind of goofy and spacey, while the other two guys at the front of the stage were always trying very hard to be whatever, Ace was just kind of floating around stage left doing his thing. First time I saw them was also 1976, they played two shows at the tiny St. Paul civic center theater on the KISS ALIVE tour. One at 8 and one at midnight. If you can imagine putting on that show – and that makeup – twice in one night, well, they did it. You can’t say they weren’t troopers.
NO MORE MR NICE GUY: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE ALICE COOPER GROUP BY MICHAEL BRUCE (AND BILLY JAMES) 1996
I waited a long time to get this book, because it’s been out of print for a million years so everyone selling a copy thinks they have the Gutenberg bible on their hands. Well, I’m a patient man, as in I’ll wait years to get something at a price I think is reasonable, so I’m glad I waited and didn’t pay $100 for this thing, because it’s a lazy and disappointing read. Which is too bad because Alice Cooper straddled two cool places and eras, and that is Detroit and Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s. And it’s doubly too bad because a writer’s name is on the cover – at least I think he’s a writer. Usually when your name is on the cover of a book it’s a good clue. But if the finished product here went through a real writer, I can only imagine that before it was “fixed” it was nothing more than a bunch of fingerpainted cocktail napkins that had, “maaaaaaannnnn…” written on every one. I did learn that Michael Bruce stole Frank Zappa’s wah pedal when the group was at his house once. Well he replaced it with one of his own, but apparently Frank’s sounded so sweet that Bruce had to steal it. Listen, I understand. There are millions of wah pedals out there, and you’d think, “well, a wah pedal is a wah pedal,” but that ain’t so. You can make you way through a dozen of them and never find that certain one. The right one, the sweet one. Once you have that sweet one you should never let it go, that’s my advice to you and my review of this book. Keep an eye on your wah. Otherwise some greasy kid might swipe it out from under your foot.
I NEED MORE BY IGGY POP (AND ANNE WEHRER)1982
This is another one that took a while to get. It’s been reprinted now, but I bought it years ago, so like the Michael Bruce book I had to wait on this one for a while. This book is a miracle if only for the fact that Iggy lived long enough to write it. I know – he’s still alive, which makes the miracle all the more miraculous. He really did grow up in a trailer park and his parents really were teachers, and he really was a drummer before he became IGGY POP. That much seems to be true, the rest of the information here is debatable. Not just here, anything Iggy says anywhere. There’s a lot of poetic license involved when he says anything, and much of this book sounds like he was saying it rather than writing it. But then we have to figure out creative ways for these people to get their stories in to print. They are important. The world needs to read them! Well, I don’t know, but Iggy is a good talker, so if his “co-author” here just ran cassette tapes and then listened then transcribed it all and put it – roughly – in order, that’s probably enough. It’s entertaining to read because it’s entertaining to listen to Iggy pontificate on things. So yeah, Detroit, Nico, Bowie, drugs. Lots of drugs, and it seemed like any time the Stooges got more than $500 at one time Iggy somehow got his hands on it and bought more drugs. And there wee U-Haul trucks for some reason. I seem to recall.
GIRL IN A BAND BY KIM GORDON 2015
I don’t have any Sonic Youth records, and I don’t much care for their music when I hear it, so I’m not sure why I bought this one. Sonic Youth started in 1981, the year that I was on the road playing punk rock, so I suppose that very early 80s New York connection was what attracted me. But the music scene was getting weird in New York – and everywhere really – in the early 80s. Punk rock was going the way of the dodo bird and hardcore was taking its place. You might wonder what the hell’s the difference, and you’d be partly right, but punk rock was like an ivy league college compared to hardcore’s community college. Or really, hardcore’s GED program, run out of the back of a driving school. The vast, overwhelming, sickening majority of hardcore was dumb. Dumb as shit, dumb as a three legged dog chasing a car.
How did I get here? Sonic Youth wasn’t hardcore. I don’t know what they were, but I know that I paid actual money to go see Aimee Mann talk to Kim Gordon about this book, and Gordon seemed genuinely pained to have to be there. She answered questions with the least amount of effort or information that I think I’ve ever seen from an interview subject. Not wanting to be somewhere is one thing, but not wanting to be there and being contemptuous about it in front of a paying audience is another. I felt bad for Aimee Mann – who isn’t exactly a professional interviewer – trying to squeeze a drop of blood out of that sour turnip. So this review will be in the same vein as the Kim Gordon talk with Aimee Mann. Ready? Girl in a Band is a book. The book was written by Kim Gordon. Kim Gordon played the bass guitar in a rock band. The end. And no, you can’t have your money back.
NEON ANGEL BY CHERIE CURRIE (AND TONY O’NEILL)
Cherie Currie was the singer for the Runaways. A lot of people seem to revere the Runaways now, but when they were current most of the rock establishment considered them to be a joke. A lot of the reason they considered them to be a joke was because Cherie used to wear corsets on stage and some of their songs were really stupid. But as a 16 year old boy I thought the Runaways were great. Girls my age playing rock and roll and making a record for christ’s sake. It was wonderful. And I thought, well, now we’ll have all kinds of bands that are all girls, and of course that didn’t happen at all. Not for a long time. anyway. This book was originally published as some kind of weird cautionary tale that was apparently marketed to young girls or teenagers in general. That’s the version I had for years and it’s oddly neutered and all the stuff you wanted to read about being in the Runaways was missing.
Well, a revised edition was published more recently, and that one restores some of the missing filth and excess. I suppose it was revised and published again to take advantage of the Runaways movie release, though I don’t know how much of a splash that movie really made. But the book is very much written from inside Cherie’s head, which is understandable I guess, and miss Cherie also took as many drugs as she could get her hands on for a while there, so it’s sort of a crap shoot, this book. But until Joan Jett writes her book this is what we’ve got. What are you waiting for Joan? What have you got to lose at this point? But Cherie’s book is a little underwhelming, underformed like a teenage brain, which she had when she lived through all that stuff. But you get to learn that she makes wood carvings with chainsaws now. And that Joan Jett is a good kisser. Oh wait, I think that part was in the Runaways documentary, Edgeplay. At least it was in an early version I was on VHS, I think they cut it out of the DVD. It’s surprising to me that so many “rockers” are so sensitive about things. You were in a rock band – or you still are in a rock band – you aren’t supposed to be as shy and withholding as an Iowa Denny’s waitress. Come on. Knock it off.
BLABBERMOUTH BY TERRE ROCHE
You’ve probably never heard of the Roches. They were three sisters who sang great vocal harmonies in the 70s and 80s, and I suppose into the 90s. Sometimes awesome songs, sometimes cute, gimmicky songs, but always those harmonies. There’s something about siblings singing harmony that is different than some random group of schmoes singing harmonies. The Andrews sisters, the Everly brothers, the Beach Boys, the Jacksons, and the Roches. When the three of them sang those close harmonies it was something else, man. It could make the hair on the back or your knees stand up. Go find their first album and listen to The Married Men and Hammond Song – just ridiculous. Well, Terre Roche wrote a book and when I saw that I thought to myself, self, buy that book, that will be interesting. It’s a thin little thing, like a few of these books are, and it’s written well enough. But it starts with a story about how the book caused her sisters to stop talking to her and her family to have a collective heart attack or something, so I thought there was going to be some horrible bombshell in there. That their parents were cannibals or that the sisters were all born male or something.
But as I read it I found not much of anything shocking. She said her father was quiet, and sometimes he wouldn’t talk for days at a time. That was about the extent of the family secrets. But I didn’t buy it to read family secrets, I bought it to hear about the Roches, the sisters, the singing group. They went through a lot, they were on Saturday Night Live, Johnny Carson, they were semi-almost famous for a minute there, then they kind of fell off the radar. That would have been an interesting book to read, that glimpse of fame then the crushing reality of just getting by. But none of that was in there. There were only a few pages about the Roches who made all those records and traveled around the world singing. Half the book was about her life in general, which is fine, it’s her autobiography after all, and the other half was about the group she had with one of her sisters, Maggie. They put out a record that no one bought and toured around the country before their third sister Suzzy joined and the Roches became the Roches. Which also would have been fine if it had been followed up by a third half about the Roches people actually know about. It’s as if she wrote half the book that should have been and then just gave up. Which a publisher probably would have pointed out and asked her to finish it, but she self-published, so no publisher ever got a chance to make her finish it.
Finally there is A DEAD BOY’S TALE BY CHEETAH CHROME
The dead boys were a Cleveland band who moved to New York in the early days of CBGBs. They were a fixture on the scene and I get the impression that a lot of the New York bands and grubby scenesters thought they were just hillbilly idiots from that vast, fuzzy part of America west of Newark. But they made a record called Young, Loud and Snotty that every late 70s punk kid bought. I’ll bet they sold ten copies for every one copy Television sold of Marquee Moon. But they were dumb, and that was part of their charm. Not dog dumb like hardcore. They were dumb-funny, kind of like the Ramones were, but without the dedication to form that the Ramones had. Well, the Dead Boys did a tour of the Midwest and they brought a band called Testors with them. The groups played in Minneapolis somewhere and the singer from the Testors decided to come back to Minneapolis a couple of years later and that’s when I met Sonny Vincent. I played in his band for a couple of years and he talked about that Dead Boys tour a lot. Sonny had about 20 different stories he’d cycle through, so if you were with him for a couple of years you were going to hear each of them many times.
But Sonny was fond of Cheetah, and he even drafted him into his band briefly after I left. For a minute he had Cheetah and the late Bob Stinson from the Replacements in his band, Sonny did. Now I played with Sonny, and he didn’t leave a lot of room in the sound for a second guitar let a lone a third. I can only imagine the chaos and horror that must have filled every dingy little room they played in. Well I read Cheetah’s book waiting for him to talk about the Dead Boys tour with Testors or playing with Stinson in Sonny’s band, but I didn’t get any of that. What I did get was a little half page story about how Sonny came to visit Cheetah for a few hours and left him with a several hundred dollar phone bill. That on top of other things I don’t know anything about make Cheetah less than fond of Sonny now. But I thought the phone bill story was funny, because we did that kind of wrongheaded shit to innocent people all the time. Sonny never paid for anything because he never had any money. So it’s funny that Cheetah – after touring with him playing in a band with him – would let him anywhere near his phone. That’s like giving a drunk the keys to the liquor store.
Well that’s all I’ve got. Thinking about these again makes me not want to read another rock memoir, but I’ll keep buying them and reading them and waiting for the train that never comes. I realize that most of these reviews weren’t exactly glowing. And that they were barely reviews. But I looked forward to reading every one of these books, obviously, I suppose, or I wouldn’t have bought them. And some of them took me a long time to find, which made the anticipation all the more anticipate-y. But as you’ve heard, a lot of the time that anticipation was dashed on the rocks of bad writing or weird choices of what to include. Maybe what I want out of these memoirs is not what the rest of the world wants. They want to read about fame and chartered jets and groupies. I want to read about the road to all of that shit. About touring in station wagons and playing for 10 people and not getting paid. And to be fair, there’s some of that scattered through these books, but not as much as I’d like. Usually the formula goes something like, “We played at the high school and some local clubs, then we went on an arena tour with Journey and then we started headling soccer stadiums.” Come on man. Maybe it happens like that sometimes, but not very often, and reading about that trajectory over and over again is kind of boring.
And really, what can you say about a book? I certainly don’t know. The most I’ll usually say is, “You should read it.” That’s my endorsement and review of most books I like. I don’t like to talk about them. I don’t like to talk about a movie I just saw, or a band I just heard. I like to sit with it for a while. Enjoy it for what it was without dissecting it and rehashing it. And to tell you the truth I don’t remember much about books I read. I remember vague overall impressions, but I’m not one of those people who can quote passages for you or talk in depth about books because they kind of go in one eye and out the other. But then I think that’s what most books are for. They are diversions to keep you from jumping off a cliff after work every day. Most of them. Some are more substantial and important, I know that. But none of these books I talked about here just now were meant to be anything more than a diversion. I mean, I hope none of the writers or musicians thought they were anything more than that.
Hey, all this talk about reviews, why not review THIS IS NOT A TEST? If you go to the THIS IS NOT A TEST page in iTunes you can see a link to review the show. If you review it, more people will find it and our cult will grow and prosper and one day take over the world as the prophesies foretold! Or we’ll gain another 100 friends, either way. Well I’m tired and it’s getting late. I have to get my beauty rest you know. So I’ll say au revoir, until we meet again.