JAMES PAUL MCCARTNEY TURNS 80

Aquarian Weekly
6/22/22
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
JAMES PAUL MCCARTNEY TURNS 80
 
I feel obligated to acknowledge the eightieth birthday of James Paul McCartney the day after I am writing this – June 18, 2022. Beyond the fact that I have noted certain milestones for many of popular music’s giants here over the years and for a while became the de facto eulogist for too many more, there has been a weird connection I’ve had with Sir Paul for the past three years. Not the least of which having conceived a book project around his greatest song (in my humble opinion) “Hey Jude” titled Take a Sad Song – The Emotional Currency of “Hey Jude,” which was released just a few weeks ago, mere days before

One of the things I learned hanging in the shadow of Paul McCartney these past years, is the importance of staying alive. For the longest time, especially after the death of his songwriting partner, the iconic and sainted John Lennon in 1980, McCartney’s significance in this little four-piece rock and roll combo he founded, the Beatles (have you heard of this?) was greatly and woefully diminished. Living was a bad career move for Macca. At first. Now it turns out having several lives after you’ve peaked at 26 years-old is a good thing. And an argument can be made that now that Paul has managed to make eighty and has completed his tour triumphantly in front of eighty-thousand or so fans in a massive stadium here in N.J. last evening, it was a tremendous career move. Not to mention a good personal one, because, you know, otherwise…   

Makes sense that Paul McCartney is still with us. I mean, what sixteen year-old boy – music-obsessed, sex fiend, ego loon – takes the time to write “When I’m Sixty-Four?” Then, instead of forgetting he ever did such a thing put it on an album (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – have you heard of this?) that came out eight years later when he was just twenty-four. The man had a plan. And it has gone way past sixty-four. If my math is correct, sixteen years past. The age he was when…

“No one else is remotely in this stratosphere.”

Okay, so Paul has lived and has made a lot of music. And as I write in my book, people seem to like this music. Some stats for these songs that Paul’s come up with – composed with and without some notable collaborators like the aforementioned Lennon (wowza) and Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash and Kanye West to name a few – include thirty-two that have gone to #1 in the United States and/or in the United Kingdom. A staggering 129 of his songs have charted in the United Kingdom, ninety-one reaching the Top 10. He is the Guinness Book of World Records’ Most Successful Songwriter of All Time. “No one else.” I wrote, “is remotely in this stratosphere.”

Paul McCartney might be the most prolific and influential songwriter of popular music ever. He is Gershwin and Porter and Ellington and Berlin and all those other guys and then some. Paul, as I discovered also in my research, is song. He has been song, and he will forever be song. I think it is possible if you look up the word “song” in Webster’s it might have Paul’s smiling face next to it. There is no daylight between a hummable tune and James Paul McCartney.

Oh, I also found out during this book journey that apparently the Campion men over a century-plus were fellow Liverpudlians who married a lot of Irish women from across the water. This is thanx to my Little Brother, PJ, who is now the family archaist. Before this, I was merely another of these Irish/Italian types from the Bronx by way of a large boat of people. Turns out there was a large boat or two or three, there was just a Liverpudlian Campion on it. 

I was already here in 1964 when the Beatles arrived via an airplane and changed the planet forever. There are pop stars and icons and then there is the inexplicable sonic boom of the Beatles, who were four scrums from that British port town that no one gave a flying fart about until they invaded every cover of everything. People coming from nowhere to dominate is the stuff of legend. And for some weird reason Paul, this old soul with his songs about retirement written before he could shave, rode it like he knew it all along. And this is the same boyish charm that pervades today. You see his glee when he performs and gets those cheers. He loves those cheers. His little dance when he stands up from the piano after serenading us with “Maybe I’m Amazed” or “Let It Be” or the next masterpiece is pure unadulterated joy. Saw him for the second time in my nearly sixty years on the planet a few weeks ago in Syracuse, NY, where my wife is from and her amazing family that is my family and where I signed my books that afternoon with his visage on the cover, and all those the years between 1964 and 1968 and 1978 and 1989 (when I first saw him at MSG) and the rest melt away into one big Macca moment.

A musician friend of mine back in the mid-eighties once mused that it is strange that anyone can do an impression of almost any rock star from the 1950s onward, except McCarney. Paul doesn’t have a distinct sound (unless you listen to Badfinger or early Billy Joel or any boy band that has existed after the Beatles) but I kind of know what he meant. He meant that Paul could be a vocalist for any time and any occasion His songs demand that his voice run the gamut. It isn’t an affect he is doing; it is Paul being song, again and again, and, blessedly, again.

So, all those year ago, and the years in between and the ones to come, are right there for Paul, who is a time machine, an indelible mark on our sense memories in sound. He brings us there, time and again, with a melody for the ages. Because he has aged. 

So, fuck dying and leaving a good-looking corpse and all the bullshit about burning out and fading away. 

James Paul McCartney is eighty. 

Long may he be song.

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ONE ALIEN ALIENATION IN THE ALIEN NATION

Aquarian Weekly
6/16/22
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
ONE ALIEN ALIENATION IN THE ALIEN NATION
David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at 50
 
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children… boogie
 
It is difficult to express how important David Bowie’s fifth album was in the annals of popular music without understanding its connection to the genre, purpose, and essence of what rock and roll meant (in 1972) to its third generation. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was, is, and will always be the soundtrack of iconography from Elvis Presley to Lady Ga Ga, because it is, as an artistic statement, a timeless examination of Western culture as ephemeral claptrap in the wake of youth-ego distortion. But it is, at its core, a reinvention of the form, while simultaneously playing up its most vital foundations, its humor, its majesty, its sexuality, and, most of all, embracing the solidarity of youth alienation. The symbol of Bowie as androgynous Starman waiting in the sky in his glamor queen, macho baller, furious rebel fragility, begs the question; does the death of the prepubescent spirit inevitably lead to drab immortality?

Oh, and it rocks. Hard.

This is not a review of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust to understand its musical brilliance, realized by his musical sherpa and rough-edged doppelganger, Mick Ronson, the din progeny of Hendrix, or even its image-driven keep your ‘lectric eye on me, babe manipulation. It is not going to regurgitate the obvious career move Bowie achieved by taking a slight, if not preternaturally gifted, pop singer-songwriter from the British dance-hall tradition and quite strategically turning him into a Glam Bitch God capable of giving voice and breath and infinity to The Teenager, in all its confused, angry, hormone-crazed isolation. This is about The Teenager. This is about the all the nobody people, and all the somebody people queer, shut-in, frightened, picked-on, disdained youth for which Ziggy-as-avatar stands for – beyond his singular place in campy well hung and snow-white tan rock-star satire with his screwed-up eyes and screwed down hairdo. Beyond the 1970s decadent, drug-addled chic doom that would come to define the art form for which Bowie had finally come of age in and will lead him until his dying breath with each new character driven statement, there is The Teenager. This the audience and the muse of Ziggy, the character, reflected in every note and lyric in Ziggy Stardust, as an album, as a movement, as a very real and lasting license to celebrate individuality as if divine mass.  

Think about all of the strange things circulating round 

It is not fair to say that Ziggy Stardust is the first youth statement as mass prayer – new words / soul love – but it is the most effective. In a very real way, Bowie’s pursuit of a conceptual rock piece does not make it unique for early 1970s rock, or certainly British rock. If anything, this is the time and place for grand statements –the birth of prog rock and the overindulgent statements in fog machines and costumes. But there is no arguing with Ziggy being the statement for The Teenager. Owning a rock star as personal badge of identification begins, and in many ways, ends with Ziggy. This is why Bowie killed him off after a year of parading his make-up-addled, emaciated carcass around the world in grand spectacle. Ziggy Stardust, who told us not to blow it ‘cause it’s all worthwhile, cannot live on Sugar Mountain or a darkened street corner as an aging font of bland maturity. He is the alien. Alienated. No metaphor there. Forever young, naïve, defiant. He is infinite woman/man/trans in two, three, four dimensions. An empty vessel to fill with fears and lusts, noise and spat from the freak out, far out ether on your hazy cosmic jive radio.

In this way, there is no timeframe for Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars, because it never existed and never will. Not really. It is a fuck-around tits-and-confetti moonage daydream, a wisp, a sideways glance made by too much grope and hallucination and tint color and space boots and screaming guitars and moody piano and the pound-pound-pound of the drums. Tribes come calling. The femme fatales emerged from shadows / To watch this creature fair / Boys stood upon their chairs / To make their point of view / I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey. And they will forever be young with their snot noses and high cheekbones and eye-shadow and colored fingernails and black lights revealing bemused smirks. Thus, they cannot be defeated or homogenized or god-forbid labeled or cornered or allowed to fade away. So… don’t lean on me, man, you can’t afford the ticket.

Inevitably they all burned out. Long before Johnny Rotten. Long before the rock and roll suicide. Get out while you can. This is what the music tells you. And it is not death. It is rebirth. It is refiguring. It is the epiphany of self-realization, the discovery of brutal truths. Bowie speaks of becoming in the whole of Ziggy, because that is the plight and blessing of The Teenager. The flayed bastard knowing that not knowing counts for something. Anything. And he made it so there was no lonely but the chosen lonely. This is what rock and roll was/is to anyone left who dares hear it. But it never mattered anyway. David Bowie sang at the end, Just turn on with me and you’re not alone over and over like a mad mantra. He needed you to hear that. Because it was true. And truth is the same as making it all up when it doesn’t matter. You make your own myths, Ziggy says. That is why he came for a little while. Five Years? And fifty years later he is still saying it…

You’re not alone.

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INFLATION TRAIN = POLITICAL PAIN

Aquarian Weekly
6/8/22
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
INFLATION TRAIN = POLITICAL PAIN
 
 
I have been clear here for decades that I am not an economy writer. I have no fucking idea what drives national or global economics. Except for a very small group of humans I know (I’m looking at you, my bro-in-law, Thomas), this is the default for most of us. Especially in a hardcore capitalist construct, the most important thing that effects our ability to stay alive – food, home, utilities, stuff – is one big mystery. One thing that is not a mystery, and should be understood by the voting public, is how the economy affects politicians in power. Sure, it is only part of the story of political success, but when something as dramatic as the current state of national and global inflation is right now, it becomes the whole story.

On a national level, the Democrats hold power in Washington D.C. Many of these members of the U.S. Congress and the Senate, particularly our president, who has been around for 200 years and in politics for a cool century of so, should realize that with these outrageous prices on household items and especially gas, because, ya know, we go to war over gas prices around here, that the stank of all this is on them. The nuances of a recovery from the disasters of 2020, solid job reports, and a robust economic recovery in the technical is meaningless. The mere fact that things are just as bad in almost every industrialized nation on planet earth right now matters little. 

Again, we don’t know how any of this really works. 

To wit: Both strictly private-sector based economic theory and government-manipulated economic theories have both been debunked over the centuries. Many, many times. To disastrous results. Yet even people we pay to figure this shit out have zero idea what the hell just happened. Did I hear that several members of the Fed and economic advisors to our government admit they did not see this coming? Shit, the Wall Street Journal, the running Bible on capitalism just ran an op-ed that they are shocked. 

But one thing we absolutely know right now is that something has gone awry. No one should be paying over eleven dollars for a jar of marinara sauce. And it would seem for Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his party’s chances of staying in power, high prices and confusion on how it gets there means big trouble.

None of this matters as much as the pocketbook. Never did. Never will.

Forget the fact that the whole Biden presidency has been mostly a bust. His approval ratings are in the tank. He cannot get anything through a legislature he owns, and he appears to be out of it most of the time. I am glad he beat the last guy, who is a psycho lunatic anti-Democratic weirdo TV asshole. But at some point, we must come to grips that even though we needed the white old guy to convince the winy, racist, backwards states to boot that bleating thug, he has sucked ass at this. And, again, I am not necessarily putting the complete blame for the largest inflation numbers in four decades on the president, but this is how things work. And Joe knows this. If he doesn’t, then we have larger issues with this president that will have to be dealt with in another more agonizing column.

Look, first-term mid-terms are ugly anyway. But this is shaping up to be a slaughterhouse in November. And no one should be surprised by this. Granted, there are massive issues on the table right now that could ameliorate the carnage – starting with thrice-daily mass shootings and the striking down of Roe v Wade, which will put 51-percent of the electorate in bodily servitude to the federal government. But if eggs and gas and stuff are still ridiculously expensive, then you can be assured that people – even women – will bag freedom and the life and limb of grade-school kids to change the narrative.

And, of course, since we know nothing about the economy, it will likely not change. Republicans, who should absolutely run on how crazy this inflation has been now for nearly a year, routinely tell us it is the private sector that decides these things not the government. But, as they run to be in said government, they will chuck this concept to lay the blame at the feet of the party in power instead. And again, I agree whole heartedly with this tactic. It is just disingenuous. But who cares about that shit? No one knows what that word means. Especially in D.C. 

All is fair in a love and war. The basic premise of the 2022 mid-terms right now lies in the generic ballot polls. Republicans currently lead this by 2.2 percent. Considering that polling has been rather generous to Democrats over the past six election cycles, this ain’t a good sign for them. Biden, for instance, had a soldi ten-point advantage over Donald J. Trump in 2020, and only won by three percent. If anything, Biden, should have been wondering what the fuck happened that November. In a normal year, a 2.2 percent lead for Democrats would be a dire warning sign for them. This number, combined with Biden’s dismal 40-percent approval rating, is a recipe for ass-whup.

Seeing how I am writing this in the first full week of June, there is only five months for this economy to be something that won’t crush the party in power. That won’t happen. Roe v Wade is going bye-bye, and that might shift the balance of power in states where voters want to protect it. The number as of this morning for pro-choice is 68-percent of Americans. That counts for something. Sure. And if this summer is going to get bloodier – at least schools are out in a few weeks, so there will be less children to gun down – the gun issue will certainly hurt Republicans. But, again, none of this matters as much as the pocketbook. Never did. Never will. The American Revolution. The Civil War. Civil Rights. All of this was about money. 

That much we do know.      

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KILL U.S.A.

Aquarian Weekly
6/1/22
 
Reality Check
 
James Campion
 
 KILL U.S.A.
Running Out of Shit To Write About This… So, You Get This
 
I have a book coming out on the day this hits the cybersphere. Sorry, but I’m privileged to plug it here. Shit, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and my managing editor, Debra Kate Schafer is the coolest and she recently conducted an interview with me for the book and supports my work, and hell, it’s titled, Take a Sad Song – The Emotional Currency of Hey Jude. Of course, I would hope everyone gets it and reads it and enjoys it, And I am damn proud to include the voices of so many talented and smart people in it. But mostly the book’s release reminds me daily of how down and confused and scared we all were in 2020 during the quarantine when I wrote it. It was my pandemic project. And while I discovered much about song, the Beatles, Paul McCartney, the times, and everything in between – what always comes back to me from the experts and artists who lent their insights to it, is that while it seems easy to have empathy and care about our fellow humans on the surface, it really isn’t. It is hard. Very hard. Personal interest. Personal sovereignty. Personal ambitions will overwhelm any desire for the greater good. 

This is why we tend to eliminate people who espouse empathy as a general philosophy of life – Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, ya know.

Na Na Na… Na Na Na Na… Na Na Na Na… Hey Jude.

Okay, so enough of that nonsense. But it’s not nonsense. No. Because if it was then I wouldn’t AGAIN feel the need – against all the instinct in my bones – to comment on the Texas school shooting this week or to continue to wonder what our fascination is with guns, violence, racism, personal angst, vengeance, grievance, victimhood and everything in between. Humans, I mean. Not Americans per se. I have been quite clear here from the very first column I wrote for this paper, that America is the great human experiment. We are given a unique opportunity in the annals of civilization to lift ourselves up, but we rarely if ever do. 

I think it seems obvious to write that no one wants grammar school children to be massacred. Maybe the odd person with similar aspirations as the young man who decided to kill his grandmother, post if on Facebook, and minutes later – as blithely as one might mention taking a pop down to the market for a gallon of milk – proclaim that he planned to murder kids in a school, and then enact it. But beyond these damaged beings, there cannot be enough people that think this is okay.

Then I see this the very moment I sat down to write this on the CNN web site – “The shooting is the latest entry in the long history of gun violence in the United States. Before Tuesday, there had been at least 39 shootings in K-12 schools, colleges and universities in 2022, resulting in at least 10 deaths and 51 injuries.

Okay…what?

It is very difficult to balance that we are not kill-crazies in a country where kill-crazy has become almost a daily occurrence, like rain and farting.

There have been 39 school shootings in 2022? The year is only half over. Thirty-nine. The last time I wrote something like this, probably last year, and the year before that, and the one where I just wrote “blah blah blah” for a thousand words, some people argued that maybe the stats were off or that some could not be considered “school shootings” because they happened in the parking lot or the guy’s gun didn’t fire or something. But, I mean, 39?? In six months?

So, it is very difficult to balance that we are not kill-crazies in a country where kill-crazy has become almost a daily occurrence, like rain and farting. 

I have no idea why guns are so important to people. I do not own one. But this also doesn’t mean they are not – for whatever reason the gun people have for owning, shooting, collecting them – legit for it. That’s on them. I love Tom Waits. And not just the brilliant songs. His singing too. People think that’s weird. So, I don’t care if people dig guns, and I have never been anti-gun or went nuts for sensible gun laws. I think, like drugs, the guns are not necessarily the problem, people are the problem. And people will get guns like they get drugs. And for the record, people will get abortions. Lots of abortions after that becomes illegal. But, then again, we do have traffic lights and seatbelts. So, we always factor people being shitty into our laws.

I don’t know. I guess this is all to say that I have less to say about this latest horror show in Texas, other than perhaps one should be expected to be shot at in Texas. They have more guns per-capita than any state. It’s in their state crest. They thump their chests about cowboys and guns all the time. To say the least, Texas is gun centric. And the only reason to have a gun is to kill a mammal. It’s a kill machine. There is no other use for guns. Unlike Tom Waits, who has many elements – you can dance to some of his stuff, enjoy gin with it, even annoy your friends. But a gun is less for picking your teeth or cutting your grass or hitting a baseball. It’s a kill machine for fast and effective killing. That’s it. So, if you live in a state that celebrates this and part of its very communal identity is a kill machine, and if you send your kids to school there, maybe you should expect the odd shooting? Just sayin’. If you think about it, it’s a miracle there isn’t more of these shootings there. Maybe there will be more. Maybe today.

I guess what still irks me is that we accept this pretty much as normal. And that is a weird comment on us. Weirder than Tom Waits’ voice or my plugging my book about a song that shines with comfort and unity to then pivot and write about how we apparently dig children dying in schools when deep-down I cannot fathom this. But what other conclusion can one come to?

We have always been the kill capitol of the planet. This is what defines us. Not Judeo-Christian morals or constitutionality or rights or exceptionalism. Killing. Our national anthem is about killing. There’s lots and lots of killing. Sanctioned and not. Crazies with guns and knives and bombs. Crazies bashing their way into the Capitol or burning down a Wendy’s to protest violence. Cops are crazy. People killing. Kill. Kill. Kill.

Got nothing particularly smarmy or pithy to add to this. It’s just what’s on my mind the morning I pound this out on the old keyboard device. Killing. This is our main export to the world. We, I guess, like it, love it, embrace it. It’s part of us. The great human experiment. My thoughts have not changed on this, and I doubt they ever will. The evidence is way too strong to support my findings.

Not sure we can take this sad song and make it anything

Or maybe we can.

No?

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Paul Simon: The Life– Robert Hilburn (2018)

Robert Hilburn, respected music journalist from the L.A. Times for thirty-five years takes
on the life of the legendary Paul Simon, whose mercurial musical journey spans nearly
six decades in Paul Simon: The Life. Although at times the writing is as dry as a Bob
Woodward political exposé, the author provides new perspective on the life and times of
Simon by including the singer-songwriter’s commentary as late as 2017. And so, this is a
biography with a little memoir thrown in, which makes it unique. However, what makes
it a must read for fans of Simon and music history in general is it includes pages and
pages of how this genius of songcraft plies his trade. I need to point this out again,
because it is a glaring rarity in rock/pop bios; Hilburn writes, using copious Simon
quotes, how one of the great American songwriters of any generation does it. What a
concept! But don’t sleep on it, because this should be a template for every one of these
books going forward.

One of the elements of the book that really struck me is throughout an
uncompromising artistic career from chucking Simon & Garfunkel at the absolute height
of their earning and artistic powers, to working with eclectic musicians from all over the
globe across genres (Graceland – South African and Rhythm of the Saints – Brazilian),
and tackling film scores (One Trick Pony) and an ill-fated Broadway play (The
Capeman
), Simon, and thus Hilburn, are obsessed with winning awards, as each year’s
Grammy nominations arrive with Simon obsessively, almost to the point of shifting his
moods and future inspirations for a spate, tuning in. The bevy of awards that would come
Simon’s way meant so much to him it borders on the edge of creepy and self-serving, but
it also shows how in-tune the performer was with the shifting tides of music for sixty
years. Unlike many of his contempories, even Bob Dylan, who had a comeback in the
early aughts, Simon would return again and again as a seminal voice in the pop world.

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Life on Two Legs: Setting the Record Straight on Queen, The Beatles, Elton and Bowie
and the Ultimate Rock Studio, Trident – Norman J. Sheffield (2013)

There is a very convincing argument to made, and Norman Sheffield certainly makes it in
his page-turning Life on Two Legs, that his studio’s influence on the 1970s era of rock in
the UK and beyond has no peer. The founder and proprietor of the legendary Trident
Studios, tucked in a little alleyway in the Soho District of London, was the epicenter of
the rock/pop world, effectively launching the glam movement with the birth of Marc
Bolan and his T Rex, David Bowie, and Elton John, three massive British artists that
would dominate the charts and pop culture for years to come. And this is not even to
mention, which Sheffield does in great and gory detail, Trident’s discovering,
developing, and managing of Queen, a monster rock/pop outfit that would be an
international hit-making and touring phenomenon.

If Sheffield did nothing but discuss the history of Trident’s groundbreaking studio
period (the first of its kind in the UK to embrace what was going on in the U.S. in turning
the studio into a place of comfort to create like New York City’s Record Plant or L.A.’s
Sunset Sound) this would be required reading. But add Trident’s advent into 8-Track and
then 16-track recording, seducing the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and a host of other epic
acts, and what you have the living evolution of rock and roll in its second generation.

Sheffield also duly covers he and his colleagues, some of them the most important
producers/engineers of the period, Ken Scott and Roy Thomas Baker, to name just two,
expanding the brand to film, video production, tour scheduling and more. Trident was the
most groundbreaking enterprise in pop music and Queen’s massive success underlines
this.

But, alas, Sheffield also describes the terrible business side of his creative venture, not
the least of which “the Queenies,” as he affectionately calls them, as their naiveté, greed,
and overall dumbness that led to a terrible split. More than half the book is dedicated to
this stirring saga and for good reason. It is, like most of Trident’s triumphs and tragedies,
a cautionary tale. One that needed to be told by the man who made it and lived it.

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Why Patti Smith Matters – Caryn Rose (2022)

Author Caryn Rose begins her framing of the import of Patti Smith with a note about this
not being a biography, but indeed, it very much is, but with the added tone and
perspective the subject deserves. Part of a series from University of Texas Press Music
Matters
books that include similar treatises on Marianne Faithful, Solange, Karen
Carpenter among others, Why Patti Smith Matters is fast-paced ride through the artistic
journey of one of the most influential artists of the mid-to-late 1970s New York punk
movement.

Rose is a fan, and more than that, she eloquently depicts the pertinence of Smith’s
appearance on her debut album, the iconic Horses black-and-white photograph of Smith
leering apathetically, and her intense Saturday Night Live appearance in the autumn of
1976, one that also blew yours truly away. Much of the background material has been
covered by Smith herself in Just Kids (which I reviewed here in 2010, and her follow-up
M Train in 2015), but it was Rose’s concentration on the time period Smith and her then
husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 married and decamped in a suburb of Detroit in
the 1980s that was special for me. We read how much it flummoxed the author as a fan
that Smith retreated from the public eye and essentially her art, but also how much the
author’s feminism and professional hindsight sees it as an afront to the (woman) artist’s
right to have a life outside of celebrity, something Patti Smith always claimed was not the
aim of her career, and how she might have been even more prolific because of it.

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U2’s The Joshua Tree – Planting Roots in Mythic America – Bradley Morgan (2021)

Arguably the most political of books about arguably the most political of bands, U2’s The
Joshua Tree – Planting Roots in Mythic America
dissects the aim and purpose, history
and influence of the legendary Irish band’s finest album and this reviewer’s selection in
his Top 5 of All-Time. Author Bradley Morgan is on a personal and political journey of
his own, which he covers with zero ambiguity in the book’s epilogue, something clearly
expressed in each of the ensuing chapters that break down each of the Joshua Tree’s
eleven brilliant tracks. This is a fan’s perspective, mixed with research and the voices of
those who have waxed poetic about its themes for decades, shedding light on one of the
most powerful statements ever presented by a rock band.

There is plenty to love here if you grew up, as I did, with U2 – a band that mattered
most for wearing the political and spiritual on its collective sleeve from day-one. But
Morgan goes to places deeper than perhaps even U2 perceived back in 1987 and came to
learn as they toured the record, specifically in America, as captured in the 1988 film,
Rattle and Hum. To wit: Morgan spends much of the book following U2’s 2017 tribute
concert tour for the thirtieth anniversary of the album and juxtaposing its messages of
America mythos and promise versus its hypocrisy – framed in the chaotic months of the
Donald Trump presidency and the critiques proffered by the band originally n the mid-
eighties of Ronald Reagan’s America and Margaret Thatcher in the UK.

As a fellow author of framing a rock album in its times and its effect on us all, I can
confidently state that Morgan succeeds in providing further meaning to U2’s finest work,
filling much of the book with furious sincerity to the music that moved him, hoping to
move the reader as dramatically.

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Aerosmith – On Tour, 1973-85 – Julian Gill (2021)

Author and rock historian extraordinaire Julian Gill has done it again. Aerosmith – On
Tour, 1973-85
is living antiquity, an exhaustive, extensive, unbelievably detailed trip across a decade of road stories, trinkets, facts, side stories, statistics and images that
frame one of the most impressive touring runs in the pantheon of rock and roll.

Laid out in a dual compendium with his online archives, much as Gill has
accomplished for Aerosmith’s contemporaries, KISS, this tome (and man is it ever, the
author warned me not to drop it on my foot) covers every aspect of Aerosmith’s journey
from Boston bar band to the heights of 1970s superstardom, the band’s implosion and
retooling, which culminates with their comeback pre-mid-1980s revival (previewing the
most unlikely and spectacular second acts in rock). I was at one of those reunion shows at
a stormy Orange County Fairgrounds in 1984, and it remains one of the best concerts I
have ever seen by any band. And Julian’s got it cold, even hinting that there might be a
recording of it!

No Aerosmith fan, hell, no fan of 1970s rock can live without this book. It is the
collection of all collections (he even has solo projects and ensuing tours), and to think
Gill is threatening to keep going – a follow-up volume into the second-act career – even
going so far as to reaching out to readers to contribute. This is a true grassroots
book/online effort that is so unique it may spawn imitators, but in no way duplicators.
Gill’s ability to mine minutia, find the gems, and get to the crux of the facts is without
peer, and this volume may be his finest achievement.

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Music is History – Questlove (2021)

At one point in his exceedingly enjoyable Music is History, Producer/Drummer/Educator/Author, and shameless fellow music geek, Questlove astutely quotes nineteenth century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” This pretty much explains what music journalists (de facto historians) do when we attempt to frame music in the context of its times and beyond. Questlove brilliantly balances this axiom/call to arms in the personal and cultural for music is in his DNA as a musician and an intellectual. And if there is a more entertaining book on music as history, I defy anyone to name it.

To say I loved Music is History is an understatement. It spoke to me the way I usually speak to others, or more to the point write in this paper, magazine pieces, and my own books on music. Questlove has found a voice so filled with deep minutia and profound conclusions, it is quite intimidating. If I weren’t having so damn much fun discovering and rediscovering the songs/albums/artists that run a historical thread through Music is History, I might be pissed at him for this fantastic idea!

The highlights of his journey from birth (1971) to the present, include but are not beholden to the author’s deconstruction of samples through hip hop’s evolution to bridge the gap between generations of celebrated soul/funk artists whose work was reimagined and rediscovered through the art form. There is also the discussion of musical appropriation, the slow erosion of the cultural purpose behind rap/hip hop, the primacy of the Em bass line in dance music, musicians as confessors, and how history can be viewed through the prism of our personal connection to music.

Moreover, any book that dedicates a chapter to Prince and the Revolution’s underrated1985 masterpiece Around the World in a Day is a winner for yours truly. This was so much fun!

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