Who Wrote the Book of Rock?
Nine Inch Nails
(St. Martin's Griffin, $12.95 paper) Postmodern industrialist Trent Reznor is an enormously talented musician, but he's really not as important as he thinks he is. Author Huxley has cranked out enough of these rock bios to get in and out with all the fact and highlights but not a whole lot in the way of substance. Reznor fans will have a good time with it, though.
by Maria Celeste Arrars
(Fireside S&S, $12 paper) This literary trifle about the Tejano star murdered by her fan club president is so incredibly dull it could be considered a sleep inducer. If there is a secret to be found in this book, I never found it; I put it down long before I could discover it. You wanna read about Selena, read Joe Nick Patoski's Como La Flor.
Oasis: Supersonic Supernova
by Michael Krugman
(St. Martin's Griffin, $10.95 paper) Yeehaw! Finally, a writer who likes but is not cowed by Oasis gives them the what-for in this snappy little read. It's infinitely less pompous than the other Oasis tome, gleefully recounting the band's short history with the same kind of cheeky irreverence the band gives out in spades. Oasis' claim as "the most important band in the world" may be a bit premature given the flagging sales of their newest CD.
There but for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs
by Michael Schumacher
(Hyperion, $15.95 paper) The ache left in the wake of the death of musicians such as Phil Ochs never quite goes away, but a book like this goes a long way toward easing it. Schumacher's gentle affection for his subject never gets in the way of the story of the beloved Sixties-era folkie who committed suicide in 1976, and renders the sad life of an important musican with the grace Ochs deserved but never quite received.
The Spice Girls
by Anna Louise Golden
(Ballantine, $10.95 paper) Possibly the most fatuous of the titles I read this year doing research for the book I am co-authoring. Yes, you read right: I am writing a book with Bill Crawford, who co-authored the Stevie Ray Vaughan bio with Joe Nick Patoski. That means that next time this year, I'll have to suffer the same kind of short, sniping mini-reviews as I am dissing, er, dishing out this year. Big deal. As for the Spice Girls, it's Monkee time for the Cockney confections.
by Christopher Sandford
(Carroll & Graf, $13.95 paper) The accompanying press for this book screams: 16 PAGES OF BLACK & WHITE PHOTOS including the Seattle Times photo of Cobain's body! With that gaseous bit of flame-fanning out of the way, whether we really need another biography on the Voice of His Generation then becomes the question. After looking through Sandford's well-meaning but ultimately unenlightening read, I vote no.
Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart
by John Collis
(Da Capo, $14.95) Belfast native Van Morrison is the kind of musician that rock & roll would have developed just fine without, but because his work has spanned decades, it has created one of the richest bodies of music any performer can boast, elevating him into near-legendary status. I take that back; would rock & roll be the same without "Gloria"? I don't think so....
Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of the Beatles' Let It Be Disaster
by Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt
(St. Martin's Press, $24.95 hard) The authors listened to and transcribed the tapes of the Beatles' Let It Be recording sessions. All of them. And wrote about it. All of it. It's all here -- the Beatles disintegrating amid squabbles and tension-breaking rounds of golden oldies between album takes. Is anyone listening?
Frank Sinatra and the Art of Lost Livin'
by Bill Zehme
(HarperCollins $23 hard) Ol' Blue Eyes turns 82 on the 12th of this month, and author Zehme has given him a birthday present like no other: a loving, effusive, witty, and photographically documented biographical tour of his not-uninteresting life. Frank talked a lot for this, so there are some pretty choice phrasings. You might consider pairing this with Kitty Kelley's His Way for a truly wicked gift-giving.
The Chieftains: The Authorized Biography
by John Glatt
(St. Martin's Press, $26.95 hard) Authorized biographies have a way of sounding like tepid press releases, but in the case of the reigning kings of traditional Irish music, there's not much in the way of lurid sex scandals or drug arrests to make for dishy reading. Instead, Glatt has fashioned a loving look at the Chieftains, who have been largely responsible for the preservation of traditional Irish music, as well as making it a very hip genre recording with the likes of Marianne Faithfull and the Rolling Stones. (For my friends who thought there would be no way I could work in something about my ongoing obsession with things Celtic and the Stones, nyah.)
Kiss This: Punk in the Present Tense
by Gina Arnold
(St. Martin's Griffin, $11.95 paper) Arnold's earnest theses about modern music continue in this terse chronicling of the decline of punk as a musical force. Unfortunately, she makes some unforgivably major gaffes in setting the scene for SXSW here in Austin, and the how-could-she-muff-that aspect seriously compromises her credibility. But Arnold is nothing if not thoughtful and relentless in her decimation of idols, laying waste to MTV and other faux-avatars of a generation that calls itself X, and ultimately produces a work well worth reading.
Music to My Ears
by Timothy White
(Owl Books, $14.95 paper) Good stuff, good writing, good questions, nothing overly revealing, just a lot of solid profiles and commentary from one of the pre-eminent Rolling Stone rock critics.
Trouble Girls: The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock
edited by Barbara O'Dair
(Random House, $25 paper) This hefty tome seems to be very with-it -- isn't it hip for them to be so feminist? The thing is, Rolling Stone is so usually busy putting underdressed female TV stars and models on their covers (how come guys don't pose like Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston?) that this sort of tokenism is deeply repellent. It doesn't mean that there aren't well-written essays in here (there are many) but the concept was executed with much more integrity last year in Rock, She Wrote. Rolling Stone will always be the paper of record for rock & roll, but even The New York Times benefits by the presence of The Village Voice.
Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity
by Richard A. Peterson
(University of Chicago Press, $24.95 hard) My heavens, but this is a dense subject, country-music-as-commercial-art explored on a much-too-academic level to be considered light reading. Scholars will likely find this of interest but casual fans will be frightened away by its pedantic tone. Anybody who exclusively listens to country music is likely to think it a lot of hooey.
by George Gimarc
(St. Martin's Griffin, $24.95 paper) Dallas culture maven George Gimarc picks up where Punk Diary left off, and continues his jaunty day-by-day history of punk into the first couple of years of the Eighties. The sheer number of entries alone stumbles into minor but annoying inaccuracies at times but Gimarc's exhaustive attention to his chronicle more than redeems it. The accompanying CD is likewise fascinating, even if Gimarc occasionally sounds as chirpy as Jiminy Cricket interviewing the subjects. A great one for the archives.
The Midnight Special 1972-1981: Late Night's Original Rock & Roll Show
(VH1/Pocket Books, $18 paper) It wasn't until VH1 started running old Midnight Special episodes that I had any appreciation for the Seventies-era show that ended its run in 1981. More than just a source for forehead-slapping fashions, Midnight Special, along with American Bandstand, managed to capture the tumultuous changes happening in music through the decade. Here are 56 of the show's 300+ episodes, just in case you've forgotten that Sissy Spacek and Beverly D'Angelo once dueted. (I saw a Midnight Special episode recently with Al Green, so incendiary in performance I needed to be hosed off afterward.) Enjoy the nostalgia now; in a few years they'll probably treat The Grind the same way.