New Books on Rock Music Keep on Coming
Chrissie Hynde: A Musical Biography (University of Texas Press), by Adam Sobsey
Adam Sobsey has written a fan’s book about the voice—and prime mover—behind The Pretenders. But through all the “rock goddess” clichés and gushing enthusiasm, a plausible portrait emerges. Chrissie Hynde is, to use another cliché, “one of a kind,” complex and willful, perhaps paradoxical or even jarringly unpredictable. Sobsey sketches an interesting account of her early life in Ohio, the magnetic draw of London and her emergence out of punk rock into pop stardom. Her one-night championing of The Violent Femmes in 1981 receives a footnote—evidently, Hynde was occasionally willing to lend a hand to emerging talent.
Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ‘90s (University of Minnesota Press), by Jim Walsh
As pop music critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in the 1990s, Jim Walsh was ringside during the round of Prince’s career when the Artist Formerly Known declared independence from the record industry and solidified his own industry. Gold Experience is compiled largely from Walsh’s articles from those years, including coverage of invitation-only record release parties (Will Smith and Magic Johnson were there), analysis of albums, reviews of unannounced club jams and full concerts, reports on the business of Paisley Park and meditations on the meaning of Prince’s famous symbol. Walsh’s writing reflects a unique insider’s perspective. Prince seemed to like him.
Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed (Doubleday), by Howard Sounes
Lou Reed changed the direction of rock with the Velvet Underground and several of his early solo albums, especially the brilliant Transformer. And yet, as biographer Howard Sounes readily admits, Reed was “an inconsistent artist.” Notes from the Velvet Underground never fawns before its subject: Sounes appraises Reed’s varied work with the critical honesty of a sometimes disappointed fan. Interviewing many of Reed’s associates, Sounes draws a picture of a man as inconsistent as his music, cruel yet compassionate, sexually complicated, plagued by addictions and never certain whether he wanted to be a poet or a derelict character from a Charles Bukowski poem.
Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, Illinois, 1973-2005 (Microcosm), by David A. Ensminger
Not unlike Milwaukee, Rockford nurtured a punk rock scene—really a succession of scenes spurred by each micro-generation—largely unnoticed in the outside world. Reading scholar-activist David A. Ensminger’s thoughtful first-person account of growing up with Rockford’s hardcore scene brings to mind similarities and differences between his hometown and Milwaukee. With a weaker cultural heritage and fewer reasons to stay in town (Ensminger finally lit out and teaches in Texas), Rockford comes across as worse and yet, it too has socialism in its DNA and was a factory town fading to rust by the ‘80s. Despite or because of its dead-end feel, subcultures reared up in Rockford under the gentle avuncular gaze of those hometown heroes, Cheap Trick. Working from face-face contact in the pre-Internet age, Rockford punks organized all-ages shows, printed fanzines and released recordings with virtually no assistance from the culture industry.
Talking Guitar: Conversations with Musicians who Shaped Twentieth Century American Music (University of North Carolina Press), by Jas Obrecht
A century ago the guitar was barely audible on sound recordings, but with the advent of the electric guitar and the range of newly invented effects, the instrument assumed orchestral dimensions. As editor of Guitar Player magazine, Jas Obrecht had the opportunity to talk to the great guitarists of the 20th century blues, rock and jazz. Talking Guitar is composed from the complete transcriptions of many of those interviews. They were long and leisurely discussions between Obrecht and the musicians conducted on the plane of mutual respect. Among the interesting bits is Ry Cooder investigating the mysteries of early blues, Carol Kaye on recording as part of Phil Spector’s crew and Jerry Garcia on how he would love to have seen Charlie Christian play.