Friday, December 14, 2012

Rock and roll books, 2012











I was asked by Kimberly at Rock Book Show for some comments about rock and roll books I liked in 2012. I'm joined by Mike McPadden, Caryn Rose, Marc Dolan and others. My take:
Every Day I Take A Wee: The Beastie Boys And The Untimely Death Of Suburban Folklore (Christopher R. Weingarten) and Who I Am: A Memoir (Pete Townshend). The former is part of Singles Notes, Rhino Records’ e-book series. Former SPIN editor Weingarten tells a funny tale of growing up white and suburban and navigating the sometimes tricky cultural landscape of hip-hop and geeky Beastie Boys fandom. Weingarten’s smart and doesn’t take himself too seriously, thoughtfully exploring NYC romance and the increasing divide between old-school record collectors and current downloading music fans. Townshend’s book sprawls, unsurprisingly from a man who speaks in paragraphs, but is a detailed, engrossing account of what it was like to be the cause of, and in many ways the victim of, the aural and cultural storm that was The Who. Townshend’s honest in the book about his shortcomings as a songwriter and a man, and at times his bafflement in the face of his own philandering and general ill behavior gets tiresome and predictable. But overall Who I Am is an idiosyncratic, valuable look at coming of age as a songwriter in the 1960s and 70s and of truly believing Rock’s promises for a better world.

Johnny Ramone’s autobiography Commando is exactly what I expected. His voice is dry and forthright (you can hear the Borough accent), lacking in self-interrogation but with the occasional self-criticism. Ramone’s not shy about exposing some bad decisions and poor judgement, especially in his reckless, aimless adolescence, but Commando is hardly his end-of-life mea culpa, an opportunity to sensitively, unsparingly essay his life for telling contradictions and graphic self-awareness. Essentially, what governs Commando is a late-life shrug: we did what we did as best we could. I’m a little surprised at—and a bit uneasy with—how appealing I find Ramone’s voice. I think that I would’ve loved talking to him; we could have discussed baseball and rock and roll all night long, and when the subject turned to politics I would’ve dodged the issues on which I knew we wouldn’t agree. But I would certainly have known where he stood. Our shared ground might have been broader than I would’ve guessed. Judging from people I’ve spoken with who knew Ramone, his stubbornness and narrow-mindedness could be wearing. Confined between book covers, his personality is appealing, if odious at times. Entertainingly predictable. I laughed a lot—you know what you’re getting, and what’s coming, with Ramone.
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I also weigh in, with many others, at Music Tomes on some Recommended Reading.

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