Saturday, January 4, 2020

Homemade things

hapless youths
As I've written here, here, and here, I tend to lose interest in Big Rock Star memoirs when the (usually early) years of struggle give way to mammoth success and its attendant trappings. I have a possibly perverse interest in conflict. Give me Bruce Springsteen in a shitty studio apartment playing Phil Spector records obsessively while conjuring "Born To Run," a record he needed to make for many urgent reasons, over playing the Super Bowl halftime show. It's privileged of me to feel this way, but I found reading about Elton John's early days as a backing musician in Bluesology and an anonymous studio session player, not to mention his struggles with alcohol and drug abuse and his fading commercial star, far more interesting than his later-life meet-ups with celebrities or his enormous rooms in his mansion stuffed with priceless objets d'art. (That said, Me is a charming, funny book and I recommend it.) I don't begrudge anyone their success, of course, and comfortable material achievement is certainly not their problem—or perhaps even a problem—but the slackness in conflict and tension that such success tends to bring with it might be a problem for their memoirs, a worrying common thread I'm noticing in these books.

Which I why I love these lines from Iggy Pop. It's the mid 1980s, and he's in conversation with Barney Hoskyns, the British writer, about Pop's book I Need More, which he'd published in the early 80s. (The conversation's reprinted in Hoskyns's terrific Ragged Glories: City Lights, Country Funk, American Music, published in 2003.) Hoskyns remarks that there appeared to be some missing years in Iggy's account. "Yeah. It was hard to write about those years," Iggy responds. "My intention originally in writing that book, and I veered a lot off course, was..."
well, put it like this: when I saw the movie The Rose I was so incensed by the intimation in the script that what was important about rock ’n’ roll was the helicopters and the sycophants and the adoring crowds and the limos, and I thought no, no, no, no, no, this is not what it’s about, and I thought I would like to set this straight. In the end, the book became a kind of an autobiography, but what I wanted to show was that the most interesting things about rock ’n’ roll are the homemade things, before the band ever gets its recording contract, when they gotta carry their own amps, when they’re still naive and have ridiculous dreams, when they have giant holes in their thinking. That’s what’s really important, when something like that actually takes root and starts to grow. Suddenly these hapless youths find a voice and make waves in the society around them.
So many great phrases here: "homemade things," "ridiculous dreams," "giant holes in their thinking." Giant holes filled with what? Well, those ridiculous dreams for one, and a sense of promise and limitlessness that even the smallest, crappiest stage, or the smallest, least generous crowd, can't erase—might even inspire. I try to remember this when I'm catching a local band on an off night in front of no one but me and the band's friends. Behold the future, which is sometimes less interesting than the present.

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