Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BOOK REVIEW! NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS BOOK OF ROCK (a guide to rock in the seventies) 


Gotta kick myself for a lotta things that I didn't do during the seventies, and one of these things (besides not getting up the courage to try the Velvet Underground earlier. nor recognizing the utter 'tardoid brilliance of the Stooges upon first spin and somehow operating under the impression that all intelligent and cohesive rock 'n roll sprang from the font of Frank Zappa instead of Lou Reed) most definitely was not having the money or smarts to have winged a subscription to the NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS my way! Well, considering the extra cost us overseas readers hadda endure to get this British weekly sent here airmail 'n all I'm sure it wasn't like most kiddos'd've been able to afford it, but frankly if I were one of them New York upper-midclass suburban pampered brats with the money to afford not only a NME sub but one to CREEM 'n ROCK SCENE, I wouldn't've hadda put up with having to go to the library once every so often to scam the latest issue of ROLLING STONE like most poor folk hadda. Of course we all know that the minions at STONE had their heads up their expansive Whole World Catalog butts for way too long, but as you might have guessed sure as shit smells I wasn't that smart to realize it from the outset. If you really wanted a taste of what rock 'n roll was supposed to be (as a teenage source of high energy thrills and expression) it was NME all the way.

True that paper, along with every once-viable source for high energy jamz, eventually sunk into the grasps of eighties self-conscious political piousness (as could be judged by the reams of poems and cartoons sent in by readers who mourned the death of Lennon with a snide anti-Amerigan sneer on their faces and jumped heavily onto the no cruise missiles bandwagon which in retrospect just looked as hippie as all of the rest of the New Left ventures over there), but in its prime NME delivered the total eruption no holds barred goods. Great writing, great writers (led by Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Mick Farren and even Lester Bangs) and a great attitude that seemed to have favored the high energy and smart new bubbling under trends could be found in each and every issue. While chief competitor MELODY MAKER was concentrating on the budding progressive rock market and looking upon the growing punk populace with ever-increasing bewilderment NME had the bared-wire underground intensity all summed up as if each and every reader couldn't've seen the onslaught coming for at least a good five years! Frankly I don't even think Chris Welch and his minions knew what hit 'em, but throughout the seventies NME was on top of the game not only with their bright stable and outside-the-hype suspicion, but with their snide attitude and cult of energy stylizings which really set them apart from the competition. Heck, Cliff Richard wouldn't even allow a copy of it into his abode, and that was something Nick Kent wore as a badge of honor!

The various NME book collections that feature some of the better moments of the paper's then-recent writings are definitely worth owning (especially with the way newsprint yellows and crackles and all that), and no self-respecting rock 'n roll library should be without 'em. The same goes for this 'un, a rock encyclopedia so to speak that was made by collecting the weekly inserts from the paper and puttin' 'em together inside a glossy full color cover. I think this eventually came out as a legit slick book inna early-eighties, but this 1973 timepiece is just the thing for doofoids like myself who really coulda used such booty back inna day but were too poor or too ignorant to find out!

Nice effort, and of course all my faves like Kent, Murray and maybe even future Generation X manager/WHO PUT THE BOMP cartoonist Jonh Ingham have contributed even if their particular writings weren't credited. Well, I'm sure you can sense out who wrote what without much guesswork, especially if you're aware that Shaar and Kent were the "punk" cheerleaders and the likes of Roy Carr concentrated on the fifties aspects of the quest!  And considering how this "encyclopedia" came out during a time which I would call "transitional" (post-sixties rebellion/pre-seventies underground upheaval) it is important in its own right as a gauge as to where rock 'n roll stood at a time when there was plenty of innovation, yet the forces of dull were more'n bound to overtake the landscape and act as self-appointed "spokesmen for a generation" for kidz who were either too stoned or too wired to know or care.

Some interesting listings here...por ejemplo the term "punk rock" was still being used to describe the mid-sixties Amerigan local acts who were or most likely weren't having hits local or otherwise. I was hoping that whoever wrote that entry would have included some then-recent examples of the form if only to spur me onto finding some heretofore lost item but that was for naught. Not so strangely enough, the entry on the Stooges once again brings up that quote about Iggy being "the Robert Johnson of Heavy Metal" which goes to show you that the definite battle lines between musics that seemed the same on some levels yet polar opposites on others haven't been drawn yet. And even more curiouser is the Alice Cooper entry which mentions how their first two albums didn't do "anything to distinguish them from countless other dull and crude garage bands" making me wonder exactly which other groups the writer was thinking about (as you can tell, I am one of the few people who enjoy those early albums!).

As far as the "underground" portion of the book goes this is about as far as it gets (even the Velvet Underground entry is totally lacking in the descriptive verve [!] that say, the Lillian Roxon entry in her own book had). Naturally the rest seems to fall into typical early-seventies place (at least the John Cale entry brings up the use of "the possibilities inherent in noise and monotony" which made up an important part of the early-Velvets style). Most entries fall into standard rock history (meaning, you've known about it before and probably wouldn't want to know about it again), though thankfully the writing steers far away from the weepy and stuck-on-itself narcissism that had overcome way too much "youth culture" writing of the day. So it ain't like you're gonna gag on the usual "we're so persecuted" moanings of upper class armchair revolutionaries when you read it, and thankfully the people who compiled this knew enough to just stick to the facts and don't let any of the rhetoric get in the way.

And perhaps it was nothing special when compared to some of the other rock as an "International Youth Language" bromides that were being pumped out at the time on both a pro and fanzine level, but next to what else was being pushed on us empty-brained peons regarding rock as a part of our lives (everything from gulcheral screeds to weird treatises tracing the early-seventies peace music movement back to "Get a Job"!) this book does rank alongside the better entries in your personal rock 'n roll library. Sweet, smart, and to the point even if the typical bigotries and strange dismissals of potent rockities do seem to creep in at times...

Hokay, one could nitpick about the usual errors (such as Stevie Wonder's real moniker being "Steveland", not "Steven" Judkins or Link Wray's birthday being '29 'stead of '30), but ya gotta remember that back then it wasn't like all of the truths and inner workings of rock 'n roll were being laid out in front of us like they are now. Of course even these days a whole lot remains buried, but as far as representing a good hunkin' portion of just where, what, who and why rock 'n roll was you couldn't say this book didn't try. 

4 comments:

Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

I kind of know what you mean about Melody Maker, but they did have some useful stuff in the mid-70s, such as pieces on Faust and Henry Cow, and interviews with Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, Han Bennink, etc. At least, I found it useful. I did subscribe to Sounds for a year or two in the early post-punk era. On a related note, I found an interview tonight that Sandy Robertson did for Sounds with Brian Eno, the day after I met him (Eno), where he mentions me, though not by name...

Anonymous said...

Although it was never deemed as cool, I think Sounds in its heyday was superior to the NME...

This is a good 3 decades too late but it will probably have some good stuff in it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/History-NME-Worlds-Famous-Magazine/dp/1907554483/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329918000&sr=1-1

Christopher said...

SWB, were you the one who approached him asking if the story about the matches an the waitress were true?

Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

Yes, I am the anonymous "guy." I remember the original anecdote being about him balancing a pack of cigarettes (not matches) on the tip of his erect member. I wrote to someone else about this today, and he said that he had heard about it from Doug Morgan of Neptune's Car that it was a pack of Marlboros; DM would have gotten the story from Charlotte. Now I wouldn't be surprised if it was made up by Bangs in the first place, who might have told it to a certain extremely credulous guitarist...I guess we'll never know.