Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BOOK REVIEW---IN THEIR OWN WRITE (ADVENTURES IN THE MUSIC PRESS) by Paul Gorman, foreword by Charles Shaar Murray (MPC books, UK)

On the heels of Nick Kent's autobio/retro-seventies rock histoire comes this decade-old pickup that was recommended to me by none other than THE HOUND BLOG's very own Jim Marshall. And of course, wanting to know the intimate details of the Mick Farren/Julie Burchill "tryst" and the Rev. Tommy Parasite's thrashing of Farren in its wake I just had to get this 'un in order to avoid yet another round of sleepless nights brought on by unbridled curiosity! Of course I'm kidding but really, don't you just salivate at the thought of a book chronicling the birth, flowering and eventual demise of the Golden Age of Rock Screeding (and the press that nurtured it) like I do? If so this book will help you out TREMENDOUSLY.

Rock writing (or criticism if you will though in no way do I consider the likes of Lester Bangs or Richard Meltzer "critics" per se) has been about as much a part of the whole fun of rock & roll as the music itself, with magazines like CREEM and fanzines like BACK DOOR MAN having their own cults of personality equal to that surrounding the cattle that both magazines promoted on their covers. And so a book like IN THEIR OWN WRITE does assist in pudging up my already bulging concepts of how the rock writer/press mythos worked with its rock star/label counterpart as both fed off each other and were (are?) so parasitic in nature that you'd think NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC would've done a special on this strange shark/remora like symbiotic relationship.

IN THEIR OWN WRITE purports to be a history of the "rock press" put together into one of those cookie-cutter slam a buncha quotes together and watch the fur fly books where everyone contradicts each other and loads of bad blood is spilled to the point where you'd think the offices at THE NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS circa 1977 looked like the slaughterhouse at the Chicago stockyards. Sometimes I think this cut-and-paste style of writing is just an easy cop out, a way for the "author" to get by w/o having to ruin his reputation by making a stand or criticizing the wrong mobster-backed manager, but at least this method of postmodern writing lets the perpetrators and standbys say what they want sans chance of editorial prerogative. Thus the commentators placing their wee-wee on the guillotine get to vindicate or damn themselves with their own words which I must admit is context-shifting or second takes here which makes this book a must steal if you can get it at the right price (sorry Mr. Marshall, but I hadda pay a whopping $15 for it including postage since there ain't any remaindered bookshops in the tri-county area that I know of).

I'm sure most of you couldn't care less about the growth of the "serious" rock press (for all the bad and good that implies), but it is a subject that I obviously have more than a passing interest in especially when the names Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, Charles Shaar Murray and the rest of the legit/punk cusp writers of the seventies pop into motion. Thankfully the book refrains from being a self-back-pat and self-serving for that matter industry felchathon, dealing hard and heavy with the dirty underside of the music press biz both here and over in Blighty where things actually were hopped enough for the survival of three (maybe even more!) strong weekly publications. Y'know, the gears in motion that gave way to the Golden Age of English Music Publications in the early-seventies, an era which was so hopped up that it's no wonder Iggy used to hit the NME offices on the hunt for speed whenever he was in the vicinity!

The book does leaves a lot out both good and bad, though "editor" Gorman showed good taste in ignoring any of the idiotic ramblings that would come out of the "minds" of the likes of Chuck Eddy or Doug Simmons which would have damned this book to an even greater obscurity than it already has earned. But where in hell is Byron Coley who was perhaps the ONLY great talent to come out of the eighties anyway? Doing about about the rock press/writing scene and leaving him out is like what they're trying to do in Texas leaving Thomas Jefferson out of history books! The private, underground "fanzine" press is pretty much ignored as well, as if such writers as Don Waller or Jymn Parrett weren't as "important" to the growth of the big megamonster press as Robert Christgau. (They weren't, but they were more important to the music and its growth at large given their own grassroots efforts in bringing attention to the likes of the Stooges and heavy metal at a time when such subjects made the rock press uncomfortable.) Surprisingly enough, none other than THE NEXT BIG THING's own Lindsay Hutton is amply represented giving his naturally above-par musings on a range of subjects including what he would do if marooned on an elevator with Tony Parsons, but that's only because he's over there and we're not so he obviously gets the one up on everyone else. Still the prejudice or shall I saw outright BIGOTRY that Gorman chooses to show does detract quite a bit.

But as far as this pop press in the rock age history goes, very little can beat this book which at least acknowledges the all important roles that the likes of Bangs and Meltzer, who have been pretty much spat upon and marginalized in the new, entertainment-weekly-style publications as if they never mattered one iota, had in the growth of the very medium that the current crop of hypesheet recyclers revel in. And as far as that history goes, the book pretty much begins with Gloria Stavers at 16 and goes up through its early trembling roots (ROLLING STONE and CREEM) along with the English papers into the raving seventies and eventually the eighties denouement which frankly we never were able to dig ourselves up from. It's a wlld emotional rollercoaster ride as we watch the music press and scene gain momentum and become power brokers in themselves before the backstabbing and oneupmanship began to get to just about everyone. And as far as this utter vitriol to be seen twixt the managers, artists and press goes even an old hand who's been around the block at least three times such as myself must admit to being surprised by the level of hatred and wont to destroy others which ran rampant in the music press scene. You may be shocked at all of the goings on behind the doors at your favorite publications which certainly weren't as peacenlove as some may have made the new journalism gig out to be!

But still you get to read a whole lotta vindication like in Meltzer's unabashed praise of Lillian Roxon or the point/counterpoint bantering about the importance of Bangs in all this (with Greg Shaw a surprising naysayer...I hope this wasn't because of the affair that then-wife Suzy had with Bangs and besides weren't the Shaws having one of those hip open marriages you used to read about in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY anyway?). Or Burchill's smug haughtiness over being the new Simone DeBeauvoir to Tony Parsons' Sartre as well as some pretty funny anecdotes like the time when Parsons gave Iggy some laxatives under the guise that they were amphetamines and they hadda have a bucket handy backstage for Iggy to empty himself into that night at the Hammersmith Odeon!

However, I must admit that whoever was transcribing the saga Meltzer was relaying about the big rift between him and Lou Reed on page 80 left out a huge CHUNK. What reads makes no sense at all as anyone can see, since somewhere down the line the joke Lou was telling to Meltzer and Richard/Lisa Robinson was cut making for some really uneasy reading. I guess this was because of the nature of the story which some might deem racist, but anyone who wasn't in on the joke and wonders what kind of a punchline would end with someone sharply inhaling would certainly be left out inna cold. It makes me wonder why they even decided to include this story inna first place, but I guess stranger things have happened in the world of rock critiquing.

Anyway a great read (even though by the time ya hit the eighties the info is just about as boring as the music, and what can you really say about a genre that went from the likes of Roxon and Lenny Kaye to ANN POWERS???). This book admittedly does tie up some of the loose ends regarding what really did go down in the rock criticism game and best of all justifies your own hatred for some of the movers and shakers on the music fronts. (I for one was glad to know that Robert Christgau had been attacked not only by James Chance but a member of Suicide, probably Alan Vega. Too bad...Vega failed to kill him that is!) It should also bolster your appreciation for the heroes of the day like Bangs, Meltzer, Saunders and the rest...people whose ability to appreciate and discern what was worthy about this music managed to set the stage for a lot of positive, healthy rock & roll growth that might not have appeased the business bigwigs that be, but at least helped sell a lot more Stooges albums that anyone woulda guessed. And if it weren't for the likes of these where would we be other than...still reading ROLLING STONE????


Paul Gorman said...

Hi Christopher

Thanks for reviewing my book with such thoroughness.

On my to-do list is to rewrite this as a narrative. You forebore to mention my intro, in which my opinions on the subject come across pretty loud and clear I thought.

Anyway one thing - Is the imprint on your copy MPC? I have never heard of them. This was published by Sanctuary against who my legal action achieved reversion of rights once they broke the terms of the contract.
I'm intrigued that it should be published by another since it is my clear copyright. Any address in yiuyr copy?
Sharpens pen...

Anonymous said...

That’s interesting. I too was mulling over whether to purchase this very book having come to it via the same route as you Chris – wanting more info on the NME glory days and related matters after the Nick Kent book. It seemed odd that a UK published book by a UK author was only available in the US. Makes sense now given what Paul has written. The book seems to have got quite a few approving nods from trustworthy thinkers so it’s a shame that it isn’t available in the UK at the moment.


Christopher Stigliano said...

To Paul-the imprint on my book may be "IPG" instead of "IPC". The print is so small it hurts mine eyes! On the back cover it mentions "Sanctuary Publishing" If this is not kosher, write to 45053 Sinclair Road, London W14 ONS and sue 'em for all they got!

Re-read you opening (which I forgot about after reading Murray's email to you which opens the tome). I can see your point now, though it seems as if few can see my joking and feigning of outright indignation!

Paul G said...

Hi Chris

Thanks - that's Sanctuary - they sold off the book division in 2005.
Shame cos I love the smell of gunpowder.
Anyway again thanks for putting the spotlight on my book. One of these days (years more like) I'm going to give it the overhaul/update/revision your review suggests.
They told me they printed enough of them and I think copies are available via amazon/abebooks/ebay even sometimes...

JamesChanceOfficial said...

Paul & Chris - Glad I could put you two in touch. And yes, Paul, there copies available at Amazon: