Music Books


7 September 2016 Blog The Queen Street Observer

Hey there! This month’s missive from TCRfm Towers finds me in a bookish mood. Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography comes out in a couple of weeks and while I’m waiting around for that I’ve been pondering some of the music-related books I’ve read in recent years. It’s reassuring to know that musicians’ books tend to be considerably more readable than those of,say, footballers, for instance. I’ve read quite a few of those too in my time and more often than not they live up to Joey Barton’s memorable and withering assessment of Frank Lampard’s autobiography.

There’s been a ton of Springsteen books, most notably by Dave Marsh and Peter Ames Carlin.Personally I’ve found Marsh’s efforts to be hagiographic in the extreme, portraying the man as some sort of saintly figure, the do-er of good deeds, tee-total, hardly ever swears, and so on. Come come now, Dave. Such people, if they exist at all, are thin on the ground. Carlin’s book presents a far more rounded picture, due in no small part to the access he was given to the inner circle of band members, family and friends. I did ultimately feel let down by it though, the last few chapters felt rushed as if the deadline was looming, when the scope was there for a Volume Two. Leaving that aside I’m preoccupied at the moment with trying to locate a copy of Mark Lewisohn’s “Complete Beatles Recording Sessions”, a must have for any fan and one which it is said virtually puts you in the studio with the band as they pick up their instruments and prepare to do a take. The problem with this one is that it’s out of print, somewhat surprisingly given that it was first published as recently as 1988. I’m reduced to trying to source a copy online, eBay and suchlike. They’re to be found in all corners of the globe, some suspiciously cheap, others outrageously expensive. So far no luck but the search goes on!

Given the rather fractious nature of relationships within the band, with the media and with the world at large for that matter, the Eagles always seemed to me to be a good proposition for a rip roaring page turner and that’s very much the case. Marc Eliot’s “To The Limit – the untold story of the Eagles” is a great read, all the moreso as he got conditional approval (of sorts) and an audience with the usually reticent Don Henley.By the book’s end Henley had pulled the plug on any involvement or the granting of any blessing unsurprisingly. It doesn’t matter, though. Both Henley and Glenn Frey were always irritated by the classification of them as mellow, laidback and soft rock, and Eliot’s book shows why. While their music was mellow their personalities and the lives they led were most certainly anything but. Speaking of the Eagles, they feature prominently in Barney Hoskyns’ “Hotel California”. I can’t praise this one highly enough – file under “Must Read”. Hoskyns takes the reader inside the whole Laurel Canyon scene in Los Angeles, from the youthful idealism of the late 1960s to the druggy cynicism of the mid 1970s where only those with talent and ruthlessness in equal measure stood any chance of making it. Everybody who’s anybody is in here, from Jackson Browne to Joni Mitchell, CSNY to Linda Ronstadt, the Byrds, Poco, the list goes on and on. You can tell it’s been exhaustively researched, indeed the mind boggles at just how much work must have gone into it before it ever went to the printers.

For searing honesty (with a caveat, I’ll come to that later) there’s not much out there to beat Eric Clapton’s autobiography. All of the memorable career highlights and great music are dealt with, but what sets this one apart is how candid he is about his troubles and failings as a person, from broken relationships to alcoholism and drug addiction, all are laid bare. The caveat? Well, in 1976 at a concert in Birmingham he launched into a rant from the stage about immigration into Britain. If you read the full transcript of what he said that night it’s quite shocking, so much so that if Clapton or anybody else pulled the same stunt today they’d probably be liable for prosecution. In his book Clapton describes them as “drunken remarks” and “never meant to be a racial statement”, giving various justifications for his outburst. Look, we all make mistakes and say things we profoundly regret but that’s something I don’t see in his account of the incident – regret. Indignation at being labelled a racist? Most definitely.

Finally, the piece de resistance, or two pieces to be precise. Peter Guralnick’s epic account of Elvis Presley’s life goes from birth and humble beginnings to his sorry end in 1977 over two volumes entitled “Last Train to Memphis” and “Careless Love”. These books are the last word on Elvis, read nothing else because nothing else comes close in terms of the most minute detail you could possibly imagine. Trust me, both books are essential reading. So there we are, all these other great books I haven’t even touched upon, such as “Redemption Song”, the Joe Strummer biography by Chris Salewicz, or Jon Savage’s “England’s Dreaming”, the most thorough exploration of punk and new wave there’s ever been, not to mention Mark Cunningham’s wonderful biography of Horslips, “Tall Tales”.

Shall we return to the subject of books in the coming months? I think we might well have to.

Talk soon!!

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