Wednesday, March 16, 2011

#15 The Night Beat: A Shadow History of Rock and Roll by Mikal Gilmore

The Barenaked Ladies did a song in the 1990s called "Box Set". In it is buried this tight lyric:

All the people want is what I used to be
When I try to play something new, all they want is 1973.

Imagine my complete surprise when no less a Rock Legend (capitalized) than Mick Jagger throws out this statement during an interview with the author: "Well, the fans want to hear what we were. I mean, if they admit that we have gotten old, they have lost their youth." Gilmore goes on to argue that the Stones reached their apex in the early 1970s (ending with Exile on Main Street) and I could not agree more. But the larger question remains, so what if the Stones have not released a Stones-like album in close to 40 years? Yes, yes, "Mixed Emotions" is not "Start Me Up" which would have been an outtake on Let it Bleed. So what?

Gilmore has been a feisty rock critic for many years, and the book is a collection of observations, opinion pieces and general thoughts. The objects are quite varied, and I will follow his example in this review. In general, the pieces on the Allman Brothers, The Clash and Van Halen are worth the price of the book.

Bob Dylan
Even in his 60s, the second time Gilmore interviewed him, he seems like a regular guy doing irregular things. My favorite Dylan quote is "I didn't write all those songs, I just wrote them down." He sounds like there is something moving through him; perhaps this is the conversion to Christianity, I don't know. Dylan is not the inveterate dick that he was in the biopic with Blanchette and Ledger; in this text he is in full bloom as an artist talking about his craft.

Lou Reed
In discussing a solo album of his, Gilmore quotes Reed as yelling at the audience "So? What is wrong with tasteless jokes? Fuck you!" In counterpoint to Dylan as "regular guy" artist, Reed sounds like a superdouche. Yes, yes, you wrote "Perfect Day" and hung out with Warhol and the rest, but you have not recorded a decent song since "Love is Chemical." Claim "artistry" and fucking with people above all else; Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa did that also, better than you and without being assholes. Give me "Trout Mask Replica" over anything that the Underground did. That's right, I said it. Gilmore's interviews give the artists the chance to really speak; when Reed does, it sounds like that whiny jerk off in your high school who claimed he is a 'tortured genius" only to write bad poetry in community college English classes.

Sinead O'Connor
For many reasons, this was one of the best pieces in the book. I have never thought much of O'Connor's music, but I gained a real respect for her in these pages. She is not the preachy ass that I was conditioned to expect. She seems quite surprised to be famous; no less surprised than her producers.

Heavy Metal
Gilmore profiles Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, who is a 24 karat asshole. He is not, however, a sell out. This separates him from the stinky, vomitous, overindulgent mass that is Metallica. The description of fans dancing around bonfires at a concert in Texas is wonderfully written and makes you want to be there.

Van Halen
Three Words: David Lee Fucking Roth. Who else could get away in 1983 with saying "How can you say I don't like women? I LOVE women!" Then there is the groupie that, when asked of her opinion of the band says the normal boilerplate-this-band-is-awesome stuff, and then says "And every single one of these guys knows how to get DOWN!" She then proceeds to get double teamed by Diamond Dave and Alex Van Halen. At the radio station the next day, DLR bestows the "Hotel Award" on Alex, then dry humps a female fan in full view of 300 people on live radio. Such awesomeness was Diamond Dave. For those of you who cared about Van Halen after Sammy Hagar got on board, I direct you to Diver Down or Van Halen II for some real action. When Dave went solo, the soul of Van Halen went with him. The interviews and stories in Gilmore's text bring a very sordid, wish-I-looked-that-good-in-spandex chapter of Reagan's America to life.The pure, unadulterated disco ball like brilliance of Diamond Dave makes you wish he never left. Eddie's take? "Dave understands the entertainment and marketing angle."

The Clash
Joe Strummer gets special mention here; when asked about revolution and what it means, he thinks hard and says simply "it means keep going no matter what". These are words we could all agree with.

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