Reviews: Books Issue #34
New year, new you, new books to sink your teeth into. Here are some of Long Live Vinyl‘s favourite music books to hit the shelves over the Christmas period…
Prolific UK comedy screenwriter and script doctor Graham Duff (he wrote Johnny Vegas vehicle Ideal) has been going to gigs for over 40 years, and each chapter heading of his excellent memoir is dedicated to a gig that left an enduring impression on him. From a ‘shit’ Cliff Richard concert at King George’s Hall in Blackburn, aged 10, to a momentous one watching personal favourites Wire in Brighton, aged 50, there are 15 gigs in all. These encompass not only Cliff and the wizen post-punks, but also The Jam, The Specials, Joy Division, Psychic TV, The Shamen, Primal Scream, The Velvet Underground, Sleater-Kinney, The Strokes, The Fall (Mark E Smith was an acquaintance), David Bowie and Massive Attack. Clearly Duff is a man of great musical taste, and his writing on the subject is vivid, funny and insightful. Much to his credit, Foreground Music succeeds both as a musical history and as a memoir, skipping across the passing decade’s trends and subcultures as it celebrates the inspirational power of live music.
Janis Lyn Joplin’s journey from a middle-class girl in the conservative city of Port Arthur, Texas to the very embodiment of the 60s counterculture is wonderfully well chronicled by seasoned biographer Holly George-Warren. As a youngster, Joplin was bullied for being different to the other girls, but as she got older those differences were celebrated, especially in San Francisco, where she was adopted as the city’s unofficial queen. Joplin’s vocal talent was extraordinary, and she is heralded as one of the most impassioned vocalists in the history of rock ’n’ roll. She is also remembered for the uncompromising way she lived her life (Janis was photographed so often with a bottle of Southern Comfort in her hand that the company bought her a fur coat as a reward). Based on unprecedented access to Janis’ family, friends, lovers, former bandmates and personal archives, George-Warren has gone a long way towards making her version of the Janis Joplin story as close to definitive as she can possibly get it.
Cricket lovers of a certain vintage will instantly recall Booker T.’s music from the track Soul Limbo, the BBC’s go-to theme tune for their coverage of the sport for many a year. While the great man barely mentions the sound of leather on willow in his much-awaited autobiography, the longevity of his career in music means he has an anecdote or two to go in its place. This is the man, for instance, who wrote Green Onions, his soul-rocking, cosmopolitan take on the blues, when he was just 16. Born Booker Taliaferro Jones Jr in Memphis on 12 November, 1944, Jones’ musical talent was identified early and he recounts his early days in great detail; while still at school, he would deliver papers in the morning and play gigs in nightclubs in the evenings to support his family. While at hometown record label Stax, Jones formed the groundbreaking, multi-racial Booker T. And The M.G.’s, and collaborated with some of Southern Soul’s giants, in the form of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave. Not only has the evergreen Booker T. got into the bookwriting game, he’ll also be touring the UK later in the year.
To coincide with his remarkable retrospective at the V&A in 2013, voracious reader David Bowie released a fascinating list of 100 books that he regarded as the “most important and influential” to him as an artist (as opposed to a catalogue of his personal favourites). Subtitled The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life, experienced writer John O’Connell has cleverly run with this list and turned it into a highly entertaining, witty and informative book. One of Bowie’s strengths as a serious performing artist was that he always had a sharp repurposer’s eye for a good idea/concept, which means the works on his list are made all the more tangible when attempting to relate them back to his art (whether that’s directly or indirectly). O’Connell dedicates a short, incisive essay on each book on Bowie’s list that not only links them to the great man, but also places them in a wider cultural context. The list provided evidence of Bowie’s restless intelligence and revealed him as a man equally comfortable with both high (Homer, Dante, Camus) and low (Viz, The Beano) culture, which is an absolute godsend to O’Connell, allowing him to add the required amount of light and shade.