Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Long Live Rock!

EXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & FictionEXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction

For reasons not worth going into at the moment, I spent the last 9 days in my hometown, a small town (population 3,000) atop a heavily wooded hill overlooking the Illinois River about ten minutes south of Peoria. The only thing I had to listen to music with was the cd/cassette player in my '97 Dodge Caravan. There's a drawerful of mixed tapes underneath the front passenger seat and 100 mixed cds in a case beside my driver's seat, but I mostly listened to a Donovan mixed cd, a Classic Rock mixed cd, a Devo mixed cd and two cds that a friend burnt for me: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, in which I liked the first and third songs and Broken Bells in which I like the 6th, 9th and 10th songs. But wait a minute. Why am I referring to these songs by their track number and not their titles? The answer of course is that I dont know the song titles--I only know the track numbers because this is the digital age and who has time to remember song titles, album names, etc, right?

In high school when I listened to an album, after adjusting the levels on my equalizer, I would then visually scrub every inch of the front and back cover of an album, looking for the producer, the engineer, where the record was recorded, looking for insights in the cover art (I had been one of those geeks who needed to find every Paul is Dead clue on the Beatle albums). But today, like most corporate consumers, I dont seem to have time or interest for all of that. Nowadays knowing all those details just doesn't seem worth it. But maybe alot of people long for those days when it did seem worth it. I know I do.

I returned to my residence in a Chicago suburb on Monday and found a weeks worth of junk mail, overdue bills and a manilla envelope sent by Roland Goity. A few months ago Roland had read a book review I had posted on and asked me if I would be interested in reading and reviewing a book of Rock-related stories that he was editing. I was flattered--so much so that I wondered what this guy's angle was. He told me he would send me a copy of the book in a few weeks. I thanked him, then sorta forgot about it until returning home and seeing this envelope.

Inside the envelope was Experienced, the book Roland had promised me, with a sticky on it from Roland, thanking me for giving it a look. The front cover didn't especially impress me (purple and orange design with some guy dressed in black doing a guitar jump pose), but I'm not accustomed to getting free things so I gave that detail a pass and checked out the back cover, which read:

"...Tales of Fact & Fiction..."
"...anthology of compelling narratives giving new insight into the drama of the rock music world from every literary angle, and exploring rock's profound efect on our culture and its devine influence over the devoted faithful."

This seemed right up my alley, so I read the foreward (by co-editor, John Ottey who obviously shared my enthusiasm for Rock) and then the contributor's notes (that gave quick blurbs about each of the writers, the editors and illustrator). After flipping through and checking out the illustrations that preceded each narative, I began reading. It didn't take long for me to realize what Roland Goity's angle had been in sending me this book. This was a book for kindred spirits, people for whom knowing the details of Rock mattered to. Roland Goity was simply wanting to share the joy!

The Rock music world has many different layers, so many different story lines, so much history, technology, innovation, adventure, culture, creative performances and moments that are as complex and beautiful as life itself. Experienced, as the back cover promises, delves into the world of Rock music from all those angles and more. Here's what's included:

"Hunting Accidents" by former Guided By Voices member James Greer tells the story of how major label Warner Brothers schmoozed the band in an effort to get GBV to sign with them back in the early 1990s.

"Little Leftovers" is about a Rock journalist pursuing a Brit pop heroine he has a crush on.

"Steal Your Face" is one of my favorite fictional narratives in the book as it captures the strangeness of phyiscal/emotional/mental reality in the confusing days of a teen who spends the summer of 1983 following the Greatful Dead. The understated, almost deadpan tone of the narrator made me want to read more.

"Road Life Wearies Harmonica Virtuoso", is as the subtitle suggests, the tale of a talented harmonica player who is touring relentlessly yet barely making ends meet.

"Madonna" is an experiemental, almost stream-of-conscious piece that deals with pop star Madonna having her application to live in a NYC high-rise declined (in part by selection committee members Paul Simon and Dustin Hoffman).

"Dead Air" is the story of a radio DJ who has a confessed killer call up on the air moments after she kills a date rapist.

"The Growth and Death of Buddy Gardner" tells the legend of the Memphis blues guitarist as he moves from studio sessions and live performances in the 1960s and 70s.

"Heavy Lifting Days" provides the anectdotal reflections of an experienced sound technician which also highlights how sound equipment has changed over the years

"David Bowie Against the Enemy" is a day-in-the-life piece of a anxiety-riddled wannabe.

"Tour Diary (excerpts)" is a day-by-day journal that coves 3 weeks of a rock musicians west coast tour.

"Bodies on the Moon" depicts the aura of junior high/high school dances.

"Deja Vu (All Over Again)" involves a defunct rock group discussing a reunion tour as they have drinks in a seedy bar.

Chelsea Hotel Pictures, Images and Photos"A little Worse than Moonbeam" is the melodrama of a group of Phish heads following the band on their summer 2000 tour.

My favorite piece in Experienced, is written by Ed Hamilton (the author of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel and Outlaws of New York's Rebel Mecca). His contribution to Experienced, called "Dee Dee's Challenge", provides a snapshot of the life of Dee De Ramone during his time at the infamous Chelsea Hotel.

"Songs in the key of E" eavesdrops on two young procrastinators having a conversation about getting a drummer for their band.

The last narrative, "If a Tree Falls", is about an aging troubadour whose converations with his sister-in-law (an environmental lobbyist) prompt him to face up to the possibility of the extinction of his kind.

Overall, I'm not a big fan of fiction, but as the back cover says: Some [of these stories] are fiction and some non-fiction, but they're all true." So for this reason and many more I give Experienced 3 out of 5 stars.

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