This Christmas we’ve decided to make your present buying a lot less stressful by asking the 4th Estate team to hand-pick books for all your relatives. Hopefully this will mean less umming and ahhing in the bookshop, and more oohing and ahhing on Christmas Day…
Your dad was there. Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust tour. Isle of Wight 1970. The Who when they recorded Live at Leeds. The early days of Punk. The Stones… God knows how many times. He still has all his old LPs, all his old tour T-shirts – which he would wear running if they still fitted. His baldness, sensible job and family have not changed who he essentially is, which is a ROCKER! The trouble is, you can’t get him records for Christmas, because he already has them all, including, and especially, EPs by The Next Big Thing, who you’ve never heard of. Fortunately, words by the million continue to be written about music old and new…
If you were a young rock journalist, what is the best breakthough assignment you could possibly be given? Would it be to document Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American tour? Yes, I think it would. This is exactly what happened to Stephen Davis, who went on to become one of the world’s most respected rock writers, and the definitive biographer of Led Zep in Hammer of the Gods. This though, is more visceral, more immediate. It is a personal memoir, based on Davis’ tour diaries, which he had previously thought lost. A snapshot of the exact point in time when the biggest band to have ever existed were at their apogee, gods on earth, with the superhuman words, deeds and music to go with it.
Did you know that Dylan had written an ‘experimental novel’ in 1966? I certainly didn’t, and I bet the Rocker dad didn’t either, but I bet he’ll be pleased he does now. Dylan has long been hailed as the best lyricist in pretty much the entire history of music. Christopher Ricks, ex Oxford Professor of Poetry, now works mostly on Dylan. In Tarantula, Dylan flicks between prose and verse, the political and the surreal, always maintaining his trademark verbal playfulness and spontaneity and flair for arresting imagery. Deserves a place alongside the beat classics of Kerouac and Burroughs.
The list of rock greats influenced by the father of Symbolism is virtually endless: Jagger, Bowie, Patti Smith, Television, The Cure… Flaubert called him ‘as unyielding as marble, and as penetrating as an English mist’, and hailed him as a rejuvenator of Romanticism. Naturally, The Flowers of Evil scandalised society with its frank, liberal attitude to sex and love, and Baudelaire was prosecuted for obscenity. The Symbolist credo of indirect representation of absolute truths, and the desire to evoke, rather than describe, human experience can be seen as the foundation of not just the majority of rock’s greatest lyrics, but the whole project moving the human soul through music.
In his introduction, the editor of this collection of Bangs’ work writes: ‘Perhaps what this book demands from a reader is a willingness to accept that the best writer in America could write almost nothing but record reviews.’ Bangs’ iconoclastic, intellectual and creative approach turned music journalism into literature. He used Brechtian theory to analyse The Velvet Underground, but he remained witty and unpretentious in style and judgement, attempting to use ‘the sound and language of rock ‘n’ roll’ to write about it. Dead at the age of 33 from an overdose, his artistic legacy remains as important as those of the bands he wrote about.
Are you concerned that The Rocker Dad is too narrow is his listening spectrum? Then this is the book for you. Ross, the music critic of the New Yorker, charts the history and development of 20th century music across an extraordinarily eclectic spectrum taking in Mahler, Sonic Youth, Ellington and Cage as well as a plethora of others. Ross demonstrates how the century has shaped, and been shaped by its music, and the way in which musicians from vastly different traditions influence each other’s work. A seminal and mind expanding yet accessible and entertaining work, followed up by Ross’ collection of essays, Listen to This.
The only artistic medium that can claim to have devoted as much attention to rock music as writing has is undoubtedly photography. It would, therefore, be churlish to compile a list of books for The Rocker Dad without including one of the images that are so essential to what is almost as much a visual as an aural art form. Mick Rock is one of the most illustrious of rock photographers, responsible for the iconic shots of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Syd Barrett, among others. This collection charts the glam rock era, a visual feast of the dandyish and the disturbing.
Words by William Spray.
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