Scott’s Bookshelf, #12

81. NME Guide to Rock Cinema (Fred Dellar)
82. The Encyclopedia of Rock 3 (edited by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing)
83. Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back (“A Film and Book by D. A. Pennebaker”)
84. Bob Dylan (Daniel Kramer)
85. The Q/Omnibus Press Rock ‘n’ Roll Reader (edited by Danny Kelly)
86. Babel (Patti Smith)
87. Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga (Stephen Davis)
88. Disco Fever: The Beat, People, Places, Styles, Deejays, Groups (Kitty Hanson)
89. The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones (Stanley Booth)

A stack of paperbacks, from a wall shelf above the brown leather sofa in our living room…

I’ve reiterated ad nauseum my flagging interest in rock bios, but the Stanley Booth book is one of the great (and yet few) exceptions to the rule. It’s also one of the handful of rock books that is frequently, if perhaps too reverently, referred to as “literature,” though why exactly one is required to bandy about the ‘L word’ to bestow greatness upon such a book is beyond me. Not to worry, True Adventures is simply great writing as writing, period. Actually, I have one idea as to why the lit tag stuck: the formal device Booth uses to tell the story is kind of novelistic, the way he interweaves chapters between past and present (“present” in this case meaning the ’69 U.S. tour) until the former catches up with the latter and the whole thing implodes at a certain California Speedway. I remember initially finding the back-and-forth format a bit jarring, but its jarringness serves to remind what a difference a few years made back then. In other words, you get the speed and energy and violence of the early years (a plug being pulled at a gig for fear of a riot, say) giving way to the backstage languor of a mostly bored and/or stoned entourage, sitting around listening to old country blues records; after which it’s back to some gas station wall somewhere being pissed on. And so on and so forth.

Just as a side note, I was pleased to hear Booth himself dismiss the book’s terrible alternate title, Dance With the Devil, in his rockcritics interview with Steven Ward. That’s not merely corny, it’s misleading, evoking decadence and otherworldliness, when what Booth captures is something much more stripped down and present and terrifying and — let’s face it — ordinary than mere (yawn) “decadence.”

Which I guess provides an appropriate segue to the other bio in this batch, Hammer of the Gods, or as I sometimes mistakenly refer to it, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em. I’m not sure how this book is regarded now, but at the time it was a genuinely Big Deal — one of the very few rock books I can think of which everyone seemed to have an opinion about — including those who hadn’t read it — and that certainly included the indie-post-punk-etc. writers I cavorted with back then. Hard to say if Hammer kicked off or merely capitalized on the resurgence of interest in Zeppelin, but I like to think of it and Licensed to Ill — released a year later — as the key touchstones in that moment. As for the quality of the book itself… Well, it is what it is, as they say. The book’s reputation rests entirely on its lurid fables of satanic intrigue, excessive drug intake, and eww-gross orgies, and though I certainly don’t profess to be above any of that — hey, I devoured the thing in a few days — the truth is those details vanished pretty quickly when I put the thing down. And yet, the book didn’t entirely lack in value for me. I read it just as I was rediscovering Zoso and all the other albums for myself, and it proved a fairly useful road map to Zeppelin’s music, outlining in some detail the sources of their sound, the recording of their albums, Bonham’s endless search for the perfect beat, etc. Not sure how those parts of the book would hold up now; I’m probably too afraid to open it to find out.

Quick run-through of the rest:

– re: the two Dylan books: The Kramer is a pint-sized version of a book mentioned last time around (I forgot I owned doubles). I’ve counted it here anyway, and no, you can’t have this one. Don’t Look Back is the movie itself captured in stills.

– Three British compilations (#81, 82, 85), the most useful of which is the Dellar book, though I refer to it less frequently than I should (this still strikes me as a subject without a truly definitive guide, though I need to at some point purchase Marshall Crenshaw’s version of the story). The Q reader, a compilation of articles by Timothy White, Ben Fong-Torres, et al., was a freebie from the days in which I actually (egads!) purchased Q with some regularity. A great cross-promotional concept that never took off the way CD giveaways did. (Given what they charge for British music mags now, they should give you a free book and CD and back rub with each purchase.)

Babel: Collection of Patti’s poetry — not song lyrics — which I was pretty excited to stumble across many years ago, I think at City Lights Bookshop in London, Ontario, at one time my favourite used book store.

– Kitty Hanson’s disco book is clearly a cheapo-quickie cash-in sort of deal, but it’s much better than it has any right to be. It’s one of those quirky books on my shelf I’ve always treasured, worth at least three times as much to me as its penciled-in price tag ($1.95). Hanson covers the scene well — not just the records and the night clubs but the clothing, the DJs, the producers, the dances, etc. It also contains some terrific (if badly reproduced) photos, and some tuly classic captions.

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