From the Archives: Barney Hoskyns (2001)

For what it’s worth, Rock’s Backpages — which now boasts “over 20,000 articles” — pretty much lived up to what I (rather extravagantly?) claimed for it back in 2001. I’ve taken out periodic subscriptions, usually in service of a specific music writing project, and have never been let down by the selection (the price has gone up also, of course, but that’s capitalism for you). I mean, there could be more stuff still — there could always be more stuff — and certain critics (and probably certain artists and/or genres) are under-represented, but the selection is fairly astonishing nevertheless. It’s far too easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of their index.

Hoskyns was the first of our interviews with British critics — the first, that is, in a not-even-remotely-comprehensive line of British critics. I’m glad my friend Gary Robertson, still the biggest and most knowledgeable fan of the Band I’ve ever met, agreed to do this with me. It’s a shame I never convinced him to do others.

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10,000 Reasons to Never Leave Home: Interview With Barney Hoskyns

By Scott Woods and Gary Robertson (February 2001) 

If you’re a fan of rock writing — and if you’re here, I assume you are — there’s no better place you can go to on the web than Rock’s Backpages, manna from heaven for the rock and roll fanatic. Currently,Rock’s Backpages has reprints of over 1,500 articles by many of your favourite writers about most of your favourite bands and genres, all in their original versions from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Later this year, for anyone who subscribes to the site, that number will increase to 10,000. Rock’s Backpages is the library you’ve (well, I’VE) always wanted to own, and the first sane case anyone’s ever made to throw out all those boxes of old rock mags cluttering up your apartment. Just the other day, for instance, I got to thinking about Black Flag, and how, as a late convert to their music, I’ve never read anything more than a couple sentences about them. Presto! RBP includes two superb, lengthy expositions on Black Flag, both from the peak (’81 / ’82) of their career.

One of those Black Flag profiles was written by Barney Hoskyns, the guiding light behind Rock’s Backpages and a damn fine (albeit far too modest) rock writer himself. Hoskyns’s books include:Waiting For the Sun, an exhaustive survey of the L.A. music scene and mindset; Say It One Time For the Broken Hearted, which is sub-titled “the Country Side of Southern Soul”; Lonely Planet Boy, described by the author as a “pop romance”; Glam!, an informative, witty, and personal account of boys with guitars who want to be your mother; and Across the Great Divide, about the Band.

My friend Gary Robertson is a huge fan of Barney’s Band book, so he asked him questions about that. I wanted to find out more about Rock’s Backpages, which I’m sure will keep me cooped up in cyber-space for years to come. Barney was kind enough to answer all of our questions by e-mail.

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Scott:   Start with a bit of pre-rock critic background info about yourself: where and when did you grow up? Do you have a memorable anecdote you can share about growing up in _____ ?

Barney:   I grew up and was schooled in London, though I spent many weekends and holidays in the East Anglian county of Suffolk. This is where I sat and dreamt about pop stars, my ear pinned to a tiny transistor radio. And where I bought my first single, “Brown Sugar.” Ten shillings handed tremblingly over the counter, and then hours of ecstasy and sonic immersion at home.

Britain was undergoing the teenage cataclysm of glam rock at this point. The first T. Rex singles and appearances on Top of the Pops were my pop baptism. From Bolan and Bowie and Slade via a brief dabbling in prog to the diverse mix of stuff on John Peel’s late night “Radio 1” show. Peel playing Geater Davis’ blood-curdling version of “For Your Precious Love” in 1974 had a lot to do with my later love of southern soul.

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