1. eddie money is broke. 2. johnny cash is poor.

When I opened Harmony Korine’s A Crack-Up at the Race Riots (1998) I had no intention of reading it – I just wanted to skim and get an idea of what it was like since the only thing I knew about it was that The Hope of the States had named their 2004 album after it and that Korine (Spring BreakersKids, Gummo) referred to it as his stab at writing “the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure novel.” Korine’s broken list of thoughts unfurled in front of me like a car crash, however, and I read the slim volume in one sitting.

Music often serves as a cultural touchstone in A Crack-Up at the Race Riots; there are fictional letters from Tupac Shakur, (mostly) innocuous rumors like “Flavor Flav is a classically trained pianist” and “Diana Ross hated the movie When Harry Met Sally,” and non sequiturs in the vein of, “my funnest memory is when I was travelling with Madonna on the Blonde Ambition tour and I got to meet Cat Stevens.”

Some of Korine’s references, though, are incidental and often brutal – a group of black girls in Elton John t-shirts beating a girl to a pulp in a parking lot, death as a result of snorting cocaine off a Pete Seeger record, two hanged teens with Prince’s name-symbol carved into their flesh. Music usually serves as an escape, but in Korine’s world it only further emphasizes the darkness.

For all the horror contained in the book’s 175 pages, Korine often achieves a style that is both beautiful and garish. The book is more like a gallery of disturbing images than cohesive prose or poetry; his vision is the literary equivalent of the works of Diane Arbus through the prism of methamphetamine. Is the litany of suicide, abortion, abuse, and sadness art, a Warholian Death and Disaster collection for the modern era? Or is it merely pulp, a satire, a foreshadowing of America’s increasing obsession with tabloid culture? Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to tear one’s eyes away.

The reissue of Harmony Korine’s A Crack-Up at the Race Riots will be available through Drag City on April 16, 2013.

he always knew what he wanted and it always seemed to work

In late 1980, John Lennon released the album that should have been his comeback but instead ended up being his last living contribution to the world of music. Alternating between tracks by Lennon and wife Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy went on to win the 1981 Grammy for Album of the Year and spawn hits like “Watching the Wheels”. In his new book Starting Over, Ken Sharp gathers the major players surrounding the album and presents an engaging oral history of Double Fantasy.

A bulk of Double Fantasy‘s history is shared by those who made the album including producer Jack Douglas and session musicians Hugh McCraken, Earl Slick, and Andy Newmark. Their memories of Lennon are uniform: he was happy, a genius in the studio, as down-to-earth as can be, and very much in love with Ono. Dubbed as ‘a heart play’, DF was a dialogue between lovers, and Lennon insisted that Ono’s tracks be treated as equal to his own.

While the ins and outs of the album’s creation are interesting and detailed (the chapter “By the Numbers” gives a track-by-track breakdown of the album), it’s the anecdotal recollections and personal connections that hold a reader’s interest and transform Lennon from a mythic, canonized figure to mortal man. At heart, Lennon was just a man in love with craft. “I’ve been a house husband for the last five years and I want to get back to the music.”

Though Lennon often cracked jokes and couldn’t resist a mid-session jam-along to classic artists like Buddy Holly, he had a clear vision and a tendency toward perfectionism. Lennon encouraged his session musicians to be able to capture a final product in only a few takes. He specifically hired musicians that were around his age so that they’d understand his references (he often referred to himself as Elvis Orbison as he was trying to emulate their styles on the record), and tried to keep the writing and recording a secret because he didn’t want to be made a fool in the media.

Luckily, Lennon could lay his fears to rest. Lead single “(Just Like) Starting Over” hit number one in both the US and UK, and the album was generally well-received critically. Plans for a tour had started to form, as well as for a follow-up album. These plans never came to fruition, however. On December 8, 1980, just a few weeks after Double Fantasy‘s release, John Lennon was assissinated upon returning home from working on what he believed would be Ono’s first single to hit number one.

Lennon’s last day was jam-packed – a photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, yielding the iconic Rolling Stone cover of him, naked, embracing Ono; an interview with RKO Radio; a mixing session at the Record Plant; and, eeriest of all, signing a copy of Double Fantasy for the man who would later shoot and kill him, Mark David Chapman. One of the most telling aspects of Starting Over comes with everyone’s recounting of that day – not a single person interviewed refers to Chapman by name. Though nearly thirty years have passed, the pain of losing Lennon is still fresh for those who knew him. While most of us focus on Chapman and the sensationalistic nature of the shooting, those surrounding Lennon frame it as the loss of a friend, a husband, an artist.

Sharp does an excellent job of compiling an intimate look at the creation and aftermath of Lennon and Ono’s Double Fantasy. Along with studio shots by photographers David M. Spindel and Roger Farrington, readers are given a unique view into both the Lennon the artist and Lennon the man. Whether a Lennon obsessive or casual music fan, Starting Over offers a compelling history of one of rock and roll’s most magnificent artists.

Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy drops 10.19.2010.
You can check out the book’s site here.

at the end of the day, that’s what the beatles were about: music and death

Welcome to Alan Goldsher’s alternate universe where zombies walk among us, the Beatles were but a footnote in the annals of rock history by the year 2000, and Goldsher is still a rock journalist in Chicago, though he globe-trots to speak with everyone from Roy Orbison to the Devil. In Paul is Undead, readers get a revised history of the greatest mostly-undead band of all time.

Using the Beatles’ real-world history as a framework for his narrative, Goldsher spins a tale of the band’s rise to fame, their murderous rampages (a band’s gotta eat!), and Lennon’s obsession with getting to the “Toppermost of the Poppermost” and taking over the world.

On their way to the top, the Beatles must fight foes like the zombie-hating Mick Jagger, who uses his hips to hypnotize and revives the undead with a big-lipped kiss to the chest, only to kill them for good directly thereafter. Also on the radar is leader of the Zombies, Rod Argent, who despises the Fab Four following a journalist’s claim that the Zombies were trying to capitalize on the boys’ zombie status.

Though thoroughly entertaining as a genre story, the real genius in Paul is Undead comes from Goldsher’s taking what actually happened and turning it on its ear while simultaneously not straying that far from the truth. In the book, the Beatles were able to achieve mind-controlling hypnosis via their vocal harmonies on “All My Loving” while taping the Ed Sullivan show. The glazed looks of adoration and unabashed screeching that were the actual result of virtually every performance in those years is really no different than if Lennon and McCartney had conspired to create such an effect through clandestine means.

A good read for music/Beatles nerds who will recognize the likes of Neil Aspinall and Magic Alex, and/or those who just can’t get enough brain-chomping, detached-limb-swinging, wound-seeping fun.

Paul is Undead will be released June 22, 2010.
Find out more about Alan Goldsher here.

she looks like that girl talk song where he samples x-ray spex


“What’s worse than having to watch somone who’s dancing like nobody’s watching?”

Quips like these accompany Vice Magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes’s newest collection of the best and most ridiculously dressed people, Street Boners. Ranking people on the street on a scale of zero to ten kitten heads, McInnes and a slew of guest commentators (Debbie Harry, Andrew WK, Chloe Sevigny, and more) praise, critique, and profess the boner-worthiness of the citizenry and their looks.

Those garnering kitten heads range from obviously hot (“I want to kill myself just to get her attention”) to those showcasing their…inner beauty (a larger gentleman in white tube socks and a salmon banana hammock). Conversely, glaring fashion faux pas like open-toe platform leather clogs – seriously, barf – will get you zero kitten heads.

In addition to vacillating between biting cuts and lustful praise, McInnes also offers up interviews with other arbiters of cool, offers a dos and don’ts list, and gives us “A Brief History of Cool,” pointing out the inevitable and obvious link between music and fashion and their surrounding subcultures. Writes McInnes, in reference to a girl wearing an “I ❤ 80s” shirt, “Me too. Especially those girls in the ZZ Top videos. That was the best women have ever been.”

Street Boners: 1,764 Hipster Fashion Jokes will be released May 27th, 2010.
You can order copies here, and check out McInnes’s website here.

you stole the bomp

If I had to sum up David Walley’s 1998 release in one word, it would be ‘snoozefest’. Teenage Nervous Breakdown: Music and Politics in the Post-Elvis Age is more of a personal nostalgic take on life than insightful look at how the rise of rock ‘n’ roll shaped the world.

Though the book contains research, most of Walley’s commentary is derived from his own experience and predilections. In and of itself, it’s not a bad thing, but would be better suited for a memoir. The heavy baby-boomer/ex-hippie/weren’t the fifties swell-slant makes it difficult for a younger audience to relate while simultaneously dating the perspective.

Also annoying is the clear fact that Walley never got over high school – he goes so far as to dedicate an entire chapter to explaining how society structures itself in much the same way high-schoolers do. While high school as life is a common metaphor, most of us get over the fact we were picked last in gym class and don’t fixate on it well into our forties. Hopefully for him he really showed the football team who’s boss by putting out this book.

While the content of the book did nothing to move me, matters were not helped by the format. The publishers picked a font that is hard to read (commas and periods are nearly indistinguishable from each other, and each letter has so many serifs it might as well be Middle Ages-era calligraphy), each paragraph has a large break in between (generally reserved for a separation of ideas), and there are several large block quotes per chapter (why not just read the other authors’ work?). This may be a nerdy conceit, but if a book is a laborious read regardless of content, it’s a problem.

If the title and proposed subject matter of the book intrigues you, I’d advise skipping Walley’s entry and going straight for Jon Savage’s Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture. It does an amazing job of tracing youth culture’s rise to prominence and is well-written on top of it. It’s a bit heavier but will save you the waste of time Teenage Nervous Breakdown turned out to be.

‘that guy’ has a name – adam coil

The Boy Who Cried FreebirdYou’ve all heard him. At more of the shows you’ve gone to than not, there’s that guy. The one who insists on yelling “Freebird!”, regardless of appropriateness of the request. In the first section of his book, The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll Fables and Sonic Storytelling, author Mitch Myers personifies this shady character into the fictional Adam Coil.

Utilizing both straight fact and outright fiction, Myers gives readers a blend of history and tall-tale, often blurring the line between the two. Anti-hero Adam Coil serves to put a personal spin on various musical experiences, such as giving “Freebird”-guy a name and giving a fresh perspective to the hippie-tastic era of The Grateful Dead in San Francisco as a time-traveler from 2069.

Other fictitious tales include a musical face-off between a DJ and jazz drummer for club supremacy and bringing about the world-wide destruction of aliens posing as humans with Black Sabbath recordings (*coughMarsAttackscough*). There are several pieces that are more or less straight-laced music history essays, and a smattering of probably true but most likely embellished stories (like getting locked into a Tower Records overnight).

Though The Boy Who Cried Freebird would tip toward ‘enjoyable’ on a scale, the fuzzy line between real-life and make-believe can get a bit tedious. Also, Myers’s narrative voice skews toward middle-aged male, both in tone and reader appeal. There’s nothing wrong with either of these traits, but it does have the potential to turn off some readers.

make believe ballroom

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life CoverWhen I picked up Last Night A DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey, I expected it to be a history of popular music on the radio. After all, when one encounters the term “disc jockey” the mind generally doesn’t jump to an image of a man behind a set of turntables, pulsing lights and thudding bass abound – but this is in fact the type of DJ authors Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton are referencing in their 1999 release.

The radio DJ does get a fair shake in the book, providing context for the history of bringing music to the masses.The focus, however, is a thorough history of dance music and its accompanying culture in the US and UK.

Northern soul is the first trend to be covered, revealing a culture of obsessive collecting of obscure tracks partying until the break of dawn. A celebrated example of northern soul is R. Dean Taylor’s “There’s A Ghost In My House” – a surprisingly gritty Motown track from 1967.

Next to be covered is raggae, with its early remixes and soundclashes. Elements from both the raggae and northern soul scenes paved the way for the two most expansive genres of DJ-led phenomena, disco and hip hop. Brewster and Broughton set the record straight on the origins of these genres and shine a light on their far-reaching impact on both culture and music.

Later forms such as house and techno are also covered, with the final portion of the book tying everything together and offering commentary on the then-current state and future of dance music. At the book’s press time, late-90s dance music was cracking into the American mainstream with acts like Fatboy Slim, Moby, and the Chemical Brothers, but the authors did not comment on the trend, instead focusing on the more established UK/European success of acts like Sasha and Paul Oakenfold.

Though I’d consider myself a dabbler at best in the field of dance music, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life was a a great read. Brewster and Broughton make even the most foreign of experiences seem accessible while seamlessly providing snapshot after snapshot of cultural history.