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.