Remedial Reading

One could easily argue that Cobain is as relevant now as he was during his all-too-brief life.
Pretty Vacant By Phil Strongman. Orion Books, 289 pp, $37.95, hardcoverPhil Strongman's book is subtitled A History of Punk, and that's precisely what it purports to be: a chronological detailing of punk's first wave, the pop-cultural firestorm that raged in London and New York between 1976 and '79. As such, it focuses mainly on the Sex Pistols and their travails, from the band's assembly by manager/provocateur Malcolm McLaren (who designed the Pistols to be an anarchic answer to the Bay City Rollers' teen-beat populism) to its shuddering collapse at the end of an ill-advised U.S. tour.This is delicious fodder for storytelling, and Strongman provides an admirable survey of the movement's immediate predecessors, including the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, the MC5, and the New York Dolls–a brief involvement with whom gave the ever-scheming McLaren his first tantalizing taste of rock music's power to incite outrage in right-thinking citizens.The trouble with Pretty Vacant, though, is that it seems unnecessary. These tales have been told many times over, and by writers of greater talent. Jon Savage's England's Dreaming, published in 1991, covers the same ground in a much more exhaustive and insightful fashion, and it remains the definitive work on the subject. Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces isn't purely about punk by any means, but the author's efforts to place the Pistols and company in the context of other 20th-century cultural movements, including Dadaism and the Situationist International, are compelling and compulsively readable. If you demand the story delivered straight from the barrels of the Pistols themselves, both singer John Lydon and founding bassist Glen Matlock have penned memoirs, and Julien Temple's riveting documentary The Filth and the Fury is rife with firsthand remembrances.Apart from redundancy, Pretty Vacant's most egregious failing might be Strongman's tendency to report damning hearsay as fact. He repeats the oft-told–and much-disputed–story about Sid Vicious inadvertently blinding a girl in one eye by shattering a pint glass against a pillar at the 100 Club. Three decades later, this elusive one-eyed woman still has never materialized, and the story has attained urban-legend status. But Strongman relates it without so much as a caveat about its dubious nature. Worse, he implicates drug-dealer-cum-actor Rockets Redglare in the stabbing death of Vicious's American junkie paramour, Nancy Spungen, and in knowingly selling the ex-Pistol a lethal dose of heroin. While this might very well be how events transpired, the only people who could dispute the author's version are deceased. Given that the tragic story of Spungen and Vicious remains one of rock 'n' roll's great unsolved mysteries, it's bewildering that Strongman doesn't so much as acknowledge that other theories exist, or that Redglare was never convicted, or even tried, for his alleged crimes. All of which throws the accuracy of the rest of Pretty Vacant into doubt.It's too bad, really, because Strongman has undeniable punk credentials. During the initial London explosion, he worked at Acme Attractions (a hipster clothing store that was a chief rival of McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's boutiques) and he saw the Pistols at the 100 Club in '76. The guy was even an extra in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, Temple's other Sex Pistols movie. As a witness to British punk's first fumbling steps, Strongman surely has a few anecdotes of his own to relate. Perhaps he should have written a memoir and left the historical documentation to the Jon Savages of the world.
By Jerry Heller with Gil Reavill. Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2006, $34.50 Ruthless tells a riveting but one-sided tale On his 1991 album, Death Certificate, Ice Cube waged war on Ruthless Records label founder Jerry Heller with one of the most vicious dis tracks of all time, "No Vaseline". Utilizing a graphic homophobic metaphor, Cube claimed that Heller was cheating members of N.W.A. out of money—that they were essentially "gettin' fucked out [their] green by a white boy, with no Vaseline". From that moment forward, Heller's name was synonymous with greedy record execs.Now hip-hop's most vilified mogul has released his tell-all memoir, Ruthless, ostensibly to clear his name. It's hard to imagine that anyone cares a full 15 years later, and it makes you wonder why Heller has bothered to fire back now.In the book, Heller claims that he kept quiet all those years because the allegations were so easy to dismiss. ("If I had stolen from them, why hadn't they ever sued me?") He was eventually hipped to an important "street code": any rumour that isn't denied is assumed to be true. Eaten up by the notion that everyone in the industry believed Cube, Heller finally stepped up to tell his side.The result is a fascinating piece of work. Heller is a master storyteller, and he's had a front-row seat for more than four decades of music history. Before founding Ruthless Records with Eazy-E, signing N.W.A., and helping to birth gangsta rap, Heller worked with legends like Bruce Springsteen and Marvin Gaye. The autobiography weaves together Heller's life story and the Ruthless narrative, along with various entertaining anecdotes, including helping Van Morrison get over stage fright and kicking Charles Manson and his hippie groupies out of his house. Heller's intense love of music is clear throughout the text, and there are some powerful moments in which he describes the top concerts of his lifetime. Equally potent are his recollections of his former business partner, rap star Eazy-E, who died of AIDS in 1995. If Heller is to be believed, he loved E like a son. Of course, Heller doesn't exactly make for the most trustworthy narrator. For one thing, he continually paints himself as an altruistic figure rather than a savvy record exec. Heller's angelic self-portrayal occasionally lapses, though. At one point, he notes the mercenary nature of the music business and states that he would sign Adolf Hitler if he could find a way to make him profitable. At another point, he mocks Dr. Dre, pointing out that after he left Ruthless Records, Heller and Eazy collected upward of 15 percent of everything Dre released, including the very dis tracks that were aimed at them. Contracts like this may have something to do with why the former members of N.W.A. were so pissed at Heller in the first place. Heller's main defence is that he didn't break the law. He can't comprehend that business can be exploitive without being illegal.The most interesting element of the book comes in the form of a glaring omission. Heller claims that he and E had a strong relationship while the latter's mental faculties were still intact. Apparently Heller and E had a falling-out during the last few months of Eazy's life. The fact that Heller breezes by this rift without sharing any details tells the reader that there's much, much more to this story.As such, Ruthless isn't a particularly convincing account of the rise and fall of Ruthless Records. It probably won't be the last word on the subject, either. But that doesn't make it any less of a riveting read.
’77: The Year of Punk & New Wave By Henrik Bech Poulsen. Helter Skelter, 382 pp, $30, hardcover. For those of us old enough to remember the first wave of punk, the appeal of Henrik Bech Poulsen’s ’77: The Year of Punk & New Wave may be largely nostalgia. The book offers an A-to-Z guide to every nasty little British and Irish punk band that put out a record in 1977, which first-time author Poulsen presents as the miracle year for a self-made movement that set out to rescue rock ’n’ roll and ruin the music industry. The contents of ’77 are thorough to the point of obsessive. Starting with Acme Sewage Company and ending with the Zeros, with some 200 stops in between—for Chelsea, the Damned, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Stranglers, the Vibrators, you name it—Poulsen documents every last 45-rpm single, every rare mispressing and sleeve. At the same time, the book’s layout, with its Smith-Corona typeface and murky black-and-white shots of frowning teenagers in sunglasses, recalls the late-’70s fanzines that misfits used to assemble lovingly with Scotch tape and school-library mimeograph machines. The middle-aged, Copenhagen-born Poulsen has no lack of pep for that “mythical” time: “Seventyseven. Say it. Say it again. It has a great sound to it, doesn’t it?” But he doesn’t wander down memory lane here; instead, he cordons it off and scours it forensically. For this reason, the book does something more than create warm and fuzzy feelings: by including everything, it shows nostalgia up as selective memory. For every razor stroke of genius by bands like Wire and Buzzcocks, there were flimsy tracks by coattail-surfers like Billy Idol’s vacuous Generation X, with their haircut-based theories of rebellion. At times, it adds up to the feeling you get when you dig out your old boxes of LPs stashed in the basement, only to be reminded that back in the day you were cheerily listening to plenty of utter shite alongside the records that have since been deemed classics. (Yes, here’s your tattered old London Calling. Ah, those were happy times. But what’s this next to it? A play-worn copy of Joe Jackson’s I’m the Man? Well, well.) Still, Poulsen can summon a raft of evidence that 1977 was something exceptional in rock. Any year boasting such a startling range of groundbreaking performers—from XTC to Throbbing Gristle, Elvis Costello to the mighty Sex Pistols themselves—was obviously thrilling. What’s more, any year in which such dissimilar bands not only hit their stride at the same time but also fed off one another creatively, as they did briefly in 1977, was a rare phenomenon. Any gig where, for a few quid, you could see the Clash headlining a bill that included Buzzcocks, Motí¶rhead, and the Heartbreakers, all of them at or near their prime, was clearly worth a lot more than the price of admission. Any self-taught movement that put an end to the dominance of Pablo Cruise and the Little River Band deserves all of the praise that Poulsen heaps on it. Yes, the author’s delivery in ’77 sometimes gets so worked up that it stumbles over itself. (Just what does it mean for a punk band’s single to give “a well-directed middlefinger in the ribs” to an older generation of musicians?) But Poulsen is dead right in arguing that what happened 29 years ago in rock music was fast, ingenious, and reckless enough to create a sonic boom that still echoes today.
Fury's Hour By Warren Kinsella, Random House, 304 pp. $27, softcover. This brief history of punk sadly has about as much street cred as Simple Plan. Warren Kinsella, a 40-something lawyer and political consultant, interviews many key people who've been involved in the punk movement over the years, including CBGB's owner Hilly Kristal, Dee Dee Ramone, straight-edge Fugazi founder Ian MacKaye, and Joe Strummer, encountered backstage after a Clash gig at Vancouver's PNE Gardens, in 1979. A onetime North Vancouver Liberal candidate and former aide to ex-prime minister Jean Chrétien, the author has been interviewing punk musicians for over two decades. Those interviews, along with background information and firsthand experiences, form Fury's Hour: A (Sort-of) Punk Manifesto, a book in which Kinsella's humour and palpable enthusiasm help create a mildly entertaining read. Once the bassist for Calgary band the Hot Nasties in the 1980s, Kinsella opens with the early days of punk and doesn't attempt to gloss over the skinheads and hatecore ranters who initially gave the scene a negative image; included are interviews with infamous singer George Burdi of Canadian white-supremacist band RaHoWa (Racial Holy War). From there, one of the most engaging things about Fury's Hour is the way it looks at not just where various punk musicians came from, but where they are now. Singer Ari Up of prototypical all-female punk band the Slits, for example, is interviewed on the phone from her New York home while her kid is at school. As with the rest of the book, Kinsella's stale questions (i.e., "Is punk dead?") aren't nearly as interesting as what these revolutionaries have to say as they look back. The heart of Fury's Hour beats in its endorsement of the DIY aesthetic and in the chapters on punk and politics. Highlights include the inclusion of the first all-black hardcore band, Bad Brains; the ruminations on the influence of the Clash and the Sex Pistols; and an examination of riot-grrrl pioneers Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) and Jen Smith (Bratmobile). Unfortunately, Kinsella's trustworthiness is called into question when he interviews the members of Good Charlotte; by talking to pop bands with tattoos and faux-hawks, he makes one seriously wonder how well his punk bullshit detector is working. One also has to wonder if the author can name a single underground band from his hometown and why he didn't include in the book younger musicians on independent labels. Fury's Hour is a great reference tool for gaining an overview of the major turning points of punk culture, but it fades into a rambling monologue on the genre's decline, completely ignoring the thousands of bands still playing raw music in pubs and community halls worldwide. If the book lives up to its billing as a sort-of manifesto, it's only as one for baby boomers who want to read about six months in 1977 that, according to Johnny Rotten, was all that punk ever was. But Rotten is old now and has retired from the stage to the university-lecture circuit. Like Kinsella, he's obviously never been to the Asbalt on a Saturday night.
The Beatles:The BiographyBy Bob Spitz Little, Brown, 983 pp., $39.95. JohnBy Cynthia Lennon Hodder & Stoughton, 404 pp., $34.95 A key lesson we can absorb from the careers of the Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein: don't use marijuana as your financial planner, or LSD as your investment counsellor, and especially do not employ amphetamines as your psychiatrist. The band in its heyday was a five-year fireworks display that got more and more colourful, and the world was utterly dazzled by the time a series of drug-drenched emotional explosions sent four young men in disparate directions while consuming Epstein entirely. For a long time their fans waited for a finale that had already come and gone. It is a fascinating story, and writer Bob Spitz takes a shot at claiming it as his own with The Beatles: The Biography. Spitz certainly has done the best job of anyone so far, weaving together thousands of snippets from hundreds of interviews, books, and unpublished accounts to produce a cohesive and compelling narrative that takes readers further into the Beatles's world than any author has taken them before. In the preface to his impressive array of notes, Spitz decries the dearth of reliable facts amid the wishful fantasies and deliberate misinformation that cloud the tale of the Beatles. "What's more, all of it has been told and retold so many times that even [Sir Paul] McCartney is no longer certain where the truth begins and ends-one of the reasons, no doubt, that the wonderful [The Beatles]Anthology [Chronicle Books, 2000] is often referred to as Mythology," he writes. Time, and examination of his text by still-living principles and other Beatles biographers, will tell us how well Spitz has succeeded in teasing truthful threads out of the massive tangle of sources. The Beatles is well organized, artfully paced, and draws you in irresistibly. But in more than 850 pages of text, there are times when the author's selection of which account to include can be questioned. For example, Spitz says Capitol Records resisted releasing the Beatles albums in the U.S. because their first two singles had flopped in Canada. It is possible Canadian sales were disappointing, but I have distinct memories of lying in bed at night in southwestern Ontario in 1963, retuning my older brother's transistor radio from the Motown station in Detroit to a Canadian transmitter out of St. Thomas because it was playing "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" every hour for weeks on end. Maybe the St. Thomas station didn't know the records had flopped. The preface has an allegation by Spitz that Cynthia Lennon "mangled facts" in her autobiography A Twist of Lennon (Star, 1978), not even getting the year of her marriage to John Lennon right. Given that Cynthia doesn't take drugs (if she had it just might have saved her marriage for a while), one might assume there was an editing mistake, but Spitz does not seem inclined to cut her any slack. Handily enough, Cynthia has a book of her own out, and John provides some opportunities to compare versions of events. Hers seems to match Spitz's closely enough, with at least one exception. In The Beatles, Spitz asserts that after Cynthia returned from a holiday to find Yoko Ono in her house with John, she fled to the home of George Harrison's sister-in-law, Jenny Boyd, where she succumbed to the charms of Boyd's roommate and Beatles hanger-on Alexis "Magic Alex" Mardas. After a seeming reconciliation with her husband, Cynthia vacationed in Italy, at John's suggestion, where Magic Alex came to her with the message that John was suing for divorce, and Mardas would be testifying to her adultery. Spitz drops the story there, other than a mention of her £100,000 divorce settlement. It is no surprise at all that in John, Cynthia denies screwing Magic Alex, whom everyone agrees she despised, by the way. He did come see her in Italy with the message about the divorce, she says, but the alleged adultery he was going to testify about was based on her being seen dining and dancing with Roberto Bassanini, the son of the owners of the hotel where Cynthia was staying. The divorce decree was granted on Cynthia's countersuit, citing adultery by John and Ono. It was unkind of Spitz to leave that out. Score one for Cynthia, the facts-mangler. In contrast to the enormous breadth and scope of Spitz's biography of the group, Cynthia's story of her ex-husband's life is about as up close and personal as you can get without her actually specifying the dimensions of John's "throbber". John resonates with love both past and present, and when she unselfconsciously descends into catty pettiness about ancient resentments, it at least alerts you that it's only her side you are hearing. Cynthia's thesis is that John went from a grim existence with an obsessive, controlling woman (his Aunt Mimi) to the same thing with another (Ono), and that in between them she provided a several-year interval of relaxed happiness when he could be his funny, carefree, and loving real self. It is a viewpoint that she is entitled to, and it is romantically appealing, but she does talk about "distance" during times when others, according to Spitz, remember screaming matches. Where Cynthia at least acknowledges the reality of the bond between John and Ono, Spitz generally subscribes to the theory that it was a combination of drugs and Svengali-like dominance that put John under Ono's spell. He accepts McCartney's assertion that her presence at recording sessions was always close to intolerable for all the other Beatles, and Spitz makes an emphatic case that Ono should have been barred from meddling with an already fragile dynamic. What Spitz seems unable to see is that if Ono had been shown out of the studio, John undoubtedly would have walked out with her. The world might have been spared "Let It Be", but we also would have lost The Beatles (the White Album) and Abbey Road. Speculate all you want; it is hard to see how things could have turned out any differently from how they did in the end.
Bliss By Danyel Smith. Crown, 304 pp., $33.95, hardcover. For those who make a living in the music industry-and particularly in hip-hop-there's no better read than Danyel Smith's second work of fiction, Bliss. And for those who have never kicked it at an album-release party, interviewed a rapper, or been privy to backstage drama, the novel offers a spellbinding glimpse into the world of urban music. Bliss's central character, Eva Glenn, is a high-rolling, scotch-swilling, fly-ass executive at Roadshow Records intent on reviving the career of new-age soul diva Sunny (think Erykah Badu). During a showcase in the Bahamas, Eva discovers that she's pregnant. As she contemplates an abortion (it would be her fourth), she steadily loses the control and composure that are crucial to her life and work. She bolts to isolated Cat Island and ruminates on her messed-up family and her even more messed-up romances. Pulled between two lovers-cocky music mogul Ron and Sunny's manic-depressive brother/road manager D'Artagnan-Eva is forced to come to terms with her past and make a decision for her future. Danyel Smith is a former editor in chief of VIBE magazine, and with Bliss she perfectly captures the heaven and hell that is the music industry. The extremes of hip-hop culture-the ruthlessness of the business, the rampant sexism, the wealth, the poverty, the rejection of baby boomer lifestyles and values-play out throughout the novel, but particularly in the complex bond between Eva and Ron. Equal parts power struggle and courtship, their dance embodies the fears and frustrations of today's generation. While both act as if their liaison is merely casual sex-each sleeping with one eye open so they can be the first to leave in the morning-they secretly want something more meaningful than detached hotel-room encounters. But they are terrified of the ugliness they saw in their parents' unions. The hope for Eva and Ron lies in their shared language: hip-hop. Smith's beautifully crafted prose nails what that shared language is-what it feels like to inhabit this dysfunctional, insular little island that floats in the centre of mainstream culture. She also conveys how huge hip-hop is, yet how suffocating and small, how it moves you to tears and repels you at the same time. And how once in a while, even in the midst of all this messy chaos, you stumble upon something like bliss-a state of being that's tied up with music that shatters your defenses and makes you feel achingly alive. Smith knows the power of a song. And with Bliss she's created a luscious, hip-hop-dedicated slow jam.
Scar Tissue By Anthony Kiedis with Larry Sloman. H.B. Fenn & Company. 480 pp, $34.95, hardcover. Anthony Kiedis has never made a secret of his fondness for drugs. "Under the Bridge", his biggest hit with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was inspired by shooting heroin below a freeway in Los Angeles, and, as has been well documented, the freak flag-flying frontman has been in and out of rehab enough times to impress Scott Weiland. What Kiedis has never done, until now, is reveal just how bad a junkie he was. Only a committed addict would-unable to score heroin-melt a tab of acid in a teaspoon of vodka and then bang home the drug cocktail. It's this devotion to getting high that makes Scar Tissue as fascinating as it is shocking. Along with cowriter Larry Sloman, Kiedis sets the tone with the book's first sentence: "I'd been shooting coke for three days straight with my Mexican drug dealer, Mario, when I remembered the Arizona show." From there, things flash back to the singer's childhood, spent bouncing between divorced parents, one of them in Michigan and the other in Los Angeles. The City of Angels-home to Kiedis's father, a struggling actor/dope dealer named Blackie-is where the partying starts. With six days out of seven looking like Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, the future Pepper proves that kids are indeed impressionable creatures. By Grade 7, he's experimenting with booze, pot, Quaaludes, and acid. His first snort of nose candy comes at age 13, after which he quickly decides that injecting it leads to a better high. At 19-while attending UCLA by day and catching shows by Black Flag and the Circle Jerks by night-Kiedis tries heroin for the first time. It will take him nearly two decades and countless attempts to get clean. What's most interesting about Scar Tissue is that he makes no apologies and expresses almost no regrets for what he's done. Kiedis is convinced that everything in life happens for a reason, and therefore no experience should be taken for granted. Scar Tissue isn't all about the drugs. The singer's other obsession is sex, and despite what you might think of people who kiss and tell, his bedroom exploits help make for a page turner. Kiedis pops his cork at age 11 with a girlfriend of Blackie, who arranges the liaison at his son's request. Over the course of the book no relationship is left unaccounted for. When he's not bedding the semifamous actress Ione Skye, the Pepper indulges in the perks that come with being a rock star, including butt-fucking starstruck groupies in the hallways of Sunset Strip nightclubs. Somewhere between the sex and drugs, there's the story of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Formed when L.A.'s legendary early-'80s punk scene was at its zenith, the band was never expected to amount to much. When Kiedis first picked up the mike, he was painfully aware he couldn't sing, instead choosing to ape the rap-speak found on Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message". But it didn't take long for the group's groundbreaking blend of hardcore punk and white-boy funk to build a following. The fact that the first edition of the band-Kiedis, bassist Michael Balzary, guitarist Hillel Slovak, and drummer Jack Irons-performed in neon war paint with nothing but socks on their dicks made them an early must-see. Perseverance made the Peppers the biggest act to emerge from the Lollapalooza-era '90s. Fanatics looking for dirt on their favourite band will be disappointed by Scar Tissue. For every revelation- current drummer Chad Smith is a hesher who basically has zero in common with his bandmates-there are big questions left unanswered. Most glaring of all is the lack of details on the firing of Dave Navarro, the ex-Jane's Addiction guitarist with whom the Peppers recorded 1995's disastrous One Hot Minute. Kiedis fans, on the other hand, will find no shortage of great dope. Scar Tissue, which comes out in paperback in October, is his book, and it's all about him. Written in a straight-ahead style that even the most ADHD-afflicted reader will find engaging, it's chock full of stories so bizarre they'd impress Nardwuar the Human Serviette. Even Kiedis's most obsessed followers will be amazed to learn that Keith Moon used to take him on his knee at Blackie's raging coke parties, and that, as a young boy, he'd sleep naked in the same bed as Cher. Depending on how much time you spend reading the National Enquirer and watching Entertainment Tonight, you may or may not find such trivia fascinating, but that doesn't make it any less shocking.
Floyd's Mason Keeps It Clean The veteran drummer refrains from dishing dirt in Inside Out Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. By Nick Mason. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 359 pp., $60, hardcover. Two types of Pink Floyd fans have emerged since the band first got together in London 37 years ago: supporters of the original Syd Barrettí‚ ­fronted lineup who worship the group's formative psychedelic innovations; and those who prefer the post-Barrett unit that, with the addition of singer-guitarist David Gilmour, created the multimillion-selling Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Constant in both incarnations was tasteful and reflective drummer Nick Mason. The exhaustive Inside Out is Mason's telling of the Pink Floyd story and the first time any band member has taken up the substantial challenge of documenting the group's ascension from copycat R & B combo to the highest possible reaches of rock's aristocracy. If you're looking for dirt, this is not the book for you. What you will find is a firsthand document of the general inner workings of an iconic unit. Pink Floyd developed out of the early Cambridge friendships of Barrett, Gilmour, and bassist Roger Waters, and then from a meeting of the minds in the architecture program at London's Regent Street Polytechnic, where Waters, Mason, and keyboardist Richard Wright went to school in the early '60s. Calling itself the Tea Set, the group played a standard blend of American rhythm-and-blues, Bo Diddley, and Rolling Stones covers. It wasn't until Barrett came onboard in 1964 that it changed its name in tribute to obscure blues guitarists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Inside Out covers Pink Floyd's history with tremendous detail. Writing in a dry, concise, and occasionally witty style, Mason can't be accused of not giving credit where he sees it due. The book reads like a thank-you list to a steady stream of engineers, producers, stagehands, and lighting crews, a clear reflection of the teamwork, help, and support the group has received along the way. Most readers, however, will be left with questions. Was Barrett the only member of Floyd who tried acid? And where are the hedonistic tales of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll? You'd think a career as long and as varied as this would be filled with such indulgences, but if it was, nobody's talking. Perhaps this is why Pink Floyd has lasted so long. Inside Out explodes with brilliant pictures, but it's a shame that the book isn't accompanied by a musical CD. Alas, this is billed as Mason's personal history, and while an able percussionist, he wrote very little of the music. Perhaps an anthology treatment on DVD would be a more effective way of telling the tale. Oh, but that would mean Waters, Gilmour, Mason, and Wright would need to work together again--and given their history of bitter infighting, that's not likely to happen. But perhaps their ongoing feuding--Pink Floyd's Wall-era edition hasn't worked together since 1981--isn't a bad thing, seeing as how their days of musical innovation ended long ago. The real tragedy is that Barrett hasn't recorded anything since the two crazed and disconnected solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, he issued in 1970. I guess that means you know what kind of Pink Floyd fan I am.
Macca Masticates in Believing Each One Believing: On Stage, Off Stage, and Backstage By Paul McCartney. Chronicle Books, 224 pp., $48, hardcover. In the latter half of the 1970s, I was surprised to find that Paul McCartney was still publishing a newsletter for his fans. That was the kind of thing late Beatles manager Brian Epstein had been so good at arranging, but it seemed wildly anachronistic at the time, considering everything that had happened to the music world--and to the concept of "fandom"--since Epstein's death in 1967. I could now probably sell for considerable cash the copies of Club Sandwich (yes, that was the name of the McCartney fan club and its publication) that we cut up at the Ubyssey, the student newspaper at the University of B.C. The editors there enrolled the paper in the fan club for a joke, and we enjoyed slicing out the pictures, like that of the future knight and former Monkee Micky Dolenz hamming it up at some society do, so that we could glue the glossies to the wall of the office with captions like, "Two people who used to play rock 'n' roll compare wrinkles." That was 25 years ago. Almost-wrinkleless McCartney is now riding the crest of having mightily pleased the people of the U.S. with "Freedom", a deft counterpoint to the terrorist-sympathizing (and thematically identical) ditty "Give Ireland Back to the Irish". Buoyed up on a wave of such sentiment as only he can appreciate and exploit, Big Macca wowed the world with a tour in 2002, showing he is still toppermost of the poppermost. Each One Believing: On Stage, Off Stage, and Backstage is nearly a kilogram of adulatory Club Sandwich about the tour, with plenty of glossies you might want to stick on a wall with appropriately disparaging captions. John Lennon dismissed fame on one hand but openly exploited it on the other; George Harrison became frankly frightened of it; Ringo Starr seems endlessly amused by it. To Sir Paul McCartney it has become as natural as playing bass, being enormously talented, and having wives with long, blond hair. Celebrity is the ocean he loves to swim in, and part of his public-relations strategy is to remind us whenever possible that he is still just a regular guy who, as Douglas Adams put it, can whistle a tune on his way to the store to buy cigarettes and then the next day buy Yorkshire with the proceeds. Mind you, the popularity in the U.S. of "Freedom" notwithstanding, the 2002 tour might not have been such a wild success if McCartney had played only post-Beatles and post-Wings compositions. He was far too astute for that, with Beatles 1 on its way to sales of 25 million and all of the world ignoring his recent solo work. Instead, the masses came out to hear him play music mostly from his best-remembered period, 1965 ­75. The book takes several spins away from that potential diminishment of ego. For instance, we are reminded several times that McCartney's band was hailed by critics as "better than the Beatles", which one might expect from professionals 20 years older and long familiar with the material, compared to youths whose transitions from composition to studio recording, and therefore to set-in-stone arrangements for live performances, were sometimes a matter of days. We get a lot of McCartney explaining the creative process and his rapport with the band, the kind of stuff people very much wanted to hear about when he was collaborating with Lennon and Harrison--unless he had been this bad at explaining it then. What we get in Each One Believing is less than inspiring, unless you were at one of the shows or just cannot get enough of Sir Paul. A plus is that he does give Paul Wickens, Rusty Anderson, Abe Laboriel Jr., and Brian Ray, the fellows better than the Beatles, plenty of textual and pictorial space. The minus is that Each One Believing is less a document than an advertisement full of uplifting praise aimed at his adoring fans, with plenty of fab pix featuring the man himself. As he puts it: "So the way I look at it is to try to enjoy my day and then enjoy another day, and if you add up enough enjoyable days together, then that's a life, and if you're lucky, it's been enjoyable. I don't have any deeper philosophy than that." On the other hand, he has been a vegetarian for 25 years, can rock like anyone half his age, and (as he often reminds us) has carried on the late Princess Diana's crusade against land mines. Still, with Chronicle Books having over the past few Christmases issued books on Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney, one can only hope they are not currently badgering Richard Starkey for his philosophy of life.