Sunday, May 1, 2016

Yet Another…Pile of Rock

Old Records Never Die: One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past – Eric Spitznagel (Plume)

The first time you move hauling a record collection the numbers in the thousands of albums, 45s, 12 inch singles, and CDs is a careful labor of love; crates evenly stacked and boxes neatly taped and labeled. The second and third time are not dissimilar experiences for the obsessed record collector. By the fourth move, even for a dedicated collector like myself and you start thinking it’s time to thin things out and reduce the dead weight; you know the stuff you have really listened to in awhile or can’t quite remember why you liked in the first place.

When it comes to move six you come to the realization that you’re getting way too old to haul 10,000 plus pieces and suddenly you start to call your “friends” that own record stores to see how much money you can salvage out of this behemoth collection. So I can totally relate to the concept behind Eric Spitznagel’s book Old Records Never Die: One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past, as he sets out on a journey to not only re-collect his musical past, but the seemingly impossible undertaking of tracking down the actual records that were part of his collection that he sold off over time.

Spitznagel reasoned that it wasn’t merely the music that provided the signposts along the path of his youth but the actual records themselves; the skips, the pops, the scarred covers, the initialed covers even the Bon Jovi album with a former girlfriends phone number scrawled on it. As a collector I could relate to the obsessive-ness of the hunt.

While the music and the pursuit served as the backdrop to the story, the book really evolved into more of a memoir of Spitznagel’s life and its soundtrack. While I found the musical side of the story relatable, I found Spitznagel to be a less than sympathetic character and more than a bit of a dirtbag. He comes off as a pathetic man-child doing his dead level best to never quite grow into adulthood.

The Grail Guitar: The Search for Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze Telecaster – Chris Adams (Rowman and Littlefield Publishing)

In a musical journey of a different nature, Chris Adams, the leader of the British based 1970s band String Driven Thing is on the hunt, trying to track down the origin and DNA signature of second hand guitar he bought while touring as a backup axe for live dates.

The shop’s salesman told him that one of Jimi Hendrix’s former roadies had brought the guitar in question into the shop in an effort to make some money; implying but leaving unsaid, that the Fender Telecaster in question may have once been the property of the legendary guitar hero. It wasn’t until many years later that Adams curiosity lead him to wonder if the guitar was indeed the former property of Hendrix and if it’s musical vitae may include the Are You Experienced, recording sessions that spawned Purple Haze.
The search genesis-ed by the question of the guitars heritage is recounted in The Grail Guitar: The Search for Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze Telecaster, as Adams tries to establish the guitar provenance. The questions abound, starting with the fact the Hendrix was a well known Stratocaster and did he indeed ever own, let along record with a Telecaster.

The hunt makes for an epic adventure has Adams and friends try to track down not only original source material; studio notes, articles, interviews with and about Hendrix, but also those that were around him, in the studio and playing with him in that era. To say that was a tall order given the number of intervening years and the passing of so many folks that were around at the time. It makes for a interesting mix of musical history and detective novel that form this intriguing read.

Your Song Changed My Life: From Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, Thirty-Five Beloved Artists on Their Journey and the Music That Inspired It – Bob Boilen (William Morrow)

Bob Boilen is the National Public Radio (NPR) host who created the programs All Songs Considered and the Tiny Desk Concert series. With the book Your Song Changed My Life: From Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, Thirty-Five Beloved Artists on Their Journey and the Music That Inspired It, he delves into the age old question of what musical influences and songs were the inspiration for a series of artist who would go on to various levels of success that he has interview over the course of his career.

While the concept isn’t exactly unique, it still remains a valid path for interviewing artists who in many cases have gone on to careers that have them being cited as an inspiration for a new generation of artists and bands. Boilen does his best to avoid becoming a fanboy as he recounts the stories he has mined along the way. Where it becomes a bit problematic is when he devolves into an over-wordy NPR host. I just could quite shake the image of Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon “interviewing” Alec Baldwin’s character Pete Schweddy about his “Schweddy balls.”

For the guy who developed the idea for the brilliant Tiny Desk Concerts this boils down to a short fall for a concept with much greater potential.

NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories – NOFX and Jeff Alulis (DaCapo Press)

Up front admission: I am not a NOFX fan now and can’t imagine that I will gravitate towards the band anytime in the future. That being said, I found NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, at times entertaining, at times laugh out loud funny, at times painful, but always intriguing.

The book follows the band’s exploits from the early days, and I do mean early, with the band getting started when these guys were mere scrawny 16 year old skater dudes with little or no real musical ability. Through perseverance or dumb luck they managed to find folks willing to give these young punks a chance.

As the parent of teenagers and recent teenagers I can admit to cringing at the tales of touring road trips with band gear and assorted friends were piled into a rickety on van with less than stellar mechanical parts and bald tires, but a cool graffiti style logo painted on the side, which I am sure made it a glowing beacon for cops.

The tales of drugs, run-ins with the police, misadventures and missed opportunities of a sexual nature, make this a rock ‘n’ roll story that is familiar on one hand and unique to NOFX on the other.  

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