There are those great universal questions that people will ask during a variety of social situations that are the great level setters that measure our commonalities. You might ask a new acquaintance in a business networking setting “what do you do for a living?” Or in a more fun social setting, you might ask “what kind of music do you listen to?” It was a question that I either love or hated, because my tastes run a wide gamut and if I went on a dissertation it often results in an eye-glazing stare or I would go generic and say “say I listen to everything and anything.”
The simple fact that there is so much music out there and the fact while it’s so different there is still an inherent connection that ties it all together. Three excellent new books celebrate not only the diversity of music, but the commonality that ties it all together.
Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond – The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager – Mark Blake (Da Capo Press)
As I started this book the thought occurred to me, How many managers of rock bands, people behind the scenes and not in the spotlight by design, are the subject of biographies? On reflection, I could come up with Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles who was dubbed “the fifth Beatle” was an obvious one. Then there are what I can best describe the outrage merchants, like; Malcolm McLaren, of the Sex Pistols and Kim Fowley who managed and abused the teen girls who made up the Runaways.
So what qualifies a rock band manager – a job that doesn’t really come with a job description- to have a biography detailing their story written? A book detailing the inner-workings of running the day to day operations of even a huge, world famous rock band would be a bore. I think the magic ingredient is having a veritable mountain of larger than life stories that are just outrageous enough to stretch credulity. Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant clearly qualifies!
The new book, Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond – The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager, from London based rock writer Mark Blake, does an amazing job of capturing the extravagant, flamboyant man who not only managed Led Zeppelin, but became the band’s most strident and dedicated advocates. Grant’s zealous representation made him one of the most feared men in an industry that is chock full of power players. In the process he truly became one of those folks never to be trifled with in the business.
Blake offers up great insight into the behind the scenes machinations and some of the infamous stories about the comings and goings of Led Zeppelin that will make this a must read for the band’s fans. Bring It On Home, cements Grant’s status as a true legend and may rank among the most entertaining bios of a band manager.
Smash!: Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX and The 90s Punk Explosion – Ian Winwood – (Da Capo Press)
One of the things I love about discussing and debating music with friends are those friendly throw downs about band’s and genres. One of the more entertaining ones revolves around whether or not the so-called 90s punks were truly…well…punks? It is that 90s era that is in the spotlight in the new book Smash!: Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX and The 90s Punk Explosion, by veteran Brit rock writer Ian Winwood.
I think the quote from Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, “Woodstock  was about the closest thing to anarchy I’ve ever seen in my whole life. And I didn’t like it,” really tells you all you need to know about these punk wannabes. I think that true punks like Johnny “Rotten” Lydon of the Sex Pistols or the Ramones would have reveled in the raucous outbreak of rioting that occurred at the pre-fab, over-commercialized version of the original organic event. Highlighting the dramatic difference between authentic punks and those who play outsized festivals featuring $10 bottles of water.
While my personal thoughts are that these 90s era guys are not true punks…that does not diminish their place in music history. Smash! delivers the goods on what amounts to some of the most important bands of the genre, in that era. It is a balanced mix of the success these band’s enjoyed and the impact they had on that and future generations. It really paints a picture of the evolution of the hard driving punk sound, with for lack of a better term, a more enlightened attitude.
Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, The Blacklist and the Battle for the Soul of America – Jesse Jarnow – (DaCapo Press)
No matter what the era, music has always been the vehicle for the voice of the time. Sometimes it played as the soundtrack that backed the times, while at others it moved squarely to the forefront and drove change through social commentary. Some of the greatest songs in music history have spurred a social evolution/revolution.
In Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, The Blacklist and the Battle for the Soul of America, Jesse Jarnow, who writes on a diverse range of topics including music and technology, turns an almost historians eye to the subject of not only the band, the Weavers, which featured the legendary Pete Seeger, but their place beyond just music but in society as a whole.
Jarnow paints a vivid portrait of the time against the backdrop of the so-called Communist Red Scare. While bands from all eras and styles have engaged in a fight the power type struggle, The Weavers personal lives and beliefs were the foundation on which their music was based. There was no playing a part/role; these were true believers who often ran contrary to the popular beliefs of the time/country and they stuck to their guns with no concerns about being Dixie Chicked.