Sunday, June 10, 2007

Books From The Bottom Shelf

I'm no longer a buzzing mass of aching nerve-ends — now I'm a spasmodically-clenched body desperately trying to exhume its own lungs (while still buzzing). These are not the ideal conditions for a consideration of dystopia, Cormac McCarthy's or anyone else's. Instead, I've reached for the bottom shelf (closer to the bed) where the heavier material lies.

“Heavier” certainly describes The Making of Star Wars, by J.W. Rinzler. The book weighs, by Yahmdallah's account, a full six pounds, but I'm guessing his muscles might not have atrophied to the same point as mine. It is one monstrous sucker, eclipsing our family's former title holder of heaviest book in the house: a “Precious Moments Family Bible” given to us anonymously, so that we have no way of knowing if the gift was a tasteless joke or presented in all seriousness. It, too, sits on the bottom shelf.

Little to say about TMOSW, really, except that it's a miracle that movie ever made it to the screen. I suppose that's a truism that applies to any flick that aspires to a loftier aesthetic than Mother Jugs and Speed. I reached two conclusions at the end of the book: (1) Lucas was (and probably still is) a man of colossal will, who benefited terrifically from externally imposed story and dialogue tweaking; (2) if there's anything about this movie you think I need to know, go ahead and whisper it in my ear, 'cos I'm through reading about it.

Next there's Alice Cooper, Golf Monster, brought to us by Coop himself and the two guys responsible for the authorized life & times of Sonny Barger, Hell's Angel at large. Polished this one off in a day. At first the prose threw me, and I couldn't quite figure out why. Then I looked back on some other recent musical “memoirs” — Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney. These accounts all have a similar sense of pace and straightforward narrative, even the tone is similar: “It happened like this. Funny, eh? I still laugh when I think about it.” or: “He/she was exceptional — a real original — and we'll not see their like again.” Verbal exchanges have a rehearsed quality, as if they were prepped for a talk-show. Strange to say, even Dylan and McCartney can't quite escape this template. I guess when it comes to music, the beholder is able to invest a vast amount of subtlety and insinuation between the notes. Even an unabashed straight-shooter like McCartney suggests alternate worlds with his craft. But these musical artists don't (can't?) transfer those same suggestive skills to prose.

250 pages seems a bit much for the material we're given, but if you're confined to bed and genuinely curious about what makes a guy like Alice tick, the padding is no big deal. Celebrities walk through the pages providing anecdotes, most of which didn't stick to my ribs. Coop is frank about his status as born again Christian so he doesn't bother to dish out dirt, except to admit he was an indulgent heterosexual lad prior to meeting his wife Sheryl. The lack of squalor is fine with me: ledger sheets of rock & roll excess start out amusingly, but slip pretty quickly into depressing waters. He credits producer Bob Ezrin with coaching him into several varieties of “Alice” voice. It also looks like Ezrin sat him down and laid out the rock & roll template for him, thus delivering Alice from the experimental noise of his band's first album, Pretties For You.

He's also really, really frank about his struggles with alcohol. And that's about it. Oh, wait: there's golf. Lots and lots of golf, which I know little about and haven't any passion for.

Moving on, I picked up The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece by John Harris. If you're looking at these titles and thinking, “Does this guy not have a TV?!” the answer is, yes I do, but I have never subscribed to cable, so no “Behind The Music” for me, boo hoo. This book was a cheap remainder and gave me some idea how Syd Barrett created a difficult legacy for the remaining band members to surmount. I've only heard a few Barrett tracks (on this compilation) and if there is any reason why someone stone cold sober would bother giving any of them a second spin, go on and explain it to me. To my ears this was a band that figured out what to do once he was finally removed from the picture.

The Dark Side of the Moon is the album in which the Barrett-less “Floyd” comes into its own, quite ironically by playing off his public notoriety as an acid casualty. If pressed, the surviving band members will say a word or two about his tragic loss. But it looks like that's the only way they'll say anything: if pressed.

Contributing musicians, vocalists and sound engineers all talk about what a solemn bunch of sods these guys were, and how they silently gave every struggling performer the impression they were failing miserably. Some of the band members are more genial than others, but there's no debating where Roger Waters stands in the likeability spectrum. Waters seems cut of that unique cloth of genius that knows precisely how to effortlessly piss off every single person within a thousand miles of him.

Again, lots of the written information will pass through my brain like so much mental Metamucil, and there's no good reason why it should stay. The stuff that registers, though, are exchanges between band members that, frankly, put them in league with Spinal Tap. See if you can't picture Nigel Tufnel relating this to the documentary camera:

“After (Smell The Glove), we had a bit of money and I bought a house in the country. I had two young children. (David St. Hubbins) sat down and said to me, 'I can't believe you've done this — you've sold out, I think it's disgusting.' Six months later, he went and bought a much bigger house in the country. I said, 'Remember what you said?' He said, 'Ah, yes — but that's because my wife wanted it, not me.' ... I found him rather hypocritical. That's what angered me about him.”

Go ahead and guess who's saying that about whom. After this anecdote, and several more like it, every single one of the band members (when pressed) refers to TDSOTM as the beginning of the end, even though it's the album that catapulted them into untold fame and fortune, and paved the way for a very lucrative series of records to follow.

And since I'm talking Pink Floyd, here's a Floyd-related memory...


DarkoV said...

"Waters seems cut of that unique cloth of genius that knows precisely how to effortlessly piss off every single person within a thousand miles of him".

Lovely phrase, that. And isn't it sweet that simply being a genius can wipe away all the sins of social impropriety? I always thought that Waters' brusque manner was due to his looks. I mean, when one bore a resemblance to this guy, life certainly would be rough and rough on one's social engagement possibilities.

DarkoV said...

Oh, BTW, I think your bold "Hey! Where's the Emperor's Clothes" comment regarding Syd Barrett is dead on, no pun intended. Aside from helping get the group started, his presence was not needed. I, like you, can't stand any of the albums he was still around to be on. And the dreck that's come out after his death in his honor? Please!>>!>!

Whisky Prajer said...

I'd say when it comes to charm, Lurch has it all over Waters. Lurch is at least polite. So far as the breadth of Waters' genius, I'll reserve some judgement. I'm most impressed with his having given Kate Bush her big chance.

DarkoV said...

Delayed response/inquiry here, due to the slowish speed of my synapse switches.
Nick Drake.
Your thoughts.
Mine? He's sitting on the same pile as Syd. I just never could and still can't listen to his stuff. It's the whiny tone, for the most part.

Whisky Prajer said...

I had to look him up. It's not a style I generally favour, either, although I now recall his stuff being put to good effect in Hideous Kinky (terrific film, terrific title). Drake's stuff (the little I've heard) adheres to a strict musical architecture, while Syd's would frequently drone in the direction of his choice, so I suppose I'd give Drake higher props than Syd.