Long Shadows, High Hopes. The Life and Times of Matt Johnson and The The by Neil Fraser (Omnibus Press)

long shadows high hopesFor once, instead of the anodyne whitewashed authorised biography, here you get the ghastly stories and goss. Also, like Matt Johnson’s too-few LPs, “Long Shadows, High Hopes” has been a long time coming. It has the full co-operation of its subject (the book features on The The's website, so one assumes it's the authorised tome).

It comes with a cracking (if brief) foreword by long-time friend and collaborator Jim Thirlwell (you may remember him from such films as , and for his work as Foetus, Steroid Maximus and so on).

It's also a biography with the insights and detail one would expect of a writer of one of the Stones, or a Beatle. And that's because, in the UK and the USA, The The were bloody huge. And ... he walked away from vast fame, fortune and all the usual head-spinning hoo-ha which so many rock gods revel in.

Fraser has done an excellent job, remaining on friendly terms with his subject, maintaining an even perspective but still able to take issue with him at times. Rather difficult if you're a fan, which Fraser obviously is.

Now, I confess I thought The The to be just another English ’80s pop band. Wasn't my thing. But, upon being queried whether I had an interest in reviewing the book, I had a quick look at what Johnson's been up to. Wikipedia (the people's unrelyabull enscycloppedya) tells me that, apart from The The, Johnson is "also a film soundtrack composer (Cineola), publisher (Fifty First State Press), broadcaster (Radio Cineola), and conservationist/local activist".

So I changed my tune and put my hand up and, slightly startled, read Thirlwell's intro at the bus stop. Also, Johnson's first single was produced by Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert and that stopped me dead in my tracks. Now I didn't just want to review the book. I wanted to hear the man.

Scars by Nadia Bruce Rawlings (Punk Hostage Press)

scars bookThe very magical Iris Berry was one of the original L.A. punks. She, and a remarkably talented soul survivor by the name of A Razor, founded Punk Hostage Press as a way of serving the community, giving hope to the hopeless, and shining light on original voices from the real underground. 

Together, they've released books by some of the best writers of our time.

This is an important contribution to our culture because, as you may have noticed, very few books, or films, or records, or plays, or any works of revealing truth or lasting value get made nowadays by the corporate media monopolies who primarily serve as cheerleaders for war, fascism and the bloodthirsty, winning is everything status quo. 

I Brought Down The MC5 – Michael Davis (Cleopatra)

I Brought Down the MC5“Brutal” was the first word that came to mind after finishing the posthumous autobiography of MC5 bass player Michael Davis and that adjective is still hanging in the air, 24 hours later.

Over 350 skilfully-written pages, Davis shines a spotlight onto the lives of family, friends, lovers, bandmates and associates over five decades, but it’s the glare cast on his own existence that’s the starkest.

By accident or design, “I Brought Down The MC5” only covers Davis’s life up until meeting his last wife, Angela, and moving to California in the late 1990s. It excludes the DKT-MC5 reunion with bandmates Wayne Kramer and Dennis Thompson, his fight with Hep C, charity work and near fatal 2006 bike crash. 

All of that, and Michael finding redemption, could have made a dynamite second book, but Davis sadly passed from liver cancer in 2012, aged 68.

Everything is Combustible: Television, CBGB's and Five Decades of Rock and Roll: The Memoirs of an Alchemical Guitarist by Richard Lloyd (Beech Hill)

combustibleOrthodoxy is not the Richard Lloyd way, so this book was never going to be a straight-forward elucidation of the histories of his bands (“Just the facts”.) It’s a weirdly charged ride through the man’s life, using vivid snapshots and taking colourful detours, and it reverberates like his guitar playing.

Lloyd was the rocking yin to Tom Verlaine’s ethereal yang in seminal New York band Television. You could say he kept his guitar partner from lapsing into total six-stringed self-indulgence and flights of fancy, giving the band its rock and roll sensibility.

It’s an important point but his book is about much more than that. Lloyd is also a solo artist of note who has passed through the orbits of people like Jimi Hendrix, Anita Pallenberg, John Lee Hooker, Keith Moon, Buddy Guy and Keith Richards, to name a few.

What you need to know is that Lloyd has been in and out of mental asylums and rehab, used every drug known to Western civilisation (and probably a few that aren’t) and the scope and variety of his sex life would give the late Lou Reed cause for pause. He also has a unique philosophy on human existence.

Lloyd has always felt like an intruder in everybody else’s world, a fully-formed adult even as a child. He lived with bipolar disorder sitting on his shoulder, pulling him up and down. You get the feeling that his (at times impenetrable) brand of spirituality was either a product of that or his anchor, and it runs thematically right through his writing.

Flying into the Hands of Strangers by Jeltje Fanoy (Collective Effort Press); Unusual Work 22 edited by Pi 0; The Greenwood Faun by Nina Antonia (Egaeus Press)

Flying into the hands of strangersBloody hell, Barman. I do one review of one poetry book and the bastard sends me these. 

Now, I don't know how many of you enjoy poetry. Perhaps you consider it in the same memorable way that Lydia Lunch does, calling it 'poohetry'...

Anyway, despite much derision over the years, apparently appreciation of same is on the rise in the USA (I'm not sure whether to whoop or despair) and I'm here to tell you that, first, a poem or two at bedtime or on the bus (anywhere you find yourself titting about purposelessly on the internet or playing those squally games everyone seems to have on their bloody phones) will find your mood altered, your synapses snapping and you will either feel alive or disgusted. A comparison might be buying a 7" single at random ... or a compilation CD. 

Second, modern poetry has a mostly deservedly bad name, but so do all forms of music. There are some utterly dreadful folk out there both unable to hold a choon or entertain to compensate. Ditto poets, really. So, if you ain't familiar with the patter of words on the page, think of poetry as another form of underground. 

An Instant Classic By Sean O'Callaghan (collective effort press)

an instant classicJim Morrison! John Lennon! Leonard Cohen! Mark E. Smith! Bob Dylan! John Lydon!

Yes, that's right, these dirty rockers have all had books published outside their main area of expertise. Now here's Sean O'Callaghan. Name might not quite be as familiar as the above pus-bags, but you've probably seen his memes about on Facebook and stuff. 

Australian Sean O'Callaghan is a poet who ain't like other poets. You know the bloke who stands upright and mumbles his words with embarrassment because, deep down inside, he knows he's a dick? 

That's not Sean O'Callaghan. Sean doesn't just read, he performs (often with a backdrop or musical racket banging away). The man has a distinct taste for chaos and mayhem, whose performances usually upset (if not silence) most other poets (apparently a bit too rock'n'roll and tend to separate the wheat from the chaff by the end of the performance. And, beneath all the big impact... that's where you see the man himself.

Workshy by Dave Graney (Affirm Press)

Workshy Dave Graney 1Let's get one thing straight: Musicians do work. It may not be work as we know it, Jim, but it is a form of employment, and it requires a well-defined skillset.

Talent is important but so is patience. Professional musicians do more waiting around than almost any other occupation on Earth. Other than midwives - and at least they receive universal praise.

Solo artist, ex-Moodist and leadr of the White Buffalos, Coral Snakes and more, Dave Graney, knows this about his trade and much more. He conveys much wisdom in "Workshy". It is the ideal read for anyone thinking about sending their offspring into rock and roll. Which is where Dave hides. Pun intended.

"Workshy" is Dave's second autobiography. I know what you're thinking: He might have been crowned King of Australian Pop but where does Graney get off writing TWO books about himself? Well, Billy Thorpe managed to do it. And more of Dave's books might be true. Both men have bodies of work with parts that are wryly funny. I could be referring here to The Aztecs' "The Hoax Is Over". "Workshy" is considerably more focussed than that mess.

Stranded in The Jungle. Jerry Nolan’s Wild Ride by Curt Weiss (Backbeat Books)

stranded in the jungleThe cover does not lie. It was a wild ride for Jerry Nolan, drummer from the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. And it’s all outlined in detail in Kurt Weiss’s gripping, 310-page biography.

Much of the wild nature of the journey was self-induced: in a New York underground rock scene where junkies were prominent, Jerry was one of the most notorious. A bigger fiend than his running mate Johnny Thunders, some say. 

His death at the unripe age of 45 - on life support, fighting bacterial meningitis and pneumonia - was more than likely related to his two decades of intravenous heroin use. He was HIV-positive at the end - and possibly in the grip of AIDS, the author suggests.

Curt Weiss (aka Lewis King) drummed in Beat Rodeo and succeeded Nolan in the lesser-known Rockats. He met Nolan only in passing. His style is incisive and direct, and his critical faculties are those of a rock and roll player, which is no bad thing when talking about Nolan's technique.

KURT COBAIN ALERT! Three Fall books reviewed

you can drumThe Rise, The Fall and The Rise - Brix Smith Start (Faber)
The Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall - Steve Hanley and Olivia Piekarski (Route)
You Can Drum But You Can't Hide - Simon Wolstencroft (Route)

Yep, You read the headline correctly. I'm serious. Cobain was such a fan of The Fall he tried to get on their tour bus and travel with them. 

The Fall refused.

There's an absence in our culture. You may not have noticed. It's like some necessary abscess has been entirely excised from our cultural body. We needed that pain, that savagery, to tell us what we are, what we shouldn't be, and to remind us that we can be more than what we are. 

This article is all about Mark E. Smith. Because his personality, his drive and charisma shoved a certain rock'n'roll band forward through barrier after barrier...