Record Play Pause: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist: The Joy Division Years by Stephen Morris (Hachette Australia)

morris bookHe's the drummer chap in Joy Division and now New Order. Morris has written about how he got there, but with a rather rueful (and lucky for us, gently comic) look back at what a twat he once was. Cleverly written, sensibly contrite and a bit ashamed of himself, this is corking stuff. Even if you weren't interested in his music, in fact.

However, we're also in modern myth territory. That means the tragic suicide of frontman Ian Curtis; a death which seemed to grip the nation's rather maudlin youth and media of the day to such an extent that death of The Ruts' frontman, Malcolm Owen a couple of months later, was completely eclipsed; surely both were equally as tragic. 

But no, the Joy Division wave, which was only just rearing up, hit the UK quite hard. 

We Are The Clash: Reagan, Thatcher and The Last Stand of a Band That Mattered by Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki (Akashic Books)

we are the clashHistory, so observers say, is written by the winners. More often than not, those observers are the victors so they would say that, wouldn’t they? Nonetheless, it’s a truism that carries weight. 

That’s why you’ll see scarce mention of The Clash’s career after Mick Jones was kicked out and it’s partly why the final studio album under the band’s name, “Cut The Crap”, has been excised from the official - read: survivor-approved - body of work. Indeed, that one’s not even available to stream on the ubiquitous Spotify and never had a hope in hell of making it to the extravagant “Sound System” box set.  With good reason, say most of us who have heard it…

Which brings us to “We Are The Clash”, an exhaustively researched and well-written book that chronicles the last Clash line-up, a back-to-punk-basics outfit whose ranks included only two “real” members in Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon.  The so-called “Clash Mk 2”. 

“We Are The Clash” is an important book in so many ways - and not just because it makes up for a lack of documentation of this period of the band. 

The Haunted Writings of Lionel Johnson, the Decadent Era’s
 Dark Angel - Edited and with an essay by Nina Antonia (Strange Attractor Press)

incurableNina Antonia crops up at the I-94 Bar yet again. Perhaps best known for:

  • Her compelling, astonishing book (the first if you discount Morrissey's) on The New York Dolls (a band renowned for decadence at a time when decadence was almost a rite of passage),
  • Her bio of Johnny Thunders (the film currently out doesn't use her research, so you can guess what it'll be like),
  • Hr bio of Peter Perrett,
  • And a book with Pete Doherty.

One begins to rather wonder about Antonia's fascination with doomed, beautiful men... 

As she reveals in "The Prettiest Star" (nominally the story of Brett Smiley) she's clearly drawn like a moth to a flame; and she's been writing in solitude and sacrifice for well over 30 years ... suffice to say she should be better known. 

Roadies. The Secret History of Australian Rock ’n’ Roll by Stuart Coupe (Hachette Australia)

roadies bookThe “Secret History” part could have been easily replaced by “Sex, Drugs, Rock ’n’ Roll and Driving…Lots Of Driving”. There are more miles in Stuart Coupe’s book than a shipping container load of Gregory’s street directories, but it’s much more fun to read. 

The concept is simple: Speak to Australian road crew about their experiences and shape a chapter around each conversation. Do it chronologically. Change very few names to protect the infamous. You can guess a few of them anyway. This boat doesn’t need a lot of rowing. In most cases, the stories tell themselves. 

If you’ve ever worked with, alongside, as a payer of or have been reliant on a roadie because you were performing, you’ll know that the good ones are (a.) usually full of war stories and (b.) indispensable. They are, quite simply, the people who make rock and roll shows happen. They see the good, bad and the ugly parts. They know where the bodies (and the drugs) are buried. 

There’s No Bones in ice Cream. Sylvain Sylvain’s Story of the New York Dolls by Sylvain Sylvain (Omnibus Press)

sylvain bookThere are two undeniable take-outs from "There's No Bones In Ice Cream." One is Sylvain Sylvain's deep and abiding love of the New York Dolls and pride in their legacy. The other is a feeling that things could have turned out much differently had they been given five minutes during their time on the roller coaster to catch their breath.

If you're reading this review at the I-94 Bar you don't need to be told who the New York Dolls were or how important they are. Glam rock probably still would have happened without them, but punk's birth would have been very different.

The Dolls are influential because they proved that you didn't have to be good to be great. Their lack of virtuosity was as influential as their style.

Mainstream America didn't want to know about the Dolls. The image was just too fag-ishly confrontational. Their first lifespan was only two albums. Others who trod the same path - who moderated the look and sound and stuck at it like Alice Cooper and KISS - cashed in, big-time.

“The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities” by Wayne Kramer (Da Capo)

the hard stuff coverIt’s a truism that stated fact sits at one end of the scale and fiction at the other, with the truth lying somewhere in-between. Ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer has been a divisive figure at times - the stillborn “A True Testimonial” documentary, anyone? - so parts of his story will be disputed by some.

Ultimately, though, it’s pointless buying into all that. “The Hard Stuff” is Kramer’s own story and it’s told from his own perspective. None of the other people still standing are offering alternative perspectives (although the posthumous autobiography from bandmate Mike Davis is out there, too.) On its merits, “The Hard Stuff” is a rollicking read with only a few stones left unturned.

The plotline for dummies: Kramer’s the working class Detroit kid from a broken family who shook off the handicap of an abusive stepfather and forged his own musical way. He was a founding member of the radical chic MC5 and remains a compellingly lyrical guitar player who’s influenced countless others. 

“The Hard Stuff” takes us through the rise and fall of the 5, Kramer’s slide into crime, his imprisonment for drug dealing, ongoing battles with booze and smack, career revival and personal redemption through hard work and love.

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.