Circumstantial Evidence by Frank Secich (High Voltage Publishing)

circumstantial evidenceThis autobiography by American pop-cum-punk-rock guitarist Frank Secich is a charmer. It’s big on warmth and doesn’t dish the dirt.

Its vignettes sometimes run to less than two pages apiece and are served canape style rather than in large chunks. Its 200 or so pages won’t suck up more than a few days for most people to consume.

Polite charm and gentle humour shine through.

You’d never guess its author spent two years touring with one of America’s most notorious punk bands.

Frank Secich cut his musical teeth in a bunch of Mid-western garage and teen hop bands in the ‘60s, almost cracked the big time with major label signings Blue Ash and was a sideman on bass for the latter-day Dead Boys, with his good mate Stiv Bators.

Secich worked with Stiv in his time as a solo artist for Bomp Records, retired and went on to a second career with Club Wow (with Jimmy Zero) and garage rockers Deadbeat Poets. He’s paid his own dues and those of several other people.

Good Night and Good Riddance. How Thirty-Five Years of John Peel Helped Shape Modern Life by David Cavanagh (Faber)

peel bookHe was a BBC DJ. On the back cover there are heartfelt quotes about him from musicians as diverse as Jack White, Johnny Marr, Elton John, Robert Plant, Nick Cave and Elvis Costello.

His name was John Peel.

Here’s a comment about him from Carlton Sandercock, who runs Easy Action Records in the UK:

“John Peel was quite possibly THE most important person on the radio anywhere ever ... to find a DJ that championed new bands, unsigned bands, punk bands, bands of every genre…and encouraged growth when he was employed by one of the biggest corporations in UK is staggering to say the very least … I never met him but did have him stamping on the floor trying to get me, Annie Nightingale and Nikki Sudden to shut up…

The Prettiest Star. Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley? By Nina Antonia (SAF)

prettiest starThis book completely beggars belief. Top marks and way, way beyond. It’s also utterly brilliant as well as being compelling reading. It’ll have you ranging your emotions from laughter to sorrow and is so well researched (Nina doesn’t bother much with academic references as her books come mostly from her own interviews and experience) and put together … words completely fail me.

If you’ve read any of Antonia’s other books (on the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders and The Only Ones) and enjoyed her style and intelligence … The Prettiest Star is so far ahead that it may as well be the best fiction you’ve ever read, except it’s all true.

I can’t believe that you’ll recall Brett Smiley. He had one hit, “Va Va Va Voom”, in the UK in 1974, at the height of that bizarre post-6ts glam and pop period where decent songs were generally in short supply in the charts. Oh dear, much like now? Really? I’m shocked.

Too Much Too Soon - Nina Antonia (Omnibus Books)

dolls bookIt’s that time of year again, when that fat prick comes scrambling down the chimney armed with a sawn-off and robs you off all your money so’s he can spend it on whores and drugs.

How fair is the world? That’s what I was going to spend it on.

This being the I-94 Barr site, where rock is from Detroit, synths are for Germans and the volume is at 11, you will all have friends who love rock’n’roll. So the bookstores around the world are ready for you this Krimbo, usually armed with tomes the size of one of Mose’s tablets on That Notorious Stone or That Bland Beatle or worse, Someone Who Was Someone Maybe Once (and Just Can’t Get Over It) Volume 3.

It’s Too Young To Die Now - Andrew Mueller (Pan Macmillan)

its too lateIf there was a formula for a famous rock musician, it sorta goes like this: “An outsider kid, akin to the Holden Caulfield character with a copy of "Catcher in the Rye" in his hip pocket. With either a military father, or better still a clergyman.

“He moves around a lot, from town to town, because of his father’s occupation. He buys vinyl and buys even more vinyl.  He purchases a guitar, learns a few chords and then finds other folk who fit into the formula of rock musician. He forms a band and writes an amazingly significant song, or songs, and for one week is the spokesman of a generation, appearing in Melody Maker or Rolling Stone.” 

Of course if fate does not serve him well, the prospective rock musician just ends up in his 40’s as the geek who's brought into the local pub by his mates because he’s the one who’ll get all the music triva questions right.

But if this formula was applied to a music geek who can write - and I mean really can write - they travel the world and theur byline appewars in some of the most important rock magazines on the planet.

Welcome to the world of Sydney-raised Andrew Mueller.

Ramones By Nicholas Rombes (Bloomsbury, 33 1/3 series)

Why is it relevant to review a book initially released in 2005? Because (1.) the subject matter seems as relevant now as it ever did, and (2.) it’s still in print.

You can’t expect anything usual from the 33 1/3 series, that’s clear. All that matters is: Does it work? Does it help us, does it add to the LP in question..?

Given the huge influence that this first "Ramones" LP had on modern rock’n’roll music, it is with woeful heart that I report that Rombes is another academic. in 2005 he was Associate Professor of English at the University of Detroit Mercy. (No, me either).

It was a worried frown that I found I disagreed heartily with the first two sentences, which hung out Rombes’ slate above his wares; "Ramones is either the last great modern record, or the first great postmodern one. Fully aware of its status as pop culture, it nonetheless has unironic aspirations toward art." I winced.

Surely not another academic with no clues as to actual context ..?

Madness: One Step Beyond By Terry Edwards (Bloomsbury/The 33 1/3 Series)

one step beyond bookThis is only my second venture into reading this series. It’s a great idea; a short little book about your favourite lp; no author gets a second go. There’s over 100 in the series so far, and I want to own about half of them. And I imagine you’ll want a similar number. No Radio Birdman volume yet, nor the Stooges, though there is one on The MC5, and Love, and The Ramones …

So. Madness. You’ve probably heard of them. You may even have a few singles or LPs. Madness resemble a cross-between old-style British music-hall and pub entertainment. Although they are described as a ska act, well … kind of. They’re more like a gang of British lads out for fun and games. Like glam without the chunky choruses and tinsel, Madness are fun.

Now then. Imagine heading down the pub, wondering how to consider writing a book on a band with several frontmen, assorted musicians and songwriters … it’s more like a couple of gangs stuffed into a sack than a band.

And then, you find yourself next to a quiet, cheerful chap with a slightly cheeky grin and a pint. It’s a crowded pub, and neither of you know anyone, so you end up talking. As you do.

Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside and Outside of AC/DC By Mark Evans (Allen & Unwin)

dirty deedsA quick trawl through the memory banks shows that AC/DC books have figured more prominently on my personal playlist in recent years than almost any others. You’re entitled to ask why.

It’s not that I’m a fan of the band or anything like that. The personal take on them runs along these lines:

Their music is formulaic in a way other “band brands” like the Ramones have never been. Yes, the drummer (Phil Rudd most prominently) swings like the proverbial shithouse door in a cyclone, but there’s not much else doing in the songs apart from well-meshed, chugging riffs. The lyrics were inane (not always a bad thing), the solos predictable (one man’s classic is another man’s so-so), and the whole package was seemingly contrived (songs about venereal disease, schoolboys chucking browneyes) to attrract and repel a certain broad audience. Americans especially took to them in a way they never did with punk.

Frontman Bon Scott had a certain lewd charm but it always seemed that The Powers That Be (that’d be Malcolm and Angus) imposed a certain way of doing things – and god help anyone who wanted to depart from the template. 

Adventurous is one thing they have never been but, fuck, they have marketed themselves well.  

So why read books about them? 

Blank Generation by Pete Astor (Bloomsbury - 33 1/3 series)

blank generation bookWell, this is going to be interesting…

See, the Barman scores books by McGarretts, with three being the top score.

So, the book (one of the 33 1/3 series about "classic" albums) gets TWO separate scores, for two separate reasons. It’s up to you to figure out if I’m being fair or not.

However, I’m not quite sure how to imagine half a Steve McGarrett. Which would be the least offensive do you think, the top or the bottom half..?

You see, the reason Astor gets a half McGarrett is because it’s a bloody effort to read. Astor is now an academic, no longer an enthusiastic and rebellious teen, and there is way too much turf, not enough surf. Astor’s haphazard organisation is apparently designed to prevent you reading it, and he apparently has neither enough understanding of either the time (which is just plain weird) or the impact the LP had, and there is certainly too much literary analysis where it seems superfluous.