Saturday, December 18, 2010

Out of Our Heads

The clamor seems to be subsiding a bit. "Life," by Keith Richards is now on the decline on the bestsellers' list, being unseated by George Bush's memoir. It's hard to figure who is the bigger fabricator. I imagine Bushie comes off more flatteringly in his "autobiography." I quote it because, really, someone else wrote the book, just as Keith's book would not be nearly as readable without the input by Robert Fox. I bought "Life" when it first came out and read it soon after. I wanted to like it. Keith has been to me, as with so many of my generation and those that frustratingly pick at an electric guitar, unconsciously striking a Keith pose, up-striking a chord, a little too loud for my tinnitus tinged ears. I won't find out how Bushie comes across in his book. I do have to admit, Keith did not come out all that well. Most reviews of the book have been positive. The preview in the December issue of Uncut, the British music magazine was not so generous. Evidently, a lot of the revelatory info has been known to the rabid followers of Keith and the Stones. For me, what came across as a bad little boy, who grew up into an isolated, coddled and ultimately damaged adulthood. Keith turned 67 today. He was just 21 when the Stones hit the big time. He went from very little to luxury hotels, country manors, blue Bentleys and everything else that went with untold wealth, including any and all drugs available. He speaks warmly of Gram Parsons, who, for all we know, died as much from hero worship as heroin. Brian Jones and Mick Jagger do not fare as well. Brian, who he credits as the impetus behind the band was a thoroughly loathsome creature, who practically asked that Keith steal the affections (and oral expertise) of Anita Pallenberg. The fact that Keith refers to Mick as a superficial prima-donna is overwhelmed by Keith's cattiness. You get the sense that there is not a remorseful bone in Keith's ravaged body. Nor, for that matter is there any sense of consequence. The gun and knife play just isn't all that amusing. Neither is his referring to women as "bitches." He admits to his heroin addiction but never goes near the core of it, describing the feeling and the coming off it. He makes it sound both inevitable and somehow not horrible. After all, he reasons, he shot up in his muscles, he didn't mainline. He makes it sound like he fell off the wagon as many times as he went cold turkey. Nowhere does he bring up his drinking. That evidently isn't a problem. Knowing what I know about Ry Cooder and his influence on Keith's "self-discovered" alternate guitar tunings is, at best disingenuous. And, for all I know, he has taken off the 6th string of his trademark Telecaster(s) to make playing easier, with no significance to musicality. Whatever. After reading "Life," I came away knowing more and like less of Keith Richard.

The same can't be said for the two most recent books on Dylan. I don't necessarily know any more about Bob than I knew before I read Sean Wilentz's book, "Bob Dylan in America," and Greil Marcus's "Bob Dylan." Mr. Wilentz's book reminded me of the predominant problem with most books I have read about Dylan. The adoration gets in the way of clear, informational writing. I did find it interesting, though that "They're coming to take me away (ha-ha)" and "Rainy Day Women 12 and 35" have the same drumbeat.

Mr. Marcus, on the other hand, reveals himself as a sort of navel-gazing throwback to early rock journalism, always treading the fine line of taking itself too seriously. But then again, Marcus isn't a throwback. He's the real deal. His book is subtitled, "Writings 1968-2010." Suffice to say, the early stuff doesn't hold up. What passed for journalism in Creem Magazine over forty years ago is both naive, and out of date. He recalls the joy of coming home with a new album, tearing off the shrink wrap and putting it on the turntable... and listening to it, over and over again. He doesn't acknowledge accessorizing his listening experience with cannabis, but the passages in the book reek of it.

There are a lot of Dylan songs that frankly, I don't know what he is talking about. The songs have unfolded for me over time. Some have made me work a little to get it. And, honestly, I can't be objective about Dylan. He is, to me, an artist of such tremendous output and impact on those around him and on the planet in general. He has no equal and he never fails to amaze, impress and provoke. The first installment of what has been reported to be an eventual trilogy, "Chronicles, Volume One," reveals some of the intricacy, multiplicity and origins of its author. It may yet be the best book about Dylan.

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