Friday, June 26, 2009

It's been a busy 24 hours.

First off, R.I.P. Michael Jackson. I've never been the hugest fan of the self-titled "King of Pop," but it's hard to deny his sheer massiveness as a cultural icon. As much as he's become an object of ridicule over the last several years - and rightfully so, far as I'm concerned - it's made him all the more tragic, and his end was so sudden I can't help but feel a pang of loss.

There's no shortage of news circulating around about his death, but the Daily Hampshire Gazette did a story detailing local reactions in which I got quoted for a few short paragraphs. Here's the link:

Last night was also the night of the New York Dolls show at Pearl Street, which was pretty great all in all. Opening act Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears were solid, high-energy R&B-infused rock and roll, good stuff. The Dolls played a set that was curiously heavy with new material, which means a lot of songs that much of the audience - including myself - probably didn't know so well. The new material was good, though, and it made it that much more exciting when the old nuggets from the band's early 1970s heyday came to the fore.

Highlight of the evening to my mind was the final two songs before the encore: "Trash" and "Jet Boy," two of the best from the band's first album. "Trash" was especially intriguing in performance, as the band changed up the second half of the song quite dramatically, shifting from its basic proto-punk style to a slowed-down, calypso beat and harmonic progression during which singer David Johansen briefly drifted into a skewed version of the 1950s Mickey and Sylvia tune "Love Is Strange," before the whole band finally moved back into the more straight-up rock of the original recorded version and brought the song to an exciting finish, made more exciting by the fact that "Jet Boy" came next.

"Jet Boy" might be my favorite of the old Dolls songs. It has weird comic book style lyrics about a boy who flies around New York, but what makes it so great is its killer main riff and even more so, the song's mid-section, where the band accelerates the tempo and the guitars rush into overdrive. The 1973 recording is one of the landmark songs in rock music, the band almost veering towards a sort of early speed metal with the power of the riff that plays during that midsection. In concert last night they did a great job with it but stretched it out a bit more than necessary, so it lost a bit of its punch. Still, it was great to get to see them play it, with Sylvain doing all the scene-stealing guitar posturing he could fit and Johansen wearing a goofy grin as he did through much of the evening.

I promised some unpublished writing on the Dolls in my last post; I'll keep it in reserve for my next post since this one's already running on the longer side. For now, here's a great old clip of the Dolls - the real Dolls - in action back in the 1970s playing "Jet Boy" (from the video All Dolled Up, which has amazing old video footage of the Dolls shot by photographer Bob Gruen):

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Good things are coming!

Two quick notices.

The New York Dolls are playing tomorrow night (Thursday, June 25) at Pearl Street here in Northampton. The Dolls are one of the great rock and roll bands of all time. The fact that 3 out of 5 original members (plus one other member who joined later) are dead is a major bummer. But David Johansen is one of the best front men in the history of rock and Sylvain Sylvain, the other remaining original Doll, is one of the most underrated rhythm guitarists in rock and roll history. Apparently tickets for this show have been selling slowly but anyone who reads this and lives nearby should get their asses to Pearl Street for what should be a killer night of live rock.

I will post something further after the show, which might include some unpublished thoughts on the Dolls that were once upon a time slated to go into This Ain't the Summer of Love but wound up on the cutting room floor.

On a more personal note, the documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil is finally going to be opening locally at Amherst Cinemas and if all goes well, I might be speaking at one of the screenings. It's supposed to be an absolutely great rock documentary, and if you don't know, Anvil was one of the most crazy, over-the-top heavy metal bands of the 1980s, a band that laid the groundwork for thrash metal but then was overshadowed by the likes of Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer. Stay tuned for more information.

Friday, June 19, 2009

As a brief follow-up to my last post, I've noticed that some reviewers, in describing the details of my book, draw attention to the cloth/hardbound edition rather than the paperback (and in the case of electronic sources like PopMatters, have also included links to the hardcover edition on Amazon). I know that reviewers often have a preference for cloth-bound books, but I find this frustrating nonetheless because U.California Press opted to issue This Ain't the Summer of Love in simultaneous paper and cloth editions, which means the cloth version is basically made for libraries - it's overpriced at $65, and it has no cover art because they didn't produce a jacket for it. The paperback edition is reasonably priced and you get the cover art, which is a plus.

I mention all of this because when I recently went to Amazon to check the sales ranking of the book - which I do with neurotic frequency - I noticed that the sales ranking of the cloth edition was higher than that of the paperback, and I suspect some of the reason why is the way that reviewers and other sources have highlighted the cloth edition over the paper.

So, if you happen to be reading this blog and happen to be interested in buying a copy of my book, unless you really have a thing for cloth-bound editions, do yourself a favor and buy the paperback. I get less royalties but you get a book that you'll probably be happier with for reasons of both expense and design.

Thus ends my public service announcement for the day.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Back in January, I started this blog in conjunction with the publication of my new book, This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk. Since then, the blog has taken on something of a life of its own, and so has the book in a manner of speaking. For the most part I've avoided using this space as a simple publicity mechanism for the book, but after 5 months I thought an update was in order, since the book has generated some good reviews and commentary (including my contact with the folks at National Day of Slayer, the subject of my last post).

For starters, I just did a nice interview with the local NPR affiliate, WFCR, about the new book. Of course the interview is heavily edited compared to the full conversation we had, but it's edited well, so that it actually makes me sound smart (almost too smart, some who've heard it have said - lots of "big words"). Luckily, WFCR has the interview available on its website as streaming audio; here's a link:

I have to give big props to Tina Antolini, the 'FCR reporter/host who did the interview. She's a former student of mine who has quickly proven herself to be a big talent in radio and is rapidly moving up the ladder; it won't be long before she's receiving national exposure for her work.

For those who are interested, This Ain't the Summer of Love has been reviewed or received notice in the following publications:
City Paper of Baltimore
Valley Advocate (our local alternate newsweekly)
Reason magazine
Music Industry Newswire
Svenska Dagbladet (Swedish daily newspaper)
The Independent (UK daily newspaper)
The Wire

I'm especially happy about this last one, because I'd rate The Wire as one of the best monthly music magazines out there (I mentioned it briefly in one of my earlier posts). They reviewed my first book, Instruments of Desire, many moons ago, mostly postively although with a lot of caveats. The review of the new book was very positive, as have been almost all of the above with the exception of the Independent review, which was of a type I would have hoped had become outdated by now: rather than review the substance of the book in any considered way the reviewer mainly commented on how odd it was that an academic writer chose to concentrate upon subject matter like heavy metal and punk. Seriously? I mean, how long ago did Dick Hebdige's Subculture come out? (30 years ago, to be exact.) I don't know why daily newspapers have to continue to act as though cultural lines in the sand that most of us long ago stopped paying attention to are still of any consequence.

But I won't end on a note of frustration. So far, so good.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A few weeks ago I was contacted by someone on behalf of an organization, or a movement, or something, called National Day of Slayer, wanting to interview me for their website. I had not heard of this National Day of Slayer, but it sounded peculiar enough to pique my interest so I looked at the website. And became all the more intrigued.

As the name would suggest, the folks at National Day of Slayer want to establish a holiday commemorating the great, foundational, uber-heavy band Slayer. To a considerable extent they pursue this goal with a good amount of tongue firmly in cheek, which is a plus. At the same time, there are some serious undertones to the endeavor. National Day of Slayer, as a phrase, is a deliberate play on the National Day of Prayer, and the website and organization seem bent on using Slayer's well-established antipathy towards organized religion as a launching point for their initiative. They also seem to be legitimately concerned to promote the notion that heavy metal constitutes something like a culture unto itself that is worth taking seriously.

All of this became much more clear to me when I got the interview questions over email. These were not easy questions. When I read the first one I almost felt like I was back in graduate school taking an exam: "Are elective cultures, or those which are chosen and not born into, legitimately cultures in a pluralistic society?" Not what I was expecting, but a pleasant surprise. The rest of the questions followed suit, so I gladly replied in kind, though a part of me was still wondering whether there was a joke or a hidden agenda behind this exercise.

The interview went live on the internet a couple days ago, and I was glad to see that there was no hidden agenda - although I didn't know that I was one of three "experts" they had interviewed for a piece dedicated to discussing heavy metal culture. The other two interviewees are Keith Kahn-Harris and Martin Popoff, so I'm in good company and it's an interesting read apart from the typos that mar a couple of my responses. Here's the link: