Full disclosure, I didn’t know much about Richard Hell before I began reading this book.  Sure I’d listened to Television and blasted his punk athem “Blank Generation” on occasion, but I didn’t really know much about him.  I’ve always enjoyed punk rock, if only for it’s visceral power, but I’ve often dismissed the reverence for its main players as mere hagiography.  “I Dreamed I Was A Clean Tramp” (Ecco Books, 2013) may well prove to be the reason I changed my mind.

Forgetting for a moment his musical accomplishments, which include founding early punk pioneers Television with Tom Verlaine, playing with Johnny Thunders in The Heartbreakers and going on to found his own groundbreaking group in Richard Hell and the Voidoids; Hell has written a book that is not only startlingly honest, but an analytical look at punk rock as an art form.

From the opening pages of “I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp” it’s clear that Richard Meyers (he later changed his name to Hell)  exhibited an independent streak almost from the minute he was born, and his early years growing up in Kentucky were clearly effected by the death of his father, and an almost insatiable need to run away from his prosaic childhood.

He succeeded in 1966, when at the age of 17 he boarded a bus bound for New York City with dreams of becoming a poet.  Thus began a 10 year period as a struggling writer, complete with a procession of jobs working in book stores, living in horrible apartments, doing drugs, and eating very little.  What’s clear though is that while Hell doesn’t extol those early years, he does understand their importance.

In many ways, “I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp” is a guided tour of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side of Manhattan from the end of the 60’s to the late 70’s.  Hell is almost Zelig-like in his proximity to everything from the late 60’s pop art movement to the early stirrings of the punk movement in bands like the New York Dolls, largely because of the myriad of girlfriends he had relationships with during this time.  Women clearly play a major role in Hell’s life and his ascension to punk rock stardom, and although he archives his sexual conquests in Wilt Chamberlain-esque detail, it’s clear he considers all of them to have played a part in making him who he is.

Hell’s writing in “I Dreamed…” is equal parts frustrating and illuminating.  His narrative structure is a bit haphazard, but it’s his analytical approach to the importance of punk and his place in it that is really interesting, because he doesn’t engage in personal myth-making but is instead brutally honest about his successes, failures, and their subsequent effect on his life as a musician and writer.  While clearly an irascible character, Hell’s street-smart intelligence shines through and makes his book more than just another sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll screed.  Sure he touches on all of those subjects, but a navel-gazing exercise this is not, instead it’s a thoughtful examination of how all of those things played a part in making him who he is.

What’s really illuminating however, is Hell’s writing about the music itself, about why punk’s lack of professionalism is both a blessing…

“I love a racket.  I love it when it seems like a group is slipping in and out of phase, when something lags and then slides into a pocket, like hitting the number on a roulette wheel, a clatter, like the sound of the Johnny Burnette trio, like galloping horses’ hooves.  It’s like a baby learning how to walk, or a little bird just barely avoiding a crash to the dirt, or two kids losing their virginity.  It’s awkward but it’s riveting, and uplifting and funny.  In a way it’s the aural representation of that feeling that makes the first time people feel the possibilities of rock and roll music in themselves the benchmark of hope and freedom and euphoria.”

“I knew nothing about singing except that it was about emotion, and I had some instincts about the way to convey emotion rhythmically and in tones.  For me, singing was like throwing something as hard as I could to stop a threat in it’s tracks, or stating something beyond a doubt to reassure someone whose confidence I needed, as if everything depended on it.  I was aware that position and timing mattered, but I relied on instinct and subconsciously absorbed experience  to achieve them.  And the power came not from volume, in decibels, but from emotion, in revelation.  I had to be accurate not in pitch, but in emotional import, of which pitch was a subcategory.  There was something mystical about it or at least irrational about the process.  I had to trust that I could do it even though it required so much release.  It was like being in an extended firefight, a fierce exchange in which life was threatened but that slowed time so it was possible to take care.  I depended on the band to keep me on my feet and to compensate for my weaknesses.”

and a curse,

“For nearly the entire time I was a professional musician, I chose ignorance.  I depended on instinct and attitude rather than technical knowledge.  I regarded myself as a force of nature and an entity worthy of sustained attention.  I wrote and sang the songs and projected them via my physical self, and played bass, and it was the band’s purpose to follow my lead in providing an appropriate setting and accompaniment.  They were there to help construct the space consistent with me, a musical atmosphere I could breathe, in which I could act and carry out my intention.  That action took place in the medium of music but it was actually something else, a kind of aliveness.  I could hear its incarnation in music, but it was the aliveness that was the purpose of the rock and roll.  I know more than this now and I know how the record suffered for that approach of mine, but at the same time, it couldn’t have been otherwise, so fuck it.  It made for some great moments.”

So while he played or partied with a who’s who of the NY and London punk scenes, Hell clearly loved the music and his insights on the role each of the major punk rock icons played in making it an artistic movement is revelatory.  Whether he’s speaking about Johnny Thunders charisma or Dee Dee Ramone’s “cute dizzy-dumb persona”, he tries to lock-in on what made them special, but without the mythology ever present in most discussions of the punk scene,

“In rock and roll, in show business, there’s not much value placed on integrity.  People say and do what serves their interests and what seems entertaining.  That’s just as well, if for no other reason than it’s inevitable.  Ultimately, what difference does it make what actually happened?  Things look different from different perspectives, and the conquerors write history; and what reality do the stories of the past have except as entertainment and mythology?  Obviously, “reality” is slippery anyway.  “Print the legend,” as advised in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Still to me it’s interesting to try to figure out what’s actually going on, what really happened.  I want to get the most accurate idea I can of the way things are.  To me, that’s a lot of what “art” is about.  Of course, I have my vested interests too:  even disregarding any pride involved, my earning power depends largely on my reputation and my role in past events, so I might try to straighten the record where I regard it as misrepresenting me.  But I try to be as faithful to what happened as I can, however what happened might reflect on me.  I want that to be part of my reputation too.”

For me, “I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp” not only brought Richard Hell more into focus, it did the same for punk rock, and for that I’ll always be appreciative.


When I think Guitar God, one of the first guitarists that leaps to mind is Jimmy Page.  After all, this is the guy who as a top session guitarist in the 60’s played on hits as diverse as The Who’s first single “I Can’t Explain”, Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual”, the garage-blues classic “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Them”, and even “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey.  He followed that up by taking Eric Clapton’s place in The Yardbirds, playing alongside childhood friend Jeff Beck. And then there was Led Zeppelin, the band he formed, guided and helped turn into one of the biggest bands in the world.  That’s quite a resume, but it doesn’t stop there as Page has gone on to record solo projects and soundtracks, form The Firm with Paul Rodgers, and collaborate with other musicians like David Coverdale and The Black Crowes.  To say Page is a “Guitar God” is an understatement, not just because he’s such a great rock guitarist, but because as Brad Tolinski’s excellent book “Light & Shade:  Conversations With Jimmy Page” (Crown Publishers, 2012) points out, Page was and is so much more.

In a series of interviews, Tolinksi, long time editor of Guitar World magazine, is able to illuminate Page’s incredible contributions to music by getting the notoriously private guitarist to talk with him about each phase of his career.  While the majority of the book focuses on Page’s time at the helm of Led Zeppelin, it also sheds light on Page’s approach to music, his beliefs in Magick, and even the effect his early days in local bands and as a studio musician had on his later musical accomplishments.

The interplay between historical and personal not only make “Light & Shade” an interesting read, they also place Page’s accomplishments into context.  For instance, I always knew that Page had formed Led Zeppelin, but I had no idea how involved he was in every aspect of the band’s development from their studio production to their musical direction, and even their look and stage presentation.  The interviews in “Light & Shade” provide the detail to back this up, whether it’s how he spaced amps and mics to produce Zep’s signature sound, his insistence on producing and financing the band’s first album and tour before seeking a label or his ability from years of session work to play any number of musical styles, you can clearly see from his own words how influential Page was to every aspect of Led Zeppelin.  But rather than depend entirely on Page to tell his own story, Tolinski also intersperses interviews with some of the musicians who have played with Page in various projects including Jeff Beck, Chris Dreja, John Paul Jones, Jack White and Paul Rodgers as well as interviews with Danny Goldberg, Zeppelin’s publicist and a longtime record industry insider, fashion designer John Varvatos, and even an even an analysis of Page’s astrology by noted stargazer Margaret Santangelo.  These additional interviews provide even more detail and insight into Page’s influence on music, the record industry, fashion, and the occult.

“Light & Shade” is a book that really takes you inside its subject, and while at times it verges on hero worship, it’s hard to argue that Page is not deserving.  What’s amazing to me is how little attention this great book has gotten.  In fact, I might never have stumbled on to it if theHoseman hadn’t brought it to my attention on GoodReads.  So thanks Hoseman, I owe you one, because “Light & Shade” is a fascinating look into the mind of one of the greatest rock musicians to ever live, and whether you agree with that declaration or not I highly recommend you read it.

It’s the holiday gift giving season again, and while the latest rock memoirs from everyone from Neil Young to Pete Townshend are hitting the shelves, I would suggest you dig a bit deeper and look for these two books – “Bad Vibes:  Britpop and My Part In Its Downfall” by Luke Haines, and Gentlemanly Repose:  Confessions of a Debauched Rock ‘N’ Roller” by Michael Ruffinoif you’re searching for that perfect gift for the music lover in your family.

Why?  Because most rock ‘n’ roll memoirs focus on artists who are famous and achieve at least some degree of notoriety and/or success, but these two books do just the opposite.  Both “Bad Vibes” and “Gentlemanly Repose” focus on artists who got close to the brass ring, but never hit it big.  So why would you want to read a book about bands that didn’t make it?  Well, because most bands don’t, and both Haines and Ruffino are clever, articulate, and funny writers who know exactly what that experience is like because they’ve lived it.  Like Tommy Womack’s “Cheese Chronicles”, which we reviewed in our last installment of Music Lit 101, these two books are a blast to read, because they really do take you behind-the-scenes, and instead of focusing on the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll fantasy they describe the  day-to-day lunacy that is part of being in a working band.

Luke Haines’ “Bad Vibes” is a chronicle of the rise of Britpop, a genre he refers to as “the idiot runt-child of all music genres”, and the pioneering role his band The Auteurs played in it’s rise.  Don’t know The Auteurs?  Haines wouldn’t be surprised, but his inside look at the hype that built the Britpop genre is one hysterical ride.  He has a dark sense of humor and never argues the fact the he was his own worst enemy, but it’s interesting to read about a band that was so clearly ahead of it’s time and yet received so little credit, especially here in the States.  I guess that’s what happens when you name your latest pop single, “Unsolved Child Murder.”  You can almost see the label reps becoming apoplectic trying to figure out how to market that one right?

Michael Ruffino on the other hand, was in a band that seemed almost hell bent on never making it.  His band, “The Unband”, named their first and only album “Retarder” (cue crazed label reps again), and managed to tour with everyone from Dio to Dokken, Fu Manchu, and Def Leppard.  His writing is part Lester Bangs and part Nikki Six, and he never once seems to take a minute of his wild ride seriously, but by the end of the book you almost want to see him and his band mates succeed if only because they seem to care so little if they do.  Better yet, “Gentlemanly Repose” is one of the most interesting and funny books I’ve ever read about life on the road.  Ruffino describes it perfectly when he says, “It seems so simple:  here’s some money, here’s a tour bus, go play.  It’s not.  It’s not simple at all.”

So don’t take the simple way out and buy yet another tome by an arena rock legend (you can check them out of the library), but instead plunk your hard earned cash down on one or both of these books, and learn what it’s like to succeed at failing.

“The true story of a rock ‘n’ roll band that you’ve never heard of”, is the subtitle of Tommy Womack’s book “Cheese Chronicles”.  The band you’ve never heard of is Kentucky rock group Government Cheese which Womack co-founded in 1985.  It’s an apt subtitle, because I’d ever heard of them until Let’s Not and Say We Did mentioned them in a recent interview. I  knew of Womack from his work with another musician I follow, Will Kimbrough, but I had no idea he’d been in Government Cheese.  Having now read “Cheese Chronicles” it’s an oversight I aim to correct.

“Cheese Chronicles” is a brutally honest and funny look at what it’s like to be in an indie rock band from it’s inception to its untimely end.  Sure there’s the typical rock bio mentions of sex and drugs, but unlike many other rock memoirs it’s never gratuitous, and in the case of Government Cheese seems more a by-product of years on the road than any formal band credo or ethos.  Womack’s writing is full of wit and sarcastic humor, but it’s abundantly clear from the opening page of the book that he and his band mates were serious about pursuing their dreams.

“In 1985, three other guys and I – in Kentucky, of all places – formed a band, hitched our sled to the rock and roll dream, and screamed mush from the pits of our souls.  We had nothing going for us save a vehement, greasy, turbo-psychotic vision of how things might turn out, and we went for it.  It is good to pursue an outlandish dream.  Latch on to the wild dogs.  Grab that whip and yee-hell-hah!  Eventually the sled comes out from under you, and from that point on, you either run like hell or you get your face dragged all over God’s creation, scraping on rocks and bouncing off the sides of trees.  There will be great incidence of contusions, highway motel dog breath and bottle-ringed cocktail napkin blitherscribble.  Things move faster and faster.  Everything you packed for the trip – relationships, standards, your future – gets tossed or bounced off somewhere, and all the while you know you can stop at any time, just by letting go of the dream.  Under no circumstances whatsoever do you let go of the dream.”

If that’s not the best preface to a book, I don’t know what is.  “Cheese Chronicles” is an unvarnished look at what it’s like to be in a working band.  From the highs of a perfect gig to the lows of a bad contract that left the band feeling like indentured slaves, Womack serves the truth straight up, no chaser.  In fact, he seems hell bent on owning up to the fact that the band was often their own worst enemy.  Regardless, I came away a fan, because it’s clear these guys not only enjoyed making music together, but also went after their dream with no regrets, and that’s admirable.

In the end it’s too bad Government Cheese never made it big, but then maybe that’s the point.

I’ll always owe my friend Rod a debt of gratitude for introducing me to hip-hop at an early age.  Back in 1981, Larry, Rod and I used to hang out in Rod’s basement and listen to records.  It was then that he introduced me to old school rap like The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and many other groups.  When we weren’t listening to rap we were spinning Go-Go records by the likes of Trouble Funk, E.U. (Experience Unlimited) and Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers; funk records by bands like Slave, Parliament/Funkadelic, Prince and The Bar-Kays; or soul from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass and even a pre-Ghostbusters Ray Parker, Jr. In turn, Larry and I turned Rod on to arena rock like Rush, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Scorpions and The Police among others.  I still remember creating fake radio shows for our fictional radio station WROD with it’s tagline of “Funk, Soul, Rock, Rooooooolllllll”, and it was around this time that Larry and I began creating fake bands, something that I know was hatched out of the music we were all listening to collectively.  Whether we were white or black was irrelevant.  We bonded over music and we all dreamed of being a rap, funk or rock star.

I just finished reading “The Tanning of America” by Steve Stoute (Gotham Books, 2011).  In “Tanning”, Steve talks about how hip-hop culture transcended music to create a new consumer mindset – a mindset that is not black or white, but tan.  Stoute, who began his career in music as a road manager for Kid N’ Play and worked his way up to Executive Vice President of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, left the music industry in 1999 to enter the world of advertising and is now the founder and CEO of Translation, a leading brand marketing company.

In his book, Stoute traces the rise of hip-hop from it’s birthplace in the rec room of a Bronx apartment building to it’s effect on the election of President Barack Obama, showing along the way how it’s influence on youth worldwide created the first generation of consumers with the same “mental complexion.”  He explains how hip-hop as a musical form created a new language or set of “codes” that redefined urban culture as the embodiment of cool, and how understanding the culture, mind-set and “codes” of these millenial consumers can lead to success for any brand.

While some of Stoute’s claims may at times seem to over-inflate rap’s influence (NWA’s co-opting of the Raiders attire led to an increase in NFL licensing and merchandise revenues from $300 million annually to $3 Billion), his book clearly shows how hip-hop culture has influenced consumer taste across the entire socio-economic spectrum.   Throughout the book Stoute talks about how he realized what a mobilizing force rap music could be for a consumer company if they knew how to stay “on the right side of cool.”  Whether it was the effect of Run-DMC’s “My Adidas” on the fortune of that brand or the way LL Cool J’s early adoption of brands like Kangol, Le Coq Sportif and Sergio Valente created new markets for those brands, it’s clear that when a brand is embraced by a hip-hop artist there is a direct, and more often that not, positive effect on it’s bottom line.  While some may dismiss rap because of it’s overt brand-name-checking and emphasis on money, consumerism and “bling”, Stoute points to the universal themes of “aspiration”, “credibility” and “authenticity” in explaining why rap resonates with consumers no matter their socioeconomic status.  When discussing it with Jay-Z he got this response,

“…he pointed out that many of the rock musicians had come from sustainable backgrounds, seeking acclaim for their talent and a level of cool that playing music gave them.  For rappers coming out of the projects, getting paid and bettering yourself is part of gaining credibility.  Jay reminded me also that it’s not selling out when a kid in the projects sees a guy rapping about Sprite or the Gap because they know he’ll be getting the money and that feeds his or her own aspiration.  It’s not that being acknowledged for talent and great work isn’t desirable, but getting paid trumps those goals.”

Whether you agree with Stoute or not really isn’t important when you stop to consider how much race relations have changed in America over the past 30 to 40 years since rap emerged as an art form, and “The Tanning of America” makes a strong case for rap’s influence on those changes.  I know rap had an effect on me, because as a white suburban kid listening to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five I was given a guided tour of the Bronx streets in songs like “The Message” and it was a revelation.  Having moved a lot as a child, I witnessed first-hand many examples of both overt and subtle racism, and while I was acutely aware of how race could be an issue for many people, it was never an issue for me.  Let’s face it growing up in the suburbs is very homogeneous, and I had little opportunity to interact with African Americans.  Music often bridged that gap and I think helped open my mind to different cultures, races, etc.  I guess that’s why I so loved those hours spent spinning records in my friend Rod’s basement.  As I said before, music bonded us together and was a way for us to translate those things about our upbringings that may have seemed different, but were in the end so similar.  It was indeed a “tanning” moment for both of us.  As I read this book I couldn’t help but think back to those times, and how music has continued to effect change and bring together generations of kids.  I know Hip-hop played a role in changing the way I think about race and what it was all about to be an American, and I hope it continues to do so for future generations.

Of course, “The Tanning of America” is also about how marketers can reach new consumers, and while you may think, “why would I want to read a book about using music to market brands?  Let me assure you that there are lessons to be learned here as well.  “Tanning” is a book about how an upstart musical style created on the streets of America changed the conversation not just about race, but also about how changing demographics and thinking continue to effect the new economy, a global economy that is fed by multicultural consumers who are attuned to how brands interact with them.  Let’s face it, music and marketing are inextricably connected, more so now than ever, and regardless of how you feel about that connection understanding why it exists and how powerful it can be is important to anyone who follows or wishes to be part of the music industry.  I know “The Tanning of America” gave me a new perspective on the subject, and I hope it will for you too.

So pick up a copy of “The Tanning of America”, give it a read, and get yourself a new “mental complexion.”

Visit The Tanning Effect blog.

Watch Steve talk about his book.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

I was looking forward to reading this book for 2 reasons;  one, because I’m an unabashed fan of Guns N’ Roses, and two because I thought it might shed some light on Steven Adler’s ouster from the band at the height of their fame.  It did, but it lost me along the way.

First of all, if you’re a fan of stories about the debauched life of a rock star and that’s all you care about, this is the book for you.  Mr. Adler clearly enjoyed all of the perks of his rock star status, indulging in copious amounts of groupies, booze and drugs.  Now I’ll be the first to admit that I get a vicarious thrill in reading about rock stars indulgent lifestyles, but even I have a limit.  I mean, do I really need a blow-by-blow (pun intended) retelling of the bukkake party Adler and Nikki Six had with some groupies one night?  I’m no prude, but c’mon dude have you ever heard of the maxim, less is more?  Adler’s contention is that he’s telling you all of this in an effort to come clean, and that to do so he needs to be completely honest no matter the cost, but after a while it simply comes off as boasting and you realize that there is a fine line between titilllating and skeevy.

Now I’m sure you’re all thinking, but isn’t that what Guns N’ Roses were all about?  Excess?  And you’d be right.  I’ll be the first to admit that one of the primary reasons I was initially drawn to GNR was that their bad boy image didn’t seem manufactured, it was real, and clearly I wasn’t duped.  The guys in GNR are NOT up-standing citizens, and Adler does give us an unvarnished look at some of the machinations that go on when you’re part of a band as big as GNR.   Unlike the Rolling Stones, who Keith Richards in his book “Life” described as being slavish to their music in their early days, GNR seemed propelled more by attitude and a shared disdain for hard work.  These guys didn’t care to fit in or play the game, and that’s what Adler points out was their greatest strength.  They were real, and scumbags or not, fans gravitated to it.

While their fans adulation may have grown with every hit, it’s pretty clear that success did not breed mutual admiration and respect within the band.  Adler clearly has a love/hate relationship with Axl Rose, and felt betrayed by his boyhood friend Slash when he was kicked out of the band.  While I don’t doubt that money destroyed this band like it has many others, what the book does make me doubt is that the members of GNR were ever really that close, excluding of course Adler and Slash.  Izzy is described as aloof and a loner, Axl is painted as a megomaniacal tyrant, Slash is best friend and traitor, and Duff…well he just seems to be drunk most of the time.  It’s sad actually, but not entirely surprising.  What is it they always say, familiarity breeds contempt?  GNR clearly came together because they jammed and partied in the same circles, and unlike a lot of bands on the strip back in the 80’s realized that they didn’t have to put on a show, they were the show.  My memories of the two times I saw them are still tinged with the overriding feeling of anarchy and violence.  I was a suburban kid and to me this was as exhilarating as it was foreign.  Hell, it really was the circus coming to town.

What’s sad is when the circus ends, and above all, “My Appetite for Destruction” is the story of Adler’s descent into drugs and alcohol following his ouster from the band in 1990.  He regularly refers to the natural high he received from playing live with GNR and writes about how he filled that void with drugs as soon as the tours ended.  His drug abuse is legendary, and despite seizures, strokes, open abscesses, and OD’s too numerous to count, he continued to “party” (his words not mine).

It’s clear that Adler recognizes the destruction he wreaked not only on himself, but also on his friends and loved ones.  What’s not clear is how remorseful he is for it.  In the beginning of the book he writes,

“But people love train wrecks.  They just can’t look away from the ODs, lawsuits, prison terms, rehabs, reality shows, meltdowns, and more ODs.  So before one or all of the above happens again, I want to set the record straight.  And I’m finally sober enough and angry enough to do it right.”

Angry enough?  Angry about what?  Didn’t you do everyone of those things you just described?  So doesn’t that make you a walking cliche?  If you’re going to be part of a band that espouses excess, and then you’re going to personally prescribe to an excessive lifestyle, and then write a book to capitalize on it, can you really be angry at anyone for watching the whole debacle unfold?

And what about his fans?  Adler professes love for them every chance he gets, but it often seems he craves their adulation like he does drugs.  Does he really appreciate them or just their unconditional love?  In the end, I susppect the latter, after all they don’t expect an apology, they like him to be a train wreck.

But what really bothered me was what he wrote at the end of the book,

“Keeping it real means admitting, at the beginning and end of my story, that I’ve been a selfish asshole.  No apologies.  And although I’ve learned to be less selfish, I realize you’ve got to please yourself in life.  I hate people who go around figuring out how to sacrifice and please others.  They usually just end up pissing off the ones they want to please.  I say please yourself, and you’ll please others.”

While I agree that you have to like yourself to be truly happy, I don’t agree that self comes before all else.  After all, Adler’s own friends and loved ones sacrificed their own happiness on many occasions to care for him and make sure he didn’t die.  They did it because they cared about him, and while I don’t think anyone should spend the rest of their lives apologizing for their past deeds, I do think that to be forgiven one has to do more than just ask for it, they have to earn it.  I hope Adler takes the time to do both.  Sadly this book didn’t leave me confident he will.

Music Lit 101 is a new feature here on the Figment News blog.  We’ll be writing about some of our favorite books on music and giving you some quick insights into why we thought each were a good read.  We welcome your reviews, so if you’ve read one of the books we’re highlighting please leave a comment below.  Likewise, we’d love to hear about any of the music-related books that you’ve read of late, so drop us a line or leave a comment below if you’ve got a good one to share.

“Life” by Keith Richards with James Fox (Little, Brown and Company 2010), is a fascinating read.  We all know about “Keef’s” excesses over the years, but what really shows in this book is his incredible love of music.  To Richards, music is what fuels him, and when he talks about it his prose changes from esoteric “Keefisms” to clear insightful explanations of his craft.  Whether he’s talking about his guitar style or his songwriting process it’s those moments that make “Life” shine.

Unfortunately, a lot of the advanced press on the book focused on his jabs at Mick Jagger, and while there are definitely jabs (he claims Jagger suffers from LVS.  Lead Vocalist Syndrome”), he also describes Jagger as his brother and is quick to point out his talents as a front man, songwriter and business man.   Where the two seem to differ though is over how important it is to remain loyal to the basic blues-based rock n’ roll that is the foundation of the Stones’ sound.  Richards clearly feels Jagger’s solo forays into pop and dance music were not a a sound move (pun intended), and an even worse betrayal was Jagger’s need to distance himself from the Rolling Stones while doing it.  Why distance yourself from the Rolling Stones when the Stones were and are as relevant as ever.   Sure Richard’s tunnel vision (or narcissism) doesn’t take into account whether his years as a junkie may have distanced Jagger from the Stones at the time, but whether you agree with him or not, you can’t help but marvel at how passionate this man is about a band he’s been a part of for almost 50 years.

To Keith Richards, the Stones and their music are his “life”, and what a life it is.