Turn the Page - Book Magic, the 'Braryo and Travelin' Light
by Lee Abraham
Been on a book readin' binge lately. For the past couple of months, the pages have been flying at a fast and furious pace. Finish one book, start another. Over and over again. Even before I finish a book, Iíve got the next one picked out. Call it an obsession. Reading great -fiction- is like listening to a favorite band jamming their best tune - a window to transcendence through art. Wrapped up in someone elseís world, I get lost pretty easily between reality and fiction.
Tom Robbins always has that effect on me. Same with Louis LíAmour. Two completely different writers, but each a master of capturing their readersí imagination. Great -non-fiction- is another type of adventure. More of a time and space vehicle for readers to zip around in, than a private world created for the readerís pleasure. Not quite as spiritual a trip, but still pretty cool. After all, learning about people, places and events from years gone by, or distant lands, is a magical and powerful thing. Ever since old Gutenberg got the press rolling way back when, books have made that magic a reality.
These days, -books- as we know them, aren't the only game in town. With the rapidly increasing availability of information on the Internet, thereís a lot more competition for a reading audience than there used to be. Doesnít mean the days are numbered for books. Theyíre not. Books will always be around. Theyíll survive. Lately Iíve been reading books about music. And of course, the people behind the music.
Right now Iím in the middle of, -Star Making Machinery, The Odyssey Of An Album,- by Geoffrey Stokes, which was published in Ď76. Itís the story of the recording sessions and behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing surrounding Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, an album released in Ď75. Although dry at times, mainly due to extensive contract and legal details, record company politics from the mid Ď70s, and lots of info on outdated technology, itís quite good. In fact, its weaknesses for the general reader are in contrast, a delightful time capsule for old school recording engineers and studio savvy musicians. But you donít have to be a studio hound, or even a card carrying member of the Commander Cody fan club, to enjoy this blow-by-blow inside view of a hard partying, legendary band as they cut a record.
Hereís the skinny on three other music related books that have recently crossed my path and may also be of interest:
-Bill Graham Presents, My Life In and Out of Rock-, an autobiography written with Robert Greenfield. Fascinating stuff! Told exclusively through quotes with no narrative to weave it all together, this book is an entertaining read nonetheless. Didnít realize just how difficult Graham could be to work with. What a mouth! Of course, he had a warm and fuzzy side too. Quite the horndog as well. Lots-o-ladies snackin' Graham cracker along the way. Some of the stories from his traumatic childhood in Nazi Germany, his early days in San Francisco, the opening of the Fillmore West, as well as the Fillmore East in New York, are riveting. The detailed description of the violent run in he and his staff had with Led Zepís manager and roadies is shocking. Plenty of other inside dirt on big name rockers too. This is a blockbuster style read.
-Good Rockiní Tonight, Sun Records and the Birth Of Rock and Roll-, by Escot and Hawkins, was published almost ten years ago. Best thing about it - the layout. Most books have a separate photo section, you know, those slick pages somewhere in the middle. This book has all the art and photos mixed in with the text. Otherwise wasted blank margin space is chock full of great images. Really nice layout! The story itself is choppy, told artist-by-artist, rather than a linear sequence of events through time. The result - a lot of overlapping, repeated anecdotes. The most interesting aspect of the story is Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records. This guy had a vision. Not to mention an ability to turn his recording studio a creative safe haven, as opposed to the high pressure powder keg described in the Commander Cody book. Sam Phillips was the king of vibe, and much like Bill Graham, an -artist- in his work behind the scenes.
-Rolling Stone Magazine, the Uncensored History-, by Robert Draper, is another book published in the early Ď90s. Almost the opposite of the Bill Graham book, this story is told primarily in the third person, or by relatively peripheral contributors to the magazine, with few if any direct quotes from Rolling Stoneís main characters. Most notably absent, Jann Wenner and Hunter S. Thompson. Although thereís plenty of obligatory stories about snorting cocaine and brown nosing rock stars, thereís also some very interesting stuff about Rolling Stoneís origins and what lead Jann Wenner to start the mag back in Ď69. All six and half pages of Chapter One are required reading for any self respecting fan of that funny, funky thing called, the -San Francisco sound-. How Rolling Stone evolved into the voice of the counterculture, and ultimately the hugely successful, if not soulless, journalistic monolith it is today, is a compelling story.
Hereís the kicker. Not only has reading these wonderful books been a joy, the fact that they all came from the public library makes the whole deal that much sweeter. Iíve never been much of a collector - the less stuff to haul around, the better. Just knowing that these books, and so many others on my list, are waiting on the library shelves in just about any town across the country, is good enough for this 'travelin' light' bookworm. The adventure continues... see ya at the 'braryo!