Friday, July 27, 2012

Christmas (Shopping) in July

When in comes to rock and roll legends, the business of making books has overtaken the business of making music. Fan books have been around for years, some of them like Dave Marsh’s Born To Run have more depth and readability than a fanzine. But as the megastars reach the mid-century point in their careers, they feel a need to tell all in their own words. This summer’s crop includes:

Elton John’s Love is the Cure: On Life, Loss and the end of Aids

Greg Allman’s My Cross to Bear

Buddy Guy’s When I Left Home: My Story (with David Ritz)

Rodney Crowell’s Chinaberry Sidewalk ( out in paperback)

Other notables include Patti Smith, who made the list of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in part because of her memoir, Just Kids, about growing up with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Perhaps the most presumptuous title goes to Mitch Ryder, whose book is titled
Devils and Blue Dresses, My Wild Ride as a Rock and Roll Legend.

Often these books are released in conjunction with new CD’s (Patti Smith’s "Banga" got some good reviews) or a concert tour. The publicity tours make for good radio and television interviews because there are plenty of tunes to play and then discuss. Elton John talks about how the first lyrics from Bernie Taupin came by mail, then fax and now email.

And they make for some interesting moments on the air. When Bob Edwards asked Mitch Ryder what happened at a live concert in Detroit when he tried to tell Bruce Sprinsteen how to play “Devil with the Blue Dress,” Mitch pleaded, “But it’s my song!” Edwards: “But he’s The Boss!”
Ryder also had a few choice words for the big business establishment that rock and roll has become: “I’m a fan of rebellion that doesn’t need rules, let alone a museum.”

Some might attribute this spate of memoirs to the success of Keith Richards' Life. The rest of the Rolling Stones will try to play catch up with a coffee table book, The Rolling Stones 50. It is not due out until the early Christmas shopping season starts in October but the band announced it with a splash in London on July 12, the 50th anniversary of their first gig.

Neil Young’s memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, also has an October publication date, and is the third leg of a media trifecta that includes, his latest CD, “Americana” (he covers “This Land is Your Land”), and a new concert movie of his 2011 solo tour directed by Jonathan Demme, “Neil Young’s Journeys.”

Even though I seldom do my Christmas shopping until the week before, you’ve been given a chance to beat the rush.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This land is guitar land

How much is that guitar in the window?

Guitars are in the news in a couple of distant but connected ways that seem to shed light on the myth making that keeps music and history so interesting. The Washington Post used a picture of Woody Guthrie playing on the New York Subway to illustrate a review of a new book from Smithsonian Folkways on the 100th anniversary of his birth this week.

The photo captures Woody’s lifelong commitment to social issues with the hand lettered message on his guitar: This machine kills fascists. It also seems to imbue the guitar as a symbol of freedom…freedom to sing what you want to in protest or in celebration.
Woody also demonstrated how the guitar was the means to hit the road…strap it on your back and stick out your thumb…in search of fame and fortune, a personal dream, or changing the world. Anyone who loves music should take a moment this week and say thanks to Woody for his songs (more than 3,000 so far but still being mined in the family archives) and his commitment to the causes of the downtrodden and oppressed.

One of Woody’s musical progeny is also in the news this week for a mystery about which Fender guitar he played during the paradigm shifting concert at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 when he went electric. One chapter of the Dylan myth is devoted to what happened that night and this latest round is sure to recharge that episode and prove that the reclusive star now seems to have a Midas touch for publicity (without so much as lifting a finger). Not to worry, the sleuths from the PBS series, History Detectives, are on the case and the full story is part of their season premiere on Tuesday night (check local listings). Here are some details from the Associated Press.

Bob Dylan and historians at PBS are in a dispute over the whereabouts of an electric guitar that the singer plugged in at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, quite possibly the most historic single instrument in rock ‘n’ roll.

The New Jersey daughter of a pilot who flew Dylan to appearances in the 1960s says she has the guitar, which has spent much of the past 47 years in a family attic. But a lawyer for Dylan claims the singer still has the Fender Stratocaster with the sunburst design that he used during one of the most memorable performances of his career.
If the authentic “Dylan goes electric” guitar ever went on the open marketplace, experts say it could fetch as much as a half million dollars.

Reading that this Stratocaster, if authentic, could go for $500,000, revives memories of some recent crazy prices that other guitars have brought at auction and conjures up more images of some famous ones. Willie Nelson has been using the same one for decades so you wonder what that could be possibly be worth…or how it has survived all those years on buses and in honky tonks. I guess they made them to last back then (before it became good hype to smash them on stage). Then there is the question of what Woody do with all that money?

As for the guitar pictured above in a store in Carmel by the Sea, California, it sells for $1200 and I have no idea if it can be played. Then again, it might come in handy if you are traveling across country in hot cars rather than hitch hiking.