Book 'em

Separating the wheat from the chaff in this year's crop of rock-and-roll tomes

Around this time of year, I like to take a while to assess the annual output of rock-and-roll reading, acknowledging the good, the bad, and the stuff that just leaves you wondering, "Who the fuck thought it was a good idea to publish this?" Here, then, are the results of this year's reading -- which, in some cases, is intended to be taken as a purely ironic statement.

Geez, I wonder where she sends the royalties?

Wendy Weir, Conversations With the Spirit of Jerry Garcia (Harmony Books): "Well known for her psychic powers," rhythm guitarist Bob's sister Wendy chronicles three years' worth of chats with the gratefully dead Jerry. J.O. (for "Jerry's Oversoul") is understandably reluctant to dwell on his latter reality as a pathetic fat heroin addict, but otherwise he rambles on and on, sounding suspiciously like one of those motivational speakers from a late-night infomercial. Typical pronouncement: "Even those who consider themselves shy and timid have an incredible amount of strength and courage within them, only they are not consciously aware of it yet."

You can't libel a dead man, unless you're Wendy Weir

Scott Stanton, The Tombstone Tourist (3T Publishing): A travel guide dedicated to finding the graves of "famous decomposers." It not only unearths the final resting places of rockers ranging from Duane Allman (Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon, Georgia) to Frank Zappa (Pierce Brothers Cemetery, Westwood, California), it gives readers concise and well-researched accounts of the musicians' demises (e.g., Mama Cass Elliot did not choke to death on a ham sandwich, as is often reported).

Too bad there wasn't a better Option for a title

We Rock So You Don't Have To: The Option Reader #1 (Incommunicado): This collection of 29 pieces from the mag's early-'90s heyday is "history from the losers' perspective," according to editor Scott Becker. While frequent Option contributor Gina Arnold contends in "Punk Philosophers" that "we won" when Nirvana broke big, Becker holds that Cobain & Co. were actually the end of a fun ride for the indie-rock underground. Not surprisingly, the book is best when it's addressing brilliant failures -- witness Lorraine Ali on the Jesus Lizard or Mark Kemp on My Bloody Valentine -- though almost all of these features are a hundred times better than anything Spin or Rolling Stone published in the '90s.

Guilty by all accounts

Johnny Green & Garry Barker, A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day With the Clash (Faber and Faber): Literate, funny, and extremely overqualified for his job as a roadie, Johnny Green spent three years humping gear for the Clash, from the band's start through the epic London Calling. Here he chronicles an unending stream of sex, drugs, and typically wretched rock-star excesses, illustrated by Ray Lowry's Ralph Steadman-like cartoons. If you wanna maintain your idealized notion of the group as the only rock-and-roll band that mattered, you'd better move on. Otherwise, this is the trashiest, funniest tome since Please Kill Me.

Honorable Mention: Meat Loaf and David Dalton, To Hell and Back: An Autobiography (Regan Books): On a hot summer night would you offer your brain to the wolf with the red roses? Sure, if there's nothing else to read (and so long as the yuks are plentiful, as they are here).

Much, much more than we wanted to know

Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt, Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of the Beatles' Let It Be Disaster (St. Martin's): A day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute chronicle of what the Beatles did while crafting their worst and most forgettable album.

Much, much less than we wanted to know

Victor Bockris and Roberta Bayley, Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography (Simon & Schuster): Essentially a clip job in which Bockris culls quotes from everybody's interviews but his own (the subject hasn't spoken to him since 1972). When the going gets journalistically tough -- like in probing Patti's much-mythologized domestic bliss with alcoholic hubby Fred -- Bockris simply throws out a little hearsay, a bit of tantalizing rumor, and a shred of innuendo. No wonder his subject wants to kill him.

Who cares if the rest of America prefers Oasis?

Stuart Maconie, Blur: 2862 Days, The Official History (Virgin Books): The biography that the best band in Britpop deserves is a mix of oral history and unblinking reportage that, while authorized, nevertheless includes plenty that should make the musicians cringe. Or maybe not -- that cheekiness is part of their charm.

Does anyone need to know this much about Kraftwerk? Apparently.

Tim Barr, From Düsseldorf to the Future (With Love) (Ebury Press): A lovingly written, exhaustively researched account of der Mensch-Machine.

Honorable Mention: Nina Antonia, The New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon (Omnibus): Like the Kraftwerk book, this fascinating account of the influential glam-punks came out in Merry Olde in '98, but it took a year to make it to these shores. If only America cared as much about rock-readin' as the Brits.

Yeah, but the ending is killer

Chuck Negron with Chris Blatchford, Three Dog Nightmare (Renaissance Books): Skip the 368-page story of the leader of Three Dog Night and go right to the public-service appendix, a guide to recognizing addiction written by his wife. ("Things he will need when he nods: Garden Weasel, for scratching those hard-to-reach places; asbestos quilt on the bed, to catch stray cigarettes...")

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