ROCK 'TIL YOU DROP
By John Strausbaugh (Verso, $25)
ENVISION FOR a moment, 58-year-old Mick Jagger dancing and mugging his way through the video for his latest single "God Gave Me Everything." Is that any way for a grandfather to behave?
John Strausbaugh doesn't think so— he says rock is youth music.
As a white guy born in 1951, Strausbaugh is perfectly positioned to bitch about the graying of the rock scene. His first 45-rpm record was Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" and his first long-player was Meet the Beatles, he played in a teenager cover band, and he made the trek to Woodstock to eat acid and gawk at Pete Townshend and Jefferson Airplane.
Having admitted that rock music has passed him by, Strausbaugh wonders why his musician peers refuse to join him. Strausbaugh lays into his easy targets admirably: mocking touring versions of '60s bands with a single original member, Eddie Van Halen's hip replacement surgery, the Who's endless "final" tours, the regular Crosby, Stills, and Whoever reunion shows, and the Too Old to Rock generation's most pathetic display of all, the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction concert (wheelchairs optional).
But while the Rolling Stones have become the obvious symbol of rock's inherent inability to age gracefully (a picture of Jagger appears on the cover, natch), it's one thing to make the gleefully cheeky proclamation that the band should have retired after Exile on Main Street, and quite another to try arguing that the Stones should have passed up the economic opportunity of touring 80,000-seat football stadiums out of some sense of duty. It's also more than a little naive, given the economic realities of 1950s and 1960s recording contracts, to argue that ancient rockers should stop touring and just let people buy their records.
This is by no means a great book, despite Strausbaugh's skill at spinning a rant. The project originated as a New York Press piece, and like many books built around an article, the padding is easy to see. The magazine writer's ability to make a point in a few words collides with the author's need to fill 256 pages. But, uneven as it may be, Rock 'til You Drop is fun to read and addresses a topic you'll think about long after that last page is turned.
THE BOOK OF ROCK
By Philip Dodd (Thunder's Mouth Press, $39.95)
FEW SUBJECTS lend themselves better to coffee table book treatment than rock 'n' roll. Really, isn't it more appropriate to take a breezy ride through a fat picture book that reminds you that the stuff is supposed to be fun, frivolous, and ephemeral than wallow in some ponderous Greil Marcus screed?
As a temporary diversion, The Book of Rock is a success. Entries for 500 artists are listed, each with a large and often striking photograph, a reasonably representative quotation, and a brief profile. The number of entries is large enough to accommodate all the obvious choices while also allowing for considerable editorial leeway.
A large part of the book's charm, of course, derives from debating its choices. The book seems short on the second-tier of early rock pioneers, entirely ignorant of its rural roots, but overstocked with recent hit makers (Joan Osborne?). The author's nationality is also evident— recent Brit faves such as Robbie Williams, Catatonia, and Suede would be unlikely selections in a similar collection of American origin; it's equally telling that the Troggs are represented, but not American garage counterparts like the Sonics, Kingsmen, or Count Five.
As reference material, The Book of Rock is pretty useless. The artist bios are woefully short (particularly for artists with long and varied careers like David Bowie or the Fall), the list of representative works seems arbitrary, and the attempts to inject spiky commentary aren't especially compelling (is it really bold to say that the Who should have called it quits when Keith Moon died or sane to suggest that Elvis Costello's recent output stands up to his earlier work?). A few interesting tidbits lurking in the text—did you know that Patti Smith used to date one of the guys in Blue ֹster Cult? —justify the book's sticker price presence, but just barely.
The alphabetical format does make for some delightful juxtaposition: As page-mates, Can and Captain Beefheart seem wholly appropriate, the Ramones and Raspberries strangely fitting, Howlin' Wolf and the Human League just plain weird, and the Moody Blues and Alanis Morissette doubly horrifying. These sorts of surprises while skimming are precisely what make something like The Book of Rock pleasurable—your ear candy should demand no less than this level of eye candy.