ISSUE 14  It's 2003
page 19 of 27



SONIC COOL: THE LIFE & DEATH OF ROCK 'N' ROLL by Joe S. Harrington (PAPERBACK, HAL LEONARD) Well, obviously, this review runs the risk of being an outright plug, or at the very least someone giving props to someone else in his own family. That's right, Blastitude staffer Joe S. Harrington has gotten a book published! And what's more, this isn't some 140-page 'fiction' account of a twenty-something grunge balladeer with a goatee struggling to find himself -- leave that stuff to 'novelists' like Ethan Hawke and that one overserious guy with a Mead notebook (and a goatee) at your local coffee house. No sir, you can read about that stuff in Newsweek all you want, but Sonic Cool is a full-blown ultra-comprehensive 595-fucking-page non-fiction magnum opus that is nothing less than THE HISTORY OF ALL ROCK MUSIC.
       You want comprehensive? For starters, it goes all the way back to Thomas Edison for a well-researched account of how recording and record-making technology developed, and it also has one of the finest and most holistic summaries of how rock 'n' roll was born that I've ever read. (It wasn't by the whites stealing it from the blacks, it was created by poor people, both black and white, living in the rural American South.) Then, a few hundred pages later, it's talking about the White Stripes and Bikini Kill and Love Child and how "Alice in Chains is the Little River Band."
       Naturally, this book will be compared to Meltzer's Aesthetics of Rock and Carducci's Rock and the Pop Narcotic -- in fact, Harrington does so himself in the intro. Thing is, it's basically BETTER than those books -- it's even more comprehensive than Carducci's and much less given to run-amok tangentialism than both. I mean, we love how Meltzer gets so stoned that he just starts doodling on the page, but Harrington actually seems like he was SOBER for every moment he worked on this book. He does NOT, however, leave behind his considerable sense of humor, and as early as page 45 he is not above abruptly breaking from his surprisingly dignified historian persona to mention "[Chuck Berry's] love for having honeys shit on his face."
       The result is something that is just as inspiring and entertaining as Meltzer's flights of fancy but is actually filled with useful historical information. (There are lots of minor innaccuracies too, but such is the stuff of legend.) Not even Tosches could write this book -- sure, he's got the literary skills and the sweeping sense of history, but he's just too old-school to deal with, say, Yo La Tengo. Bangs had the vision to do it like this, but yeah, it's too late now, and there never was ANY kind of speed that can keep you awake long enough to write 595 pages in one sitting. There are possibly one or two surviving 'academics' who could cover all the bases Harrington does, but they simply wouldn't be able to make it this much fun. (Yes, I am referring to Greil Marcus, among all the others.)
       What I'm saying is that this is a book that just simply hasn't been done before. The book it actually reminds me of the most is Nik Cohn's classic Rock From The Beginning, which broke its subject down by chapter in a similar fashion, and also had a similar sly opinionatedness. I highly recommend Cohn's book, but come on, it was published in 1970, and next to Harrington's it's simply lightweight, literally and figuratively.
        Ah, but I wrote all that a few days ago when I was just on page 128. Now that I've finished the son-of-a-bitch I've got a lot more to say. The publisher's one-sheet says that the book "reads like a novel", and it does indeed have a quite simple plotline: it starts when rock was a new and pure form and takes it all the way until the present day, when it's almost TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE to play rock music without it being an utterly commercial enterprise. In the final chapter, titled "post-everything," Harrington builds to a head of steam worthy of Bill Hicks, cataloging all the myriad ways that the revolution has been turned into just another McDonald's hamburger (oh man, there's a lot of ways). It's a bleak fucking vision and it's not exaggerated one whit. While I was finishing the book, still giddy with its inaugural legends of Charley Patton, Hank Williams, and Jerry Lee Lewis, I saw a commercial during the Fiesta Bowl that drove Harrington's point home, a vicious wooden stake through the vampire of rock: Garth Brooks, wearing a perfectly manicured goatee, accompanied by a black harmonica player gesticulating madly like Stevie Wonder on meth, singing about how good Dr. Pepper is. Goddamn, that's making me cry like that Indian in the anti-litter commerical. It's fucking sad, people. It's almost sad as George W. Bush being president.
      The book does end on a somewhat hopeful note, with Harrington finding some new bands that are carrying the torch (see his New Rock Review in this issue for more of this). One thing he ignores completely, however, is the whole Bulb/Hanson/Skin Graft/Load area that Blastitude has been positing as the New Rock all along. All that stuff has been bringing brevity and raunch epistemology and uncoolness back to rock in spades. Maybe it's too cynical and world-ending for Harrington, but after reading his "post-everything" chapter I'm glad it's around. -- Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman

X-Mas is not really around the corner but we have been hearing about it since like forever, two thousand years at least, and here is a perfect X-mas gift for your loved one to enjoy on the shitter, to stimulate the shitter gland (a gland that emits powerful neurons that cause a feeling that is in the same sphere as sex) and funny bone alike.
       It should be common knowledge by now that record reviews are even worse than the product being reviewed. A tepid bog to sift through is the CD review section of any periodical, truly the lowest rung of writing. To read something poorly written about usually poor material that the very few care about is utter masochism. I could go on. This book of anagram record reviews is the antidote! This book is mean spirited fun for those with even a slight interest in music! It is difficult to find truly entertaining rock criticism. All signs point to this book.
       What is an anagram? Weeell, as the hilariously wordy intro to Warm Voices Rearranged states, "An anagram is formed by rearranging the letters in a word, name, or sentence to make a new word or sentence." So, these fellas-Brandan Kearney and Gregg Turkington- take album names, etc., and rearrange them.
       Examples: "Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model" becomes "Elite rot. His vocals? Melodyless!" "David Crosby solo: If I Could Only Remember My Name" becomes "Bald slob: ‘Cocaine’s ruined my memory!’ Very dim fool."
       These anagrams traverse all over the pop musical map. This is a slim volume densely packed with pleasure. Succinct, clever, uproarious. And almost all of these reviews are negative but it is not the authors’ fault, as the forward describes, "There is much to be said for the view of some sculptors, that their effort is not to shape a block of marble into a man, but to release the man trapped within the stone. Anagrams are not much different; one’s task is not to create, but to find something that already exists." The forward then describes in detail the mystical connections that anagrams have. Such mysticism puts the book comfortably into the "music, humour, and occult" section.
       Gregg and Brandan have been a real inspiration and influence on me for quite some years now through their past works on the zines Breakfast Without Meat and Nothing Doing, amongst other things. With the release of Warm Voices Rearranged, I can truly say that their brilliance is still very much alive. -- Robert Dayton



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