Monday, July 26, 2010

Ya know, I was going to tell y'all about this record pictured above, Hawkwind's 1971 sophomore effort, In Search Of Space. I was going to speak of its greatness, its sign of better things to come w/ the addition of Lemmy on Hawkwind's subsequent albums, Do Re Mi and Space Ritual, of its masterful straddling of the early '70s punk/metal divide, of the band's high status in my canon of rock 'n' roll greats, of its lo-fi, minimalist, punkish grit, aided and abetted by its cruddy production, and of the EMI/UK CD reissue which happens to add three rather killer bonus tracks. I was going to do all of this at great length. In fact I did all of the above last night, and then I lost the whole damn thing. A computer glitch - or more to the point, a glitch on Blogger's behalf - had the whole thing flushed down the cyber toilet, never to be retrieved. Pissed off? You bet. I felt like throwing this goddamn laptop across the room, but that wouldn't have solved a thing. The only avenue left is to forget about it, take some deep breaths and go onto another topic...
I haven't been doing much of any music reading since I blathered about the San Fran punk, Death Of Trad Rock and Black Flag books earlier in the year. In the meantime, my Richard Nixon/Watergate obsession took hold, culminating in the eager digesting of various large tomes on the topic - I've just finished Rick Perlstein's Nixonland and am about to get started on his Before The Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (I should state that my political sympathies lie w/ neither man, though when a good story is told - and an important story - such things are irrelevant). And between all this, I've just managed to finish English journalist Barney Hoskyns' Waiting For The Sun: A Rock & Roll History Of Los Angeles.
Hoskyns is a veteran journalist who's spent quite a few of his years in LA, writing for the English music weeklies, MOJO, Uncut et al, as well as several books on everyone from Prince to Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. Although not a writer whose very words I hang on and hail as gospel, I've always found him informative and readable.Waiting For The Sun was originally published in 1996, then again in 1997 w/ an added chapter on Beck(!), though has been popular enough to stay in print all these years. For approximately 300 of its 370 pages, it is immensely readable.
Hoskyns traces the roots of LA's pop/rock music scene to the rhythm & blues circuit it lay down in the 1930s/'40s, when the likes of Johnny Otis and Roy Milton were cutting wild swing/R & B tracks which helped jumpstart rock 'n' roll on a wider basis in the 1950s. He then traverses through the debaucherous "West Coast Jazz" scene, populated by degenerates such as Art Pepper and Chet Baker, before finally settling into some homegrown LA rock 'n' roll. Of course, the best Los Angeles could come up with for white rock was teen idol Ricky Nelson (I keep hearing that his country-rock albums are real good, so you'll have to excuse me if, 6 months down the track, I'm raving about the guy), although the early '60s provided a boom for surf music, whether it was the wild instrumental sounds of Dick Dale or the vocal harmonies of Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys. From then on, you probably know the score: the Sunset Strip ca. '66, Byrds, Love, Seeds, Doors, the Manson murders and their effect on the LA music community, the Zappa/Beefheart freak school of thought, and then onto the mutations of country-rock, 1970s soft-rock and the Laurel Canyon school and hand-wringing, navel-gazing singer-songwriters, right on through to Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, Kim Fowley's leacherous personality, Masque punk, hardcore, post-hardcore, hair-metal and the horrific rise of "funk-metal" w/ Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, before finishing up w/ gangsta rap, Compton style.
Up until the book hit the Masque scene, I couldn't put it down. Love it or loathe it (I mostly loathe it, though 30-40 years after the fact, the rise of gentrified west coast soft-rock made by indulgent, spoilt ex-hippies can be seen more as a natural evolution of one strain of popular music and not the spawn of Satan as we know it: nothing to get upset about), those cocaine cowboys really knew how to fuck things up, and it makes for a fascinating read. More self-destructive than the average GG Allin tribute act, their appetite for destruction rivalled that of ancient Rome, and whilst schadenfreude may figure into my enjoyment of these chapters - the largest portion of the book - at least I now feel that I have a greater understanding of why the testicles dropped off the wheels of rock 'n' roll at the time. David Geffen comes off as the hyper-ambitious creep most people already figure him to be; The Eagles as a musical version thereof - a band who were huge for the simple reason that the band was born w/ that simple goal in mind, an almost Nietzchean will to power, if you like; and the likes of David Crosby, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne are portrayed in various means, from arrogant, coke-addled burnouts (Crosby) to hapless, well-meaning (but talented) schlebs whose careers started hitting the skids once the "scene" began to dry up at the dawn of the '80s, and idealists like Browne and Mitchell found themselves caught in the headlights of Reagan's America, where earth shoes and the rights of El Salvadorian workers meant zip to the bulk of the general public. I know none of these people personally, though the pictures painted seem quite authentic to me.
I can't say for sure whether the problem is me or Hoskyns, but I found the sections on the punk/hardcore scenes both unsubstantive and redundant. Perhaps the subjects have just been tackled better in books specialising in the topics the last 15 years (most notably in We Got The Neutron Bomb), though there wasn't a single word said or point brought up which I hadn't read elsewhere before, and Hoskyns still doesn't give enough context or insight to some important bands. You know I must bring this point up: Hoskyns was/is a big fan of Black Flag (he gave Damaged a rave review in a 1982 edition of UK's Sounds), though the group were much more than simply a leading light of LA rock music in the early '80s. They toured relentlessly (this isn't even mentioned) and at their peak (1981) could pack out a 3,500-seat venue. And SST was more than just a local label putting out records by Saccharine Trust and the Minutemen: by 1996, their wide-reaching legacy should've been obvious.
Hoskyns also throws various opinions around like they're gospel (something I'm totally guilty of, naturally): after finishing this book, if you'd never heard any of the music discussed, you'd think that the Byrds never released a half-decent album in their time, let alone six total masterpieces, and he finds absolutely nothing positive to say about Guns 'n' Roses, a band I'm unlikely to fly the flag for at any point in this lifetime, though I'll give them this much: unlike some of their contemporaries on "the Strip", G 'n' R at least had the cajones to be a real rock 'n' roll band (musically and aesthetically speaking), and frankly, I'd rather listen to Appetite For Destruction than anything ever recorded by the likes of Jane's Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers (two bands he heaps praise upon), if ever the choice had to be made. I guess I should really hope that decision doesn't have to be made, but you get the point. The gangsta-rap chapter seems rather perfunctory, and the added-on chapter detailing the life and times of Beck (actually an article originally published in MOJO mag in 1997) is nothing short of embarrassing. I'll stand by his Seachange album of 2002, a total downer of an acoustic record, very much in the vein of Neil Young's On The Beach or Nick Drake's Pink Moon, one which I actually happen to think is quite brilliant but also a complete anomoly in Beck's otherwise turgid career in music, but that's strictly it, and Hoskyns' article, which seems to be hailing Beck as the Great White Hope of Angeleno music, hits a seriously wrong note.
That leaves you 300 pages of what I'd call "the goods". Los Angeles has given the world some of the greatest rock 'n' roll ever - I've raved enough about the SST stable of bands, Love, Byrds, Mothers Of Invention, Gun Club etc. in these pages to at least convince myself of that - and Hoskyns knows his city, its geography, its ethnic make-up, its strengths and weaknesses well enough to tie it all together into a comprehensible story, creating a flow of stories and characters which has it all coming together and making sense. A story mostly well told.

4 comments:

Pussy Galore said...

"its masterful straddling of the early '70s punk/metal divide"

I don't think there was much of a divide in the early 70s between sabbath/zeppelin/sir lord baltimore on the one hand and the proto-rumblings that Lenny Kaye dubbed "punk" on the other.

Surely the "divide", if it ever existed outside the fevered imaginations of a few suburban maximuum rock'n'roll readers, only occured after 1977?

MIchael Row said...

Great review, and spot on. As a survey of post-war musics outta LA, this book works really well. I too found Barney's views about music AF (After Fowley) to be, well, just wrong - but that doesn't mean the other stuff isn't pretty damn good. I can think of a dozen worse books to hand to a Brit who thinks LA was only ever THE BEACH BOYS.

Oh! And proof Barney Hoskins was actually in LA during the early 80's can be found at 1:05 of this Angry Samoans clip.

Dave said...

Mr. Galore, it's a good thing I actually publish your comments or I fear you'd be sitting around arguing w/ yourself. To claim there was absolutely no aesthetic, musical or cultural divide between the likes of, say, Led Zep and Deep Purple vs. the Stooges and NY Dolls is disingenuous, at best. Why did the former sell zillions of records and go on to influence so many "heavy metal" groups in the late '70s (once the genre was codified), whilst the Stooges and the NY Dolls stiffed in the marketplace and were obviously influential on a different cultural/musical phenomenon 2-5 years later? Doesn't that speak of a basic difference between these bands? There were bands who bridged the two genres, such as Blue Oyster Cult, Dictators and Hawkwind, but to say that all loud rock music of the early '70s was basically cut from the same cloth doesn't exactly clue anyone in. And I say that as an (ex-) suburbanite MRR reader of the post-1977 variety.

Pussy Galore said...

Perhaps you may be right on this one...