Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Sound and the Fury - Barney Hoskyns


Like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime there's a certain type of book that I keep coming back to and I'm not really sure why. It's books on music, basically.
As a teenager I would read the weekly music press as in Sounds newspaper, the NME, and Melody Maker and what undue influence this has had upon me I can only hazard a guess. I was probably lucky because in those days there were a lot of very good writers working for these papers and there were a lot of very good bands and records to write about. I do suspect, however, that every generation says the same thing about themselves. Whereas in those days all we had were these newspapers along with sundry fanzines, nowadays there is the Internet and I believe it's here where the best writers can now be found rather than in what passes for the NME these days.

Barney Hoskyns used to write for both the NME and Melody Maker so that puts him in good stead from the start, as well as the fact that he was always one of the more intelligent writers if I remember correctly. Apparently he went on to write a number of music books and has continued to this day as far as I'm aware to be a music journalist and editor, setting up along the way a website called Rock's Backpages (Google it) where thousands of articles, reviews and interviews of the music variety are archived.

The Sound And The Fury - 40 Years Of Classic Rock Journalism, edited by Barney Hoskyns is essentially a sampler of that website and is a collection of articles and interviews culled from past issues of the aforementioned newspapers as well as Creem, Zig-Zag, International Times, Crawdaddy, The Observer, and so on. There are even a few articles that have never been published before and it's actually one of these that I found of most interest. Entitled 'How to become a cult figure in only two years: the making of David Bowie', it was written by someone called Steve Turner for a magazine called Nova in 1974. Nova folded that same year which is why it was never published.
The article describes how Bowie was turned from a scruffy songwriter dressed in roll-neck and jeans into Ziggy Stardust superstar. Apparently, it was all down to manager Tony DeFries. Bowie designed the style (and wrote the songs) but DeFries designed the image or to be more precise, the public perception of the image, using the same methods that Richard Nixon's team used to make Nixon President. "It's not what's there that counts," as one of Nixon's aides is quoted as saying "It's what's projected." So DeFries manipulated the media by controlling what pictures were released of Bowie, charged £1,000 an hour for an interview, vetted interviews, surrounded Bowie with an entourage and bodyguards so as to elevate his importance, controlled the flow of information, and then finally killed Bowie (or rather Ziggy Stardust) off at the height of his fame before managing 'the comeback'. It obviously all worked, didn't it?

Rock'n'roll suicide

Other items of interest include an interview with Joni Mitchell where she talks about Herman Hesse and his book Narziss And Goldmund (which happens to be one of my favourite books), and the caves at Matala in Crete where the hippies used to live (and where I lived also for a while once upon a time). Then there's metaphysics with Marvin Gaye, Will Self on Morrissey, the brilliant Mick Farren on Nashville, an excellent piece on Altamont by David Dalton, an informative piece on Andy Warhol by Mary Harron, and others that are not so interesting.

Pop apocalypse - Altamont

Strangely, for a book that's been edited by an accomplished writer and editor, there's quite a few mistakes in it ranging from paragraphs repeated to ill-researched references leading to clangers of spelling mistakes. In one piece regarding the Beach Boys and The Manson Family entitled 'Surfin' Death Valley USA' written by David Troop it says that Sharon Tate was the star of Rosemary's Baby, which is quite an unforgiveable mistake, really. Yes, Tate was murdered by The Manson Family but she was the wife of Roman Polanski who directed Rosemary's Baby and it was Mia Farrow who starred in it. When the pieces were originally written, the authors would have been facing deadlines so I suppose for that reason they can be forgiven (to an extent) but when being reproduced for inclusion in a book I'd have thought these mistakes would have been spotted and corrected. It doesn't appear to have happened though.

Barney Hoskyns, however, is well-intentioned and his commitment to music journalism is obvious as evidenced by what he writes in his introduction: 'There is a fundamental loss of faith in the value of pop culture, with so much coverage reduced to bland, consumer-guide homogeneity. So what can we in the media do? Well, we can resist the relentless banalisation of rock'n'roll. We must resist it. We have a sacred duty to inject magic and danger into the bloodstream. We cannot let capitalism erode our souls. Music is about spirit, not matter: it's about our emotional lives, not our material status.'
Which is all well and good but I personally reckon it's all too late - to a point. The four corners of the world of music have already been explored, recouperated, accommodated and commodified. For example, music as a force for social change has done all it can (the ultimate protest statement set to music being by Anarcho Punk band Conflict with their EP 'This Is Not Enough - Stand Up And Fucking Fight') as has music as a means of communing with God (the ultimate stairway to heaven being the raves of the '90s and defined by Faithless in their 'God is a DJ'). The only way forward now for music in my opinion is for it to be completely free, as in free downloading; and if a musician wants to make money from music to do so by performing live.

So prove me wrong.

In the meantime, however, I won't deny there's still some enjoyment and possibly enlightenment to be gained from listening to music, as well as in reading about it in books such as this. Although obviously a book is a bit more difficult to dance to than a song.

Or is it?
John Serpico

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