Book Review – “Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys” (Viv Albertine)

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

vivbook

Postcards from the hedge…

At a time when any sane fifty-something housewife and mother would be asking herself,  “Is that all there is?”, Viv Albertine shouted, “I want more!”.

In case you didn’t know, Viv Albertine was the guitarist and songwriter for the seminal British punk band The Slits. In the late 1970’s, The Slits – along with The Clash and The Sex Pistols – invented Punk music, fashion and culture. Her experiences could fill a book; and In fact, they did. In 2014, she published her critically acclaimed and award winning book,”Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys”. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and in this book, life imitates art.

With no ghost-writer in sight, Albertine leaves it all on the page and never blinks. She chronicles her experiences with masturbation, poverty, sex, Heroin, abortion, depression, sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood, divorce and (above all) music.

Albertine’s  remembrance of the golden age of Punk (1977-1979) is loaded with grimy, mundane detail. She befriended Sid Vicious and blew Johnny Rotten. She had a three year relationship with Mick Jones of The Clash. She took guitar lessons from Keith Levene (PIL). She shot Heroin with Johnny Thunders. She dated Vincent Gallo and beat back cancer. Her life has been an extreme roller coaster ride through a gale of blood, sweat and shit. Moreover, she is clearly not done yet.

The Frank Sinatra/Sid Vicious evergreen “My Way” could have been written by Viv Albertine. Where most Rock music autobiographies obscure your view with the high gloss finish of ghost writing, co-authorship and/or over zealous copy-editing, Albertine sticks to the Punk ethos and puts her own pen to paper (warts and all). There are dodgy moments as regards syntax and punctuation. However, much like a great punk record – where passion trumps perfection – Albertine’s narrative has an edge and energy that would surely be diluted by literary precision.

If you assume the most engrossing part of the book revolves around her memoirs of London’s Punk scene, you would be dead wrong. The Punk era merely serves as preamble and allegory to the remainder of her life. Punk was about demolishing stagnant cultural forms and rebuilding from scratch. Viv Albertine not only applied this ethos to her music, but her life as well.

There’s heartbreak, humor and heroism on every page. Albertine has stated that she views her book as a self-help guide for young girls navigating the choppy waters of sexism and failure. Yes, it’s all that. But, it’s also an inspirational treatise for those of us navigating the infinitely choppier waters of ageism and mortality.

In the tired genre of the Rock Music autobiography, “Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys” (along with Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles”) stands  a world apart and miles above. A drop-dead masterpiece.

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In the clip below, the author talks about her book…..

Lost Treasures “Soul Mining (A Musical Life)” by Daniel Lanois (Book Review)

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

Soul Mining (A Musical Life) by Daniel Lanois (2010)

Published by Faber and Faber

Daniel Lanois….the Ernest Hemingway of Rock and Roll. No…..well, not quite….um, oh I got it. Ernest Hemingway was the Daniel Lanois of literature. Yeah, that feels right.

I found ‘Soul Mining” at my favorite used book store. A shop called “The Five Dollar Bookstore”. However, in the case of paperbacks, we’re talkin’ three dollars. Three dollars for a peek into the rich pageant that has been (and continues to be) the life of Daniel Lanois.

For those of you out of the loop, Daniel Lanois is a French-Canadian artist/producer from the cold rural northern town of Hamilton. During Daniel’s childhood, Hamilton was civilization lite with a heavy connection to the land and the elements. After a wild untamed adolescence, Lanois became a full time musician and studio owner at the ripe old age of 17. He caught his first big break as a collaborator and producer with Brian Eno on the ambient classic “Apollo”; an album of music designed as a backdrop to the film footage of the manned Apollo moon expeditions. Soon after that, he was on to producing Peter GabrielU2 and Robbie Robertson and never looked back.

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Daniel Lanois has long been one of my musical heroes. Little did I know that “Soul Mining” would make him a personal hero as well. I wasn’t expecting to find profiles of courage in the book. I’m not talking about artistic courage; a laughable concept in a pre-apocalyptic, post-Fukashima world. I’m talking about real “staring down the face of death” courage. Courage is different than fearlessness. Courage is when you are ‘load your drawers’ terrified, but have the clarity and calm to make the right moves when your adrenal glands are messaging you to run like hell. Imagine disarming two crack-crazed home intruders with the offer of turkey soup and a friendly game of pool until observant neighbors and friends could summon the police. Such are the tight-rope walks a soul takes during the course of a life well lived.

I was just hoping to pick up a few production tips that I would likely never use, or a hot tip on a stomp box or echo machine. Oh, I got all that. But, I also got a lesson on life.  How our only regrets on our deathbed will be the dreams we didn’t pursue.

I was not expecting such rich narrative or descriptive prose from the musician/producer. I’m not sure why I should be surprised. One read of Daniel’s lyrics reveal him to be a deep and multi-layered writer. Knowledgeable about history and the applied science of sound as well as the mythologies of the Bible and Delta voodoo. But lyrics and poetry are to books, what the 100 meter dash is to the marathon. Someone who is a great sprinter is seldom a great distance runner and vice versa. Daniel Lanois turns that theory on its head and shows us there’s not much he can’t do.

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“Soul Mining” is an easy and rewarding read. Any point of entry works for the reader. It’s more episodic than novelistic. It’s OK to skip around. I did. But ultimately, you must read the whole thing to really get the full breath and expanse of the man and his muse. Daniel Lanois is testament to the adage, “there’s no such thing as a bad boy”. Raised by a single mother of four, Lanois was a handful as a kid (as most are). But, his reckless youth merely underscores the redemptive powers of music. Once Daniel and his brother Bob got to work in earnest on their basement studio and the religion of music started guiding their life decisions, Daniel began regular deposits to the karma bank that would pay rich dividends later in life.

Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, U2, Robbie Robertson, The Neville Brothers, Brian Eno, Scott Weiland…….No, it’s not a guest list for a R&R Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It’s the list of artists Lanois has produced. Every artist Lanois produces, he collaborates with. In essence, all of these artists made a Daniel Lanois album. So signature is his sound; and so eerie is his ability to guide super talents in mid-life doldrums to career defining heights. Lanois can claim credit for kick starting Dylan’s comback in the 80’s with his production of “Oh Mercy” and thus, the beginning the bard’s incredible third act heroics, which include his Lanois produced multi-Grammy winning masterpiece “Time Out Of Mind”.
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To call Lanois a producer/artist is to trivialize him. Lanois is a sonic explorer. That can mean building a New Orleans studio from scratch to capture the city’s wandering spirits for a Neville Brothers album, or risking life and limb traveling to the the rural wilderness of Mexico to hear the symphony of mission bells of Oaxaca. It could mean leasing an abandoned movie theater in Oxnard Ca. in order to create a comfy performance vibe for Willie Nelson. All the while, angels and spirits seem to travel with Daniel, saving him from catastrophes large and small.

“Soul Mining” is a manifesto to the nomadic, romantic soul of the artist. What did I learn from “Soul Mining”? I learned the past we make is often a collection of missed connections and chances not taken, but the future is as easy to change as our minds……

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Profiles in Outsider Music “Songs In The Key Of Z” by Irwin Chusid (Book Review)

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 Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music (2000),

published by A Cappella Books

We print junkies divide books into different categories. There are the books you commit to out of respect for the author or because you don’t want to wuss out before you see what happens (Wuthering Heights and any Tom Clancy Novel). There’s good fast-food reading that you can joyfully wolf down in a day (On The Road). Then, there is that rare book that you force yourself to ration because you want to savor it, and prolong the journey. It’s that good.

Irwin Chusid’s “Songs In The Key Of Z” falls into the last category.

“Songs In The Key Of Z” is a page turner about Outsider Music and the bizarre, wonderful, and fascinating characters who are its practitioners. The term Outsider Music is relatively new and Mr. Chusid is credited for coining it. Mr. Chusid has hosted a radio show for WFMU in Hoboken, New Jersey since 1975. It is on this show he curates the music that he loves. However, the genre itself has been around for some time. The definition of Outsider Music (per say) is amorphous and still evolving. But in brief, it is music that falls outside the mainstream of musical taste, performed and/or conceived by musical artists who exist apart from the pack mentality of polite, conformist society. These artists can include the mentally ill, the criminally insane and others who are impelled to create musical sound informed by any combination of innocence, incompetence and/or genius. Outside Music artists also share a heroic confidence or self-delusion that allows them to carry on despite normal society’s discouragement.

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Commercial Pop Music as practiced by Elton John, Styx, Celine Dion, Kenny G……etc, is externally focused. It may or may not be calculated or jaded. But, it is written, recorded and intended for a target market and is commerce driven. Outsider music is the antithesis of all the above.

Irwin Chusid is a knowledgeable musicologist whose narratives and observations are laced with humor without condescension. Because, humor is a basic tenet of Outsider Music. Not in the wacky Dr. Demento sense. But, a kind of self-deprecating humor that only the thick-skinned Outsider artists possess. Accustomed to ridicule and guffaws, Outsider artists are heroic in their persistence and are more purpose driven than the normal wanna-be rocker. Many musicians give up the battle for a wife and a day job. Most Outsider artists are bereft of those options. That’s the X factor that allows this bizarre, ignored subculture to defy prevailing trends and survive against seemingly insurmountable odds. They create because they must, not because they lust.

Mr. Chusid plays it smart and never buries the lead in his profiles. It’s the artist and back story in Outsider Music that is crucial to the appreciation of the music itself. And, it’s on the humanity that Mr. Chusid aims the spotlight. Sadly, there is the aspect of the car-wreck mentality that reveal some Outsider Music enthusiasts to be voyeurs of human misery rather than connoisseurs of art.  But, Mr. Chusid acknowledges that, and never heaps false praise on his subjects.

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The Outsider Artists come in all shapes, sizes and genres. They sometimes are plucked from obscurity and absorbed into the mainstream, only to be expelled from the tribe once again (Tiny Tim). Or they can be wandering savants who are enabled by admiring patrons and well meaning benefactors who unwittingly poison their innocence with the fools-gold of minor celebrity (Wild Man Fischer). Some are relatively well-adjusted refugees from musical academia, hell-bent on changing the world (Harry Partch). However, there are no archetypes in Outsider Music. No two artists are the same. They are as different and impermanent as falling snowflakes.

Irwin Chusid knocked it out of the park with this one. And, the only criticisms I can muster is the book’s relative brevity and Irwin Chusid’s decision to never write another.

Peter Banks Original Yes Guitarist (Remembered)

Word has just come in that founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks died on March 7. He was 65. sns-rt-us-banksbre92c002-20130312-001 Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes.  Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death.  Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history. In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums  during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career. Reviewed by:   Dale Nickey lbanks 5 A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news. Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack. The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs. banks300 The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad.   Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book. The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact.  He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims. tumblr_lzwwffstdU1r68xguo1_500 The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group.  His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway. However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”. banksflash The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk. A group just this side of great doomed to repeat history rather than create it. The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending. “Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for the slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better. peter-banks

Founding YES guitarist Peter Banks (Obituary)

Word has just come in that founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks died on March 7. He was 65.

sns-rt-us-banksbre92c002-20130312-001

Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes.  Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death.  Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history.

In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums  during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career.

Reviewed by:   Dale Nickey

lbanks 5

A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news.

Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack.

The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs.

banks300

The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad.   Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book.

The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact.  He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims.

yesbanks

The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group.  His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway.

However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”.

banksflash

The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk. A group just this side of great doomed to repeat history rather than create it.

The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending.

“Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better.

peter-banks