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Feature Thu Jul 09 2009
Summer festival season is picking up, and with Pitchfork and Lollapalooza on the horizon, thousands of fans will pour into festival gates as the sun beats down, carrying along their sealed water bottles, blankets, and sunscreen. But one key item will save you from boredom as you stand around waiting for your favorite band to hit the stage.
A good book is a wonderful friend when your packed into a sweaty concert waiting for a show to start. Make it a book about music and you've got yourself a double dose. This week Gapers Block: Transmission writers are bringing you a selection of some of their favorite books about music to read this summer. So lather up with the SPF 45, leave the counterfeit booze at home, and don't forget a good book.
Michelle Meywes's pick
Title and author: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
About the Book: Sure you can sit around and read the program a hundred times between acts at Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, but why not read some "rock n roll as literature and literature as rock n roll." That's the tagline on the cover of the book Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by legendary rock critic Lester Bangs. Bangs was a writer and editor for the now defunct Creem magazine from 1971 to 1976.
Why I like it: This was a man who was not shy about sharing his opinion on artists, music, or whatever topic might have come up. His reviews read more like strange, obscure novels that had hardly anything to do with the album, but always seemed to drive home just the point/feeling he was trying to make. His writing could be wandering, sometimes rambling with colorful visual vocabulary. Perfect for whatever state of mind you may find yourself in at Chicago's summer music festivals.
Best music setting to read this book in this summer: You might find this book of particular interest at Lolla this year, since there are several pieces about Lou Reed. Bangs loved Reed, and that's putting it lightly. In fact, he says plainly in "Untitled Notes on Lou Reed, 1980" that he "would suck Lou Reed's cock." Call that what you will, but Bangs admired and idolized Reed for his ground breaking work in The Velvet Underground, his unabashed disregard for what anyone thought of him, and his constantly re-inventing himself. According to Bangs in "Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves," people pretty much kept expecting Reed to die, and by all accounts, maybe the guy should have died, with the way he abused his body. But remember, this was written in 1975, more than thirty years ago, and Lou Reed is still rocking--taking the stage at Lolla on Sunday. Lester Bangs, on the other hand and unfortunately, is not. He died shortly after writing "Notes" in 1982 of accidental drug overdose while treating the flu.
Brian Leli's Picks
Title and author: Do I Come Here Often? by Henry Rollins
About the Book: This book features Rollins' 1991 Lollapalooza tour journal, as well as articles on David Lee Roth and Roky Erickson; interviews with Isaac Hayes and Jerry Lee Lewis; and more.
Why I like it: I have been endlessly inspired by Rollins. He writes with a lucidity all his own. I read many of his books repeatedly; including this one. Here, Rollins' provides a direct account of his experiences on the first ever Lollapalooza tour; and digs deeply into so much more.
Best music setting to read this book in this summer: Lollapalooza
Title and author: Cancer as a Social Activity: Affirmations of a World's End by Michael D. Williams
About the Book: This book features a collection of writings by Michael D. Williams, the notorious singer-lyricist-songwriter for infamous New Orleans metal/punk legends, Eyehategod.
Why I like it: Much like the music Williams has had a hand in, there is something very primitive and pure about his writings. They are are abrasive and fragmented; intoxicating and eyeopening. They are less pleasant than a car crash, but even harder to look away from. Furthermore, Williams' style has been described as "...an illegitimate coupling of the downtrodden gutter-life beauty of Charles Bukowski, crossed with William Burroughs' cutup cerebral style." This book pairs well with oppressive heat.
Best music setting to read this book in this summer: Any of Chicago's small, booze-laden, poorly ventilated clubs; and also while moving about town on the CTA.
Title and author: Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed by Paul Trynka
About the Book: This book is the first complete biography of one Iggy Pop: The "Godfather of Punk."
Why I like it: Iggy is the King. He is easily one of the most intriguing and reckless performers in music; EVER. He is a captivating individual, who has lived one of the most immensely fascinating lives; EVER. If you're not a fan; that changes nothing. Trynka's writing is excellent; his insight thought-provoking. He has so clearly put in the time and miles; much like the subject at hand.
Best music setting to read this book in this summer: Riot Fest — which technically takes place a couple weeks after summer officially ends, but consider this proper sendoff.
Chris Sienko's pick
Title and Author: A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George Lewis
About the Book: In the 1960s, a loose conglomeration of primarily South-side jazz musicians formed a collective dedicated to pushing the genre into new and innovative realms, incorporating elements of traditional African music, European avant-garde music, Eastern philosophy and structure, and a desire to be free in all things, from composition to instrumentation. Unlike most "free jazz" of the time, AACM music created a community that thought freely in all directions - not just "all loud, all the time." Innovators such as Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Muhal Richard Abrams, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and many, many more have passed through the AACM's ranks, chief among them the book's author, trombonist George Lewis.
Best music setting to read this book in this summer: A perfect place to read this book would be the Velvet Lounge (67 E. Cermak, in Chicago's near south side). The Velvet Lounge is not only owned by AACM alumnus Fred Anderson, but the club also features an AACM showcase the first two Sunday nights of each month!
Lisa White's picks
Title and author: Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy
About the Book: Rock On is the honest experience of Dan Kennedy while he worked for a major label in the late '90s, just as the music industry was officially and totally starting to fall apart. Kennedy literally falls into a job that many dream of, and goes along for the ride in the weird world known as the music industry. He's honest about the events he witnessed, and doesn't sugarcoat the eccentric world he was dropped in.
Why I like it: When I was little I dreamed of working at a major label, pouring over issues of SPIN and Rolling Stone, wishing to someday work with the bands that would grace those covers. After going to college and experiencing certain aspects of the music industry, I fully appreciated and related to Kennedy. If you ever want a window into the world of working in entertainment, check out Rock On.
Best music setting to read this book in this summer: Read this book while waiting at any local show at one of the smaller venues in Chicago. There is a part where Kennedy speaks of the label flying out a new artist, and how the music is powerful, but no one wants to fully support or enjoy the band because no one wants to be to blame if the band and their release fails. Know that by going to local shows and supporting local bands, you are supporting their art, regardless if a label believes in their selling power or not.
Title and author: So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star by Jacob Slichter
About the Book: Jacob Slichter is Harvard graduate and an NPR contributor. But his most profiled career achievement was being the drummer for the 90s multiplatinum-selling band Semisonic. Slichter's memories of starting as a humble band to the overwhelming feeling of playing arenas after the success of their hit song "Closing Time" truly leave you feeling like you've been in a band that was catapulted into the spotlight.
Why I like it: After being in many failed bands, I've always wondered in the back of my mind what it would be like to "make it," or at least some variation of success. Slichter's "I can't believe my luck" attitude and total fascination with suddenly being a recognized musician is an interesting look into the life of being a rock musician.
Best music setting to read this book in this: At Lollapalooza right after the gates open during one of the first acts on the smaller stages, or while a band with a current huge single is playing. Chances are some of these artists are at the peak of their career, and playing a large-scale event or festival will be one of the shining moments in their musical career.
Title and author: Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman
About the Book: Chuck Klosterman is one of the prominent snarky writers whose social commentaries on pop culture are deadpan in delivery, and honest and witty in tone. In Killing Yourself to Live, Klosterman constructs a journey based around immortalization of dead rock stars, and how they mimic the immortalization humans have for key figures in their relationships. If you idolized Kurt Cobain when he died, you probably used Cobain as a barometer for other idols. And the first serious girlfriend or boyfriend you had is probably a benchmark for other relationships, yet just like new idols never beat the old ones, new relationships never override the memories and people of the past.
Why I like it: For many music nerds like myself, I correlate music with events and people in my life. So the idea of using the death of rock stars to better understand the deaths of relationships not only intrigued me, but also made me want to justify my past relationships along with Klosterman. Sure, it's a murky and depressing subject, yet Klosterman keeps it light and funny.
Best music setting to read this book in this summer: At the Chuck Klosterman, Nathan Rabin, and Greg Kot reading at the Barnes & Noble DePaul Center on State St. All three authors will be their July 21st, and you can bet I'll be there like a fan girl with my beaten up copy of Sex, Drugs, and Coco Puffs.