Okay, so a few weeks back I’m drooling at the visually stunning sights of glossy, crisply embossed books on display at the downtown Books-A-Million store: those tantalizing, sixty-five & seventy-tastic-percent-off shelves and bins; the gathered variety of heady aromas emanating from multitudes of perfectly erect, disciplined rows of hard- and soft-back binders, the faux-leatherbound tomes that I at once want to both caress and squeeze with abandon; thrillers, romances, inspiring biographies and masterful home-repair books; all intensely mingling, tightly and forcefully in surrounding cavities of the vast warehouse of wonder: as one barely containable, orgiastic collective betwixt their dominating, unyielding bookends of cuckolded pressure… and then the intoxicating aromas my olfactory senses begin to experience- nostrils squeezing to capture the seductive musk of pure, silky-white, unopened layers of compressed pulpweed-cum-paper, their factory-bred, tree-raped scent making me giddy with possibilities of liberating the finest, most perfect literary delights, spreading out their– okay, we’ve all been there..
…and only after I’ve prematurely blown my wad over half a dozen slimy, brazenly anonymous literary lizards- that is, impulsively paying out serious money I shouldn’t be ‘blowing’ on new books I haven’t looked over more thoroughly, or at least read some reviews of beforehand (I made that ‘blowing the wad’ part clear, right?) – WELL, now this leaves me awkwardly trying to remove myself from what I call one of those ‘should have known better’ books. It’s a hazard when searching out some narrowly-defined subjects, I imagine.
I thought this one would be different, that we might really connect, you know?? I am not so vapid as to judge a book by its cover, which I know you’re all thinking and I refuse to even go there – but come. on. : this slut is putting it aaalll out there with that hot provocative subtitle and that dangerously curvaceous, ‘look-at-me’ font, like it knows things I couldn’t begin to imagine.
But then we get home, the prologue alone begins to bore me, and then it’s all like, ‘Well, you didn’t mind pinchin’ on my thick bibliography when you was thumbin’ through my back pages at the store now, did you?’ So, being starved anyways for some new reading on a now-ancient subject, which by the way is the ONLY reason I’ve maintained my ‘Rolling Stone’ subscription – any articles related to rock music less than 35 years old are ripped out & trashed – I reluctantly bend myself to the book-bitch’s will for the time being and try gving it a go – there have been some great books with amazingly crappy beginnings.
A good historical author should be aware that writing a compelling history, on any subject, requires much more than simply repeating facts. Disappointingly, that’s virtually all Case does in this thing; he doesn’t come close to delivering what his title promises, rather maintaining a wholly uninteresting redundancy throughout that amounts to not much more than rattling off a list of rock artists and the drugs, hallucinogenics and/or formidable amounts of alcohol they indulged in, nothing that a thousand other authors haven’t already done, and in way more entertaining and informative approaches. Case demonstrates a total lack of insight as to how, say, these legendary musicians’ addictions affected their creative process (or obliterated it completely). There are no recollections of wild, joyous release and defining moments of a heightened awareness shared by the generation that first turned on.
Most criminally, however, virtually the only perspective, single and far removed the actual time he dispassionately rambles on about, is from Case alone: no other interview pieces, reflections, or recollections, or even anecdotes from any actual rock stars – he’s not writing about Mozart or Charlie Parker, but artists that are still living and have all of this history to share. You read Steven Tyler’s book, or Keith Richards’ Life, and you know that they know what they’re talking about.
The people who grew up with and loved classic rock already know who the alcoholic, drug-addicted (or recovering) rock stars are, or were; we know how getting high affected their careers and relationships, and how a lot of those times are looked back on fondly by many; and we sure as hell knew then, even more immediately now, when their tripping asses get busted by “The Man” for various indiscretions their respective vices more likely than not contributed to, and their unfortunate discovery for the world to read about.
The closest Case comes in this book is an admittedly wonderful and detailed description of the Great “Summit Meeting” between Dylan and The Beatles, when the folk rock troubadour had the distinct honor of introducing the Fab Four to the herb that literally would change their life in “oh so many ways” (from ‘Help!’, a movie they’d started filming shortly after, where they were stoned throughout the entire production).
I mentioned a bibliography above, but it’s not “thick” at all – it has most of the highlights (Guralnik’s brilliant 2-book Elvis bio, Steven Davis’ Hammer of the Gods). But this makes nary a difference to George Case, ’cause he didn’t learn a damn thing from any of them.
And I slogged through 240-plus pages to see the ‘textbook’ example of NOT HAVING A CLUE about “Rock ‘n’ Roll Before the Drugs Wore Off” – this writer’s only achievement was in completely harshing my buzz.