Friday, October 10, 2008

Rock and Roll Book Club

I recently read new biographies of Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth, and Warren Zevon. David Browne's Goodbye 20th Century is not the first Sonic Youth bio, but that one (Confusion Is Next) was published almost 15 years ago. Goodbye 20th Century covers Sonic Youth's career from the band's formation through the release of Rather Ripped in 2006. Sonic Youth cooperated with the author (unlike the Replacements with their biographer). Browne interviews former Sonic Youth members (including Bob Bert, Richard Edson and Jim O'Rourke), as well as managers, producers, and the band members' parents. Kim Gordon comments that the members of Sonic Youth haven't led very interesting lives, and the book is unfortunately a very dry read, laden with details about their recording sessions, tours, side projects, and their contracts with SST and Geffen. The bright spots are the comments (not all of them complimentary) from folks like Michael Gira, Lydia Lunch, Mike Watt, Richard Kern, Julia Cafritz, and Glenn Branca. It's a shame the author didn't spend more time with those interview subjects, as they have interesting things to say about working with SY, and they've clearly led more colorful lives than Sonic Youth's members (although it sounds like Gordon's teens were wild).

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead was written by Crystal Zevon, Warren's ex-wife (and the mother of his son and daughter). Crystal essentially had unlimited access to their children, and she interviews many of his musical collaborators, his managers, and even some of his girlfriends. Before Warren's death, he instructed his ex-wife to write a warts-and-all biography; and there are plenty of lurid tales of his alcoholism, wife-beating, poor parenting, infidelities, OCD, and general ego-tripping and self-indulgence. The book is written in the oral history style of Please Kill Me. The book spends equal time on his addictions (to alcohol and sex) and his career: Zevon's songwriting, his albums, and his professional relationships. Warren Zevon worked with everyone from the Everly Brothers to Kim Fowley, Neil Young, REM, Dwight Yoakam, the Rock Bottom Remainders, and many others. His friends included Hunter S. Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carl Hiassen, and Stephen King. The book is full of interesting (but ultimately sad) reminiscences of a smart and talented but self-destructive man.

I'm far more a fan of Iggy Pop than Warren Zevon; Zevon was clearly the superior songwriter, but his music had nowhere near the influence of the Stooges. Paul Trynka's Open Up and Bleed is an exhaustive biography that ranges from Iggy's early childhood to his recent reunion with the Stooges. All of Iggy's sixty years are covered in detail: there are interviews with childhood friends and school teachers, as well as participants on every studio album and every live tour. Like Warren Zevon, Iggy bought the bad boy image of the rock star life, and both men took it to life-threatening extremes of substance abuse and sexual debauchery. Open Up and Bleed, like I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, doesn't celebrate or mythologize that lifestyle. Both books detail the negative impact of addiction on their subjects' professional careers and personal relationships (with wives, girlfriends, and children, as well as managers and musical collaborators). Both Warren Zevon and Iggy Pop had famous patrons (Jackson Browne and David Bowie) who championed their careers and intervened in their personal lives, and Iggy apparently resents Bowie's success as much as Zevon resented Browne's.

Paul Trynka illustrates the differences between James Osterberg (the person) and Iggy Pop (the performer), and he convincingly suggests that Iggy may be bipolar. Trynka is a Mojo Magazine editor, and his book reflects both the passion of a true fan and the hard work of a dedicated researcher. The book makes a great companion to Iggy's autobiography, I Need More: some of the same stories are retold, but from different (perhaps more truthful) perspectives. If I could wish for anything more from Open Up and Bleed, it would be an appendix that reviews the myriad Iggy bootlegs, similar to the guide to Sex Pistols boots that Jon Savage appended to England's Dreaming.


At 10/10/2008 12:48 PM , Blogger PCarino said...

Iggy apparently resents Bowie's success as much as Zevon resented Browne's.

Wow--really? That's kind of fascinating, cuz it could easily, All-About-Eve-ily, have gone the other way.

At 10/10/2008 2:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fact correction -- Ariel Zevon is the daughter of Crystal and Warren; Jordan Zevon, Warren's eldest child, is the son of Warren and Tule (Marilyn) Livingston. That's made quite clear in the book.

At 10/10/2008 2:38 PM , Blogger jonderneathica said...

You are right, anonymous. But Paula, why would Iggy Pop resent Jackson Browne?


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