Mammoth Book of Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll
Jim Driver, ed.
London: Constable / Robinson, 2001.
£7.99, 628 pages, ISBN 1841191450.
Université de Rouen
The Mammoth Book of Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll is
a huge collection of rock n roll bits and pieces (628
pages!). As such, it was bound to be uneven. Something for everyone,
I suppose. The editor, Jim Driver, has come up with a few texts of
his own at the end of the book, divided into seven tongue-in-cheek
sensationalist categories: Doomed rock n roll marriages,
Sudden death, Death by their own hands, Planes, trains, and automobiles,
Death by drink and drugs, Death by drowning, Brushes with the law
and antisocial behaviour. Some of those texts are crisp and enlightening,
like Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley or Nancy
Spungen, others utilitarian (or should I say merely informative?)
and not so inspired, like Hugh Cornwell, Marvin
Gaye or Otis Redding. I felt sorry when I read Marilyn
Manson and found no more than a couple of middle-of-the-road
biographical facts and a handful of not even very juicy gossip items.
Jim Driver is, however, an impeccable editor as far as selecting texts
is concerned. Of course, most readers will be interested in some parts
of the book, and skip others. But that is not due to the intrinsic
value of the pieces, only to the subject matter. If you dislike Gong,
you might not wish to read an autobiographical account of their 1999
tour, no matter how funny or illuminating. As for the Residents, youve
never even heard of them. Mind you, if thats the case, you probably
only listen to classical music anyway, so what are you doing reading
this book? Oops, maybe I should refrain from such jocular remarks,
or else people will think that they shouldnt read the book either
if they have little to no sex, or if theyve never done drugs,
considering the title. Actually this is the kind of book that is so
rich that youll have your moneys worth even if you only
read a third.
I particularly enjoyed Hello, Im Marc Bolan, Im
a Superstar, youd better believe it, written by Charles
Shaar Murray, initially published in the legendary magazine Cream
in May 1972. Murray does not hesitate to propose a definition of the
term superstar, very debatable but interesting: A
star is someone who we know about, but a superstar is someone everybody
knows aboutyour parents, the milkman, your bank manager, everybody.
Murray also criticizes the cultural elitist division of the
rock audience and heavy rock sociology. He addresses
fandom, wondering about real and not so real fans, and spotting fifty-seven
varieties of total hysteria around [him] at a T-Rex concert!
This is his tremendous definition of Bolans songs:
Bolans head, Tolkien and Berry are collaborating on songs, which
are taken to Sam Phillipss Sun Studios in Memphis with Phil
Spector at the board, Eddie Cochran playing rhythm guitar, Jimi Hendrix
lead, Buddy Holly up front to sing and The Ronettes somewhere at the
back and Brian Wilson, David Bowie and Syd Barrett all hanging around
not happy with the way trendy youngsters rejected singles
back in the early seventies; of course, those were the years of long
concept albums, all those vinyl LPs that now accumulate
dust in peoples attics
They seemed indispensable back
then, especially when helped by copious quantities of weed, but they
sound slightly boring today. This was his answer, to which I totally
subscribe: The art of making singles as opposed to albums is
no more odious than that of the short-story writer as opposed to the
novelist. Of course, the (nostalgic) pleasure I derived from
the text probably has something to do with my being an old fan of
the late Marc Bolan. Remember when T-Rex came up with The Slider
and you bought a top hat and seriously considered getting a perm to
emulate your favourite singer? You didnt? Oh, of course, you
thought Bolan was small fry, didnt you? Couldnt have come
anywhere close to the sheer genius of Bowie if his life had depended
on it. Well, if you wish you were back in 1973 with your ginger Aladdin
Sane hair, there are texts for you in this book, like David
and Angela Bowie.
In case youre still wondering about the origins of rock n
roll, or even the origins of the phrase, I recommend Wayne Dang
Dooleys contribution, Its only rock n
roll. Yes, you are meant to immediately think of the
Rolling Stones when you come upon this title, and to supply the next
line: but I like it. Dooley does not mince his words:
anyone ever tells you that the term rock n roll
was coined by American DJ Alan Freed, tell them to take a hike. Go
spin, buddy, as George Martin might say. The Boswell Sisters
recorded a song called Rock and Roll in 1934 and rocking
and rolling had been Afro-American slang for fucking since long before
Freed first set foot on Gods good pasture.
There is a
splendid piece written by Simon Garfield for Time Out back
in 1986, entitled Hell on wheels: The Cramps which begins
with these reminiscences: Pink fur bra straps, gold lamé
trousers, no undies, leopard-skin gloves, black glasses, lots and
lots of sequins and pearls, and thats just Colin the driver.
Later, Garfield confesses that if he were given the opportunity to
live his whole life again, he would change only one thing: he wouldnt
travel with The Cramps again. The rest really lives up to the title,
and you do not even need to like The Cramps to find it amusing.
Drivers introduction features seven interesting quotes, including
one Im particularly partial to, I wonder why: Lets
face it, if I werent as talented as Im ambitious, Id
be a gross monstrosity. Wait, think, for half a minute, can
you guess who said that? Yes, its Madonna, of course.
Issue # 3 of Cercles was entitled British and American popular
music: subversion and/or entertainment?, and some of the pieces
in The Mammoth Book of Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll
would not have been out of place in it, although not academic. See
for instance Gene Vincent: the genesis of the dark side,
In the aftermath of Altamont, or Phallus of fallacy,
about the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even Allen Ginsberg is put to good
This book will especially delight all the readers in their thirties
and forties who as children spent hours in front of their mirror,
aping their favourite rock stars poses or guitar heros
movements. They were determined to become rock stars in their turn,
when they grew up, and they ended up doing some ordinary job, like
teaching or something.
What I find totally unforgivable, though, is the absence of index.
Maybe its because Im an academic, and we academics cannot
live without indexes, its like Manson without make-up, or Led
Zeppelin without a guitar.