Hello there! I’m back from a few weeks of rest, relaxation and sporadic Internet access (hence the site’s lull) on Prince Edward Island in Canada. It was a fun trip, during which I occupied myself mainly by reading, listening to music and lounging about in my cottage. Paradise! But I’m happy to be back.
Looking back on my reading material, I realized that I kept opting for stories of people that walked the border between artistic genius and mental illness.
I kicked things off with A Tragic Honesty, Blake Bailey’s biography of the writer Richard Yates, who penned Revolutionary Road (which I highly recommend), a handful of other novels and speeches for Robert Kennedy, all amidst a lifelong struggle with intense perfectionism, alcoholism and mental instability.
Next to step to the plate was Phil Spector, acclaimed ’60s producer, pop mastermind and alleged murderer. Tearing Down the Wall of Sound by Mick Brown, the last person to interview Spector before the alleged murder, painted a fascinating portrait of the “Tycoon of Teen,” from his meteoric climb through the music industry and his pervasive and deep emotional issues to the bizarre spectacle that unfolded during his recent trial.
Sticking with the music angle, I picked up Rob Jovanic’s Big Star: The Short Life, Painful Death, and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop. That mouthful of a title pretty much sums up the story. They only produced three albums, but the Big Star legacy is as undeniable today as the band’s lack of success was during their brief existence.
David N. Meyer’s Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music wrapped up my theme with a detailed history of the country-rock pioneer’s journey from Southern orange grove aristocracy and New York City folk to hanging with Keith Richards and swaying between musical brilliance and drug-saturated oblivion.
Not all of the books I read took on such intense subjects. I went back to one of my old favorites, Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, and happily found it as breezy and uplifting as it was when I was in high school. In comparison, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume 1 clunked along but offered it’s interesting moments. And I became addicted to Julian Cope’s music-guru histories of German krautrock (Krautrocksampler) and Japanese rock (Japrocksampler). Beyond making one yearn to listen a long list of obscure releases, Cope offers narrative threads and supremely apt descriptions that make the reading experience alone a Grade A musical ride.