COLUMN WRITTEN BY MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER
We’re closing in on the final days of holiday shopping, and if you’re still scratching your head as to what to get the music lover in your life, how about something education – and fun – for them to sink their brains into? I’m talking about books, and whether it’s in the old school physical format or the new-fangled electronic version to read on your favorite electronic device, there are some great ones on the literal and virtual shelves this season.
Here are a few of them.
Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal
By Greg Renoff
372pp. ECW Press. $20
Despite its longwinded and somewhat incorrect categorization of Southern California’s most notorious party band as “heavy metal,” Van Halen Rising (is an absolutely fantastic read. It covers the heretofore uninvestigated era of the mighty VH, the days of talent shows, years of dive bars and feelings of hopelessness before getting signed.
Rarely does a tome which sets out to detail the early to mid-70s of a soon-to-be legendary act, before popularity struck, get it right. Part of it has to do with the difficulty in getting people to talk, or depending on memories lost in the haze of decades past and the fog of illicit drugs that ruled the day.
Author Greg Renoff does an outstanding job though of making it work and making for an engaging read. He spoke with the kids who hosted the backyard keggers Van Halen played while their parents were out of town, producer Ted Templeman who was behind the boards for the first six albums with the band, bassist Michael Anthony and the Pete Angelus, who was the art director for the group.
That’s just a few of the people; more than 230 were tapped for the book.
No, the notoriously reticent Eddie Van Halen wasn’t interviewed, nor was frontman David Lee Roth, who – according to Van Halen Rising – from Day 1 was the exact same over the top, ego-driven showman that he is today. Yet, Renoff manages to pull it off with apparent ease, which it couldn’t have been at all, ending up with an exhaustively researched work that rivals any roots story written about any band ever – that goes for The Beatles, The Stones and whoever else you want to bring up.
And when it comes to hardcore lovers of VH, “I think you’re gonna dig it,” Renoff told Rock Music Menu. “It’s the book I always wanted to read as a fan.”
Alice in Chains: The Untold Story
By David de Sola
416pp. St. Martin’s Press. $27.99.
As a respected journalist who has worked for such outlets as CNN and 60 Minutes with work also appearing in places like The Atlantic and Reuters, it may come as a surprise that David de Sola would write a book about the darkest band to emerge from the grunge era.
“I didn’t approach this book as a fan,” de Sola told Rock Music Menu. “I wrote this thing as an outside, impartial journalist. I wrote this the way I would write a book about a president or a prime minister; If people think this is some kind of fan tribute, it is not.”
How it all came to be was an interesting journey. Four years ago, de Sola was in the midst of doing homework for his second degree at Georgetown. He put on the Alice in Chains masterpiece ‘Dirt’ one night, having not listened to it in quite some time.
Afterward, figuring that original frontman Layne Staley had died in 2002 and the band had a highly-publicized and successful resurgence with singer William DuVall beginning in 2006, there must be a biography or some sort of book on the group. There wasn’t, so de Sola decided he would write one.
As a fan, he was a casual one at best, owning just the aforementioned ‘Dirt’ and the ‘Unplugged’ albums. He set out to read as many articles as he could find, and then do his own independent research to compose a narrative.
“The story was out there, just very fragmented,” he said. “The information was there, it was just a matter of putting it together and trying to fill in the gaps however I could from whatever interviews I could get or whatever documentation I could find.”
What came together through new interviews, extensive research into public records and printed and recorded interviews from over the past 25 years in an encyclopedic reader on the history of Alice in Chains. It’s not sensational, though some would argue the facts themselves are scandalous enough. Inconsistencies are laid out in what bandmembers themselves, like the late Mike Starr, said over the years, but it’s up to the reader to decide what’s true and what’s not. And for a band shrouded in mystery as to what the real story was, it couldn’t be presented in a more black and white manner.
Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999
By DJ Ross One
256pp. Powerhouse Books. $35.
This was without a doubt the most enjoyable book of the year to sit down and peruse. DJ Ross One (aka Ross Schwartzman) refers to himself as a “rap nerd,” and is one of the world’s foremost collectors of all things hip hop. Rap Tees spotlights a much sought after collection of T-shirts in this lushly produced and detailed catalog which showcases more than 500 of the genre’s best over a
nearly two decade-long period.
Beginning with the earliest rap concert shirts from the Sugar Hill Gang and New York Fresh Fest from the early 80s and spanning through all the changes that took place in the genre, the introduction into mainstream culture, Rap Tees includes rare shirts from a wide selection of the who’s-who of the business like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Beastie Boys, Eric B and Rakim, Wu Tang Clan, Jay Z, and Nas – and that’s just to name a few.
Unlike typical rock and roll shirts or hip-hop shirts of today, hip hop tees were often made in extremely limited quantities. The elusive concert, promotional, and bootleg tees included in this book are nearly impossible to find on the open market. That leaves secondary markets like eBay, similar auctions and being tipped off to collectors looking to move their wares, which happens randomly. It’s also gets pretty expensive. Better off to throw on some old-school hip hop and curl up with the Rap Tees book.
To contact music columnist Michael Christopher, send an email to email@example.com. Also, check out his blog at our sister publication www.delcotimes.com