Friday, March 20, 2009

It's only rock and roll, but I like it

I picked up Rock and Roll Cage Match at the library. It consists of a series of essay pitting one popular rock (as well as a few rap and one country pair) act against another. For the most part, the authors call it very closely for one side or the other and in most cases you have to really care about the artists in question. I don't think any essay about Blur vs. Oasis could thrill me, but I sat up for the Pavement vs. Guided By Voices. The latter is quite funny, especially as the author once interviewed Stephen Malkmus and is convinced he thinks she doesn't know who John Peel is. This haunts her to this day.

While band interest is critical, there are some stand out essays. The one on Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath opens by asking if you would rather get beat up by a kid in Zep shirt or a Sabbath shirt. The Smiths vs the Cure one is great, but the top one on my list is Richard Hell's take on the Rolling Stones vs. The Velvet Underground. Perhaps because he is a performer himself, he takes a look at Jagger and Reed as front men. The whole thing is worth reading, but this is indicative:

"Neither, though, do the Velvets have a Jagger or a Charlie Watts. What Jagger brings is the apotheosis of that front-man function. Not only can he do more with his voice than Reed, but he's the leaping monkey who serves as the "appointed god to make us perfect" for his audience in a way that Reed couldn't begin to try. As for Charlie, maybe he even exceeds Keith's contributions in the battle with the Velvets. The snap, bam, and sliding virility of the way his drum kit makes Stones recordings riveting puts them in another class altogether from the VU in the percussion department. Maureen's drumming is perfect in a one dimensional way, but Charlie makes every other drummer in rock and roll sound handicapped."

This is the sort of book that brings together arguments you have probably already had and might give you more ammunition for your next one.

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