A rueful, funny memoir of a doomed life in rock ’n’ roll.
Dubbed (mostly posthumously) Britain’s answer to the New York Dolls, the Hollywood Brats cooked up a mighty roar now enshrined in one very hard to find LP. The Brats—a name with “a dash of louche decadence to it”—began life as The Queen but were forced to change the moniker when another band with a record contract lay claim to it. No sweat for mastermind and axman Matheson, who is, as the narrative finds him smack in the middle of 1973, desperately seeking a record deal of his own. His representative made the rounds, tape in hand, and the record company executives listened. “They listen,” he writes, “their smiles disappear within seconds, they turn him down flat. Old colleagues question his sanity.” So it is in the glamorous world of glam-era rock music in swinging London, whose airwaves, as Matheson’s spry yarn opens, are dominated by a tune called “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep,” which, he rightly growls, “makes you want to drive spikes into your ears and crucify your brain.” The author recounts the hard work of putting together a band, especially one with a drummer who can hold a beat and a bass player who doesn’t look like he’s trying out for Jethro Tull. If we’ve heard the story before—band squabbles over lack of money, band gets gigs, band squabbles over presence of money—Matheson writes with an easy, loping gait, covering the four years when Hollywood Brats tried to make their mark on the world, only to wind up a cult favorite 40 years on. If he’s sometimes a little too breezy—his asides to rock stars of the era, Bryan Ferry and Mick Jagger among them, verge on cloying—it’s a minor demerit for a book that’s long on laughs and even insight.
Read alongside Ray Davies’ X-Ray (1995) and Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming (1992) for a vivid account of a bygone musical era.