Solid collection of rock writing from the mid-1960s through the ’90s, mostly by veteran scribes for magazines like Creem and New Musical Express.
Selected from the archives of www.rocksbackpages.com, a Web site Hoskyns (Across the Great Divide, not reviewed) started to keep critically insightful rock writing accessible at a time when corporations “control and commodify rock rebellion,” these 30 contributions from mostly well-known figures like Greil Marcus, Paul Williams, Simon Frith, and Nick Hornby arguably provide a representative cross-section of the genre’s strengths. Some essays are built around interviews with significant figures like Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Ice Cube, and Bruce Springsteen (Jerry Gilbert’s astute 1974 piece captures the Boss forlornly straddling impoverishment and fame). The strongest work provides offbeat perspectives on various scenes, capturing vital moments in the sprawling narrative of rock’s development. These include Mick Farren’s humorous “Live From Nashville” (1976), which captures an uneasy “outlaw” South; Barry Miles’s poignant reminder of pre-AIDS downtown decadence, epitomized by the glammed-out New York Dolls; and Lenny Kaye’s hilarious account of Grand Funk Railroad’s sold-out Shea Stadium gig. Other notable entries include Steve Turner’s prescient look at the image-marketing behind David Bowie’s early rise, David Dalton’s chillingly precise eyewitness account of the fatal 1969 concert at Altamont, and Greg Shaw’s endearingly fuzzy attempt to lionize the Mods upon The Who’s release of Quadrophenia. Lesser contributions merely reflect cults of personality, as in a pallid Madonna interview by Glenn O’Brien (editor of her Sex book), Will Self’s unremarkable Morrissey portrait, and Charles Murray’s perfunctory account of Eric Clapton’s 1973 return to performance. Attention is predictably lavished on boomer rock of the ’60s and ’70s at the expense of the ’80s and ’90s; coverage of Nirvana and Lollapalooza notwithstanding, there is almost no acknowledgement of the post-Reagan rock underground. (See Michael Azzerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, 2001, for that tale.)
For unreconstructed rockers who long for pre–Eminem/Britney days.