An influential rock critic shares highlights from more than 40 years in the business.
Longtime Los Angeles Times pop-music journalist Hilburn (Springsteen, 1986, etc.) looks back on the path he followed into what he calls “the best job in the world,” from a boyhood spent listening to his uncle’s blues and country records in Louisiana to a stint as a reporter for his San Fernando Valley high-school newspaper, for which he reviewed Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender. The book is not exactly a memoir, but rather a review of the major developments in popular music that the author played a part in shaping, both as a prescient champion of performers (Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and U2, for example) and as a sensitive interviewer who earned the trust of some of the most notoriously difficult subjects in music (most notably, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan). Fans of Springsteen, Dylan and U2 will be thrilled to find multiple chapters devoted to their idols, who are clearly Hilburn’s favorites as well. He generously shares pages of quotes from his interviews on subjects ranging from musical influences—not surprisingly, almost everyone cites Elvis—and the craft of songwriting to the difficulty of maintaining a personal life apart from career and celebrity. The most intriguing sections, however, are the glimpses into the private lives of a who’s who of popular music in the 20th century: Johnny Cash preparing to take the stage at Folsom Prison and, late in life, at a rural Virginia barn dance; Colonel Parker keeping a tight rein on Elvis in Vegas; John Lennon sneaking chocolate and relishing cornflakes and cream at the Dakota; Michael Jackson pillow-fighting with six-year-olds while Brooke Shields and her mother waited for a date; Courtney Love beside herself worrying about Kurt Cobain. Because the incidents illustrate Hilburn’s main points about the character of the acts he believes are most worth listening to, the gossip is guilt-free.
A must-read for pop-music lovers.