The Groovers’ Grotto: A Fan’s Notes from a Season of Headfeeding

Hi there, having stepped from the Month of (thankfully not quite) Madness and well stuck into a month cruel as Katie (happy Earth — or Eartha Kitt, if you prefer — Day, by the way).

And, yes, things have been busy within and without the Grotto for your reporter, thank you for asking. Through perseverance, talent and the odd bit of luck, I have managed to sink grapples and stakes into a section of the rockface of the Fourth Estate that I’ve hacked away at for…jeez, how long is it? Ages, eons…parsecs?

Specifics, then: I am regularly contributing to Bay Area monthly entertainment freebie guide BAY STAGES, and also to Southern California-based vinyl and music geek bimonthly RECORD COLLECTOR NEWS. Two discerning and tasty reads, both free and online as well as in proper paper form, and both worthy of the widest most possible readership.

Presently though, enough onanistic backslap and on to but some of one’s recent discoveries in pulpy perusals and earbending audio and video evidence.  Howzabout this for starters: Lou Reed — Live ‘72 and ‘74 (MVD Video). Reed, in his mid ‘70s Rock and Roll Animal persona, presented himself not unlike a spastic surfer mantis in shades: a radical if brief shape-shift from the newly solo, sedated after-hours troubadour of Transformer and Berlin, in other words. Combined with exciting if conventional hard-rocking revamps of his VU catalog, it certainly got Lou noticed, even if he did eventually head for the ditch in his Metal Machine contraption.

After tantalizingly brief clips in PBS’ Rock And Roll Heart doc., the ‘74 portion (shot at various Euro venues) is close to an entire concert set, with all the favorites: a strutting ‘Sweet Jane’, a majestically doomy ‘Heroin’, a disco drug-jittery ‘Rock And Roll’ and more besides.

One important caveat, though: while the sound quality is choice, the visuals are watchable but way grainy, like a second-third generation dub. Given that some of the same clips show up on YouTube (or even Lou’s own website) in far better shape, it’s a blatant case of shoddy quality control. That said, it’s still a brilliant bit of historical salvage, even if slightly misleading: the ‘72 portion consists of a truncated clip of ‘Heroin’ from that year’s now-legendary Reed/John Cale/Nico reunion concert in Paris, and thus almost an afterthought.

So then: another year, another Bowie bio. Following up Mark Spitz’s turn last year comes Paul Trynka’s David Bowie: Starman (Little, Brown). There’s really nothing hugely revelatory to be found in Trynka’s reportage — certainly nothing on the level of Open Up And Bleed, his previous, pretty-damn-definitive history of Iggy Pop. But there is some value to be found, esp. in his research of DB’s early days as a musician, with jobbing hopefuls and also-rans like the Kon-Rads and The Buzz.

Take care, though, not to favorably mention Big Dave in the presence of longtime alternative/u’ground music commentator Byron Coley. A thorough drawing and quartering of Bowie’s methodology, in fact, actually provides one of the grimy highlights of C’est La Guerre: Early Writings 1978-1983 (Oie De Cravan), a Canadian collection of Coley music writings and biographic pieces.

Coley made his initial presence known through the post-Punk fanzine world of the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s. Via now-venerated indie-minded mags like New York Rocker and Boston’s Take It!, among others, Coley set out a profane but engaging rockcrit shingle, inspired by the Beats and gonzo rock scribes like Richard (Aesthetics Of Rock) Meltzer.

On the surface, Coley’s writing voice at this juncture was fiercely informal unto noble-lit.-savage scatalogy, reinforced by admissions to being ‘a dumb boy’ and ‘stoopid doopid kid’. But don’t be fooled: then as much as now (as seen in his regular pieces for the British music mag Wire), Coley deftly and regularly trips the reader up by inevitably revealing a perceptive and finely tuned critical mind, one capable of traversing far beyond mere gross, epater-le-b brainspew.

Coley ain’t for everyone, especially those who prefer their rock journo in easily palatable dribs, or pretentious, Greil Marcus-style drabs (even if he did manage to worm his way into SPIN Magazine for a few years). But for those suitably inclined, Byron Coley is a treasure and, fingers and toes crossed, this will be only the first of many compendiums.

Meantime, a read that might well appeal to fans of SF/F (as I imagine most of you scoping this site are) is Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (Random House). Austin Texas’s own, Cline is a proud, minutiae-minded pop culture geek, both on stage — as one of the human tentpegs of Austin’s Poetry Slam community — and on page, having co-writ the film Fanboys (even if numerous changes by Hollywood script doctors and suits resulted in Cline all but disowning the finished product).

One fervently hopes better for Ready Player One.  For one, it’s as eminently filmable as it is readable. Its plot involves a smart, circumstantially stressed teenager in a post-apocalyptic America thirty years from now, and his habitual escapes into a virtual world obsessed with the ‘80s (the videogame-computer world in partic.), which expands (via a search for a deceased Silicon Valley magnate’s hidden fortune) into a dramatic, surprisingly substantial action-packed epic. Cline clearly knows his stuff inside out, but doesn’t let it get in the way of laying out a mighty fine transistor and microchip-embedded yarn.

Again though, a caveat: for those familiar with such stuff, you will find yourselves in a Pacman and John Hughes-ruled Valhalla. Others may be as future-shocked and flummoxed as Jack Nicholson apocryphally was on first viewing Ferris Bueller. (Who, me?)

Whoa, not even into recent music finds and already out of space: but plenty more anon? You betchum.


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