Sunday, April 12, 2009

Let it Bleed

Once upon a time part of the allure of exploring rock and roll and it’s ancillary byways and dusty highways was getting the chance to stumble towards the nether regions and back alleys that the popular music seemed to leave in it’s often putrid, rotting, yet fertile wake. Josh Alan Friedman (a journalist/musician/author) is a hell of a beady-eyed guide, laying it out in his book Tell the Truth until They Bleed: Coming Clean in the Dirty World of Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll(2008, Backbeat Books, 262 peps, 2008.) A lean and mean collection of fifteen cautionary tales, with a majority set in the Texas music scene, many reporting weirdly similar showbiz rise and falls (and hanging-in-theres), dotted with waterlogged recording tapes, ripped-off songwriters, junkie antics, music biz backstabbing, self-immolating artistic visions, midnight boogies, dashed dreams, riches gained and lost, opportunities messed-up and circumvented, aging wise men, hardened arteries and perceptions, the shards of fame and loss, and, most of all, the siren call of songs, sounds, and magical one-night stands that reverberate far past mere career trajectories or chart listings. Friedman talks to and profiles kingpins (Dr. John, Jerry Leiber), one-of-a-kinders (Doc Pomus, Mose Allison), lost sidemen (Tommy Shannon, Cornell Dupree) record bizzers (Joel Dorn), regional obscurities (Ricky Sikes and the Rhythm Rebels) and even includes a truly hilarious chapter (“Mr. Nobody”) with himself as a brief paramour of one of pop music’s true Queens, Ronnie Spector. A snap and crackle read, brimming with bad juju, empty pockets, and the echo of some of the songs you can only hear when yer stranded on Lonely Avenue.

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