There’s this famous quote that’s been attributed to various people over the years (Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, Thelonius Monk, Clara Schumann, Miles Davis, George Carlin, to name a few), but was probably coined by Martin Mull; ”Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
While I can see the point the quote is making, I’m inclined to disagree somewhat. It is true that the experience of music does not really transfer into writing, but there is still a lot one can learn about music through reading. I am a passionate reader of biographies and musical literature, and it’s been a constant source of insight and knowledge to me.
Usually, my favorites are the ones that take you inside the creative process of an artist, let you inside the recording studios, the rehearsal rooms, the philosophy and the inspiration. The more gossipy ones that focus mainly on the private lives, addictions, divorces and scandals of the artists are generally less interesting to me, but of course there are exceptions. I mean, ’The Dirt’ is obviously a highly entertaining read.
In the Billy Momo mini-documentary ’The dirt road to Seven Rivers Wild’ Orren jokingly refers to me as a ”human encyclopedia”, which is quite an exaggeration of course, but I do enjoy collecting little nuggets of musical trivia, connecting dots, and discovering context. So it was with great pleasure I came home the other day to find a new book in my mailbox, Andrew Greenaway’s ’Frank talk: The inside stories of Zappa’s other people’. Basically it’s a collection of interviews with various FZ alumni, and I’m devouring it like a dog attacks a sausage.
I usually share a list of ”recommended listening” in my posts, but today I thought I’d share some of my favorite books about music, so that you may also have the pleasure of reading them.
SOUL MINING: A MUSICAL LIFE – DANIEL LANOIS A beautiful memoir by the legendary producer/musician/artist Daniel Lanois. It has atmosphere dripping from every page, much like the man’s music.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME: MUSIC, RACE & THE SOUL OF AMERICA – CRAIG WERNER
A thorough analysis of how music has been part of the civil rights movement in the U.S. Deeply fascinating, should be required reading in school.
ONE TRAIN LATER: A MEMOIR – ANDY SUMMERS
The Police guitarist writes poetically and beautifully, he could easily have pursued a career as an author instead of playing with one of the biggest acts in the history of popular music.
ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE: THE BAND AND AMERICA – BARNEY HOSKYNS The story of one of the most influential music groups of all time, written by one of the best music writers around. Very insightful and revealing.
BODY AND SOUL – FRANK CONROY This is a novel, unlike the others, but it is by far the most beautifully written book about the experience of being a musician I’ve ever come across. This one actually manages to dance about architecture! Warning: You will cry. A lot.
DEAR BOY: THE LIFE OF KEITH MOON – TONY FLETCHER Speaks for itself, really. A crazy ride through a life lived in the fast lane. Entertaining, legendary, and also surprisingly moving.
TRAVELING MUSIC: THE SOUNDTRACK TO MY LIFE AND TIMES – NEIL PEART The drummer/lyricist of Rush literally takes a road trip as well as a trip down memory lane as he listens to various albums along the way. A combined travel book and memoir.
IN COLD SWEAT: INTERVIEWS WITH REALLY SCARY MUSICIANS -THOMAS WICTOR
Exactly what it says on the tin. Gene Simmons, Peter Hook, Jerry Casale and especially the truly one of a kind Scott Thunes in personal portraits of a lifetime in music.
LORDS OF CHAOS: THE BLOODY RISE OF THE SATANIC METAL UNDERGROUND – MICHAEL MOYNIHAN AND DIDRIK SODERLIND A modern classic, investigating one of the most truly bizarre subcultures to ever emerge in music. Remember the early 90s, people?
REDNECKS AND BLUENECKS: THE POLITICS OF COUNTRY MUSIC – CHRIS WILLMAN
The political landscape of the U.S. viewed through the Country music industry. An often surprising read, tremendously insightful and educational.
THE REAL FRANK ZAPPA BOOK – FRANK ZAPPA AND PETER OCCHIOGROSSO
Not exactly a memoir, but rather part behind the scenes revelations, part political manifesto and part pure entertainment. Funny as shit.
BILL BRUFORD: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – BILL BRUFORD
Typically British dry wit and a generous dose of sarcasm make Bruford’s recollections bitingly funny, while at the same time displaying a never-ending quest for musical discovery and progress. Inspiring!
CHRONICLES – BOB DYLAN Beautifully written, as one would expect, a real treasure chest of musical history, and language that flows like wine. Supremely good.
FARGO ROCK CITY – CHUCK KLOSTERMAN Hysterically funny and strangely clever writing about being a metalhead back in the 80s. You will laugh your ass off while being nostalgic for an era you thought you despised. Possibly the funniest book you’ll ever read.
There should be something here for everyone. Enjoy!
Ever since I started working with Billy Momo two years ago, we’ve constantly been battling with the issue of how to describe the sound. The (first and) second album, Drunktalk, was labeled “urban folk” by international media. By me, I think the term ‘folk’ tends to be a little, little misleading, but I kept using it throughout the album launch campaign.
The third and latest album, Seven Rivers Wild took another musical turnway. This time the ‘folky’ bits were tuned down a notch and Billy Momo got a more classic sound, somewhat guitar driven but still that nice and quirky tone to it. For SRW the ‘urban folk’ label did not fit, at least not for all the tracks so I used ‘alternative rock’.
And with new material coming up, starting from October – it sounds we’re heading a bit towards the sound on the first two albums again. We tried to think up a new genre, ‘beat root’ – I think it sums the sound really great, but you catch it really first you see it in print. I don’t want the audience to think about shopping vegetables when they think of Billy Momo. Or, on the other hand – maybe I would like that? Vegetables are good for you!
So, what should we call the sound of Billy Momo? Any suggestions?
/Birgitta, manager Billy Momo
There are very few things I love as much as performing live with Billy Momo.
Except for a few things I do with family and friends, the only thing I can think of is recording music with Billy Momo.
Billy Momo is a great live band.
We haven’t always been, though. We started as a duo. It was hard to find a way to reconstruct everything we did in recording, live. There were laptops and backtracks and different complicated solutions. We barely had time to see the audience out there for all the instruments we had to focus on simultaneously.
I am ever so greatful for my band and what they’ve done to the show. Not only as a solution of course. It’s hard to even imagine us now whitout the crude and decadent Preacherman, the cute but mischievous Hotlips, the ever-happy Gramps, the silent but violent The Coffa, the dandy rockstar The Head. We are not only sounding (and looking) good, we are fun to hang with up there, which I think means a lot.
So, sometimes people – especially people in the music business – tell us they were suprised to see how good we are, after having listened to our recordings. Some would even say they were not that impressed by the recorded material, but almost chocked by the live experience.
Well, here’s why that is: If you decide for yourself that you want to check out a band, if you believe you are going to like it, if you think you might be about to make a real rescovery, you’ll give the band your best. You’ll put the music on without sending emails, feeding your kids or talking on the phone simultaneously. You may even listen to a full album instead of the random “most popular”. You might be checking out album covers, pictures or even biographies. You are digging in!
And that’s pretty much what you do every time you see a band live. You invest in the experience. You get yourself a drink, you probably brought a friend and you give it your evening. These are the proper ways to check out a band.
However, if you’re listening at home and have no specific expectations, no reason to feel like this should be right up your alley, or if it’s your job to listen to alot of new stuff that some manager or booking agent or whatever claims to be hot shit, you won’t give it that same time, focus and energy. It would be a better investment of your time even if you were dragged down to the venue against your will.
Yes, we are great live. It’s not only the joy of our lives, it’s our job. Doing the best that can be done with the live show is a responsibility. Just like it is to use the opportunity of a recording studio to do crazy creative stuff.
So, when people say we should sound more on recording as we do live, I say sure! But would you go home, put on any one of our records really loud, invite a few friends and make sure you got a beer in hand at all times while listening for an hour and then see what you think?
We very well may still try sounding more “live” on recording. It is a life of it’s own, the recording, and we will not try to recreate the live show. But you could try to recreate yourself as a live audience!
I have always been deeply suspicious of the notion that the only ”real” or ”good” or ”important” art is one created out of misery, pain and suffering. That concept always smacked of unchecked ego and inflated self-importance to me.
A lot of unbelievably great art was created out of sheer joy, the pleasure of the creative process and loving inspiration, and is in no way less valid than the art born out of pain and hardship. But for some reason, a lot of people seem to perceive depressed and/or depressing artists as ”honest”, an idea I find dubious at best.
I personally never trust an artist who takes themselves too seriously. They may take their art as seriously as a fucking heart attack, no problem there, but when they allow their sensitive minds, bleeding hearts and fragile little baby souls to demand that you laud them for the suffering they have endured, rather than the quality of the work they produce, fuck it, I’m outta there, faster than a paycheck.
Those ”artists” are often whiny little pricks who should have a therapist rather than an audience. They are often also dismissive of and even indifferent toward their fans, which is a cardinal sin in my book. Like when Morrissey scoffs that he doesn’t perform. ”Seals perform.” Yeah, right. If that’s the case, get off the stage, you have no place there.
When I walk onstage in front of an audience, I feel a huge responsibility to make sure that these people are entertained in some way, and I feel disgusted when I see bands who obviously don’t give a shit. I was raised on artists who know how to put on a show, in their own different ways, and I took those lessons to heart (at the end of this rant I’ve put together some clips of bands who know how to treat an audience). That doesn’t mean that your act has to be all out party animal energy, that’s not what I’m saying, it would be really boring if everyone was like Angus Young all the time, but there should be an effort to communicate with the people who bought their ticket for your show, and the least you can do is to acknowledge them and let them know you appreciate them coming to hear and see you.
Michael Stipe was absolutely right when he sang that everybody hurts. Everybody does, sometimes. And just because you have the creative outlet to vent your pain, which is fantastic and beautiful, that does not mean that you hurt more, better or deeper than anyone else. I love that you have the gift of touching people in a way that allows them to understand their own struggle a little bit better, ease their pain for a moment, or just recognizing that they’re not alone. But that gift does not entitle you to be a primadonna. Art is about sharing, so don’t be so fucking precious about what you do.
A lot of people suffer from depression and anxiety, and I think it is a very positive thing that we as a society are starting to unstigmatize mental health issues, although that process is still way too slow. And in that sense, it is also a very positive thing that people create art about their struggles, to show that not only is it ok to acknowledge that you have this burden in your life, it is essential to do so in order for things to change. But that doesn’t mean that the Suffering Artist should be put on any sort of piedestal. And to perpetuate a lifestyle of misery, as some would at least like to give the impression of doing, just to make ”better” art, is stupid as shit.
Billy Momo [live] – Mexico, Stockholm Lasse i Parken July 29, 2017.
If you have a hard time understanding Orren/Oskars small talk in Swedish, just skip to 0:55.
We can tell you we did not. We’ve been cruising, travelling, restoring houses, building a studio in restored house. And we’ve been doing a few shows, too.
After we’ve finished building the studio, some crazy shit is going to happen. We’re producing and recording new songs! And planning some fun stuff along the way…
Just keep a lookout, if you’re curious…