All Hopped Up and Ready To Go
Music From the Streets of New York: 1927-77
by Tony Fletcher
This book is an interesting example of classic rock journalist trying to venture behind the artist portraiture that has long passed for criticism in the world of popular music. The writer in this case is Tony Fletcher. You may know him from such hard hitting rock artist biographies as: Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend; The Clash: The Complete Guide to Their Music; Remarks: The Story of R.E.M. and Never Stop: The Echo and The Bunnymen Story.
Ho, ho, ho- that's quite an impressive resume. Past choices aside, All Hopped Up and Ready To Go is an interesting attempt to write a book incorporating influences other then "hero worship." Fletcher has attempted, in his own way, to write a social history in this book- a social history of musical sub-cultures in New York City between 1927 and 1977. And while it's possible to quibble with any part of that description and the reasons for choosing each of those variables, it's best to lay aside petty mindedness and just embrace what's there. In this case, 'what's there' is a well documented series of chapters on artists and New York based "scenes."
The first 50 pages of All Hopped Up is heavily weighted towards Jazz, and it will present a challenge to fans of the later New York sounds. Three of the first five chapters are about the influence of Latin American musicians on jazz in the pre- World War II period. Whoop-de-whoop.
For me, All Hopped Up hit its stride in the chapter on the Greenwich Village folk scene. It was refreshing to read such a matter of fact description of people and places, shorn of all the mythologizing bullshit or, alternatively, the failure to appreciate the complexity and achievements of the artists in this period. Most interesting to me is how uninterested these folk musicians were in 50s rock music and rhythm and blues. That is actually a weakness and taste which extends to the present day fans of folk music. I think it has something to do with white people and their lack of soul, personally- that's just an opinion. It's worth shelling out the five bucks All Hopped Up costs on Amazon.
Particularly if you are one of those people who has issues with "scenes" or "hipsters" or whatever- Fletcher's book is clear evidence of how important place is on groups of artists, professionals and audiences in the world of popular music.
One of the most interesting aspects of All Hopped Up from my perspective is the way that the institutions of music industry relate to the successive scenes. Fletcher does not attempt to integrate the concurrent story of the music industry itself- business men in All Hopped Up appear as early audience members or as guys who show up with contracts to prove the worth of an artist.
The stand-out story in this entire book is the few pages on the signing of the Ramones by Seymour Stein to Sire Records. Stein is perhaps the patron sent of independent music in the United States. This is a guy who interned at King Records when they were putting out James Brown 45's. And he signed the Ramones to a record contract. It's funny to see how all of the cool bands of the CBGB's scene (Talking Heads, Blondie, Television, the Ramones) were ALL signed to what would be considered "major label" deals (Sire was technically an indie.) Fletcher says things like "The Ramones debut album failed to crack the top 100 album sales, stalling out at 101."
In fact, one of the stand out thoughts that I took away from All Hopped Up is how music industry institutions reacted differently to black and white musical sub cultures. Black artists: basically ignored or cultivated by a small group of true believers. White artists: feeding frenzy. In fact, I think one of the main principles of all the music industry institutions is that well connected white artists, such as those living in New York City in any decade, tend to do well because of the network of personal relationships that they are able to establish by a combination of physical presence and "hard work." This occurs again and again even though the artists in question may actively dislike "music industry institutions."
In fact, it is the very attention of the music industry itself which makes a specific artist a worthy subject to a writer. Fletcher seems almost unaware of this conundrum- and the question of interaction between artists and institutions is not even close to being a focus of this book. Based on his prior output, Fletcher appears to be a rock journalist who likes to tell cool stories about famous artists, and he's done that here.
Fletcher's chapters on the Brill Street songwriters, the girl groups of the early 1960s and everything Warhol through to the Ramones is pretty well worth your time to check out.
Dedicated to classics and hits.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Posted by catdirt at 10:30 AM
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