Books - L

LAST OF THE HIPPIES - Penny Rimbaud {128 pages, PM Press}
It’s many, many years since I read this. For those who don’t know, The Last Of The Hippies was a lengthy essay that was published in the insert that accompanied the CRASS album ‘Christ The Album’. It’s quite a sprawling narrative to included with an album and, while CRASS was always about ideas and the dissemination of ideas and information, it did get a bit lost within the context of the booklet that came with the album, as it was sandwiched between song lyrics (if I recall correctly at least). Here, in book form, it should certainly be easier to ‘digest’ for those who aren’t CRASS obsessed.
The main core of the essay is an analysis of Wally Hope. Hope organised the Windsor Free Festival between 1972-’74 and was among the founders of the Stonehenge Free Festival. He was also a bit of a visionary and activist, which lead his incarceration in a mental institution for the possession of a small amount of LSD. He allegedly committed suicide, but Rimbaud’s investigation discovered evidence he was murdered by the State. The narrative here only touches on the subject of Wally Hope and, if you want a more in-depth analysis of the events, it’s well worth picking up Rimbaud’s Shibboleth also.
The remainder looks at the power of Rock ‘n’ Roll as a medium of social and political change, of the ethics and ideals behind Anarchism (as viewed by Rimbaud), of the power of pacifism and peaceful protest and ultimately the then occurring Falklands War. This last issue certainly gives the narrative placement and compensates for ‘Christ The Album’s lack of songs about it. Add in religion, the banality of Oi, journalistic lies, CRASS and many more peripheral matters, and you have a convincing essay on the fundamental beliefs of what Anarcho-Punk represented.
What is hugely interesting is Rimbaud’s new introductory piece. It carries particular weight for those who already know what the core text concerns as Rimbaud mentions he is greatly embarrassed by his then-belief in the power of Rock ‘n’ Roll as a force of change. He also states that throughout his life he has swung between the pacifist stance that the original text represented (which ran in parallel to the stance of CRASS) and a more militant form of activism, which is where he currently sits. There’s definitely a sense of self-analysis and progression in this new piece.
The contrast between the two narratives makes for great reading, especially for those who think of CRASS as more than just a band and realise the power their songs could wield in a socio-political sense.
A few subtle alterations have been made to the original text; nothing that changes the actual meaning of it or acts as either contradiction or emphasis, but just some minor updates. Most notable of those is the bold, headline print of some of those iconic statements: There is no authority but our own, We have the strength but do we have the courage? etc.
If you’ve got ‘Christ The Album’ then you have the core of this; however I reckon it would be well worth your time picking this up primarily due to the new introduction and the fact that in book format, the narrative does take on a slightly less-laborious tone. (03.05.16)

LIFE ON TOUR WITH BOWIE - Sean Mayes {244 pages, John Blake Books}
It is without a doubt that in the wake of DAVID BOWIE’s passing, a veritable plethora of books, magazines and general merchandise about the man will appear, draining the last few dollars from the man’s legacy. While much of what will/ has appeared will eulogise in the present of just how great the man was in the past, this book is a little different and certainly worthy of publication.
Author Sean Mayes was a member of early/mid 70s rockers FUMBLE, who happened to support Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust tour of 1973. He was also enrolled by Bowie to play piano on his 1978 world tour and played on the ‘Lodger’ album. Not only that, but he was a keen diarist and this book is taken from his transcripts written first-hand on that nine-month tour. It was from this tour that the live album, ‘Stage’, was recorded also.
It all kicks off in March 1978 with the band in rehearsal at Dallas. From there, Mayes takes us across the US and Canada, onto Germany, France, Scandinavia and Britain before recording of ‘Lodger’ interrupts the world tour for about three months. Then it’s onto Australia, New Zealand (trivia fact here: New Zealand drew the biggest crowd of the tour [41,000] and broke the NZ attendance record of the time) and finally Japan.
Mayes only mentions the actual gigs if they were spectacular, dull or notable for whatever reason. Bowie comes over as an affable and quite down-to-earth fella, especially considering his rather aloof, other-worldly presence that is often his public persona. Here he rides trains, walks to clubs but still enjoys all the trappings of mega-rockstardom. Mayes doesn’t write of any prima-donna actions or attitudes and generally Bowie was happy to converse with fans. Only once, when an uninvited and unsuspecting photo-journalist appeared at an after-show party did he come close to throwing a bit of a tantrum.
Elsewhere we get tales of Mayes sexual conquests (which included both guys and gals), his penchant for gay and Punk clubs, food banquets, flash hotels (let’s face it - this is a Bowie tour at just about his prime, so there’s no shit-hole accommodation where Mayes was likely to get conjunctivitis from damp, unwashed pillows), being treated in NZ for VD and a genuine sense that, while being a touring musician with FUMBLE, this tour still provided a surreal but enthralling state of excitement.
It being ‘78, Punk was still newsworthy. Mayes alludes to being a ‘Punk’ throughout, be it dying his hair blue or by constantly seeking out Punk clubs during the tour. IGGY POP gets frequent mentions, as he came along on the tour for a few dates and Bowie’s entourage attended a POP gig at the Music Machine in London. At this gig, JOHNNY ROTTEN turned up too.
The book is filled out with an Introduction from Kevin Cann, who it appears worked on Mayes’ original transcripts (Mayes passed away in 1995), eight pages of monochrome photos taken from Mayes’ own personal collection and the tour itinerary.
Given this was written on-the-spot by a member of Bowie’s musical entourage, and contains little if any hindsight, it makes for fascinating if occasionally predictable reading. Mayes’ narrative has a good energy about it making it easy and enjoyable to read. He also manages to reveal a bit of Bowie’s personality and persona that, while not scandalous, certainly makes the man and the star more accessible.
Engaging stuff, especially if you are a Bowie fan who relishes travelogues and tour diaries. (11.04.16)

LOBOTOMY: Surviving The Ramones - Dee Dee Ramone {312 pages, Da Capo Press}
Reprint of Dee Dee’s autobiography for the band’s 40th anniversary. It was originally printed back in 1997 and it’s been a number of years since I read the original. Just about all of the band has been represented in print in some form now and, from all the memoirs, it’s clear a lot of bitterness - and contradictions - existed. Given they were all dysfunctional to some degree, that isn’t surprising. This however sees a lot of Dee Dee’s bitterness directed toward himself; it makes for a depressing and bleak read but throw in the man’s bi-polar issues and his penchant for exaggeration (and onto out right, vicious lying), then it becomes a sobering, blackly funny, attenuating and oddly emotional narrative.
It all starts on familiar ground, with Dee Dee at NYC’s Chelsea Hotel getting off drugs. Drugs form as much a part of this book as THE RAMONES themselves do, so the tone is set. We then go back to his childhood in Germany where he cites his mother as a drunk and his Army father as weak. Both of them, it is claimed, beat Dee Dee after the birth of his sister, Beverley. On one of the few occasions he attended school, he had his first taste of violence with a playground fight - and promptly pulled a switchblade on the other kid.
By the time his parents relocate to Queens, NYC, he has already tried glue sniffing and has experienced Morphine. He lands a supermarket job - and smokes joints and takes LSD before starting. Soon he starts to deal and the whole ‘doomed’ feeling of his narrative kicks in.
He explains how he met the band members, of moving to Manhattan and of how they formed the band as no one else would have them. The CBGB’s debut was in front of 15 drag queens apparently; and then he meets Connie.
If you didn’t know, Connie was the ex of NEW YORK DOLLS bassist, Arthur Kane. She had a dope habit to match Dee Dee, frequently lapsed into verbal tantrums which more often than not turned violent. Dee Dee still speaks with fondness of her and even blames himself for a lot of her outbursts. From here, there are multiple coping dope stories, the origins of ‘Chinese Rocks’ and Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan hanging around a lot.
Each RAMONES album is discussed briefly, the initial London trip where it is claimed Johnny Ramone gave Johnny Rotten a beer laced with piss, and his own issues with Phil Spector where he claims he doesn’t even know who played bass on ‘End Of The Century’.
His rap album is briefly mentioned and he then leaves the band following a tour in California with MURPHYS LAW which resulted in Jimmy Gestapo telling Johnny he’ll never be safe in NYC again.
Post RAMONES, Dee Dee appeared to be quite nomadic. He moves to the East Village to clean up then departs to Paris to try and do a band with Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders. When that fails it’s back to NYC before heading to the UK where he did, apparently, get off drugs. He hated it there, so went back to NYC before heading to Netherlands, Belgium and Argentina where he met his final love, Barbara. His recollections of the band’s final show in Buenos Aires are laced with bitterness also.
The book is filled out with several photo pages and introductions from both Legs McNeil and Joan Jett.
Given Dee Dee’s propensity for being deceptive, it’s interesting the things he decides to omit from the book. There’s nothing about him giving head as a rent boy, he only suggests what he did to Johnny Thunders’ guitar in Paris after Thunders stole his jacket, there’s nothing about the ‘We’re Outta Here’ show in Los Angeles, nothing of the cause of Joey and Johnny’s friction over Linda yet he claims that when the band played in Auckland, New Zealand, there was a riot in which the fans killed police dogs!!
While this is laden with humour, it’s also a sad document. Dee Dee is well aware of his own ability but seems to wallow in the belief that everything around him that fails is his fault, that he is somehow doomed. That could be viewed as being totally correct - but a lot of those errs of judgement have more to do with the effects of and need for dope. As with any book about the band, especially one written by the hand of someone who was a founding member and main songwriter, it’s a great read - but it’s also one where reading between the lines is essential. (12.07.17)

LONELY BOY: Tales From A Sex Pistol - Steve Jones {320 pages, Da Capo Press}
Whatever your thoughts about the SEX PISTOLS might be, one thing is beyond dispute: the guitar sound of Steve Jones on those first four singles and the ‘Never Mind...’ album is, quite simply, the bollocks. Colossal. In your face. Any and all other superlatives that have been foisted upon that sound are completely true. What’s more, he’s the prime candidate for writing a book about the PISTOLS that’s more fact over fiction when compared with Rotten’s self-centred, ego-inflating spiel or Matlock’s voice of the cheated.
Jones takes the reader right back to his birth year, 1955, born the son of a Teddy Boy father who didn’t stick around. The picture he paints of London in the 60s, and particularly that of Hammersmith is a grey one. It’s full of corrugated iron, tower blocks, a kiddie-fiddler constantly trying to lure him into the subway and a rather sordid case of sexual child abuse at the hands of his step-father. This forms the background to his deviant behaviour, particularly that of theft, multiple sexual conquests, Peeping Tom escapades and, of course, music.
It’s a great opening segment as we get to read and understand more about Steve Jones the person as opposed to the SEX PISTOL. In fact, Johnny Rotten doesn’t put in an appearance until about 130 pages in, by which time Jones had already formed a friendship with Malcolm McClaren (who prevented Jones from a long stretch in prison - which was possibly the best thing McClaren ever did in shaping the PISTOLS). It’s clear he had a great deal of respect for McClaren, even after the evidence of him ripping the band off.
From there it’s an account of the SEX PISTOLS as we know it, with a few additional facts we didn’t. Jones’ respect for Rotten as a performer is also paramount, as is his dislike of Rotten the man.
Post PISTOLS, Jones is left wallowing after the jaunt in Rio with Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs, and decides to go to America. This final part of the book looks at his bands like CHEQUERED PAST and NEUROTIC OUTSIDERS, his radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox, motorbikes and of course the PISTOLS reformation gigs and tours. More than that however, Jones goes into great depth about his battles with Heroin, alcohol and sex (the latter becomes a bit tiresome after a while). Unfortunately, there’s no mention at all of his work with KRAUT.
The book is filled out with 12 pages of glossy photos and a foreword by Chrissie Hynde of THE PRETENDERS (and a former Jones conquest of the sexual kind).
It’s without a doubt that Jones has lived a full and decidedly hedonistic life. Throughout the book he is quick to distance himself from the minimalist Punk ethos as he wanted to make records that sound huge, wanted money, wanted smart clothes and a place to live that wasn’t a squat. His narrative resonates with honesty fused with laugh-out-loud moments of stupidity, sexual bravado and loud-mouthed arrogance.
While this is obviously an autobiography about a musician from one of the most infamous bands of all time, it’s also about the life of Steve Jones the person; of triumph over adversity. At the peak of his Heroin addiction it makes for depressing reading (including his attempt to sell stolen PR photos of Heart on the streets of NYC to get dope money). This is juxtaposed against a sense of life-affirming victory when he gets sober and kicks the dope. It’s obviously something Jones is very proud of also and with the SEX PISTOLS saga sandwiched between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ segments of the book, it makes for a genuinely engrossing and brave read. (24.05.17)