Ready for a change of pace? For fun? Here’s a hard right turn.
“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” So said Hunter S. Thompson, and for some — insiders, mostly, fans much less — that is the bottom line.
The business end of rock careers is part of the story Bruce Springsteen tells in his memoir, “Born to Run.” But for all his experience, Bruce remains a romantic, an idealist who always sees “one last chance to make it real.” And that’s the inside-the-band story he mostly tells in 528 pages — the literary equivalent of a 4-hour concert. I enjoyed it, but I kinda felt: I know this story, it’s right there in the music. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
If you want a grittier take — an inside story — on the music business, I commend “Roadie,” a novel by Howard Massey, a music journalist, musician, and recording engineer/producer who’s been an editor at Musician and Performing Songwriter magazines. Among his 16 books, legendary Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick’s memoir Here, There, and Everywhere, which I liked a lot.
“Roadie” starts out as a classic rock story about 1960s high school kids who start a band. As they Get Somewhere, the friendships change, and one of them. Hinch, becomes a solo legend. Cody Jeffries — the most creative one — becomes his roadie. “Cody the Roadie: have black t-shirt and shorts, will travel.” Same as it ever was: a star is unborn.
Rock stories have many characters. Like Bernie, who has a million-dollar publishing contract to write a book about Hinch. He’s over deadline, in danger of having to refund money he no longer has. We’ll read his transcripts of interviews with the original bass player, later demoted to business manager.
The view is precise. “Creatures of the road are the keepers of the truth, the one immutable, eternal truth,” Massey writes. “The show is just the little distraction between the load-in and the load-out.” [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Inside? Try the “Roadie’s Rules.”
1. If it’s wet, drink it.
2. If it’s dry, smoke it.
3. If it smells good, eat it.
4. If it smells bad, leave it for the musicians.
5. If it moves, fuck it.
6. If it doesn’t move, load it on the truck.
It wouldn’t be a rock story if it didn’t have a crooked manager, unfair contracts, vanished millions, a great album that’s never seen the light of day, purloined tapes, an AWOL rock star with a coked-up nympho wife, international intrigue, a couple of bruisers, and – almost forgot — alcohol and drugs. The international caper drags for me, but nothing else does. Massey’s dialogue has the ring of authentic bullshit, and every once in a while, he lets rip with some prose as lyrical as a Mark Knopfler solo:
“Hinch shook his long locks and gazed skyward as if appealing to the very ghost of Jimi Hendrix. Cody responded with a lightning-fast blues run from the bottom of the neck all the way up to the highest note, sustained and screaming through the gloom of stale air. For an instant it seemed as if the earth and the moon and the sun and the stars all hung motionless, frozen in time.”
Yeah. That. Fuck, yeah.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
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