Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finishing June with a Bang

Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal by David Konow - With the exception of Guns N' Roses, I was never a big fan of 1980s heavy metal. I loved AC/DC in the fifth grade when Back In Black came out, and Blue Oyster Cult (B.O.C.) is still one of my favorite bands, but I didn't listen to contemporary metal in high school despite (or maybe because of) its immense popularity. Nevertheless, when Ratt's "Round and Round" comes on the radio, I know every damn word thanks to MTV.

Especially in the "rise" part of the book, Konow makes questionable decisions about what is or isn't metal. Why include several pages about Boston and Queen? I don't know anyone who considers them heavy metal (at least there's some argument about Rush, though the author ignores that band). B.O.C. gets only a few brief mentions. I was particularly annoyed when Konow said Rob Halford had to shop in gay stores for his leather wardrobe in 1978 like it was a big deal. B.O.C.'s Eric Bloom was doing that at least five years earlier, and he wasn't even gay (which I think makes Bloom even more dedicated to his onstage look).

For the most part, Konow's idea of heavy metal is American, guitar-dominated, popular hard-rock music from the 1980s (a.k.a. "hair bands"). He writes a lot about Los Angeles bands from Van Halen to Motley Crue to Warrant. Metallica has a major presence. Slayer is the only speed/thrash metal band to get much coverage, and death metal is ignored. Konow also includes some East Coast bands like Bon Jovi, Skid Row, and Twisted Sister. Def Leppard is just about the only non-American band post-1980 that's covered thoroughly.

Although I wasn't a fan of most of the aforementioned bands, I knew enough about them from living through the 1980s to be interested in reading about them. Once one gets over his or her favorite band getting short-changed, this book is very entertaining. It is full of interesting nuggets about the signing, recording, touring, and lifestyles of metal bands, although some readers may be disappointed that little is written about the music itself. Some parts are hilarious, like how so many bands hated being parodied in This Is Spinal Tap and how Kip Winger blames Beavis and Butt-head for his band's decline. I wish Konow had adhered more closely to chronological order; sometimes it gets confusing. For fans of the bands covered in detail, this may be a five-star book, but I'd give it three for all the bands that are missing.

The Rock Bible: Unholy Scripture for Fans & Bands by Henry Owings - I bought this immediately after finishing Bang Your Head and read it in only a few hours (could have been faster, but I read it aloud to my wife). I could not have picked a better companion piece for Bang Your Head! The Rock Bible mocks all the narcisistic excesses of rock music, and almost every entry brought to mind a band from the 1980s L.A. metal scene. My only problem with this book is the list price. Sixteen bucks is a lot to ask for such a slim volume (I got it on sale for less, of course). Any fan of rock music will laugh often while perusing this book.

Unsolved Mysteries of American History by Paul Aron - The author takes a scholarly approach to answering such questions as Did Leif Ericsson discover America?, What happened to the lost colony of Roanoke?, Why did Lee order Pickett's charge?, Why did Truman drop the bomb?, Who killed JFK?, and What did Reagan know about Iran-Contra? First he sets the scene and describes what happened. Then, instead of merely giving the reader what he thinks are the correct answers, he presents the findings of historians and others over the years. If one answer rises above the others, he says so, but he is also willing to admit where there is no definitive answer. Aron provides a short bibliography after every question with comments about each book. The curious reader (perhaps one who doesn't have as many unread books as I do) can use this book as a starting point to explore these topics in greater depth.

On Sunday, I went to The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square to celebrate their fifth anniversary. Naturally, I had to buy some books to support this great local business. Congratulations to Suzy T, and my apologies for whatever impact my New Years resolution has had on the store's profits this year.

Current tally: 53 books finished, 48 books acquired

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