BY SAM BALTES
The potential problem with Cousin Brucie’s Rock & Roll…And the Beat Goes On – and
books of this ilk – is that the ‘60s are such a thoroughly mined decade that
it’s hard to spin an engrossing yarn about them any more. Is there really
anything left to say about Elvis and the Beatles?
But legendary DJ Cousin Brucie does a decent job by
chronicling the era with enough verve to constitute a fresh read.
Brucie, best known for his 1960-74 tenure on the Top 40
pioneer, WABC-AM (now a conservative talk radio station featuring the likes of
Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Don Imus), is strongest when spieling about the
halcyon days of rock ‘n’ roll, and the
book covers the key events from Sun Records through Altamont with a feeling of
firsthand vivacity. The focus is on the ‘60s, natch, and Brucie juxtaposes the
music alongside major cultural events such as the civil rights movement/sexual revolution/Kent State.
To his credit, and though Brucie’s allegiances lie with the
usual radio friendly behemoths, he states his case without being a windbag. His
prose is crisp but strewn with rock slang; this doesn’t necessarily hinder the
book, seeing that it reflects the patois of the epoch, but does come across as
somewhat mawkish at times. Despite topic limitations, Brucie mostly avoids
cliché and puts his own spin on things. He pays homage to the less bloated acts
(Troggs/Blue Cheer/ Steppenwolf/MC5/Stooges), albeit occasionally tinged with a
patronizing attitude; he admires the Stooges’ vitality, for instance, but the
closest he comes to a compliment is, “It must have been very therapeutic.” The
fallacy in Brucie’s outlook is that he equates popularity with aesthetic
accomplishment (understandable, given he’s ensconced in the radio biz). He
doesn’t devote a sentence to The Velvet Underground; disparages Sleepy Labeef
for being too raw; and presumes that rock ‘n’ roll ceased to be a viable social
agent after the capitulation of the Baby Boomers.
The last third of the book is mired by Brucie rationalizing
the lassitude of ‘70s soft rock in lieu of detailing ongoing genre development
(i.e. punk, New Wave, post-punk, etc.). “After stomping our feet for ten years
straight, it was time to lean back into a comfortable cushion.” That’s Brucie
defending James Taylor and his solipsistic acoustic coterie. He pays lip service
to passing torch and being open-minded about contemporary musicians, but
neglects the flame bearers of subsequent decades. Spending more time on The
Carpenters than The Clash is antithetical to the principles of rock, and Brucie
seems oblivious that he displays the attitudes he purportedly opposes.
But this is a compendium of – per the book’s title – “Rock
& Roll” as perceived by Cousin Brucie. And for what it is, it’s an engaging
enough read. His anecdotes about emceeing The Beatles at Shea Stadium and
interviewing an ostentatious Jim Morrison counterbalance his obvious prejudices
against everything that didn’t happen in rock’s first two decades. Cousin
Brucie isn’t John Peel, but this book is prime coffee table material for ‘60s
nostalgia addicts – whom I suspect are Brucie’s primary constituents.