Doomed to Fail: The Incredibly Loud History of Doom, Sludge, and Post-Metal, by J.J. Anselmi

Title: Doomed to Fail

Author: J.J. Anselmi

Publisher: Rare Bird

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

By Michael Toland

At this point, tons of books on heavy metal fill the shelves, from encyclopedias to historical narratives. While there are a few of the former sitting around, there are few, if any, longform tomes that focus specifically on the metallic subgenre doom. With Doomed to Fail, J.J. Anselmi, writer for Noisey and A.V. Club and author of the memoir Heavy, attempts to change that with a selective history that tries to tie the sound generated by Black Sabbath to the later subgenres of sludge- and post-metal. It’s a logical progression, and one worth following.

Unfortunately, Anselmi’s path meanders more than it advances. There’s no mistaking his knowledge of his subject, and he shines welcome spotlights on bands and scenes that have long deserved it in metal histories, like the NOLA scene spawned by Eyehategod and Crowbar, or the work of doom metal diehard Scott “Wino” Weinrich. Plus, his passion for his subject shines through, especially on the chapters on the sludge metal pioneers. But often it feels like that passion has gotten in his way, as too many chapters feel like he’s eagerly careened from artist to artist, iteration to iteration, without stopping to give them proper context. While he goes in-depth on most of the artists, from Sabbath to Crowbar to Isis to Chelsea Wolfe, it feels more like a survey of his record collection than it does an actual thematic evolution. The result is a somewhat haphazard tale that skips important developments (despite covering Weinrich in depth, Anselmi pretty much ignores the D.C./Virginia/Maryland scene the Obsessed leader jumpstarted, as well as its attendant European counterpart led by German label Hellhound) and even bands (modern standard bearer Electric Wizard gets passing mention but no real coverage, which is puzzling even if Anselmi thinks the band too cartoonish), and ends up concentrating too long on some acts while slighting others.

Anselmi’s stylistic facility isn’t in doubt – there were several passages that made me think, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” But his focus and organizational skills are lacking – something a good editor could help him with, though on evidence of Doomed to Fail, that’s something his publisher was missing.

Cruel To Be Kind: The Life And Music Of Nick Lowe, by Will Birch

Title: Cruel To Be Kind

Author: Will Birch

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Publication Date: August 20, 2019

Da Capo Press

By John B. Moore

Nick Lowe should be as well-known as Springsteen… or at the very least, Elvis Costello. And by musicians, of just about all stripes, he is. But to the casual music listener, aside from his 1984 earworm, “Cruel To be Kind,” (initially released five years prior, to little notice), many have no idea just how influential he is as a musician, songwriter, producer and all around dapper guy who has seamlessly segued from a hippie to a pub rocker to a beloved troubadour over the past five decades. And Will Birch’s bio brilliantly and lovingly documents that transition. Mass stardom has always been elusive for Lowe, but at some point, he simply stopped focusing on the masses and discovered a decidedly smaller, but rabidly loyal audience.

A longtime music journalist, and one who moved in many of the same music circles as Lowe throughout the years – he was a member of British pub-rock group Kursaal Flyers, followed by power popsters The Records, and he also worked with both Dave Edmunds and Billy Bremner, who of course were in Rockpile with Lowe – Birch had phenomenal access to the singer and those who worked with him over the decades. The obligatory childhood stories are all here as are his first fits and starts of becoming a famous musician, but the most compelling sections begin when Lowe’s longtime manager co-founded Stiff Records and, along with putting out his solo records, brought Lowe on to produce everyone from an up-coming Elvis Costello (soon to be a lifelong Lowe friend) to The Damned (for the record, Lowe produced what is arguable the very first punk song).

Despite an obvious close relationship with Lowe, Birch doesn’t skim past his personality quirks (at times, he seemed like the definition of a curmudgeon), or his alcoholism. But his history with Lowe provides for some impressive anecdotes few others could offer.

Despite, or more likely because of, his disparate career, Lowe has evolved into a dependably brilliant performer. Cruel To Be Kind is a bio worthy of his quirky and irresistible reputation.

The Messenger: The Songwriting Legacy of Ray Wylie Hubbard, by Brian T. Atkinson

Title: The Messenger: The Songwriting Legacy of Ray Wylie Hubbard

Author: Brian T. Atkinson

Publisher: Texas A&M University Press

Publication Date: September 02, 2019


Ray Willie Hubbard may not be top of mind to casual Country/Americana music fans, but he certainly influenced a slew of the musicians making that music today.

It seems rather appropriate then that Hubbard’s peers and acolytes would come together to explain his musical brilliance in writing. The Messenger (272pp), though not the best book to explain the life and career of Hubbard (that one would be his own 2015 memoir, A Life… Well, Lived), it does a pretty solid job of explaining his appeal by those who know him best. Chronicled by Brian T. Atkinson, the book collects an army of interviews from friends, peers and followers; folks like Bobby Bare, Steve Earle, Ben Kweller and Chris Robinson, among many, many others. But the most touching tributes come in the forewords, by longtime pal Jerry Jeff Walker and relative newcomer (at least compared to Walker and Hubbard) Hayes Carll. One of the best stories recounted here is the 1973 live version of Hubbard’s “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother,” covered by Walker on his live album with a shout out to the song’s author in the intro, a move that brought a lot more attention to Hubbard’s own work.

The book covers his early years, playing folk music in college as part of Three Faces West, and his evolution to a folk/country singer songwriter on par with Walker, Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark. Like his memoir, The Messenger is pretty frank about his substance problems drawing a clear distinction between his pre- and post- sober career.  A strong book, paired nicely with A Life… Well, Lived, this latest entry in the Hubbard library is further proof of just how influential his music remains today.

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years, by Robert Dean Lurie

Title: Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years

Author: Robert Dean Lurie

Publisher: Verse Chorus Press

Publication Date: May 14, 2019

Published by Verse Chorus Press, the 288-page volume is a crucial read that fully captures what made the Athens wonderboys so special in the first place.


There have been numerous books written about Athens-based R.E.M. dating back to the mid-1990s, but few seem as personal as the latest entry from former Athenian Robert Dean Lurie.

The book strength can also, at times, be its biggest weakness. The author, a BLURT contributor who moved to Athens, GA in the ‘90s, in part thanks to its burgeoning music scene, inserts his own narrative into some of the book. But while it can be a little distracting at times, overall, it’s these personal anecdotes and detailed descriptions of living in that college town that bring it alive and allow it to stand out among all of the other R.E.M. bios that came before it.

Another big advantage, along with having the hindsight to be able to look back on the band almost a decade after they dissolved, is that Lurie focuses a bulk of the book on the band’s founding and first few albums. He ends the narrative in 1987, before the band leaves their indie label for Warner Bros on a track that would bring them global stardom. By focusing on the early years, he can home in on what made the band so unique at the time. Through interviews with the band’s college friends, many who knew the members before R.E.M. came together, Lurie is able to piece together a detailed, insightful and thoroughly exhaustive narrative of the band at its founding and slightly before.

Begin The Begin may not be the first book on R.E.M., but it’s a crucial read for anyone looking to understand R.E.M. and how they were able to create such a massive impact on modern American music.

Full disclosure: Blurt editor Fred Mills contributed to the book’s selection of photos.

Teen Movie Hell, by Mike “McBeardo” McPadden

Title: Teen Movie Hell

Author: Mike "McBeardo" McPadden

Publisher: Bazillion Points

Publication Date: April 16, 2019

Subtitled “A Crucible of Coming-Of-Age Comedies From Animal House to Zapped!,” the 360-page look at, yes, adolescent-targeted T&A flicks delivers.


Given today’s current sensitivities around, well, just about everything, it’s hard to image even a third of the movies profiled in Mike McPadden’s fantastically entertaining encyclopedia of teen comedies, Teen Movie Hell, ever being made. But for those who grew up in the ‘80s trying to catch a glimpse of nudity via scrambled cable movies on channels you didn’t subscribe to, or their slightly more watered down cinematic siblings on basic cable shows like USA’s Up All Night, this book serves as the bible of raunchy comedies we never knew we needed until now.

McPadden and his contributors take an almost scholarly approach to dissecting the appeal of these mostly-low budget T&A filled comedies. Though they reach back to the 1960’s to start the evolution of these movies, the bulk were gifted to us via Ragan’s greedy Me, Me, Me era of the 1980s. The majority of Teen Movie Hell is made of an alphabetical listing and review of the most seminal and in some cases, under the radar also rans – of teen-focused ranch coms, from 1988’s After School (aka Private Tutor: Return to Eden) to 1978’s Zuma Beach.

Sprinkled throughout are some positively impressive essays about the films from this era, specifically Kat Ellinger’s The Ellinger Code: Teen Sex Comedies in the Age of #MeToo and for All Eternity and the importance of abortion as a real topic being introduced to teens for the first time via Fast Times at Ridgemont High in Wendy McClure’s strong essay The Free Clinic Isn’t Free.


Teen Movie Hell is so much more than a guide to the golden era of teen movie raunch (although that’s definitely, thankfully a part of it). But it stands as a brilliant look at a different time from authors who were the prime targets of those movies, giving a part nostalgic, part cringe-worthy tour of a time period in cinematic history that will likely never be revived.



Jeff Buckley: From Hallelujah To The Last Goodbye, by Dave Lory with Jim Irvin

Title: Jeff Buckley: From Hallelujah To The Last Goodbye

Author: Dave Lory with Jim Irvin

Publisher: Post Hill Press

Publication Date: May 29, 2018

The late singer’s former manager delivers the definitive account of his young charge’s tragically short career.


 Considering how influential Jeff Buckley remains (despite only having one studio album released during his lifetime) and the mystery surrounding his early death, it’s surprising that more books have not been written about the young artist. Regardless, his former manager, Dave Lory, has just turned in the definitive book on the musician.

Having worked side by side with Buckley — literally in some cases, as he drove the singer/guitarist across the west coast for one of his early solo tours — Lory knew Buckley better than most at a pivotal time in his career, as he was just signing his first record deal. Lory was there as Buckley built up his backing band, cycling through members, through the recording of Grace, and on countless treks across the globe, offering a uniquely personal remembrance of the singer. While there is certainly a lot of love and admiration in their relationship, Lory also doesn’t filter the experiences by painting the musician as a saint – as is often the case of books about long-passed rock stars. Buckley could act like a dick at times and be highly manipulative, and Lory, to his credit, isn’t afraid to share anecdotes. He also doesn’t shy away from Buckley’s growing drug use.

On the other hand, this is hardly a salacious tell-all, as the author spends plenty of time showing Buckley as a wildly talented, uncompromising artist, who could be sweet and thoughtful at times, with a famous, though demonstrably absent father, who constantly threatened to overshadow his son’s own career despite being dead for decades.

The story around the younger Buckley’s own death is recounted in vivid detail here, as Lory remembers first getting the call that the musician was swept away while wading into the Mississippi River late one night while in Memphis recording what was to be his second album. Lory goes into harrowing and deeply personal details as he describes his state as well as those closest to Buckley in the days that passed before the body was finally found.

Though Buckley was just starting his ascent onto the global musical stage when he died, his debut album remains a stellar promise of an impressive career that was supposed to come and with this book (288 pages, in hardcover), Lory has managed to give us all a look into the young musician’s life as he went about putting that album together and working on its follow up.



Waiting To Derail: Ryan Adams & Whiskeytown, by Thomas O’Keefe

Title: Waiting To Derail: Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown, Alt-country’s Brilliant Wreck

Author: Thomas O’Keefe with Joe Oestreich

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Publication Date: June 26, 2018

Yes, all those stories about Adams WERE true: erstwhile tour manager for the band delivers a crucial fly-on-the-wall memoir.


With the late, great alternative country Tar Heel band Whiskeytown, it was always a Gumpian prospect: Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you never knew what you were gonna get. Not due to design, of course; the band itself was a brilliant assemblage of talent, and they busted their asses night after night and created some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest records. But when you have a frontman as mercurial and erratically-behaving as Ryan Adams, there’s only so much you can do; by some accounts, Whiskeytown must have been eerily like Trump’s White House at times, given the chaos Adams could create.

Okay, that’s unfair. We are talking rock ‘n’ roll, traditionally repository of rebels, weirdos, eccentrics, misfits, and outright psychopaths. So I’ll amend the above statement to simply characterize Adams’ bandmates as “long suffering.” And they clearly got something out of the deal, particularly violinist/co-vocalist Caitlin Cary, who seemingly stuck by Adams pretty much to the bitter end, weathering the frequent roster departures of others and, if appearances are accurate, helping serve as a semi-stabilizing force during those times when Adams went off the rails.

Speaking of those rails, we have Waiting To Derail by, full disclosure, my old friend Tom O’Keefe, who I had known pretty well during the ‘80s and early ‘90s while living in Charlotte and hanging out often with Tom and his bandmates in Queen City punk legends ANTiSEEN. In his new memoir, O’Keefe recounts how he subsequently became Whiskeytown’s tour manager circa 1997 through the band’s 2000 split. I would hesitate to also characterize him as “long suffering” because he signed up for the (paying) gig knowing, at least partly, what he would be getting himself into, something the band members themselves aren’t necessarily privy to when they first get together to make music en route to a full-time excursion into codependency. Plus, O’Keefe can legitimately say that in addition to the teeshirt, he got one hell of a story to tell the grandkids. Here, he’s joined by co-author Joe Oestreich, a journalist and author of several books as well as a professor of creative writing at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina.

Waiting To Derail kicks off, prologue-style, in colorful enough fashion, with Adams half-passed out and surrounded by EMTs and police, vitals being carefully checked and rechecked. As the incident finally winds down and the EMTs pack up their gear, one of the policemen turns and speaks to O’Keefe: “Goddam, son, I wouldn’t trade jobs with you for anything.” Whew. When a copy says something like that, it’s saying a lot.

Appropriately enough, the book’s first section is titled “The Sheriff of Whiskeytown,” recounting how O’Keefe got the job by (a) having had some prior experience handling tour manager duties and appearing to be moderately stable (admittedly, a very relative term in rock ‘n’ roll); and (b) because he was living in Raleigh, and as Whiskeytown had just finished cutting their major label debut, Strangers Almanac, for Outpost/Geffen, his Austin-based management desperately needed, as O’Keefe puts it, “somebody on the ground to shepherd Ryan and the band through their next touring cycle.” A lot was riding on Whiskeytown, deemed the blossoming alt-country scene’s number one rising star but, thanks to their frontman, already had a bit of a reputation. Writes O’Keefe, “During Whiskeytown’s most recent string of shows—on the No Depression tour, sharing the stage with the Old 97’s, Hazeldine, and the Picketts—Ryan and the band had been woefully inconsistent. They would play a tight set of stellar songs one night and then be drunk and sloppy the next.”

From there we follow Officer O’Keefe as he does indeed shepherd Adams across the musical landscape, from seeing that his charge is awake and lucid enough for scheduled interviews and getting to band rehearsals on time, to carefully doling out the daily per diems so the musicians won’t blow all their dough the first night and ensuring Adams doesn’t get completely hammered before going onstage. Among the memorable scenes:

–A booking at a sports bar in East Lansing where, with many of the patrons preferring to watch the Detroit Tigers on TV, a drunken Adams grows frustrated and belligerent and deliberately starts playing sloppily. A back-and-forth of “fuck yous” between audience members and Adams ensues, and the singer eventually storms offstage, resulting in a rock- and beercan-throwing altercation in the parking lot. “Ryan would hold a grudge against East Lansing for years,” writes O’Keefe. (Presciently, it seems, as many years later, as a solo artist based in New York City, Adams would take umbrage at perceived slights by former associates in Raleigh and vow never to play his old homebase again.)

–Another show, in Aspen, where, in front of a couple hundred people, among them actor Kevin Costner, Adams, who’d decided that Whiskeytown was not “a ski town band,” yanked his amplifier to “11” and, with wall of noise blasting, dropped to his knees and lay flat on the stage for 25 minutes.

–A promotional appearance at a radio station that had been airing the band’s “16 Days” and had requested that they perform it live in the studio, culminates in Adams repeatedly refusing. (O’Keefe: “It was a standoff, and I felt like a UN negotiator.”) The back and forth continues, and finally Adams blurts into the mic, “I don’t have to kiss some guy’s dick just because he wants to hear the single”—at which point Whiskeytown is summarily ejected from “the most important AAA station in America.”

–A late night scare, after a show back at the hotel, where a very fucked-up Adams, upon inspecting the balcony overlooking the 12-story atrium, declares to O’Keefe and the others, “I can fly,” and proceeds to climb up on the railing, “faking like he was going to do a half gainer,” and has to be swiftly grabbed by the waist and dragged down off the railing.

In between his colorful, sometimes-soberly related/sometimes-hilariously spun anecdotes, O’Keefe offers up a series of helpful expository tutorials—Adams’ and Cary’s pre-Whiskeytown background; how the alt-country movement was born and evolved, as well as how North Carolina’s Triangle area—and Raleigh in particular—embraced the scene; the jealousy backlash that a number of locals unleashed on Whiskeytown after the band began wowing the critics and gradually became the most prominent act to emerge from the city. (In that regard Waiting To Derail is an able companion to a previous book about Adams, 2012’s Losering, written by Raleigh News & Observer music critic David Menconi; fans of either volume will definitely delight in the other.)

But of course, as this book is an insider account, you’ve come primarily for the behind the scenes stuff and not the history lesson, right? And O’Keefe does not disappoint. His memory is remarkably clear, his insights into Adams’ personality and motivations profound. Anyone who’s ever worked as a tour manager for a rock band will tell you that they have to be a cat wrangler, a den mother, and a psychologist in addition to taking care of mundane stuff like making sure everyone gets their per diems and the club owner doesn’t stiff them. Waiting To Derail, then, is the type of book that any fan of rock ‘n’ roll—and of course all fans of Adams— will devour precisely for its fly-on-the-wall qualities and how it provides a sharp-lensed view of what goes on after the lights come on and the gear is packed up.

In 2018, Thomas O’Keefe is a music industry veteran with a hugely impressive resume, having worked with the likes of big names like Train, Third Eye Blind, Sia, and, currently, Weezer. Undoubtedly his years spent with Whiskeytown served him well—if his early stint as bassist for “destructo rockers” ANTiSEEN was his rock ‘n’ roll boot camp, then think of his three years in the trenches with Whiskeytown as his tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. Considering all he had to deal with, he deserves a freakin’ purple heart.


Daydreaming: The Art of George Hage, by George Hage

Title: Daydreaming: The Art of George Hage

Author: George Hage

Publisher: self-published

Publication Date: May 25, 2018 / available via Amazon/CreateSpace

North Carolina rocker and artist shows off his graphic design chops in eye-popping anthology.


George Hage, who hails from the BLURT home base of Raleigh, NC, is perhaps best known as guitarist/vocalist for hi-nrg, cinematic, Americana-tinged rockers Jack the Radio, whose 2015 album, Badlands, notched across-the-board kudos from fans and critics alike. (Read our review of the album HERE, and also check out a track from it that we premiered HERE, one of numerous JtR tunes and videos that have been featured at BLURT.)

Yet it’s also Hage’s outsized talent as an artist that’s steadily elevated his profile. His work as graphic designer——from posters to album covers to apparel—is what his new book Daydreaming showcases, with ample examples of what makes the boy’s brain buzz when he’s not scribbling down lyrics and strumming chords. It’s a visual feast from start to finish.

The first section of the book, “Illustrations,” commences with his poster art for the Raleigh-based Carolina Hurricanes professional hockey team, and although the ‘canes have not been having a good couple of years, it’s certainly not due to Hage dropping the ball, er, puck, drawing-wise. One standout is a hockey-suited and space helmet-clad cartoon bear zipping around in the cosmos like some latterday Flash Gordon, his hockey stick smacking a glowing energy puck in lieu of a raygun pointed at Ming the Merciless; Hage also includes his preliminary sketches here, something he does on much of the book’s offerings, which allow you to see exactly how he developed his visual idea. Art books tend to just publish the final product, not the in-progress part, yet this strategy seems the perfect way to pull the veil back a bit more if you really want to learn what makes an artist tick. Another Hurricanes poster made me laugh out loud, a brilliant R. Crumb “Heroes of the Blues”-style homage depicting the bear in iconic Robert Johnson mode (suit/fedora/guitar); I suspect more than a few sports fans didn’t get the reference, and merely thought that the poster’s “Say Goodbye to the Blues” text was just a thumbs-up message of hope and good will to the beleaguered hometown hockey heroes.

Similarly, there are posters Hage created for Nashville-based Rayland Baxter (depicted as a one-eyed giant stomping through the wilderness) and Raleigh bluegrass/Americana outfit New Reveille (fiddle, banjo, upright bass and dobro chilling out beneath a tree and under the moonlight)—not to mention an intricate detail of his progression of proposed Nudie jacket designs for another Raleigh Americana outfit, American Aquarium, whose frontman BJ Barham also contributed guest vocals for Jack the Radio’s Badlands. Those nudie jackets would eventually wind up on the sleeve of American Aquarium’s Live at Terminal West; you can watch a video of Hage creating it at YouTube.

Next, Hage struts his chops with a portfolio of his posters for festivals, most notably the Hopscotch Music Festival, the celebrated annual Raleigh music conference that has been shaping up to be something akin to the East Coast version of SXSW, and a Dali-esque Residents-centric image for this year’s Artsplosure art festival in Raleigh.

Musical acts remain the book’s dominant theme, with everything from a Zap comix-style comic strip for Charlotte rockers Banditos, to a remarkably subtle rendering for a Bill Frisell concert, to (of course) Jack the Radio gig posters with a recurring jambox-headed-human theme. Comic books and comic book culture also crop up several times, such as a poster for Charlotte, NC, comic store Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find, and posters for regional comics conventions.

Later in the book comes the “Digital + Vector Art” section, with one particular standout being an intricate yet impressionistic set of vintage modular synthesizers that recur, Warhol-style, across a series of renderings. And the “Apparel” section features photos of people wearing some of the striking, teeshirts that Hage designed. Ultimately, there’s enough consistency across the entirety of the artist’s visual style that a sharp eye might instantly recognize a design as being a Hage one regardless of whether or not you’re a Carolina Hurricanes fan, a Moog synth fetishist, or a Jack the Radio devotee.

He tops it off with a final “Coloring Book” section which, you guessed it, comprises black and white versions of several previously viewed images. Me, I’m planning on diving in to the aforementioned R. Crumb blues homage and try my hand at coloring, which I haven’t done since grade school. Now where did my mom put my box of Crayolas?


Title: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? Larry Norman And The Perils Of Christian Rock

Author: Gregory Alan Thornbury

Publisher: Convergent Books

Publication Date: March 20, 2018

The Upshot: Christian music maverick and iconoclast – who was characterized by some critics as the Todd Rundgren-meets-Frank Zappa of Xian music – loved rock as much as he loved Jesus, and as a result of those complexities he remained outside the mainstream—and therefore retained his integrity all the way to his untimely death.


 Years before the Christian Rock was a multi-million-dollar industry; before there were massive days—long music festivals spread across the country dedicated solely to it; before it could be divided in sub-genres, of sub-genres like “Christian Ska” or “Christian Hardcore” and “Christian Hip Hop;” before all of that there was Larry Norman.

Norman, born in Texas and raised in Northern California as an evangelical Christian, he loved Jesus and he loved contemporary Rock and Roll, so he decided to marry the two in a way that no one before him ever had. As a result, he made a slew of fans across the globe and just as many enemies. (Count the BLURT editor, who saw Norman perform in the late ‘70s and was blown away by the man’s psychedelic muse, among those fans who still obsessively collect his music. – Books Ed.)

In Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?, Gregory Alan Thornbury deftly tackles the complex life of Norman, the patron saint of Modern Christian Rock.

From the late ‘60s, after joining the San Francisco band People!, Norman first saw the power of rock music to draw in listeners, particularly with the band’s million-selling cover of the Zombies’ “I Love You”; but it wasn’t until his solo records – opting for major labels like Capitol Records over the tiny Gospel/Christian music labels – that he really started to combine his religious beliefs with his music. Through his songs and interviews he often railed against the hypocrisy he saw in established religions that seemed to turn their back on the poor and needy. That view point dovetailed nicely into the burgeoning hippie and spiritual movements in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He also took full opportunity at his shows, speaking to the fans between songs, about what he saw wrong with the world and established churches. As a result, leaders in the evangelical world say Norman as an enemy.

(Below, listen to a pair of tracks from Norman’s 1972 conceptual masterpiece, Only Visiting This Planet.)

Thornbury does a brilliant job of covering all the complexities in Norman’s life – not simply laying out a fawning bio on the influential rocker and part-time street minister, but also covering his often-prickly personality, growing ego and eccentricities. The musician was surrounded by seeming inconsistencies, including his first marriage to Pamela Fay Ahlquist, a model who also posed regularly for magazines like Playboy.

Though his records were rarely massive sales juggernauts – his grassroots label, Solid Rock, is still considered by many to be one of the first nationally-recognized indie rock imprints – he regularly sold out major venues across the globe. To get an idea of just how broad Norman’s appeal and influence was (and still is a decade after his untimely death, in 2008, following persistent heart problems), consider that conservative tech entrepreneur and Trump supporter Peter Thiel and The Pixies’ frontman Black Francis both contribute blurbs of praise to the book jacket.

For the uninitiated, Thornbury does a commendable job of explaining that appeal. For true fans of Norman, the author lays out a definitive biography.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives Vols. 1 (Southern Rockers) & 2 (Punk Rock), by Rev. Keith A. Gordon

Title: Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives Vols. 1 (Southern Rockers) & 2 (Punk Rock),

Author: Rev. Keith A. Gordon

Publisher: Excitable Press

Publication Date: November 03, 2017 /

The Upshot: The Rev at the front lines interviewing everyone from the Georgia Satellites, Webb Wilder, and Charlie Daniels, to the Ramones, Jello Biafra, and the Screamin’ Sirens —and living to tell the tales.


The good Reverend Keith thumbs once again through his back pages, having not long ago published the final volume of his reviews (albums, DVDs, books, etc.) archives and now turning his attention to some of the interviews he’s published over the years. Dating back to his ‘80s journo days when he was music critic at Nashville’s The Metro publication (he currently calls Batavia, NY, his home), The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives offers some choice snapshots of artists both big and small, and the results are both engaging and, at times, revealing. Never forget that musicians often toe the party line when being interviewed, donning their promotion ‘n’ publicity hats and dutifully plugging their latest record, their current tour, and of course their eternally cool selves.

Volume One covers a subset of artists clearly very dear to Gordon’s heart, the southern rockers who began emerging within the post-punk college scene of the ’80s. Having previously devoted an entire book to Jason & the Scorchers, his inclusion of an out-of-print interview from ’86 with Jason Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges is a no-brainer. The 1990 story on the Georgia Satellites is, likewise, a logical choice, for both of those bands were hugely influential across the Southeast back in the day; I should know, I was on the scene myself as a Charlotte-based music critic. Some may raise an eyebrow over a Charlie Daniels piece, I suspect, given Daniels’ reactionary image among liberal-leaning sorts. But at this point Daniels wasn’t particularly interested in pushing a conservative agenda, and his insights on country music (“It’s become so static”) are as applicable now as they were at the time. And speaking personally, revisiting Texas’ Slobberbone and Nashville’s Webb Wilder were treats; Gordon rightly pegs the former as having built-in appeal to rednecks and punks alike, while the latter opens up candidly on a number of subjects instead of dipping into his well-documented oddball persona.

Volume Two is no less close to home for Gordon, who has been a lifelong champion of punk rock, something that no doubt made him stand out as a music writer in Nashville. Kicking the book off with a 1990 conversation with Jello Biafra, at the time under scrutiny once by various moral majority types in the wake of the 2 Live Crew dust-up, things quickly devolve —er, kick into high gear! — from there. Prior to reading about them here, I was not familiar with hardcore outfits Blanks 77 and Choreboy, and I’m always up for a piece on the Descendents, DOA, the Meat Puppets, and the Ramones. The ’93 interview with Billy Idol on the occasion of his prescient album Cyberpunk was also an unexpected treat, the rocker coming across as extremely thoughtful and curious rather that interested in polishing his rebel-yell image. And any writer who will cover the Screamin’ Sirens is tops in my book. Having hung out with the distaff twang-punks one raucous, debauched, memorable evening in the mid ‘80s myself, and knowing the Rev as well as I do, I think I can safely say that his summit with lead vocalist Pleasant Gehman was a writer/musician pairing destined to be.

Gordon has a knack for drawing people out, and while this can be attributed either to an empathetic bedside manner in which the profile subject realizes Gordon coming from the same place as they are, or to the fact that he’s a biker-sized dude who could easily beat the ass of pretty much any musician aside from Glenn Danzig, the results are a win-win-win for readers, subjects, and author.