The Rolling Stones said it in Between the Buttons (1967): “Who needs yesterdayʼs papers?” If you substitute “records” for “papers” and change the answer from “Nobody in the world” to “Anybody in the world,” youʼre talking about the market for used rock and roll vinyl.
Yesterdayʼs records, some of them, fetch lots of money, and many of the priciest ones are by groups you never heard of and/or groups that never made it, such as Ladies WC from Venezuela, which was released in 1969 and is going for $2,000 online ($250 for an early reissue). Certain genres are hot, namely psych (psychedelic) and prog (progressive) from the late 1960s through the 1970s, particularly if the product came out on British or European labels. In the States, the rarities are often so-called private press recordings rather than albums produced by commercial labels. An example close to home is a power trio fromTrenton called Sainte Anthonyʼs Fyre, whose self-titled 1970 album was going for as high as $500. A private press LP from another area group, The Toms, is going for $250 at the Record Collector, the Bordentown store featured in this issue. Super rare items by legends like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Elvis command mind-boggling sums, needless to say (just google record collecting on Wikipedia). Online buyer-seller sites like Music Stack, Gemm, Discogs, and Popsike, have diminished the usefulness of hefty collectorsʼ guides like Vernon Joynsonʼs Tapestry of Delights and Fuzz, Acid and Flowers.
When Theyʼre 64
Singing “When Iʼm 64” on Sgt. Pepper at age 25, Paul McCartney asked “Will you still need me?” Now that heʼs 69, the answer is clear; people still need him bigtime; heʼs filling arenas, opera houses, and concert halls all over the world with fans whose parents werenʼt born when Sgt. Pepper came out.
Aging rockers are not only still performing, theyʼre writing memoirs. Greg Allman, who turned 64 this year, has signed with Morrow for a book due next spring. Ozzy Osbourne, 63, gave us I am Ozzy last year, though Patti Smith, 65, and Keith Richards, 68, got most of the attention. Richardsʼs predictably outrageous, surprisingly engaging Life (out recently in paperback from Back Bay) charmed reviewers and readers, claiming a spot on the New York Timesʼs hardcover best-seller list for 22 weeks while Smithʼs Just Kids (available in paper from Ecco) sold well, got even better reviews, and won the National Book Award for non-fiction.
Although 64-year-old Sammy Hagar of Van Halen and 63-year-old Steven Tyler of Aerosmith arenʼt getting as much attention this year as Richards and Smith did in 2010, sales are strong. Tylerʼs publisher, Ecco, went back to press six times before Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? was published in May, and sales of Hagarʼs Red were around 61,000 according to a July 8 New York Times story (“Rock Stars of Books: Musiciansʼ Big Sales”). The same article reports that the Whoʼs Pete Townshend, 66, has signed with HarperCollins and plans to spend much of this year “combing through his archives and writing.”It wonʼt be Townshendʼs first book. In 1998 he published a work of autobiographical fiction called Horseʼs Neck, which Library Journal said “strikingly mirrors” Tommy and Quadrophenia: “As he recalls his childhood, the decadent indulgences of success, and a new discovery of life itself, Townshend re-creates in fiction a powerful personal odyssey from the inside out.” For Townshend, the mirror effect makes sense since concept albums like Tommy are the rock equivalent of novels.According to that much-abused and mis-used staple of film criticism, Townshend is an “auteur,” at least compared to a performer such as Keith Richards. Like Patti Smith, Ray Davies, and the ultimate auteur of rock, Bob Dylan, Townshend has already been writing the equivalent of fiction and poetry in his music, and is unlikely to require the assistance of a professional writer, the way Richards did when he enlisted James Fox. Steven Tyler was assisted by David Dalton, who had previously helped Meat Loaf with To Hell and Back (2000). The clear goal in conveying Tylerʼs manic, heavy, high-energy persona is to create a prose equivalent that doesnʼt wear out the reader. In the 376 pages of Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?, there are times when you may feel like shouting Yes!
Under the Piano
Most readers of books by rock stars are not looking for the elements of personal style and imagination that distinguish the books by Dylan and Smith, not to mention Ray Daviesʼs complexly imagined “unauthorized autobiography” X-Ray (Overlook Press 1995). What readers mainly want is a more in-depth look at the subjectʼs personal history than can be gleaned from interviews and articles. Fans of Aerosmith may be surprised to learn that Steven Tyler grew up under his concert pianist fatherʼs Steinway “listening and living in between the notes of Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Debussy.” More revealing still is Tylerʼs account of recently sitting down at the piano next to his 93-year-old father listening to him play Debussyʼs Clair de Lune: “It was so much deeper than anything I have ever done or will do. It was so deep and invoked so much of that early emotion laid on top of my adult emotions that I wept like a baby. I remember the first time I heard it as a child I almost stopped breathing.”The subdued, straightforward way Tyler chooses to describe his response to his fatherʼs playing is in contrast to the over-the-top pyrotechnics dominating a book that clearly means to live up to its title.
Slash and Duff
If you want some truly quirky surprises, check out former Guns Nʼ Roses guitarist 46-year-old Slashʼs eponymous autobiography in which he of the shades, the tidal mass of hair and dangling cigarette admits to a fondness for Walt Disney soundtracks. “In my record collection youʼll find the complete catalogues of Walt Disney music. All the classic themes - The Jungle Book, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp — the whole lot.µ Another ex-Guns Nʼ Roses sideman, bassist Duff McKagan, a youngster at 47, has an autobiography of his own due out in October, Itʼs So Easy (And Other Lies), from Touchstone Books. The inspiration for Duff Beer on The Simpsons, McKagan has apparently written the book himself, unlike Slash, who had substantial help from Anthony Bozza. In “Rock Stars of Books,” Touchstone publisher Stacy Creamer revealed her ultimate goal. “My white whale is David Bowie,” she said. “I will retire if I can get David Bowie.µ For now, Ms.Creamer and anyone else, including patrons of the Princeton Public Library, can get David Bowie day-by-day and year-by-year in the magnificent, copiously illustrated timetable of the first 27 years of his life, Kevin Connʼs Any Day Now: The London Years 1947-1974. Forty years ago this December Bowie released Hunky Dory, one of the great albums of the seventies, and his 1969 LP Space Oddity is listed among the most collectible UK records, valued at just under $5,000. Chances are you wonʼt find it at the Record Collector, but itʼs always fun to look.