I resisted and resisted, but gave in recently. For years I mostly refused to read books by musicians, and only reluctantly read books about them.
I made exceptions: I had to — Nick Tosches’ biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, “Hellfire”; the Peter Guralnick Elvis bio; Charles White on Little Richard; Timothy White on Bob Marley; and Dennis McNally’s magnificent Grateful Dead bio, “A Long Strange Trip.” And Robert Christgau’s record reviews are indispensable.
Apart from these, I decided years ago I had to avoid books on music, mostly — because I found myself being influenced by/emulating/stealing from those writers. I would sponge whole phrases into my own writing.
So I quit, for years.
Recently, though, my friend Greg Haymes (who has a legendarily large collection of lame celebrity autobiographies, separate from his collection of good ones) lent me “Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards,” Al Kooper’s autobiography.
I couldn’t put it down.
Any music fan knows parts of Al’s story, because it’s a long one, it touches so many stars, and he’s told it for years. However, when I asked Al in an interview about how he came to play the organ on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” he refused.
He said, “I don’t tell that story anymore,” leaving me both disappointed — I knew that was a vivid and wonderful tale — and offended that my schmooze hadn’t worked. So I had to read his book, and I wasn’t disappointed by that anecdote and many others.
Hoping for more of the same, I next dived into “Under a Hoodoo Moon” by Dr. John, a New Orleans denizen whose career spans the heyday of Crescent City R&B in the studios and the clubs where he learned his craft, made his living and met characters even more amazing than himself — and he’s pretty amazing.
It had some disconcerting gaps, though. Late in the book, he spoke of taking his kids to some event, sending me leafing frantically backward: What kids? Who’s the mother, or mothers?
The musical stuff, and the evocation of New Orleans from the 1950s to the more recent past hypnotized me.
Next came “Miles: The Autobiography” by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe. I’m still reading it, limiting myself to small doses between William Kennedy’s “Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes” and James Ellroy’s “L.A. Noir” in order to savor it longer.
I went to see Kennedy read at the Schenectady Public Library last Saturday and it was jazz in words. This new novel is set in Cuba during Castro’s revolution and in Albany during the civil rights struggle, and it’s been gestating a long time. When I met Kennedy in the Borders (Wolf Road) checkout line years ago, he carried an armload of books on Cuba and said he was writing a novel about its revolution. He was funnier off script on Saturday than while reading, and he reminisced hilariously about Hunter S. Thompson (a friend for 45 years, despite a vividly bad start that he uproariously recounted) among other off-the-topic topics. But I digress.
If you took out one crucial word (starts with “mother,” ends with the big one) out of “Miles,” the book would be only about 50 pages long. Like the picture of New Orleans in Dr. John’s book, “Miles” recalls New York from the age of bebop through his own career and explains his methods and music. Miles unabashedly portrays himself as one of a kind, a prime number, who did just what he wanted, minute by minute, his whole life. The words “artistic temperament” or “difficult person” don’t come close to the self-portrait Miles delivers with unflinching candor.
Next up: “Just Kids” by Patti Smith.
OK, that joke would work better during baseball season. The show set for Friday at The Egg by bassist Stanley Clarke has been canceled, but bassist Tony Levin will perform that same night, guesting with the California Guitar Trio at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady).
Levin is no less imposing a talent than Clarke, but bass fans might argue that the best bassist hereabouts lately was Victor Wooten with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones last week — so both Clarke and Levin are second bass.
You could call this crew with Levin the World Guitar Trio, as it features Paul Richards of Salt Lake City, Bert Lams of Brussels and Hideyo Moriya of Tokyo. In addition to their 12 albums since 1991 and world tours, they also played on Levin’s “Pieces of the Sun” album and toured with Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists. The California Guitar Trio with guest bassist Tony Levin plays two shows on Friday at the Van Dyck, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, and $24 at the door. Phone 348-7999 or visit www.vandycklounge.com.
Furthur returns here on Tuesday (after a summer visit to Saratoga Performing Arts Center) with a 7 p.m. show at the Times Union Center (51 S. Pearl St., Albany).
If you’re a Deadhead, you probably have tickets already to see Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh (bass) and Bob Weir (guitar, vocals) lead a crew of replacements in Dead classics at a venue the Grateful Dead and the Dead played many times, and really liked.
And if you’re not, but have any curiosity at all about the Grateful Dead phenomenon, this is about as close as you’ll ever get.
Tickets are $55 and $45. Phone 800-745-3000 or visit www.timesunioncenter-albany.com.
The Feelies play Friday at MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams) at 8 p.m. The Feelies had been more visible as an influence on the many bands intoxicated by their layered, two-guitar attack over punk force-beats than active in their own right.
They formed in 1976, punk prime time, and played on and off until they split in 1992. Even when they were together full time they only released five albums, and they played in more side projects than the Grateful Dead, including the Trypes, Yung Wu, the Willies, Wild Carnation, Wake Ooloo, The Golden Palominos, Luna and Sunburst. Jon Pareles called them “a garage band re-imagined by mathematicians” in the New York Times. “a psychedelic band with no illusions, a folk-rock band hypnotized by repetition, a punk band for introverts.”
They reunited in 2008 to open for Sonic Youth and have been performing together since. They even recorded a new album, “Here Before,” their first collection of new material since “The Good Earth” in 1986.
This is a band to love, with a beautiful but low-fi sound that could have come from a collision of tour buses conveying the Velvet Underground, Luna and Radiohead to a gig on the moon.
Tickets are $22 in advance, $26 on Friday, $18 for students. Phone 413-662-2111 or visit www.massmoca.org.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.