The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge Paperback – Apr 12 2005
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About the Author
DAVID KAMP has been a writer for Vanity Fair and GQ for over a decade, and began his career at Spy, the satirical New York monthly. STEVEN DALY is a Vanity Fair contributing editor, and in a previous life was a rock musician in his native Glasgow, playing drums for the band Orange Juice. Kamp and Daly live in New York City.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Rock Snob*s Dictionary
A * symbol indicates a Rock Snob Vanguard item, denoting a person or an entity held in particular esteem by Rock Snobs.
Acetate. A small-batch test-pressing of a recording, used for demonstration purposes in the pre-digital era--so that record-label executives could vet an upcoming release, or so that music publishers could pitch their new songs to the labels. Often used synonymously with the term WHITE LABEL, though a true, vintage acetate, recorded straight from the studio master tapes and cut on heavy, fragile lacquer that wore out after a few plays (as opposed to the more durable vinyl), is an even rarer commodity. The official Brunswick release of "My Generation" kicks ass, but it doesn't quite capture the primal mod savagery of the acetate.
Ackles, David. Hard-luck Californian singer-songwriter who released four cultishly worshipped albums from 1968 to 1974, the most celebrated of which is American Gothic (1972). Like his poor-selling contemporaries VAN DYKE PARKS and Randy Newman, Ackles, in his work, evoked the great American songbooks of Stephen Foster and George and Ira Gershwin more than he did the stoner confessionals of the LAUREL CANYON troupe, making him something of a man out of time--though he would later be praised as a genius by Elvis Costello and Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist. Ackles died of cancer in 1999, before a proposed collaboration with Taupin could be realized.
Adler, Lou. Malibu-based macher of the L.A. music scene since the late fifties, having discovered Jan & Dean, shepherded JOHN PHILLIPS and the Mamas and the Papas to stardom on his Dunhill label, organized the MONTEREY POP festival, cofounded the Sunset Strip clubs the Whisky a Go-Go and the Roxy, and produced Carole King's denimy singer-songwriter showpiece, Tapestry, in 1971, thereby bringing the LAUREL CANYON ethos to the mass market. A cool, inscrutable figure who often sits beside Jack Nicholson at Lakers games, Adler functions as the urbane antithesis to the scrappy guttersnipe Strip scenesters KIM FOWLEY and RODNEY BINGENHEIMER.
Albini, Steve. Self-consciously difficult Chicago-based record producer who chafes at being called a producer, insisting that he merely "records" bands; best known for having produced--er, recorded--Nirvana's studio swan song, In Utero, and for issuing snarky comments to the press when some of the album's uncompromisingly raw songs were later remixed by other producers. Albini, who pushes the bounds of hard-rock iconoclasm by wearing glasses and having short hair, enhanced his outsider cred by playing guitar in the not-very-good hardcore bands Big Black, Rapeman, and Shellac. Man, that drum sound is a monster! No one knows mic placement like Albini.
Alt. country. Self-righteous rock-country hybrid genre whose practitioners favor warbly, studiedly imperfect vocals, nubby flannel shirts, and a conviction that their take on country is more "real" than the stuff coming out of Nashville. Heavily influenced by GRAM PARSONS. Also known as the No Depression movement, after the title of an album by the SEMINAL alt.country band Uncle Tupelo (which itself purloined the title from the CARTER FAMILY song "No Depression in Heaven"). Though such alt. country standard-bearers as the Jayhawks and Neko Case continue to embrace the genre's conventions, the former Uncle Tupelo mainmen Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar have emphatically de-twangified, the former as the leader of the crit-beloved pop eclecticists Wilco, the latter as a solo artist after disbanding his post-Tupelo alt.country band, Son Volt.
Americana. Catchall term for any indigenous American music that draws influence from the United States' earthier pre-rock idioms (country, folk, bluegrass, etc.) and bears no obvious imprimatur of slick New York and Los Angeles A&R men; used to describe everything from mail-order-only cassettes sold by West Virginia fiddlers to high-profile
ALT.COUNTRY releases by attractive, slightly wind-chapped young women such as Tift Merritt and Laura Cantrell.
Anthology of American Folk Music, The. Multivolume collection, first issued by the FOLKWAYS label in 1952, of obscure and semi-obscure folk recordings as compiled by eccentric musicologist Harry Smith (1923-1991). Significant for having allegedly triggered the late-fifties-early-sixties "folkie" movement that gave us Bob Dylan, and therefore, by extension, for making pop music subversive, turning the Beatles into druggies, and irreparably rending the fabric of our society.
Anti-folk. Hazily defined genre originally inhabited by young white tenement squatters who combined folk and punk sensibilities, but more recently embodied by the LO-FI pretend rustics Will Oldham and Bill Callahan, who, under their aliases (Palace and Bonnie "Prince" Billy for Oldham, Smog for Callahan), thrum acoustic guitars and warble ominous murder-ballad lyrics in the style of the authentic twenties hayseeds heard on Harry Smith's ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC. The anti-folk movement (which took its name from English acousti-punk Billy Bragg's description of his own sound) traces its origins to a scroungy eighties Lower East Side scene that spawned, among others, Beck, Michelle Shocked, Cindy Lee Berryhill, and Ani DiFranco.
Aphrodite's Child. Hirsute, preposterous Greek PROG outfit from the late sixties and early seventies enjoying new life as a staple of retro-funk compilations. After the group's 1972 split, walrus-sized vocalist Demis Roussos, possessor of an unlikely castrato singing voice, went on to dubious Euro-fame as a kind of Hellenic Barry White, crooning MOR love songs for the aprs-ski set, while keyboardist Vangelis Parpathanssiou jettisoned his last name and won international fame for his synth-heroic soundtrack to Chariots of Fire and Snob plaudits for his noirish Blade Runner soundtrack.
Arden, Don. Knuckle-dragging thug-titan of Britain's early rock scene; the Suge Knight of his era. Gaining a toehold in London's postwar show business scene as a boy comedian and singer, Arden (ne Harold Levy) muscled his way into promotion, organizing British tours for such kindred-spirit wildmen as Gene Vincent, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. As manager of THE SMALL FACES, Black Sabbath, and the Electric Light Orchestra in the sixties and seventies, Arden earned a singular reputation for violence, famously dangling fellow maverick Robert Stigwood from a balcony during a business dispute. When Arden's daughter Sharon took over the management of his client Ozzy Osbourne in the early eighties, marrying the cro-mag rocker in the process, Don declared war on Sharon, and she tried to run him over with a car. But Arden has mellowed in recent years, reconciling with his daughter and shuffling through episodes of MTV's The Osbournes while singing Yiddish music-hall songs.
Association, the. Prime arbiters of the late-sixties "sunshine pop" ethos, having scored a string of featherlight CURT BOETTCHER-produced hits such as "Along Comes Mary," "Cherish," and "Windy." Though the Association was big enough to have been the opening act at the MONTEREY POP festival, and their multilayered harmonies and sophisticated arrangements were sometimes worthy of BRIAN WILSON, their credibility was hampered by their wussy image, relentless deployment of ba-pa-ba-paaah backing vocals, and the fact that their main musical force, Terry Kirkman, played the recorder and flute onstage--ultimately consigning them, perhaps unfairly, to the BUBBLEGUM ranks.
Austin City Limits. Public-television program originally conceived, in 1974, as a showcase for Austin, Texas's burgeoning music scene--the first guest was the pre-superstardom Willie Nelson--but later reconfigured as a hip, wide-ranging TV alternative to Nashville's fogyish Grand Ole Opry (with such guests as TOWNES VAN ZANDT, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, and Lyle Lovett), and, later still, as a magical melting-pot for both mainstream country acts (Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill), and ROOTS-sensitive rock and pop acts like Sheryl Crow, the Jayhawks, and Ben Kweller. Rodney Crowell turned in a smokin' set on Austin City Limits last night.
Autoharp. Small stringed instrument, also known as a chorded zither, whose gentle twang, portability, and visual appeal (it's cradled in one arm and stroked by the other, like a newborn) have made it a favorite of both old-timey musicians (such as the CARTER FAMILY) and newfangled AMERICANA artists. Catherine O'Hara strummed one in the folkie send-up A Mighty Wind.
Axe. Imbecilic term for an electric guitar, nevertheless embraced by rock critics and hobby guitarists with advanced degrees. My Sebring axe doesn't have the pedigree of a Fender, but man, it can shred like one!
Axelrod, David. Snob-exhumed purveyor of sixties orchestral funk. A West Coast producer-arranger with a CV worthy of a James Ellroy character--as a young man he dabbled in violent crime and went on to become a jazz producer in the fifties--Axelrod established himself in the mid-sixties producing artists as varied as Lou Rawls and the Electric Prunes, and under his own name recorded ambitious, layered albums that defied categorization. (He once used Blake poems as lyrics.) A commercial failure in his own era, Axelrod embarked on a cocaine-fueled downward spiral, but fortune smiled upon him in the nineties when the likes of Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, and DJ Shadow sampled his work.
*Bacharach, Burt. Rehabilitated songwriter whose metrically and melodically unorthodox sixties pop-luxe hits, such as "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "I Say a Little Prayer" (written with lyricist Hal David), were dismissed for two decades as square and Muzaky until Rock Snobs decided in the nineties that it was okay to like them again. Particularly active latter-day boosters have been Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Elvis Costello, with whom Bacharach recorded a 1998 "comeback" album. That song has a very Bacharachesque flugelhorn part.
Bad Brains. Hard-luck jazz-fusion weirdos from Washington, D.C., who cashed in on the New York hardcore punk scene in 1980 with their minute-and-a-half-long single "Pay to Cum." The subsequent introduction of reggae and heavy-metal elements into Bad Brains' sound did little for their sales but everything for their legend, as evidenced by the band's feverish championing by the Rock Snob collective the Beastie Boys.
Badfinger. Ill-starred POWER-POP quartet signed to the Beatles' Apple Records under the aegis of mentor Paul McCartney, who saw them as the heirs to his rupturing group--a patently flawed premise nevertheless embraced today by Revisionist Snobs. Led by shag-haired songwriters Pete Ham and Tom Evans, Badfinger achieved early success with a string of melodic ballads (such as the McCartney-penned "Come and Get It" and their own "Day After Day") and saw a HARRY NILSSON cover of their song "Without You" go all the way to No. 1 on the U.S. charts. But they couldn't sustain the high quality of their early material and fell apart, riven by internal strife and legal wrangles. A despairing Ham committed suicide in 1975, and Evans followed suit in 1983.
Bambaataa, Afrika. Zulu-centric OLD-SCHOOL Bronx DJ whose 1982 hit "Planet Rock" put Tommy Boy Records on the map and fused hip-hop with Caucasoid electronic music, built as it was around a figure from KRAFTWERK's "Trans-Europe Express." Despite his gang-member past and imposing cyborg mien (winged shades, hooded robes, VOCODER-ized vocals), Bambaataa proved an affable ambassador of hip-hop culture to the white world, performing at such Downtown new-wave clubs as the Mudd Club and the Peppermint Lounge in the early eighties while presiding over his own "Zulu Nation" collective of DJs and b-boys Uptown.
*Bangs, Lester. Dead rock critic canonized for his willfully obnoxious, amphetamine-streaked prose. Writing chiefly for Creem magazine, Bangs stuck two fingers down the throat of the counterculture elite and kept alive the scuzzy legacy of bands such as the Velvet Underground, THE STOOGES, and the MC5. Though every Rock Snob worth his salt reveres Bangs (a heavy biography by Rock Snob author Jim DeRogatis was published a few years ago), his writing has aged rather less well than that of his less strident contemporaries Richard Meltzer and Nick Tosches. They're all pussies at Rolling Stone now, man; not a Lester Bangs among them.
*Barrett, Syd. Founding member of Pink Floyd who defined the group's early sound with his juvenile, peculiarly English take on psychedelia. Already in the process of becoming rock's most celebrated acid casualty at the time of Pink Floyd's 1967 debut, Barrett left the band in 1968, managing to record two solo albums of skeletal meanderings (one of them entitled The Madcap Laughs) before drifting into the permanent twilight in which he lives today. The post-Barrett Floyd song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is about him.
Baxter, Jeff "Skunk." Gregarious, droopily mustached veteran guitarist, formerly of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. Long regarded as the session pro's session pro, Baxter has recently forfeited his consummate-insider status by becoming ubiquitous as a commentator in VH1 and BBC rockumentaries. He also enjoys an implausible side career as an adviser to Congress and the Pentagon on ballistic-missile defense.
*Beefheart, Captain. Performing name of Don Van Vliet, a California-desert kid and childhood friend of Frank Zappa's whose 1969 album, Trout Mask Replica, is, Rock Snobs swear, a classic whose brilliance will reveal itself after you've listened to it 6,000 times or so. A typical Beefheart song showcased Van Vliet yawping dementedly over the intricately arranged yet chaotic-sounding playing of his backing group, the Magic Band, whose members used "wacky" stage names such as Zoot Horn Rollo and Antennae Jimmy Semens. Van Vliet retired from music in the early eighties and is now a painter. His aesthetic may be straight out of the Dust Bowl, but Tom Waits's strangulated vocals have a soupcon of Beefheart about them.
*Big Star. Anglophilic early-seventies American combo whose first two albums, #1 Record and Radio City, have Koran-like status in POWER-POP circles. Led by Memphis native Alex Chilton, who began his career as a teenager with the blue-eyed-soul boys the Box Tops ("The Letter"), Big Star recorded tunes that, while catchy, were too fraught with druggy tension to be commercial--thereby guaranteeing the group posthumous "great overlooked band" status. Chilton, who later had a REPLACEMENTS song named after him, is now a rheumy-eyed eccentric who occasionally performs with original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and their adoring acolytes at quasi-reunion shows.
Bingenheimer, Rodney. Gnomish L.A. scenester and dogged Anglophile who washed up on the Sunset Strip in the mid-sixties as a teen, attached himself to every musician passing through, and parlayed his shameless parasitism into a pop career, an improbably active sex life, and infamy as "The Mayor of Sunset Strip" (a title bestowed upon him by the actor Sal Mineo and later used as the name of a bathetic rockumentary about him). Though long known to Angelenos as a POWER-POP-mad DJ on KROQ (where he is now relegated to the Sunday-night graveyard shift), Bingenheimer enjoyed his poptastic apogee as the proprietor-namesake of Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, a short-lived but bustling club that was the locus of the American GLAM scene in the early seventies.
Black Flag. SEMINAL California hardcore punk band, occasionally confused by novice Snobs with STEVE ALBINI's Big Black. At the time of its 1978 recording debut on its own SST label, Black Flag had a revolving-vocalist policy, but that changed in 1981 when the job was handed permanently to square-jawed, stage-invading fan Henry Rollins. After the band split in 1986, founding Black Flag bassist Greg Ginn devoted his energies to SST, which released the early albums of proto-grunge bands Husker Du, SONIC YOUTH, and Dinosaur Jr., as well as those of his own band, Gone; Rollins cut his hair and strenuously cultivated an image as a Renaissance man, starting his own publishing company (named 2.13.61, after his birthdate), releasing solo albums, moonlighting as an actor, and winning a Grammy in 1994 for a "spoken word" album.
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It's safe to assume a pair of rock snobs also wrote it. Only a rock snob could write, and appreciate, entries such as:
"Drake, Nick: ... Was frequently photographed standing dolefully among trees...."
"Eno, Brian: Egghead producer and electronics whiz with appropriately futuristic name and aerodynamic pate."
"Big Star: ... recorded tunes that, while catchy, were too fraught with druggy tension to be commercial -- thereby guaranteeing the group posthumous 'great overlooked band status.'"
"Albini, Steve: Self-consciously difficult Chicago-based producer who... pushes the bounds of rock iconoclasm by wearing glasses and having short hair."
"Parsons, Gram: Southern, Harvard educated, trustafarian pretty boy who invented country-rock...."
It's slim, it's amusing, and sometimes surprising. Who knew, for example, that Shuggie Otis was once offered the chance to join the Stones as a replacement for Mick Taylor? Or that the vocoder was developed in the 1930s as a telecommunications aid? Not me.
Like Dean, this dude who was my shift supervisor at the AutoZone. I remember putting "2112" on the tape player in the garage, and Dean lectured us for 10 minutes about how Ginger Baker and Mo Tucker were better drummers than Neal Peart from Rush (which is total b.s.), and rambled on about some "brilliant" Syd Barrett solo album that no one ever heard about. And whenever "Teenage Wasteland" came on the radio, Dean couldn't help himself from making sure we all knew that the song was really called "Baba O'Reilly". We were changing the coolant on an Impala one day and the owner had left "Metal Machine Music" and a Captain Beefheart CD on the dashboard, and old Dean just about went nuts. When the Impala owner came to pick up his car, you would have thought Dean was meeting his long-lost twin that the hospital separated at birth.
Anyway, there's definitely someone like Dean who was your annoying freshman roommate, a chick you used to date, or you, so this book is awesome. Especially if you spend a lot of time on the can, since this book is broken down into bite-sized nuggets and doesn't require more than 2 minutes of attention at any given time. Rock on.
So, what is a rock snob? Evidently, somewhat to my surprise, I am not. I'm a music fanatic, and I would have imagined that sufficient to gain rock snob status, but apparently not, since the book defines "rock snob" as: "reference term for the sort of pop connoisseur for whom the actual enjoyment of music is but a side dish to the accumulation of arcane knowledge." For me the actual enjoyment of the music has been paramount, so I am imagining that anyone who truly loves the music first is exempt, on technical grounds, from rock snobbishness.
The joy of the book comes from the way they simultaneously elevate and then deflate various figures and artifacts from the world of rock. Many of their characterizations are dead on. I've never understood the esteem in which many hold Burt Bacharach. Folks, it really is just elevator music, and I don't care how much Elvis Costello tries to pump his reputation. The authors write about such figures with wit and derisive humor. The lists that litter the book are marvelous, and usually dead on.
Plus, the book is fun to argue with. If you are a serious fan of music, you will spend a lot of time flipping through to see if your own candidates were included in the book, and a surprising number of the more arcane folks I searched for were to be found. For instance, I was amazed to see that Jim Dickinson, Dan Penn, The Fugs, and the Louvin Brothers showed up. I was somewhat disappointed that several of the folks I would have nominated were not, including: Can, Greg Sage and the Wipers (a monumental oversight), the Shoes, Moby Grape (though Skip Spence gets a nod), Robert Quine, Jack Logan (a shocker), R. Stevie Moore, the Buzzcocks (with an especial mention of their EP SPIRAL SCRATCH), the Mekons, Les Paul, the album HAVE MOICY!, guitar pioneer John Fahey, the Flying Burrito Brothers (though Gram Parsons, of course, has an entry), Rory Gallagher, and Second Edition (Johnny Lydon's aka Rotten project after the Sex Pistols). But like I said, this book isn't about completeness, but humor. There also is a cut off point. Few very recent bands receive a mention, even such crucial Rock Snob bands as Yo La Tengo (which inspired the wonderful ONION headline about a few dozen record store clerks dying at one of their concerts when the roof collapsed, crushing the crowd) fail to receive mention.
In the end, the book really isn't for aspiring rock snobs, but actual rock snobs who get all the references, know all the books and movies mentioned in the lists, and "get" the self-mocking nature of the whole affair. My only real disappointment with the book is that if you have a pretty good knowledge of rock, you aren't going to learn much new. But at least you can laugh about your own pretentiousness about imagining that to be the case.