Uber Rock (Review)

Review by Craggy, 22 July 2012

Michael Anthony has sat down and cried to Marillion, and he’s proud of it. He’s so comfortable with it that he’s now ready to share that experience, and several other confessions, with the world by committing them to paper and releasing them as ‘Words and Music: Excursions in the Art of Rock Fandom’.

As amusing as that initial revelation may seem, it is actually illustrative of the theme that this book explores, namely the often emotional relationship between rock music and the rock fan. This is a history of a rock obsessive, and by laying his rock-loving cards on the table, he is actually painting a picture of every one of us rock nerds. With this text, Anthony has attempted to rationalise and reason his own (and in turn our) attraction to, and obsession with, rock music. Within the narrative the writer discusses many questions along the way, seeking to understand his own relationship with the music he loves. It’s a commendable effort, and the result is sometimes brilliant, occasionally not so, but it often offers something new and enlightening.

Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the book are autobiographical tales exploring his development as a fan. From his first youthful experiences of witnessing Saxon and being struck by the energy and relationship between the band and the audience, to his first discovery of the work of Bob Dylan, Anthony conjures up detailed descriptions of that magic that we rock fans all feel when we discover something new. And that is the key to enjoying this book – it forms part of a discussion that we all contribute to, and that we can familiarise with. The fact that it is well written is what marks it out as particularly valuable. Any rock fan can discuss the music they love; writing about it in an engaging manner is another thing entirely.

The writer touches on many ideas and concepts within rock music, most notably the impact of religion (both within and against rock music), and also the question of ‘what is rock ‘n’ roll?’ With regard to the latter, Anthony discusses the impact of drugs on the old adage, ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’. This provides an honest side of the debate that throws up a lot of questions of what rock ‘n’ roll is really about, and Anthony does go to some lengths to ensure that it is the music that should remain at the heart of rock ‘n’ roll, rather than the stereotypical lifestyle. With regard to religion, he looks into anti-rock sentiments within certain areas of faith, interestingly using the lyrics of Black Sabbath to argue against stereotypes of evil content.

His observations will not be to everyone’s taste. Perceptions of what rock ‘n’ roll means, for example, will always be subjective, while Anthony’s personal feeling towards religion in rock music, most specifically the lyrics of Geoff Mann (of Twelfth Night), might leave some readers unconvinced. More often than not, however, he provides some food for thought and best of all provides the reader with many, sometimes amusing, anecdotes on his own life.

Always, it is his own experience with these things that forms the most engaging parts of the study, rather than the sometimes overextended analyses. His references to drug taking in music, for example, and his desire to disregard drugs as a tool for creativity develop into lengthy examples of the limitations of drug use for artists, until there is an essence of preaching about his words. And although I’m sure Anthony sees this as something positive, the lengthy foray in to what rock isn’t rather than what it is, feels in itself somewhat negative.

Similarly, his lengthy reviews of the work of particular artists do sometimes go too far. There can be too much pulling apart of lyrics and investigation of albums (sometimes track by track) that it can break up the narrative flow of the book a little. Interpretations of Jim Morrison and the work of The Doors, for example, while commendably comprehensive, is almost self-indulgent in its analysis, developing the writer’s own thoughts to a degree that may lose people with anything less than a great fondness for the group. However, the work itself is often insightful, and the writer has certainly gone some lengths to understand and lovingly interpret the art of his discussion. One could even say it all helps to illustrate the power of rock music that the writer is trying to convey.

As a study of the passion for rock, it is fitting that the book should end within the atmosphere of the live show, and the rock community that supports it. The frantic atmosphere of a festival sets the scene, suitably juxtaposed with the rapid and romanticised travelogue that precedes it, which leads the narrator to a Marillion convention. The relationship he expresses between band and loyal fan-base is one that is inspiring and says a lot for what rock music can do for the fan and for the world around them.

Despite some drawn-out moments, there is enough charm and wit within the text to keep the reader entertained for long periods. It is a piece of work that offers so much in the way of familiarity that the rock-fan reader will often chuckle inwardly at the way Anthony’s life often resonates with their own. Everybody has a story to tell, but within ‘Words and Music’ there is a narrative that is uncannily reassuring to the general rock obsessive, illustrated wonderfully by a gifted and descriptive writer.

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