Classic Rock Society (Review)

Rock Society 193MICHAEL ANTHONY: Words And Music
(Celtic Mist Publications)

Rock Society, Issue 193

Review by Steve Pilkington

Subtitled ‘Excursions In The Art Of Rock Fandom’, the Michael Anthony behind this lengthy tome is a lifelong Welsh rock fan – NOT, as I’m sure he is sick of pointing out, the Van Halen bass player (indeed the book even makes this point in its introduction!). The book clearly takes as its cue the work of Nick Hornby, in particular his seminal first book Fever Pitch, since, where Hornby memorably states ‘I have measured out my life in Arsenal fixtures’, so does Anthony attempt to do, with the life of a rock listener replacing that of a football fan. Here lies the problem with the book, however, as during its weighty 350 pages, some focus is lost from that original vision. Allow me to break it down.

After an introductory section, oddly spending considerable time detailing the influence of drugs and alcohol in the rock’n’roll life and creative process, he goes back to his childhood, reminiscing about how he first discovered rock music, his first few concerts, and his interaction with school companions. This is where the book has its key strength, as the writing is so skilful that few rock fans of an even vaguely similar vintage can fail to feel nostalgically drawn in, and recognise significant signposts to their own youth (I am a few years older than Michael, and I could parallel it with almost scary similarity at times!). With a few diversions, such as the lengthy analysis of a somewhat banal Magnum lyric (though some unkind souls might level that at most of Tony Clarkin’s words), the book continues through the University years, as other interests both personal, political and intellectual both sharpen and oppose his rock fandom, and this for me is the most successful part of the book. Intelligently and engagingly written, I found myself at times envisioning my own Student Halls Of Residence time, even though I was in a different city to his, so successfully does he conjure up the ‘everyman’ spirit of the shared musical companionship.

This is where the book loses its way slightly, however. We take a sharp turn here into detailed, scholarly analysis of his trio of heroes: Jim Morrison / The Doors, Bob Dylan and Steve Hogarth / Marillion. Not to say that these sections are badly written, far from it – indeed they are in depth and well researched. They are just too heavy, and sit uncomfortably with the tone of the book thus far. I myself am a great Doors admirer, but even I found it hard going after 45 pages plumbing Morrison’s complex psyche and troubled soul. The Dylan section is significantly better, being more grounded in how he discovered and explored Dylan, and how it reflected his own life, though the lengthy Marillion section which takes the book to its close is stodgy going indeed. When the lyrics to the Marillion song ‘faith’ are compared, at length, to ‘the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, at proposition 6.52 in his Tractus Logico-Philosophicus, first published in English in 1922’, you do start to feel as if some sort of metaphorical shark is being jumped.

Summing up, this is not by any means a poor book – indeed it kept me reading from first to last. What it is, however is two ideas shoe-horned together. I personally feel that there are two great books here struggling to get out. If he were able to expand the nostalgic Hornbyesque reminiscences to another hundred pages or so, while simultaneously incorporating those scholarly analytical sections into a separate volume devoted to such heavy interpretative discussion, there would I believe be two splendid 250-page works, instead of one well-written, but ultimately slightly lumpy, 350-page book.

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