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With a huge silver lining! The expanded 2007 edition.
on 18 October 2002
The Dark Stuff was first published in Britain in 1994 and always available in the USA since its 1996 publication. In the UK the book had been out-of-print for eight years until the 2007 edition appeared. Compiled from 1970s interviews for the New Musical Express plus 1980s magazine articles, this new edition includes the essays Sly Stone's Evil Ways & Phil Spector's Long Fall From Grace, a portrait of French pop icon Serge Gainsbourg, a recent interview with Iggy Pop and a concluding essay titled Self-destruction in Rock and Elsewhere. All in all twenty-two of the most talented and self-destructive artists in rock history are profiled.
Kent was the New Musical Express's star attraction in the 1970s at a time when the publication was selling 300,000 copies per week. It was at the forefront of reporting on the punk explosion, punk personalities, the style and its offshoots. The NME's influential position gave Kent unique opportunities as a rock writer. Kent may be older & wiser but there's something to be said for the energy and enthusiasm of youth, since the recent stuff amongst the new additions is less gripping than the original writings from the 70s and 80s for NME and magazines like The Face, Arena and Spin.
The value of each chapter is directly proportional to the communication skills of those interviewed: that is why the Guns 'N' Roses piece is a complete waste of time and paper and shouldn't even have been included, whilst I loved the Roy Orbison interview although I've never really been into his music. I found the Brian Wilson piece too long and disagree with the author's assessment of the Rolling Stones after the 1960s. Kent seems to think that Jagger and Richards produced their best music in the late 60s and early 70s because they were tormented by the 'wild women' Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull.
There's a thought-provoking chapter on the ill-fated Brian Jones (Tortured Narcissus) that discusses his contribution to The Stones, his decline and death. Kent's view of Kurt Cobain is a bit harsh and the non-interview with Roky Erickson rather pointless. Kent's 1988 portrait of Serge Gainsbourg is sad and pathetic but he concludes it by graciously praising the French singer's musical legacy. I loved the pieces on Jerry Lee Lewis, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and Miles Davis and in my opinion the book's crowning glory is the chapter titled Neil Young and the Haphazard Highway that leads to Unconditional Love. Young's care and concern for his disabled child impress more than a thousand stories of excess and substance abuse.
Most of these rock stars thought that they were exempt from the law of cause & effect, with the predictable disastrous consequences. What amazes me is how some of these artists managed to consistently produce sublime music while they were abusing themselves physically and mentally to such a gruesome degree. I suppose that is one of the messages of this book: no matter how low down you are, you can always pull yourself together again. It certainly demonstrates the ability of the soul and the body to restore themselves.
This is great rock writing, on a par with the work of Lester Bangs. The stylistic difference is that Kent's writing is character-based & analytical: looking at musicians in the context of what they're doing and how they're living in order to analyze how this context influences them. Bangs on the other hand wrote from a more intimate, personal perspective, an angle that describes the effect the music had on him, often in stream-of-consciousness prose.
Other classics of rock writing that I recommend are James Young's Nico, Songs They Never Play on the Radio, alternatively titled Nico: The Last Bohemian, Clinton Heylin's From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock, Gerri Hirshey's Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul Music, Let It Blurt by Jim DeRogatis, Scars of Sweet Paradise by Alice Echols, Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Marianne Faithfull, Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and Angry Women in Rock by Andrea Juno.