By Rich Quinlan



Edited by Jim DeRogatis and Carmél Carrillo (Barricade Books)

As a teacher of English and history, and a person who tends to be a traditionalist about most things, this book made me nervous on a number of levels. And having read it, I am still uncertain of how many of these opinions I actually support.  I have not done much with my 30 years on this planet, but I do believe that I know good music when I hear it, and I hold many of the records thrashed here close to my heart. It is, in theory, a great idea: A “new generation” of rock critics re-writes history by trashing legendary albums.  The question has to be asked,  however, if this is all just some kind of hipper-than-thou revisionist history;  are these kids out to show mom and dad that even after all these years, they are still square and new rock and roll will always be more dangerous than their hippie, free love nonsense or their over-blown seventies arena rock?   The fact that Jim DeRogatis (whose credits include Let It Blurt, his biography of rock critic legend Lester Bangs) edited this tome made me feel better, and I eagerly dove in to pieces that featured some of my favorite discs of all time.  In the end, I wound up disillusioned, somewhat depressed, but truly looking at some so-called legendary material in a very different light.

          DeRogatis begins the book by stabbing with his steely knife the most scared of all beasts: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.  Imagine the horror when he reveals this record to be nothing more than a pretentious collection of disconnected material that does not even rock.  But this is an album that Rolling Stone has always listed as the best of all time! How can anyone give it a poor review? (The anti-Rolling Stone vibe here is palpable, and quite frankly, occasionally juvenile in its repetition) Well, DeRogatis makes a great argument, basically claiming that everything you hear on Sgt. Pepper’s is done more effectively on Revolver, and Pepper’s includes overly conservative pieces from McCartney, which did not mesh with the material contributed by Lennon, Harrison’s guitar prowess is ignored but Ring’s contribution at least, gets out of the way early on the record.

          This sets a tone for an insightful, albeit occasionally, mean-spirited text that does rip some of the more pompous acts of rock’s history.  I cannot thank Jim Walsh enough for the hatchet job done to Rumors, Eric Waggoner and Bob Mohr’s dissection of The Joshua Tree, or my favorite of the text, Burl Girard’s dismantling of Dark Side of the Moon.  This essay in particular truly made me smile because I just never “got it” with Pink Floyd.  Sure I tried all the necessary attributes needed to better enjoy their music and I even attempted that idiotic Wizard of Oz thing, but that band always annoyed the hell out of me.  Additionally, I have always hated Radio head with a passion, noting their appearance on South Park as the only legitimate contribution that band has made to the world.  Apparently I am not alone as Ok Computer was revealed for what it truly is by David Menconi.

          I was truly shocked by some of the records that made the list here, but the reasons for their placement were demonstrated convincingly.  When you truly dissect Exile on Main Street, as Keith Moiré does, you find the Rolling Stones not at the pinnacle of their power, but a loosely connected band of struggling addicts running from tax problems and domestic hassles.  The Beach Boys’ immortal Pet Sounds and the oft-celebrated Smile are simply concoctions from a brilliantly twisted mind of tortured genius Brian Wilson, but are not the stuff of legends so embraced by the Baby Boomer generation.  The same is true with Tommy, an apex of musical pomposity that becomes downright creepy when one considers Pete Townshend’s recent legal battles. (You will never hear Uncle Ernie the same way again).

 Many of the pieces here smacked of private journals and that kind of personal touch made for great reading.  When Adrian Brijbassi takes you second by awkward second through an early adolescent love scene set to “Stairway to Heaven”, you cannot help but smile.  I felt like it was my life being played out, for when I was in eighth grade, the first great kiss I ever received came at the end of a school dance when MaryAnn Lutz actually held on to me even after Bonzo’s drums kicked in and the couples surrounding us split up into a flotilla of awkward glances.  The key to “Stairway” always was if the girl kept dancing with you through the solo, you win in! 

          There were a series of essays which I did great umbrage, however.  How could our own Jim Testa rip the Sex Pistols?!  Now, like any Jersey Beat fan, I know Jim’s love affair with the Ramones, but come on now, Never Mind the Bollocks changed everything, did it not?  Well, according to Jim, the band did not represent punk and for all their bombast and anti-capitalistic stances, they were always right there to collect the cash, even dragging their aging bodies out on the road for a reunion tour.  In every point he raised, he is absolutely right.  The Pistols were not the first great punk band, not even close, and when you listen now, Bollocks does sound dated and thin.  However, this was my dilemma with the book as a whole: Won’t everything sound dated eventually? No matter how hip something might be, somewhere down the line, that piece of art will come across as silly, archaic or misguided.  I love the Pistols and it is sad to admit that I still listen to Bollocks regularly, only now, instead of lying on my bed imagining the rebellion held by the music as I did when I was thirteen, I am now sweating on a Stair Master in the early morning hours.  Yeah, I’m pretty vacant, but damned if I am going to be pudgy!

          I had a similar reaction to Marco Leavitt’s take on Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  In his essay, Leavitt’s seems to allow the fact that Jello Biafra is an egotistical jerk to mask what was, I think, a nearly flawless record of punk angst.  Speaking of masks, I was dismayed to read Jason Gross’s critique of Trout Mask Replica from Captain Beefheart.  Yes, this record left me confused, but I liked it.  I cannot tell you why I love this disc, I place it in the same category as anything by Lightning Bolt, the Flying Luttenbachers or Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music (also mentioned in the book).  These are records that confuse those around you and if you are a misfit looking for a place to hide where most people simply will not bother you, records like this are your home.  While Gross hears mistakes throughout the record and sees them as getting in the way of the material, I never fully believed that those “mistakes” were pure accidents. 

          My heart nearly stopped when I saw that Nevermind was here.  Written by Anders Smith Lindall, the essay begins by explaining how the author was in eighth grade when the record was released.  Right there, I have a problem.  The author was thirteen and complaining of how “Teen Spirit” became a staple at dances and the jocks formed pits.  Ok, fine, but please stop whining.  I was a freshman in college when this came out and “Teen Spirit” saved my life.  After wallowing through high school actually believing that Vince Neil and Tracii Guns had something to say, Kurt was a revolution wrapped in a diminutive body and a yellow party dress on Headbanger’s Ball.  Yes, the record was poppy and it certainly does match the angular, controlled fury of the far superior In Utero, but Nevermind cannot be overstated in what it did for rock in the early 1990’s.  Of course, like anything that becomes popular it eventually becomes exploited, as body surfing was used in beer ads and Kurt’s kills himself, but Jesus, how many of you folks ever thought you would hear a Blondie song selling cars or Doritos? I am sorry, but it is the world in which we live and let’s not forget what dominated the airwaves before Kurt, Kris and Dave finally took hold. 

There in lies a problem with a book like this, for a person’s age, memories and experiences are defined by the music that they hold dear.  If you were punched in the face at a dance by the starting quarterback, then yeah, Nirvana may seem alike just another fad.  However, when your tape collection was chuck full of hair metal and other drivel, then your opinion will invariably differ. In the end, Kill Your Idols may do for rock what talk radio has done for sports, and this is intensify the arguments and get more people in on the debate. I love having things stirred up no there will be hordes of people offended, delighted, confused and intrigued by this book. I was all for and I loved it.  There is little else that I hold as significant as music, and it is interesting to see how your opinions change as you mature.  Many of the authors here seemed to reflect fondly upon their youth, but as Leavitt said at the conclusion of his piece, eventually you want a car that starts in the winter.  Your punk fanaticism may wane and as he said, I guess you do grow up.  To that end, I had to smile as I read the book with the love of my life sleeping in the next room: my nine-month-old son Patrick.  Go read this and reconnect with some old favorites.