Tag Archives: Gonzo journalism

Over The Top and Far Away

Tribal

The player accepts, even welcomes, the pain he will suffer, a sacrifice for the good of the team. Just like Jesus, come to think of it.

Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America by Diane Roberts (Harper, $25.99, 246 pages)

This book might well have been titled Fear and Loathing in Tallahassee. In theory, this is a book about a person’s love and hate relationship with college football (“A great game or a waste of money…”), specifically Florida State University football. I say in theory because the writer’s Gonzo-style of journalism means that she’s all over the place – as if there’s no filter between her mind and what she places on a page. For example, Roberts spends some time on the topic of football and religion. Oh, yes. After quoting from Saint Paul in Corinthians 6:19 she writes:

“…the (football) player begins to use his body to inflict pain. Not like Jesus… The First Church of Christ Linebacker doesn’t hold with gentle Jesus meek and mild. The Lord is a tough, manly dude, and football is an allegory of the soul’s struggle against evil.”

Wow. Seriously?

Doak 5

doak 3

It’s hard to tell if Roberts is putting everyone on – in the style of Hunter S. Thompson (Thompson once accused a major party’s presidential candidate of being an ibogaine addict), or if she’s simply being provocative for the sake of being so. This is a silly work which might have made for a mildly entertaining airline magazine article. But it’s not for the serious, grounded reader.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on October 27, 2015.

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Communication Breakdown

Led Zeppelin on LZ

Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin: Interviews and Encounters (Musicians in Their Own Words), edited by Hank Bordowitz (Chicago Review Press, $28.95, 458 pages)

“The Led Zeppelin show depends heavily on volume, repetition, and drums.” William S. Burroughs

Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin is a compilation of interviews conducted with, and articles about, the former mega band. Unfortunately, some of the contributors did not seem to know who or what they were writing about. One comments about the song “Days of Confusion” – actually “Dazed and Confused” – while another writes about the band’s “laid-back subtlety and studied professionalism.” Led Zeppelin, subtle?

The interviews are usually interesting but not enlightening. While Jimmy Page comes across as focused and consistent, Robert Plant is all over the place. Sometimes Plant sounds intelligent and thoughtful, at other times he’s flakey and nearly unintelligible. One who seeks to understand the band’s songwriting and recordings will definitely be frustrated. There’s a lot said about Zeppelin’s influences, but few attempts at analysis.

Most frustrating of all, it’s never made clear why the group that created the heavy blues rock genre abandoned it after just two albums. Although the question is raised numerous times in these pages, it’s never properly answered. (Other than Page’s statement that he did not want people to confuse Zeppelin with Black Sabbath.)

LZ

LZ II

Finally, there’s a 14-page essay by William S. Burroughs that was presumably supposed to be intellectual. In it, Burroughs writes about drinking multiple fingers of whiskey with Mr. Page. The entire chapter reads like it was written while Burroughs was quite drunk; it’s not far from the tiring, insipid Gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson.

Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin may make a fine gift for those who love and must own all things Zeppelin. It will fall short of satisfying others.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on November 1, 2014.

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Question

“Why do we never get an answer, when we’re knocking at the door?”   Question, The Moody Blues

Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt (Liveright Publishing Company, $27.95, 309 pages)

From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll (Plume Reprint, $17.00, 448 pages)

“Could it be… that the world exists precisely because it is, on the whole, better than nothing?”

Reading Tim Holt’s extended treatise on life and the universe is the equivalent of listening to a classic philosophical album by The Moody Blues – one hears numerous questions about being and existence but receives no answers.   All in all, Why Does the Earth Exist? is an entertaining read but it’s far too clever by half; one gets the impression that Holt is trying to dazzle the reader with his brilliance – supposed or real – as he all too often gets off track.   Holt never answers the question raised in the book’s title, and much time is wasted on diversions such as mathematical formulas and the rules of formal logic.

The writer seems to be at his most engaging while pondering deep thoughts after nights of imbibing far too much alcohol at the world’s glamorous hotspots.   As such, he comes off as a tamer, more intellectual version of the Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary); one whose entertainment value (unlike the late Thompson’s) runs thin very, very quickly.   Another flaw with Why concerns Holt’s unwillingness to acknowledge that much of the interest in time, and the birth and death of our 13.7 billion year old universe, relates to our personal fears of death and non-existence.   Occasionally, he grudgingly concedes the point:  “Our mild anxiety about the precariousness of being…  might yield to cosmic terror when we realize that the whole show is a mere ontological soap bubble that could pop into nothingness at any moment, without the slightest warning.”   “The life of the universe, like each of our lives, may be a mere interlude between two nothings.”

“…philosophy is a terribly difficult subject, and sorting out the hardest questions in the finite time of a human life is asking a lot.”   (Emphasis in the original)

This book’s recommended only for those few selected – if perhaps strange – individuals who felt they didn’t take enough tough philosophy classes in college.   And if you want to cover the majority of the same ground – from Einstein to modern physics, time travel and more – and get even deeper into the weeds of existence, existentialism and science – a better choice would be From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll (2010).   Carroll offers less entertainment value, and fewer side trips than Holt but he delivers more content that actually helps us understand “how we came to exist” and where our existence (our world and our universe) is headed.

From Eternity to Here is well recommended, although it has the feel of a very serious college textbook.   The universe itself is a terribly difficult subject, one not for the timid, weak or lazy.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of Why Does the World Exist? was provided by the publisher.   From Eternity to Here was purchased by the reviewer.

Note:  Tim Holt was raised as a Catholic.   Undoubtedly, some will find that he spends far too much energy on religion in this work, while others will decide that he’s not said enough about God.   What cannot be denied is that he gives full space to the arguments (and views) of all of the great modern and ancient existentialist philosophers – a matter that some will find pleasing, and others extremely painful.

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Positively 4th Street

Who Is That Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan by David Dalton (Hyperion, $26.99, 383 pages)

“Hibbing, Minnesota, is the site of the biggest man-made hole in the world, an existential allegory if there ever was one…  Hibbing cannibalized itself…  If the biggest hole in the world had an effect on (Dylan), why hadn’t it shown up in any of his songs?   Or has it?   Is that what he’s been doing, filling it up?”  

David Dalton’s overly-psychedelic look at Bob Dylan never comes close to telling the reader who “the real” Dylan is.   There are a number of problems with this account, the chief one being that, instead of de-mythologizing the legend and presenting a human being, Dalton regurgitates every myth in circulation and then proceeds to create additional ones.   The all-too-clever Gonzo-journalism style, 45 years or so out-of-date, is often painful to read, as when Dalton writes about “…the hallucinatory negativity of Blonde on Blonde.”   Really?   (What album was he listening to?)

It gets worse, as when Dalton refers to Hank Williams, one of young Bob’s first idols, as “the hillbilly Shakespeare” (groan).   Although Dalton may now and then redeem himself (like when he notes that Dylan looks at America with an immigrant’s eye), the sometimes-fascinating portions of this work are fully overwhelmed by its dreadful aspects.   It may appeal to some – such as those who love middle-school style humor – but the writer tries much too hard to be as hip as Dylan’s old album liner notes.   Not recommended for hardcore Dylan fans, although some quirky readers who like humor and sarcasm presented in the guise of serious musical criticism may be inexplicably drawn to it.

All in all, this is Positively 4th Street.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Note:  As an example of Dalton’s excessively strange style of covering Dylan’s recording career, he comes up with eight so-called reasons why Dylan’s two-record set Self-Portrait was relatively unsuccessful.   He cites as reason 5 the fact that someone failed to tell the Byrds that they were scheduled to play on the album, and so they “flew home.”   This is not factual nor is it funny.

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