Thursday, April 2, 2020

Music Books: On Lou Reed & Metal Legends

The Life of Lou Reed: Notes from the Velvet Underground
By Howard Sounes
Diversion Books; hardcover, 378 pages; $26.99

Howard Sounes, a veteran music biographer who has written about Bob Dylan (Down the Highway) and Paul McCartney (Fab), focuses on legendary musician Lou Reed's tortured and tumultuous life in the new book, The Life of Lou Reed: Notes from the Velvet Underground.

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the live concert recordings that compose Reed's legendary album, "1969: The Velvet Underground Live." Known for writing lyrics that addressed dark subjects, from street life to drug and alcohol addiction to the abuse of women, Reed has come to be regarded as one of the most innovative and intelligent songwriters of the modern era.

"Listen, Lou Reed has fallen silent," Sounes writes. "That black-clad curmudgeon, the rock 'n' roll poet they called the King of New York, co-founder of the Velvet Underground band, master of the wry, observational lyric, author of 'Walk on the Wild Side,' 'Heroin' and 'Sweet Jane,' among hundreds of extraordinary and some quite ordinary songs, is dead. Lou lived so fast, he drank so much and he took so many drugs that few expected him to live to seventy-one. But now he has sung his last song. What was he really like?"

Sounes, with a deep knowledge and understanding of Reed's music, sheds new light on the artist's creative process, his mental health problems, his bisexuality, and his three marriages. He interviwed 150 people from every part of Reed's life, some of whom that have not spoken about him before, including music industry figures, band members, fellow celebrities, family members, former wives, and lovers.

The Life of Lou Reed is an incredible New York story, one of a bygone era, and illustrates why he is one of the greatest musicians ever.

Raising Hell: Backstage Tales from the Lives of Metal Legends
By Jon Wiederhorn; foreword by Gary Holt of Exodus and Slayer
Diversion Books; hardcover; $30.00

Jon Wiederhorn, author of the classic music tome Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History Of Metal, has now written an oral history of the Heavy Metal Lifestyle, the debauchery, demolition, and headbanging dedication.

Raising Hell features incredible stories from Black Sabbath to Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Disturbed, Quiet Riot, and Megadeth. The mantra of metal legends can best be summed up by the song "You Can't Kill Rock and Roll" by Ozzy Osbourne, in which he sings, "Rock and roll is my religion and my law."

The metal scene has been populated by colorful individuals who have thwarted convention and lived by their own rules. For many, vice is virtue, and the chance to make albums and go on tour has been an invitation to push boundaries and make mischief wherever they went.

Wiederhorn writes, "In the decades I have followed metal (which was widely called 'heavy metal' when I was a young-un), I have watched the genre transform from one that showcases steady, crunchy guitar riffs, flailing solos, and near-operatic voice to a music form that largely values speed and aggression above even hooks. The vocals are mostly growled or shrieked and are best enjoyed with online lyrics (and to think, metal fans used to hope they were lucky enough that bands would include lyrics in their CD booklets and album sleeves). I'm not strictly old-school; I enjoy listening to Goatpenis as well as Iron Maiden. But there's a definite divide between '80s metal and the stuff newer bands are churning out today. As a result, thrash groups that were considered insanely fast and brutal in the '80s (Metallica, Slayer, Exodus) now sound almost tame next to many death and black metal bands. And while a lot of traditional metal of the '70s and early '80s, including Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, has aged well musically, most of it has been stripped of the rage and rebellion that once heightened its appeal."

To these musicians, metal is a means of banding together and giving a big middle finger to a society in which they already determined wasn't theirs. Whether they were oddballs who didn't fit in, or angry kids from tough backgrounds, metal gave them their identity. Wiederhorn draws on more than 150 first-hand interviews with vocalists, guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, and drummers to paint the picture of what their wild lives were like.

"In its entirety - or even in chunks no longer than a death metal chorus - the book explores the metal subculture and lifestyle and, in its best moments, conjures the uncertainty, instability, excitement, and mind-altering mania of being on the road with the same people week after week, month after month, and thriving on the thrill of creative expression and the ecstasy of performing," Wiederhorn writes. "On that level, Raising Hell could be considered a bit of a sociological and philosophical treatise about a microcosm of music that's as denigrated by critics as it is celebrated by its fans. It's a subgenre colored by thievery, vandalism, hedonism, the occult, stage mishaps, most pit atrocities, and general insanity."

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