Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rock Chick: Book discussion

Jim: "Harpur was a very politicized place in those days:  I joined Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, as soon as I got there, which made me a radicalized sorority girl who knew how to shoot guns -- it's a wonder I didn't end up like Patty Hearst.  But it did open my eyes to a lot of things, and chiefest among them was rock and roll."  That's from Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's Rock Chick: A Girl And Her Music which just came out.

rock chick a girl and her music

Jim (Con't):  It's a collection of her music writing from when she was editor-in-chief of Jazz & Pop magazine. Remember our new e-mail address is Please note that is a change.  Participating in our discussion of Kennealy-Morrison's book are  The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona,  Jess,  and me, Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills);  Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz); Ruth of Ruth's Report; Wally of The Daily Jot; Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ; Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends; and Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts.  You are reading a rush transcript.  Elaine, what's the book documenting?

Elaine:  Well early on, she explains not just when rock and roll transitions to rock but also how she turned into "a rock chick." For her, the transformation of rock and roll into rock takes place in 1965 and she transitions into "a rock chick" starting with Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady's bass playing on "Blues from an Airplane" leading her through various moments up to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  We all have a moment like that, I'm sure.  The book explores the immediate aftermath of that.

Jim: For you?  Was that the moment for you?

Elaine: It was pretty much already rock when I was getting serious about music.  In terms of bass?  I've always loved the Beatles' "Taxman" and "Day Tripper."  "Brown Eyed Girl," by Van Morrison, has a really good bass line.  Even the Beach Boys managed a recording with a really good bass line, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and, of course, Motown was known for their bass work.

Jim: In terms of a group that changed everything for you?

Elaine: Probably the Beatles and the Mamas and the Papas.  I was and remain a huge fan of the Rolling Stones but in terms of music I lived for it was the Beatles and the Mamas and the Papas.

Jim: And The Doors, of course, are a major part of the book.  Elaine, Rebecca, were you big fans?

Rebecca: Actually, no.  We know all of their songs and loved Jim Morrison's work but we weren't big fans of The Doors.  C.I. blasted them, she was the huge Doors fan.  Again, Elaine and I liked them, but of the three of us, we were college roommates, C.I. was The Doors fan.  Elaine was loyal to the Beatles and the Stones.  We were all Mamas and Papas fans.  Other than Otis Redding, I wasn't 'loyal.'  I was into Donovan one moment or someone else the next.  But we always had great music playing, regardless of who was in charge of the stereo.

Elaine: These were the turntable days.  We had several including one that you could record onto an 8-track with which was so 'modern' back then.  We'd play our 8-tracks in Rebecca's car.  But we mainly used the turntable you could stack four vinyls records on and it would play one whole side, then drop the next record, play that side, drop the next -- for four records.  We had the music going in the living room constantly and that's not counting radios in the bedrooms.  We did, Rebecca and I, like The Doors but C.I. was the one most into them of the three of us.  We loved Jefferson Airplane as well.

Jim: Betty, you liked the book but in an unexpected way -- you said that to me Friday.

Betty: I did and I was surprised by what I liked the most.  This is a book which collects Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's rock writing for Jazz & Pop magazine.  I'll let others speak of that.  I thought that writing would speak to me the most.  Instead, I really loved the extended opening where she explains how she ended up at the magazine and the world at that time.  I wanted to quote something from that section:

Still, apart from artists (who had their own set of problems), neither were there a lot of women around in rock, at least women who weren't groupies, or publicists, or secretaries at labels -- the Vinyl Ceiling -- and I always thought they didn't have it anywhere near as good as I did.  Pretty much no women rock record executives or studio personnel -- no female engineers or producers.  A few radio personalities.   As for journalists, maybe a dozen in New York, a handful more scattered across the country.  Pauline was the only woman publisher, and I was the only editor-in-chief (though there was a managing editor or two of my own age around).

Betty (Con't): And this section finds her sharing many stories and tidbits.  Among those mentioned are Linda McCartney, Dave Marsh, John Sinclair, Barbra Streisand, Twiggy, Jane Curtin, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Elvis Costello, Carly Simon and, of course, Jim Morrison.  Patricia is Mrs. Morrison, the only woman with that claim.  That's why we keep saying "of course, Jim Morrison."  I loved the entire book but I was surprised that, for me, the best part was that history.

Wally: I'll back Betty on that.  It's very vivid, very alive.  I planned to just read the reviews and commentaries, to be honest.  I thought I'd glance at her overview.  I've read, for example, her book Strange Days, about this time.   But, like Betty says, it's involving and I quickly got caught up in it. I love it.  It's really interesting, alive and takes you to a time that, for me, is new.  For someone who didn't live through it, I'm dependent upon others impressions of that time and Kennealy-Morrison really brought it to life for me.

Jim: Stan, for you, the music writing from that period stood out the most.

Stan: Yeah.  She writes with life and passion and if all you've seen of music writing is the one or two paragraphs in Rolling Stone today, you really need to read this book.  It's like with Kat's reviews today.  I usually agree with Kat's take but, even when I don't, I enjoy the writing.  Patrcia Kennealy-Morrison takes you on a journey.  The Jefferson Airplane's Crown of Creation?  I really feel she nailed that, she captured it perfectly.  "Lather" a San Francisco Childe ballad.

Isaiah:  And the Jazz & Pop writing contains a lot of stuff and it's not just music.  I want to read from her writing:

If developments in the wake of the Battle of Chicago are any indication, it looks as though the new domestic policy of the United States of America is going to be Beat the Press and Mace the Nation.  And there s very little left to prevent it.  True for form, the Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates are applying soothing inanities to the legitimately aroused public treating, as usual, effect instead of cause, putting political Band-aids of a social cancer.  "Law and order," they mouth, "must be maintained"; and never stop to see (nor would they recognize if they saw) that "law" is not always "justice" and "order" has never meant "rigidity."

Isaiah (Con't): That's about the cops attacking the kids at the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago.  It's a powerful essay.  But I thought how it really does apply to today.  You can apply that to Barack's ruthless witch hunt for NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden, for instance.

Jim: What else stood out?

Jess: Of her music pieces, I really enjoyed the interview she conducted with Jeff Beck.  And I loved how it ended.  With him saying, "The music in your head is always better anyway than what you end up doing."

Marcia: Before I get to my favorite section of the book, I should note that I've read -- and love -- The Keltiad.  I don't think anyone else here is in into sci-fi or fantasy books.  Patricia Kennealy-Morrison is known for many things but to people like me, she is first and foremost the author of one of the most powerful book series, The Keltiad.  She may be protecting her vision and refusing to allow it to be turned into a film, if so fine.  But if she's not the one keeping it from becoming a film series, studios need to wake up and realize this is an amazing book series that has levels and insights that would make for a series of epic films.  Okay, now that I've plugged the books I love -- and they're in my bedroom.  I have shelves all over my house.  Only the books most dear to me make it onto the bedroom shelves.  Okay, what I liked best were the obituaries.  I thought she really, for example, honored Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.  And her Janis Joplin is an open-eyed look that doesn't fall into some of the traps so many did.  I have the Janis boxed set which includes an essay on Janis by Ellen Willis.  I wish Willis had thought to quote from Patricia.

Kat: Agreed.  But there's just not a lot of support going on.  Patricia Kennealy-Morrison has, for example, repeatedly mentioned Ellen Sander in the last 30 or so years and Sander pops up here, in this collection, repeatedly.  I just don't feel like Sander has returned the favor.

Jim: Why?

Kat: I can't speak for why Sander's been less giving, ask her.  But in general, you're looking at a land where women have been denied their just credit.  And there can be a feeling on the part of a woman who is included in some minor way -- and Ellen Sander's is a minor footnote in today's rock writer canon -- that promoting other women will either mean she herself disappears or somehow becomes less special.  I don't subscribe to that nonsense.  I think that including other women means that the women there blazing the trail become more pronounced and harder to erase from history.  I was aware of Ellen Willis' work.  I really wasn't aware of Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's work or of the woman herself.  I missed the whole Oliver Stone controversy because his movies really don't make it for me.

Jim: And let's point out, you're a photographer and you shot pictures for the rock press starting a little after Jazz and Pop folded.

Kat: Right.  And that's not me saying "She doesn't matter!"  That's me noting how quickly women's accomplishments get papered over.  She notes an essay that she wrote which was the only thing that ever got anthologized, in 1995's Rock She Wrote.  And that I did know.  But it was only after I started writing about music for The Common Ills that I really heard about her.  One time, C.I. and I were talking and she mentioned five women that she felt she could sense echoes of in my work.  Patricia was one.  I didn't know the name, though I had read her essay -- and enjoyed it -- in Rock She Wrote.  And C.I. hauled out these Jazz & Pop magazines and I was just really impressed with the work she had done and wondered why not just Lester Bangs but every man in the world who ever wrote more than 10 reviews seems to have a published anthology but the women who made such a difference are forgotten.

Dona: I would agree with you and that is sort of the reason for this collection, as you know.  Let me quote from the book:

Everybody focuses on the guys who were there at the dawn of it all and not the few chicks who were there every bit as much and who were every bit as erudite and serious and musically opinionated as their male counterparts.  It's always deeply annoying, which is one of the reasons I put this present collection together -- to get my work of that day, perhaps not as shatteringly ever-so as Richard Goldstein's or R. Meltzer's or Lester Bangs's, but certainly as valid, out there for people who never saw it, to claim my place and speak up for not only myself but my rock-critic sisters.  It's not wrong to want credit for what you achieved, and we achieved a LOT. 

Dona: And let me add, I hope they note this in the other book discussion, we wanted to cover this book.  C.I. got us copies and she loves the book.  It came out July 31st.  We had to read it before we could review it.  We used to do book discussions all the time; however, that got more difficult as we grew larger.  C.I. said she and Ava could cover this in written piece if we couldn't do it as a discussion.  With Heidi Boghosian's Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance coming out, it forced us to get serious because we want that book covered as well.  We toyed with reviewing them both in a single discussion but instead decided to break off into two groups.  So you either signed up for this group or the other one.   Kat, if I could, since you've been writing about music online, you've not really felt 'the sisterhood.'

Kat: Oh, hell no.  I did a blog post at my site, this is rather an infamous moment, where I quoted from some man blathering on about how Bob Dylan's recent release was the most amazing thing in music ever, and yadda yadda.  I gave him a link and noted some factual problems.  I got nasty e-mails from him.  He trashed me at the magazine he wrote for, trashed me at its site -- but refused to link to me -- and then, when I was defended -- and there was some sisterhood there -- his girlfriend writes me to insist that I take down every post mentioning him.  I thought, "Honey, it's bad enough you're with a jerk, try to find a little self-respect."  And then, in the name of sisterhood?, she writes C.I. to try to get her to convince me to take my posts down.

Dona: Thank you.  I loathed Sasha Frere-Jones' foreword to the recent Ellen Willis volume.  It failed to note any woman other than Ellen Sander.  He apparently never heard of Patricia or Lillian Roxon, Penny Valentine or Jane Scott -- among others.

Betty: Willis left me cold.  She's a feminist who comes off anti-woman when she writes about music.  The most she can get behind is a song here or there by Joni Mitchell or Carly Simon?  Even her Patti Smith praise was stingy.  The only woman she could praise was the woman without a body of work. [San Francisco's Ms. Clawdy.]   I mean, come on, Ellen Willis, you're jealous of other women because you want to be up there yourself.  With Patricia, she's got praise for Janis and Grace Slick [of Jefferson Airplane] and Tina Turner.  Ellen offered racist praise when she praised an album by a woman -- Aretha Franklin's Aretha in Paris, is the Whitest thing Aretha had done up to that point  -- 9 brass instruments as though she were in Vegas -- and Ellen blathers on about how James Brown and Aretha can make singles but not albums so you need live ones from them or best ofs?  Kiss my Black ass, Ellen Racist Willis.  While Motown was a singles act, you have clearly stereotyped African-American artists.  Aretha's I've Never Loved A Man is an album that has repeatedly made best album lists and it came out in 1967, a year before that lousy live album in Paris.  Also coming out before that lousy live album is another Aretha classic, Lady Soul.  I'm sorry, Ellen Willis tore down women artists and she was even more condescending to Black artists.  No wonder she loved punk which had a conservative and racist streak.  She's praising Patti Smith at a time when Patti's not just using the n-word in a song but all over the pages of Rolling Stone explaining why she can use the n-word.

Dona: I see your point.  Ellen doesn't champion Janis Joplin, for example.  After Janis' death, suddenly Janis is 'important' enough to write about.  By contrast, Patricia writes at length upon the release of Big Brother & the Holding Company's first big album -- first album for a major label -- Cheap Thrills.  She praises Janis at length.  Janis appears to only capture Ellen Willis' attention in death.

Jim: Other thoughts?

Ruth: Let me read from the book:

All record company presidents should make the nighttime scene as often as Columbia chief Clive Davis.  At Tim Hardin's Cafe Au Go Go opening September 27, Davis was on hand with Columbia publicity head Bob Altschuler to cheer on their newly signed artist.  On the bill with Hardin were Elektra's new group Rhinoceros and vocalist Van Morrison; in the audience were Papa John Phillips with Mama Michelle.

Ruth (Con't): That is from "Pop Talk" which was a column Patricia did for Jazz & Pop.  It would note various comings and goings and it was just a treat to read those.  It made me remember, for example, artists I had forgotten.  And whether it was news that Aretha Franklin was about to do her own TV special  or whatever, it was just this nice historical record.  With regards to Betty's comments, I will add that Patricia sees an all girl band perform at the Filmore East and talks about them, about judging them on their merits.  I also think there's a classicism on Ellen Willis' part that is removed from reality.  She sees rock as this working class thing. Patricia's honest and notes it is middle-class.

Wally: And Patricia explored women's various roles -- in the scene, in music.  She also has some really amazing thoughts about the then-new media.  I loved that because what she wrote there is still true of new media today.  Ellen Willis was good at taking the pose many male critics do, of: I am the master, only my opinion matters and I knew it from the start and always.  By contrast, Patricia's writing is an exploration that she invites you to make with her.

Jim: Ruth, you lived in NYC in this period.  You and your husband caught some of the great acts live including Janis and The Doors.

Ruth: It was a wonderful time.  Wally spoke of it being captured in the introduction to the reviews that Patricia Kennealy-Morrison wrote and that is true.  But, if we are comparing Ms. Willis and Ms. Kennealy-Morrison, I never felt Ellen Willis was accurate.  I am speaking of seeing people live.  There is, for example, a Dylan concert Willis reviews and, sorry, I was at that concert.  Forget Ms. Willis' raving over it, just the factual aspect, I did not relate to it.  I remember when it came out, the review, in The New Yorker, my husband and I both wondered what concert she had been at because her details did not match the concert we had attended.  I will allow she could have been transported by the music.  But Ms. Kennealy-Morrison, in real time and reading over the concert reviews now, always seemed to have been at the same concert.  Her observations are more complex and wittier than anything I would have offered but they are reality.

Jim: Okay, we need to wrap up.  Kat, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison reviewed albums in the material offered.  She was one of the pioneers.  Your take on her?

Kat: She has a historical place just for being a pioneer.  But she's also so much more than that.  To be a real critic, you have to be brave and speak your truth.  In their media coverage, Ava and C.I. always talk about how anytime they stop writing to ask, "Can we say this?," that's when they know they have to.  If you're a real critic, you're not doing what, sadly, Ellen Willis did.  And many men did it too.  That's just echoing each other on the male rock canon.  You'll get praised for that but a real critic is going to challenge and blaze their own path.  I see that in Patricia's writing.  Prefacing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with "carefully nontesticular,"  Offering, "Not a spark of honest reaction in the lot, unless you want to count David Crosby writing a song about how he al-most cut his hair."  She's not afraid to leave the pack.  Reviewing a favorite like Jefferson Airplane, she's not afraid to offer a little negative criticism of, for examples, Volunteers.  And it takes real guts to write as she did about Jim Morrison's poetry volumes.  It takes real gut before you factor in her relationship.  When you review, I think, it should be out there, what you think, what you feel and, that if it is, it's an art all by itself.  I think the collection is a testament to Patricia Kennealy-Morrison as an artist.

Jim: Alright.  That's a great way to go out.  The book is Rock Chick: A Girl And Her Music and it's currently $14.99 in softcover at Amazon or $7.99 for Kindle.  We're not pimping Kindle readers.  If you don't have a Kindle but you have a laptop or a tablet, you can buy it in Kindle and read it on a laptop or another tablet.

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