Rock and Roll Never Forgets
The Atlantic Beach boardwalk in North Carolina is silent in October. The beach is empty too, save for a few Marines jogging, and a couple grandparents flying kites to the delight of applauding toddlers. I’m waiting for the sun to reach that magic level of near sunset. That’s when the silhouette of the vacant Ferris wheel against the indigo sky explodes with brightness and the vapor trails from Cherry Point F-16s stand out in mute affirmation of another fight for freedom. I’m working on a photographic essay and trying out my latest camera acquisition, an old Canon AE-1 I found for $50 at a yard sale.
Three bikers sail by, lowslung on the seats of their massive Harleys, the bikes sporting American flags on one side and Confederate flags on the other. The riders dismount and enter the only open establishment, a washed-up bar hit hard by Hurricane Floyd and the four storms that came before it. I walk down the boardwalk, snapping shots of red doors screaming against yellow walls and bright green door jams. The sun reaches its most opportune moment as a biker falls out the open bar door, smacks face first on the sidewalk in front of me. Instinctively I hide my camera. It’s not a good idea to film drunk bikers. He rises, makes an attempt to wipe the sand off his black leather vest, and staggers toward me.
“I seen you taking pictures of that building over there. I had to tell you something. Shit, what was it?” He turns to the open door and hollers inside, “Wayne, hey, you motherfucker, what was it we was gonna’ tell her?”
Wayne can’t hear him. The jukebox is blaring “Ramblin’ Man.” Wayne’s got his eyes closed as he sways on the barstool and provides backup vocals for Dickey Betts—“my father was a gambler down in Georgia; he wound up on the wrong end of the law.”
The stumbling biker turns to me, “That pile of shit. He’s the one what noticed you. Oh yeah, I remember. Janis Joplin sang in that place, the one you was taking pictures of over there. For a whole month one summer. Almost every damn night. We got sick of her. Drunker than any of us, she was, and we was just home from Nam, so we was real drunk.”
A half an hour later and I’m through photographing the closed surf shops and lonely Ferris wheel. I stash my gear in the back seat of my car and hit the road. Within a few miles I find a Sonic Drive-In and, parking under a live oak tree next to the menu and speaker, I order dinner. If you don’t have a Sonic near you, it’s worth a road trip to find one at least once in your life. You get to holler your order into a speaker and carhops bring the food to your car, perching hook-supported trays on your half-open car windows, like in the 50s.
As I wait for my Frito chili pie, I thumb through the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. I make sure Dickey Betts sang “Ramblin’ Man”, find out he not only sang it, he wrote it. And Dickey is spelled with an -ey, not -ie. Janis Joplin died in 1970, hit the mainstream with Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1967, I can’t authenticate the biker’s story with the Encyclopedia, but I can put Joplin’s career in the correct timeline. I enter the information in my notebook.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Third Edition, brings the 1995 revision up to date. Originally published in 1983, the Encyclopedia’s initial 1,300 entries have grown to nearly 2,000. The Third Edition consists entirely of the people who make music. The previous editions contained “nonartist” entries—the Grammy Awards, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame information, as well as style and genre sidebar information. If you want, you can still grab that type of information off the Rolling Stone website.
This book belongs on the shelves and coffee tables of anyone interested in music. Sure, when you play stump-the-book games, there are folks you won’t find listed in it. But readers would be hard-pressed to find a more complete volume. And, yes, I’m a sucker for cultural encyclopedias. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll will go next to my Encyclopedia of Southern Culture on my shelf of most utilized books. It’s easy to use, interesting to thumb through, and “fun for the whole family.”
The fact finding sources and the methodology utilized by the contributors add to the credibility of the volume. Many artists responded personally to information requests. Editor Patricia Romanowski, in the introduction, candidly verifies the information contained within: “While fact-checkers, researchers, writers, and editors may have contacted an artist with specific questions, we never submitted to any artist or artist’s representative the full, completed text of his or her entry for further comment… “We have striven, gleefully at times, to scrape away the glitz and slow the spin.”
She continues: “We have been particularly tough on anyone who claims to be the first, the best, the only, or the latest anything… In each case, we weighed our sources and our standard references, taking into consideration the reliability of all.”
Considering the proliferation of spin doctors, media hype, and made-for-consumer pop bands, the Encyclopedia offers a straight forward, non-biased account of the phenomenon which is rock and roll.
“No matter where they came from, the genre they worked in, or how well they fared, every artist here is someone who believed he or she had something to say and had the guts to get up and say it. For that alone, these artists demand and deserve attention and respect. Whether it was worth saying or hearing is almost beside the point. After all, who knows? We cannot determine whether Kiss, or Fabian, or Eminem “deserved” to be heard; we can only tell you what happened once they were.”
The best reason to buy this book? While it may be titled “Encyclopedia”—it’s a hell of a lot more fun than a Funk and Wagnalls. I mean, where else can you find out that Nelson Mandela once declared “Abba” his favorite pop group, read about the sordid history of Derek and the Dominos, and learn that Brenda Lee was only seven when she started singing on radio and TV-all in one book? And who do you trust more than The Rolling Stone magazine when it comes to rock and roll history?
I trust my new and used Canon AE-1. Turns out I did snap a photo of that biker after all. And wait, look real closely, see that big water stain on the ceiling? Doesn’t the outline look just like Janis Joplin?