PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

'Iron Man': Dispatches from the Riffmeister General, Tony Iommi

He invented a genre. Just don't expect to learn much about that.


Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with lack Sabbath

Publisher: De Capo
Length: 385 pages
Author: Tony Iommi
Price: $26.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-11
Amazon

A few years back, a rock 'n' roll band was assembled from a group of successful writers: Stephen King, Dave Barry, Barbara Kingsolver and so forth. They called themselves The Rock-Bottom Remainders and played a few gigs for charity—the American Library Association, I believe. Kingsolver writes entertainingly about the experience in her essay "Confessions of a Reluctant Rock Goddess", which can be found in her collection High Tide in Tucson. She reports that at one point, Barry quips to the enthusiastic audience: "We play music the way Metallica writes books."

He could have said: the way Tony Iommi writes them. In all fairness to the Black Sabbath founder and guitarist, no one really expects stellar flights of prose from the guy who, more or less, invented heavy metal. Because really, that's what Iommi did—he pulled pop music out of its rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie rockabilly roots, and dragged it kicking and screaming (and downtuned half a step) into the cold, gloomy basement of minor-chord, riff-laden doom. And thank God for that! Without Iommi, there would be no "Iron Man", no "Sweet Leaf" or "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" or "Mob Rules".

Of course, there would also, perhaps, be no pop-metal or hair metal, no Poison or Cinderella or Whitesnake. Looked at that way, Iommi has plenty to answer for.

Nah, just kidding. Iommi gets a free pass because Sabbath is cool, period, the end.

Ozzy squealed and Dio emoted before emo had a name, but Iommi was the grungy, six-stringed, eight-fingered master behind it all. No doubt he's got a fascinating story to tell, one loaded with insights as to Sabbath's pioneering influence, the process of putting together an album in the studio, maybe even some nuggets concerning the genesis of individual songs. At the very least, surely he'll have something to say about Sabbath's carefully crafted image over the years—the calculated blasphemies, the burning crosses onstage, the record sleeves rife with iconic images, the song titles thick with imagery of paganism and heresy. Right?

Ah—sorry. If that's what you’re looking for, this book will disappoint.

Look, Tony's a great guy. He's had a fascinating life and has tons of stories to tell, many of which involve booze, broads and TVs flying out the window. Collaborator TJ Lammers does a fine job of transcribing Iommi's memories—they sure sound like the pair pulled a couple of pints, switched on the tape recorder and let Iommi ramble on—and the book's 90 chapters trip right along at a good pace. That's the problem right there, in fact: if anything, things move a little too fast.

Take, for example, Iommi's recollection of the opening riff of "Black Sabbath", the first song on the first album by the band, and the tune that would fire the opening salvo of heavy metal. It's not too much to say that these opening chords heralded the invention of an entire heretofore undiscovered genre of music. Iommi says, "I just came up with this riff for 'Black Sabbath.' I played 'dom-dom-dommm.' And it was like: that's it!"

There's not much more discussion, although Iommi does go on to add, "Only later did I learn that I had used what they called the Devil's interval, a chord progression that was so dark that in the Middle Ages playing it was forbidden by the Church." None of the other songs on that first album get so much as a mention, apart from "The Wizard".

This is typical of the book. Most chapters range from two to four pages, and the recording of an whole album takes place within a chapter, so very little space is given over to discussing where the songs come from. Talking about the sessions for Master of Reality, Iommi mentions the unorthodox tuning used by the band: "We tuned down three semitones. It was part of an experiment: tuning down for a bigger, heavier sound." That's about as much insight as you'll get, along with such nuggets as: " 'Into the Void' had this initial riff that changes tempos in the song. I like that. I like something with interesting parts in it."

Iommi seems more interested in documenting the numerous changes in band personnel and various shenanigans on tour and in the studio. He dismisses the band's occult reputation as a product of the record company's marketing strategy and claims the band knew nothing about it, which seems tough to credit. But any consideration of the band's worldview or philosophy is imemdiately eclipsed by recollections of Spinal Tap-like missteps while on tour.

And oh yes, everybody was drunk, or stoned, or both, just about all the time.

It sure sounds like a party that went on for, oh, 40 years or so, and it sure sounds like it was a good time (apart from the hospitalizations, arrests and bad trips, of course). Iron Man is likely to be the definitive insider's account of Black Sabbath, coming as it does from the man who lived and breathed the band for descades. It's a shame that it doesn't go a little deeper, then.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.