Books

'Live Fast, Die Young' Doesn't Move Too Fast

Joe Harland (L) and Chris Price (R)

Chasing rock 'n' roll legacy in (mostly) all the wrong places has its funny moments, but the pursuit fails by playing it safe.


Live Fast Die Young: Misadventures in Rock 'n' Roll America

Publisher: Summersdale
Length: 320 pages
Author: Chris Price, Joe Harland
Price: $13.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-05
Amazon

Like many music fans, I’ve stayed in room 8 at Joshua Tree Inn, where country rock influencer and died-too-soon icon Gram Parsons took his last drug-fueled breath in September 1973.

It’s unsuitably small, with a queen bed at the center, a work table and a closet where Parsons hung his Nudie suit before kicking back with a nice shot of morphine to enhance his tequila binge on that fateful night.

Overall the place was unremarkable. In my own notes, looking back a few years, I wrote “not a big vibe in here at all.”

Significantly, it’s this room that launched two Brits on a milquetoast quest for the some rock 'n' roll soul, a sojourn that is quite misplaced.

Authors Joe Harland and Chris Price – the former, a sports fan and radio producer, the latter a Parsons fan and one-time director of music at MTV – deliver a disjointed travelogue in the ambitiously titled Live Fast, Die Young: Misadventures in Rock 'n' Roll America

The two neither live fast, and never even come close to dying young. And if Vail, Colorado and Dodge City, Kansas, are your idea of rock havens, this book is the place to be. Think about that – they could have hit Texas and dug into Buddy Holly.

Chris, the Parsons fan, claims at the start that the trip would “brush for the DNA of the American music aristocracy and dust for the vomit of a string of deceased rock and rollers.” Nothing close goes down. No one gets drunk or laid. There are no toxic powders, and the closest they come to a scrape with the law is at a traffic stop in Oklahoma.

I was looking for some kickass, tear-it-up. Starting with a love and appreciation of the sad but wild story of Parsons can do a good job of getting readers to the pages. They even evoke the legendary US comic Bill Hicks on several occasions, another live-fast-die-young guy. But alas, there's no delivery.

The digressions that mark their journey – securing a convertible for the coast to coast drive, the overtold story of Michael Nesmith’s mother and her discovery of Liquid Paper and 2-½ pages on the merits of the Welsh alty band Manic Street Preachers and another 2-½ on the demerits of Christian radio– derail the tale.

Joe and Chris hit Graceland. They see Charlie Daniels at a county fair in Charleston. They make the connects to get a look around Cash Cabin Studio, Johnny Cash’s home studio. The tellings are for the most part a bit dry but they score big in the Cash studio.

Joe breaks away briefly and comes upon a framed sheet of paper, a note from Johnny to his son, John Carter Cash. “Written on it in a shaky hand were the chords for the first verse of 'I Walk the Line', and underneath the words: ‘I keep a close watch on this heart of mine/I keep my eyes wide open all the time/I keep the ends out for the tie that binds/Because you’re mine I walk the line’ – Happy 10th birthday John. Love from Dad.” It's a nice piece of insightful observation.

If only the Parsons episodes were that touching. The authors make much of the fact that they meet Polly, Gram’s daughter, at the Inn, which is cool but lends little to the tale. They head over to Cap Rock in the Joshua Tree National Forest, where Parson’s body was burned by a well-meaning pal, Phil Kaufman (who the boys end up meeting in Nashville). At Cap Rock, they meet a garrulous rock climber, which is relayed in painful detail. I needed some morphine and tequila myself, after wading through this.

Joe and Chris are not without charm, and their story is best when they make it a ‘stranger in a strange land’ tale. When the two are revisiting the Jimmy Webb song “Wichita Lineman”, there’s a funny moment when they realize that there is more than one Wichita and it’s used both as the name of a town and at least two counties, in Oklahoma and Texas. “For all we know, he wrote it in High Wycombe and just liked the sound of the name,” Joe writes, referring to a London suburb.

Or Joe’s take on county fair food; “The search for novel ways to get fried dough into your face has become something of an art form in America.”

While those elements don’t make for a great book, they do compose a worthy article, which this well could have been. Or they could have stayed for two weeks in room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn, a place still frequented by desert denizens with more interesting stories to tell than most other Americans.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Music

Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.

Music

Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.

Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


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.