Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hello. Hooray!

Michael Walker's WHAT YOU WANT IS IN THE LIMO isn't nearly as salacious as the title or the cover art suggests, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a fast account of three bands (Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin and the Who); their respective 1973 albums (BILLION DOLLAR BABIES, HOUSES OF THE HOLY, QUADROPHENIA); and the associated American tours that, as the book's subtitle suggests, marked the birth of the modern rock superstar and the death of the 1960s.

That last point is the central theme and common thread linking these stories, as Walker argues how these three tours represented the moment at which the appetite for rock created by the musicians of the 1960s is sated only without what Walker calls that era's "boring poli-sci socio-overlay" of bands that felt they needed to be in solidarity with their audience. The tours of 1973 -- played in sports arenas, by bands that arrived by private jet, fueled by drugs, elevated by onstage theatrics, sleazed up by groupies -- illustrated a cold new remove from fans that is the common lot of the Superstar.

A key to this newfound power were strong-armed managers --Led Zeppelin's thuggish Peter Grant for one -- who flipped the traditional financial model, giving the entertainers the gate proceeds and forcing promoters to line up for a cut. This slick innovation afforded the excesses of drugs, private planes and bills for destroyed hotel rooms the tours became notorious for.

Having only recently suffered through Pete Townshend's dull autobiography, the Who's struggles to bring the innovative but then-underappreciated QUADROPHENIA to life were quite familiar; my takeaway from Zeppelin was a new appreciation for Robert Plant's desire for stardom and John Bonham's propensity to be a violent douchebag. That left the tale of Alice Cooper, whose theatrical shows reached a new peak in '73 just as the band was splintering under the strain of drink, drugs and the act itself. And though Cooper would be the first to fall, all three bands entered a decline phase following 73, culminating of course in the drink/drug related deaths of Moon and then Bonham by the decade's end.

I gave BILLION DOLLAR BABIES a whirl to accompany this book and was impressed with the muscle and glam (produced by Bob Ezrin who'd do a similar trick polishing Cooper's descendant KISS-- another topic I hope to get to soon). Overall, LIMO isn't as quite as electrifying as the albums or tours it covers but as a succeeds as a quick overview of the wild era that birthed them.

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