Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Michael Henningsen

MARCH 30, 1998: 

First there was the Spice in my Pocket series, one little pocket-sized book dedicated to useless facts about each of the Spice Girls and fuzzy, sneaked photos of them picking gum off their heels and picking out new pairs of sunglasses. I got Posh Spice for my birthday and then quickly found myself in possession of the other four as well as the result of some unexplained force. I've flipped through all of them a couple of times, but Victoria, excuse me, Poshy's is the only one I really read. Over. And over. And over again.

Now I find myself the owner of a new series of books dedicated to musical movers and shakers who could, in some ways and to some people, be considered icons. Hence the collection's title: The Modern Icons Series. So far, there are only four of them available: KISS, Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin and the Clash. Think about that. Don't the choices for the first in what we can assume is to be an ongoing series seem a little off kilter? Maybe it's just me. But probably not.

All four books employ a cookie-cutter formula: introductions by famous music journalists you've never heard of, followed by biographical blurbs set in motion atop dotted time lines, interspersed with larger-than-life color photos and quotes from band members, managers, groupies and whomever. But there are differences, and none of the four is a waste of time. Far from it, actually. Each volume, though none of them reach the 100-page mark, is surprisingly detailed, even going so far as to include complete discographies. Here's the play-by-play:


Kiss

introduction by Sylvie Simmons (St. Martin's Press, cloth, $9.95)

Best Feature: Great pictures and funny quotes offered by Paul Stanley.

Worst Feature: A select group of great pictures appear eight or nine times in different places throughout the book, like you're not going to notice. Oh, and various stupid quotes offered by '70s-era Melody Maker writers.

KISS rocked my world as a youth, and I've never quite recovered. There's nothing new for the hard-core KISS fan to be found within this volume, but the discography is the most accurate I've seen, and the timeline a fairly detailed account of the rise, fall, rise, fall and rise of one of the most misunderstood bands of our time.


Led Zeppelin

introduction by Tony Horkins (St. Martin's Press, cloth, $9.95)

Best Feature: More quotes than notes.

Worst Feature: Same old cock rock photos that got etched into little glass mirrors you could win at the State Fair every year between 1975 and 1997.

I hate Led Zeppelin. I've always hated Led Zeppelin. So you can imagine what a chore wading through 93 pages of Led Zeppelin could seem to a person like myself. What I don't hate, however, is biographical information and the context that such information places on the bigger picture. As Dr. Tom Friedman--Kinky's dad, for those of you who care--once told me, "There is no trivia." And in that sense, this book is full of stuff you need to know.


Bob Marley

introduction by Scotty Bennett (St. Martin's Press, cloth, $9.95)

Best Feature: I didn't know shit about Bob Marley; now I do.

Worst Feature: I'm not sure I wanted to know that much.

This one's the best of the bunch. The introduction is quite extensive and telling, but it doesn't go so far as to overlap the book's chapters. The writing is more in-depth here and focused more on Marley the man than on the perception of Marley as reggae's patron saint. While this volume is far more biographical in nature than the others, it's just as easy to digest.


The Clash

introduction by Paul Du Noyer (St. Martin's Press, cloth, $9.95)

Best Feature: It's a book about the Clash, jammed with pictures you probably haven't seen before.

Worst Feature: Was there anything "worst" about the Clash?

This volume, like the Bob Marley installment, is quite extensive biographically. Much is made of the Clash's social effect on music during their era and on its constant reverberation. The Clash were never known for consistently brilliant recorded material but instead for live shows and an overall presence that helped define punk rock. Taking that into account, the writers and editors of this book have created a concise documentary that is as much a reflection of the times--social change, conscious rebellion--as it is an account of the band.


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