The trouble with these books is that, if you are fussy about what you read, you will hate about half. The series' editors have aimed for a broad range of literary styles and approaches, but in so doing have commissioned a few clunkers, and you never know what you're going to get. This is why I was so delighted to see that Ithaca's own Bob Proehl, owner of No Radio Records on Seneca Street, issuer of incredibly long, rambling press releases, ace bartender, and all-around hardcore popular music nerd, has written my favorite book in the series so far: The Gilded Palace of Sin, a chronicle of the Flying Burrito Brothers' 1969 Americana classic.
I'm not going to go into the Burritos' history--I'll leave that to Bob. Suffice to say that they were an offshoot of the Byrds and showcased the songwriting talents of the now-legendary Gram Parsons (and those of bandmate Chris Hillman, though Hillman lacks Parsons' flamboyance and early self-destruction, and thus doesn't get enough credit); and that "Gilded Palace" was their only really great record. They have been lovingly covered by every imaginable current roots-based act, but never got the popular recognition they deserved.
But the point of reading this book is Bob's writing, which is detailed, discursive, and extremely funny. The footnotes alone are worth the cover price; I found myself reading them aloud to Rhian every five minutes until she was compelled to leave the room. "A caveat," Proehl writes early on, in a footnote that follows a Keith Richards quote (he appears to have actually interviewed Richards, by the way--quite a coup), "many of the Keith Richards quotes in this book have been transcribed by the author and should be taken only as approximations of the sounds Keith Richards produced." Later, he writes of having viewed a monumental Elvis Presley exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, featuring "a dozen iterations of Elvis in [his] gold suit, each one at least twelve feet tall. Filled with a Kantian terror at the sheer size of Elvis and his fan base upon viewing this, I returned home and meekly submitted to liking Elvis's music." Or my favorite, which underscores a highly entertaining tangent about the bling-studded suits of country-music clothier Nudie Cohn:
Years later, Hank Williams, Jr. commissioned a reproduction of his father's burial suit, which he sported when posing such timeless musical questions as "Are You Ready For Some Football?" One can only wonder what a rhinestone suit sounds like when its wearer is spinning in his grave.
Also included is a harrowing description of the events at Altamont Speedway in December 1969 (the murderous anti-Woodstock that marked the decade's end), some highly entertaining musings on the longevity of the Rolling Stones ("Frankly, the Rolling Stones scare the fuck out of me"), and a thoughtful essay on the relationship between dying young and being famous forever.
Highly recommended, along with the record, which I have listened to dozens of times but (shockingly, now that I think about it) never actually owned. I will have to remedy that pronto.