PSYCHO CHICKEN &
OTHER FOOLISH TALES
Sons of Liberty Publishing 284 Pages
by Mike Girard
Review by A.J. Wachtel
This book is enjoyable on many different levels. It is required reading for Fools fans, local music scene history buffs, and anyone interested in a very well written compilation of confessions about on- the-road camaraderie—specifically, a closeness between New England boys traveling all over the world and experiencing the strange social customs of that era.
In his acknowledgements, Girard warns: “The following story is mostly true part of the time; and partly true most of the time” and in fact, this is the most ambiguously written book I have ever read. Written in a light-hearted manner, one is never sure just how accurate these great stories and their many morals really are. “The more they asked, the more I lied,” Mike confesses at one point. I wonder if he is really on the level or if I am just another victim of his low-brow humor.
His choice of words and the way he writes make this book very interesting. Images like: “cheerful yet complicated,” “stupidly uplifting,” describing a roadie who “giggled and smirked,” are creative. Once, for a paragraph or two, Girard even reverts to telling his story in the third person, and with great effect. His mention of the Beatles, Elvis, and SpongeBob SquarePants in the same sentence is very cool, too. He describes a concert as having “the visual feel of a Wagnerian opera” and characterizes their manager looking at them like a “guy who may have picked the wrong horse in a race,” and he quotes another man as mentioning Bowie’s band with the “kind of respect you would save for a serial killer.” Great stuff.
Many of these stories are from a different era. “Not having monitors onstage for years made his voice stronger as he’d sing louder to hear himself.” Gigs at the Channel, the Rat, and the Paradise are remembered and his analysis of tour buses back then is: “They may look glamorous but they really contain a small group of men who have been way too close to each other for way too long a time.” Girard talks about the local stars of a different time too: J.Geils, Jonathan Richman, Boston, the Cars, the Nervous Eaters, the Stompers, Mission of Burma, the Del Fuegos, Reddy Teddy, and Robin Lane & the Chartbusters are all in this book. The Fools’ international and national tours with the Knack, Van Halen, Rick Derringer, Rush and the Doobie Brothers are talked about, with Rush on the top of the list for “treating the opening band as human beings, and Van Halen on the bottom.” “Back in the day,” Mike says: “thinking about releasing anything that wasn’t fronted by a major label wasn’t called independent. It was thought of as stupid and desperate.” The stories behind their many hits, including “It’s a Night for Beautiful Girls,” “Psycho Chicken,” “Life Sucks Then You Die,” and “She Makes Me Feel Big” are all here and the book is loaded with fun facts. Did you know that Ipswich is the home of the fried clam, that Tom Petty, the Police, Thin Lizzy, and Talking Heads all played at the Rat, or that the “grand master of all things vocal,” Roy Orbison, was a heavy smoker?
A few of the many funny memories include: “the genius of Texas-putting a fireworks store next to a drinking establishment, the monkey crapping during their label signing party at the Crane Estate in Ipswich along with the mime who had “taken refuge behind the piano either violently throwing up or doing an excellent impression of it” or how guitarist Rich Bartlett commented on their being dropped from EMI as “we had a disagreement. They wanted to get rid of us and we didn’t want to leave.”
Mike Girard is a funny, funny man onstage and off and this is a very funny book. I read it from cover to cover with a grin on my face.
At the end of the tale, the story of a recent reunion was told. The wealthy woman wanted the Fools to play at a private party and offered them an enormous sum of money. They kept saying “no,” and she kept raising the price because she thought they were being coy. Mike confesses: “We finally accepted. We may be fools, but we’re no idiots.”
A great read!
ALL THE SONGS:
THE STORY BEHIND EVERY BEATLES RELEASE
By Jean-Michel Guesdon & Philippe Margotin.
Black Dog & Levanthal Publishers. 672 pages.
Review by Francis DiMenno
The book cannot be faulted for its inclusiveness, which is the entire point. There is a question, however, of whether every single Beatles release is actually worthy of extended commentary. To an ardent Beatles fan, of course, this question is practically heretical. That the Beatles occupy what amounts to a quasi-mystical status in the annals of popular music can hardly be disputed. Their acolytes are legion; and from Emmett Rhodes and Todd Rundgren to ELO and Oasis, they have exerted a profound influence on pop culture, and, from that point of view, perhaps, the Beatles do indeed merit an extended commentary about their songs.
This particular exegesis, however, smacks much more of the religious and devotional than of the factual and rational, though there are certainly plenty of facts to occupy the questing mind of those who consider the Beatles to be True Sages. These roving commentaries, however, fall short in that they seldom penetrate to the root meanings of the lyrics and they seldom discuss at any length the purely musical aspects of the songs. In the place of what would be truly useful and previously unrevealed information, we are handed a lot of hairsplitting about who wrote what song and to what degree. The text almost smacks of an occultist commentary; each section begins with a brief account of the genesis of each song; we are handed a load of production notes near the end of virtually each entry, and often some supplementary technical details. The overall effect grows monotonous after a while. This book is not one to be read from beginning to end at a single sitting; one would best be served by first reading about the songs of greatest interest and then, for the sake of completely accomplishing a not particularly rigorous task, browsing through the remainder of the book.
The book is amply illustrated. One can hardly fault the authors for larding the text with numerous pictures of the Fab Four–though, curiously, there are virtually no pictures of actual album or EP or singles covers, nor is there very much attention paid to the differences between US and UK releases. A full discography with track listing would have been a helpful addition to the endpapers. This is, in essence, a coffee-table book; at fifty dollars retail, only the most ardent fan would want to shell out the moolah to purchase what are, in essence, a fan’s notes interlarded with a gathering of informative trivia. I read it with great pleasure and interest, but it left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. The French authors can hardly say enough good things about the members of the group, whom they clearly idolize. I’m not sure that such an approach serves the die-hard fan who already knows a good ninety per cent of the facts delineated herein.
Ultimately, I’m hard-pressed to say who this book is for, exactly. A teen-aged fan of the group might find much to interest him or her; it’s also a must for any Beatles completist. But for a person who wishes to learn more about the Beatles and their history, their impact upon other artists, or the reception they received in their time, the book is only a partial success. Sporadic mention is made of Lewisohn’s Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, which this volume in no way supersedes. Oddly, Timothy White’s book on George Harrison is referenced but not his more comprehensive work which also discusses the Beatles song by song. I would have liked to have read more about the influence which individual songs written by the Beatles had upon later artists; there is some such commentary but not nearly enough. This book reminds me, curiously, of another controversial work: Rock Dreams, in which artists re-imagine musicians in mythic rather than concrete terms. Overall, this is not a bad book; but neither can it be considered an essential one.