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Pop and Some Whores

Magical musical mystery tour and Jane's Addiction redux


Finally, a book weird enough to make Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces read like Pat the Bunny. Yes, Paul Morley's Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City (Univ. of Georgia Press, $24.95, 360 pgs.) is engaging, unique and on occasion infuriating, sometimes all at once. That's partly because Morley - former music critic for NME in Great Britain and author of several books on music and culture - seems to include components from every popular music critique ever written. Words and Music is written in the form of a fictional journey to a fictional city where all pop music and its cultural contexts exist in a state of perpetual new-ness (think Beatles new and Matchbox 20 new). Morley and his shapely co-pilot, Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue, travel through the history of popular music, from its roots (which Morley somehow fixes as 1634) to our current moment and into tbe future. (Kylie Minogue? Told you it was weird.)

"This list of dates and dreams is a grand panorama stretched out over the history of the universe, and Kylie is driving straight down the middle, and at the end of her journey is the city of space and closed-up space where everything is always starting, beginning, new," Morley writes, adressing the book's central issue: "Has Pop burnt itself out?"

Along the way Morley and Kylie drop in on various celebrities and their works (Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker), the occasional genius and philosopher, and other cultural icons, which Morely then writes into any number of different artifices, including: fake liner notes, footnotes David Foster Wallace would be envious of and, along with other concoctions too numerous to mention, lists. Lots and lots and lots of lists.

Now, you might flash back to Nick Hornby's protagonist in High Fidelity making cute little lists of his Five Best Records to Impress Your Girlfriend or Ten Albums to Make Up To blah-blah-blah, but Morley's lists are not only a helluva lot more entertaining, they're actually informative in a useful, 'hey, I should hear that' kind of way. and are built more on intuition and feel rather than any strict numerical system (in fact they're never numbered). There are over 20 different "100 greatest albums" lists from Morely's ridiculously wide-ranging listening habits, from the "100 greatest albums in answer to a request from a Romanian Web site, listed in a fair and reasonable order," to the "100 greatest albums of all time that also perform the function of 100 albums you should try if you think Radiohead's Kid A is weird, and are 100 albums that map out the universe as it is because of Kraftwerk."

With an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music surely the envy of every rock critic alive, Morely's lists — like his book — are far-reaching, utterly enjoyable and informative, even if his city proves elusive in the end.

Jane's Whores, Addicted

For those convinced that the 70s cornered the market on rock & roll excess...ladies and gentlemen, Jane's Addiction. Living up to their moniker, the Los Angeles quartet famous for their unhinged live shows — a mix of burlesque, rock & roll and incantation — clicked musically, became a success story, then began unraveling immediately upon arrival, victims of internecine fighting, heroin and creative boredom. The book should come with its own VHl Behind the Scenes special, such is the nature of this tired-ass formula for success, excess, failure and (VHl Behind the Scenes) redemption.

Told through a series of interviews with fellow musicians, family, journalists and other assorted non-celebrities, Brendan Mullen's Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction (Da Capo, $26, 324 pgs.) chronicles the excesses in gory detail, the rise and fall of one of the biggest bands in the alternative rock universe, and Farrell's creation of the alterna-Woodstock, Lolapolooza. It's not a pretty picture. On stage, the band went "in search of darkness," which was readily available in the form of groupies, dope and booze. Musically, Jane's Addiction continued the Los Angeles sound that traces its rock roots back to Jim Morrison and the Doors, with Farrell as the obvious Morrison figure, a parallel Mullen practically insists on. Farrell does fit the bill to some extent, though his bizarre mix of urban cynicism and nature boy naivete — reflected in the band's music, which veered from electric assaults about rape and muder to tender ballads — is often so ludicrously pretentious it often reads like an unintentional comedy skit. Creative differences between bassist Eric Avery and Farrell soon resulted in that time-honored rock & roll tradition of third-party go-betweens, and the heroin use would have staggered William Burroughs. But the band managed to eek out Nothing's Shocking, their biggest seller, before imploding. Whores is strictly for fans of the band — unless you're addicted to VHl confessionals. In that case, consider this the master script.

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