Author: Robert Hilburn
Being that my three favorite things in life are books, music, and my daughter, I was extremely excited to read this book. It had two of the very best ingredients in the world for me (if a picture of my daughter had been on the back cover, it would've earned my nomination for the best book of the year.) :)
Robert Hilburn is the pop music critic and editor for the Los Angeles Times, and has been since music REALLY became music. Not only is this man highly respected, but in this wonderful book he offers the reader a chance to see underneath all the innuendos, glamour, false biographies, etc. of some of the superstars we've loved and lost along the way. This man also, after reading this book, is psychic. He just has to be. He knew, sometimes before anyone else out there, who was going to be at the top of the charts. And not only in pop. There are some extraordinary looks into the country music scene, as well as others. I want to go into some of my absolute favorites.
The introduction is by Bono who, yes, at one time I thought was simply a "bullhorn" who wanted to "campaign." But after various songs that I've listened to, and The Joshua Tree, of course, and the indepth look from this book, I know Bono is a man who was on a mission - just, at the beginning, a slightly confused one. Robert Hilburn took me into Janis Joplin's life. She loved Kris Kristofferson. This brash, loud, rock 'n' roller was a quiet young woman. Without the music to set her heart and soul on fire, she was found sitting alone, talking quietly - if at all, with her bottle of alcohol sitting in her lap. Hilburn makes a statement that after meeting Janis, he realized that the "best music doesn't just fill a void in the listener, but it also fills the void in the artist. Joplin's music filled her, but...not enough. The loneliness got her. A posthumous release of her song with Kris, "Me and Bobby McGee" was her only No. 1 single and what the author remembers was the line she sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Janis was a true artist, unfortunately one who had nothing to lose, but her life.
I was so thrilled when I found myself with Johnny Cash at the 1968 Folsom Prison Concert. He was an idol of mine, as well as my father's. Johnny didn't have to be the best singer, or the campaigner for the points of the world. Johnny could touch you with the simple fact that he was Johnny Cash. He had things set deep within his mind and heart that made him want to tell his stories. And, boy the stories he told. My daughter listens to Johnny Cash, now. The man never fades, and I hope parents for years will tell their kids about Cash and play them a song so that this magic man never leaves the spotlight.
The author took me into Phil Spector's life, as well. I felt my skin crawl as I read about how this man always seemed to find a bottle of wine, and always seemed to have a gun in his hands, making sure people didn't leave his house until he deemed it appropriate. I was also taken with Michael Jackson when he was just "coming up". Jackie Onassis had asked Michael to let a book be written about him, and Mr. Hilburn got the job. Michael was astounding, but he also broke my heart. This was the consummate child. He wanted nothing more than to stay in childhood - and, apparently, wanted the mighty Prince and his hit "Purple Rain" to go away as fast as it had come. Michael liked the chase...the fans...too bad he didn;t like himself more. I think his concert that he was planning for would've placed him back atop the "King of Pop" mountain for all eternity. But, unforunately, we'll never know. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan weren't a big surprise. I think my sister, when we were young, had spent her babysitting money to hire a private eye to follow "The Boss" around. She knew everything about Bruce. It was uncanny - and a little frightening all at the same time.
I think, as always, the one who tugged my heartstrings the most was Mr. Lennon. I wasn;t even alive when he was shot, but the words that he wrote have stayed like a white cloud of hope over this country. The feeling and the power that he held inside his soul was amazing. He was one of those people that you knew - and still know - was on this Earth for a very specific reason. I don't think it was just to make good music. The man was here to unite an entire country with his words, and he's still doing it today. He had some "falls" just like everyone else in the music world. But he and Yoko did love each other deeply. They struggled to make sense of the outside world, but the love they had for each other and the support network they gave to each other made them able to stand up and shout from the rooftops - and MAKE the country understand what we needed to back then. During an age of war, we still had our innocence in a way. Not like it is today. Today the music is angry. We're angry. I've yet to hear someone my child can follow...someone they can garner hope from. I hope that the next Lennon is out there just waiting in the wings to appear, or we may just become the Roman Empire, and take a really big fall.
And, of course, Elvis. What can I say? It never mattered to me what he'd become. It doesn't matter to my mother what he became, or how he ended. He was, is, and will remain the King of it all. When you listen to Elvis when he began, he not only was just about the most handsome thing on two legs, he was the young man from Memphis who made you want to dance, live, and celebrate life. I agree with the author, his "gospel" moments were the best things he ever did. I wish he'd done more with that. But no matter the drugs, weight gain, etc., the man could've ridden a horse naked in the middle of Bourbon Street...and he would still be Elvis. He accomplished the one thing that alot of superstars try to do but simply can't. Elvis became a legitimate icon. Plus, I've seen Graceland, too, guys. And, don't forget. Elvis didn't become famous because he could decorate or dress well. Leave that to Tim Gunn and others out there. Elvis was a God, and he still is.
There are "interludes" that the author has added that will show you quotes, snippets from interviews, and concerts with the music royalty past and present that you will really enjoy. This is an indepth look at lives we always wanted to know about with moments of sheer pain, joy, frustration, and havoc, but, above all, love. Mr. Hilburn loves his job. He's not only good at it, but I can see that the faith and concern for the people he knew - the artists that "wowed" him, came from his soul. He was like their protector. Take my advice, guys and gals: Read this book; listen to the stories; marvel at the real talent that has shaped us as a country. Turn off American Idol, and meet the real heroes that have made our lives worth living. I'd love to have corn flakes and cream with Mr. Hilburn. That's officially a new entry on my wish list.
Until Next Time,