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November 18, 2008

Book Notes - Henry Owings and Billy Carter ("The Rock Bible")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

The Rock Bible manages to be honest, insightful and the funniest book of the year. Created by Henry Owings, the genius behind the music periodical Chunklet, the book contains contributions by Patton Oswalt, Henry Rollins, and many others who offer up their gospels of rock and roll to the masses with liberal doses of incisive satire.

A sample from "The Gospel According to The Guitar & Bass Players:"

"'Vintage and/or boutique pedals are fine if you want to only talk to dudes after the show. Girls are oblivious to the charms of your pedal board.' (v. 28)"

Three Imaginary Girls wrote of the book:

"That's right, "The Rock Bible" is probably the book buy of the year, as it is loaded with probably the best historical run down of popular music ever, before diving into "The Psalm of the Bass Player," "The Wisdom of Onstage Appearance," "The Ten Commandments of Stage Banter," "The Parable Of The Girl Who Misheard Lyrics But Still Insisted On Giving Voice To Song," "The Wisdom of the Pick," and a thousand great jokes about every instrument player and goony fan. (Here's the "Book of the Live Show" in total: 247. Never ever starts on time.") "

In his own words, here is Henry Owings and Billy Carter's Book Notes essay for their book, The Rock Bible:

SUICIDE – "Frankie Teardrop"

Would you have ever thought that the most terrifying song, perhaps in rock history, lacks an electric guitar? Over its ten-plus minutes, the listener is treated to the dire story of a Vietnam vet who looses his ever-loving mind and kills his family. To achieve its authenticity, “singer” Alan Vega must have gone completely insane in the studio. And you know what? It worked! When I was 8 years old “Iron Man” scared me. I’m now 39 and “Frankie Teardrop” still freaks me the f*ck out.

HOUND DOG TAYLOR – “Gimme Back My Wig”

Theodore Roosevelt "Hound Dog" Taylor was the end of the blues. When he died in 1975 the genre was put to rest. With his cheap $28 Japanese guitar and even cheaper Sears & Roebuck amp, Hound Dog (complete with a sixth finger on his left hand – he had one on his right too, but lopped it off one night while drunk) put the blues to bed with a string of albums in the early '70s. Rawer than raw, grit to spare and 11 digits strong, Hound Dog’s “Gimme Back My Wig” from 1974’s Beware Of The Dog is empirically proven to be 200.47% better than anything Jon Spencer has ever done, including his wife.

MC5 – "Gotta Keep Movin' "

“Atom bombs, Vietnam, missiles on the moon And they wonder why their kids are shootin' drugs so soon Young men fightin' for democracy And sacrificed for mediocrity”

Written by drummer Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson, "Gotta Keep Movin' " is the MC5 throwing its full fist in the air. It came on the the band's third record, High Time, which anybody with a half-decent record collection knows is their best. Sure, they will be eternally linked to "Kick Out The Jams," but "Gotta Keep Movin' " was thoroughly revolutionary in scope and execution. This was the kind of stuff that'd get your skull split open by angry cop with a huge chip on his shoulder. Ah, yes, the "good 'ol days."

JOHN PRINE – "You Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore"

Continuing with this emerging war "theme,” John Prine released one of the great debut albums of all time. Forever living in the long shadow of Dylan, Prine’s 1971 S/T record was soft-spoken dissent from start to finish. "Sam Stone" a story of, yes, a Vietnam vet who "has a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes" proves right off we are not dealing with the shy and polite. But it’s the eerily prescient "Your Flag Decal…" that could wind up on some well meaning do-gooder's record tomorrow with only "decal" being replaced with "car magnet" and hit the mark dead in the heart. It would just lack originality by a few decades.

METALLICA – "Disposable Heroes"

Even for the dudes who didn’t like Metallica, Master Of Puppets had them shaking their heads and then thrashing their heads in pure metal destruction and/or approval. Eight perfect speed metal anthems with "Disposable Heroes" stuck smack dab in the middle. Sadly, it was Cliff Burton's curtain call and the band would never be the same thereafter. They would, of course, go onto make more money then every other metal band combined and sell more t-shirts than the Hanes corporation, but for the year 1985, your feathered mullet could do no better than this freight train of thrash.

CHEAP TRICK – "Southern Girls"

The Trick have penned a bucketful of pure dreck, but "Southern Girls" is so good it might actually be brilliant. Defined by the FM radio smash "I Want You To Want Me" – 1975's In Color is an album that every self-respecting music dork in the world should end up memorizing at some point. Once you get past "the hit," you will discover a glistening shimmer of amped pop majesty. An album so perfect that even years later Steve Albini couldn’t f*ck it up.

REV. A. JOHNSON – "God Don’t Like It"

If I have to overhear one more hipster dissect the esoteric merits of The Decemberists (fart, wheeze, pfffffeeee!) versus the seemingly unoriginal merits of Of Montreal (fart, wheeze, pffffuuuu!), I'll slit their throat with a spiral notebook. On the other hand, after WW2, Rev. A. Johnson and his guitar totin' bretheren poured the rock solid foundation for everything that the white man stole to make the gamut of music from Charlie Feathers and Elvis Presley, Jimmie Page to Eric Clapton, Jack White to David Lee Roth. Rev. Johnson's performance is equal parts hair raising showmanship and utter savagery.

MELVINS – "Night Goat"
There's few songs that I can put on repeat for an entire day and not feel some remote sense of dementia. Although it sounds clunky at first, this track from Houdini is equal parts twisted and hooky. Shit hot bass line. Shit hot drums. And ah, yes, Buzz, reluctant musical titan. I'm still convinced that Buzz would rather be collecting Japanese toys or Nazi memorabilia than actually appeasing his fans. And to be frank, isn't that one of the key items that separates The Melvins from their legion of watered down imitators? Relapse, Southern Lord and Hydrahead Records wouldn't exist without Buzz. Fact.

SCHOOLY D – "Am I Black Enough For You"

Gets my vote for official song of the White House for the next 4 to 8 years.


The most original acts are always copied with varied levels of success. Nation of Ulysses? Say what you will, but I still think nobody's come close to matching them. Ever. Picture five sugar-filled, sleep-deprived DC kids about to slit their collective throats on stage while wearing matching suits screaming "Radio you're giving me a headache!" Yes, it's trite imagery, but entirely accurate. Trust me. I saw them far too many times to make those sorts of references without the utmost reverence. Oh, and the country of Sweden should be forced to send NOU a royalty check any time a Hives or Refused record is sold. Without question.

GEORGE JONES – "Cup Of Loneliness"

Hank gets all the cred. Johnny gets all the cool. So I am guessing that George must get all the years. In many ways, I see George Jones as the country music equivalent of The Ramones. To compare any one of their many anthologies, you get see the same collection of 2 to 3 minute masterpieces. “Cup Of Loneliness” is a blueprint song for all the honky-tonk, sad sack, done-me-wrong, long-neck bar flies everywhere. It’s about the Lord within a framework of getting shitfaced. 'Nuff said.

"To suffer with the Savior and when the way is dark and dim To drink of the bitter cup of loneliness with Him"

THE MISFITS – "Where Eagles Dare"

How do I the love the Misfits? Let me count the ways. No matter how many 14 year-old mallrats live in their t-shirts, no matter how many aging, hanging-on-too-long punk wash out static waste-oids never evolved beyond them, the Misfits flat out wrote one great hook filled punk anthem after another. And I must confess as a young know-nothing, this tune introduced me to the word “goddamn” and for that I am forever thankful. How great a curse’s 2-for-1. You get profanity and sacrilege together in a single word! Thanks guys, now quit touring.

JOHNNY ACE – "Pledging My Love"

Watching the full-frontal nudity of Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant” as he swings in a heroin stupor to and fro as this songs plays on the soundtrack earns it place in history, EVEN after Johnny’s backstage suicide (Russian Roulette style) just prior to him becoming a really big deal in 1954.

NEU! – "Hallogallo"

Inarguably the most aped song of the past 10 years. Hey Jeff Tweedy, you ain’t foolin’ nobody.

BIG BILL BROONZY – "When I Been Drinking"

"I'm looking for a woman that ain't never been kissed
Maybe, we can get along and I won't have to use my fist"

Ah, the good old days…..

Henry Owings, Bily Carter and The Rock Bible: Unholy Scripture for Fans & Bands links:

excerpt from the book

Philadelphia Weekly interview with Henry Owings
Portland Mercury interview with Henry Owings
Riverfront Times interview with Henry Owings
SLUG Magazine profile of Henry Owings

Three Imaginary Girls review
VICE review
Weekly Dig review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
online "Best Books of 2008" lists
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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