What happens when you mix what is - arguably - the world's most interesting record company, with an anarchist manic-depressive rock music historian polymath, and a method of dissemination which means that a daily rock-music magazine can be almost instantaneous?

Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

REVIEW: Patti Smith

Patti Smith by Nick Johnstone
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Omnibus Press (16 May 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1780383584
ISBN-13: 978-1780383583

Ever since I first discovered the books of George Tremlett back in the mid-1970s, I have been an avid reader of rock music biographies and my library, in what doubles as our spare bedroom, contains almost as many of them as does books appertaining to my day job as a naturalist (no that doesn’t mean what you think it does, and - most of the time - I keep my clothes on in public) cryptozoologist and general commentator upon the natural world.

It is one of the undoubted perks of writing this daily blog that publishers are sending me such things to review on a regular basis. Some are better than others, and occasionally one is totally outstanding. Whatever, I try to be completely objective and to tell the truth in my reviews here on the Gonzo daily blog.

This latest book tells the peculiar story of a lady who has been at the forefront of some of the most credible rock music recorded in the last 40 years. It is great on dates, times, people, and places, less so on trying to analyse the creative process of Patti Smith herself. But I don’t think anyone would have been able to do a better job. Because unlike – say – David Bowie, a biography of whom I was massively enthusiastic about a few weeks back, Patti Smith has only produced ten albums of original material since 1975 (in that time scale, Bowie has produced nearly twice that) and even during her more Bohemian early years, she has been remarkably reticent about both her private life and her creative modus operandi. This is probably how it should be, and Johnstone has done a bloody good job with the material available.

The thing which intrigues me, is not how such an apparently uncommercial artist has become associated with various Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, REM, and Bruce Springsteen, but how such an apparently uncommercial artist has remained on major labels throughout her career over a period when most commentators within the rock journalist fraternity (me included) have been bemoaning the ever-increasingly commercial crassness of much of the music industry. The only other person that I can think of who has achieved this to such an extent is Tom Waits. The fact that they have done so gives one a great deal of hope.

So what has this got to do with Gonzo Multimedia? Well, nothing really. Except that although I have been friends with Rob Ayling for a quarter of a century, I have only been involved to the extent that I am now for a couple of months. Unless I have got it completely wrong, and I really don’t think that I have, Gonzo Multimedia is the company which in many ways is like the career of Patti Smith. It puts out records because they are good and deserve to be put out, and commercial considerations seem to be less important than artistic ones. As the motto of my own organisation is pro bona causa facimus (we do it for a good reason) and we publish books and carry out various projects with much the same motivation, this gives you some inkling as to not only why I enjoy writing this blog so much, but why I enjoy Nick Johnstone’s remarkable book.

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