From the Guardian
From the meeting of John and Paul to the death of Bowie – this sharply observed book looks at key dates in the golden era of rock
ittle Richard putting one of his bowel movements into a shoebox and presenting it to an elderly neighbour as a birthday present; the already married Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his 13-year-old cousin; the Rolling Stones on their legendarily debauched 1972 US tour; Michael Jackson’s terrified scream after accidentally dropping one of his signature white gloves into the lavatory – it must have been tempting for David Hepworth to turn Uncommon People into a rock version of Kenneth Anger’s still notorious Hollywood Babylon.
Mercifully, he resists the lure of an all-singing, all-dancing, scandal-ridden anthology. Instead, he has come up with a neat, more purposeful framework for his colourful, richly marinated survey of the phenomenon of the rock star between the mid-1950s and mid-1990s: one chapter per year, with each chapter having as its focus one particular day when something significant or emblematic happened. On 6 July 1957, for instance, those two Liverpool teenagers John and Paul meet for the first time; on 1 October 1967, Jimmy (not yet Jimi) Hendricks (not yet Hendrix) unveils his talent to Eric Clapton and other guitar aristocracy; on 16 August 1977, Elvis checks out; on 1 August 1987, a film is shot at a Greyhound bus station recreating the arrival in Hollywood five years earlier of Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses). By 1997, it is all over.
Hepworth makes a plausible case for this demise. “The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and, above all, the advent of the mystique-destroying internet,” he argues. “The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock’n’roll, which, in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs, proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands. The rock era is over. We now live in a hip-hop world.”
After almost an adult lifetime of witnessing the music industry at close quarters, Hepworth is, in many ways, a dream author. Not only does he know his stuff, typified by his gratifyingly detailed analysis of how the arrival from California in 1959 of Leo Fender’s Stratocaster transformed the fortunes of Hank Marvin and the Shadows, but he is alert to broader social and cultural trends, as exemplified by his deft treatment of the MTV revolution of the early 1980s. Notably masterful is his 1969 chapter on Black Sabbath: the instructive tale of four young men from the West Midlands (“neither gilded youth nor nature’s flower children”) transforming themselves, via the English title for an Italian schlock-horror movie, from a humdrum group called Earth into a relentlessly focused heavy-metal outfit that in their live act would “roll over you like so many tanks … you would stagger away … feeling you had been ravished and would not have had it any other way”.
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What do you think, is rock over and are we really living in a hip hop world?
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