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Rock Reads: Life on Planet Rock by Lonn Friend Review

by Keavin Wiggins

I'll try to keep this as brief as possible and not spoil too many surprises. If you were into harder rock in the late 80s or grunge in the early 90s, chances are you know the name Lonn Friend. For those that do not fit that category, Lonn was the editor of RIP Magazine, considered in some circles at the time as the top metal mag in the U.S.. He also appeared in his own segment on Headbangers Ball and hosted a syndicated radio program. The latter was my first exposure to Lonn, it actually was on the show on Pirate Radio in L.A. that morphed into the syndicated show that I first caught Lonn. I also remember seeing him (in his underwear) introduce Guns N' Roses once, you'll have to read the book to find out why! So I was pretty excited when I heard about this book coming out and while it doesn't rank up there as the top rock memoir ever written, it's still a great read and worth picking up. 

This book suffers a little because it is not a traditional memoir and that keeps it from topping the list. Instead of Lonn taking us vicariously through his life, he instead concentrates most chapters on his recollections of specific artists including Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Guns N' Roses, Alice Cooper, Metallica, KISS, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and more. (Lars wrote the intro). It's an interesting approach and allows him to go deep into these subjects; however this forced him to leave a lot out by using such narrow focus. He begins the book like a traditional memoir, telling us about his life as a child discovering rock n roll--like so many others--with The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and how it changed his life. He then recounts his teen years and how the musical obsession grew in college where he found a group of like-minded "punks" that also loved music. Where does a young college graduate that loves music decide to work? Hustler Magazine of course! That led the way to RIP magazine and all that came after it. 

After the brief early history, Lonn launches into chapters devoted to his memories about selected artists. This is the real meat of the book and it is packed with great stories. He covers the metal years of the late 80s with some incredible inside stories about Guns N' Roses, Metallica and more. He then delves into the rise of grunge (and how he scared Kurt Cobain). In all of this, Lonn brings a key insight into each scene and the personalities that you generally do not find, especially with rock critics. But these chapters also really reveal Lonn's real gift and what endeared him to so many artists and fans during his career. That is his ability to convey the human side of the artists and you can tell that he has great affection and appreciation for many of them. The thing that does separate Lonn from so many "professional" rock scribes it that genuine love of the music and something we discuss a bit here at antiMusic--passion for music. It comes through in spades. After all, Lonn never stopped being a fan and believe it or not, that's a real rarity with rock critics. 

I could really stop here and tell you to run out and get this book (reading the Chuck Berry porn story he told Jimmy Page and Aerosmith is worth the price alone!) But there is one important part of this book beyond what we've covered so far and that was Lonn's short trip to the dark side. Yes, he jumped from critic into the evil empire, a record company job! And when he took the plunge, he didn't go with just any old record company; he went with the King of Cheese himself, Clive Davis. Just why would a true rock fan join up with a label that had absolutely no clue about rock music? Because Clive told him that he'd have freedom to bring artists to the label to build up the rock roster which at the time Lonn signed on as a VP of A&R only had Crash Test Dummies (and Enuff Z'nuff, a band Lonn failed to mention in the book). 

His first signing out of the gate could have been a smash, a very promising group that everyone in the company believed in. However, Arista's hit factory mentality is great for here today, gone later today pop stars, but is counter to what it takes to break rock bands. They just didn't know that side of the business and of course having a label head that counts success in millions of units sold really isn't conducive to the slower process of developing a rock career. Lonn soon after hit a brick wall named Davis and some of the promising artists he discovered where rejected by Davis (in hindsight, the artists were probably lucky.) The Eels and Limp Bizkit were just two of the groups that Lonn took to Davis that were deemed unmarketable. Davis also told Lonn that Beck was a gimmick that wouldn't last. So much for Mr. Golden Ears, how many units did that second Crash Test Dummies CD sell again? 

Rock fans are worse off for Lonn's job change as it spelled the end for RIP Magazine and kept him away from what he really should have been doing all along. But it was a worthy goal and in a better reality, you would think that someone that truly loves music would make the perfect A&R person, but in today's music biz reality the music is the least important thing to the suits and Lonn does a beautiful job of covering that and his frustrations with it throughout this book. 

The prodigal son returns. It's great to see Lonn back doing what he is best at, writing about music. He ends this book with the tale of watching a recent Rolling Stones concert and being impressed with the band's passion and performance after so many years. Why? Because they are doing it out of love for music and that is something Lonn shares with them. As I said earlier, this isn't so much a memoir, instead it's more a love letter to rock n roll. And that my friend's is what makes this a great book for anyone that shares that love. 

This review will be published a couple days before Lonn's birthday. If by chance you read this Lonn, re-read your last chapter about how the Rolling Stones are still doing it four decades later because they love it. By my calculations, you still have a few decades left to reach that goal and with metal mags being edited by jocks that didn't get into music before it became a job; you could help bring some much needed credibility back to the fold. 

I hope this is only but the first book by Lonn and we hear a lot from him in the future. But for now if you're a rock fan, skip buying that new CD this week and pick this book up instead. It will remind you of why you love music so much in the first place but will also show you the real, human side to several rock icons, instead of the gossip, scandal or record company contrived PR. That my friends, is rare and there is no one better at giving us that perspective then Lonn Friend. After all, he is a true fan of rock and it never stopped showing! 


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