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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a friend about this review