Rock and the Pop Narcotic
By Joe Carducci (Redoubt Press)
by Craig Regala
I’ve reviewed this book on each of its three releases. Initially, in 1990, I called it the only rock book of my generation that cared enough about rock music as music to take it seriously and punish those who did not. When it was reprinted with new layout, content, and pictures for Rollin’s 2.13.61 imprint, I rejoiced that it existed to live and breath in the culture its author had labored in: The independent rock world of the late-’70s to mid-’80s.
You see, Mr. Carducci worked for an independent store, Renaissance, saw its growth into a distributor, Systematic, wrote a fanzine, Options R, and did radio a couple times in Portland in ’79 and Chicago ten years later. A few of the years between those radio shows, he was a co-owner/operator of SST Records, home of The Minutemen, Black Flag, Saccharine Trust, Hüsker Dü, St. Vitus, and other back-breakers. Then he wrote a book about what he’d experienced and learned from those years in the trenches. This is a book about rock music in the way Henry Rollins’ Get in the Van is a book about touring.
The book, Rock and the Pop Narcotic, comes to you in three chunks. Up first is a definition of rock music as part and parcel of the small band continuum and a valuable thing in and of itself, apart from its “pop” impact on the non-musical culture. He’s more interested in telling you what makes a good band than what a member of any band thinks about veganism or who to vote for. He starts getting his licks in here on the pretenders, half measures, and rip-off artists/snivelers. Prog rock, hard rock, funk, rock rock, roots rock, metal, all sorts of punk/indie what-not is contextualized, and gets tons more respect than the establishment (mainly the Rolling Stone/The Village Voice axis, and anyone who wanted to hang with’m), ever voiced. Dude, he likes Rush. A bunch. Me too.
The second section chastises/beats on those self-same “critics” who put the majority of their effort into “leading the masses” to the proper political/social agenda. This is where the big stick comes out and really goes boom. Using all available tools and class theory among them, Joe gets down in the dirt and lays bare the reams of half-ass sociology, wanna-be masters thesis, and political spin masquerading as “music criticism.” Often, he quotes the writers and lets’m hang, word by word. Lastly, he names names and hits you with who’s who and what’s what from the ’50s to the ’90s in the rock world, including many the aforementioned “rock critics” ignored or reviled. A great book, maybe the only rock book you need to read to understand what the fuck actually happened and how.