The collected journalism of John Robb.
The trouble with most books about rock and roll is they are written long after the events they describe by people that weren't there. There are a few classics that manage to break the mould: Lester Bangs' Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Nick Kent's The Dark Stuff and now John Robb's epic Do You Believe in the Power of Rock and Roll?
560 pages long, over 170,000 words, spanning five decades and containing hundreds of interviews and live reviews - this is a history of alternative rock written by John with the music still ringing in his ears.
He was the first person to write about Nirvana, coined the term Britpop, and documented the Stone Roses rise out of Manchester before anyone else was interested. There is no-one else who has witnessed first hand so many of the important moments in rock history of the last 40 years.
This collection follows John’s journey, a lifelong quest to understand punk rock, since being caught up in its high octane thrill, tracing its explosion and diverse paths since its Big Bang changed his generation. We find him in the frontline with Fugazi in Italy and a week later in Paris with the Happy Mondays and a week after that in LA with a pre-fame Flaming Lips as well as hanging out in New York with the unknown Nirvana. He interviewed all the founding fathers of the new American rock music like Steve Albini, Henry Rollins and went greyhound racing on acid with the Butthole Surfers.
He did the first major piece on the Manic Street Preachers and one of the last interviews with now missing guitar player Richey. He was there at the start of riot grrl and also checking out the early days of the rave scene and the birth of electronic bands like Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, as well as attending most of the early Oasis gigs.
He also interviewed many punk heroes including John Lydon, Crass, the Damned, the Stranglers, the Buzzcocks and Poly Styrene. He walked on the dark side with Nick Cave, Einsturzende Neubaten, Siouxsie Sioux, the Cure, Bauhaus, Killing Joke and The Cult as they spun off on their own idiosyncratic paths out of the Big Bang of punk rock. He was at every key gig, interviewed every key player and followed the quest through to its illogical and insane conclusion. In return many musicians have praised his writing; Morrissey, Kate Bush and Yoko One have all singled him out. He has never lost his passion for music, as he recalls of his younger self, ‘we genuinely thought we could change the world with music and words...'
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Fudge packing, crack smoking, satan worshipping, mother fuckers...
New York City summer 1989. A young band has just played one of the most intense rock gigs I've ever seen.
The vocalist's slight frame and lank hair belies a stunning power, shredding his throat as he sings amazing, melodic anthems that are at once euphoric and melancholic. The band is Nirvana and they are playing at Maxwell's in Hobokon just over the river from Manhattan. There is just a handful of people watching - a typical night on the rock n roll circuit where genius doesn't always mean popularity. At this point Nirvana are just another bunch of mad eyed hopefuls crammed into the back of a van looking for escape from their dull lives.
The listless audience, numbering no more than ten people, are far from captivated. Just me, the photographer Ian Tilton, the band's press agent Anton Brookes and a woman from a French record label who is raving about the band, stay for the whole set. You can feel the frustration leaking from the band's pores when suddenly the set ends. The bass player shoves his bass guitar through the venue's roof, the vocalist dives backwards through the drums, the kit collapses and the drummer looks nervous. The amps get pushed over and the guitars are mashed into the floor. It's either a thrilling moment of pop art auto-destruction or the instinctive act of a band that is genuinely walking along the edge.
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