Growing up as the youngest of five children, I became interested in Rock ‘N’ Roll music by listening to the records my siblings were playing on the turntable in our house.
I was always interested in the lyrics to the songs even though I never sang in a choir or any group setting. The lyrics were important and I quickly developed a yearning to find out what those lyrics meant. What was the inspiration behind this song?
In those days, we had AM radio, which played the Top 40 songs. We also listened to 45’s and vinyl albums and it was rare when the albums included liner notes that included the song lyrics. Once that started to happen more frequently in the mid to late 70s, I would spend a lot of time reading the lyrics in the liner notes. I also wanted to know whom the artists were that wrote the songs.
Then in December 1980, John Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota Apartments where he and Yoko Ono lived. I was devastated for many days because Lennon was my favorite Beatle. Shortly after his death, Playboy magazine published an interview they had done with Lennon in two separate issues. The second part was Lennon describing what every Beatles song was about. I read that article and remember thinking, “Why can’t EVERYBODY do this? Why won’t they all let us in on what their music is about?”
Fast forward to 1993. My wife Gina and I had moved from New York to Atlanta Georgia as I accepted a job working at Turner Sports directing Braves games on TBS as well as the NBA. I shared an office with three other directors at CNN Center. It was a rare event when more than two of us would be in the office at the same time. In fact we joked that if a third director showed up, one of us would have to leave the office. We kidded that we should put up a sign saying, “Only two directors allowed at a time.”
One day I walked into the office and my friend and fellow director Richard Croker was sitting at his desk. I noticed he had a large stack of paper sitting at the corner of his desk. I said to him, “What’s that stack of paper you have there?” Richard said, “Oh that’s the manuscript of the book I’m writing.” Richard began to tell me that he is a Civil War historian and for many years had been writing a novel based on the deadliest battle of the Civil War, “The Battle of Antietam”.
I was both fascinated and inspired by his passion and knowledge of the subject. I came away from that encounter saying to myself, “If Richard Croker can write a book, why can’t I?” I hadn’t really thought too much about writing a book of any kind, but that conversation with Richard that day really made a big impression on me. It took Richard several years but he did finish his book, “To Make Men Free.” He has since gone on to write two other books and become an independent filmmaker.
A couple of months after the discussion with Richard, Steely Dan, who is one of Gina and my favorite bands, reformed and began touring the United States. We went to see them while I was in Los Angeles on business. Ten days later their tour came to Atlanta, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again, so we went and saw their concert at the old Omni. When the concert was over and we got to the car, Gina said, “Weren’t they great? Don’t you wish there was a book that described what all their lyrics are about?” I smiled and said, “I sure do,” and under my breath I said to myself, “And I’m going to write it.”
The idea that had always been hiding under the surface, the idea that Richard Croker had unwittingly planted, was now pretty much all I could think about. Much as I wanted to know what Steely Dan’s lyrics are about, I wanted to know the meaning behind the lyrics from ALL the bands I listened to.
When we got home from the concert, I kept thinking about John Lennon and his explanation of The Beatles songs. I went down to the basement and found the Playboy issue I had saved. As Gina was getting into bed, she saw me reading Playboy and said, “WHAT, are you doing?”
“Honestly honey, I’m reading the articles.” How many women have heard that line? But it was true. I then told her that for sometime now I had this idea about writing a book that explains the meaning behind many of Rock ‘N’ Roll’s classic songs.
So this journey began in earnest in 1994 and a good chunk of the interviews were done in the period from 1994 to ’98. Then as Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” Gina had her first of two battles with cancer and with two young children it was time for a pause on this project.
It also helped that I was getting worn down from the artists’ managers and agents telling me, “He/she is in the studio now, try back in six months.” At which point, I was then told, “We’re heading out on tour, try us back in six months.”
In the intervening years when I wasn’t working on this book, it would haunt me because I had gotten pretty far along and was still listening to this music. It was really hard at times to find the motivation to get back on the horse and face the inevitable responses of “Thanks, but he’s not interested/available at this time but good luck with the book.” Those were actually easier to accept then the innumerable non-responses I received. A non-response I took as a maybe, and kept asking until it became a firm no.
So if you’ve picked up this book hoping to read about your favorite artists and how they wrote all the songs you grew up listening to, and those artists are not in this book, trust me when I say it’s not from a lack of effort. There isn’t a single artist in the genre of Classic Rock/Pop from the 60s and 70s who wasn’t asked to participate in this book. With the great span of years that it took to finish this work, most if not all of those missing artists were asked a second or even a third time.
Approximately 80% of these interviews were done on the phone while the rest were in person. All of the artists were extremely pleasant to speak with, and I would say were mostly forthcoming with their answers.
One last disclaimer… the artists were told that this book would be about the art of songwriting and the meaning behind the songs. This is not another sex, drugs, and Rock ’N’ Roll tome. If a song was of a particularly personal nature, they only had to share as much as they were comfortable sharing.
My hope is that you will enjoy learning about the song writing process and gain a new appreciation for these songs next time you hear them on the radio.