My rating: Oh boy. Another toughie to rate.
Because I’m already something of a Vinyl Tap fan, admittedly for Randy’s rambling anecdotes more so than some of the actual songs, and I’ve heard some – a lot! - of these stories before. The book perfectly captures his long-winded, continually-sidetracked, “Hey – I played with everyone you ever heard of” – and of course he did, he really DID! – very Canadian, very polite, and very funny style. I could hear his voice say every word I read.
Anyway, the rating. If I’d never heard a single episode of Vinyl Tap, I’d have to say a 6 or possibly a 7. Lot’s of name dropping, lots of references to both now-forgotten musicians and still-legendary rock stars, lots of eyes-glaze-over arcane musical stuff. As it is, and because I really like and admire Randy on a personal level – though I’ve never met the guy, and was definitely not a real fan of his music when growing up, except for the few chart toppers I inadvertently listened to – “American Woman”, “No Sugar Tonight” – you know, the standards - (I was always more into the Brits, like The Stones and The Who and Bowie and T. Rex, with a parallel affection for Jonie Mitchell and Bob Dylan and their ilk) – anyway, his voice on CBC Radio is a ton of fun to listen to, and the man seems genuinely nice.
Nice is good. We need way more nice in the world. And he’s a kid from Winnipeg. Who now lives in B.C. So he gets an 8.5/10. Rock on, Randy! Long may you ramble.
I think maybe I already wrote my review. Let’s see, maybe a bit of background info for those of you Canadians who haven’t inadvertently or deliberately tuned into CBC Radio on a Saturday night driving along in the dark.
The Guess Who. Bachman Turner Overdrive. Ring any bells? If so, you may be a Canadian of a certain age.
Randy Bachman’s musical life started way back in his childhood, with violin lessons from the age of five. That was in the 1940s, and by the ’50s Randy had discovered another stringed instrument, the guitar – in particular the rock’n'roll guitar – and his future was set. Blessed with a hear-it-once-and-play-it mind – Randy calls it his “phonographic memory” – Randy forged ahead single-mindedly absorbing every new lick and chord and riff, and hanging out with the rest of the young wannabees in Winnipeg’s surprisingly fertile breeding ground for the rockers of the next few decades.
Teenage garage bands evolved and moved on, and the young musicians traded high school gyms for recording studios, doggedly saving their money to produce demos and singles and eventually albums, and one day, not too far into his musical journey, Randy found himself playing among the greats. Having converted to Mormonism when wooing his first wife, Randy was that rare figure: a rocker who embraced the third element of the stereotypical sex, drugs and rock’n'roll lifestyle while remaining a sober observer of the excesses of his compatriots in the first two departments. Perhaps that’s why his memory is so darned good?
And it – his memory – is amazing. The guy is a fount of trivial detail and anecdotes galore. To listen to him chatting away on Vinyl Tap, picking on his guitar to illustrate the details of what chord so-and-so played on his/her greatest hit/forgotten classic is mesmerizing. The guy is a literal sponge. He’s soaked up everything he’s ever heard or seen, music-wise. I repeat – amazing.
This book is a collection of Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap radio show monologues, expanded and cross referenced and generally polished up, with playlists of referenced songs at each chapter end, apparently available as collections on iTunes. (I haven’t checked this out personally, but I read that somewhere in the book end notes. It’s not prominently mentioned – a point in favour, in my opinion.) Another cool feature is the themed lists of songs at the end of the book, reflecting the themed Vinyl Tap shows where the featured “common thing” among diverse songs highlighted by Randy may be, say, cowbells, or songs for your funeral – how about “I Shall Be Released” by The Band, or “Wasn’t That a Party?” by the Irish Rovers, or “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, among all the sad and sobby tearjerkers also listed - or food songs (“Catfish Blues”, “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, “I Want Candy”.) Sometimes a little bit silly, but a whole lot of fun.
Speaking of food, Randy shares some deep down and personal stuff here as well, like how his own appetite led him to the point where he weighed almost 400 pounds a few years ago, and his resolve to turn his life around. He opted for gastric bypass surgery, and it appears to have done wonders for him; he’s downright svelte in his later photos.
All in all, an interesting book for a Randy Bachman fan or a guitar aficionado – the guy’s a guitar monomaniac too, and there is a long, super-detailed chapter on rock guitars and their ins and outs and how to get various details of sound which, though fascinating in an “I’ll never use this information but it’s cool to see someone so passionate about it” way is something that was mostly lost on me, as I suspect it would be on most of us who aren’t aspiring rock band guitarists.
Would I recommend it? Hmm. Maybe one to check out from the library before buying it, though the song playlists are maybe worth having around, for those days with too much time on your hands and an iTunes gift card handy.
And here are some good links to recent interviews with Randy Bachman: