k. d. lang:|
Carrying the Torch
by William Robertson,
Don't Be Denied
by John Einarson,
Post Your Opinion
|Afterthe Gold Rush
by Daniel Jones
IN 1966,at the age of 20, Neil Young drove a 1953 Pontiac hearse from Toronto to LosAngeles. Within several days, he had formed, with Stephen Stills, the BuffaloSpringfield, one of the seminal folk-rock bands of the`60s. John Einarson`sbiography, Neil Young: Don`t Be Denied, is the first indepth study of themusician`s Canadian years, and it is a fascinating - if occasionally depressing- story.
Born in Toronto in 1945, Young moved toWinnipeg with his mother when he was 14. His father, the author and broadcasterScott Young, remained behind. Winnipeg in the early 1960s was "firmlyrooted in 1940s and 1950s con servatism, 11 andYoung found himself socially stigmatized as the child of a sin, gle parent. Heimmersed himself in music and within a few months, formed his first band, thejades. Featuring Young on electric guitar, which he had taught himself to play,they performed instrumental numbers by the Ventures and Pat Boone. A year laterYoung formed the Squires, his "longest lasting musical unit ever."After the release of their first single in 1963, Young added his vocals to theSquires` repertoire, in imitation of the Mersey-beat sound that was having animmense impact in North America.
Einarson estimates that by 1964 therewere more than 200 rock bands in Winnipeg. The most popular was Chad Allan andthe Reflections, who, with Randy Bachman on guitar, would become the Guess Whoin 1965. Einarson has previously covered this period in Shakin` All Over: TheWinnipeg Sixties Rock Scene (1987). Einarson, a highschool history teacher wholives in Winnipeg, fails, however, to place the local music scene within thelarger context of the music industry in North America and abroad. At the sametime, the social history of Winnipeg he evokes is flawed; for example, hedescribes relations between Native inhabitants and European traders in idyllicterms.
In 1964, Young quit high school and, withthe Squires, moved to Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Ontario. "The eventsof this trip would not only change Neil`s life," Einarson writes,"but would ultimately alter the course of popular music in the1960s." But Young quickly moved on to Toronto, where he was to find littleinterest in the unique form of folk-based rock music he was then developing.Young moved from apartment to apartment and for five weeks worked at the onlyjob he ever held - as a "stock boy" at Coles before leaving for theUnited States.
An authorized biography, Neil Young:Don`t Be Denied seems to be aimed at the American audience. Its publication wasintended to coincide with the release of a Neil Young retrospective on compactdisc, for which Einarson is a consultant. Although the book focuses on theCanadian years of a Canadian musician (and is published with the assistance ofprovincial and federal funding), American spelling is employed throughout.Einarson`s research is based largely on interviews he has conducted with Youngand others, and his perspective is very much that of the fan. No bibliographyor discography is included, and Einarson gives no indication of other workalready done in this field. This book will undoubtedly appeal to Young`s fans,but is of little use to anyone interested in the history of contemporary musicor Canadian culture.
William Robertson`s biography of k.d.lang is neither a critical study of lang`s music nor a personal history of themusician. Instead, k.d. lang: Carrying the
Torch is littlemore than a summary of what has already been printed or broadcast by thepopular media.
Robertson makes much of the contrastbetween tang`s eccentric appearance, which has been described as "countrypunk," in her early performances and the environment in which she lived -tang`s family moved to Consort, Alberta, in 1962, the year after she was born.But he fails to ask how, if tang was truly an iconoclast, she achievedcommercial success so soon, when it eluded many other independent Canadianartists, and in particular the punk musicians of the late `70s and early `80s.Lang`s first album with her band the reclines was released when tang was stillonly 22; the next year, she signed a prestigious record deal and won the JunoAward for Most Promising Female Vocalist.
Robertson also makes much of tang`sdifficulties in winning the acceptance of the Nashville musical elite. He notesthat "tang walked a thin line between praise and parody, leaving theaudience to ask, Was she having fun at the expense of country music?" Butthe question is left unanswered. By 1992, with the release of Ingenue tang had already leftcountry music behind. Robertson does not deal with the ways the publicperception of genres and images are manipulated by artists and the media, norwith the difference between true controversy and the artificial"controversies" created by the music industry.
Like previous ECW Press biographies, U. lang:Carrying the Torch is intended largely for use by high school and undergraduatestudents. It is a highly readable introduction to tang`s life and work, iflacking any evaluation of either. Robertson has included a useful chronologyand an extensive bibliography, though a more detailed discography is needed inany later edition.