ROCK MUSIC BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS The King's cuisine

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The Independent Culture
AS this is Christmas, we should begin with St Nick, aka Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds and the Birthday Party, whose first proper biography is Ian Johnston's Bad Seed (Little Brown pounds 16.99). Cave comes across as a violent visionary, always out on a broken limb, and a life as dangerous as his can't help but be gripping. Unfortunately, Bad Seed's writing seems more tame and functional than its subject deserves, but that could be because I read it just after finishing Krautrocksampler by Julian Cope (Head Heritage pounds 17.99). "One Head's Guide to the Great Kosmiche Musik - 1968 Onwards" is the Exploded Teardrop's short history of the psychedelic German rock of the period. Cope's prose is supercharged with the passion and knowledge of a devotee, and with wacky, imagination-testing descriptions: "an absolutely inspiring Gothic chamber space-folk thing like mixing Neil Young's On the Beach with Frank Zappa's Straight records releases, Tim Buckley's free-form album Starsailor, and also his earlier Happy Sad and Goodbye and Hello LPs." Following Head On, last year's autobiography, Krautrocksampler adds to Cope's reputation as an author to be reckoned with, and you get a long way in before you realise how little you care about the bands discussed.

No one from outside "the ghetto" is qualified to criticise Ice-T's records until they have read The Ice Opinion (Pan pounds 4.99). You don't have to be a gangsta rap aficionado to appreciate it - indeed, its patient explanations make it an ideal primer (Chapter 5. Rap: The Art of Shit Talkin'). Hysterically funny and hysterically serious by turns, The Ice Opinion is a truly educational text, also covering life on the streets of LA, crime, racism, politics, literature, art and sex. It pins back your eye-lids, sticks a gun in your mouth and demands to be read. Very highly recommended.

Mark Almond - The Last Star by Jeremy Reed (Creation pounds 19.95) is "a work of high art", "far beyond mere biography", or so its back cover would have us believe. And yes, for all its illumination, it is as embarrassingly over-written as such a blurb would suggest. Almond is quoted repeatedly as saying he has always tried to send himself up. No such levity in Reed's deft combination of narcissism and hero worship.

Blurbook (HarperCollins pounds 9.99) has fewer words than this review. Still, what words there are are fun, as are the photos, mostly in black and white, of the chaps on tour. It makes rather a big deal about being authorised by the band, but it's fine as long as you take it, not as "the full story" of Blur's last year, another back cover fib, but as a souvenir tour programme with extra pages.

A similar enterprise is Paul Weller, Days Lose Their Names and Time Slips Away, 1992-5 by Lawrence Watson & Paolo Hewitt (Boxtree pounds 12.99). As the title demonstrates, PWDLTNATSA has more text, more style and thought, but less fun in it than Blurbook, being almost as intense and furrow-browed as its star. Bjork, Post (Bloomsbury pounds 14.99), the book of the album, is superior. It's a beautiful, pink, lavish package built around interviews with the Icelandic wonder's collaborators. Mind you, you'll still have finished it by the time your parents get back from Christmas morning service.

Frank Sinatra: An American Legend by his daughter Nancy Sinatra (Virgin pounds 25) is central to Very Old Blue Eyes' 80th birthday cash-ins/celebrations. It has a simple datelined structure, interspersed with testimonials from Frank's endless supply of buddies. The day-by-day format and relentless rose-tint quickly become numbing, but considering the title and the author, what else would you expect? Useful as a hefty reference work and it comes with a free CD.

Similarly, The Elvis Encyclopedia by David E Stanley (Elvis's stepbrother, as the front cover reminds us) (Virgin pounds 19.99) and The Ultimate Elvis by Patricia Jobe Pierce (Simon & Schuster pounds 9.99) both do the day-by-day thing with the King. Unexpectedly, it is Pierce who delves into Presley's emotional life, while stepbrother Stanley logs the exact figures of concert attendance and album sales. Ultimately, though, The Ultimate Elvis is a more satisfying, pointed and comprehensive work.

Of the Beatlebooks, one to note is the exhaustive Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewisohn (Reed pounds 16.99). Lewisohn is an unrivalled Beatles expert, a title confirmed by his sleevenotes for the new Anthology record. Both Stanley and Pierce could learn a thing or three.

Elvis & Gladys by Elaine Dundy (Pimlico pounds 10) was acclaimed on its release in 1985 for the extent of its research and the novelistic vitality of its prose, but this revised edition remains an awfully strange book. Maybe we can learn something of "devastating importance" about Presley by reading about his Mum, but how relevant is the Battle of Fort Mims in 1813? Did Elvis owe his "mystery" to his Indian blood and his "spectacular showmanship" to his Jewish? Dundy's illogical speculative leaps get ever more Olympian. It ends up leaving a bitter taste in the mouth, which is not a charge that sticks to The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley by David Adler (Smith Gryphon pounds 9.99). It's a more honourable and conscientious biography/cookbook than you might think. 7-Up Salad, anyone?

Finally, two books by associates of this newspaper. In Lost in Music (Picador pounds 12.99), Giles Smith's autobiographical anecdotes hold up a mirror not just to aspiring rock musicians and writers, but to all pop fans. Guaranteed to delight anyone who has spent time flipping through a favourite band's rack in a record shop, while being perfectly aware that you own everything they have ever released. Lives of the Great Songs (Penguin pounds 6.99) is the revised edition of the Independent on Sunday series, featuring me and other IoS regulars, and is every bit as good as you would expect.

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