Serious music dweebs may very well adopt Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed (Routledge) as their rare vinyl-collecting bible. The lisping indie obsessive who gets teary-eyed at Belle & Sebastian concerts … the thrift-store-foraging Napoleon Dynamite who smells of dust and rotting cardboard … Steve Buscemi’s character in Ghost World … the Kermit the Frog-voiced fellow who knows the whole discography of bands he doesn’t even like … they’re all guaranteed to bust a blood vessel over this one. It’s a guidebook written by geeks, for geeks, that makes rock ‘n’ roll seem almost not cool, grouping fans alongside other nerd cliques who fixate on comic books or Star Trek.
That said, the average music enthusiast will also find Grooves an informative and pleasurable read. The book, edited by Scram editor Kim Cooper and contributor David Smay (also the authors of Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears) contains a wealth of far-out performers who never got their due, forgotten albums by big-time artists, and impassioned defenses of maligned records even the Salvation Army can’t get rid of. The emphasis here is on vinyl, including many records that never even made it to CD. Writers here include Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek, Angry Samoan Metal Mike Saunders, old-school rock critic Richard Meltzer, producer Jim O’Rourke, filmmaker Sean Carrillo, and a swap-meet-sized gang of freelance critics and music-zine whack-a-doos.
So what do they preach about? Kim Cooper tells the engaging story of the very obscure (and very short) musical career of Beverly Hills dental assistant and tripped-out songwriter Linda Perhacs, whose creative efforts didn’t bloom until she fell in with the laid-back Los Angeles hippie crowd. One of her patients was film composer Leonard Rosenman, who in 1970 helped Perhacs record her only album, Parallelograms, which Cooper describes as “delicately layered love poems to the natural world and the charged erotics of youth.”
Also forgotten in music history is the New Orleans piano-pummeling eccentric Esquerita, whom rockabilly singer Deke Dickerson hails as “the source for the bizarre/flamboyantly gay/mega-talented/hollerin’/screamin’/rhythm and blues archetype that Little Richard would take to the bank alone.” Though signed to Capitol, Esquerita was too much for the general music-buying public of the time, and original copies of his 1958 self-titled debut are extremely difficult to find.
Epidemiologist and former radio DJ Max Hechter writes about blue-collar punks Cock Sparrer, a ’70s act that almost hooked up with Malcolm McLaren, a deal that didn’t work out reportedly because he failed to buy the band a round of drinks. McLaren, of course, went on to manage the Sex Pistols, while Cock Sparrer’s catchy debut was released only in Spain after the band’s label, Decca, went bankrupt.
Too obscure? David J. Schwartz focuses on a somewhat forgotten aspect of Johnny Cash’s storied career. As a young ruffian, Cash wasn’t afraid to piss people off. When country radio ignored the song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” from his 1964 album Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, Cash took out a full-page ad in Billboard indicting the music industry for its desire to “wallow in meaninglessness.”
Still, the unknowns rule the roost here — for hardcore record collecting freaks looking for new, obscure obsessions, Lost in the Grooves hails little-known acts such as voodoo shrieker Exuma, Wichita rock quartet the Embarrassment, the Italian wannabe Hawaiian act Nino Rejna and His Hawaiian Guitars, French ex-beatnik popster Michel Polnareff, ’60s singing duo Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, and the Yiddish-sung American standards of the Barry Sisters. The book also champions traditional rock-critic favorites such as the Brit-pop Housemartins, the always-adored Mekons, the hardworking Poster Children, New York post-punkers the Feelies, the deathless avant-garde crew Pere Ubu, the beloved duo Sparks, Elephant 6 deities Neutral Milk Hotel, and snappy Seattlite pop-punkers the Fastbacks.
Lost in the Grooves doesn’t have much to say about jazz or metal, and the few hip-hop write-ups appear to be penned by folks who hardly qualify as fanatics. Otherwise, most musical genres are well covered, though the writing is occasionally subpar and skippable. But most writers succeed at promoting their favorite obscurities, leaving you to wonder, “Should I really seek out a copy of Buckner & Garcia’s Pac-Man Fever or the Bee Gees’ Mr. Natural?” The answer, of course, is yes. (Adam Bregman, East Bay Express, 1/5/05)