January has been a bear, but one of my favorite ways to stop the busyness has been reading my friend Randy Abramson’s new Rock Torch. A comrade in the digital-news industry as well as rock-and-roll shows, Randy has been running the Rock Torch site for years now, and the format is addictive. He asks a rock artist to recommend an influence and explain why. Randy then writes up the artist and links to his or her music. The accumulated pairings of recommended and recommender show the carrying-forward of the rock torch in myriad, often unexpected ways. The walk-away impact is magical, genealogical, neurological, biographical, and, for some of us, physiological.
Maybe I need an example.
The first page of the book is Mike Doughty talking Thin Lizzy. Doughty’s cover of Country Roads is one of my favorites running through the Music Choice channels right now, and he’s a regular collaborator with Roseanne Cash, whose site Lori helps manage. Thin Lizzy couldn’t have intrigued a kid me more when the oldies station played The Boys Are Back in Town and I tried fruitlessly to discern the plot amid the riffs, and grown me still occasionally tells friends a revelation by teen me — that the band had one of the best VH1 Behind the Musics ever (tied, obviously, with AC/DC). It came to mind how I think drive differently when I hear either song, The Boys Are Back in Town or Country Roads. Heightened senses, somehow. You don’t have to believe me. You have your own song influence effects.
As one travels through the book, the connections continue: between the artists and their influences, between you and the artists, between you and the influences. There’s Brett Dennen recommending Van Morrison. There’s Tom Freund recommending Brett Dennen. In Randy’s write-up of Freund, there’s Graham Parker recommending him alongside Lucinda Williams, and couple dozen pages earlier, there’s Tim Easton recommending the amazing Ms. Williams, whom your friends years ago recommended to you. Williams, Randy notes, has done backing vocals for Easton, as has Tift Merritt, whose name for some unexplained synaptic reason you used to conflate with the name of your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, whom you never met.
Some of the influences are new; some are old. (I admit I paged ahead to an Otis Redding tribute.) Some of the artists giving the recommendations you’ll know. Many, unless you spend all day on Pitchfork and Pop Matters, are going to be new to you. So, after I finish this first read, I’m planning a second trip through. This time around I’m not looking up the music when it’s described. I’m just imagining the sounds and the influencing at work. The next time, I’m going to sit next to Spotify, YouTube and pals as I go.
In the book, Randy has compiled more than 100 rec pairings, with great illustrations by Nicholas Nocera. All profits from the book benefit a mix of causes: Hurricane Sandy victims, food banks, and the Sweet Relief Fund, which helps artists in difficult times. Go buy the book already and enjoy.