City Paper is not for tourists
The Crawdaddy! Book:
Writings (and Images)
T he Crawdaddy! Book marks the advent of a new venture in publishing: the un-handsome coffee-table book. Your average coffee-table book is an oversized piece of art- or photo-filled eye candy, something to idly flip through while your host chops veggies in the kitchen.
But not The Crawdaddy! Book. This compendium of writings and images from the first 19 issues of the pioneering mid-’60s “magazine of rock” isn’t much to look at. No snazzy full-color photo spreads for the Crawdaddy! folks. Instead, you’ll have to make do with some so-so black-and-white reproductions of the magazine’s covers, along with a few uninspired band photos, a few advertisements(!), and even a photo of Issue 6’s table of contents. Kind of brings the whole crazy era back in a rush, that contents page. Or maybe you just had to be there.
Then again, the folks at Crawdaddy! never meant to bring you the latest and greatest in visual arts. Cranked out on a mimeograph machine in the basement of a house in Brooklyn by its creator/editor, 17-year-old Swarthmore College freshman Paul Williams, Crawdaddy!’s premier (Feb. 7, 1966) issue wasn’t even graced with a picture on its cover.
Instead, Crawdaddy! became known for fostering such diverse writing talents as Jon Landau, Peter Guralnick, Richard Farina, Richard Meltzer, and Samuel R. Delany. So you might be led to believe that, even if The Crawdaddy! Book is hardly a feast for the eyes, it must at least abound with lively, illuminating prose.
Wrong again. Oh, you’ll find pieces by the above writers in The Crawdaddy! Book. But you’ll find lots more of the unbelievably pedestrian prose of the aforementioned Williams, who should not be confused with the diminutive singer-songwriter responsible for the monstrous “Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.” Crawdaddy!’s Williams is prone to such laser-sharp observations as “To me, a major aspect of rock ’67 is the tightness of the new groups. By tightness, I mean the feeling of wholeness a group projects when they’re onstage (or in a recording studio)…” And this diamond bullet of Talmudic perception: “The way to ‘understand’ Dylan is to listen to him.”
Groovy, huh? Almost makes you wonder who read the damn thing in the first place. Drug-addled hippies? Their dorky wannabe younger brothers? Art Linkletter? Or Bobby D.’s Mr. Jones himself?
Nor are the other writers, most of whose names have faded into the pot haze of hippie history, much better. One Kris Weintraub, for example, returned from a Doors concert with this observation on the Lizard King, Jim Morrison:
There isn’t another face like that in the world. It’s so beautiful, and not even handsome in the ordinary way. I think it’s because you can tell by looking at him that he IS God. When he offers to die on the cross for us, it’s OK because he IS Christ. He’s everything that ever was and all that ever can be, and he KNOWS it. He just wants to let us know that so are we.
Was Kris not around when the dude was making the announcement about the brown acid?
Heck, even the “name” writers stink up the place. Take, for example, Landau’s attention-catching opener to “East-West—The Butterfield Blues Band”: “Ever since Newport of a year ago, the Butterfield Band has been happening.” Believe it or not, the story goes downhill from there. And the spasms of pleasure I experienced upon discovering a few articles by Sandy Pearlman, the legendary Blue Oyster Cult producer and studio svengali behind the Dictators’ great Go Girl Crazy!, subsided approximately a paragraph into his piece on raga rock, which goes on (and on and on) like Ravi Shankar himself.
Oh, Delany’s piece on Janis Joplin isn’t bad, and Meltzer’s infamously obtuse contributions—mock-philosophical reflections on the aesthetics of rock, one of which (“Pythagoras the Cave Painter/Jimi Hendrix”) includes “a drawing by Meltzer of a pubic hair wandering between points A and B”—while not worth reading per se, are worth foisting off on gullible friends. (“Read this! It’s really deep!”)
But if it weren’t for Williams’ monthly “What Goes On” columns, I’d write The Crawdaddy! Book off as one long bad trip. As it is, his terse updates on the hip-music front are a hoot. How’s this for radical-chic hucksterism? “Mao Tse-tung has cut a record for his own label, featuring his greatest quotations (listeners are expected to chant along with the record) and some live recordings of Mao with the Red Guards. Sales are brisk.” Suckers!
Look, I wish I could say otherwise. But The Crawdaddy! Book is a stone bummer, man. It reminds me of the pathetic and miserable night, back in the late ’70s, when a pig-farmer buddy and I spent the evening smoking imitation Quaaludes mixed with skunk weed and drinking Iron City beer and I made him stop his El Camino so I could piss on a fence by the side of the road, which turned out to be electric.
Except that night was better. CP