A couple of years ago, the estate of the great rock photographer Jim Marshall published The Rolling Stones 1972, which contained some of the most iconic photos taken of the Stones as they finished Exile On Main Street and embarked on what inarguably was their best tour.
Now we have something that is in many ways finer — Marshall’s entire oeuvre, or so it would seem, of images taken between 1965 and 1969 as the San Francisco bands, and the spirit they unleashed, changed the world. The Haight: Love, Rock, And Revolution is the best large book of rock photos and essays since Ethan Russell’s Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, And The Death of the Sixties. And what is clear is that, in addition to the great stage shots and band portraits of the Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead, Marshall was a genuinely gifted street and event photographer, capturing not just how, say, the Trips Festival looked, but how it felt.
Jim Marshall was the only photographer allowed into the Beatles dressing room when they played their final show ever at Candlestick Park in 1966. It is a measure of his sheer force of personality that a guy wearing a corduroy suit and with short hair and horn-rimmed glasses could have insinuated his way into the inner circle of the counterculture leaders and the great bands of the day.
The text written by Joel Selvin contains gem after gem, the details piling up in an authoritative manner. Random sample: here is Selvin on the night in October 1967 when Grace Slick joined the Airplane:
“The first night at Winterland, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band brought onstage a friend from Chicago to jam named Steve Miller, who earned a standing ovation by announcing he was moving to town to form a band.”
Even after leafing through the book for the photos, you go back to the beginning to read every word.
Selvin’s writing, which is more than merely an accompaniment to Marshall’s images, captures the full arc of The Haight, from innocence in an environment where acid was legal, to the curdling of the movement during the Summer of Love, to its collapse amidst speed freaks and tourist busses by the end of 1967. Read this book and then Sam Cutler’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want to see the sorry conclusion at Altamont, in December ’69.
Back to Marshall’s photographs: this visual document of the rise and fall of the Haight is also, of course, an image-drenched trove capturing both the short-lived artists who did not get out of the ’60s alive and those who stood the test of time. Worth it alone for the pictures of Hendrix that Marshall made so famous, it is a glorious compendium.
There’s a delightful perversity to the story of The Vaselines. The Glaswegian band released their first album, Dum Dum, in 1989 — and promptly broke up. They got one of those career boosts a band can only dream of: Kurt Cobain listed Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee as his favorite songwriters, and proved it on MTV Unplugged in New York, when Nirvana covered “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam,” not to mention a killer version of “Molly’s Lips” on Incesticide. And yet by that time, there was no band to cash in on the plug. The story seemingly ended with one album, two singles, and a famous missed chance.
Not for another 21 years did The Vaselines put out Sex With An X, the follow-up to the lauded Dum Dum, and what a follow-up it was. We were, alas, a little slow on the pick-up and had to list in 2011 as one of our previous-year’s regrets the fact that it hadn’t made the Tulip Frenzy 2010 Top Ten List (c). Since then, Sex With An X has been a regular presence in our earbuds, and we play it anytime we want to have our mood improved by gorgeously melodic and often howlingly funny songs. To say that The Vaselines only delivered on their promise after a generation’s absence just ads to the perversity of their story.
And now comes V For Vaselines, the tightest, likely the most tuneful album of punk rock since Rocket To Russia, an album that if listened to on the Delta Shuttle (true story) provokes such aisle seat joy that cross aisle neighbors stare before you realize you are snapping your fingers and possibly singing along. Eugene and Frances have never sung better, the propulsive drumming is more infectious than Ebola, and the whole album swings. We wake in the middle of the night with “Crazy Lady” being powered through the Marshall amps inside our mind, and when we say that this song — actually, the whole album — reminds us of I (Heart) The Mekons, we of course are offering the highest praise. “Earth Is Speeding” is a reminder of what could have happened if Roxy Music, in 1977, had hopped on the punk rock bandwagon. Lovers once upon a time, adult collaborators these days, Kelly and McKee have literally never sounded better than they do on “Number One Crush,” with its great lyrical premise of tongue-tied love (“Being with you/Kills my IQ).
The mythos of rock’n’roll is that a band puts everything into its first record, and either grows or dies from there. There is no precedent for a one-album wonder coming back from obscurity 21 years after the first record, and then four years later puts out a masterpiece. But that’s what The Vaselines have done, and its not too late for you to come along on a greasy, glorious ride.