Robert Dimery & Bruno MacDonald | Rock & Roll Heaven (Barron’s)

book_rnr-heaven.jpgA Fascinating Guide to 200 Musical Icons Who Have Joined the Great Gig in the Sky





Death is as much a part of rock and roll as sex and drugs. After all, many of rock’s true idols didn’t even reach iconic status until after they "checked out." Dying may actually be the best thing a rock star can do to sell more records. Mystery and controversy often surround the death of rock stars as well, and our culture has always had a morbid curiosity about such events (read Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live).

Now, for the first time, pop music writer Robert Dimery gives us a definitive reference on the final days of such greats as Jimi Hendrix (asphyxiation), Sid Vicious (drug overdose), John Lennon (shot by a fan), Kurt Cobain (self-inflicted gunshot) and Jeff Buckley (drowned). Dimery even gives us a chillingly detailed look at several "cursed" bands, with deaths of multiple members (Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Ramones, The Temptations).

Complete with great photos, quotes and fascinating facts about the rise and fall of rock’s great legends, this book (if a tad depressing) is entertaining all the way through. Some of the most fascinating stories are actually the lesser known ones, such as that of Florence "Flo" Ballard, one of the original members of the Supremes, whose fame declined with the rise of superstar Diana Ross. Ballard is said to be the basis of the central character of Effie White in the musical Dreamgirls (for which Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar last year). She died at age 32 of a coronary thrombosis after years of chronic depression and alcoholism.

The other aspect of Rock & Roll Heaven that’s interesting is looking at the causes of death en masse. If I was a rock star and read this book, I’d vow to always travel by bus due to the sheer number of stars that have perished in plane crashes. Don McLean immortalized the crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in the classic hit "American Pie," but the long list of musicians whose lives ended in aircrafts also includes Randy Rhoads, Otis Redding, founding members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ricky Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Denver and Aaliyah. Predictably, the list of deaths by drug overdose is also lengthy.

To end things on a high note, the authors include a lighthearted look at the Top 100 Death Songs in rock ‘n’ roll. This book is a fun read and good coffee table companion for rock fans and trivia buffs alike. | Amy Burger

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