Music writer and editor Yuval Taylor’s been involved with some high-minded books in his career. As a senior editor at Chicago Review Press, the local nonfiction house whose umbrella includes the music and film imprint A Cappella and the Lawrence Hill Press line of titles in African-American issues, he’s shepherded to publication a collection of slave narratives, an anthology of Frederick Douglass’s writings, and the English translation of the Portuguese title Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World. His own new book, due out next February from Norton, is a collaboration with British writer and musician Hugh Barker called Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music.
There are many different kinds of authenticity in the music world, though, and Taylor isn’t only interested in musicians. Last year Chicago Review reissued I’m With the Band–Pamela Des Barres’s classic memoir of her life as a groupie and consort of the likes of Jim Morrison and Keith Moon. I remember it being passed around promiscuously when it came out in 1987, a seedy paperback full of juicy details about Mick Jagger’s tongue and Jimmy Page’s whips. Nowadays, with 20 years of feminism, cultural studies, and pop memoir to support it, the same book feels very different. Des Barres’s vivid prose and frank romanticism read like a letter from a long-gone bohemia, from an Anais Nin who doesn’t bother with poetic euphemisms; Des Barres herself emerges as a much more compelling character than anyone she slept with.
Originally published in 1987, I’m With the Band had been out of print for eight years before Taylor picked up the rights in 2004. He would have been doing a service by simply reissuing it, but he hasn’t stopped there. He’s got three other titles in the works, all of which look at rock history through a particularly up-close-and-personal lens.
Chicago Review Press acquired I’m With the Band as a by-product of the 2004 deal Taylor made with Des Barres to publish her latest book, tentatively titled “Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Super Groupies,” which focuses on long-term relationships between musicians and groupies. When her agent pitched the new book to Taylor he offered to reprint the older title as well, which sealed the deal. (He’d hoped to publish them simultaneously, but the new one took longer to write than planned.)
Taylor says it was a sample chapter from the new book, on Tura Satana’s affair with Elvis, that grabbed him. “Satana later starred in Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! And had an affair with Tony Bennett too, but the chapter focuses on how she taught Elvis how to French kiss and give head, and how Elvis wanted to marry her. I found it very engaging indeed.”
Last summer he also picked up the long-awaited memoir from Chicago’s own Cynthia Plaster Caster, who made her name, literally, casting plaster replicas of rock stars’ penises. Her life story is riding a swell of interest (OK, I’ll stop) that began with the 2000 exhibition of her artworks-cum-(I lied)-trophies and the 2001 release of Jessica Villines’s “cockumentary,” Plaster Caster. Plaster Caster says the book, which she’s calling “Done Dick,” isn’t really a groupie tale. Rather it’s “more about a fan than a star fucker, [a fan] who hardly ever got laid.”
Taylor met Plaster Caster after the two were recommended to each other by Des Barres and two other writers Taylor had worked with–Jake Austen and Cath Carroll. A few months ago Taylor outbid three other publishers for the rights to Carol Ann Harris’s “Storm: The Inside Story of Fleetwood Mac,” a tell-all about life with her ex-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham that Taylor describes as “jaw-droppingly intimate.”
The new edition of I’m With the Band is selling well–about 100 copies a week, which makes it one of the 33-year-old press’s ten best-selling titles right now. This isn’t that surprising: the book remains, frankly, very hot. The next three books are tentatively slated for a spring or summer 2007 release. His book on authenticity–a critical examination that covers everyone from Elvis to Donna Summer to Kurt Cobain–will probably beat them to bookstores, though. Asked if he sees a connection between the projects, Taylor demurs, then adds, “I suppose one could make the case that we’re fucking with rock stars as opposed to fucking them.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mireya Acierto.