Rock Connections: The Complete Family Tree of Rock ‘n’ Roll
by Bruno MacDonald
Collins Design / Harper Collins
Can you define rock ‘n’ roll with just a few dozen artists, a handful of labels, and three or four clubs you wished you’d visited but never did? That’s the task Bruno MacDonald set out to tackle, and by reducing most artists’ careers to trading card size, he does a fair job. The big name Gods of Rock: Elvis, Mick, Bowie, and Iggy get star treatment with two page spreads, but Michael Jackson scores three pages. You may not like his pastimes, but damn, he moved product. While the occasional scandal gets a passing comment and the spectacular deaths by OD, HIV, or DOV are alluded to, this book is an upbeat, “let’s focus on the positive” publicist’s version of the past 60 years of rock history.
MacDonald aims for a paper wiki of rock history, showing the connections that casual fans might miss — the stylistic influences of clubs, producers and labels, chance meetings between acts, and to a very minor degree, who was sleeping with whom. Yazoo and Justin Timberlake find a common point in David Bowie. The Chemical Brothers and The Beach Boys link via Daft Punk. Elvis influenced everyone, but to get to Waylon Jennings you have to get off at the Johnny Cash interchange and go past the Dylan bypass for three more exits. Wait, you were supposed to turn at Carly Simon a mile ago…
Each page has a dozen tags with other page numbers you can refer to for a “Choose Your Own Adventure” journey, and that’s an annoyance. Just like tvtropes.org or Wikipedia, the crossed threads of information tie together in odd and unexpected ways. Online, it’s a perfect way to explore, but in print it gets confusing, and books work best if you read them front to back. I tried the jumping around concept, but finding precise pages wasn’t as fun as just opening at random. Flipping paper to trace out the world of CBGB alums or David Bowie’s influences seemed more work than I wanted to expend and this book demands a web page and a dedicated army of fans to update it and keep it fresh. But it’s a great concept, one I’d like to see pushed farther than mere ink on paper.
Harper Collins: www.harpercollins.com