Saturday, November 22, 2014

Book Review of "Hot Wired Guitar: The Life of Jeff Beck" by Martin Powers

Gregg Akkerman's Review of Hot Wired Guitar: The Life of Jeff Beck by Martin Power (Omnibus Press, 2012)

A brilliant moment in mock-rock history is when Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel describes for an interviewer how the volume knob on his amplifier is customized to go all the way to 11 for those times 10 just isn't enough. When the Spinal Tap film debuted in 1984, guitarists the world over saw the immediate homage to Jeff Beck. Even Beck himself picked up on the Beck-ish references to ego-driven guitarists with their dismissive humor and hot-rod past-times. When making the movie, actor/writer Christopher Guest had any number of archetype guitarists to imitate but he knew that to really do it in a way that guitarists would "get," only the droll personality and long-but-not-too-long straight hair of Beck would suffice. He doesn't have the household cache of his contemporaries Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, but guitarists all know the truth--and have for decades--Beck is the man!

While other guitarists of the era aligned themselves with various bands or singers to stake their claim on pop history, Beck soldiered through the 1970s making primarily instrumental albums that were assigned the dreaded label of "fusion." Others perhaps became better rock stars, but Beck simply became a better guitarist and outgrew the competition. But his no-vocalist approach kept him off the top of the charts which contibuted to the fact that there have been very few book-length attempts to tell Beck's story.

Correcting this grievous omission is author Martin Powers who has delivered previous rock-related books on Queen and Metallica. So let me get right to the problem with Power's effort: he is seemingly the owner of the largest collection of Beck quotes, magazine articles, CDs, 45s, LPs, EPs, DVDs, bootlegs, and Youtube links on the planet, and he was absolutely committed to referring to each and every one of them in this 487-page tome. It's both exhaustive and exhausting.

Powers does not write badly. All the sentences make sense and the paragraphs flow into the next. But he seems more comfortable being a play-by-play delivery boy rather than a craftsman of context and subtlety. Each chapter is essentially a narrative of every appearance and session Beck made during the time in question--with several descriptions of which guitars were played through what amplifiers. I'm sure somebody out there prefers this kind of writing over all others--I am not that person. I would prefer my author to inject some artful expertise into the life details of a man who surely must be a more interesting figure than is revealed here. Powers eventually proved he is capable of this task, but he waited 485 pages before taking his shot and by then I just didn't give a damn.

Now Powers may think, "I'm simply delivering the details and it's up to the reader to assign their own feelings without my manipulation," but I'm not going to excuse him for offering up nearly 500 pages of data-driven bullet points. Creating the kind of biography I'm expecting for my favorite guitarist of all time is hard--damn hard--and Powers came up short by writing a book far too long. Sometimes 11 is just too much.

Akkerman gives it 3 Rock-Stars out of 5!

Check it out from your local library or purchase a copy through the link below.

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