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SickthingsUK: Reviews: Dick Wagner - Full Meltdown

Dick Wagner - Not Only Women Bleed

First there was the ebook and now there is the real thing. Dick Wagner's "Not Only Women Bleed" now comes in hard cover for all the oldies like me who really can`t enjoy reading a book on a screen, and very nice it looks too. It also comes with two CD's! The first is a copy of Dick's 'Full Meltdown' album (which is reviewed here) while the second disc is SkinnerRat's "In A Box" which feature's Dick on guitar throughout.

The book is subtitled "Vignettes from the heart of a rock musician" which is a pretty good description. This is NOT a biography in the normal sense. It's more like a series of recollections which moves through Dick's life as he thinks back and remembers the people, places or stories from his eventful career. This can be a frustrating approach as sometimes when you want to hear more about, say, the recording of an album, what you get is a few stories about the people that happened to be around at the time, or the girls he was with, or the drugs he was on.

Another thing that shows up pretty quickly is that, as with anyone telling stories in such a way, Dick has a habit of skipping forwards and backwards in time as things come to mind, sometimes by decades. This can on occasion get a little confusing. As a result you seemingly get stories about bands that, chronologically, he hasn't formed yet, or people he hasn`t met, before he later backtracks and speaks about them.

These are small complaints though. The prose is well written generally and easy to read although some of Dick's references will be lost some readers (including me) not as familiar with 50s and 60s American blues/soul music or culture.

What comes across best in the book, beyond Dick's sexual escapades, is the first few sections which show just how the music world worked in the 50s and 60s when a "local" band could be huge in their home state but unknown out of it. For example he describes The Frost as having 10 #1 hits. Nowadays you would assume he was talking about Billboard hits but back then you could have a #1 hit in Michigan while not selling a copy in, say, Alabama. It was still #1, but only in one area (similar to the Spiders having a #1 hit. It's probably true, but only in the Phoenix!). The world is a much smaller place today then it was back then, so having 10 #1 hits in Michigan WAS a big deal while it wouldn't be in today's scene.

It's also interesting how a small local musician got to play with many of the heavyweights of the era at such a young age. Jerry Lee Lewis comes to town and just uses a local backing band for the show, who are expected to learn and rehearse his material so he could just roll into town, check them out, and go play the show. The same thing happened with the young Coopers backing Gene Vincent but Dick got to play with legends like Lewis, BB King and Little Richard simply by being in a well respected local band and presumably knowing the right people when the greats came to town. Again something that wouldn't really happen nowadays.

Of main interest to most people will be the Alice Cooper years and it's interesting to hear a behind-the-scenes take on things and some new stories, but again the stories jump around chronologically which can be confusing. There's also not enough of them, maybe to protect the guilty! The Lou Reed years similarly seem to go past too quickly. This IS a book about Wagner of course, but his associations with Alice and Reed will be the main selling point for many.

Once we go beyond the 70s/early 80s we learn many things about Wagner's numerous ups and downs, alternating personal success stories like 'Remember The Child' with the struggling musician who suddenly finds himself pawning his guitars for drug money. While nothing can ever take away from Dick's legendary performances it does paint a sad picture of the man behind the music, addicted to sex and drugs and never managing to become a household name in his own right. Everyone has HEARD Wagner, but few people outside the main fan bases of his associates know the name of the guy writing and playing the music they love.

Luckily it all ends on the relatively high note Dick's recovery from a heart attack to return to live performance to great success.

All in all 'Not Only Women Bleed' is a good read and well presented, but maybe suffers from having not enough about the things many will buy the book for (The Alice/Reed years) and too much that comes across as simply listing almost unknown names (all of which appear to universally wonderful musicians and people!) he worked with since the 70s. While his solo band mates are obviously of great importance to Dick himself, to the casual music fan I'm afraid, rightly or wrongly, it holds much less interest.

Not Only Women Bleed is available now directly from the author at notonlywomenbleed.com where you can also find out much more about the project.