Tony Sclafani Talks About the Grateful Dead’s Farewell Concerts on WGN Radio

As the band’s farewell concert neared, Tony Sclafani, author The Grateful Dead FAQ, spoke with Brian Noonan on WGN Radio about the cultural and musical impact of the Grateful Dead.


00333698The Grateful Dead rose out of San Francisco’s ’60s underground rock scene with an unprecedented sound and image. Its members, steeped in rock, folk, classical, and blues; their instrumental prowess; and their refusal to bow to commercial conventions helped originate jam band music. Unapologetic in its advocacy of drug use as a means toward mind expansion, the Dead helped catapult psychedelic music. After performing at the Monterey International Pop Festival and Woodstock, the group became iconic without ever scoring a hit single. A large, devoted fan base – “Deadheads” – began to follow the band everywhere. The group suffered a tragedy when bandleader Jerry Garcia slipped into a coma in 1986, but returned the next year with a top-selling album and surprise hit single, “Touch of Grey.” By 1993, the Dead was the top-grossing live act in the United States. The band ended when Garcia died in 1995, but the music lives on with a stream of live releases.

In Grateful Dead FAQ, Tony Sclafani examines the band’s impact and influence on rock music and pop culture. This book ventures into unexplored areas and features a host of rare images, making it a must-have for both Deadheads and casual fans.

Morrissey is Officially on Tour!

Morrissey’s US tour has officially begun! If you’re a fan of Morrissey, hurry and get your tickets! And also, pick up a copy of D. McKinney’s new book Morrissey FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About This Charming ManFor now, please enjoy the following excerpt from the book:


From Metalhead to Mega-Wuss: How I Became a Fan of the Great and Powerful Moz

You obviously know who my favorite performer is. But guess who is my second favorite?
And my third favorite?
Alice Cooper.
Sparks and Devo are my other two favorite bands, so I’m not THAT cheesy.

But still—people always give me a strange look after I am asked about my favorite bands. Morrissey and Gene Simmons have absolutely ZERO in common: Moz likes veg, Gene likes vag. Both of them do have sideburns, so I guess that counts. So what made me go from “Detroit Rock City” to “My Life Is So Shitty”?

I credit my love of music to two things, the first being that I was fortunate enough to have young parents. There was always music in our apartment (and lots of weed). My mom was into Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and Alice Cooper. My dad liked a lot of southern rock, white-boy blues, and Loverboy. Both of them liked oldies and soul music, so being the oldest and only child (at that point), I liked what they liked. I remember someone asking me what my favorite record was, and I had two—Private Eyes by Darryl Hall and John Oates, and Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (which are still two of my favorite albums). I never got totally into Frank Zappa or Loverboy, but it would have happened eventually if it were not for the second thing that turned me into a musical genius. 


Oh yes, the glory days of MTV. Dee Snider versus Neidermeyer, Pat Benatar pretending to be a teenage runaway, and Madonna’s floppy “Borderline” hat with the bow—it did not get any better than that. The older I got (and the older MTV got), the more I started to lean toward the metal side of things. I still listened to all types of music, but as soon as I was welcomed to the jungle by Guns N’ Roses, it was on. Big hair, tight pants, and falsettos became my favorite. It did not help that I was starting to go through puberty, so besides being attracted to thundering drums and hot guitar licks, I was also attracted to thundering bums and hot guitar d . . . well, you know what I mean. I even stayed loyal to the “metal cause” through the grunge years, although I did like Alice in Chains because they were a little harder than the other Seattle bands.

I admit it, I got a little lost in high school. That is because metal kind of died on me. Grunge broke its legs, alternative stomped its head, and hiphop peed all over it. But that was okay, because like every other teenager, I discovered punk rock. Even my taste in punk rock was tainted by metal—my favorite band was the Misfits, which led me to Samhain, which then led me to Danzig. Man, I loved me some Glenn Danzig. He was going to be my future hairy husband. After punk, my tastes started to broaden again in the absence of metal. I started listening to goth music and industrial while revisiting my ’80s MTV favorites. And it was during this time that I fell in love with my other future hairy husband. 

I can tell you exactly when and how it happened.

I was hanging out at my friend Mark’s house. It was the usual gang of idiots and the usual Saturday night filled with cigarette smoke, cheap rum, and Jack in the Box tacos. Because I did not smoke and I did not want to listen to the Melvins, I was sitting on the couch in the living room watching 120 Minutes  while everyone else was in the dining room with the turntable. 

It was the usual college music crap fest: Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, and lots of PJ Harvey.

And then they showed “Tomorrow” by Morrissey.

 At first I rolled my eyes and was all “whatever” about it. But I continued to watch. I watched him slink around France in black and white. I watched him pout at me, asking me about “the one thing that I’ll never do.” And when he demanded “tell me that you love me” with that sly crooked smile, I was hooked like a vegan fish.

At first I was embarrassed by my Morrissey crush. I was “punk rock” and madly in love with Glenn Danzig at the time—no way could I let anyone know that I preferred sensitive sideburns now. Plus, I still was not all that crazy about his music. I had tried to listen to the Smiths in the past, and I just could not get into it. I liked “How Soon Is Now?,” but EVERYONE likes “How Soon Is Now?” And forget about even listening to his solo stuff—my friend Mark poisoned me by playing “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” to show me how dumb Morrissey was: “You’re right,” I said, “that song is pretty fucking stupid. Let’s listen to ‘Walk Among Us.’”

But after that, I would feast my twenty eyes on Morrissey’s hairless chest and pompadour. I borrowed Your Arsenal  from a friend and loved it. It was surprisingly harder than I expected it to be, and it encouraged me to check out more of his stuff. Surprise! Most of it was pretty hard, and I loved how the slow jams were over the top. Soon after, I found myself giving up the devil lock and accepting the pompadour poof into my life.

I was now a member of the Church of Morrissey.

Whenever I meet people and Morrissey comes up in the conversation, I find that there are two kinds of people: Morrissey Lovers and Morrissey Haters. I am totally understanding and tolerant of other people’s tastes, and I usually don’t get mad when people disagree with me—as a record collector, there is nothing I like more than having a conversation with others about music. But when people tell me that they hate Morrissey, and I ask them why, they can never give me a good reason. It is always:

• He is stupid.

• He is whiny.

• He is all gloom and doom.

• He is still stupid.

I never get a good reason because there is not a good reason to not like Morrissey. They realize they can’t hate on someone who writes witty and insightful lyrics. They can’t hate on someone who was a great front man—Morrissey brought just the right amount of mystery, sexiness, and audience interaction. They can’t hate on someone who wants some privacy. And how can you hate someone who wants to save the animals? You can’t, so that is why I get barraged with lame arguments, insults, and jokes about my Morrissey love. But the joke is really on them—after all, if you have such passionate feelings (both negative and positive) about someone or something, then it is obviously affecting you more than you would like to admit.

Like him or not, Morrissey has an effect on pretty much everyone. 

But don’t think for a minute that I am a blind worshipper. I fully believe that the only true fans are real fans, and to be real, you have to remain truthful. I love me some Morrissey, but there are songs that I do not like. He has said stuff that I do not agree with. And there have been times when I just shake my head and roll my eyes. I have met other Morrissey fans who blindly love everything he does and have gotten belligerent if anyone says anything negative. I always point out that underneath all of the hair and satin shirts, he is a normal person like you and me. And then I out-asshole them and remind them that he is human and needs to be loved—just like everybody else does!

So now let’s talk about love. 

Why do I love Morrissey? I think the one thing I love the most about Morrissey is the “drama.” I love the mugging, the curling up in a fetal position on stage, the brooding, and the microphone cord whipping. I love the songs where he is mock crying, mock angry, or mock in love. I love the moaning and groaning and the yelping. I liken him to menopause: sometimes he gets you hot, sometimes he gets you depressed, and he changes your life forever.

I hear a lot of Morrissey fans speak about why they love Morrissey, and usually their #1 reason is “I can relate to him.”

Well, I guess that works for some people, but not for me. I am sorry, but I cannot (and could not) relate to Morrissey—I did not grow up in gloomy, dreary, working-class Manchester; I did not feel like an outsider; I am capable of loving someone other than myself; and I prefer cardigans to pullover sweaters. Yeah, we both buried ourselves in music and literature, but other than that, we really have nothing in common. After a long time thinking about what my deep-rooted reason is that I love Morrissey, it suddenly came to me.

I love Morrissey not because I can relate to him, but because he was there for me.

I have loved Morrissey literally for most of my adult life, and he has been the one solid constant thing throughout. Always there with a great album, always there to be judgmental of my meat consumption, and always there when I needed a laugh (or a well-deserved snicker). I knew that if I wanted to feel better or to tune out life, I could just turn on Morrissey.

Morrissey and the Smiths in general proved that you can really just be yourself when it came to music. Sure, they promoted the consumption of flowers during the early years, but other than that—no gimmicks, no bullshit. They brought a new and fresh sound to listeners and paved the way for indie bands to become indie bands. Morrissey also proved with his lyrics that no matter how tragic life was, you had to see the humor in it—because as Morrissey has proven for many people, humor is the only thing that can keep a person going in life.

Morrissey FAQ will look at and explain how a shy and quiet introvert became the hero to millions just like him. Because of the worldwide fan base, fans and information regarding Morrissey are widespread— Morrissey FAQ will provide a complete volume of everything a new fan or old vet needs to know about Morrissey.

I want you to think for a minute: Have you ever met people who have admitted that the Beatles saved their life? That Elvis Presley knew how they felt about getting bullied in high school? Not that the Beatles and Elvis aren’t just as important as Morrissey, but they’re just not as real as Morrissey. Real people have emotions and real people are very much human in nature, and that is why real people can relate to pretty much anyone. And Morrissey is very much real to a lot of people.

Other than the Beatles or Elvis Presley, I cannot think of anyone else but Morrissey who evokes such a crazed and passionate following. From the sweaty dudes who climb up onto the stage to hug him to the legions of fans lined up for his autograph, we are there for Morrissey because he has been there for us. And he represents us: the misunderstood loners, the sexually repressed, and the sardonic chubby people like myself. And although I could not relate to his life, Morrissey represented mine: all of my trials and tribulations, loves current and lost, and late nights lamenting about life.

I have said it once and I will say it again: “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” is the “Free Bird” of my generation. 

I have evened out my musical tastes again, liking a little bit of everything (except Zappa). I am at peace with my eccentric tastes—Black Flag sounds great next to Bell Biv DeVoe on a playlist, and I love to get into conversations with fellow music nerds about Duran Duran stealing everything from Japan (I am talking about you, Nick Rhodes!). Writing Morrissey FAQ was quite an adventure for me: I continued to work full time while writing in my spare time, I had two major surgeries, and I dealt with an abnormal number of ups and downs. But the one person who was there for me throughout it all was Morrissey.

My boyfriend was also there for me, but he doesn’t have the cool sideburns.


“Pro Wrestling FAQ” Trailer

Now available from Backbeat Books: Pro Wrestling FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Most Entertaining Spectacle

Sport? Entertainment? Art form? Perhaps a bit of all three, with a certain intangible extra something thrown in for good measure, making professional wrestling a truly unique entity unto itself. From its origins in carnivals and sideshow attractions of the 19th century, right up to the multimillion-dollar, multimedia industry of the present day, and all the bizarre, wild, and woolly points in between, Pro Wrestling FAQ delves into the entire history and broad scope of one of popular culture’s most enduring yet ever-changing spectacles.

With chapters devoted to the many fascinating eras in the history of the business, as well as capsule biographies of some its most memorable and important figures, this book will serve as the ultimate one-volume reference guide for both long-time wrestling nuts and initiates to the grappling phenomenon.

Revisit the legendary 1911 “Match of the Century” pitting World Champion Frank Gotch against archrival George Hackenschmidt, “the Russian Lion”; experience wrestling’s TV golden age in the 1950s, a time of such colorful personages as Gorgeous George and Antonino Rocca; relive the glory days of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, when WWF impresario Vince McMahon took the business mainstream; and get the lowdown on recent favorites, such as John Cena, CM Punk, and others who have taken the business boldly into the 21st century.


Happy Birthday, Angus Young!

Angus Young turns 60 today, and — not coincidentally — today is the official pub date of the latest addition to the Backbeat Books FAQ series: AC/DC FAQ by Susan Masino.  Here’s a tribute to Angus from Susan, who first met AC/DC nearly forty years ago and remains today the biggest fan of “the world’s true rock ‘n’ roll band!”

00120817AC/DC’s diminutive schoolboy guitar player, Angus Young, turns 60 years old today, a milestone birthday for anyone, but, as Angus proved to the world with his performance on the Grammys this year, in his case at least, 60 must be the new 40.

Blazing through the single, “Rock or Bust,” from their new album of the same name, AC/DC flawlessly segued into their classic hit, “Highway To Hell,” with everyone from Katy Perry and Paul McCartney to Blake Shelton and Lady Gaga singing along. Some sporting glowing devil horns, no less!

Joining his big brother Malcolm’s band over 41 years ago, Angus used to run home from class and take off for band rehearsal still dressed in his schoolboy outfit. After trying several wardrobe options in the seventies, the band settled on jeans and black t-shirts, but Angus kept his schoolboy uniform and, armed with his trusty Gibson SG, magically became a force to be reckoned with.

Recording a brand new album in the spring of this year, appearing live on the Grammys for the first time ever, and launching a European summer tour, AC/DC showsno signs of slowing down. When they hit the United Kingdom for the first time back in 1976, a journalist marveled at Angus’ unbridled ability to play his guitar, never missing a note, while in perpetual motion. The writer remarked that seeing the then 21-year-old Angus maintain that pace once he turned 25 would be something to see. What an understatement that was!

It brings to mind one of my all-time favorite Angus Young quotes. Asked back in 1990, after turning 35, if he was getting too old to rock and roll, Angus quickly shot back, “The name’s Young, always has been, always will be.” With that sentiment in mind, I’d like to wish Angus Young the happiest of birthdays, filled with high octane rock and roll. It’s the only kind of music AC/DC will ever play, which will continue to be celebrated by millions of fans for many more birthdays to come.

Listen: C. Eric Banister on Pop Culture Tonight with Patrick Phillips!

C. Eric Banister, author of Johnny Cash FAQ, talks with Patrick Phillips of “Pop Culture Tonight” about Johnny Cash’s musical legacy and Banister’s book.


00119344Johnny Cash remains one of the most recognizable artists in the world. Starting in 1956, he released an album every year until his death in 2003. In addition to these albums, there were also some posthumous releases in the years after his death. From rockabilly to country, folk to comedy, gospel to classical, the prolific Cash touched them all. His hit singles crossed over from country to pop, as he transcended genres and became a superstar around the globe.

Cash skyrocketed from the beginning, flying through the ’60s until he was one of the country’s biggest stars by the end of the decade. Following his own muse through the ’70s, Cash slowly faded commercially until he nearly disappeared in the ’80s. Instead of giving up, he made an incredible late-career run in the ’90s that took him into the new millennium, along the way collaborating with various contemporary rock and pop artists.

His offstage problems often overshadowed the music, and his addiction often takes center stage in the story, pushing the music off the page. But Johnny Cash FAQ celebrates the musical genius of Cash and takes a look at every album Cash released, the stories behind the hits, and how he sustained a fantastic nearly 50-year career.


Dale Sherman: KISS Update

00122479With the upcoming release of Dale Sherman’s latest FAQ book (Coming in March!), Quentin Tarantino FAQ, Dale is celebrating by going back to his previous books in the series to pull up some new details for readers! This week, he has provided additional information on KISS!

In KISS FAQ I cover the making and ramifications of the notorious television movie, KISS Meets the Phantom of the ParkThe chapter of the book certainly held no surprises to readers in the acknowledgement that the movie contains wooden acting, a bizarre musical soundtrack (namely in the televised version; not as much in the later theatrical one), bad special effects, and a clunky script, but one myth that was put to rest was of KISS Meets the Phantom being one of the highest rated television programs of 1978. NBC certainly wished that had been the case, as they pre-empted a showing of their popular cop series, CHiPs for the movie in hopes of gaining a good chunk of young viewers.

It was a gamble that NBC needed, as they were floundering; the network had only two 00333153programs with ratings high enough to place in the top twenty-five programs of the 1978-1979 television season: the family-oriented drama about frontier life, Little House on the Prairie, and the police series CHiPs. Even so, a gamble on using the CHiPs timeslot earlier that October for a two-part showing of Rescue from Gilligan’s Island had earned a 40 share for NBC, making Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park in the same time the last Saturday of October a seemingly good risk.

However, when the ratings came out, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park was nowhere near the Number One slot. It wasn’t even in the top 25 for the week. It finished at #45, leading to Variety , to proclaim “NBC had its worst Saturday of the year,” with the KISS movie being the reason. Its failure in drawing interest as a television movie was only the starting point of concern for those connected to the film, as it was about to be released as this type of filmic albatross in theaters overseas. But that story and other details about the movie can be found in the pages of KISS FAQ.

Check out the rest here! Interview with Peter Aaron

In a recent interview, spoke with Peter Aaron about the multi-faceted nature of musician as an artist: You also wrote a book about Ramones? I grew up in Forest Hills where Ramones started out and I could tell you I understand the angst and ferociousness of their music to the core. Why did you decide to embark on this project?

I did. Sort of. It’s more of a book about stuff that relates to the Ramones. It’s called If You Like the Ramones… and IYLramonesCoverwas published last year by Backbeat Books as part of the If You Like series. I was in negotiations about doing a book for the series—originally I was going to do If You Like Frank Sinatra…, but Backbeat ran into legal problems with the Sinatra estate and took that project off the table—and the idea of a Ramones book came up, so I jumped on it. In keeping with the IYL concept, the aim is to steer new fans toward the artists and other entities (certain movies, cartoons, comic books, TV shows, etc.) that influenced the Ramones, were influenced by the Ramones, or are connected with the Ramones in some way. Obviously it mostly targets neophytes, but I did try to cover some stuff that even long-time fans might not know about. How important is it for a musician to get out of the music world and focus his energies elsewhere? Is it for sanity’s sake or mere detachment?

Very. The music world is like the Island of Misfit Toys. It’s a sanctuary for musician-freaks like me, who was never going to fit into the general population. And yet the music world, especially the underground music scene, is a bubble, an alternate reality that we’ve created to escape the insanity of mainstream society. I don’t at all advocate joining the masses, but I do believe it’s healthy to keep things in perspective by venturing outside your comfort zone and challenging yourself at least once in a while. I can’t help but think of all the interesting music, art, ideas, and people I would have missed had I remained stuck in the same New York rock scene I inhabited in the 1990s—which, from what I can tell, continues to be a largely tail-swallowing environment. Not only does trying new things make you grow as a person, but as a musician it makes what you do richer and more interesting. Are there any other arts you are dabbling with? Any more books on the horizon?

FAQ_LOGOwebRight now I’m working another book for Backbeat, The Band FAQ. It’s for their FAQ series, which is more in-depth than the recently discontinued If You Like series. So this one will cover everything connected with the Band and dig more deeply into topics connected with them—the music that influenced the Band and has been influenced by them, but also their history collectively and as individual members; examinations of each of their albums; their time as Ronnie Hawkins’s band, the Hawks; outside figures associated with the group; The Basement Tapes and their years with Bob Dylan; solo albums; their contemporaries and collaborators; their best and worst music; the Toronto and Woodstock scenes they were part of; books; movies; etc., etc. Since I’ve lived in the area that gave birth to Music from Big Pink and The Basement Tapes for over a decade, have covered the local music scene for both the main area newspaper and the arts magazine Chronogram (of which I’ve been the music editor since 2006), and even got to interview Levon Helm, I’m kind of sitting right in the bullseye for this one. I’m also planning an illustrated anthology of the many profiles of Hudson Valley musicians I’ve written over the years, which includes everyone from the Bad Brains to Pete Seeger, Sonny Rollins, Graham Parker, Pauline Oliveros, and others. And of course I’d like to write a memoir, which in addition to my time in the Chrome Cranks and the ’90s Lower East Side scene would cover my participation at the start of the East Coast hardcore scene, my years in the 1980s Boston and Midwest scenes—I was a promoter when I lived in Ohio and booked most of the touring underground bands of the day (Nirvana, Flaming Lips, Pussy Galore, etc.)—and perhaps some of the Hudson Valley stuff.

Check out the rest of the interview with Peter Aaron here: