“Believe me, the records don’t even begin to capture the special magic of the Dolls on a good night playing in a prissy little club to their elite little crowd of mascara-daubed misfits and vagrant vamps. Misty glitzy memories of the way we were. So cute. So vital. So star-crossed,” Nick Kent writes about the New York Dolls in his selected writings on rock music gathered in The Dark Stuff. About the arrival of The Rolling Stones, Kent says that “they looked simply out of this world, like a new delinquent aristocracy, and they played music of stunning arrogance and unbridled potency,” while “upon falling out of St Mary’s into the outstretched arms of the dole queue in 1975, Steven Morrissey’s life appears to have revolved around the music of the New York Dolls and sixties girl singers, the crucial ‘symbolic’ importance of James Dean, and the continuing lure of the written word.”
The written word is something Kent is really good at, too, and he uses it to great effect to talk about rock, combined with a peering critical eye, an instinct for what is truly great, a devil-may-care attitude towards speaking his mind and a refusal to veneer stardom just for the sake of stardom or just because sometimes greatness comes at the cost of fame. These are intimate not glamorous, sincere not market-driven, stripped-down not sugar-coated portraits of some of the most influential musicians in rock history, be it truly gifted or simply rock stars, authentically dammed youths or legends who lived on to tell their own stories, all of them more or less self-destructive (from Brian Wilson, Brian Jones, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, to Keith Richards, Neil Young, Kurt Cobain and Axel Rose). And it all comes from a man who really knows his stuff as well as he really lived it right along with the ones he writes about. It encapsulates both riding on the highest creative crests and living on the edge of darkness (often at the same time) that come with making rock music and trying to live through it. Hell or high water.
Here are some of the best rock songs mentioned in “The Dark Stuff”.
“The Dark Stuff” is part of the Faber Social, released by Faber & Faber,
a selection of the best writings on music and culture.