Flying Saucers Rock’n’roll: Conversations with Unjustly Obscure Rock’n’Soul...: Edited by Jake Austin, 284 pgs. By Todd Taylor

Jul 21, 2011

Ever think you’ve been separated at birth? That a sibling in a different town with different access and a slightly different, deep record collection is living in tandem with you? That’s how I feel about Roctober and Razorcake.

Our foci are a bit different. Roctober covers a vast spectrum of music and really shines when covering legitimate, overlooked, relevant, long-time musicians who never got their full due. Their interviews are immaculately researched, there’s palpable compassion and interest in the subject, there’s a great flow and dialogue, and they go out of their way to put a complete story arc on an entertainer’s body of work. It’s a “novel-length” approach to covering music in an era where we’re constantly reminded that people’s attention spans rarely last longer than a mouse click or one swipe of the scroll wheel.

Roctober is, also, very proudly, a print zine that is surviving when so many have died, in part because it never selected what to cover based on who’s advertising, publicists’ prompts for coverage, or a subject’s popularity. It’s a zine for and by people who are fans of the zine, who trust that Roctober will treat them right. That’s when it struck me. Roctober is the paper and pulp analog to the musical entertainers they cover. It’s a zine that would be lauded much more heavily in a different time and under different circumstances, but its existence now makes it all the more powerful because it’s still continuing to create against such tremendous odds.

This book is a collection of ten interviews and articles from Roctober’s span, from its beginnings in 1992 to the present. All ten interviews did their job. By the end of each, I wanted to check out the interviewee’s music and I felt like I had an unprecedented, candid glimpse into their lives, both as musicians and as people. While the genres covered—country (David Allan Coe), soul (Sugar Pie DeSanto), garage (Sam the Sham), alien (Zolar X), gay disco (The Fast, as Man 2 Man), Armenian pop (Guy Chookoorian), and good, ol’ rock’n’roll (Billy Lee Riley, The Good Rats)—may seem too hodge podgey, Roctober has a secret epoxy resin. First, it fully understands that music genres are extremely flexible; they’re fine starting points to bend into the warm water of meaningful conversation. Second, Roctober’s dedicated staff pulls the humanity out of each of the interviewees and lets them talk without judgment, malice, or irony. Even when uncomfortable and thorny subjects are brought up—sexism, racism, wife beating—the insights unearthed are thought-provoking. Humans making music are often a messy, flawed bunch and there’s some awesome shit tackled in those grey areas.

Maybe I’m old fashioned and speaking inside a tomb to other mummies, but shouldn’t the best of music zines (and their book collections) do their damndest to turn the reader onto new music—even if it’s old—and keep re-stoking the fires back to the first time you heard music that really moved you?

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom by the man Sam The Sham, a nice coda to live by: “Be yourself and you’ll never be by yourself.”

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