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Book Review: All Pens Blazing: A Rock And Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook Volumes I & II by Neil Daniels

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“Rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, in order to provide articles for people who can’t read,” Frank Zappa once said. Dawn Anderson, who edited a Seattle rock rag called Backlash in the late eighties had a different take: “Musicians are just frustrated rock critics,” she claimed. Judging from the number of future rock heroes who attended our monthly Schmidt beer-fests disguised as staff meetings, I have a sneaking suspicion that Dawn was right.

Author Neil Daniels would readily agree. His All Pens Blazing: A Rock & Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook may be the ultimate exercise in journalistic narcissism. With APB, the artists themselves are completely cut out of the picture. Both volumes concentrate on the most important ingredient of all, the writer.

Accordingly, Daniels has compiled dozens of interviews with rock journalists, who discuss their craft ad infinitum. Two books featuring a critic talking to other critics about criticism probably sounds like the pinnacle of self-absorption to most people. Frankly, I wish Zappa were hear to see it, just to hear his righteous indignation. Me? I’m still waiting for the call to put my two cents in.

In the initial edition, Daniels spoke to 65 heavy metal writers including Malcolm Dome and Greg Prato. The always quotable Everett True even makes an appearance. In the first volume, the author concentrated more on metal than rock – although True’s claim to fame was his association with Seattle grunge. He has updated and expanded things considerably with Volume II

There are 70 interviews included in this one, and a foreword by Mick Wall. Like the first volume of All Pens Blazing, Mr. Daniels has primarily chosen English writers to speak to. Regardless of nationality however, all have similar stories and bits of advice to offer aspiring writers. First of all, each writer began as something of an obsessive music fan. All have a unique tale regarding their beginnings, and many have a series of fortuitous events and coincidences to thank for it.

One noticeable element of the subjects of All Pens Blazing is that fact that the vast majority are white males. This is a reality that simply exists – for whatever reason. I would be the last person to infer that the “glamorous” world of the underpaid (often unpaid) gig is populated by sexist and racist boors. I actually think nerdy white guys like myself are the only ones foolish enough to do it.

Every year there is a new crop of aspirants however, and with the advent of the blogosphere the opportunities to wax rhapsodic about one’s favorite band have increased exponentially. With both volumes of All Pens Blazing, there is at least a road-map to show how it has been done in the past.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Ah yes, another book about rock critics, complied by a rock critic, directed towards…who else?…aspirant rock critics.

    Just what the world needs, right? The best advice I could offer here…barring how to actually make any money at it (hint: probably not gonna’ happen)…would be don’t bother, and get yourself a real job early enough in life to avoid the inevitable, miserable poverty that comes later.

    I’m sure Dawn will appreciate the Backlash mention though, and next time I talk to her I’ll remind her to send your check (or was that a six-pack?).

    Nice work though, Greg.


  • 80smetalman

    I have recently written a book about heavy metal in the 80s called “Rock And Roll Children.” I would love to have some of the rock critics review it.