March 8, 2007

33 1/3 Series: The Stone Roses

I am in love with a pocket-sized novella. We don’t know yet where we’ll live but we are sure that we will be very happy together.

Several months back I received a copy of Alex Green’s contribution to The 33 1/3 Series, The Stone Roses. For those uninitiated into this fantastic little series, it is essentially the zenith of musical dorkitude: entire books that look song-by-song at a seminal album. I had not yet found spare time to crack open Green’s mini-tome on the messiahs from Manchester, but finally when I settled into my seat on the airplane to go to San Francisco (very close to a large neighbor in 12E who was seat-dancing to Arabic music, complete with hand motions) I pulled it out of my bag and settled in.

By the third paragraph, I was hooked — already laughing out loud at the flawless way that Green captures the everyday and crystallizes it into something fabulous. His ardor and undying passion for The Stone Roses and their 1989 self-titled debut album is evident in each chapter, on every page.

With his permission, here is the first few pages of introduction. And it only gets better from here, folks. This is an absolute must-read (even if you have no idea who The Stone Roses were or why they were important):

The Stone Roses, by Alex Green

“Sometimes I fantasize…”

When I was in seventh grade, my favorite conversations came at the bus stop. While my friends and I waited for the bus, which was driven by a drowsy-looking guy named Lenny who would only play Styx’s Paradise Theatre, we would energetically cover a range of topics: which girls were hot, what the best song was on Def Leppard’s Pyromania, or how Han Solo could still be alive after being submerged in such a deep and heartbreaking freeze for all that time.

But what we were best at were pop culture hypotheticals, wildly imagined scenarios whose possibilities were so intriguing that the next day we’d continue the conversation right where we left off without missing a beat, without even first saying hello. We’d wonder who would win if Bruce Lee fought Heavyweight champ Larry Holmes; what would happen if the shark from Jaws somehow got in the community swimming pool through the metal drain at the bottom of the deep end; how awesome it would be if Christie Brinkley was our babysitter; or if the rumor was true that Bon Scott was not dead at all, but bearded and sad and rotting away in a Mexican prison, and if it was, maybe we should head down there and do something about it.

The bus stop was like a bar but without any of the drinks, though conversations we had did prefigure the kind of drunken musings we would have years later as college students. Of course we knew our endless combinations of preposterous pop culture pairings and bizarre, almost supernatural wishes (“And then Jim Morrison would jump down from the sky right on stage with wings made of snakes and be like, ‘I was never dead’”) were never going to come true, but they were so inspired, so sublimely hallucinogenic, they made us glow with excitement because they felt like the newest and best ideas on the planet. And as outrageous and illogical as they were, they felt real enough to happen and that’s what made them so seductive.

But the fact was, Bruce Lee was dead, and even if he wasn’t, it was doubtful he’d come out of retirement and jump both sports and weight classes to fight Larry Holmes; the metal drain at the bottom of the pool was too small for even a baby barracuda to get in; my babysitter was Lisa Gates, a girl who didn’t even look to be in the same species as Christie Brinkley; and if Bon Scott really was in a Mexican prison, and five seventh graders from California somehow slipped under the parental radar and made their way down to Tijuana on a school day, what could they really do once they got there?

Reality, however, has not dampened my desire, even into my thirties, to think of the world in the same terms I did when I was a kid at the bus stop. But instead of dreaming up things that fancifully mutate reality, I have now become obsessed with reality itself, and what might have happened if it hadn’t gotten in the way. For example, if River Phoenix hadn’t died of a drug overdose; if the Smiths hadn’t broken up; or if Björn Berg hadn’t retired from tennis at twenty-six. Of course these are all great artists and athletes who left their marks with deep indentations on popular culture, but the mind just takes off when it thinks about what more they could have done: Phoenix was deepening as an actor and his body of work seemed to only scratch the surface of what he was really capable of; the Smiths’ last studio album Strangeways Here We Come was their most accessible yet; and Borg had eleven Grand Slam titles when he walked away from the sport, which at the time was only two shy of Roy Emerson’s record.

As for me, an ardent music addict with far too many arcane facts easily accessed by the right question and with a music collection so absurdly sizable I can listen to a different album every day for the next fifty-five years, for me what hurts most is the story of the Stone Roses [footnote 1: I’m still waiting for a party where the beautiful girl asks me the name of the drummer on Jazz Butcher Conspiracy’s Distressed Gentlefolk. I’ve rehearsed this so much that if I’m sure if it ever happens I’ll blow it and instead of saying, “Kevin Haskins,” I’ll say the name of the guy who played keyboards in Curiosity Killed The Cat.]

On the strength of their self-titled debut album, the Stone Roses should not only have ruled the world, they should still be ruling it. Shrugging off time and history and the constantly evolving musical curves of the pop universe, the Stone Roses’ harmonious blend of melodic six-string pop and psychedelic rock and roll still remains, after all these years, both fresh and vital. Whether it’s the slithering, narcissistic arrogance of “I Wanna Be Adored,” the soaring chorus of “She Bangs The Drums,” or the funky workout of “Elephant Stone,” The Stone Roses has more highlights than a David Beckham career retrospective. But more than that, it’s a cohesive album, an album not Frankensteined together with one hit single and an array of scraps disguised as songs, but an album whose seamlessly sequenced song cycle begins by devilishly taunting, “I don’t have to sell my soul / He’s already in me,” and then nervily ends with the self-obsessed and deliciously arrogant declaration, “I am the Resurrection and I am the Light.” True to the words of its bookends, the entire album is pompous and defiant, each song crackling with ambition and hunger.

The Stone Roses’ debut finds that lone, peerless groove occupied in temporary installments by precious few superstars, that groove where everything clicks and hums and snaps into place, and even the mistakes look good. In other words, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it big and it was here that the Stone Roses had it.


The entire chapter on “Elizabeth My Dear” is available in pdf here and Amazon has several pages from the first chapter (on “I Wanna Be Adored”) as well.

Elizabeth My Dear – The Stone Roses
I Wanna Be Adored – The Stone Roses

As usual, Largehearted Boy already has a fantastic playlist from the author here. For the love of all things holy and pure, BUY THIS BOOK. It’s heartening to see a love for music in such unadulterated form.


  • Dammit. I’d gone all through the life of that “33 1/3″ series without buying or feeling the need to buy a single one. Now, I need to, and not just because I’m insanely jealous of the guy who was lucky enough to write about the Roses. I’m also completely humbled by how damn good he is. Thanks, Heather.

    chris — March 8, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  • They made one for Celine Dion too. Eurgh!

    Paperslut — March 8, 2007 @ 4:14 pm

  • NO!
    Celine Dion?!


    heather — March 8, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

  • Thanks for the review. I just bought the book. There hasn’t been a day in the past few years that I haven’t listened to some Roses song. Blissful and perfect.

    Cygirl — March 8, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  • Yeah, the Celine Dion one is being written by Carl Wilson.

    Serious or not, I still think it’s hilarious and I’ll definitely read it.

    James — March 8, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

  • I’ve read the 33 1/3 books of “Let It Be” (the Replacements) and “Murmur,” both read while on vacation, and they were fantastic. I highly recommend those two, also.

    Jeff C. — March 8, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  • How did I have no idea that this series existed? I write and I listen to music all the time, and I’m continually frustrated by the fact that I can never find enough good writing about music.

    Too bad I missed their call for proposals by a month. I hope that’s an annual thing, because I’d love to get the chance to pitch a book about U2′s Achtung Baby.

    Maggie — March 12, 2007 @ 10:35 pm

  • The Stone Roses is the best debut album of all time. Even better than Celine Dion. Heather, I just found the blog thru Aquarium Drunkard and love it mate. Keep up the good work. A shame about Tony Wilson. More Roses please, luv Reni.

    Anonymous — August 16, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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