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Corn Flakes with John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock 'n' Roll Life

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Robert Hilburn's storied career as a rock critic has allowed him a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of some of the most iconic figures of our time. He was the only music critic to visit Folsom Prison with Johnny Cash. He met John Lennon during his lost weekend period in Los Angeles and they became friends. Bob Dylan granted him his only interviews during his "born-again Robert Hilburn's storied career as a rock critic has allowed him a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of some of the most iconic figures of our time. He was the only music critic to visit Folsom Prison with Johnny Cash. He met John Lennon during his lost weekend period in Los Angeles and they became friends. Bob Dylan granted him his only interviews during his "born-again" period and the occasion of his 50th birthday. Michael Jackson invited Hilburn to watch cartoons with him in his bedroom. When Springsteen took to playing only old hits, Hilburn scolded him for turning his legendary concerts into oldies revues, and Springsteen changed his set list. In this totally unique account of the symbiotic relationship between critic and musical artist, Hilburn reflects on the ways in which he has changed and been changed by the subjects he's covered; Bono weighs in with an introduction about how Hilburn's criticism influenced and altered his own development as a musician. Corn Flakes with John Lennon is more than about one man's adventures in rock and roll: It's the gripping and untold story of how popular music reshapes the way we think about the world and helps to define the modern American character.


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Robert Hilburn's storied career as a rock critic has allowed him a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of some of the most iconic figures of our time. He was the only music critic to visit Folsom Prison with Johnny Cash. He met John Lennon during his lost weekend period in Los Angeles and they became friends. Bob Dylan granted him his only interviews during his "born-again Robert Hilburn's storied career as a rock critic has allowed him a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of some of the most iconic figures of our time. He was the only music critic to visit Folsom Prison with Johnny Cash. He met John Lennon during his lost weekend period in Los Angeles and they became friends. Bob Dylan granted him his only interviews during his "born-again" period and the occasion of his 50th birthday. Michael Jackson invited Hilburn to watch cartoons with him in his bedroom. When Springsteen took to playing only old hits, Hilburn scolded him for turning his legendary concerts into oldies revues, and Springsteen changed his set list. In this totally unique account of the symbiotic relationship between critic and musical artist, Hilburn reflects on the ways in which he has changed and been changed by the subjects he's covered; Bono weighs in with an introduction about how Hilburn's criticism influenced and altered his own development as a musician. Corn Flakes with John Lennon is more than about one man's adventures in rock and roll: It's the gripping and untold story of how popular music reshapes the way we think about the world and helps to define the modern American character.

30 review for Corn Flakes with John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock 'n' Roll Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marvin

    This will be a hard book to be non-biased about. I first started reading Hilburn's columns in the Los Angeles Times in 1968 when I started going to college, coincidentally the very same university that Hilburn went to himself. It was the LA Times trinity of columnists; Hilburn, Jazz critic Leonard Feather, and classical music critic Martin Bernheimer, that taught me there was even a thing called music criticism. Hilburn continued writing during the golden age of rock music criticism and beyond u This will be a hard book to be non-biased about. I first started reading Hilburn's columns in the Los Angeles Times in 1968 when I started going to college, coincidentally the very same university that Hilburn went to himself. It was the LA Times trinity of columnists; Hilburn, Jazz critic Leonard Feather, and classical music critic Martin Bernheimer, that taught me there was even a thing called music criticism. Hilburn continued writing during the golden age of rock music criticism and beyond until he retired from the Times in 2005. When I did a little music writing of my own some mentors compared my style to Hilburn's, sometimes complimentary but sometimes not. I always took it as a compliment. While he didn't have the mad genius of Lester Bangs or the scholarly vision of Greil Marcus, he had something the others did not bring to pen and paper. He wrote for the everyman, the nine-to-fivers who needed the music to enrich their lives. Hilburn himself didn't smoke or drink and, around these superstars that lived in an insane world, brought enough sanity with him that these artists came across as real human beings. He may not have been the best of the music writers but he had empathy which served to show his readers the hearts behind the music. All of this comes out in his new book, Cornflakes with John Lennon. This book is a memoir of his experiences as a rock music writer and his relationship with some of the most important musicians of rock music; Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Kurt Cobain and others. As a memoir it does what the writer rarely did in his own columns. It gave us a look at the writer himself. Yet even here the bulk of this book is about rock music and rock artists. Hilburn brought out the best in his subjects whether it was a troubled Lennon, a vulnerable Janis Joplin, a insecure Michael Jackson, or an obsessively searching Bruce Springsteen. Hilborn wants us to see the thoughts and the person behind the songs and he does that better than any other writer of his time. Yet there are some issues with this book that troubles me. Hilburn spends way too much time with the superstars, especially Springsteen, but little about the less revered artists that changed the music yet didn't get a mass of fans. I know he paid a lot of attention to artists like P. J. Harvey, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Rickie Lee Jones but little is in this book. I suspect that may have been a publishing decision. Yet they also have tales to tell and I know Hilburn paid more attention to them than this book would let on. Also the writer could have a evil pen to those he called "the superficial artists who shouldn't be on stage in the first place because they have nothing to tell you". Yet he only shows examples of this briefly in about one page which does include an especially right-on assessment of Michael Bolton. Most bewildering is his exclusion of the rather notorious feud with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson that led to the musician writing a scathing song about the critic called "Only Solitaire." Yet, I assume Hilburn wanted his first book on his own writings and experiences in music to be positive and not focus on the negative. So I really wanted to give this book five stars, maybe even a bonus sixth star, for a lot of personal reasons. But I also realized that without my nostalgic baggage, this book is still a very strong four stars. Certainly if you want to know about the real musicians that made the music and not just the promotional hype, Hilburn will deliver.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Desiree Koh

    When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I didn't wear flannel shirts. I showered. I didn't cut myself. That's because I was a happy adolescent, and part of the reason why was because I hated grunge music. Grunge didn't speak to me. It growled, snarled, and grated my nerves. Instead of chasing Cobain, reveling in Reznor and channeling Corgan, I studied the rock & roll canon. I'd always preferred the melodious genius of Sun, Motown, Atlantic, Stax and Casablanca, and thought swiveling hips and punctua When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I didn't wear flannel shirts. I showered. I didn't cut myself. That's because I was a happy adolescent, and part of the reason why was because I hated grunge music. Grunge didn't speak to me. It growled, snarled, and grated my nerves. Instead of chasing Cobain, reveling in Reznor and channeling Corgan, I studied the rock & roll canon. I'd always preferred the melodious genius of Sun, Motown, Atlantic, Stax and Casablanca, and thought swiveling hips and punctuated pelvic thrusts were a much better visual assault against illogical conservatisms, rather than mopey heroin addicts. When I discovered Brian Wilson and his Beach Boys in my room, my love for music way before my time took on an obsession with as many layers as the Wall of Sound. I unwisely splurged my allowances on the recently-released "two-fer" re-issues of Beach Boys albums, wrote a biography of the band on an old typewriter, and declared "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" my anthem, although wouldn't it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn't have to wait so long? I felt like no one understood me; that is, no one in my generation. Nobody listened to the same music as I did. I couldn't exchange mix tapes in school because nobody wanted to listen to oldies. So as I read "Corn Flakes with John Lennon," I couldn't help but think: Bob Hilburn, where were you when I was growing up? I always hold rock writers and critics in very high regards - at least, those that I respect. Cameron Crowe, Greg Kot, Austin Scaggs (but not Rob Sheffield nor Jim DeRogatis) - I follow like a puppy dog. I had never read any Bob Hilburn, but I lap up rock & roll tales like Hank Williams and spilled whiskey, so buying this book was as natural as tapping your foot to "Jailhouse Rock". I expected godly, flowery, screaming-out-to-be-underlined prose from Hilburn. Not so - he writes well, but I'm not picking my heart up from the floor. Besides the intimate conversations and friendships with rock & roll iconography and his thoughtful, insightful perspectives - all of which are spot-on about his milieu - I'm not sure I'm learning anything more about being a rock music fan. But that's the allure - Hilburn isn't so much speaking to you as he IS you. He picks up all the scattered notes and clefs on the bar room floor, in your mind, and doesn't transpose them into a different octave as much as arranges them into a sweet symphony. He doesn't tell you how cool his life has been so you are jealous that he's eaten corn flakes with John Lennon in the middle of the night, had Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen change their set lists because of his feedback and helped Bono grow up. He shares these tales with you like your grandfather might about the war, humanizing these legends and giving them a quiet dignity far away from screaming fans so you can appreciate and enjoy them for the personalities they truly are. And Bob knew who they truly were and are. You know those late-night record listenings when you really should be in bed for school, your heart aching because music can be so beautiful? Imagine that emotion and aural pleasure between the hard covers of a book. That's this book. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is Hilburn's skill as a reporter. In narrating his memories and experiences as they were in a simple but careful selection of words, he reveals much more about what happened in dressing rooms, studios, hotel suites and A&R offices than maybe if you were there. It's writer's intuition and journalistic skill; in describing Elvis Presley's unease in the presence of Colonel Tom Parker, all Hilburn wrote was that Elvis starting using the word "sir" again. Hilburn addresses both albums and tracks he likes and dismisses in the same even, stoic tone, possibly one of the fairest critics I've ever read. He leaves it to you to make up your mind a lot, which is the greatest respect a writer can afford his reader, I think. I have to be honest - a big part of why I enjoyed this book so much is because I feel Bob. It was like hanging out with an imaginary friend that you could talk Bruce Springsteen with all day and night. Who wouldn't like that?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Blog on Books

    What a surprise. As many suspected, but couldn’t exactly put their finger on, Robert Hilburn was keeping a secret. A three decade secret. The secret, finally revealed in this ‘memoir’ of sorts, is that while we all thought he was the pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times, Hilburn was quietly on another mission. The search for the replacement Elvis. As the pop (or more aptly, rock) music critic of one of the nation’s largest daily broadsheets, Hilburn was charged with bringing the world of ro What a surprise. As many suspected, but couldn’t exactly put their finger on, Robert Hilburn was keeping a secret. A three decade secret. The secret, finally revealed in this ‘memoir’ of sorts, is that while we all thought he was the pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times, Hilburn was quietly on another mission. The search for the replacement Elvis. As the pop (or more aptly, rock) music critic of one of the nation’s largest daily broadsheets, Hilburn was charged with bringing the world of rock’n'roll to the doorsteps of his avid readers weekly and he developed a solid reputation for doing so within music circles. Over the years however, many readers began to notice the critic’s seeming obsession with a small cast of characters who garnered outsized coverage often at the expense of other so-called talents. The plurality of Hilburn’s coverage seemed to center around a handful of iconic figures (Springsteen, U2’s Bono, Prince) as well as a coterie of other performers that played to the critic’s early country leanings (John Fogerty, the Band’s Robbie Robertson, and even a true country act like Waylon Jennings). While the writer certainly covered other acts (LA’s “X” was a perennial favorite as was P.J. Harvey in his latter day writings), most acts escaped much of his purview presumably due to his judgment as to their lesser cultural importance. (In these pages, Clapton, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and The Clash collectively get less mentions than a single Springsteen album, ‘Nebraska,’ while Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd simply don’t exist.) In “Cornflakes with John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life,” we now have the answer, the reason, the motivation for it all. Simply put, Hilburn was searching, consciously or otherwise, for the successor to Elvis Presley; an act that left an indelible mark on the young critic that proved difficult, if not impossible to dismiss. Hilburn’s quest was to find and identify the next icon to capture the imagination of the mass rock audience. Not just good bands or those who made great records, but singular performers who could rise to take the leadership of an entire genre, much the way Elvis did until his demise. To Hilburn, it is all about the message, the grand statement and the commitment needed to carry it to the world. Along the way, the author shares stories – most rather candid and personal – from his Louisiana upbringing filled with country and blues to his time spent with his idols like John Lennon, Springsteen and even Michael Jackson. Through his unique access, we are given quite a window into many a superstar’s otherwise private moments; backstage with Yoko, coaxing reluctant interviewees like Springsteen and Dylan, and yes, even corn flakes with John Lennon. Beyond the wall of fame, Hilburn examines his own influence on star-making (Elton John’s U.S. debut at the Troubadour) or lack thereof (John Prine’s early work). Through it all, what comes across are two things. One, that Hilburn was keenly aware of zeroing in on the artist even over and above any singular piece of musical output, and, two, that much as his critics argued for years, the writer was, at times, perhaps indeed guilty of acting as a fanboy in ‘critic’s’ disguise. And while this may have given rise to some contempt during his years as a top metropolitan arbiter of taste, it certainly makes for a great (and appropriate) read when presented in a book of reportage that is both personally insightful and a fun behind-the-scenes ride through the three most powerful decades of rock and roll as only a person of Hilburn’s stature and access could deliver. Coming to paperback this October.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lauryl

    Okay, so actually, if I could get fussy, I would give this book 3 and a half stars. Overall, a very good little adventure through mainstream rock of the 70's/80's by Robert Hilburn, the rock critic for the Los Angeles Times. The book is solidly if not sparklingly written...no Lester Bangs-ian bursts of prosaic epiphanies here, but a lot of good rock journalism. Despite my dislike for the title of this book (BARF!), I especially enjoyed reading about Hilburn's warm relationships with John Lennon Okay, so actually, if I could get fussy, I would give this book 3 and a half stars. Overall, a very good little adventure through mainstream rock of the 70's/80's by Robert Hilburn, the rock critic for the Los Angeles Times. The book is solidly if not sparklingly written...no Lester Bangs-ian bursts of prosaic epiphanies here, but a lot of good rock journalism. Despite my dislike for the title of this book (BARF!), I especially enjoyed reading about Hilburn's warm relationships with John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Johnny Cash, and about his bizarre encounters with Michael Jackson. (I read this maybe a week or two before MJ died, and it all seemed of a piece, somehow. Weird coincidence, I guess, but the result was that I was not surprised at all by the news of his early passing, which almost seemed inevitable after reading RH's essay. You find yourself asking whether you can picture an 80-year-old Michael Jackson at all, and sadly, the answer is, "no".) Hilburn also writes about Bob Dylan in a way that doesn't quite make me want to shoot someone, which is rare. Hilburn saves the rhapsodizing for Bruce Springsteen, which, I'll admit, gets real old real fast. This is the only major flaw in the book. Hey, dude, I love Springsteen too, but it gets old. There are other musicians, and you only have so many chapters to go devoting half of them to the Workin' Man's Bard, okay? Even if he did write "I'm on Fire". Hilburn's experiences are all so interesting that are I really wish he had used all of those Boss chapters to touch on some other bands. Overall, Hilburn is a thoughtful rock fan and a genuinely interested interviewer. ou get the sense that, at least most of the time, he truly likes the people he meets, and has empathy for even the spikiest of interviewees. Bruce Springsteen-o-philia notwithstanding, I would say that one of Hilburn's great strengths is his ability to humanize rather than lionize his subjects, even when they're also his friends.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I came to read this book after reading Hilburn's incredible biography of Johnny Cash. Robert Hilburn's memoir of his years as a music writer for The Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone opens an intimate window into the lives and artistry of some of the 20th century's greatest musicians. Filled with up-close revelation upon revelation, Hilburn shares conversations and backstage interactions he had with John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, Johnny Cash, Chuck D, Ice I came to read this book after reading Hilburn's incredible biography of Johnny Cash. Robert Hilburn's memoir of his years as a music writer for The Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone opens an intimate window into the lives and artistry of some of the 20th century's greatest musicians. Filled with up-close revelation upon revelation, Hilburn shares conversations and backstage interactions he had with John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, Johnny Cash, Chuck D, Ice Cube, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Bono and so many more. In a book filled with many treasures for a music fan, the sections on Lennon and Dylan are particularly revealing and poignant for their candor. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    p.100 Bruce Springsteen “You write about what you know. You may not have the same expectations. You're not as open to options. You may have a wife and a kid and a job. It's all you can do to keep those things straight. You let the possibilities go. What happens to most people is when their first dreams get killed off, nothing ever takes their place. The important thing is to keep holding out for possibilities, even if no one ever makes it. There was a Norman Mailer article that said the one freedo p.100 Bruce Springsteen “You write about what you know. You may not have the same expectations. You're not as open to options. You may have a wife and a kid and a job. It's all you can do to keep those things straight. You let the possibilities go. What happens to most people is when their first dreams get killed off, nothing ever takes their place. The important thing is to keep holding out for possibilities, even if no one ever makes it. There was a Norman Mailer article that said the one freedom that people want most is the one they can't have: freedom from dread. That idea is something at the heart of the new album (The River).”

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sandi

    One of the better rock memoirs I have read. Hilburn, the former rock critic from the LA Times, has a very readable style and obviously was a great interviewer. All of the stories of the various artists in this book were very interesting and I hope that someday he does a follow-up since I am sure he has many other rock tales to tell.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Len or Len

    I really liked it- lots of stories about John Lennon, Springsteen, Dylan, U2 a d others that I hadn't heard before. I feel like Hilburn could have made this book a lot longer and I still would have devoured it. I really liked it- lots of stories about John Lennon, Springsteen, Dylan, U2 a d others that I hadn't heard before. I feel like Hilburn could have made this book a lot longer and I still would have devoured it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Wiley

    AuthorsOnTheWeb Internet Marketing/Publicity campaign for author Robert Hilburn.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Annie Carrott Smith

    For anyone interested in the minutiae of the rock world gods - this is the book to read! The former LA Times writer has a wealth of knowledge to share about his writings and relationships with John, Bob, Bruce & Bono to name some of his favorites. (there are many others...) He never shied away from telling it as he saw it. Recommended for all of us who love the music of our era!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Hilburn was able to form trusted relationships with the worlds greatest rock and roll artist. He writes humbly without focus on himself. He was able to express the feelings of the artist he interviewed. If you love music and the behind the scene lives of the musicians you will enjoy it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    If you care about rock and roll...read this. The most beautiful portrait of the genre I've read yet. By the end of the first chapter you'll love and trust the voice of Hilburn who leads you on a great story-telling journey through the most important figures in rock. If you care about rock and roll...read this. The most beautiful portrait of the genre I've read yet. By the end of the first chapter you'll love and trust the voice of Hilburn who leads you on a great story-telling journey through the most important figures in rock.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Astral Foxx

    This was such a fun ride. I loved learned about all of the artists Robert Hilburn met along his music journalist career and getting a glimpse into the more intimate lives of people like Johnny Cash and Bono. If you appreciate what we now call “classic rock”, I think you’ll enjoy this book :)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    This book was hard to put down! I enjoyed it so much. Deep, honest, compassionate glimpses of music icons without a trace of voyeurism or name-dropping.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Falduto

    L.A. Times music critic since the 1960s recounts his time spent with the greats, like John Lennon, Springsteen, and U2.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Glenn

    Lots of neat behind the scene stories about hanging out with rock stars.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lorna Dykstra

    An interesting behind-the-scenes look into the lives of some legendary musicians

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    A peek behind the curtain with several rock legends, as observed and experienced by a long-term music critic for the LA Times. Hilburn gives us bite-sized morsels and commentary on a large number of acts, but only gets up-close and personal with a select few: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and Bono. Johnny Cash gets a more-than-fleeting look, too, but deeper inspection on his career is saved for a later, more dedicated book. Hilburn's credentials are tough to doubt: he was there for A peek behind the curtain with several rock legends, as observed and experienced by a long-term music critic for the LA Times. Hilburn gives us bite-sized morsels and commentary on a large number of acts, but only gets up-close and personal with a select few: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and Bono. Johnny Cash gets a more-than-fleeting look, too, but deeper inspection on his career is saved for a later, more dedicated book. Hilburn's credentials are tough to doubt: he was there for the Folsom Prison concert, championed and advised U2 before Live Aid made them a household name, stayed with John and Yoko weeks before the ex-Beatle's death. His ability to penetrate a veneer and connect with the human behind the matinee idol is also above reproach. Insightful and interesting. I'd love to spend a week in his shoes.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lynne Perednia

    Back in the dawn of time, Modern Era, popular music wasn't even as interesting as it is now in this synthesized, American Idol age. Then along came musicians who knew rhythm and blues, who knew how important it was to be young, who knew there is nothing like a backbeat to get people to listen. Robert Hilburn was there when things really began to take off -- getting rebuffed by Colonel Parker in his attempts to meet Elvis, following Bob Dylan through his ups and downs over the decades, talking hi Back in the dawn of time, Modern Era, popular music wasn't even as interesting as it is now in this synthesized, American Idol age. Then along came musicians who knew rhythm and blues, who knew how important it was to be young, who knew there is nothing like a backbeat to get people to listen. Robert Hilburn was there when things really began to take off -- getting rebuffed by Colonel Parker in his attempts to meet Elvis, following Bob Dylan through his ups and downs over the decades, talking his editors into letting him go up to Folsom Prison to see a country singer named Johnny Cash perform. Stories of those times, up to the death of Michael Jackson, are included in this memoir by the longtime Los Angeles Times music critic. Whether it's early recognition of Elton John and being lauded as a starmaker, recognizing the talent of John Prine and watching the rest of the world ignore his albums or being an early advocate of Jack Whyte's talent, for decades Hilburn has been in search of the next big thing that will keep rock 'n roll alive. He's known them all and been close to many. The title comes from a time he was with Lennon on tour who was delighted to be eating corn flakes with cream on them. That was the height of luxury to the poor lad from Liverpool, even after the Beatles and the world's continued attention through his house husband days. Kurt Cobain used Hilburn to get a favorable report how he loved his daughter published while Social Services was investigating whether to take Frances Bean away from him and Courtney Love. Michael Jackson chose him to work on a book project that Jackie Onassis was editing, but was more interested in watching cartoons. Dylan finally opens up after years of taciturn behavior when he's playing for small audiences at small colleges. But his revelations about songwriting when Hilburn proposes a series about the subject are indeed revealing. Hilburn's astute interview skills bring out such observations as Bono's that rock music has something no other kind does -- it is a combination of rhythm, harmony and top-line melody to appeal to the body, the spirit and the mind. Hilburn concludes that the artists he most admires have something in common. They have idealism and commitment. They believe ideas and music matter. The reader can reach the same conclusion while tracing the careers of Cash, Dylan, Lennon, Springsteen, U2 and Jack White through the years Hilburn has known them, talked to them, listened to their music, questioned them and cared about them. Hilburn provides ample proof of how idealism expressed through music has inspired people. He is more reticent about his own life, with a few tidbits thrown in to provide some background to a particular idea or anecdote. But that's because like any good journalist, Hilburn knows it's the story that matters, not the reporter. Hilburn also knows to not stretch the story beyond its scope. He admits not knowing what's going to happen to rock in these days of corporate plastic singers with synthesized voices and celebrity celebrated over talent. But he also believes that genuine music will continue to move people. Rock on, Bob.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tommy

    This is a pretty remarkable collection of essays and stories from a music critic who has befriended Dylan, Cash, Springsteen, and U2 over the years. He's interviewed Janis, Elvis, Cobain, and Jack White. He enjoyed lunch with Stevie Wonder and shared Cornflakes and Hershey Bars with John Lennon. He takes us through his career by presenting the landmarks that interviews, encounters, and friendships with the royalty of rock allowed him. We learn how he earned the trust of guarded artists like Dyla This is a pretty remarkable collection of essays and stories from a music critic who has befriended Dylan, Cash, Springsteen, and U2 over the years. He's interviewed Janis, Elvis, Cobain, and Jack White. He enjoyed lunch with Stevie Wonder and shared Cornflakes and Hershey Bars with John Lennon. He takes us through his career by presenting the landmarks that interviews, encounters, and friendships with the royalty of rock allowed him. We learn how he earned the trust of guarded artists like Dylan, and why musicians such as George Harrison and Garth Brooks put him on their "no interview" list. He makes you feel like you really know guys like Kris, Waylon, and Willie. He invites us inside the music and the lives of these artists, and if he ever sounds like he's bragging, well…he may be, though for someone who intimately knew so many of the music industry's titans, he almost sounds modest about it. What he never appears to have done is cave in to egos. He would tell artists to their face why he felt a certain way about their songs, albums, or career. He hurt Michael Jackson's feelings (which apparently didn't take much) by praising Prince in front of him. Likewise, Hilburn had Prince so shaken up by a routine interview process, Prince cancelled all remaining interviews with journalists for that week and flew home to MN. It's a fascinating look at how close music journalists can get to their subjects, how much their writing means to their subjects, and how much trust an artist will provide a writer when they present themselves as knowledgable and earnest. This is a book well worth reading if you like any of the artists mentioned above, or just good music journalism.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Thebruce1314

    I wanted to give this book five stars. It did manage to keep my attention, and I felt that Hilburn treated his subjects with reverence and respect, keeping his promises not to divulge information that his subjects deemed forbidden. What I didn't much appreciate was the author's tendency to portray himself as kingmaker. With one exception, the reader gets the impression that Hilburn's reviews helped to catapult many musicians to legendary status and, through his influence, he was able to cultivat I wanted to give this book five stars. It did manage to keep my attention, and I felt that Hilburn treated his subjects with reverence and respect, keeping his promises not to divulge information that his subjects deemed forbidden. What I didn't much appreciate was the author's tendency to portray himself as kingmaker. With one exception, the reader gets the impression that Hilburn's reviews helped to catapult many musicians to legendary status and, through his influence, he was able to cultivate friendships and gain access where others couldn't tread. The book focuses mainly on Hilburn's big four: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and U2, with a couple of small forays into Nirvana/Johnny Cash/Michael Jackson territory. While he divulges some personal anecdotes, there is nothing shocking or particularly gossipy here, so kudos to the author for not cashing in on a trashy tell-all. Though I didn't always agree with Hilburn's views (he passes off Queen as shlock), it was an enjoyable book which gave me a little more insight into the people behind some of the rock personas. Worth a read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    This is a fascinating look at the evolution - and some might say subsequent devolution - of rock music. We begin with early Johnny Cash and John Lennon, and progress to the modern sound of Jack White. Hilburn shares stories of the personal time he spent with many of the artists he followed and interviewed. I found these pieces to be both compelling and entertaining. My one complaint is that Hilburn dedicates a lot of space throughout the book to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. While there is no This is a fascinating look at the evolution - and some might say subsequent devolution - of rock music. We begin with early Johnny Cash and John Lennon, and progress to the modern sound of Jack White. Hilburn shares stories of the personal time he spent with many of the artists he followed and interviewed. I found these pieces to be both compelling and entertaining. My one complaint is that Hilburn dedicates a lot of space throughout the book to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. While there is no doubt these two men were and are important to the rock scene, at times it felt as if I was reading a book on the life and times of these two artists alone. These pieces also took on the feel of a fan's enthusiasm, rather than a journalistic account. Of course, this is to be expected to some degree, and gives us insight into Hilburn's preferences and personal taste. But I do think other artists shrunk in comparison, maybe unnecessarily so. In all, this is a well-written, captivating look at some of the greatest contributors to rock music.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    An intimate and revealing memoir-style series of vignettes about Robert Hilburn's interactions with the great rock-n-roll artists of the last 50 years--Cash, Presley, Dylan, Lennon, Elton John, Springsteen, U2, Nirvana and White. With rock artists under increasing pressure from digital downloads and TV-borne pop singers like American Idols and Disney teens, Hilburn's book undoubtedly defines an era of music the likes of which may never be seen again. Hilburn's writing style is straightforward and An intimate and revealing memoir-style series of vignettes about Robert Hilburn's interactions with the great rock-n-roll artists of the last 50 years--Cash, Presley, Dylan, Lennon, Elton John, Springsteen, U2, Nirvana and White. With rock artists under increasing pressure from digital downloads and TV-borne pop singers like American Idols and Disney teens, Hilburn's book undoubtedly defines an era of music the likes of which may never be seen again. Hilburn's writing style is straightforward and might even be drab if he weren't discussing such fascinating music personalities; you will excuse the lack of literary achievement in exchange for the subject matter. There's also no mistaking which artists hold Hilburn's favor, and you might even wish that he explored other artists beyond the big names. There's limited mention of The Who and The Rolling Stones, nothing of Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. Still, Hilburn holds your attention. Perhaps he'll find reason to write another book with a wider scope.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Young

    Read this book for Hilburn's wonderful encounters with rock stars, and less for his writing - which is a surprisingly clunky and awkward. Hilburn is an unabashed old-school "rockist" critic -- he thinks authenticity is the best metric by which to judge music, and U2, Springsteen, and Dylan outrank all others for him on that front. He believes music needs "leaders" to inspire young people and tell profound truths. It's a charmingly dated 60's-ish reading of popular music. He's obsessive in trying Read this book for Hilburn's wonderful encounters with rock stars, and less for his writing - which is a surprisingly clunky and awkward. Hilburn is an unabashed old-school "rockist" critic -- he thinks authenticity is the best metric by which to judge music, and U2, Springsteen, and Dylan outrank all others for him on that front. He believes music needs "leaders" to inspire young people and tell profound truths. It's a charmingly dated 60's-ish reading of popular music. He's obsessive in trying to compare newer artists with his halcyon performers of yesteryear (Who will carry the torch left by Janis Joplin?!!). Still, it's a fun read. Hilburn is a smart, perceptive guy, and his chapter on Michael Jackson is a profoundly sad and revealing about how damaged Michael was. Hilburn came of age as a writer when rock critics still really mattered, and this is a great memento of that era. Recommended for rock fans of all stripes.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dom

    Hilburn spent decades reviewing pop, rock, and country artists for the LA Times, so a collection of his memories seems appropriate. There were sections of this book that were quite fascinating, primarily providing some behind-the-scenes anecdotes of superstars in the music biz. However, it seemed to constantly come back to a mere handful of artists time and again: Dylan (ugh, enough), Bono, Johnny Cash, and Springsteen were everywhere. I personally would have loved less of them and more of the o Hilburn spent decades reviewing pop, rock, and country artists for the LA Times, so a collection of his memories seems appropriate. There were sections of this book that were quite fascinating, primarily providing some behind-the-scenes anecdotes of superstars in the music biz. However, it seemed to constantly come back to a mere handful of artists time and again: Dylan (ugh, enough), Bono, Johnny Cash, and Springsteen were everywhere. I personally would have loved less of them and more of the other musicians who thrilled us over the years, but I'm guessing the publisher pressed him to focus on the giants. Too bad, I'm betting Hilburn has gobs of stories that would have been cool to read about.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt Comito

    Not a speed-fueled scatter-gun poet like Bangs, not a synthesizing visionary like Marcus but an enthusiast; relatively clear eyed if (only) occasionally sycophantic Hilburn speaks to the fan in all of us because he plainly is one himself. The book claims to be a memoir; is there such a thing as a vicarious memoir? Hilburn seems to live through the highs and lows of those he covers. Is this true? I suspect not, or at least not to the degree this implies. I suspect he's witholding, focusing on wha Not a speed-fueled scatter-gun poet like Bangs, not a synthesizing visionary like Marcus but an enthusiast; relatively clear eyed if (only) occasionally sycophantic Hilburn speaks to the fan in all of us because he plainly is one himself. The book claims to be a memoir; is there such a thing as a vicarious memoir? Hilburn seems to live through the highs and lows of those he covers. Is this true? I suspect not, or at least not to the degree this implies. I suspect he's witholding, focusing on what he thinks the reader may find fascinating, those moments he spent with his heroes and his famous friends.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    Liked this book for all the anecdotes - Hilburn really got to know the greats of rock 'n' roll, from Elvis and Johnny Cash all the way to Jack White. And I liked what he had to say about the communal experience of music and passion and inspiring hope and the importance of hearing music live. But I don't really think it had a clear theme - it was a collection of stories about different artists he met as he was writing his column. There wasn't a lot of analysis beyond what the individual artists c Liked this book for all the anecdotes - Hilburn really got to know the greats of rock 'n' roll, from Elvis and Johnny Cash all the way to Jack White. And I liked what he had to say about the communal experience of music and passion and inspiring hope and the importance of hearing music live. But I don't really think it had a clear theme - it was a collection of stories about different artists he met as he was writing his column. There wasn't a lot of analysis beyond what the individual artists contributed to music. I probably would have preferred that he focus on different artists rather than interspersing throughout.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Good intro to Hilburns writing. I picked it up as I am planning on reading his Cash biography and thought this would be a warm up. The Cash book was recommended to me by a number if folks and for a variety of reasons, I'm hoping it lives up to my expectations so thought this would help. Anyway. Provides a good number of insights to some of the more enigmatic artists of early r/r and shows his musical interests through more contemporary artists as well. A series of anecdotes more than anything? It Good intro to Hilburns writing. I picked it up as I am planning on reading his Cash biography and thought this would be a warm up. The Cash book was recommended to me by a number if folks and for a variety of reasons, I'm hoping it lives up to my expectations so thought this would help. Anyway. Provides a good number of insights to some of the more enigmatic artists of early r/r and shows his musical interests through more contemporary artists as well. A series of anecdotes more than anything? It does make me curious to see if he has more comprehensive pieces on some of the people he discusses - Joplin , mayfield, Costello (of whom I'm not a huge fan, but am now intrigued by) etc.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    There are a couple of times in the book where the author writes about one artist or another mentioning to him, "You really like Springsteen, don't you." It must be true, because Springsteen comes up so much in the book that I started to think it was about him. And I'm not really a fan. Actually, I'm not a great fan of many of the artists profiled in the book, yet I did enjoy reading about his interactions with them and his personal thoughts and impressions of them as regular people, not just fam There are a couple of times in the book where the author writes about one artist or another mentioning to him, "You really like Springsteen, don't you." It must be true, because Springsteen comes up so much in the book that I started to think it was about him. And I'm not really a fan. Actually, I'm not a great fan of many of the artists profiled in the book, yet I did enjoy reading about his interactions with them and his personal thoughts and impressions of them as regular people, not just famous ones. My favorite chapter was the one on Dylan's songwriting process. The author apparently did a series on the subject for the paper. Now, that's a book I'd really like to read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    Robert Hilburn writes about his life as a rock and roll writer and the stars he wrote about and in some instances became friends with. Lennon is a touchstone here, as are a couple of others who are sort of woven throughout, their spirits hanging over even pieces about Kurt Cobain for example, which is what makes this book special, the way he weaves them all together. My favorite story is one about Lennon, the one with JL hiding not drugs but chocolate from Yoko, since she wouldn't let him eat it Robert Hilburn writes about his life as a rock and roll writer and the stars he wrote about and in some instances became friends with. Lennon is a touchstone here, as are a couple of others who are sort of woven throughout, their spirits hanging over even pieces about Kurt Cobain for example, which is what makes this book special, the way he weaves them all together. My favorite story is one about Lennon, the one with JL hiding not drugs but chocolate from Yoko, since she wouldn't let him eat it. ;) (And how being a war baby, the way he ate his cornflakes...).

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