Better to Burn Out: The Cult of Death in Rock N Roll

Dave Thompson, Author Thunder's Mouth Press $17.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-56025-190-3
Untimely deaths have been a part of rock 'n' roll mythology ever since a chartered plane carrying Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper went down in an Iowa field in 1959. Thompson, a contributor to Rolling Stone and other magazines, offers a necrology of 60-odd more musicians who've met early demises. Giving short shrift to icons such as Kurt Cobain and John Lennon, he concentrates on lesser-knowns such as '60s Britpop star Ronnie Lane and punk guitarist Howard Pickup, moving from one artist to another without much regard for transitions. A typical chapter links Red Hot Chili Pepper Hillel Slovak, who died from a heroin overdose, to Kiss's Eric Carr, who succumbed to cancer, and Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury, who perished from AIDS. Whereas rock critic Greil Marcus, in his classic essay ""Rock Death in the 1970s: A Sweepstakes,"" chided rock star excess and our fascination with it, Thompson rarely pauses to contemplate such questions, making only two implicit, and bland, arguments: first, that as glorious as the history of rock 'n' roll has been, several twists of fate might have made it even better; and second, that death is as likely to strike a disciplined star as it is a dissipated one. While this grim compendium, which includes a calendar of days on which stars have died, offers shock-value titillation to fans of the artists it chronicles, it's likely to hold little interest for anyone else. B&w photos. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
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