Corn Flakes with John Lennon and Other Tales from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life by Robert Hilburn

One November night, Robert Hilburn was hanging with John Lennon in a studio recording and the “atmosphere was so relaxed that John invited me to contribute to the album’s sound effects”. But “one thing troubled me during the all-night recording sessions: the way John would slip from time to time into an adjoining lounge. The first thing that came to mind was drugs, because I was so used to seeing musicians pass around bowls of cocaine with the casualness of M& Ms. John had had drug problems earlier in his life, and I feared he had relapsed—despite all his talk about feeling healthier than ever. Maybe the pressure of being back in the studio was greater than he was letting on. At one point, I happened into the lounge and saw John at the far end of the narrow room. He was reaching for something on a cabinet shelf, and my first instinct was to go back into the studio so I wouldn’t violate his privacy. But he spotted me and called me over, putting his finger up to his lips in a signal to be quiet. When I was next to him, he reached into the cabinet again and pulled out something wrapped in a towel. “Want some?” he asked. “Just don’t tell Mother,” [Mother was the nickname to Yoko Ono] he said with a conspiratorial look. “She doesn’t want me doing this anymore.” As he opened the towel, I had to laugh. John Lennon’s private stash turned out to be a giant-size Hershey bar”. 

This kind of stories appear in this marvelous book, a book written for a witness of the golden age of the Rock ‘n’ Roll, but also written for a critical observer of the music. Robert Hilburn was pop music critic and pop music editor of the Los Angeles Times from 1970 through 2005, and is now writing books. Currently is working in Paul Simon biography. 

This book is about his own autobiography, is also about the Rock stars, and speaks about the state currently of the Rock, and give some insights of the future of the music. 

In the Introduction of the book, Bono says about Robert Hilburn: “He is the silent man on the other side of the “wall of sound”.” But in this book says everything about the rock stars: John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Prince, Janis Joplin, Bono, Creedence Clearwater Revival, PJ Harvey, the memory when he met Elvis Presley, the Johnny Cash gig in Folsom Prison, and a huge etcetera. For the fans of these artist will be a pleasure discover how was the musicians as a persons: some of them with scares, fragility, doubts, excess.

But also speaks about the work of the music critic, about the doubts of the critic (how can be objective when he hang with the artists he criticize), being totally honest when he says that sometimes he thought in some artists can change the music and finally not, and how sometimes the honest critic generated in their music artist angry. Also, he speaks about how difficult can be to obtain an interview (as for example with Bob Dylan) or talk with an artist (for example with Janis Joplin).

There are certain pessimism of the future of the Rock in his book and we think is totally correct his appreciation: the rock is not the same after the rap born (this is cause the rap occupied the site that has the rock in the imaginary between the young people). Also, he say: “the music scene appeared increasingly fragile in the second half of the decade. Not only was rock ’n’ roll continuing to drift, but the music business itself was on life support”. 

He left us an interesting question that the musicians/bands/music critics have to think about: the rock’s golden age is ending? In his own words: “I wondered again about whether rock’s golden age was ending. If it was in danger, it wouldn’t be critics, musicians, record companies, or radio stations that would save it”. 

Finally, this is an interesting book for all the people who love not only the music, but also what happens behind, by the hand of one of the most notorious music critics nowadays. 


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