Thursday, September 17, 2009

And Now, a Brief Commercial Message

A Review of Rock & Roll by "Cousin Brucie" Morrow

First, a confession: I love "Cousin Brucie." Growing up in Brooklyn and Long Island during the late 1960's and 1970's, the voice of Bruce Morrow on the radio provided a constant narration to my own "wonder years." How can I describe his voice in words? It was deep, it vibrated and if he got excited about a tune, you got worked up too. When Bruce called you "cousin," he lowered his voice and, in those moments, it really felt as if he were talking to you.

But don't think it was all a show. Bruce Morrow was deeply influential. Elvis credited Bruce for playing a large part in his success. From the stage, "Cousin Brucie" introduced The Beatles to the squealing crowd before their second Shea Stadium show in 1966. My trusty box of 45's is infused by his powers of persuasion. From The Doors to The 1910 Fruitgum Co. to Herb Alpert, the mark of Morrow is omnipresent.

Rock & Roll, the new book by "Cousin Brucie," is a panoramic overview of the culture Bruce Morrow helped shape. Music, movies, pop culture - it's all here. This is the type of book coffee tables were created for. Lots of great pictures, short and entertaining blurbs, it's a book to keep within reach if you're in need of a quick smile. If you don't have a coffee table, get one.

As someone who never gave up on vinyl, and happily received the collections of those who felt records were outdated, I particularly like the use of album covers and 45's throughout the book. You can almost feel the crisp paper of the sleeve enclosing Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day." There are lots of action shots, many which I've never seen before, which is saying something. Check out Chuck Berry on page 53, doing a split in front of a crazed crowd of teenyboppers. "Here come ol' flattop!"

A book like Rock & Roll makes you realize how quickly things changed. A very square and sedate Neil Sedaka on the sheet music of "Little Devil" is followed by a shot of Marvin Gaye, looking tormented as he belts out a song. Granted, the Gaye picture is out of place chronologically (from the 1970's, not the early 1960's), but you get the point. Plastic music gave way to soul. The Beatles follow Roy Orbison and, though greatly influenced by Roy, they are a physical leap from the bespectacled crooner. The times they are a-changin' indeed.

And there was "Cousin Brucie" lording over all of this cultural transformation. You forget, particularly in this 40th anniversary year of Woodstock, what pop music encompassed. It's nice to think it was all revolutionary, ground breaking stuff. It wasn't. As an AM deejay, Bruce was as likely to play The Rolling Stones as to play Paul Revere and The Raiders. For every groundbreaking song that changed rock and roll, there was the manufactured product of a band like The Cowsills. Only Bruce could give that grand overview. After all, he was there.

I do have some quibbles with the book - out of order photos, nods to bands that Brucie would never have come close to, like The Stooges (I sincerely doubt "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was ever played on either WABC or WNBC) - but those are small potatoes. It's a fun time, filled with wonderful memories. Any book that pairs Batman with The Yardbirds, or has a pic of Bobby Darin belting out a song with George Burns, has a place in my universe.

One more story. When my wife and I went on our first date way back in January of 1986, we went to a New York Knicks basketball game. It was the beginning of a great date, and who should be on the radio when we got back to the car? "Cousin Brucie," of course. He's that big a part of my life. He should be part of yours, and Rock & Roll is a great place to get started.

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