The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones:
Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry
Text by Jim deRogatis and Greg Kot
2010, Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, MN
Reviewed by Kent Manthie
Well Voyageur Press has done it again…This time the Minneapolis-based publishers of such memorable “coffee-table” books, such as the history-in-pictures-and-text of The Velvet Underground: A 30 Year Biography and a book on the life and the many phases and times of Neil Young in Long May You Run (both reviewed by myself in previous dispatches for Reviewer), have just published The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry, veteran rock critics Jim deRogatis and Greg Kot.
These two writers at one time were the Siskel and Ebert of music criticism – that is, just as Siskel and Ebert were both film critics for competing newspapers – Ebert wrote for the Sun-Times, while Siskel penned his paean to those escapist movies that Joe Blue Collar would enjoy as much as Mary West End, for the staid Chicago Tribune. Well, those are, coincidentally, the same two newspapers that DeRogatis and Kot wrote (write?) for – Jim wrote for the Sun-Times while Kot wrote for the Tribune. I don’t know all that much about Greg Kot, I’m afraid, but I am quite familiar with DeRogatis’s name, having seen his byline appear in such magazines as SPIN and Esquire, but his days as a deadline-given rock critic are in his past. But I can tell you that Greg Kot has written some books, including Wilco: Learning How to Die and Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. He’s also contributed to numerous articles and magazines. He also coaches youth basketball and has authored a book on the subject.
As far as Jim DeRogatis goes, since his gig at the Sun-Times he has written several biographies of luminaries in the rock loop, including bios of Lester Bangs, one on The Flaming Lips and a history of 4 decades of psychedelic music. He is also a full-time member of the English Department at Columbia College, Chicago.
In this book, the two focus in on one particular subject in each chapter and, while the book is filled with tons and tons of vivid photographs: concert posters, close-up snapshots, band promo pix and the odd candid shot here and there, they still have plenty of room to discuss, deconstruct and debate the finer points of the different aspects of the comparisons. On a few things they agree, in fact, they seem to agree on a lot of the “big picture” things, but when it comes to minutiae, trivialities and “perceived wisdom”, that’s when it gets interesting and you get to read each writer’s take on his perspective of what this or that album or song meant, or they’ll debate the importance of so-and-so to this or that. The great thing about this back-and-forth is that it isn’t merely two die-hard fans arguing about which one has the better band as an icon, but rather an in-depth deconstruction of many myths and frank discussions about how important this or that really was and then you get both Jim and Greg’s take on a given person or subject and then the other one will chime in to disagree and give his take on the thing at hand. So, it isn’t just a pissing contest, one actually comes away having learned a thing or two as well as being filled with the opinions of two rock critics who are also big fans. The varying opinions aren’t at all contradictory or confusing and they don’t lend themselves to clueless ones that would use their opinions and morph them into their own, no, the ideas expressed helps the average fan of either or both bands clarify for him or herself why it is they’re fans in the first place. I know for myself, that it evoked opinions of my own, stoked the fires of passion for my music and so, I didn’t come out of the book thinking that either Jim or Greg had “won” the argument – no, the winner is YOU – the reader, for it helps you to re-formulate your own opinions regarding the two bands that have, long ago, slipped into that mystical realm of legend and mythology.
There are also reams and reams of great photographs – both B & W shots from way, way back as well as vivid color shots of the steady metamorphosis of both bands, a changeling factor that was even more pronounced, for obvious reasons, in the long, storied career of the “World’s Best Rock & Roll Band”, which is why I say that these two great writers in their own right – were asked to write the “text” for this book – because, as you’ll see when you get the book – it’s dominated by the ubiquity of the photographs – promo shots, concert photos, backstage candid pics as well as both bands frolicking at play, at a party or some function and often with sexy women and other luminaries.
The whole book is a whirligig of visual and cerebral delight that you will treasure and just to make sure you take good care of that book, it has one of those “flip” pictures in the middle of the cover – you know, the kind that shows one picture when you hold it one way and when you turn it sideways or whatever, depending on the light, a different picture altogether shows up; in this case there is one picture of the young, matching suits-era Beatles in a B & W promo shot on one “plane” and on the other “plane” there is a color promo shot of the stones, all messy-looking, with their longish hair and Keith Richards wearing the coolest pair of shades ever! So be kind to it and the book will give you a lifetime of enjoyment.