Book Review: David Hepworth – Uncommon People

  • Originally posted on December 21, 2018

The idea of the book is simple — one event, every year, between 1955 and 1995, which will help outline the age of the Rock star, from the outbreak of Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti, to the death of the ‘last rock star’, Kurt Cobain, in August 1994.

Of course, it features some of the most famous events of music history: 1980’s entry is about the murder of John Lennon, 1991’s about Freddie Mercury’s death; but unlike so many books covering events, it doesn’t lose track of the bigger picture. Indeed, Mercury’s death only occupies a couple of paragraphs- instead, this particular chapter focuses upon the acceptance of homosexuality from the 1960s onwards and the careful planning around and secrecy of his illness, from its diagnosis in 1987.

However, it also goes beyond the boundaries of what you would traditionally call rock- 1975 centres on Bob Marley, to show how even reggae was being impacted by rock in order to create a new sound and cater to a wider audience than had ever been available, while 1990 reflects on how the sexuality of Madonna’s live shows moved the boundaries of acceptance by a wider audience, something which rock had been challenging since the 1960s. But it does all this owing to the aims of the book: showing how rock found its USP, and how it struggled to maintain at the centre of music culture once it had been swallowed up.

Hepworth also charts the changing industry, from the origins of touring by bus in small-town America to open-air concerts; from the medium of radio to television; from cassettes to CDs. He provides an insight, littered with his own, occasional, personal tales, into how all of these changes provided challenges for rock bands to adapt to, and especially with its final chapter, explaining why he chose to end in 1995.

On a personal note, the book has done more for me than simply provide an anthology into rock music’s past. It has provided stories which I had never heard, and motivated me to listen to music I never knew, or had known and not appreciated. It has also provided a base for further expansion, and has even helped me to consider even trying to push into the music sector of journalism. But all of that is far in the future. What I say in the present is: read this book. You will learn a lot.

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