Monday, June 30, 2014

Shell Shocked - Howard Kaylan - It's A Turtle's Life

There's a lot to be saying for being the last guy standing. This theory is put paid by Howard Kaylan's incredibly entertaining memoir, Shell Shocked. It would appear that Turtles don't move fast, but they are in for the duration.

Jim Hendrix, John Lennon, Marc Bolan, Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, and many other friends and associates of Kaylan's may have left us too soon, but the voice of Happy Together is still here and going strong, and we are the beneficiaries. Shell Shocked joins autobiographical treatments by such classic rockers as guitar legend Dick Wagner, and Humble Pie's Jerry Shirley as books by names you might not know, but who all helped write the book we call the history of rock 'n' roll.

Sex? Drugs? Bad management? Hits? Tours? Ups? Downs? Oh yeah, they're all here, they are here in spades, and Kaylan may be matched by only Neil Young in making every page sound like a conversation with an old friend. The Turtles never made a fortune they couldn't have stolen, and Kaylan never listened to the voice in his mind and not his pants. Even when he's at his shittiest, and there is no question that there were plenty of occasions, Kaylan handles it straight forward, without apology, or any attempt to paint himself as an innocent. I've read books like Townshend's, and Rod Stewart's in which their assignations are made to sound like someone else's crimes, but Kaylan wears it like a man, and while you know he had it coming, he also had a great time, and who wouldn't? Can you tell me you wouldn't snort a rail off of Abe Lincoln's desk in Richard Nixon's White House? Sure you would - we all would. And Kaylan did.

If you think The Turtles were Kaylan's only noteworthy endeavor then you missed Flo & Eddie's incredible time with genius Frank Zappa (Just Another Band From LA by Frank & The Mothers may be the most entertaining live album in history, and there's no punch-ins and fixes as you'd find on every other '70s live package), or Kaylan and Mark Volman's many stints as radio personalities, or the fact that about half the time when you hear great background vocals on a classic rock station they were probably sung by the voices of The Turtles.

Of course, there is no great Turtles album, they were largely a singles band, and that means that between hits, it's often times hit, or miss financially in the 'live like there's no tomorrow sweepstakes.' Kaylan had to be bailed out more times than Robert Downey Jr, but he never complains, he most generally makes an entertaining story out of the whole mess, and again we the readers reap.

I would think that the story of The Turtles night in London with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix would make this book worth buying, but I'll leave the buying to you, and you can thank me later.

One interesting thing about the book is that you leave it without any real ideas about the life of Kaylan's musical life partner, Mark Volman. I've no real guess as to why this may be, but I just figure it'll be good fodder for the next volume of this life - the new millennium is given fairly short shrift, but you won't miss it as you enjoy this Kaylan's look back at the golden age of rock 'n' roll.

The Turtles are still out there doing it, and if you get the chance, go check them out, but if I were you, I'd buy this book first, and you'll enjoy the ride all the more. Shell Shocked is truly one of the best rock autobiographies you will ever read.