current clips

Puppies, Rainbows, and Ken Burns:
Country Music, Smoothed Over
by Tim Riley
truthdig, September 2019

A very good friend of mine, now deceased, interviewed Buck Owens back in the 1990s as the Buckaroo promoted his box set. My friend pitched Owens his favorite softball: “Hank or Lefty?” Owens, without blinking, shot back: “Merle.” In Ken Burns’ new 16-hour PBS documentary, “Country Music,” Merle Haggard muses fondly about the early 1950s, when every jukebox posed that weighty question to all honky-tonkers: Hank or Lefty, savior or sinner, martyr or scoundrel? The music’s gentle surface barely concealed its emotional sting.

Hank, Lefty … or Merle? It’s the kind of messy argument you won’t see or hear in this ambitious yet unremarkable PBS history, nor from the 560-page book tie-in Burns co-authors with Dayton Duncan. The clever way Owens lands on “Merle” won’t make any more sense after you read this book…

No Success Like Failure
On Will Birch’s Nick Lowe biography
LA Review of Books, August 2019

WHEN I FIRST SAW Nick Lowe at a standing-room-only club in Boston in 1990, it felt as though every person in the room had once sold me a used record. Lowe was fronting his Cowboy Outfit, a tightly coiled ensemble that summoned ballast and menace as they worked through the songs on Pinker and Prouder Than Previous (1988), encoring with that album’s shaggy-dog closer, “Big Big Love.” My girlfriend and I soon had that title engraved into the inner band of our wedding rings…

Return of the Unrepressed
White Album and Imagine box
LA Review of Books, January 24, 2019

AS SPOTIFY and its streaming competitors plunge us into previously hidden oceans of music history, Simon Reynolds’s Retromania argument about the dangers of nostalgia might seem more pressing than ever. In his persuasive 2011 book, Reynolds held that recorded sound led to “a simultaneity of pop time that abolishes history while nibbling away at the present’s own sense of itself as an era with a distinct identity and feel.” We’re drowning in the past, Reynolds argues, and compelled to repeat this nostalgic impulse repeatedly, obsessively, unless we deliberately turn away from reruns and remakes. You can sense this most intensely around the holidays, when the dinosaurs — the Beatles, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Yardbirds — release their gaudy box sets. Alternate takes, remixes, leftovers, and demos have turned as seasonal as tinsel…

Listening Back: 50 Years Of The Beatles’ White Album
NPR On Point interview with
Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield, November 28, 2018

(AP Photo, File)

With Anthony Brooks, and guests

Tim Riley, associate professor of digital journalism at Emerson College. Author of “Lennon: The Man, The Myth, The Music” and “Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary.” He also edits the Riley Rock Index, a collection of music commentary and news sources. (@triley60)

Rob Sheffield, writer at Rolling Stone. He recently listened to the ‘The Beatles (White Album) Super Deluxe’ at Abbey Road Studios with producer Giles Martin. Author of “Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World.” (@robsheff)

BlackLivesMatter and the Untold Story of Altamont
Truthdig, September 2018


In that great ballooning myth of the ’60s, Altamont ranks right up there with the anti-war demonstrations at Chicago’s Democratic Convention (1968), the Manson family murders (1969), and the National Guard killings at Kent State (1970). But since the story has ripened into its own conundrum, both as history and cliché, prophecy and sinkhole.the Maysles brothers’ 1970 documentary, “Gimme Shelter,” the story of that concert has emerged as its own conundrum, both as history and cliche, prophecy and sinkhole...

Dylanizing Tin Pan Alley
Los Angeles Review of Books, June 2018


…Struggling to explain the travesty of Dylan wearing a sequined jacket on Street Legal’s back cover in his 1978 Rolling Stone review, Dave Marsh remarked how this abomination only made sense if you understood how badly “Dylan has always wanted to be Elvis Presley.” If tilting his Midwestern Jewish cowboy persona toward Vegas gave pause, Marsh implied, blame it on Elvis and shoot out your TV set. Presley himself always wanted to be Dean Martin (“As Long As I Have You”) at least as much as Marvin Gaye wanted to be Nat King Cole (“It’s Only A Paper Moon”), which proves how far out of touch rock heroes can be with their own strengths…

Joe Hagan: Sticky Fingers
A Life of Jann Wenner
Truthdig, December 2017

…Hagan’s text resembles those Albert Goldman doorstops on Elvis Presley and John Lennon, where facts rob attention from a larger truth. Magazine editors piss off a lot of people, and Wenner takes pride in how he aimed his lifestyle straight toward the Kennedy cocktail circuit (Hagan suggests Wenner actually put the moves on a teenage Caroline, who calls him “the Jimmy Buffett of winter.”) Those contradictions can provoke a writer deeper into their subject; instead Hagan churns a conveyor belt of petty duplicities. Even if most of it turns out to be true, it doesn’t shed any light on the culture or its values, any more than plastering David Cassidy bare-chested on a magazine cover improves his music…

Brian Wilson with Ben Greenman:
I Am Brian Wilson

truthdig, March 2017

Guralnick: Sam Phillips,
the man who invented rock’n’roll

truthdig, March 2016

Tune In by Mark Lewisohn
New York Times Book Review, December 2013


Approaches to retelling the Beatles’ story slice in two distinct directions: narrow or wide. Some authors choose a single figure and bore down deep, which has brought the count of Paul McCartney life stories to at least 10, with more in the pipeline. Others frame the narrative from more expansive angles, weaving in the era’s social texture, politics and cultural context (see Devin McKinney’s shrewd “Magic Circles” from 2003 or Jonathan Gould’s peerless “Can’t Buy Me Love” of 2007)… via New York Times

18 thoughts on “current clips”

  1. William Crabbe said:

    Out of all the biograpies of John Lennon, this has to be one the most informative that I have read in years. I checked this out from our local library and have be engrossed in it ever since. This book is a must buy for all fans of Lennon and the Beatles. I recommend this to all music fans. Wm C Crabbe

  2. Hi Tim,

    Just finished LENNON, which is a tremendous contribution to the culture of the Beatles/Lennon. It gave me shivers reading again about his tragic death. I was the morning DJ opening my college radio station — WRUV in Burlington Vt — the morning after his shooting. The experience is burned into me like almost no other. People were hurting. He touched us somehow, just by saying ‘there’s nothing you can sing that can’t be sung ….’ If you are interested here is my essay about Lennon and that day —

    One detail you might want to raise with your publisher. The book has some stumbles (typos), which cut into the flow. Let me know if you want some ‘for instances.’ Great book and I don’t mean to be a nudge but figured you’d want to know.

    Warm Regards,


  3. R. Gary Hall said:


    This is an amazing read. A life long Beatles fan, I thoroughly enjoyed every line of this comprehensive narative. I couldn’t put it down. It reminded me just how much I have missed John Lennon over the past 30+ years.

    My Best,

    G Hall, Sudbury MA

  4. leon vander-molen said:

    Dear Tim

    am about half way through your book and for me its the best biography i’ve yet read on my lifelong idol, and I’ve read every major one thats been published in the last 41 years (in addition to the hunter davies ’68 bio)…. you’ve covered many areas that have only been touched upon before and you’ve got inside the man and his songs like never before – very moving! – great also to see ringo and epstein getting the credit they deserve… as said im only half way through….. btw the Roudhouse is in Chalk Farm which is near to Camden and a few miles from kilburn… i work in kilburn… anyway, thanks for the great book….

  5. Joel Williams said:

    I’m enjoying the book too; good mix of ‘normal’ biography, psychological speculation and creative response to the music. The sections of Lennon’s childhood were all new to me and his life was more chaotic than I had thought for the one indisputably middle-class Beatle.
    However, there are some bizarre errors that wouldn’t have passed if an English person had looked through the copy. The strangest is the assertion that Bevanite and Gaitskellite are Scottish accents! A Bevanite was a follower of Aneurin Bevan, the Labour politician, while a Gaitskellite was a follower of Hugh Gaitskell, another Labour politician of the tim…

  6. Tim, your book had such an effect on me, strangely sad but in a good way. Maybe can explain: just finished “Lennon” and happened to next read Cdn. David Gilmour’s novel/memoir” Perfect Order” and he expresses that same effect Beatles music had and has on him “Sadness, it has occurred to me, is an inexplicable response to great art. When I heard again the final, dramatic bars of “When I Get Home”, when John got to the hook, the hair stood up on my arms. That odd mixture of euphoria and sadness, of being still on the ‘outside’ of something terribly, terribly important. And that’s what your book did to me too. Alan

  7. Alan Chrisman said:

    Tim: tried to reach you before, comment on great new Lennon book: You captured what must have been going on ,both within him and without him, as he was creating. His human contradictions have fascinated me as much as his art. But inspired me to get into music and create my own IMAGINE’s.
    And you show Yoko’s influence. Met lots of people who knew him to try and understand who he really was. Changed all our lives. Including my Cdn./Russ.friend, Yury Pelyushonok, in his book,CD “Strings for a Beatles Bass”, made into BBC film
    “How the Beatles Rocked Kremlin”( and we think it meant a lot to us!), in the land where rock was banned. We could send copy of. 50 years later,Lennon still challenges us. Alan

  8. Alan Chrisman said:

    Loved”Lennon” Book and “Tell Me Why”. You show we can’t separate man from his art. Wen’t on own journey to find”John”, so met Cynthia, M.Pang, P.Sutcliffe, P.Best, Len Garry,
    A.Williams,L. Harrison, etc. Also you might like my Ottawan/Russ. friend, Yury Pelyushonok’s book,CD”Strings for Beatles Bass” made into BBC film”How Beatles Rocked Kremlin”; glad to send copy. Alan

  9. Carroll Billups said:

    Hello. I am in the middle of your incredible book, Lennon. Besides reminding me how astonishly prolific and wonderful the music was/is, your “…art of weaving…”(to borrow from Keith Richards and Ron Wood)the musical, political and cultural contexts in both the USA and UK with the personal evolution of Lennon and his contemporaries has me forgetting to blink as I soak it all in. As someone who said she was going to the library in order to get access to her mother’s Corvair to go to Lunken Airport in Cincinnati to watch the Beatles plane land (and then chase their limo to their hotel) your insight and perspective is helping me make sense of much of what just swept me away back then. Thank you

  10. Larry Nelson said:

    Just finished your wonderful biography. I grew up on the Beatles. I have been obsessed with their magic, even to the point of traveling with friends in 1975 to London where we visited EMI studio on Abbey Road. It still amazes me that such a plain looking building could have housed such musical magic.But, that being said, I loved your book. Congratulations.

  11. wow I can’t wait for this!

  12. Abbey Abbott said:

    Dear Tim:

    I fell in love with the Beatles (especially John) from the moment my 12 year old self saw them on Sullivan and the loving has never stopped. If anything, it has grown stronger as I realize how very, very important their music has been to me. Through bad times and good, their music was the one constant in my life. Songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “In My Life” provoke a powerful reaction that has never wavered, no matter how many times I hear them, and I hope it never will. I absolutely loved your book – just when I felt I had read everything that there was on John Lennon, you pleasantly surprised me. Thank you for that, even though I had to put it down a few times because I could no longer read due to my tears. Your book has definitely given me new insights into the man. He certainly had his faults, as do we all, but no one can deny his amazing gifts which we fans are all the luckier for.

  13. phil dewhurst said:

    Dear Tim

    I am greatly enjoying your Lennon book. I love in particular the way you get inside some of the songs and album themes and also the new light you shed on some of the Lennon myths, and I’m only halfway thru. However, I hope you don’t mind if I pick you up on a few inaccuracies for the next edition:

    Scouse accent – this is nothing like the cockney accent! I am a Londoner, my wife is a Liverpudlian, we speak with very different accents, although to an American ear I guess they may sound similar.

    Stuart’s bass guitar – although this was a Hofner, it was not the ‘violin’ style later used by Paul (as your early photos of the band clearly show).

    Keith Richards’ bust: The Redlands house is in Wittering, Sussex, and not Richmond.

    I hope you don’t mind me pointing these out. I am not a die hard fan, but maybe I’m reading the book from a British perspective.

  14. Elena Nikiforenko said:

    Dear Mr. Riley,
    What’s the best email/route to contact you on to talk about a forthcoming Beatlemania exhibition planned for Russia.Your participation in this would be welcome but your site does not have contact details.
    Kind regards,
    Elena Nikiforenko

  15. Nell Porter Brown said:

    Hey Tim,
    Just wanted to tell you am excited about your new book and will get it when it comes out! Congratulations!!