“The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars” rather more pretty than morbid

cover-encyclopedia-of-dead-rock-starsWhen The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars (second edition) was pitched to me as a "another hefty read," I assumed hyperbole. Such was not that case -- this 800-page tome looks like the most morbid phone book in the world sitting on my coffee table or the book stack next to my side of the bed. It's out now from Chicago Review Press, and despite having received it a good half month ago, it's taken a while to get through enough to feel comfortable summing it up for you all. It's an odd duck, this book. Despite the rather attention-grabbing title, and even more shocking bit of alliteration in the subtitle of "Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches," there's a rather elegiac quality to Jeromy Simmonds' book. While the majority of the entries can be read simply as factual summations of an artist's life, many are rather beautiful written requiems for the musicians who've passed. The entry on Irish singer Kirsty Maccoll is achingly beautiful, mourning a life gone too soon, and just as she was on the brink of breaking through. However, that particular strain of eulogy is representative of the odd quirks particular to The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars. The book's British, first of all, meaning that an awful lot of musicians rather unfamiliar to American readers find themselves into the book's pages. Secondly, it seems that there's more of a bit of personal favoritism going on in determining who gets what said about them. Roy Rogers gets an addendum, Johnny Cash gets a short "Golden Oldies" entry that's not much longer than naughty reggae novelty act Judge Dread, and, yet, many slightly less notable artists (Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright, to name but one) get several pages. I suppose you could argue that there have been numerous books written on the big names, and there's no need to revisit Cash's story growing up in Dyess, Arkansas, his addiction to pills, and so on -- it's the country music equivalent of Superman's origin story. Enough folks know it well enough that to reitertate once more would be a waste of paper and time better given over to musicians about whom we know little. It makes Simmonds' book more than just a collection of what we already know and changes it instead to a tome worth perusing regularly. Organized as it is chronologically, rather than alphabetically, one could easily make this a part of their daily routine -- coffee, breakfast, news, read about which artists died on that day in any particular year. A morbid, yet informative beginning to the day.