PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe author may lament that in 1975 he was caught dealing 11 ounces of cocaine in a sting operation that saw him serve 2½ years in a federal prison in Kentucky, but a reader of The Hard Stuff suspects that, without forced incarceration, Mr. Kramer would not have lived much longer, let alone long enough to tell his tale ... But that doesn’t make The Hard Stuff a feel-good story ... The middle of the book’s three sections offers a painfully repetitive cycle of squandered career opportunities, depression, self-medication and self-loathing, then brief glimpses of sobriety and betterment followed quickly by artistic or personal disappointment and renewed addiction ... Thankfully, the early days of the MC5 provide more joyous material ... his humor is sadly lacking from the written page ... The Hard Stuff is rarely poetic, but in its brutal honesty Mr. Kramer may succeed in deterring future musicians from contemplating serious drug abuse by numbing them with a litany of legal misdeeds and career missteps—implying, if not stating outright, that life is much more enjoyable, even as a rock ’n’ roll outlaw, when one is in control of it.
Loudon Wainwright III
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalLiner Notes is thin on original material, peppered with his father’s old columns for Life magazine, a couple of older essays and a liberal dose of lyrics ... Mr. Wainwright is an engaging and witty memoirist ... He appears loath to seek concrete explanations for his adultery and parental absenteeism, and this would be a serious omission if not for the ameliorating effect of related lyrics ... Those who can laugh at life while making a messy success of it—or is that a successful mess?—have something to impart. And Mr. Wainwright may be relieved to know that, whether or not he found the process torturous, his writing is no stone drag.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...a hugely ambitious account of the postwar style...filling a gaping hole in the literature of 20th-century music ... Mr. Bragg works valiantly to join the disparate dots that rendered 'Rock Island Line' so vital. He devotes chapters to the Anglo-American folk and jazz scenes, American rock ’n’ roll, the Angry Young Men of British stage and screen, the effects of the coffee bar, and the trendsetting roles of both off-shore 'pirate' station Radio Luxembourg and American Forces Network radio ... Roots, Radicals and Rockers contains more detail than necessary; even the most attentive reader will likely lose track of the many players on the scene. But Mr. Bragg’s knowledge of these personalities, and of the shifting cultural tides that brought them together in skiffle, is nothing short of masterly. It would be hard to cite another historical book of such depth, quality and reasoned analysis by a working, nonacademic musician.