Campus News

Rock’s Backpages makes for a rolling good read

Rock’s Backpages, promoted here on an elevator door in the Silverman Library, is just one of numerous databases covering all major subject areas that members of the UB community can access free of charge on the UB Libraries' website. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By ANA ALHOUD

Published May 15, 2017

“I’ll guarantee ya that old Bill Shakespeare would have loved the name Meat Loaf ‘cause the names in his plays are out there, man, far out there. And those were some of the biggest kicks I ever had, doing Shakespeare.”
Meat Loaf, in an interview with Cliff White of New Musical Express

In today’s music scene, one overrun with electronic voices and continuous drops, the hits of yesteryear are forgotten. The current college-aged generation experiences music on meek, miniscule and mass-produced earbuds. It’s become background noise for the morning commute and something to help make the next set of squats go faster. Choruses repeat once-meaningful terms of endearment not to inspire love, but to assist the input of credit card information.

Where did the feelings go?

Stepping up on behalf of a different musical experience is Rock’s Backpages, a database of music journalism that features reviews, interviews, features and audio interviews with such music legends as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain and Beyoncé.

And UB faculty, staff and student scholars of music — or just plain music fans —  can join in a celebration of a time when the music moved and really mattered,  thanks to the UB Libraries’ subscription to Rock’s Backpages.

The options for musical discovery are virtually endless; the database spans the bell-bottomed, peace sign-slinging ‘60s to the overwhelmingly diverse music jungle of today.

“Rock’s Backpages is a valuable resource because it is the only one of its kind that focuses on music journalism across all pop music genres from the past 50 years,” says Lori Widzinski, head of multimedia and music collections and services for the UB Libraries. “It benefits not only music students and faculty, but those studying and researching journalism, history, English and pop culture.

“The inclusion of underground and street publications in addition to mainstream journals like Rolling Stone and MOJO make it unique,” Widzinski says, adding that audio interviews are another great feature of the database.

Rock’s Backpages is just one of numerous databases covering all major subject areas that members of the UB community can access free of charge on the UB Libraries’ website.

“The Libraries have a budget to subscribe to both specialized and general databases that provide authoritative information not found on the wider internet,” Widzinski notes. “You can browse the databases a number of ways, including full-text only, by database title, subject and best basic resources. Check our Ask a Librarian page for help using any of our databases.”

Rock’s Backpages may well be the go-to resource for anyone interested in music journalism. The database features more than 31,000 articles detailing the lives of more than 5,000 musicians from the 1960s until today. Primary sources — in print and audio — catalogue entire musical careers through publications dedicated to music and popular culture. They range from mainstream magazines like Rolling Stone to virtually unheard of magazines like the ephemeral Phonograph Record.

One click and everything ever recorded about the world’s most famous musicians awaits, like an online El Dorado of music. Covering such genres as rockabilly, hip hop, grunge and more, Rock’s Backpages is for those whose interests goes deeper than the standard Wikipedia search.

“It all began with the idea of being able to follow an artist’s career from start to present via their own words and those of others,” Rock’s Backpages’ co-founder and editorial director Barney Hoskyns told UBNow in an email.

It is this unique vision that sets Rock’s Backpages apart from any Wikipedia article floating around the internet: It gives readers the opportunity to delve deep into the psyche of almost any artist imaginable.

Tom Hibbert, writing in Smash Hits, documents Prince's early life, when he was homeless and shuttled from house to house. Photo: Rock's Backpages

Take Prince, for example. Many millennials remember him as the eccentric, sexed-up, purple-clad pop star whose hips didn’t know the difference between a bedroom and a stage. But before the doves cried, Prince was homeless — abandoned by his family and shooed from house to house. In a March 1986 interview in Smash Hits, Prince describes the anarchy following his parents’ split and how the “noise” they always complained about became his salvation.

“When he was 10, his parents split up and his father left home. Mattie [Prince’s mother] remarried and things turned sour,” wrote former Observer columnist Tom Hibbert, a frequent contributor to Smash Hits. “Prince and his stepfather detested one another and the boy got sick of being yelled at for tonkling about on the piano that his Dad had left behind. So, when he was 13, he went to live with an aunt but she got sick of him tonkling about on the electric guitar his Dad had bought him and she threw him out. So he went to live with one of his sisters but she threw him out too.”

In interviews and articles like Hibbert’s, readers are guided through the transformation of a painfully shy, chocolate milk-sipping vagabond into one of the greatest music idols of modern history.

And “Rock’s Backpages” — the name is a clever nod to the famous Bob Dylan song “My Back Pages” —  is filled with rock memorability and hidden gems for music fans of any generation.

Some treasures:

  • Bon Scott, lead singer of the Aussie rock band AC/DC, dropped this gem in an interview with Sounds magazine in 1976: “I like to put my feet up. Not to mention other parts of my body. They say to me, ‘Are you AC or DC?’ and I say, ‘Neither, I’m the lightnin’ flash in the middle.’”

A Sounds magazine interview with Bon Scott of AC/DC. Photo: Rock's Backpages

  • Snoop Dogg expressed his political critiques and dreams in this picturesque way: “When we get too powerful, they [the U.S. government] gotta pump our brakes, because there’s never been a black president,” he said to Paul Lester, writing for Melody Maker in 1994. “And that’s what the whole world’s fearing right now. And the thing is, as big as this rap shit is, who knows: Maybe I could run for president one day.”
  • Adele summed up her thoughts on new-found fame and fortune in a November 2007 Guardian interview: “I’m thinking of moving ‘cos it’s getting rough around here [West Norwood, England]. I was going to get my own place when I got my advance, but I spent it on Burberry. I used to smoke rollies [hand-rolled cigarettes], but then I got the record deal and switched to Marlboro Lights.”
  • Meatloaf, the eccentric rock and roller, shared his unexpected love of Shakespeare and the Bard’s influence on his music: “Why not do something that lets your mind be creative? I did Shakespeare. Now I come from nowhere but the streets and I’d never read Shakespeare until I acted it, and people had told me it was so difficult. But to me it was the easiest thing in the world to understand, because he was coming from the same level,” he said to Cliff White of New Musical Express in 1978. “It’s just that it’s written old-fashioned. I’ll guarantee ya that old Bill Shakespeare would have loved the name Meat Loaf ‘cause the names in his plays are out there, man, far out there. And those were some of the biggest kicks I ever had, doing Shakespeare.”

The list of newsworthy artists goes on, their careers, troubles and innermost thoughts saved forever in audio recordings and introspective interviews.

But Rock’s Backpages represents something more important than just a database for fans with too much time on their hands: It’s a portal to the past, a past that fades without a record such as this.