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Book Review

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Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

by Lang Reid

Robert M. Pirsig’s classic philosophical tome, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was first published 30 years ago, and was re-released in 1999, complete with updates, on its 25th anniversary by Quill publishing and then again in the Perennial paperback publication in 2000, (ISBN 0-06-095832-4).

I have to admit that I was introduced to this book 28 years ago by a young lady, and was so impressed that I ended up marrying her! Whether that was such a good move is not a subject for these pages; however, others have been equally as impressed for much nobler reasons, such as the New York Times which described the book as being “profoundly important” and the New Yorker giving it the accolade “The book is inspired, original.”

The author’s note right in the front of the book almost says it all, where Pirsig writes, “However, it (this book) should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles either.”

It is certainly neither a primer in Zen, nor is it a manual on motorcycles. It is one enormous book on the wonders of life and how to live it with the utmost satisfaction, using a motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son as the catalyst for the psychological examinations. Take the example on page 94. “A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself.”

Interwoven with the man and the boy is a spirit called Phaedrus, whose real identity is one for the reader to decipher according to his or her own ideas (sorry to be vague here, but this is truly a very ‘personal’ book).

At the end there are 11 items for discussion, much as one finds in university dissertations. These items are also thought-provoking.

I remain in awe of Pirsig’s in depth analyses of human problems and the way through them. The problems cover the gamut of human emotional understanding (or non-understanding) and are laid out in the same way that a motorcycle mechanic would lay out the parts of an engine to examine them, and the effects that each part has on another. Analysis produces understanding. There is a logicality to it all.

Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance is still a book that any parent should give his children as they approach the time of self governance. However, children should be advised to be wary of young ladies bearing this book!

The review copy was made available by Bookazine and it carried an RRP of 495 baht. It is interesting to note that the original manuscript went out as 122 submissions and came back with 121 rejections. Fortunately for us all, there was one editor who understood that this book was indeed destined to become a classic. If you have not read it before, then do so now. If you did read it many years ago, it is still worthwhile re-reading!


Mott's CD Reviews: The Who – Quadrophenia

Modded by Mott the Dog
Rockered by Ella Crew

5 Stars *****

Was ‘The Who’ the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world? At the time of the release of their second double album rock opera Quadrophenia at the end of 1975, the answer would have probably been ‘yes’. The ‘Beatles’ had long since gone and never played any real live concerts as we know them today. ‘The Rolling Stones’ had just lost their second lead guitarist in Mick Taylor, and were being led down a very disco-orientated channel by Mick Jagger. Only Keith Richards could really claim to be a true rocking Stone.

‘Led Zeppelin’ was still around of course, but they were almost on another plain. So we can safely say that in the early seventies ‘The Who’ was one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll bands around. Already with many landmark albums behind them, Tommy (1969), Live at Leeds (1970), and Who’s Next (1972), not to mention a mass of hit singles and historic appearances at such events as Monterey Pop Festival 1967, Woodstock, and the Isle of Wight in both 1969 and 1970, were backed up by saturation touring to bigger and bigger audiences all over the world.

Of course, like all of the rock greats, ‘The Who’ was not only known for their recording and spectacular stage shows, but stories of their on the road excesses are now part of rock ‘n’ roll mythology.

The release of Quadrophenia was the major rock release of late 1973. It was waited for with barely concealed restraint by their millions of fans. The album went straight into the charts at number two in the United Kingdom and the USA, remaining in the top thirty for over six months, a phenomenon almost unheard of for a double album in those far off days.

Quadrophenia found ‘The Who’ at the peak of their collective powers. Peter Townshend wrote all the songs, and never before had he put together such a continuous package of solid arrangements with such strong emotions bursting through in every song. The story follows the early years of a young man, Jimmy, growing from adolescence to nearly killing himself due to his fall into the depths of depravity in the whirlwind world of the Mods and Rockers on the south coast of England in the early sixties; a gripping tale of youth culture from those heady days.

Peter Townshend’s guitar playing here also finally raised him onto the same level as his peers like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Roger Daltrey is the person who puts his throat on the line to give the feeling to Townshend’s words. Roger Daltrey was at the peak of his powers when he sings the final stanzas of ‘Love Reigns O’er me’ and brings the album to its shattering climax. One wonders if he still had a larynx left.

For the one time in the Who’s career all the songs on one album were written by their principal songwriter, not leaving room for any of John Entwistle’s often entertaining songs. John Entwistle shows more than ever here how essential he was to the Who with his fluid bass lines giving the songs real substance. John Entwistle’s way of playing the bass was not only to nail down the theme of the songs, but also as a lead instrument. On Quadrophenia, more than any other Who album, the bass is pushed right to the front of the mix, quite deservedly so. John’s fine French horn playing also adds a haunting air to some of the songs.

Then driving the band ever forward was everybody’s favorite rascal Keith Moon, not only is his drumming superb and distinctive (only Keith Moon could drum like Keith Moon), but his vocal contribution to ‘Bellboy’ always brings a smile to your face. The fine piano playing of Chris Stainton should also be given a mention as it compliments the other players perfectly. Perhaps the Who should have added a keyboard player then, instead of waiting till poor old Keith had shuffled off this mortal coil. It would have helped the band immensely trying to play these songs on stage instead of messing about with pre-recorded backing tapes.

The album open ups with the sound of the sea washing up on the beaches and snatches of refrains from the main themes of what is to come. The band comes crashing in with the rocker ‘The Real Me’ and from then on you are taken on the rollercoaster ride of a young impressionable wannabe Mod with plenty of highs as well as deeply disturbing lows.

One of the highs is of Jimmy actually going to see his favorite band ‘The Who’ in concert. As Jimmy tries to emulate his heroes, his life spirals more and more out of control. With this the band’s playing becomes more and more frenzied, climaxing in the nine minutes of ‘Doctor Jimmy’, where, if you listen carefully, you can hear Roger Daltrey’s microphone being spun round the heads of all in the studio on its lead wire, and Townshend windmills his arm around his axe, building to the next frantic chorus. You can imagine the whole studio being destroyed at the song’s climax.

‘Doctor Jimmy’, played in all it’s glory on stage at Charlton Football ground in 1974 in front of 95,000 people was the highlight of the Who’s set. The album closes out with the triumphant instrumental ‘The Rock’, just before ‘Love Reigns O’er Me’ brings the proceedings to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

Quadrophenia is a great rock band at the top of its game. Logically, later it turned into a movie with Phil Daniels playing Jimmy and Sting the Bellboy, which was excellent.

Musicians

Peter Townshend - Lead Guitar, Keyboards, and Vocals
John Entwistle - Bass, Vocals, and French Horn
Keith Moon - Drums, and Vocals
Roger Daltrey - Vocals

Songs

Modded by Mott the Dog
Rockered by Ella Crew
I Am The Sea
The Real Me
Quadrophenia
Cut My Hair
The Punk and The Godfather
I’m One
The Dirty Jobs
Helpless Dancer
Is It In My Head
I’ve Had Enough
5.15
Sea And Sand
Drowned
Bell Boy
Doctor Jimmy
The Rock
Love Reign O’er Me

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]