"By John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft
Chicago Review Press, $19.95
I remember arriving late in London, August 1978, checking into a hotel near Paddington and, exhausted, turning on the radio: There he was, John Peel himself on Radio 1, celebrating the latest Who album and that band’s 15th anniversary. It seemed like that was one long time for a band to be together …
There was no better voice to listen to on British radio than Peel’s for a story like this. He not only knew the band and knew the music, but he knew why it was important. Peel had a gift for making you feel part of a family that considered music the cornerstone of counter culture.
Peel is dead now, as is the kind of freeform, trouble-making radio he helped pioneer. This should make his memoir instructive, a reminder of what can be when the means of mass cultural production are in the hands of creative, questing blokes. Unfortunately, this book, begun by Peel and completed by his wife, Sheila Ravenscroft, is so decidedly Brit in its orientation and allusions that most American readers will wonder what the fuss was about. Peel was, among other things, a modest fellow, not inclined to dish about the many rockers who crossed his path. Apart from regretful tales about his falling out with Marc Bolan, there isn’t much here to sink your teeth in. What’s more, Peel’s own musical tastes ran toward the idiosyncratic and, frankly, weird. So those bands he does go on about are pretty obscure. This is inside cricket — a book that should have been essential, but sadly, isn’t. —David Hoppe