Talking with A prolific writer of rock n roll books

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Name: Richie Unterberger
Age: 52
City: San Francisco
Position: Music writer


J.: When did you get into rock music?
Richie Unterberger: I’ve been a fan of rock music for a long time. As a child, the first band I got into was the Beatles, and the first single I purchased was “Hey Jude” with “Revolution” on the back.  Then at UPenn, I worked at my college radio station. Close to graduation, I started to write reviews for OP, a magazine that specialized in independent music.  I started a career as a freelance writer and I’ve been writing record reviews for a lot of people, but moved towards writing books about music in the late ’90s.

Richie Unterberger

J.: You’ve written 11 books, including “White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day By Day,” “Eight Miles High: Folk Rock’s Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia.” You’ve also written tons of articles and liner notes. Is there any artist you’d love to interview?
RU: I would definitely like to interview Paul McCartney. That being said, I don’t know what he’d say that he hasn’t already said. Lou Reed has passed, but I would have really liked to interview him. If Mick Jagger was willing to talk with honesty about how he got into rock, I’d interview him, but I have a feeling he’s not interested.

J.: Much of what you write about is lesser known bands, or obscure work from popular artists. Why is that?
RU: When I was getting into rock music, I started out with the really famous groups, such as the Who, the Doors, the Kinks, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They are all really great groups; my opinion has never wavered about that.
But after a time, I’ve learned as much as I can about certain groups or soloists. I wanted to keep hearing music and where do I go? In the ’70s, you didn’t have the Internet or YouTube and it was much harder to find out about bands. I had to take a lot of chances buying records where I wasn’t sure if I’d like all the music. So I read as much as I could and listened to the huge vinyl collection at the radio station. Music is like anything that you are really into — once you learn about it, you want to learn more.

J.: What brought you to the Bay Area?
RU: I graduated a little early in the summer of 1982 and had been to San Francisco very briefly, but really loved it. I moved here because I wanted to live here and it’s really that simple. It’s not just beautiful here, but the cultural resources are so rich and the liberal lifestyle is still the most liberal there is. I grew up in Philly, went to school there, but have never been tempted to go back since.

J.: What was your Jewish upbringing like?
RU: I don’t know if there’s much to say about it. I’m not an observant Jew, but I grew up in an area that was half Jewish, my family belonged to a synagogue in the suburbs and I had a bar mitzvah. In the Bay Area, I’m not affiliated.

J.: You must have a huge music collection. Is most of it on vinyl?
RU: Surprisingly, not really. I have a much larger collection on CDs. I’m not as much of a purist as some people are, where I need the original. Usually CDs are cheaper and more accessible. I have about 10,000 to 15,000 albums, 80 percent of them on CD. I have enough room for it because I live alone. If I had a wife or a girlfriend, it would probably be a problem.

J.: How did the breakup of the Beatles in 1970 affect you?
RU: I was devastated. I was 8 years old and I couldn’t understand it then. How could you break up the best group of the world? They looked like best friends, so it was completely incomprehensible. People remember JFK getting assassinated the way I remember the day the Beatles broke up.

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