David Kirby • Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ’N’ Roll [Book]

[RIP Little Richard, 1932-2020. This book review was originally published 1/23/2010 on Skratchdisc.]

I read way too many rock ’n’ roll biographies. I could be filling my head with interesting socio-political tomes (which I do read on occasion) or treatises on the latest thoughts on victims’ rights or whathaveyou, but instead I read typically badly-written stories of people who may or may not be remembered in another ten years for wielding their cigarette-burned axes all over the world with fellow drug-addled losers… Okay, maybe not all of them are that bad, but you know what I mean.

Well, anyway, I was given a nice gift certificate to a book store and I bought this here book, Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ’N’ Roll, by a real life professor of English, DAVID KIRBY. It’s a small thing, suitably decorated in a mid-2oth century pink cover design depicting our own Richard Penniman looking his straightest best, more than likely belting out “Tutti Frutti” or one of his other hits. In fact, Kirby’s main premise in this book is that that song is the most important in the history of rock, and based on his very erudite and quite humorous arguments, he may just be right. This book isn’t exactly a biography, though, because Kirby doesn’t present “just the facts, ma’m” like most do – he gives you basic facts ’n’ figures but he surrounds them with his very interesting anecdotes and observations of Macon, Georgia (where Richard was born), of the man’s bi/gay persuasion, of his lifelong swingin’ back ’n’ forth from absolutely primordial rock ’n’ roll screamer to good-boy churchgoer. Kirby, a prof at Florida State U., makes this such an entertaining and energizing read, you just gotta get out your 18 Greatest Hits CD (on Rhino) or any one of the other packages of Little Richard’s awesome songs and start boogieing right there on the floor in front of God and everybody.

And he doesn’t just pour on the fanboy kudos all over the place, either. Though Charles White’s bio on LR might be the one to get if you want a by-the-book biography (it ain’t a bad book either, I recall), David Kirby’s is the one to better show just what made this effeminate madman possibly the craziest, most outrageous shouter the world has ever known.  — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Continuum Books, 2009)

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