Corn Flakes with John Lennon Review
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Living in the Los Angeles area for most of my life, I frequently read the music reviews of the L. A. Times’s first full-time rock critic, Robert Hilburn. Though I was saddened by his retirement, I understood why he left after thirty-five years at the newspaper. The positive side to this is that now he has a lot of fascinating stories to tell in his recent book, Corn Flakes with John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life.

Hilburn shares very personal stories from his interviews, interactions, and even friendships with the music legends who shaped the evolution of country and rock music. He centers on Johnny Cash, Elvis, John Lennon (with whom he had a bowl of Corn Flakes with at 1 a.m.), Bruce Springsteen, Kurt Cobain, and Bono (who wrote the introduction to the book). He also writes extensively about Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Phil Spector (who introduced him to Lennon), Elton John, Michael Jackson, Jack White, and scores of others. He mentions his small but memorable exchanges with Jerry Lee Lewis, Neil Young, and Paul McCartney—and how he got on the wrong side of George Harrison.

He relates his early love of country music and R&B and only deals with the aspects of his life that pertain to the subject matter. Here he avoids falling into the trap that many authors do—too much personal history. He has devoted a chapter to rap music which he believes was misunderstood in the ’80s, like rock ’n’ roll was in the ‘50s. Acknowledging its mirror of urban society and the fact that it has lured young music fans away from rock, he questions whether rock will ever be able to regain its influence. In between the book’s mostly chronological structure, he takes little diversions into his “favorites”: “road trips,” like Creedence in Europe in 1971 and the Sex Pistols in Texas in 1978, artist quotes, moments to remember as they pertain to a particular musician, and those he has enjoyed being around the most. The interlude that is surprisingly short, at only 2 ½ pages, is a list of “superficial” artists. This is my only complaint of the book, as this section and the list in particular should have been much longer. I would have loved to have read his opinion on these musicians.

Hilburn also provides a lot of commentary about the artists themselves—like what he believes to be the fall of Elvis, Joplin, and Cobain. He poses the larger question: are these tragedies due to the quest for fame, the rock subculture itself, or the inter turmoil of the musician? He also believes that good music must fulfill a need for the musician, as opposed to just selling records or the whole American Idol phenomena. Since early rock ‘n’ roll filled a need for teenagers, he asks the ultimate question: What is the future of rock?

There is so much in Corn Flakes with John Lennon that I just couldn’t put the book down. It gave me insight into those creative musicians as well as a glimpse into their psyches. This account is a must-read for fans of contemporary music, as well as for admirers of good old rock ‘n’ roll.

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