Johnny Rogan

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Johnny Rogan is an author of Irish descent best known for his books about music and popular culture. He has written influential biographies of the Byrds, Neil Young, the Smiths, Van Morrison and Ray Davies. His writing is characterised by "an almost neurotic attention to detail", epic length (the first volume of Requiem for the Timeless is more than 1,200 pages long) and a curiously ambivalent, sometimes positive/sometimes hostile response from the subjects of his biographies. [1]

Contents

Career

Rogan's first publications were in the late 70s with writings on West Coast American music. [2] Rogan spent his early childhood in the Pimlico area of London. [3] His parents emigrated to London from Waterford (Ireland) in 1943. He is a cousin of the actor John Rogan. Rogan's adolescence during the 'Swinging 60s' was vividly captured in the chapter 'The Ghost of Electricity' from his book Timeless Flight Revisited. [4] There was no mention at all of his tragic family history which included his father (fatal heart attack, late 50s), brother (drowned), sister (fatal brain haemorrhage) and mother (emaciation), among other fatalities. [5] [6]

Rogan attended St Vincents, RC, and Pimlico School and spent the entire 70s as a student, obtaining his first degree in English Language & Literature at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, after which he completed an MA at Acadia University in Canada, specialising in Spenser's The Faerie Queene . [7] [8] This was followed by postgraduate study at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. [9]

His first book Timeless Flight, an acclaimed biography of The Byrds was published when he was still a student at Oxford's Lady Margaret Hall. This work was subsequently rewritten as the 700-page plus volume, Timeless Flight Revisited. [10] The work won considerable acclaim, including biography of the year in Record Collector , in which it was described as "One of the best biographies ever written...Expansive enough to rival War And Peace , Johnny Rogan's definitive Byrds biography comes close to matching the emotional, if not geographical, range of Tolstoy's epic novel. One of the achievements of Timeless Flight Revisited is the way in which it matches its narrative flair with the incisiveness of its critical comment... But it's the narrative drive that makes the book so extraordinary. With its detailed research and fascinating interview material, Timeless Flight Revisited is a compelling portrait of collective turmoil, peopled by characters who win our sympathy at the same time as they earn our disbelief." [11] Similar accolades were forthcoming from Billboard , Time Out and Q Magazine ("This is, at least, the best biography of a group ever written"). [12] Unusually, the book has been revised extensively in every decade since its original appearance.

Rogan went on to write more than 20 other books, mainly in the field of music and popular culture. These included epic biographies of Neil Young (Zero To Sixty) and Van Morrison, plus work on John Lennon, The Kinks, Wham!/George Michael (Virgin Yearbook "Book of the Year"), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Smiths. Neil Young is quoted praising Rogan's work on the back of the biography along with a five-star review from Uncut and several other prominent music publications.

The best-selling Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance attracted considerable attention not least from Morrissey who famously said: "Personally I hope Johnny Rogan ends his days very soon in an M3 pile-up." [13] The comment was made prior to the book's publication and Morrissey claimed he had yet to see a copy of any of its contents. Not long afterwards Morrissey expressed a desire that the author should die in a hotel fire. However, in 1996 Morrissey testified under cross examination that he had not read the book, only "bits of it". He also testified that comparing some items of witness statements in relation to facts contained in the book that the 'book is correct'; he and Rogan also spoke about various matters at the High Court during a recess. [14] The Severed Alliance has remained in print without interruption since first publication in 1992 and frequently appears in listings of all-time great music biographies. Rogan continues to write extensively about Morrissey, most recently with 2006's Morrissey: The Albums.

Rogan has written two major biographies of Van Morrison and the acknowledgement page of VM: No Surrender states: "This book has probably had the longest gestation of any I have written." (20 years). However, this is likely to be eclipsed by Rogan's continuing work on the careers of the Byrds and Neil Young. Morrison on his part is quoted on the 'Dedication Page', saying: "Rogan's got something to hide. What's he hiding? I'd like to do a book on him." However, this quote actually emanates from an interview in 1984. No Surrender featured in The Sunday Times Top 10 books of the year and also featured for two consecutive years in hardback and paperback in Mojo's music books of the year. Among the many favourable press notices attached to the paperback edition was an extravagant review concluding: "Van Morrison: No Surrender is the best book about popular culture written about any Irishman living or dead, and it's certainly the best social history of Belfast in the mid-60s ever written."

Rogan has also written lengthy studies of football management and pop management (Starmakers & Svengalis), the latter of which was adapted for a BBC series. He has also contributed to numerous television documentaries, DVDs and anthologies, including Oxford Originals a collection of writings from authors, including Rogan, who studied at Lady Margaret Hall.

Rogan is known for his eccentricity. While working on a book, he once spent one year in isolation without speaking to another human-being. [15]

In December 2011, Byrds: Requiem For The Timeless was published. Time Out's lead review noted: "Building on the brick-like Timeless Flight Revisited, Rogan has now collated everything he knows and everything even the staunchest psych-rock aficionado will ever want to know about the group. Rogan's insight is, as ever, razor-keen, and the book is crammed with hilarious anecdotes and brilliant deconstructions of the music. Requiem For The Timeless may yet prove to be one of the key works of rock journalism – it's certainly set to be the definitive book on the Byrds." [16]

In the summer of 2012, Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance – The 20th Anniversary Edition, an expanded and rewritten version of the original was released.

Rogan’s 750-page biography Ray Davies: A Complicated Life was published in March 2015, with a revised paperback following one year later. According to the London Times: “Ray Davies is an eccentric, singular artist, but does anyone need to read more than 700 pages on him? Rogan, an obsessive, has form with this kind of thing. This makes for a lot to wade through but Rogan’s strength is in his dispassionate approach. He’s not in awe of Davies, nor does he have an axe to grind. Speaking to former wives and managers, band members, brother Dave and [Ray] Davies himself, he gives as definitive a view of the man as anyone could hope for.” [17]

In August 2017, Byrds: Requiem For The Timeless, Volume 2 was issued. Both Mojo and Record Collector awarded the book a maximum five stars, the former concluding: “Rogan’s dogged devotion, evocative descriptions and eternal quest for truth behind the myths shines from each of its 1,200 pages to create an essential companion to Volume 1.” [18]

Bibliography

Anthology contributions

Notes

  1. "Angry man in the Van" David Sinclair The Guardian 28 May 2005 Retrieved 14 June 2011
  2. "Zigzag" 73: June 1977, Dark Star issues 9–25, 1977–1980
  3. "Timeless Flight: The Definitive Biography Of The Byrds", p.10 (Square 1 Books, ISBN   1-872747-00-0)
  4. Timeless Flight Revisited, pp. 11–22 (Rogan House, ISBN   0-9529540-1-X)
  5. 'Tragedy' Dublin Evening Press front page, August 1962
  6. 'Tramore Triple Drowning Tragedy', Munster Express : August 1962
  7. Oxford Mail, article 'Rogan's Young', August 1982
  8. Record Collector issue 221, 'Johnny Rogan Charts His Personal Obsession', p. 68
  9. "Oxford Originals: An Anthology, ed. by Stacy Marking (Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, 2001; ISBN   0-9540929-0-2)
  10. Timeless Flight Revisited (Rogan House, 1997, ISBN   0-9529540-1-X)
  11. Record Collector: October 1997, January 1998
  12. Q Magazine, no. 136: March 1998, p. 139
  13. New Musical Express, news pages, April 1992
  14. Select Magazine front cover 'Johnny Rogan On The Trials Of Morrissey', March 1997
  15. Rogan, Johnny (1993). Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance (Omnibus Press)
  16. Time Out London 23–29 February 2012, p. 52
  17. The Times, Saturday review: 28 February 2015, reviewer, Will Hodgkinson
  18. Mojo 286; September 2017, reviewer Kris Needs
  19. Rogan, Johnny (2000). Neil Young: Zero to Sixty: A Critical Biography. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN   978-0-9529540-4-0. OCLC   47997606.

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