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Putting Words to the Music

Fans, life on the road, love, sex, marriage--two new books cover these subjects and more through thousands of quotations from rock and country musicians.

January 23, 1998|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Want to know what Mick Jagger considers the essential ingredients of rock 'n' roll? Ever wonder how Dolly Parton feels about her image?

You'll find the answers in two new books of quotations packaged by Tustin-based Fossil Press and published by Owl Books, an imprint of Henry Holt & Co.

"Jabberrock: The Ultimate Book of Rock 'n' Roll Quotations," edited by Raymond Obstfeld and Patricia Fitzgerald, and "Twang!: The Ultimate Book of Country Music Quotations," edited by Obstfeld and Sheila Burgener, provide what Obstfeld calls the largest, most thorough and up-to-date collections of rock 'n' roll and country music quotations ever assembled.

Each book ($12.95) includes some 2,000 quotations in categories ranging from fans to life on the road--and from sex, love and marriage to more philosophical pursuits.

Thus there's Bob Weir commenting on the Grateful Dead's approach to living: "We're constitutionally incapable of taking much seriously."

And this from Frank Zappa: "I don't think I'm getting more cynical, I've just got more evidence to back up my cynicism."

Then there's that Jagger quote: "Energy is what you need in rock 'n' roll. Energy and three chords."

And Parton commenting on her image: "I'm not offended by all the dumb-blond jokes because I know that I'm not dumb. I also know I'm not blond."

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The two books are the culmination of more than a year of research by Obstfeld, executive director of Fossil Press, and his two co-editors, Burgener and Fitzgerald, who scoured hundreds of books, magazines and newspapers to come up with memorable quotations.

Burgener and Fitzgerald bore the brunt of the quote hunting.

"I kind of learned how to do research as I went along," says Burgener, 42, a Huntington Beach mother of two who stopped working on her first novel to track down the wit and wisdom of the likes of Johnny Cash and Little Jimmy Dickens.

Burgener, a lifelong country music fan who also monitored celebrity interviews on the Nashville Network, says that "what started as a job turned out to be like a mission--the more I found, the more involved I became."

Fitzgerald, a 27-year-old copy editor for a Costa Mesa ad agency, earned a master's degree in creative writing from Chapman University in Orange and serves as Fossil Press' creative director. She says the hardest part was deciding when to stop.

"You could literally keep collecting quotations forever. I'd say, 'I have to stop now; it's done, finished.' But then I'd see another book or interview that was interesting, and there would be 50 more great quotes."

Obstfeld, who teaches creative writing at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, came up with the idea of doing a rock 'n' roll quotation book nine years ago.

Publishers rejected his proposal, saying there was no market for it. So Obstfeld put the idea aside to work on other books. He resurrected it after forming his own book packaging-publishing company in 1995. By then, two other rock 'n' roll quotation books had been published. That didn't bother him.

"They were these tiny, sort of gift-book type things," says Obstfeld, who had something more comprehensive in mind: "I wanted it to be like the Bartlett's book of quotations of rock 'n' roll and country music."

Obstfeld believes both "Twang!" and "Jabberrock" will find an audience.

"There are a lot of witty, gossipy kind of quotes that are just hilarious. We cracked up a lot just reading them," he says. At the same time, "there are quotes that give tremendous insight into an art form that has such a huge impact on society."

That's what got him interested in doing a rock quotation book in the first place, he says.

"As a fiction writer, I was constantly quoting lyrics in my novels for the obvious reasons that it sets a tone and it's a language that someone knows exactly what you're talking about."

Obstfeld reasoned that if an art form articulates our feelings so well that we spend billions of dollars a year on it, "then the artists are important too, beyond their celebrity appeal: Since they're creating the art, what they're thinking is intriguing to us."

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One of Obstfeld's favorite aspects about the two books is the changing insights of veteran performers whose careers span 30 or more years.

"One of the famous ones, of course, is Mick Jagger saying, 'I'd rather be dead than singing "Satisfaction" when I'm 45.' Of course, he's well past that."

One of Burgener's favorite quotations is from Johnny Cash. He's talking about flag burning and the time he and his wife, June, visited Vietnam, where they saw "burning flesh":

"Whether the war was right or not," Cash says, "a lot of people sacrificed their lives. I cherish all the freedom we have, including the freedom to burn flags. But I also have the freedom to bear arms, and if you burn my flag, I'll shoot you."

One of Fitzgerald's favorites comes from Zappa. The subject is the press:

"Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read."

Or as Elvis Costello puts it:

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

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