Journalist Martin Popoff talks new Rush, Motörhead, thrash metal books

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Martin Popoff (right) and Lemmy giving the middle-finger salute.
Martin Popoff (right) and Lemmy giving the middle-finger salute.

Canadian music journalist Martin Popoff has been on a roll as of late, which the publication in May of three new metal-related books proves. Rush: Album by Album, Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers: The Rise of Motörhead, and Caught In a Mosh: The Golden Era of Thrash find Popoff in full historian mode, each one using a different approach to dig deep into the bands, or sub-genre, under the microscope.

For the book looking at Canada’s favorite prog sons, Popoff’s publisher wanted to revisit what they had previously done for a Bob Dylan book: getting together various experts on the artist at hand to have a detailed, but casual, album-by-album chat.

“The concept is, I have to interview two Rush experts/freaks per studio album and piece it together as if the three of us are sitting at a kitchen table, drinking beers, talking about these records,” says Popoff. “There’s a nice cast of characters, from pretty famous rock stars to one really famous rock star—Kirk Hammett’s in there—and some journalists, some people in Rush tribute bands, and some of the gals who have been putting together RushCon every year. I basically picked their brain about each Rush album and make it a conversation about every studio album, cover art, many of the songs, production, the playing, performances, singing… it’s something that really gets people thinking about the albums in a new, fresh way. It’s a type of book that’s, essentially, not been done before.”

Popoff admits he had hesitation about the concept to begin with, but was very impressed with everyone he talked to, their knowledge about Rush, and their willingness to go deep into the albums.

“I learned a lot of interesting interpretations of the lyrics and things that people knew that I didn’t know, about the lyrics, the concept, things that were going on at the time, were songs played live before they were put on these records… I was just impressed across the board with some of the deep analysis of these albums,” he says.

Over to Lemmyland, Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers: The Rise of Motörhead looks at the band’s classic-era lineup in detail, choosing to focus strictly on that era of the legendary eardrum destroyers.

“What I wanted to do with this book is that it’s true to my usual standard where I wanted to talk about the records more than anything, in a lot of detail,” says Popoff. “So every album gets a chapter, and it’s basically the story of the classic lineup—not quite the original lineup, but the classic lineup—and those five or six records. Given that I’ve interviewed these guys so many times over the years, I do love the way that it is very much in their own words, it’s from my interview archive, it’s these guys talking. I’ve heard that many times, that people have said the personality of these three guys really comes through.”

Popoff—who stresses that this book was being written when all three members were alive so it’s not him trying to cash in on anyone’s death—says that he is a huge fan of the band, something that comes through clearly in the book.

“What I feel with this book is that it seems very intimate and personable, you’re right there with the guys,” he says. “It’s written by a superfan, so this is really a deep fan analysis of a very short period of time, by a fan.”

He points to the story of guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke’s last gig with the band as an example of the anecdotes that he got a chuckle out of while writing the book.

“There’s the story of Fast Eddie’s last gig with the band, at the Palladium in New York, where they stick him in the boiler room and there’s a bottle of whiskey and a line of coke on the boiler or the amp or something, and a chair, and that’s all that’s in the room,” Popoff chuckles. “The way Eddie tells these stories is priceless.”

Finally, there’s Popoff’s second of three books detailing the history of thrash metal. This follows a similar three-book series he did looking at the history of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

“The first one is called Hit the Lights: The Birth of Thrash, the second one’s called Caught In a Mosh: The Golden Era of Thrash, and the third one, which I’m just finishing up now, is going to be called Tornado of Souls: Thrash’s Titanic Clash, because it’s going to end at Clash of the Titans. So, the two books are out now, they’re thick, 290 pages, a lot of words, and all the speakers are there,” he says.

Between the three books, it’s going to be over 800 pages documenting the history of thrash from 1981 to 1991.

“What I love about this, especially with these thrash ones, is there’s so much detail about the second-tier and third-tier bands in there as well,” says Popoff. “It’s just really cool, as I’m writing these books, realizing this is one of very few instances where these guys are ever going to be represented in book form.”

For Popoff, that representation and documentation is the main reason he keeps doing these book projects.

“That’s really the main reason I do this—it’s important to document this stuff,” he says. “In a lot of cases, if I don’t do it, nobody’s going to end up doing it. So I like the fact that it’s documented, even with these self-published ones where I’m only printing a few hundred copies, I at least know those few hundred copies are out there, and in some form, maybe after I’m gone, someone’s going to wrench it out of my computer or sell bootlegs or whatever, and that history will be out there forever.”

Up next for Popoff are Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs and AC/DC: Album by Album.

Order Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers: The Rise of Motörhead here.

To order Rush: Album by Album or Caught In a Mosh: The Golden Age of Thrash, email Popoff directly at martinp@inforamp.net, and see martinpopoff.com for more information.

Portrait of Martin Popoff as a young rocker, 1976.
Portrait of Martin Popoff as a young rocker, 1976.