Too Late To Stop Now: More Rock ’n’ Roll War Stories

Image of Too Late To Stop Now: More Rock’n’Roll War Stories
Release Date: 
July 25, 2023
Bloomsbury Caravel
Reviewed by: 

The relationship between journalist and subject is an ancient one, and the ice is frequently broken with the hoisting of a glass . . . or two. But British music writer Allan Jones, a veteran of both Melody Maker and Uncut, goes further. In fact, writer and quarry close the pubs together.

Too Late to Stop Now could also be called My Drinking Life, with Rock Stars. He gets hammered with Elton John, Lou Reed, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, John Cale, Wreckless Eric, The Damned, and many more. Jones’ first book, Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down (2018), was more of the same (and with some of the same people). So the earlier title is apt—how is he still standing up and writing so darned well? 

Seldom has a rock ’n’ roll memoir been so falling-down funny. Jones doesn’t sit there politely with his notebook and write down the same rote publicist-approved quotes. He waits until they’re completely sloshed, without inhibitions, and then the truth comes out. Throughout, Jones’ Sancho Panza is one Tom Sheehan, his photographer, who manages to make Dean Martin look like a teetotaler. There are drugs, of course, but more frequently rivers of booze.

Jones is eminently quotable. This is from the story of an ill-fated 1981 trip to Texas with Nick Lowe (and his pilot dad) to see a World War II fly-over by the Confederate Air Force: “The door to our room crashes open. Sheehan flies in, like he’s been blown into the room by a grenade blast. I watch in amusement as the great man attempts to negotiate a safe passage to his bed, every step forward that he manages followed by as many as he’s just come. Which means at one point, he’s back outside the room.”

Does Jones ever manage to talk to Nick Lowe (recording artist, producer of Elvis Costello, The Pretenders and many others) about his music on that trip? Well, no, and he never gets around to describing a Rolling Stones concert he attended in London, but getting there is the story—as in the best of Hunter S. Thompson. Jones’ travels with Sheehan might also recall for some readers Bill Bryson’s misadventures on the Appalachian Trail with out-of-shape hiking partner Stephen Katz.

All this doesn’t stop Too Late to Stop Now from being quite insightful about music. John Cale, co-founder of the Velvet Underground, talks about that band’s origins (circa 1964) in fresh new ways, and he’s covered that ground countless times before.

“‘[Lou Reed] played [his new songs, probably including future classics ‘Heroin’ and ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’] for me on an acoustic guitar and it sounded like folk music,’ Cale said. ‘They were like Joan Baez songs. I hated folk music, so I was very skeptical. But when he sat me down and read me the lyrics, I realized how well-crafted these songs were. I was caught up in their rhythms and what they were about. I was flabbergasted. I’d never heard anything like them. They seemed a long way from ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula.’ I began to think there was an opportunity here to do something that was different to everything else that was going on.’”

As Cale points out, they combined Reed’s radical songs with Cale’s background in the further reaches of classical and trance music, plus more than a little rock ’n’ roll propulsion. The result was a massively influential band that hardly sold any records but—like the late Captain Beefheart—still sounds like the future.

Some of the book’s best interviews involve musicians the author clearly loathes—including the Andersons, Jon of Yes, Ian of Jethro Tull. He is, to put it mildly, no fan of the grandiose, classically influenced long-form “prog rock” that was blown out of the water by punk in the 1970s. The prog guys, despite raking in the money, were indignant that the critics fawned over the Clash and Sex Pistols.   

“‘What’s up with [Ian] Anderson and people like him, who are suddenly behaving like swooning French aristocrats . . . ?’ Jones asks. ‘Whatever disparaging critics and loudmouthed punks think of his music, Tull still sell millions of albums. Look at those framed [gold] discs on the wall! The Sex Pistols and Clash together will never between them sell as many records.’”

Sting and Stewart Copeland, then of the Police, didn’t think the punks could play their instruments, which seems beside the point. “Look at these guys,” Copeland quotes Sting as saying. “They’re getting all the media attention and they’re shit.” Copeland attempts to float above it all. “I wasn’t going to lose my temper if Dave Vanian [of the Damned] refused to speak to my one night at the Roxy,” he said.

“The punks hated us,” says [Jon] Anderson of Yes. “Why are they knocking us? We were a supergroup, yeah, but we were still working hard.” Albums like Tales of Topographic Oceans “took us into other areas.” Anderson is sitting with Jones in the south of France, the trappings of rock star wealth all around him, unspooling tales of getting the cold shoulder from Elvis Costello at the Grand Hotel in Nice. Anderson is probably thinking that Jones—like those millions of record buyers—appreciates the artistry of Tales, but instead the author is revolted by the “four dismal, life-sapping sides of the thing.”

British music journalists are often more cynical than their American counterparts, but Jones is also quite good on music he loves—like the Blasters, featuring brothers Dave and Phil Alvin, encountered in Texas in 1982. After copious amounts of beer (it’s Texas, after all) the Blasters put on a viscerally exciting show of roadhouse roots rock that leaves—almost—everyone sopping wet and happy. A couple four rows back from the stage sits on their hands, though, and the band takes it personally. At the next show in Houston the band “hits the stage like a fireball, blowing the roof off the venerable hut . . . Dave’s guitar burns up everything in its airspace. . . . Job done.” No holdouts that night.