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Pop Smarts

Die-hard rock fans are crazed obsessives who don't get out much. Two websites won't do much to change that.

By Brian M. Raftery

For true rock & roll obsessives -- those High Fidelity types who commit liner notes to memory and can rhapsodize for hours about obscure Bob Dylan B sides -- the need for arcane knowledge never fades. No matter how many magazines or record guides they've stockpiled and scrutinized, pop fanatics are on an ongoing quest to take in as many music minutiae as possible.

Of course, the Web has always been a nexus for such cultish personalities -- a place where one can take comfort in the fact that someone, somewhere, shares the same crazed curiosity about the Abbey Road sessions or obscure mid-'90s Brit-popsters. But two comprehensive sites -- the online magazine Rock's Backpages (www. and the Q&A archive ( -- have taken music geekdom to new heights.

Launched in 2000 by Barney Hoskyns -- a former editor for the Brit music mag Mojo -- Backpages has an editorial scope not dissimilar to that revered import, devoting lengthy features to pop architects like the Beatles and Pink Floyd, while spotlighting such new performers as country punk Ryan Adams and spacey British act Spiritualized.

But the real hook is its extensive archives, which, for an annual fee of $34.95, provide access to an expanding collection of articles and essays from the '60s to the present day. Culled from rags like Creem and New Musical Express -- as well as 'zines -- these pieces often capture bands while they're still in their wide-eyed early incarnations: David Lee Roth talks about playing the L.A. backyard-party circuit, while Guns N' Roses revel in their on-tour escapades; and in a frank 1976 interview, the Clash's Joe Strummer vents about racism in British society.

In addition to star profiles and record reviews, several stories focus on music journalists, those tough-typing (and, it must be said, impossibly good-looking) critics and chroniclers who are sometimes held up as stars themselves -- witness how last year's Almost Famous helped contribute to the virtual canonization of wild scribe Lester Bangs. It's a lifestyle more fully examined by, a less slick but still equally slavish online publication.

True to its name, the site features interviews with the likes of Ira Robbins, Anthony DeCurtis, and Stanley Booth -- names that have yet to inspire any loving cinematic tributes but are well regarded by music aficionados. The back-and-forths often provide a witty, articulate portrait of each writer, but because many of the interviews are conducted via e-mail, they lack the spontaneity of a conversation. And another thing: Though its lo-fi presentation is part of its charm, this word-driven site is a total eyesore, steeped in mid-'90s Web-design aesthetics.

Still, is a comprehensive survey of articles off the Net, from glossy publications to gritty fansites. Along with Backpages, it's a comforting reminder to music nuts that they're not alone in their not-so-trivial pursuits.

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