During his career, Mick Farren has occu­pied a long string of roles: crit­ic, poet, rock­er, com­men­ta­tor, author. His skill as a writer has informed all those roles, allow­ing him to craft a vari­ety of show­cas­es for his writ­ing skills: albums (both solo and with the Deviants), sev­er­al non-fic­tion books, even more nov­els and count­less columns for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zi­nes and inter­net sites. A body of work like that begs for a intro­duc­to­ry guide to help the novice plumb its depths — and such a guide has just been cre­at­ed in the form of Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine, recent­ly released in paper­back by Headpress Books.

The title should reveal both the irrev­er­ent wit and the pop cul­ture obses­sions of Farren: Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine twists an old Patti Smith lyric, replac­ing Jesus with Elvis Presley — a defin­ing inspi­ra­tion and fre­quent writ­ing sub­ject for the author. The collection’s con­tents offer a rich cross-sec­tion of Farren’s work — blogs, poems, chap­ters from nov­els, lyrics, news arti­cles, edi­to­ri­als, even unpub­lished frag­ments — all orches­trat­ed around themes. Fittingly, Elvis pops up in sev­er­al of its sec­tions.

A Rock & Roll Insurrection” is the first sec­tion and the pieces it show how Farren stum­bled into rock jour­nal­ism while try­ing to get his own music career going. Alongside pio­neer­ing arti­cles on punk, you’ll find some amus­ing cor­re­spon­dence with Pete Townshend about the mean­ing of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and a mem­o­rable account of a frus­trat­ing inter­view with a glee­ful­ly cryp­tic Chuck Berry. “From The Barricades To The Bar” revolves around the top­ics of drugs and drink. Highlights in this area include a scathing­ly wit­ty guide to cock­tails that pokes fun at the moti­va­tions of those who drink them and a con­cise, insight­ful his­to­ry of the recre­ation­al drugs that have cycled through rock and roll cul­ture.

The Corridors Of Power” presents a tart series of pieces about gov­ern­ment and big busi­ness, includ­ing an inter­view with Gore Vidal that focus­es heav­i­ly on abus­es of pow­er in the George W. Bush pres­i­den­cy and a thought-pro­vok­ing piece on a for­got­ten scan­dal from the Reagan pres­i­den­cy. The sec­tion that gave the book its title fol­lows and it focus­es on Elvis as well as oth­er sim­i­lar­ly tow­er­ing pres­ences in pop­u­lar music. In addi­tion­al to sev­er­al arti­cles about Elvis in his final years, there is a sharp inter­view with Johnny Cash (who reveals him­self to be an ace at han­dling the press) and a piece on Godzilla’s 50th anniver­sary that finds a wit­ty but sur­pris­ing­ly art­ful way to com­pare his career to that of Elvis Presley.

The final two sec­tions of the book ven­ture into ter­ri­to­ry that is as per­son­al as it is imag­i­na­tive. “Two Thousand Light Years From Home” uses alien­ation as its major the­me and finds it in a broad range of top­ics, includ­ing every­thing from a pock­et his­to­ry of the para­noia-themed t.v. clas­sic The Prisoner to an absorbing chron­i­cle of UFO cov­er-ups in U.S. his­to­ry that has just the right blend of jour­nal­is­tic detach­ment and nar­ra­tive flair.

The final sec­tion is enti­tled “The Future’s Uncertain And The End Is Always Near.” As the title sug­gests, it deals with the con­cept of the end times and mix­es jour­nal­ism about dooms­day phe­nom­e­na like Y2K and the end of the Mayan cal­en­dar with sev­er­al excerpts from Farren’s sci-fi fic­tion. The best moment in this final sec­tion is “Fun In The Final Days,” a brief yet high­ly detailed short sto­ry chron­i­cling a day in the soon-to-end life of an Angeleno as he waits out the col­li­sion of anoth­er plan­et with Earth. Despite its Mad Max-ish sci-fi trap­pings, it’s real­ly an art­ful ren­der­ing of urban alien­ation that uses its armaged­don back­drop to up the dra­mat­ic stakes.

In short, Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine is an impres­sive show­case of Farren’s dex­ter­i­ty as a writer. Despite the diver­si­ty of top­ics and writ­ing styles, the author’s skills nev­er waver. Even in the ear­li­est pieces, he shows a per­son­al­ized com­bi­na­tion of wit, style, hon­esty and fierce yet art­ful­ly deployed intel­li­gence. Whether you’re new to Farren’s work or a vet­er­an, it’s a great lit­tle tome to have on your book­shelf. Like qual­i­ty rock & roll, his mate­ri­al has aged nice­ly.