[Goldstein] was and presumably still is a man whose capacious enthusiasms leave him vulnerable to big disappointments. He was so disenchanted with Utopia’s failure to materialize that he bailed on being a rock critic six months before Woodstock. Not many people today even remember he was one, let alone the earliest influential one. Voice readers of my generation probably associate him far more with the paper’s determined and valiant pro-gay advocacy in the ’70s and ’80s, his main beat after he came out himself.
Yet Goldstein did a lot to define and articulate not only rock’s most radical aspirations, but — crucially — the abiding terms of disenchantment. The vexed concepts he wrestled with — “authenticity,” “commercialism,” and so on — were still bedeviling Kurt Cobain two decades later. I’d never realized how much he created the template for the trajectory of idealism and disillusionment I and many others retraced when, in our case, the Great Punk Rock Revolution went pffft. But you can just as easily fill in “When the Beatles broke up,” “When Al Green found Jesus” — or “When Kurt Cobain died,” come to think of it. Later generations would learn to disguise how much it hurt every time by making jokes about jumping the shark.”
Archive for the ‘Book (P)reviews’ Category
Posted by s woods on May 6, 2013
Posted by s woods on May 2, 2013
Pitchfork: The first column at The Voice to do this with music was Richard Goldstein’s “Pop Eye”. He wasn’t there for very long, but he developed a unique way to approach music intellectually and enthusiastically at the same time.
DP: Goldstein started writing at The Village Voice in 1966, after finishing his masters in journalism at Columbia. He wanted to write about pop with a capital P: It’s mass culture, it’s democratic, but at the same time, it can be cunning, smart, tongue-in-cheek. At this point, no one else was taking that approach. You can see a juxtaposition with Crawdaddy, which was Paul Williams’ publication. Where Williams really just wanted to be serious, Goldstein wanted to be meta. He was friends with Bob Christgau and Ellen Willis, and they’re starting to figure out, “How do we develop a new language for talking about music?”
Pitchfork: One of the fascinating and, in a way, tragic things about Goldstein’s story is the identity crisis that he developed in public through his writing. At first, he embraced pop. But he quickly started resenting its commercialization and valorizing the underground.
DP: The “underground” is an idea that Goldstein is key in developing. Not to say that there weren’t people covering things out of the limelight before, but he’s central to the use of the word “underground” and this idea that there is a submerged culture happening on its own terms. At first, Richard gets very fired up about the possibilities of pop to radically reinvent society. Remember, it’s the 1960s, so we’re talking about the beliefs of the counterculture for world change. All of this infuses him and his writing. Very quickly, though, he gets jaded, as I think many people in their late 20s can relate to. But also, when we think about rock in the 60s getting completely commercialized, we don’t realize that it happened in the span of 28 months, really. The big money started falling in, which has an ironic relationship to the music. It helps the music to spread but at the same time, especially for somebody who was on the ground observing it, it could be a very depressing change.
Eric Harvey interviews Devon Powers about Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism, which I just ordered this morning. I’m probably looking as forward to the telling of Goldstein’s place in all this as I am to Christgau’s, given that I really know only the most obvious, scant details about RG. (There’s also the recent news to consider that Christgau is releasing a memoir of his own.)
Posted by s woods on April 5, 2013
Revisiting the work of early pop critics such as Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau, Powers shows how they stood at the front lines of the mass culture debates, challenging old assumptions and hierarchies and offering pioneering political and social critiques of the music. Part of a college-educated generation of journalists, Voice critics explored connections between rock and contemporary intellectual trends such as postmodernism, identity politics, and critical theory. In so doing, they became important forerunners of the academic study of popular culture that would emerge during the 1970s.
- Press release for Devon Powers’s upcoming tome, Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism.
Consider me stoked. Or anyway, intrigued.
Posted by s woods on April 1, 2013
From the latest edition of Perfect Sound Forever:
“….in Cagean spirit, the following is a series of aleatoric impressions of the ideas and music of John Cage…”
This might be a good time to put in a mention of Kyle Gann’s No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33″, which I read a couple months back, and, for the most part, enjoyed tremendously. (My one disappointment: a bit too much focus on the man rather than the song.) There’s a good interview with Gann (by John Ruscher) here:
“I think that as many other composers have taken environmental sound into their aesthetic, the actual impact of ’4’33″‘ will become a little diffuse; it was revolutionary at the time, but in young people’s hindsight it appears to seem more and more obvious and necessary. It will always pinpoint a crucial historical step, but like Columbus’s egg, it seems less and less surprising that someone thought of it. One student in Serbia mentioned to me recently that he thought the only real performance was the first one, a total surprise, and that the ‘aura’ of the work could never really be recreated again. Cage, who kept redefining the work for himself, would have disagreed, but for most people I think there’s some truth to it. By now, almost anyone who hears it live has an idea what will happen and how to think about it.”
Posted by s woods on February 27, 2013
Talking About Pauline Kael (Scarecrow Press essay collection; deadline for abstracts is June 1, 2013; accepted essays due October 15, 2013).
Calling for essays for a collection, Talking About Pauline Kael, which will examine how New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael’s unique vision, writing style, or critical authority has, in any way, influenced the study of film, the role of film criticism, or even the teaching of film in the classroom.
Posted by s woods on February 7, 2013
Tom Carson, former rock critic who now writes about movies, tv, politics, and etc. for GQ and — the recent work of his I really treasure — The American Prospect, has posted an unofficial soundtrack to his novel, Daisy Buchanana’s Daughter (which was recently reprinted in two shorter volumes *). Can’t claim to have read the DB series (though to this non-fiction lover, they sound quite appealing, the sort of sprawling in-and-out-of-history thing I could see myself falling for in a big way), but the soundtrack itself is nifty, featuring tracks by Pet Shop Boys, Eno, Charlie Rich, Marianne Faithfull, Cyndi Lauper, and others.
* There isn’t, as I erroneously suggested here previously, a sequel; it’s simply that one book of awesome length has been made into two books of less awesome length.
Posted by s woods on February 7, 2013
7. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties by Ian Macdonald [Pimlico 1995]
The only book you need to read on the Beatles and their musical impact. I say musical, because Macdonald, like me, is not at all interested in their roles as fashion icons, leaders of change in teenage morals, social and gender politics, the Swinging Sixties blah blah blah. They were important musicians. You don’t need to know anything else.
- Howard Goodall’s top 10 music books in The Guardian
(I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve read Macdonald’s tome, but I’m thinking every sentence of this capsule summary is ass-backwards. MacDonald “is not at all interested” in politics and Swinging Sixties? Really?)
Posted by s woods on February 1, 2013
From Joe Carducci’s, Rock and the Pop Narcotic. For me, the smartest thing about his book is his use of quotes, the more (apparently) non-sequiturial, the better. You laugh or scoff at many of them, then are forced to ponder their place: why is this one here? What does this have to do with ANYthing?
Posted by s woods on January 31, 2013
Greg Cwik in PopMatters is less wowed by Marcus the conversationalist than by Marcus the writer:
“Marcus talks about his initial involvement with FSM [Free Speech Movement], his waning interest, and, as seen above, his eventual disillusion, but none of this is told fervidly. It’s maybe the most revealing of the interviews in the collection, though it sometimes drags. Seeing Marcus in the context of the FSM illuminates bits of his personal history that have been mostly veiled in shadow. Kitchell asks about Marcus’ personal thesis on the struggle of criticism, but Marcus never answers the question, and the interview ends with, ‘Yeah, it’s fun to talk…’ [Ellipsis his.]“
Posted by s woods on January 30, 2013
There’s no rhyme or reason, really, to what I’m posting here these days (was there ever?), so forgive me if it seems odd to post a six-year-old podcast I’ve yet to listen to regarding a book I’ve only started reading (and am all of 15 pages into), but… I do intend to follow through on both of these. It’s an interview with Yuval Taylor, co-author (with Hugh Barker) of Faking It: The Quest For Authenticity In Popular Music. The interviewer is Jesse Thorn at “The Sound of Young America.” (I can’t not note this unfortunate description on the site, however: “We discuss [and hear music from] artists including Leadbelly, Nirvana, Neil Young, Woodie Guthrie, the Rolling Stones, Jimmie Rodgers, Donna Summer, Billy Joel and even Jennifer Lopez.” Even Jennifer Lopez? Oh, the horror!)
Posted by s woods on January 30, 2013
Last October, the University Press of Mississippi released Conversations With Greil Marcus, edited by Joe Bonomo and featuring 14 interviews with Marcus, from 1981 to 2010 (including, I’m pleased to say, the Online Exchange conducted at rockcritics.com back in 2002). There’s more information about the book on Bonomo’s website, No such Thing As Was, and he was kind enough to answer a few quick e-mail questions, both about the book itself and the process of putting it together. (And, conflict of interest notwithstanding, CWGM is a terrific read, an excellent–dare I say breezy?–way to engage with Marcus’s critical aesthetic, a more casual, if no less caustic, primer to some of his farther-flung obsessions.)
When did you first discover Greil Marcus’s writing? What was it in his writing that pulled you in, that made you a fan of his work?
I first came across Marcus in the late 1980s, when I was in graduate school at Ohio University. I’d heard of him—I was reading Rolling Stone like everyone else, and I knew Dave Marsh’s and Peter Guralnick’s work, so there were tangential glimpses of him. But it wasn’t until I read Mystery Train that I started to get into him more fully. Then Lipstick Traces and Dead Elvis came out, and I got those and dove in. The book of Lester Bangs’s that he edited, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, was also important. I’m a really big fan of Bangs, and to have Marcus provide historical and cultural context for me at that time was huge.
I’ve always admired his mind. From the start, I loved the way he trusted his instincts that, say, Object A and Person B and Event C, no matter how disparate they are, or appear to be in conventional terms, might share something intangible, might intersect in a way that’s surprising and meaningful. Plus, he obviously gets rock and roll. As the years passed and my tastes in music and art deepened, I recognized that fewer and fewer of Marcus’s and my records and CDs overlapped. I don’t agree with everything he likes, and as someone who tends to look for art in art, not in rock and roll, I’ve been skeptical of some of his explorations, but I’ve never lost my admiration for the way he thinks, the Keatsian “negative capability” nerve of it, that he walks into dark rooms without knowing where the furniture is and may crash into stuff until his eyes adjust. I learn a lot by reading him. And, simply at the levels of sentence, paragraph, and argument, he’s a real pleasure to read, no matter what he’s writing about.
What prompted the idea for this collection of interviews?
While I was at Ohio University a friend and a teacher, David Lazar, edited a collection of interviews with the essayist M.F.K. Fisher, and that’s how I learned about the series. A few years later, around 1995, it occurred to me that Marcus might be a good candidate. I pitched the book to University Press of Mississippi, and after a while they wrote back having determined that Marcus was too “mid-career” at that point for them to take on the book. It turns out that they were correct. I remember that Marcus laughed at that; he liked the idea that someone was considering him at the middle of his career, rather then nearer to the end. So, a few years ago I revived the idea with the press, which at that point had a new director and series editor, and they accepted it.
Talk a bit about your selection process — what was your criteria for inclusion in the book?
I strove for balance — among subjects, years, types of interview, whether radio print, or online, and interview format, conventional or unique. I wanted to cover as many of his books as I could without encountering too much repetition, and also to find those interviews where, on his own or at the interviewer’s prompting, Marcus strayed away from the book under discussion and got into related stuff. I also wanted to find interviews where Marcus talks about subjects other than music, which is his admitted starting place for just about everything — but he thinks adroitly and valuably about film and literature and politics, too. The difficulty was weeding out the really good interviews that clustered around his more heavily-publicized books — Dead Elvis and Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, in particular. I had to make tough choices there. I looked for a high level of engagement on the part of the interviewer. Those interviews where the Q’s were smart and challenging, where the interviewer was well-prepared and leading with real commitment and had a stake in the conversation, were the strongest. Breadth was really important. But the manuscript word count was tough, too; several very good pieces missed the cut because of space limitations. I made a point of listing them at the front of the book.
What was the earliest interview you came across–is it the first one in the book?
No, it was interview he did for NPR on December 9, 1980, about John Lennon’s murder. It wasn’t substantial enough to include in the book, but it’s interesting.
What was Marcus’s own involvement in it? Was he originally keen on the idea?
He was, from the beginning. I’m grateful for that. In the first go-around he sent me envelopes full of copies of hard-to-find interviews, from one-off zines and college newspapers and places like that, and cassettes of radio interviews, too, which I transcribed over many, many hours. That was super helpful in helping me to get my hands on the many interviews that were never digitally rescued, where I had to do a lot of cutting and pasting and scanning. He sent me some foreign-language interviews and articles, too. And he fact-checked the manuscript, which was very helpful. Beyond that, he was hands-off. The approach and selections were all mine.
Did you use any other interview books as models for your own?
Lazar’s book that I mentioned above is a good one, and the book on the fiction writer Larry Brown was helpful for me to read in terms of approaches to transcribing. But I essentially went with my own instincts.
I thought you did an excellent job of avoiding too much repeated material. I like the Pauline Kael interview book that was put out many years ago, but I find there’s a LOT of regurgitation throughout of ideas, references, etc. I didn’t notice an overabundance of that here, though some is obviously inevitable. Did you have to cut out any good interviews because of subject overlap?
Thanks. Yeah, there were a ton of interviews with Marcus in the early 1990s, and a lot of them are very good. So I had to do some brutal selecting there. As it turns out, I use three interviews from Canadian (CBC) radio, and the same interviewer twice, about which initially I was hesitant, but the conversations are so good and thoughtful and meaty that I couldn’t resist! Again, it came down to well-prepared interviewers who care about their subject and aren’t simply on assignment: they’re careful to avoid bringing up too many of the always-asked questions or topics, and instead try and come in with a novel approach, to engage with Marcus in a way he hadn’t quite been before.
How would you describe the differences between Marcus the interviewee and Marcus the writer? Is the difference subtle or pronounced?
Oh, it’s subtle, if it’s there at all. As I write in my introduction, the man speaks in paragraphs. It often seems as if he’s answering a question for which he’s prepared, far in advance, his answer. I’m really impressed with the way he comports himself in conversations: he’s lucid, thoughtful, never rushed, never betrayed by um’s and er’s or half-baked ideas like the rest of us are. To my ear, he talks in back-and-forth informal conversations as gracefully and as substantially as he writes in his polished books and columns, which is no small feat, and was an unexpected pleasure in editing this book.
Posted by s woods on January 29, 2013
Won’t likely be helpful to many of you, but via a Rory Gallagher forum (don’t ask), here’s a small web page about Alain Dister and his book.
Posted by s woods on January 29, 2013
What’s that, you say? You haven’t had enough 2012 year-end lists? Fine, here’s Dorian Lynskey in the Guardian, running through the best music books in what is characterized as “a vintage year.”
Posted by s woods on January 28, 2013
Peter Guralnick has a new website, in which he is posting Youtube playlists for his book, Lost Highway (“an erratic, eccentric collection of video clips to accompany the book”), and in which he has taken it upon himself to interview himself, mostly in regards to a biography he’s writing on Sam Phillips:
The book is much more “personal” than any of my other books – I mean all of them are personal. All of them are intensely personal, because they represent what I care about and deeply believe. But here – in the book about Sam – I take on a personal role, because I was there for much of the last 25 years. I was there for many of the events. And I was there not strictly as a reporter (I’m never there strictly as a reporter) but in some other, less definable role.
Posted by s woods on January 24, 2013
Posted by s woods on January 16, 2012
I’ve touted, on a few occasions over the years, Da Capo’s “Best Music Writing” series, the quality of which has always been, in the very least, reliable (some years editions are more excellent than other years editions, no doubt due to what has turned the crank of each respective guest editor). As you may or may not have heard, the series is now going indie — meaning that, going forward, “the series will be independently published and have a new editorial structure that will better serve the music writing community and create a more dynamic, wide-reaching book for music writing fans.” Of course, putting out books costs money, and to that end, series editor Daphne Carr has started a fundraiser to keep the series going. For me, it’s a series that, good as it has been, could still be better, so I hope they garner enough to keep things going. One very promising addition already is an online ballot, which is sure to increase the scope of the venture, if not the quality.
Not on anyone’s payroll for this, I swear, but if you care at all about this stuff you should consider making some kind of contribution. Depending on how much you contribute you’ll be rewarded for your efforts — with a copy of the book, a tote bag, a t-shirt, a date with the world’s sexiest rock critic, etc. (Not me, I’m taken.)
Posted by s woods on November 21, 2011
The new Da Capo collection, edited by Alex Ross (with Series Editor, Daphne Carr), is out next week. Not sure if this direct link will work, but Amazon lets you take a peak at the table of contents. (Ross, on his blog, points to a couple events in NYC, to celebrate the release.)
Posted by s woods on November 17, 2011
Rev. Keith A. Gordon in Blurt Online:
“Eddy’s critical flights of fancy notwithstanding, he’s a solid writer of no little wit and humor, and if we readers (such as yours truly) can agree to disagree on some of the dreck that he immortalizes in Rock And Roll Always Forgets, we can all find middle ground. As music critics go, Chuck Eddy has always been a bit of a provocateur, and his tendency to risk ridicule with absurdist or unpopular critical stances is what has always made him an engaging and intelligent writer.”
Posted by s woods on November 17, 2011
- Dulani Wallace interviews Kevin Avery at the Vinyl District: “He would only really enjoy writing about things that meant something to him personally, so there are few clues about his own life in many of his pieces. So that became the idea—the first half of the book is the biography, the second half of the book is Paul’s writing. It’s kind of like Paul telling his own story.”
- Review at The Stash Dauber: “Part of why I find Nelson’s story so disturbingly resonant, I have to admit, is that I see something of myself in him (although he accomplished significantly more and operated on a more highly exalted plain than your humble chronicler o’ events), and something of my father (who spent the last 30 years of his life working on an academic paper that was never completed, let alone published). “
- Kevin Avery at Strand Bookstore (via Pulp Serenade: Avery, joined by Dave Marsh, hosts an in-store at The Strand in New York — with photos)
[Photo of Paul Nelson by Lawrence White]
Posted by s woods on November 17, 2011
- Review by A.G. in The Economist: “Every page is a party. Open to any chapter and the capitalised names pop out (Pauline Kael! Robert Christgau! Patti Smith!). Mr Wolcott arrived in New York in 1972 — “just as everything was going to hell” — to work at the Village Voice on the recommendation of Norman Mailer (he had written an article about Mailer for his college newspaper). It was then a city of ‘crappy expectations that didn’t require a trust fund or a six-figure income for the privilege of watching everything fall apart before your eyes.’”
- Brendan Bernhard, East Village: “If Mr. Wolcott traces the rise and fall of CBGB with the sure hand of a master, he is less convincing when analyzing the intellectual status of his own generation of downtown critics. Willis, Goldstein, and Christgau had ‘the brains, the ambition, the range and grasp to inherit the big desks in the editorial offices and give culture its marching orders,’ but they never did. Well, thank God they didn’t is one’s first reaction, and the second (having read these people) is, ‘Really?’”
- Michaelangelo Matos in the A.V. Club: “He describes the (Voice) office’s many characters with a warm eye (‘Nat Hentoff… always enjoyed having a First Amendment case to warm his hands over’), but when Kael sweeps him under her wing, the book hits its most romantic pitch. (That, and when he discovers ballet late in the decade.)”
- “James Wolcott, wise dildo” in the Daily Caller: “This is someone with talent and imagination to burn; sometimes it seems like Wolcott swallowed a Power Verbs book. After experiencing the charge of his prose, it’s almost impossible to go back to the gray stylings of lesser men — the weak Hunter Thompson imitation of Matt Taibbi, the hack righteousness of E.J. Dionne, the convoluted banshee wails of Andrew Sullivan.” (Heh, politicize much, Daily Caller dude?)
- Choire Sicha sizes the book up at BookForum: “The most interesting subject here is not so much nostalgia — which Wolcott wisely disavows — or the ’70s as a ‘thing,’ but rather the raw human-on-human quality of the day’s critical discourse (as more highfalutin types would later brand it): literary stabbings, accidental slaggings-off, and lingering meannesses as practiced in the small town that is New York. Vain little red-butted monkeys, most of them overzealous typers, but also thinking people: people with an audience and people of an audience.” (“People”? What’s that?)
- Staying Alive: With A New Memoir On The Shelf, James Wolcott Discusses The Writing Life (New York Observer): “You have to remember that you always write for readers… Most people, their idea of a reader is not even a person, it’s like their expectation of what this piece will do for them… You have to realize that if you don’t make something clear, if you don’t make something interesting, they will abandon it in the second paragraph.”