Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 3

20. Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story (Nick Tosches) – The number of music bios I own is relatively small (I’m guessing they account for, at most, 20% of my music books), the number I’ve read even smaller, and the number I’ve loved barely constitute a blip in my reading history, but this is the exception even among the exceptions (of which there are a few). As someone who came to the subject of Jerry Lee rather blindly — aside from knowing the obvious hits — and without an overwhelming amount of interest in learning more, I found Tosches’ telling of the story entirely absorbing, even haunting. Particularly in his channeling of Lewis’s voice, a risky device that resonated long after I put the thing down. “It was 1975. It might just as well have been 1965. He took a drink and beheld himself in the mirror. There were lines on his face that he had never seen before. He looked for the eyes of the hawk, but saw only his own, pink and milky from the wages of unclean succor. The hair, though, the hair — the hair was yet of majesty.”

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Tom Ewing on “The Test of Time”

Tom Ewing’s latest Pitchfork column, which employs an old Dave Marsh Smiths vs. Lionel Richie dichotomy as a launch pad, contains a lot to chew on, examining as it does the dubious critical fallback position of “20 years from now, people will still be listening to this [i.e., this record that I’m praising] whereas few or no one will still be listening to that [i.e., this record that someone else is praising but which you yourself don’t care for].” I bet there’s not a rock critic on the planet who hasn’t written from this vantage point at some time or other, but even to call this position “dubious” is rather charitable. As Ewing points out, it’s a position that can’t really be argued with (unless, perhaps, your name is Mork).

Myself, I fear that I have too often relied on the opposite tack, which Ewing mentions only briefly:

“What strikes me is that the test of time card is played to win internal arguments as much as external ones. It’s often the justifier for something being top of a list, not fourth, or it turns up ruefully acknowledged when talking about a pleasure-perceived evanescent: I’m sure I won’t be listening to this next year but… Posterity here is a cop in the listener’s head.”

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