In which I present snapshots of my music bookshelves, accompanied by a few quick thoughts about each title (and I do mean quick — no plans, really, to “review” these). I’ll try and do one of these segments every few days, covering between half a dozen and a dozen books each time out. I’m numbering them mainly for my own amusement and because I really have no idea how many music books I actually own; more than the average person but less than many other rock critics, I suspect. (This idea is inspired in part by this ILM thread.)
1. Beck: Lord Only Knows (Steven Hamer) – This has a $1.99 price tag still on it, so obviously I bought it in a cutout bin somewhere (the sticker also says “Price City” and I confess I don’t even know where or what that is). I’m sure I purchased this for my wife, Jackie, who’s a bigger Beck fan than I am, but somehow it still ended up with my books (a few of her music books are on my shelves, not that that was a pre-condition for marriage or anything). This book has a few nice pictures, but that’s about it far as I can tell.
2. Beneath the Diamond Sky: Haight Ashbury 1965-1970 (Barney Hoskyns) – Haven’t read this, but will at some point, I hope. It’s nicely illustrated and designed, and I’m sure there’s some good stuff in there about the bands, the “scene,” whatever–I probably just need to be in the right mood for it. I’m a little upset about the fact that, just as I was pulling it off the shelf to figure out what I could say about it, I put a huge tear in the dust jacket. Aaargh — we’re off to a great start.
3. Simply Pop (Tony Jasper) – For some reason, I never pass books like this up when I come across them in used bookstores, provided the price is right ($3 or less). By the same token, I almost never actually read books like this. It’s written by a Brit who I’ve heard of but know nothing about, and it’s a slim volume that looks like a hype-sheet for what Americans by this point (1975) were still calling “rock” or “rock and roll” (poor, deluded souls). There are short artist profiles in here, crossword puzzles, music quizzes, loads of tartan, and some dandy (if kind of cheaply produced) photos.
4. A Whore Just Like the Rest (Richard Meltzer) – If I could only take one Meltzer book to the desert island, it’d probably be this, but then, I would say that: I’ve always been a “greatest hits” kind of guy. Still, it’s a tough call, the rock critic equivalent of choosing between High Tide and Green Grass or Aftermath (or between Discography or Very). Thing is, I haven’t pulled Whore off the shelf in a few years, whereas I pull The Aesthetics of Rock off the shelf at least a few times every year (often just to peruse a section on a particular artist, sometimes opening a page at random in hopes of having my mind blown). The amount of greatness in here, however, is kind of staggering, so over the long haul this would likely be the one.
5. Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History (David A. Jasen & Trebor Jay Tichenor) – A library remainder item (R 781.572 J) that I guess wasn’t borrowed by enough people to justify the real estate. Kind of sad when you think about it. I’d love to impress you with some arcane fact I discovered in the pages of this book, but I in fact have not read it, and am highly doubtful that I ever will. I’m not unhappy to own it, though.
6. Rip It Up and Start Again (Simon Reynolds) – I have all sorts of sticky notes inserted between the front and back covers of this, ostensibly the makings of a “review” that never happened (i.e., “p.140 – totally misunderstands the Ramones”), though I did ramble at length about it once on one of my three dozen other blogs. Haven’t referred to this much since first reading it, but I did enjoy it, and it’s probably the Reynolds desert island book for me, even if I don’t necessarily think it contains his liveliest or most compelling writing-as-writing.
7. Pink Floyd (Bruno MacDonald, ed.) – For a year or so, because of my affiliation with rockcritics.com, I got put on Da Capo’s mailing list — no shit. I’m pretty bummed that that connection dried up — God knows I’d much rather receive books in the mail than more useless CDs, that’s for sure. This is one of the goodies received, an anthology of articles about (duh) Pink Floyd, incl. stuff by Christgau, Julie Burchill, et al., most of which (you guessed it!) I haven’t read. Mint condition.
8. Radio On (Sarah Vowell) – Not as good as the fanzine, but what is? A number of books we’ll come across here are “rock criticism” more or less by default. This is one such title — where else to put it? I think I liked parts of this okay but am more interested in Vowell’s book (or books?) about U.S. presidents, quite frankly. She was really entertaining the one time I saw her on The Daily Show.
9. Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop (Havelock Nelson and Michael Gonzales) – Christmas gift from my friend Phil, who sent it to me back in the early ’90s when I lived in Vancouver, accompanied — if I recall correctly — by a note warning me that it’s probably not very good! So is it any good? Well, I recall reading 3/4 or so of it at the time and not thinking it was, but I have zero recollection as to why I thought this. Too anti-pop is my guess. I note now (as I obviously must’ve noted then) that there are two thumbs-up blurbs from Nelson George (“the hip-hop book everyone’s been waiting for…”) and Greg Tate (“written in a hip-hop gonzo style by two who grew up with da noize…”). So who knows? I’m sure I’d feel at least a bit more generous towards it now, especially if my dislike did have something to do with its anti-popness. Not that I’ve crossed the line into anti-popness by any means, just that I’m a little more able to look past it. Sometimes.
10. Unknown Pleasures: A Cultural Biography of Roxy Music (Paul Stump) – I read about half of this and put it down in frustration. I think I thought there were passages and/or chapters that seemed promising, but there also seemed to be a number of botched facts (which I realize I should be careful about saying here without an example to prove it), and more importantly I recall just strongly disagreeing with a number of the author’s conclusions, so vehemently that I can no longer even recall what those conclusions were exactly.