25. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Simon Frith) – Aka The Sociology of Rock. One of the first books of rock criticism I tried to read, “tried” being the operative word in this case. Frith’s prose just never grabbed me here, never led me into thinking (or caring) about his ideas . That said, I’m uncomfortable with the assumption in Christgau’s headline for his review of this book: “It’s Barely Rock and Roll, But I Like It.” Uncomfortable, that is, with the idea that a book about rock and roll has to read like rock and roll, uncomfortable with the underlying assumptions about what such a formulation even means (it must be loud? forceful? in-your-face?). Weird thought coming from Christgau, given that he probably has a wider definition of “rock and roll” than just about anyone. (He nails my disinterest with the book much better when he says it “isn’t romantic enough.” Maybe that’s what his headline means??) As I mentioned in a previous entry, I do like Performing Rites quite a bit, and I’m guessing that stylistically the books aren’t really that different. Maybe the slyness –the Drifters, if not the Stooges — in Frith’s voice just comes through a little better in the later book?
26. On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word (Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin) – Notable for a few essays in particular (not incl. Tom Carson’s already-familiar Stranded essay): Richard Dyer on disco, Simon Reynolds on New Pop, and Sheryl Garratt on girls in-and-around-pop.
27. Yes Yes Y’all: Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade (Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn) – For oral histories, I’m not sure I’d rate this as high as Please Kill Me (which I don’t rate as high as a few non-music oral histories I’ve read over the years, Edie being the first that comes to mind), but it’s a compelling story nonetheless. (And who can argue with a book that features an entire mini-chapter on the Funky 4 + 1?) Also, in terms of design, easily one of the top five music books on my shelf — maybe even the finest of them all. The photographs and reprinted flyers are fantastic, a lavishly illustrated chronicle of a time and place that seems centuries not decades ago.
28. Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession (Greil Marcus) – 1999 paperback edition… somewhere on another shelf I have a first print hardcover. (I don’t have tons of doubles in my collection, but I’m not averse to scooping up remainder copies of books I’ve enjoyed, sometimes with the thought that one day it’ll make a nice gift for someone else, more often because I’m just compulsive like that.) This would be another Top 5 candidate in the Best Design category, with the flyers, collages, paintings, and bootleg album covers exerptly woven in as part of the tale. This has nothing to do with why it sits beside Yes Yes Y’all — as you may have figured out, there’s not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to where most of the books end up on my shelves. Occasionally, I’ll have a cluster of activity that makes a bit of sense but in general I keep two things in mind when filling up shelves with music books: 1) the essential titles (the ones I refer to frequently) all need to be within arms reach; and 2) proportional representation, i.e., how do these books fit together physically? In other words, I try and keep the tall books and the mid-size books huddled together for aesthetic purposes, whereas the shorties… don’t get me wrong, I’ve no lack of love for the shorties, but they just tend to end up wherever. In terms of shelf aesthetics, their role is akin to tape filler.
29. Kaleidoscope Eyes: Psychedelic Rock From the ’60s to the ’90s (Jim DeRogatis) – Far be it from me to disavow such luminary blurb suppliers as Nick Tosches, Ira Robbins, Paul Williams, and Deena Weinstein, but I guess I’m gonna pull a Chrstgau-on-Frith move here and say that for a study of a sound and an ethos that encompasses Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, and Prince Be I found this remarkably (and boringly) straightforward. Mixed feelings about DeRogatis’s Bangs’s book — we’ll get to it — but for entertainment value I much prefer him when he’s making hysterical pronouncements, like saying that a young girl listening to Britney Spears is “as bad as being raped.” This voice comes out more in his interviews — and presumably on his radio show — than it does in his books, unfortunately.