49. & 50. The Age of Rock: Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution & The Age of Rock 2: Sights and Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution (both edited by Jonathan Eisen) – Probably the first semi-reputable greatest hits collections of (mostly but not exclusively American) rock criticism, published in ’69 and ’70 respectively. While both have their share of uninteresting (occasionally unreadable) blather, there’s enough of interest in each volume to make these keepers: Meltzer (who is “interviewed by” A. Warhol in one great piece), Jon Landau, Stanley Booth, Toms Wolfe and Smucker, Lenny Kaye, and a few others. Make no mistake, the blather here outweighs the interesting by a wide margin — just as it does in most rock criticism from this era (if you want to talk about a “golden age” I think you need to leap a decade or so ahead) — but I nonetheless find the slightly schizo tone of these tomes kind of fascinating in their over-reach and haphazardness, the markings of a genuinely brave spirit at least in their (I suppose in Jonathan Eisen’s) willingness to allow in the front door all sorts of fucking around with form and ideas. Never mind that such “bravery” may simply have been an acid-besotted inability to separate the readable from the utter dreck… oh well. The pictures do suck, however.
51. Beginning to See the Light: Pieces of a Decade (Ellen Willis) – Not very much music writing in this, and nothing at all in the second half of the book, but what is there is mostly pretty great, even if I do find Willis’s dealing with her increasing detachment from pop music in the title essay a little depressing. (I realize it’s the height of selfishness for me to suggest that feminism’s gain was rock criticism’s loss, an inelegant way of saying I wish she’d stuck with the stuff long enough to engage with all the great female punk and post-punk which I bet she could have made better sense of at the time than anyone.) Anyway, I was surprised when I delved into this years ago how much I liked some of the non-music stuff as well, and if I had time today I’d take a couple hours to re-read two in particular: “Tom Wolfe’s Failed Optimism” and “Learning From Chicago,” both of which I recall as being particularly insightful and moving pieces of criticism.
I’m fairly certain there’s another Willis comp in the works right now. If her pop music writing — a great deal of which I’ve never seen — isn’t contained in a separate volume, I hope it’s at least given the prominence it deserves in whatever collection does make its way into stores.
52. Gulcher: Post-Rock Cultural Pluralism in America (1649=1980) (R. Meltzer) – The Aesthetics of Everything Else, sort of. In fact, there are Meltzer fans who prefer this to AOR, and though I’d personally rather not choose, it is a funnier book (or rather, funny in a more direct way: I laughed lots at AOR without really knowing what exactly I was laughing at) and an easier book to get into, not to mention a different kind of animal entirely, one which, in form anyway, set a template for much of his post-AOR writing. It’s interesting to note that, while Meltzer, by this point (’72) has clearly already reached an impasse with rock, his pissing-in-the-punchbowl crankiness hasn’t yet descended (“evolved”? take your pick) into full-on rancour and bitterness. So even at his most skewering (“2700 Music Lovers Are Dumb Bunnies” is dead funny so long as your name isn’t Art Garfunkel), he’s having a total blast in his pursuit of whateverness. If the driving idea behind the book is that rock itself is over, there’s no sense that the writer himself is defeated by this notion — quite the opposite — and he imparts the same sort of far out wisdom on bottle caps, tampons, and boxing that he once did on the Beatles and Herman’s Hermits.
53. Will Pop Eat Itself: Pop Music in the Soundbite Era (Jeremy J. Beadle) – A lot of the music covered here — stitched-together British dance pop like KLF, M/A/R/R/S, etc. — was near and dear to me at the time (’93), and I liked this book enough to contact the author, who surprised me by writing back with a detailed, thoughtful response to whatever it was I queried him about (I trust I still have my letter and his response filed away somewhere). I haven’t felt the need to pick it up again since — I think I’ve listened to my favourite KLF songs three times this decade — but I’m sure at some point I’ll want to flip through it again (I’m grateful there’s an index). I remember it as being a solid overview of something that I never really understood as a “scene” until the author made sense of it that way for me. (On a sadder note, a quick Google search reveals that Beadle died a couple years after this hit the shelves.)
54. Summer of Love: The Inside Story of LSD, Rock & Roll, Free Love and High Times in the Wild West (Joel Selvin) – Haven’t read this yet.
55 Glam! Bowie, Bolan and the Glitter Rock Revolution (Barney Hoskyns) – A slim, solid read, with great pics (there’d better be, right?). Companion piece (literally) to Velvet Goldmine, which I liked a lot.
56. Blissed Out: The Raptures of Rock (Simon Reynolds) – After reading all the rave reviews of this at the time, I was able to eventually find a copy in the Vancouver Public Library, and I liked his voice lots, particularly his way of thinking out loud, of playing with ideas and testing out theories before they are settled in his brain. (I also remember firing off a missive — never completed, addressed to no one in particular — in which I took the author to task for what I still believe is his terrible misreading of the Pet Shop Boys: “This group’s only sin is their wry self-consciousness which falls smugly short of arrant narcissism; the fey, running commentary implicit in their song titles… signifies detachment, and finally alienation from the allure, the lush materiality of pop. This isn’t even pop about pop, this is fop about pop. It shows that camp is a defensive attitude, a flight from real involvement.”) Sadly out of print, I finally was able to locate a copy for myself about a year ago in a used boosktore for $8.50, which, considering I once saw a copy on e-Bay for $60 I figured was some kind of steal.