57. Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics (John Gennari) – Just a lone title this time around, as it’s still fairly fresh in the brain. An exhaustive (at least as far as I can tell — someone more knowledgeable on the subject might say otherwise) history of jazz criticism featuring richly drawn portraits of the leading jazz critics of the last 80 years … Continue reading Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 9
The more the merrier, I say. (C’mon, folks, get out your digital cameras now…) Continue reading Todd’s Bookshelf
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.
43. The Liberation of Sound: An Introduction to Electronic Music (Herbert Russcol) – Paid a dollar for this 1972 hardcover at a library blowout sale, back when I was buying any and every music book that held even a modicum of interest. In fact, it’s a pretty great find. Have mostly just skimmed it, but from what I can tell it’s a fairly comprehensive history, published at a time when “electronic music” was largely just shorthand for musical eggheads messing around with tape recorders and scales, when “futuristic” meant not Emerson, Wakeman, and Schneider but Varese, Cage, Stockhausen, et al. (the only pop act I see listed in the index is — big surprise — the Beatles). Comes with listening recommendations, a glossary, timelines, some great photos, etc… quite pleased to own this… Etcetera: The Amazon page for this title has one lonely but positive customer review.
Trudging along with this feature, ever so slowly…
36. Songs They Never Play on the Radio: Nico, the Last Bohemian (James Young) – Another one in the haven’t-read-it-but-would-like-to pile. From what I gather it’s a tour diary (written by the guy who played keyboards with Nico throughout the ’80s) with many episodes of wanton drug use. Truthfully, not really my idea of a good time. And yet… every review I’ve read suggests that it’s much more intelligent than my no doubt reductive encapsulation suggests.
30. Route 666: On the Road to Nirvana (Gina Arnold) – The gap between my enjoyment of Nirvana’s music and my disinterest in reading about them is more pronounced than it is with just about any other major pop/rock artist I can think of. I can’t really explain this gap aside from admitting I’m just being an unreasonable, stubborn bastard on the matter. I do have a vague sense that, back when they stalked the earth, there was an awful lot of nonsense written about them, and that the nonsense increased exponentially after April 1994. Can I point to anything specific to prove my case? Not really — like I say, it’s just a vague sense. I think part of it stems from the fact that the whole Seattle moment was one of the few genuine pop explosions of my lifetime that I not only didn’t feel part of, but in fact felt a little alienated by (though not alienated enough to prevent me from hearing the music). I wouldn’t say I felt any particular animus towards it — well, maybe a little bit towards goatees – I just never felt like this scene was mine, nor did I want it to be mine. If I was left out, that was fine; I didn’t really want “in.”
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?
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.”
11. The Dark Stuff (Nick Kent) – Read a few chapters of this (Brian Wilson, Stones, G N’ R, I think), perused the others, have never felt a pressing need to pull it off the shelf again. I know how highly regarded Kent is (especially in the UK), and based on the little I’ve read I can neither confirm or dispute the many claims made for him, but the terrain he covers in this book is, at least for me, one of the least interesting stories in pop music — that of the wasted, self-destructing rock star (I say this as someone who has pretty much revered Keith Richards forever, even while simultaneously considering him one of rock’s ultimate self-parodies). There’s no doubt more to the writing here than that, but it’s just not a subject that greatly compels me, in the same way that I almost never actually enjoy watching junkie movies (even skillfully directed junkie movies). Another barrier: the whole journalist-as-rock-star thing. Witness Morrisey’s blurb: “I could tell you stories about Nick Kent that would uncurl the hair in your Afro.” Thing is, I don’t have an Afro.
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.