Book Review

I recently finished reading Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire.  I picked it up at the library for some entertainment on a cross-country flight, I vaguely recognized his name (probably from the contributions he’s made to Rolling Stone and Spin) and the subject.  The book chronicles five years, 1973-1977, of the music scene in New York City.

Hermes was a teenager during those years living in NYC and he does a fine job of weaving his own personal experience into the narrative of the music scene as a budding music fan himself as well as, well, a teenager.  Only a teenager would find it entertaining to go stand in line for a club, in this case Studio 54, that he knows he has no chance to get into, just to experience the spectacle (and probably to mercilessly ridicule those around him, if i know teenagers at all).  SPOILER ALERT: He didn’t get in.

From the title of the book (referencing a Talking Heads tune) and some of the caricatures prominent on the book cover, Hermes’ affinity for rock/punk/new wave shines through.  Lots of pages are devoted to CBGB and other clubs that allowed acts like the New York Dolls, Television, Suicide, and the Talking Heads to hone their craft and their antics, on and off stage.

But, I learned a lot about other musical scenes through this book and its obvious Hermes has studied all of them:  hip-hop (the very, very early days), latin music, loft jazz, experimental composers, folk, and DJ/club culture including disco.  For this reason alone, this book is a great resource.  Especially with latin music coverage, I got a lot of context for music I’ve been discovering through blogs like Soul Sides.

Additionally, Hermes does a great job of relating how the City itself was influencing the music.  The City is treated as another character in the drama, and when it’s not doing good, which is often during the 70s, there’s a palpable effect on some of the players in the bands being discussed in the book.

As a fan of history and music, this was a home run of a book to me.  I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in either.  Hermes also has a blog he’s put up that adds even more depth to some of the stories in the book.

Leave you with a clip of Patti Smith peforming at the Bottom Line (one of the clubs that gets a fair amount of coverage in the book), who along with Bruce Springsteen, are cast in the book as the new king and queen of a new brand of rocker, with lyrical sensibilities of folk heros like Bob Dylan, a relentless drive to make music, and the energy of rock heroes of yore (like the Who) cranked up a few notches:

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