Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Book Review

July 14, 2012

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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Looking Back at 2011

December 19, 2011

It’s been a good year for listening to music.  I felt like I listened to a lot more new artists (at least to me) this year than I have since I was a teenager.  I also rediscovered a lot of old albums that I hadn’t heard in awhile.

Best (and worst) music platform – Since it came to our shores earlier this year, I’ve been a big fan of Spotify.  One of my recurring posts this year revolved around recounting what I’d been listening to on Spotify.  Easy to use with a huge library, it was a great way to listen to new albums in their entirety as well as catch up on old albums I haven’t heard since I had a cassette player.  So why’s it also get a worst nod.  A few weeks ago, it started crashing my computer any time I tried to run it.  Like total freeze-up crash, have to manually power down and restart the machine crashes.  In trying to find an answer, I’ve uncovered a wealth of problems others have with the app.  I also found that customer support is spotty (sorry).  I finally found a customer support email; I did finally get a response after two weeks, asking me what version of Spotify I was running.  We’ll see if they can come up with a solution.  Wonder if the expansion to the US has overextended the service and its employees?  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I’m going to be checking out turntable.fm and rdio to see what they have to offer in 2012.

Best Concert – Ben Folds at The Wiltern.  I loved the stage banter, the energy, and the music was phenomenal.  I went in with only a little bit of knowledge about his music, but I left wanting to hear more and learn more about him.  That’s the mark of a good concert.  Honorable mention to Portishead and to John Vanderslice.  I didn’t write about the Vanderslice show, but I’ve seen him three times now and each show has been distinctly different.  And his drummer, Jason, was amazing to watch.  I ended up missing the Bon Iver show, but Sarah told me that it was very good (I believe her).

Favorite Album – Rome by DangerMouse and Daniele Luppi.  I feel like a lot of year-end lists become top heavy with material released toward the end of the year, which I understand since the songs are fresh in reviewer’s mind.  Rome came out in May, which is a long time ago in today’s millisecond attention-span world.  I also am also only basing my choice on albums I actually listened to in their entirety, which I admit isn’t a lot.  But, I come back to this one because, like his collaboration last year as Broken Bells, as an entire album, the songs meld into a cohesive unit and he can just really create a vibe.  Here, he’s wisking you away to the set of spaghetti westerns with a tribute to the soundtrack sound of that era (most notably Ennio Morricone).  Honorable mention to Little Dragon’s Ritual Union, for the same reason basically.  A lovely arrangement of electronic music that makes you stop thinking of individual songs (much better than the sprawling and Pitchfork-loved M83 album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming).

Biggest Surprise – The Whole Love by Wilco.  After Sky Blue Sky, I kind of lost interest in Wilco and didn’t even bother to listen to their next album.  They seemed to have lost a lot of their bite, both lyrically and musically, from previous records.  I had heard nothing of their new album, but decided to give it a listen when NPR was doing a free preview of the album.  To my amazement, I heard the rockin’ Wilco from Summerteeth days.  I’ve seen Wilco twice, now I have a new reason to go see them a third time other than Jeff Tweedy’s amusing stage talk.  Honorable mention to the Beastie Boy’s new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2.  Another group that I had just lost some interest in, but this re-ignited interest.

Best Music Book – Read the super comprehensive history of the Velvet Underground put out by Rough Trade.  Not knowing much about the band other than the songs on their greatest hits albums, this was a good and thorough introduction to the band, as well as the solo careers of all its members.  Can be a bit overwhelming, but overall a good read.

I’ll try and come back with a few more year end thoughts before the year actually ends, but if not, have a great new year filled with good tunes and good times.

Music in Book Form

April 18, 2011

Recently I read my first two volumes in Continuum Publishing’s 33 1/3 series.  Each volume deals with an important album in popular music written by a variety of authors.  I’d given a couple books from the series to people as gifts and had gotten positive reviews.  So, I picked out two volumes that I thought I would enjoy and got to reading.

I chose books about two artists I’ve been huge fans of beginning in middle school and keep coming back to over the years.  First, I read Dan LeRoy’s take on the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique.  This was a really great read, chronicling the making of the followup to their wildly successful Licensed to Ill.  Leaving the confines of their home in NYC and the rock/rap fusion genius of producer Rick Rubin for the foreign soil of Los Angeles and an unknown production team (that would become known as the Dust Brothers) was a big gamble.  Add in the fact that they had left Def Jam for Capitol, there was a lot riding on this record for the Beasties’ career.

The book has a very personal feel, as a lot of the people on the inside of the record’s creation were interviewed, including the Beastie’s themselves.  Those interviews capture the tension that present due to the factors mentioned above.  They also show how the laid back, funky beats the Dust Brothers were creating, but didn’t have a place to put them, were just what the Beastie’s were looking for.  Through happenstance, they met, and the rest is, as they say, history.

The book’s first half chronicles that meeting, the recording process, and the release of the record to middling reviews and paltry sales (compared to Ill).  The second looks track by track at the album and some of the myriad samples used on the tracks.  The short epilogue recognizes the lasting legacy of the album and its now vaunted stature in the history of hip-hop.  Having really worn this album out, especially during college, this was a very satisfying and comprehensive history lesson to give context to a classic.  A must-read for fans of this album.

The second book I read was John Cavanagh’s look at the making of Pink Floyd’s first album, Piper At the Gates of Dawn.  This book had much more of an academic feel to it.  None of the band members were interviewed by the author, with the first-hand anecdotes coming from a mix of engineering folks involved and various hangers-on to the “scene” that evolved around Pink Floyd and psychedelic music in London.  Much of the attention in the book is focused on Syd Barrett, who was the major creative force behind the album, and his greatest musical legacy, as he faded into self-imposed obscurity soon after Piper.  While this makes sense, at times the writing seemed to fall into hero-worship, as Cavanagh makes clear that Barrett is a hero of his.

The book does explore each track in great detail, though he flips back and forth between the tracks and the more general history of the Floyd and their rise from bar blues band to the top of the psychedelic music pyramid.  I liked the more linear structure of the Beasties book.

The author’s focus on Barrett is illuminating in places.  One of the things that drew me to this album was the wide scope of the music on it.  Wide-ranging opuses about the abyss of space butt up against the whimsy of songs about gnomes.  Barrett’s fascination with space and also with the more simple earthly pleasure of nature (trees, rivers) partially explains the variety on this album.  Also, as an avid follower of folklore, mythology and likeminded literary works, those influences are readily apparent in the lyrics of Barrett.

Overall, I was a little disappointed in the Floyd book, but it was still a pleasant and quick read.  It may be more of a reflection on the fact I read it immediately after reading the Beastie’s book, which I thought was so good and structured the way I guess I prefer to read.

Anyways, if you have a favorite album or two, check out Continuum and see if they’ve written a volume about it.  I think you’ll enjoy what you read, and even gain some new insights into said album.

Read This

October 2, 2010

A  change of pace with a quick book review.  I was an avid reader for many years until I went to law school.  There all desire to read was smothered under an avalanche of five pound legal textbooks.  Only recently, ten years later, has my thirst for reading fully dug itself out and I’ve been reading for the pleasure again.  The last book I read was Sanctuary by William Faulkner.  While at it’s core it is a pulp detective novel, this was a very difficult book for a few reasons.

First, Faulkner’s ability to play with narrative structure, many characters, and his occasional stream-of-consciousness style don’t necessarily lend themselves to straightforward storytelling.  Things are happening, but you are not always quite sure what it is.  The first few chapters introduce a bevy of characters and the descriptions of the goings-on at the old farmhouse are a whirlwind, especially those involving the ever-increasing terror experienced by Temple Drake as she moves about the farmhouse, leading up to her rape.

Second, this is a difficult novel because it is so dark in its themes.  In addition to the rape of Drake, there are several deaths, deceit, and other examples of the worst sides of human nature.  Even the nominal hero, lawyer Horace Benbow, is trying to leave his wife.  The bootlegger that Benbow is defending against false accusations of murder is convicted when Temple, who has been thoroughly corrupted after being forced into prostitution in Memphis, lies about the murder to amazingly save her rapist, Popeye.  The townspeople do not wait for the sheriff to carry out the death sentence, instead they burn the bootlegger alive.  Faulkner does not allow the real killer to escape, but it is not justice in the absolute sense.  Popeye is falsely accused himself of killing a man and is hanged.  Interestingly, it is only the last chapters that he introduces the background of Popeye and sheds light on why Popeye is the cold-blooded man that commits the terrible acts earlier in the book.

Given all that, this was a wonderous read.  Faulkner’s use of language is amazing and his descriptions of people and places really make you feel like you are watching them.  Having just read two Hemingway books which are marvelous in the short direct prose he used, the stream-of-conscious  and flowing paragraphs of Faulkner were quite a change.  Also amid the depravity and debauchery, there are moments of humor.  A chapter describing the travel of two rural country boys to the big city of Memphis has the boys being scared off from the more expensive hotels and Faulkner has them end up staying at a whorehouse, which they obliviously think is a boardinghouse.  They even go to other houses of ill repute seeking companionship and hilariously lie to the madame of their “hotel” about where they’ve been.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, as long as you are prepared to delve into the dark side of the human condition.