My suggestion on the Philly International riff that Charlieâ€™s Sound Of The City and Nick Cohnâ€™s Awopbopaloobop attracted a variety of responses which made me think we could start up a new site simply focusing on music books. Good idea? Letâ€™s see.
But firstly let me try and answer the query on British music books where two correspondents listed their choices for serious consideration.
I've got to say I've never heard of Michael Gray - some imfo please. As for Geoff Dyer, a nice stylist but perhaps too selfconscious - I remember him being a very dull ping-pong guest several years ago and what I have read of his writing is polished and chic but I've never felt the need to read more.
Val Wilmer is a great, great photographer but not much of a writer. I gave up on As Serious As Your Life after a couple of chapters because it was too pedantic, read like a religious or political text with Val consistently emphasising â€œthis is Great Black Artâ€
I don't wish to sound pedantic Garth, but if you only get a lukewarm reception to this topic, it might be because there has been a similar strand going for some time in another part of this labyrinth of opinions and information. Look under 'Books (about music and not about music)' in the forum index, and you'll find a few of us have already listed favourite music writers and books there. You might like to edit your contribution into that section and keep CG happy - He really doesn't like things to get too untidy around here!
I'm glad to see this theme continuing, there a load of similar threads elsewhere on this site (which is probably where these'll end up again - lost until the next revival).
I've read a few of yours, Garth, which I agree are well worth getting copies of to re-read over the years. One comment to add re. Michael Gray. He's best known for his book on Dylan, "Song & Dance Man", now on Version 3. It's a lengthy study of Dylan's music, lyrics, their origins and contexts. Very readable and informative, and not full of its own self-importance (books on Dylan tend to attract this, no?). Two warnings: it's a weighty book, literally - hard to read in bed and heavy to shlepp around; and it has footnotes, which may or may not appeal (one of the footnotes had me laughing - he uses a Yiddish expression, in relation to Alma Cogan, my mother used to come out with).
A couple of others I don't think I mentioned earlier, you might be interested in:
"America Over The Water", by Shirley Collins. She was a pingpong guest a couple of months ago. This is her account of her music-collecting days with Alan Lomax in the early 1960's. A lovely read from a lovely woman.
"Just My Soul Responding", by Brian Ward (sub-titled "Rhythm & Blues, Black Consciousness and Race Relations", not quite as catchy as the Smokey reference). This is one of those (rare) books that describes the way certain musics develop out of social movements and political and class struggles. Again, with footnotes, which suggests academic origins, but the information is fabulous. It's a book you'd want to read after seeing that recent tv doc. on Sam Cooke. It could maybe do with a few photos: the cover photo is a great one of Chuck Berry (vintage pose) playing in front of a group of white, bourgie students, carnationed at their high school dance. More like that would have been great.
normand wrote:I"Just My Soul Responding", by Brian Ward
I was going to mention that. I don't mean to sound superficial but in the authors picture Mr. Ward has the worst set of teeth I've seen on anyone for a long time.
Hang on Garth. Are you saying you're disagreeing with my choice of But Beautiful without having read it? I agree about Dyers novels, but this one's different & better.
Looking at Garths choices (I'm inclined to agree with his criticisms, while still thinking that they're good books) I was struck by a couple of things:
1. Nobody reads books about music they don't like. We may read books about music we don't know, but I would rather stick forks in my eyes than read a book about Van Halen.
2. What badly flawed work even the best music books are. I've read (or started to read) about half the books on his list and rarely return to them, and when I do its only to certain passages. I'm not arguing that they are bad books of their type, just noticing how appallingly low the bar is for music books generally.
To return to the original topic of british music writing. It often sinks into the sort of hobbyist prose that makes everything sound like Amateur Radio Monthly (Is Blues and Soul still going?) Val Wilmer and Dave Godin are/were very prone to this.
And the generic ex-NME writers style .(the ramalama notwithstanding).
Sometimes, like CSM's John Lee Hooker book they manage to combine both.
Apologies for "replying" to my own post, but I've just noticed that Delta bluesman Honeyboy Edwards, now 90, (mentioned in Garth's post) is still alive and playing. I am not sure whether he knew Robert Johnson, but he certainly played with Johnson's friend, Johnny Shines. Honeyboy recently played at a blues festival in Chicago.
David Godwin wrote:I am not sure whether he knew Robert Johnson.
He did - and Big Joe Williams, Charlie Patton, Tommy McLennan . . . Dave Peabody did a cover feature on Honeyboy Edwards in fRoots, issue 78 (December '89). I just checked the recesses of our out-of-print drawer and we have 2 copies here if you're interested. Email me (Dave Godwin that is, not everybody!) - email@example.com if you'd like one
Sorry, I didn't realise this was a separate strand to the one rumbling on under the (now completely erroneous) heading of Phili Soul. Can I therefore cast my vote for Ian MacDonald's "The People's Music" as the best collection of essays by a British music writer that I have ever come across? Thank you.
Nik Cohn, who is really the daddy of the genre, does still occasionally write about music related subjects. His contribution to Granta's Music edition, "Soljas" - about the New Orleans hip-hop scene, is riveting stuff. If you like I'll send you a copy.
Nice book launch last night. Thanks man. Looking forward to reading your book.
Just finished reading your post Adam and picked up today's Independent only to see a review of the re-issue of MacDonald's 'Revolution in the Head'.
Is 'The People's Music' still in print? I couldn't see it on Amazon. I've not read a great many music books, prefering novels for quality prose, but even from reading this review it would seem this guy delivered the goods.
They were being sold at a variety of prices, did you go for the cheapest one? Let us know how you get on, how efficient the service is, etc. Abebooks is a network of small booksellers, or people who sell from their front rooms. I know a couple of guys who specialise in selling Jean Plaidy books (mainly acquired from boot fairs) and have an "e-shop". They do all right, too. Strange old world.
Iâ€™ll admit to never having read Ian McDonald as his two main interests â€“ The Beatles and Nick Drake â€“ are over-venerated and too oftâ€™ written about but if Adam recommends him then Iâ€™ll certainly check him out. As one of the correspondents mentioned in response to my rating of Rothâ€™s Crazy From The Heat, if he hates Van Halen why would he read a book about them? Fair enough, I fall into the same arena although seeing I work with words I am willing to read books on artists I might normally pass on if the writing is supposedly very good simply cos this can be illuminating â€“ Iâ€™ll definitely check McDonald, will look again at Dwyer (I do feel I picked up But Beautiful once but found it too precious but I may be unjustly slandering the man) and the Dylan book. Yet I must say I find it hard to imagine reading anything more on Dylan, too much is said on him for me. While I can understand the cult of Dylan â€“ we live in a society that has swapped religious icons for those of pop culture â€“ Iâ€™m sorry but I donâ€™t pray that way. Dylan certainly made some great records in the 1960s but since then I can only think of a handful of his songs that I consider amongst his best: Youâ€™re A Big Girl Now, Heavenâ€™s Door, Jokerman, Brownsville Girl. Admittedly Bobâ€™s a lot better than Morrissey â€“ whoâ€™s the only other white rock icon I can think of who attracts a similar level of worship from a largely middle class, middle aged white male audience â€“ but, to me, itâ€™s one of the many sad aspects about musical culture that many feel the need to obsess over individual pop entertainers as opposed to embracing glorious sounds from all around. Iâ€™m currently listening to War â€“ their best recordings equal Dylanâ€™s (in my opinion) and went on to be hugely influential in LA hip-hop and Mexican music circles but thereâ€™s no cult surrounding them as there is Dylan. Or, for that matter, Curtis Mayfield â€“ if I had to suggest a musical icon of the 60s and 70s worth venerating it would be Curtis. Anyway, keep the book suggestions coming in and the debates going â€“ this is what Mojo and Uncut, with their drooling hagiographies of rock stars, donâ€™t offer us. PS I'll now try and order Ian Mc's book from the 2nd hand address you have listed!