Friday, August 07, 2009


Bit of a hiatus from the "mates" on the book front, but I thought I'd spotlight some notable recent or soon-come tomes by people I've had some sort of kind of contact with... sliding scale from former colleagues to phone interviewees to (stretching it a bit) email correspondents. Haven't read them all cover to cover but they all look really interesting.

Morrissey: The Pageant Of His Bleeding Heart
by Gavin Hopps (Continuum)
, info here

Actually this one, I have read every single page of: it's the best book-length explication of Morrissey's peculiar genius I've come across. Acute when it does address the music, it focuses mostly on M's lyrical and vocal strategies (coyness, flirtation, caesuras and suggestive trailings away, irruptions of non-sense such as animalistic/Tourettic/comedic growls, ascent into nonverbal raptures of yodeling falsetto), then explores how these particular ways with words announce and embody a particular way of walking through the world; a life stance and ethic. Hopps managed to convince me that there's hidden depths and often-missed mischief secreted within the later work's deceptive slightness and can't-be-arsed-ness. My remaining bone of contention would be that the pedestrian nature of the song's backings and the seeming inability post-Vauxhall to come up with heart-piercing melodies rather wilts one's ability to be wowed by e.g. "Roy's Keen". But still a majorly illuminating work.

Memoirs of a Geezer: Music, Mayhem, Life
By Jah Wobble (Serpent's Tail)
more info here and here

Like you'd expect, gritty and witty recollections from the "nice one" in PiL.

The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music
By Richard Williams (Faber)
more info here and micro-interview with author here

People tell me he's Britain's finest sports writer, which makes me wish I had any interest in sport, because Williams is a great music writer (there's a terrific piece on dub from around 1976 by him that makes a lot of the points some of us made in the 90s but with a good deal less flashy obfuscation). Only perused but it looks to be a riveting look at this epochal recording, less on the level of "when Miles arrived at the 30th Street studio at 10-58 on the morning of March 19th, he found Evans already tracing out a modal piano figure that would become the basis of…" and more about its context and the long-term reverberations through music and culture.

Sound Levels: Profiles in American Music, 2002-2009.
By Phil Freeman.
info here.

Author of his own Miles book (Running the Voodoo Down, on the electric period) and Marooned-mastermind Phil Freeman here pulls together an anthology of his work for magazines like the Wire, Village Voice, Signal To Noise and Metal Edge, scooping up profiles of artists from Tom Waits and Ornette Coleman to David Thomas, Mike Patton, The Melvins and Sunn O))).

How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
By Elijah Wald (Oxford University Press)
, info here

Revisionism a la Carl Wilson's Celine Dion book, generalism with its gaze prised off of the present and focused backwards in time, this surveys 20th Century American popular music with a view to correcting the neglect and salving the slight inflicted by Rockism to various forms of "light" music that (it's darned well proved!) were what the majority of punters actually listened to, danced to, enjoyed, as opposed to, oh rock'n'roll and bebop and Motown and what have you. So it's basically everything that would be left out of Greil Marcus's list at the end of Stranded, or banished from Dave Marsh's The Heart of Rock and Soul greatest singles ever book. There's certainly value and interest to coming up with a different shape for the past, the disorientation of an up-ended perspective. But then you also have to wonder what it is about the Rock(ist) Narrative that is so compelling that it made people A/ bring it into existence in the first place and B/ keep on sustaining it with a torrent of critical writing, books, fan discourse, etc. It's not just generational narcissism, I don't think, or a case of "history gets written by the victors" (are they really victors here, and if so what are their spoils?). What I'm getting is, nothing was stopping people writing histories about the other stuff, Doris Day or Pat Boone or Engelbert Humperdinck or whatever… Same as nothing ever stopped anyone from writing a history of electronic dance music in the Nineties that made trance or handbag house the central narrative. That those people haven't come forth tells you something about the motivating power of certain kinds of music, their ability to generate Myth.

Perfecting Sound Forever : The Story of Recorded Music
By Greg Milner (UK: Granta / US: Faber & Faber, Inc)
,review here

Fascinating-looking study of the history of record production.

And a couple more on the horizon