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    Current Music Books

    I like to get music books for Christmas, and was browsing the pertinent section in Barnes & Noble this morning (almost as big as their sadly waning CD section, where boxed sets have now disappeared in favour of Beatles souvenirs). I like the look of Sylvie Simmons's 'I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen', the book of Will Oldham interviews 'Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy', and the graphic novel about The Carter Family 'Don't Forget This Song' by Frank M Young and David Lasky.

    Anyone read any of these? Anyone else got a Xmas music book wish? Or a recommendation? There seem to be more reference books around now than anyone could possible wish to refer to. All those 1001 Songs/Albums You Have to Listen To Before You Die books make me want to throw.

    #2
    Current Music Books

    Odd, really, that there should be so many of those books published today when it's the kind of thing Wikipedia takes care of pretty well.

    Haven't read her Cohen one but Simmons' Serge Gainsbourg book was really good. Kind of like an extended Mojo profile: all the headlines and juicy stories told straight.

    It might be a bit niche, but Joe Banks' Rorschach Audio is the best new music book I've read this year. It takes dodgy Electronic Voice Phenomena (i.e. "recordings of ghosts") as its starting point for a wide-ranging look at sound and perception. He's pretty smart: sceptical without being a tiresome humbug, curious without being credulous.

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      #3
      Current Music Books

      Ordinarily I don't read a lot of music books but, for research purposes I've been inhaling quite a few recently. They include 'A Very Irregular Head' Rob Chapman's bio of Syd Barrett, and Pete Townshend's 'Who I Am.'

      Chapman's book is excellent up until Pink Floyd start making records. Then Chapman reverts to the fan boy he admits he was. Still the early chapters Cambridge, Camberwell, Notting Hill and UFO are fascinating, especially for someone who followed a similar path at a much lower trajectory.

      Townsend's is a different kind of animal in a number of ways. I'm only half way through, so judgement is premature, but it's clear he's a very good writer. The ongoing sense of conflict (if that's what it is, he's not always sure) between his expressive/destructive tendencies and spiritual searching/needs is very well drawn. It's the kind of book that makes you want to sit down with him and ask a bunch of questions. Like, was he conscious of the possibility of personal revisionism when he was working on it? Did he really conceive of The Who's performances as art events from the get-go? As usual, he never seems less than honest, but one's history is also one's personal myth and it's hard for anyone to separate the two.

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        #4
        Current Music Books

        Unlike Amor I read loads of music books, probably too many in all honesty. Barney Hoskyns's new book on Led Zeppelin is pretty good, if you like the oral history format. It probably helped that I knew next to nothing about Led Zeppelin.

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          #5
          Current Music Books

          Has anyone read David Byrne's recent book on music?

          I'm tempted to buy it but the preview I read and the reviews I've seen seem to suggest it's a bit disjointed and unfocused (jumping around disparate topics).

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            #6
            Current Music Books

            Amor de Cosmos wrote: Chapman's book is excellent up until Pink Floyd start making records. Then Chapman reverts to the fan boy he admits he was. Still the early chapters Cambridge, Camberwell, Notting Hill and UFO are fascinating, especially for someone who followed a similar path at a much lower trajectory.
            Would you say it was worth splashing out on, for a man without much disposable income who's already read the other Barrett/Floyd biogs?

            Amor de Cosmos wrote: Townsend's is a different kind of animal in a number of ways. I'm only half way through, so judgement is premature, but it's clear he's a very good writer. The ongoing sense of conflict (if that's what it is, he's not always sure) between his expressive/destructive tendencies and spiritual searching/needs is very well drawn. It's the kind of book that makes you want to sit down with him and ask a bunch of questions. Like, was he conscious of the possibility of personal revisionism when he was working on it? Did he really conceive of The Who's performances as art events from the get-go? As usual, he never seems less than honest, but one's history is also one's personal myth and it's hard for anyone to separate the two.
            This is very much what I was expecting from this book, actually (another possible purchase though, when it gets cheaper, assuming I ever have any money again). Townshend's always had a weird myth/reality mix-up thing going on, hasn't he? Apparently as early as the late Sixties he was claiming to have attended lectures at art college given by such-and-such a painter who it turned out had actually died several years before Pete left school, and to be honest I don't trust a word he says these days. Incredibly strange mixture of extreme honesty about his own feelings and complete bullshit when it comes to actual events.

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              #7
              Current Music Books

              I think that's possible. I don't think he's intentional deceitful just the opposite in fact. But, having recently attempted to write a memoir of my own teen years, I was shocked to realise how difficult it can be to separate what's true from what's real to paraphrase Charlotte Bront. For someone like Townshend, who has both spun his own myths, and had others spin them about him, pretty much from when he began performing, it must be extremely disorienting.

              Would you say it was worth splashing out on, for a man without much disposable income who's already read the other Barrett/Floyd biogs?

              I haven't read any others so I'm not in a position to make comparison's. I can testify that it is very good on the early days. Chapman captures the reality of Barrett's middle-class Cambridge childhood very well. Grammar school, tech college, and the early days in London are thoroughly well-researched, comprehensive and, based on my own experience, accurately evocative. I was reading mainly for this period, especially his time at Camberwell, which I could have done with more of, though I'd be in a minority I realise.

              I stopped reading at around the time of his early acid casualty events. Not because the book lost me, only that it became less immediately relevant. Chapman does do the muso's track-by-track analysis of every recording session Syd ever attended, which frankly make my eyeballs freeze. I do intend to return to the book at some point though. In short, In spite of the drawbacks, I found it a worthwhile labour of love.

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                #8
                Current Music Books

                Mr Beast wrote: Unlike Amor I read loads of music books, probably too many in all honesty. Barney Hoskyns's new book on Led Zeppelin is pretty good, if you like the oral history format. It probably helped that I knew next to nothing about Led Zeppelin.
                Hoskyns has a pretty sound back catalogue to fall back on; his books on Tom Waits and The Band are good and I particularly enjoyed 'Hotel California' his overview of the early 70's West Coast scene. It didn't have me rushing to Amazon looking for old Linda Rondstadt albums or anything, but it had a Biskind-esque mix of fact and gossip which made it an entertainingly readable yarn rather than some kind of revisionist view of the music.

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                  #9
                  Current Music Books

                  not sure if its classed as current but reading Peter Doggetts Bowie Man who Sold The World...billed as the Bowie in the 1970s though its a long decade from Space Oddity in 1969 to I guess Scary Monsters in 1980..his creative peak in other words...

                  aims to discuss Bowie through every song he released during this period (Ian McDonalds treatment of the Beatles is the comparison which is no surprise given he was given the gig in the first place before his untimely death led to Doggett picking up the reins)and largely succeeds..Doggett is willing to accept his subjects flaws as much as his strengths..

                  the usual private life stories of excess & debauchery are given an airing..

                  have now read any number of Bowie biographies and after this one the feeling still persists...outside of the music is there an individual to warm to or who will carry a legacy past those who grew up with him?...

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                    #10
                    Current Music Books

                    His legacy seems to grow all the time, tbh. 20 years ago he was doing alright but now he's matching the Beatles and outdoing the Stones with most people, especially internationally. Quite gratifying really, cause even back then, when I was getting into him, he was kind of second division - your rock classic lot weren't quite sure about anyone too snazzy or conversant with artifice. Plus I suppose the critics were still feeling the aftershocks of Tin Machine.

                    As for knowing these people in their private lives, well - I no longer understand the need. For all the remaining horrors of the celebrity industry I actually think it's on the wane now that everyone's privacy is pretty accessible. Plus it's much better knowing next to nothing about Bowie, I think.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Current Music Books

                      I've been obsessed with Bowie as an artist for over 4 decades now - at age 13 I was proper in love with him and thought of little else. I play at least one of his tracks every day.

                      However, never once did I think of hanging around outside his house or trying to contact him, so that kind of fandom puzzles me. I get a buzz out of the fact that he has brushed past me, and from knowing people who are or were very close to him and from hearing the stories, and certainly wouldn't turn down the chance to meet him, but his private personality is just that.

                      He has withdrawn mostly from public life and is by all accounts happy enough. Better that he stays happy, well and private. We will always have that fantastic music, those beautiful pictures, the films of the concerts. Those things are his "legacy".

                      As for new (Bowie) books, I recommend the Paul Trynka "Starman" book from last year.

                      I have stacks of music books here (literally stacks), several I have yet to read, and am feeling all behind. Dave Barbarossa's Mud Sharks is harrowing but provides some interesting insights into the era. Himself is reading the Townsend one so I might read it after him, or just let him read me the good bits.

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                        #12
                        Current Music Books

                        MsD wrote:
                        As for new (Bowie) books, I recommend the Paul Trynka "Starman" book from last year.
                        Ive read that, and quite enjoyed it, but Im still of the opinion that the ultimate Bowie biography has yet to be written. In fact, Id venture that the relative paucity of literature about him does no justice to him, certainly in relation to the reams written about others without a fraction of his talent.

                        Whether this matters is debatable and like you Im not particularly interested in his private life, other than where it influences the music.

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                          #13
                          Current Music Books

                          I've just read Ben Ratliff's 'Coltrane', a musical rather than a personal biography - more of the Revolution-In-Your-Head-approach to writing. Magnificent effort.

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                            #14
                            Current Music Books

                            Mr Beast wrote:
                            Originally posted by MsD
                            As for new (Bowie) books, I recommend the Paul Trynka "Starman" book from last year.
                            Ive read that, and quite enjoyed it, but Im still of the opinion that the ultimate Bowie biography has yet to be written. In fact, Id venture that the relative paucity of literature about him does no justice to him, certainly in relation to the reams written about others without a fraction of his talent.

                            Whether this matters is debatable and like you Im not particularly interested in his private life, other than where it influences the music.
                            Trynka is on the to do list and I agree about the definitive biography still waiting to be written. However as intimated in my earlier post Im not sure it ever will be. There is enough literature to hand on him despite your comment to the contrary and having read most of them there still remains the impression that what you see or saw is what you get. Bowie never got into music as an end in itself or through a passionate belief in it. He never aimed to change the world or create a record that would define everything he held dear and attract mass appeal on the basis of it (a lot of his music preceding and subsequent to Ziggy Aladdin & Diamond Dogs are far more personal).

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                              #15
                              Current Music Books

                              I think Bowie became Bowie when he stepped into the realm of pure performance, really (and he probably did a mime of the process, as Ziggy). That's what gave him so many creative options - dropping the idea of this authentic self that's directly expressed through music or performance. Any performer understands that's the deal anyway, but audiences tend to be less comfortable with it and demand a fixed self they feel they know.

                              To be honest, I don't think many biographies do tell you much about their subject. They're mainly chat from colleagues, hangers-on and critics. Imagine reading a biography of yourself based on the testimonies of workmates and friends of friends who you lost touch with 30 years ago, all with their own hang-ups and memory failures. Must be mental. Yet people put a lot of faith in them because they want this fixed, constant, authentic self to exist underneath it all.

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                                #16
                                Current Music Books

                                ale wrote: Trynka is on the to do list and I agree about the definitive biography still waiting to be written. However as intimated in my earlier post Im not sure it ever will be. There is enough literature to hand on him despite your comment to the contrary and having read most of them there still remains the impression that what you see or saw is what you get. Bowie never got into music as an end in itself or through a passionate belief in it. He never aimed to change the world or create a record that would define everything he held dear and attract mass appeal on the basis of it (a lot of his music preceding and subsequent to Ziggy Aladdin & Diamond Dogs are far more personal).
                                Where did all the "..."s go?

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                                  #17
                                  Current Music Books

                                  Taylor if there's somewhere good to drop the Townshend book I can pass it on to you.

                                  Read it, enjoyed it, but don't need to keep it. Pete's earnest and occasionally a great writer. I think he's (like many successful people) capable of absolutely believing what he writes when he writes it. I liked the Who more after reading it- or rather remembered how much I'd liked them and how great they were, at their best.

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                                    #18
                                    Current Music Books

                                    I don't think Trynka's book "definitive". I've read many bios over the years (plus loads of articles, interviews etc.) and yes, he still remains enigmatic.

                                    Where Starman has really made an impression on me is in revealing how he very nearly didn't succeed as an artist. 25, as he was in 72, is damn near too old to stay alive, let alone to get your first real recognition when you've been trying for nearly a decade.

                                    Soz, too tired to make more sense.

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                                      #19
                                      Current Music Books

                                      Another Guardian and us moment...

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                                        #20
                                        Current Music Books

                                        Someone left this in the pub the other day: http://www.amazon.com/Method-Man/dp/B0046LUK04

                                        I've not got round to reading it yet.

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                                          #21
                                          Current Music Books

                                          "An ancient evil of unfathomable power plots the unspeakable--the destruction of the mortal realm and beyond. Man's only hope lies in Peerless Poe, a hard-luck private eye with a taste for booze and a magnetic attraction to danger. A former member of the clandestine Order of the Sacred Method, Poe must forge an uneasy alliance with those who exploited him against enemy [sic] bent on global annihilation. This unholy threat wears a woman's face and wields dark energies capable of destroying normal men. But Poe hasn't been normal in years. The Order saw to that. Poe is scarred. Poe is transformed. Poe is . . . Method Man."

                                          Now why on earth would someone go and leave that behind in the pub? And not come back to claim it?

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                                            #22
                                            Current Music Books

                                            A mystery only a hard-luck private eye could solve.

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                                              #23
                                              Current Music Books

                                              It's fairly well-known and not new, but 'The Rest Is Noise' by Alex Ross is well worth a read. I got it for Christmas last year and, as someone with no prior interest in classical music, it was a really good way in.

                                              Trying to repeat the trick this year, I've asked for 'The History of Jazz' - aside from Coltrane, never really known where to look for non-terrible jazz.

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                                                #24
                                                Current Music Books

                                                Carol Clerk's book on Hawkwind is a really good read.

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                                                  #25
                                                  Current Music Books

                                                  Slightly off topic, but can anyone recommend one of the myriad of biographies about The Smiths? I saw one today, which I think is quite new...The Light That Never Goes Out, is it any good, or are there better ones out there?

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