Best Music Writing 2008
Guest Editor, Nelson George; Series Editor, Daphene Carr
Hit a ¢99 sale and you can stock up on the books you missed at the full cover price. I don’t begrudge authors, editors and publishers their incomes but hey, gas is headed towards $4 a gallon and I need to be thrifty, too. And so my catching up project continues.
Here we have another installment in the Best Music Writing series. This year the Guest Editor is Nelson George. A former editor at Billboard, George wrote The Death of Rhythm and Blues, an absolutely fabulous book that is worth anybody’s time to read but is a must-read if you love that genre of music.
Maybe it’s a reflection of the time he spent in the editorial trenches, but this volume seems more even to me. The head scratching, ‘Why is this here?’ pieces just seem to be missing. Clearly George loves music and good writing about music.
So what do you get? A pretty wide range of things to chew on. You get novel theories (indie rock as an upper middle class phenomena, Kurt Cobain as a martyr to an ideal that is unobtainable); you get great stories (the making of Saturday Night Fever, the back story of Daptone Records and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings); you get Sly Stone and Louis Armstrong and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The obligatory items drawn from the web are here as well. Perhaps because the ‘publishers’ of the sites from which they are drawn are more traditional, the pieces don’t stand out in tone or form. That might be a good thing; the self-indulgent rambles of many music web writers do nothing for me. Also, you get a lot about hip-hop a genre that, despite a lot of persuasive writing and talking about, I just can’t embrace.
You also get to read two masters at work. In a 4-page review of a Blue Note show by Rosa Passos, Gary Giddins offers you the origins of bossa nova, a cursory overview of the eraly- to mid-60s fad it inspired in the US and a review of the show. Now I need to get some more records.(But I already knew about Luis Bonfa.)
And then there’s Alex Ross, here with a piece on Sibelius that I remember reading in The New Yorker when it was originally published. A knowledgable writer, Ross is apparently a sight-reader blessed, it seems, with (near?) perfect pitch. That could be intimidating as hell if he didn’t make it so inviting. After reading this I had to download the Sibelius Fifth.
Click on the book image and you can still find copies at 99 cents. It’ll be the best buck you spend all year.