ROCKING MY LIFE AWAY

WRITING ABOUT MUSIC AND OTHERS MATTERS

Intelligent, critically generous, slightly boring essays, reviews, and profiles on pop music and cultural topics by longtime Rolling Stone contributor DeCurtis. DeCurtis warns us in a preface not to expect flashy prose or gonzo authorial participation in the subjects he covers, and he’s unfailingly respectful of his subjects, so it’s logical that the most engaging pieces here are the interviews with quick-witted, well- spoken musicians like U2 and Peter Buck of R.E.M. The unfortunate corollary is that DeCurtis takes all too seriously aesthetic irrelevancies like John Cougar Mellencamp. Magazine profiles (of the Rolling Stones, Sting, 10,000 Maniacs, and Leonard Cohen, among others) and liner notes (for Eric Clapton and Phil Spector CD boxed sets) often manage to boil down genius and eccentricity into qualities resembling mere skill and pluck; while useful as a corrective to rock-journalism hyperbole, the author’s mild response also makes these essays more or less forgettable. An obituary feature on the bluegrass legend Bill Monroe is unexpectedly sweet, a discussion of the furor over Ice-T’s —Cop Killer— is concise and thoughtful, and pieces on the novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle and the historians Neil Sheehan and Taylor Branch show a welcome avidity for advancing the cause of serious writing. But DeCurtis is best as a reviewer: The assortment of short record reviews and appreciations included here, while seldom advancing any unexpected opinions, show off his careful use of language without falling back on obscure hipster references or supercilious critical jargon. For instance, DeCurtis says Johnny Cash —has made a rumbling baritone voice with nonexistent range and a limited guitar technique expressive of a dignified worldview—; certain songs on Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks ’suggest the possibility not merely of regret but of reconciliation and forgiveness based on the acceptance of loss.— In the end, though, while DeCurtis’s writing is efficient, it’s also generally too bloodless and ephemeral to reward the reader’s concentration.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8223-2184-X

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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