A dry exegesis of country music by the author of Electronic Hearth (1991). Tichi (English/Vanderbilt Univ.) is a novice fan of country music whose background is strongest in American literature and art. Proceeding thematically, she addresses common issues in American culture, including the tension between the individual and society, the lure of home versus the call of the road, and nature as both a nurturing and potentially dangerous force. Lacing together anecdotes, interviews, and analysis of songs, she comes to the conclusion that country music addresses many of the same topics as more ``serious'' art forms, making it ``emphatically [a] national music.'' While her discussions can be interesting, ultimately she offers little new to explain the popularity or quality of country music. The musicians she favors—Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Laurie Lewis, Nanci Griffith, and Barry and Holly Tashian—all come out of a folk-rock background (in the '70s, they would have been called singer/songwriters), so they naturally tend to take an intellectual, pseudoliterary approach to songwriting and performance. Tichi's musical knowledge is slim, leading to some factual errors, as when she ascribes ``Dueling Banjos'' to Earl Scruggs, though it was in fact recorded by Marshall Brickman and Eric Weissberg. And the comment that ``the ability to read music would be futile for bluegrass...the music simply moves too fast to be read off the page'' would come as a surprise to any classical violinist who's ever tackled Paganini. The book is accompanied by a CD that primarily focuses on new country acts; this material is readily available, and it would be surprising if a reader who was attracted to this book did not already own most of these recordings. A tip of the academic mortarboard towards the ten-gallon-hat crowd that will befuddle members of both groups. (122 b&w photos and 16-page color insert)

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1994

ISBN: 0-8078-2134-9

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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