Essayistic, occasionally disconnected, but Marcus does what he does best: makes us feel smarter about what we’re putting...

THE HISTORY OF ROCK 'N' ROLL IN TEN SONGS

Another allusive, entertaining inquiry by veteran musicologist Marcus (The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, 2011, etc.).

The opening is an accidental tour de force: a list that runs on for a full six pages of the inductees to date into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one that, though full of lacunae, is still wildly suggestive of just how influential and deep-rooted the sound is in our culture. He takes Neil Young’s observation that “rock & roll is reckless abandon” and runs with it, looking into 10 songs that are particularly emblematic. Even though any other 10, 100 or 1,000 songs might have done just as well, one cannot fault Marcus’ taste. It is just right, on the reckless abandon front, that his survey should begin with the Flamin’ Groovies jittery, diamondlike anthem “Shake Some Action,” released to the world in 1976 and heard, if not widely, by at least the right people. “I never heard Young’s words translated with more urgency, with more joy,” Marcus avers, than in the goofily named Groovies’ (“a name so stupid it can’t transcend its own irony”) song. Yet there are other candidates for best paean to reckless abandon, or perhaps best inspirer thereof, including the prolegomenon to all other songs about filthy lucre and lolly, Barrett Strong’s “Money”; the lovely but portentous Buddy Holly ballad “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”; and the Teddy Bears’ 1958 hit “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” which, though tender, became something hauntingly lost in the hands of Amy Winehouse. It’s no accident that the originals of many of these tunes lay at the heart of the early Beatles’ repertoire, nor that Phil Spector played his part in the uproarious proceedings, nor that from every measure of music, thousands of tangled storylines flow—many of which Marcus follows wherever they will lead, to our edification.

Essayistic, occasionally disconnected, but Marcus does what he does best: makes us feel smarter about what we’re putting into our ears.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-300-18737-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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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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