A genial foray into the meaning of rock ’n’ roll by humorist and music writer Kaufman (Nuns with Guns, 2016, etc.).
Does Rush suck? The answer is—well, the author answers, carefully, sort of, but by no means as much as Billy Joel does: “Here I am trying my damndest to rehabilitate Billy Joel, or at least give him his due, and try—TRY—to appreciate his songcraft,” he writes. “But it’s not possible. It’s not. Because the craft itself is so often flawed. His songs fall apart under minimal pressure.” On the other hand: The Canadian power trio gets points for being a power trio, and power is “about musical density.” Even if the band’s music is too busy, and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee’s voice “might be appreciated in Middle Earth, but has no business being heard on the planet’s real continents,” at least they have some chops and authenticity. Kaufman takes some shooting-fish-in-a-barrel questions and mulls them over with due consideration, such as the timeworn matter of whether the Beatles or the Stones are the better band. For many, the question is “interpreted as a trick question, and the answer, of course, is Led Zeppelin.” Though Kaufman works in Plato here and Philip Roth (“a punk before punk”), the book tends to be—well, not quite thick as a brick, the Tull-ian version of which he hails as “a work of genius,” but without the intellectual heft of Greil Marcus or Peter Guralnick and without much of the snotty fire of Lester Bangs, whom Kaufman exalts. Still, it’s entertaining enough to thumb through the author’s record collection with him and hear his asides and grumbles—e.g., the Mekons rule, and though Ann Coulter may have loved the Grateful Dead, “when the funkiest song you have in your bag is ‘Shakedown Street,’ you’ve got some problems.”
The title, of course, is a rip-off from the Dead Milkmen—but at least Kaufman recognizes their majesty. As for that Billy Joel fellow….
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)
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").