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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….

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-68219-167-5
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: OR Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2018


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