A comprehensive yet pat and sometimes patchy tome that conveys a vicarious understanding of a gritty musical era.

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NEW YORK ROCK

FROM THE RISE OF THE VELVET UNDERGROUND TO THE FALL OF CBGB

Brisk overview of New York City’s rock ’n’ roll tradition, from doo-wop to hard core, mirroring the city’s transformations.

Former Seconds magazine publisher Blush (American Hair Metal, 2006, etc.) intuitively understands the rock scene’s perpetual mechanics. His interviews with many key figures provide the core of this survey, in which he argues, “New York rock musicians and scenesters deserve way more credit than they’ve received.” After discussing precedents like Tin Pan Alley songwriting, the author focuses on the cultural foment and urban decay of the 1970s. Moving beyond the era’s punk explosion, Blush explores broader tales of musical innovation and competition against the scary backdrop of pre–Rudolph Giuliani NYC: “Noise rock achieved monumentality because of New York’s monumentality—in this case, of something great gone to hell.” Later, as neighborhoods gentrified and alternative rock took off, local bands tried to stand out; Blush asserts, “ ‘East Village Biker Rock’ was different from the same era’s Sunset Strip glam metal.” Yet many interviewees agree that the city’s creative vitality has been quashed, and in the 1990s, as one indie rocker notes, “everything got expensive.” Blush concurs, explaining how “The Jewish Lower East Side became the alt-rock LES.” The book is structured in support of this narrative, with chapters grouped by genre (e.g. “Glitter Rock,” “No Wave”) and then divided into “The Rise,” “The Scene,” “The Music,” and “The Fall.” In each, the author focuses on some representational acts and then briefly describes others that never moved beyond their scenes. Blush ably controls his sprawling narrative but depends too much on fragmentary quotes from scene personalities, which become repetitive, offering variations of one hard-core skinhead’s recollection: “Back then it was so true, so street.” Blush himself also falls into generic maxims—e.g. “The ’90s were a tough time for rock music, and here were twentysomethings having sexy fun amid a decidedly no-fun era.”

A comprehensive yet pat and sometimes patchy tome that conveys a vicarious understanding of a gritty musical era.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-08361-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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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