A banjo-picking English professor meditates on mountain music and rural lifestyles.
Harvey (English/Young Harris Coll.) began his musical explorations like thousands of other boomers, sitting in front of a record player listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary and other icons of the folk music revival. Career and family concerns led him away from music, but in rural Georgia he discovered the Appalachian tradition of banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, and modal songs. The essays he collects here attempt to convey a sense of what this music says to a modern American, and how its values survive in our present-day world. Harvey has a strong feeling for the music (although he admits to being a mediocre player—one essay recounts his last-place finish in a banjo contest), and his enthusiasm is often contagious. His description of the construction of a homemade banjo is full of fascinating detail, and he is at his best when he refers to specific songs or musicians—even those the reader may never have heard of. But he can’t resist the temptation to fish for deeper significance in his material, a desire that often leads him astray. His essays on the medieval church modes (the foundation of many old mountain songs) pontificate on the emotional significance of each mode, but Harvey’s overwrought metaphors betray the subjective nature of his claims. At the same time, his failure to explain the musical structure of the modes will leave non-musician readers in the dark. He also makes much of the fact that a local pawnshop sells both musical instruments and firearms, a practice hardly unique to the rural South. But he is at his most eloquent when he gives up straining to find unplumbed depths in the experiences of which he writes and lets the material speak for itself.
Often precious, this will strike a chord nevertheless with many old folkies.
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").
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)