"But there was nothing about the little, low-rambling, more or less identical homes of Northumberland Estates to interest or to haunt, no chance of loot that would be any more than the ordinary, waking-world kind the cops hauled you in for taking; no
small immunities, no possibilities for hidden life or otherworldly presence; no trees, secret routes, shortcuts, culverts, thickets that could be made hollow in the middle – everything in the place was right out in the open, everything could be seen at a glance; and behind it, under it, around the corners of its houses and down the safe, gentle curves of its streets, you came back, you kept coming back, to nothing; nothing but the cheerless earth."
Thomas Pynchon, "The Secret Integration"
This is Ian Mathers' Tumblr. I live in Canada. I've written about music and other things for Stylus, PopMatters, Resident Advisor, the Village Voice, and a few other places. Hi.
My review of Holden’s excellent The Inheritors is up today at PopMatters. One sign that it’s been an excellent year in music for me; as much as I love this one, I couldn’t quite squeeze it into my top ten. I approached the record with a certain amount of trepidation, mainly because it’s 75 minutes long; unlike most albums of that length, I think he manages to justify it. I did notice in picking out a quotation for this post that I broke one of my own rules just after this section, and sure enough that part makes me wince. Learning, always learning…
Context is important. Ignoring it is bad and will lead to making bad arguments. But it’s not a fucking shield, and there is no context that makes that column or Cohen’s other columns okay.
Oh man, I am the wrong guy to ask this! I’m sure I’ve read more books about music than many random people, but I definitely have not read enough to give you a top 20… or even just 20. There are things I wish were in book form so I could own them/list them here (glenn mcdonald’s The War Against Silence blog chief among them), but a lot of the reading I’ve done about music over the years wasn’t and isn’t in book form. And there’s plenty of music books I’d like to read (glancing over at my shelf I see The Ambient Century, for example, and I know I’d like to read Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise). But here are all of the books I can think of that fit your description:
I’ve enjoyed most of the few 33 1/3 volumes I’ve been able to read, but predictably enough Carl Wilson’s excellent Let’s Talk About Love and John Darnielle’s bruising Master of Reality are my favourite. I like Jonathan Lethem’s essay on Talking Heads in The Disappointment Artist enough I should get around to reading his Fear of Music, but there’s just a hint of sour grapes there that hasn’t made me rush to do it (my one submission to the series thus far, which made it through a few rounds, was on another Talking Heads album and shortly after that set of submissions his book was announced; these two things have nothing to do with each other, no doubt, but that’s sour grapes for you).
Whatever my problems with aspects of Retromania, Simon Reynolds’ Rip it Up and Start Again is an excellent overview of one of my favourite (if not just my favourite) periods in recent musical history; I re-read it recently, and it was interesting to note when and where I disagree with his stance on bands, mostly I agree and more than that just reading a history of the period is satisfying enough it could be half as good as Reynolds’ and still be worth reading.
I don’t own Our Band Could Be Your Life anymore (purged a lot of books over the last few years) and I don’t care about all of the bands within but generally enjoyed it. Some of it seemed a little workmanlike, but the fun chapters (the Butthole Surfers, for example) are really fun.
Deborah Curtis’s Touching From a Distance is the kind of corrective we need more of, I suspect. It’s not the whole story, but it’s an important part of it. Nobody should be hero-worshipping Ian Curtis; of course, that goes for every musician (that I can think of at the moment).
I don’t know whether it qualifies as a ‘music book,’ but Roman Ingarden’s The Work of Music and the Problem of Its Identity pretty much blew my mind in undergrad and I wound up writing my MA thesis on it. It seemed pretty accessible at the time, but that was after studying phenomenology (the real stuff, Husserl not Heidegger) so who knows. But when I went back to some bits of it recently the language still seemed pretty straightforward to me.
I bought Nicholas Cook’s Music: A Very Short Introduction (from the Very Short Introduction series, naturally) as a present for myself when I got into grad school. I wound up referring to it a couple of times in the footnotes of my thesis, but that’s underselling it. Compact, lucid, wide-ranging, thought provoking.
I bought two giant, thick music books from the remainder section in the Harvard bookstore visiting Boston years ago. I’ve since given The Creation Records Story: My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize to a friend who is the biggest Creation fan I know; right now used copies are over $40 on Amazon, which is too bad because I’d love to read it again. I still have David Buckley’s Strange Fascination, about David Bowie, and I remember liking it a lot, too; given the amount of Bowie in my life recently, it might be due a reread soon.
So that’s, uh, nine? Sorry I couldn’t manage twenty. I didn’t want to mention anything I plan to read, or have read part of, or stopped reading, or didn’t like. Thanks for the question!
So the Singles Jukebox did a roundup of peoples’ thoughts about Lou Reed songs, and because I was the only one to pick something off of The Velvet Underground and Nico I got to go first. There’s a couple more paragraphs at the link, but more importantly also a bunch of other blurbs, all excellent (and all taking different angles on him).