Books you pretty much have to read while listening to music
It’s hot. It’s Friday. There’s a number of great albums coming out this summer (next Friday’s Genius Ten will discuss two), and so today I’ve been thinking more about music than politics. And about reading about music, too, since I like reading about music almost as much as listening to it, and two books on my to-read list for this summer are about music: England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage (recommended by norbizness) and Turn the Beat Around by Peter Shapiro. These are histories of the big two outsider music trends of the 70s (hip hop being the 3rd, but it didn’t take off in popularity really until the 80s)—punk and disco. Hopefully I can report back some interesting stuff, but in the meantime, I recommend listening to the recent “Sound Opinions” defense of disco. They do a bang-up job, and really talk about how much the “Disco Sucks” movement was a retaliation of straight white guys who didn’t like it one bit that women of color and gay men were giving straight men a run for their money in record sales.
They discuss one of the most influential songs from that era:
With that in mind, I thought I’d write a little about three of my favorite books about music, and invite readers to share their recommendations for books or music or both.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk is the most guilty pleasure of the three books, since it’s really just so gossipy. It’s an oral history of the real beginnings of punk, which were (contrary to what a lot of people think) in the U.S. and not in England. It’s a gossipy book in no small part because the punk scene in the 70s was a tightly woven scene, so there’s a lot of who got what STD from who and who beat the shit out of who. (Iggy Pop from Nico, Wayne County/Handsome Dick Manitoba, in a particularly satisfying revenge fantasy that actually happened.) But it’s also just crack to anyone who loves punk, and wants to know how it evolved, particularly if you’re curious how Iggy and the Stooges or The Ramones managed to be such creative powerhouses. If you like that book, you’d probably also be interested in reading the collection of writing by the 70s era Lester Bangs, the famous and infamous rock critic who pumped the hell out of punk: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung.
My favorite song by the least likeable band from that era (it’s a tie between them and the Dictators):
The second book recommendation is probably the most interesting one for people who want to approach music histories from a larger sociocultural perspective, and it’s definitely the best written: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang. I can’t recommend this book enough. I try to make everyone read it, whether they consider themselves fans of hip-hop or not. I mean, it helps if you’re familiar with the music, but it’s such a well-written, fascinating history that it reads well even if you’re not that familiar with the music, or so I’d imagine. The only thing that Chang doesn’t do well is look to the future, but when he’s charting the invention and development of hip-hop, as well as its various trends and phases, it’s riveting. Of course, I have to pick a video from the man who comes off as one of the most interesting, if a tad enigmatic—Afrika Bambaataa:
The last of my favorite books about music is Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground by Maria Raha, a book I’ve blathered on about a lot on this blog. It’s funny reading it now, since one of the last of the female bands and musicians she covers—The Gossip—was pretty small and unknown when Raha wrote it, but of course, they’ve exploded in Europe to the point where people who’ve never even listened to their music are weighing in on the social impact of Beth Ditto. Raha just kicks serious ass with this book, covering a wide array of musicians from the 70s until she published the book in the early 2000s. Some of the artists are pretty famous, like Patti Smith, and some are more underground, like Tribe 8, but even the more famous of them probably don’t get nearly as much attention as many male artists they are as good or better than. This book is an invaluable corrective to the lack of coverage that female musicians get. I know a lot of feminists would be interested in listening to more female musicians, but don’t know where to begin. This book tells you exactly where.
Plus, a lot of the bands are like in-your-face feminist, like Crass:
Or Bikini Kill:
Anyway, please share your ideas in comments. I’m going to zone out, check email, and listen to the recent Vaselines reissue, which I just got on a 3 disc vinyl.