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The Best Music Books of 2011

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Songbook

Derek Flynn

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This week I take a look at some of the best music books released in 2011

In the tradition of the “Best-of-the Year” polls that we always see this time of year, I’ve decided to take a look at the “Best Music Books of 2011”. Having done an exhaustive and highly unscientific search of some of the year’s top “Best-of” lists (Spin magazine,Entertainment Weekly, the Guardian, and others), I’ve compiled seven books that seem to be getting the most critical acclaim this year.

See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody – Bob Mould

I was a little too young to be a fan of Hüsker Dü but was a big fan of Bob Mould’s subsequent band, Sugar, in the mid ‘90s. This memoir is described by Spin as “a living history of American post-punk and a deeply personal exorcism, often within the same paragraph.” The Boston Globe says, the openly gay Mould “looks at his journey from his rural upbringing to cult fame leading the band Hüsker Dü and beyond. Along the way, he addresses, with startling honesty, his struggle with addiction and learning to embrace his sexuality.”

Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge – Mark Yarm

Another ‘90s phenomenon I had a keen interest in was the “grunge” scene. For a couple of years there in the mid-90s, it seemed everyone was obsessed with just about anything that came out of Seattle. Yarm’s book is apparently an exhaustive account of this period and place. As the author puts it: “It’s got it all: tragedy, comedy, corporate greed, media insanity, Courtney Love, and dudes who wore long johns under their shorts.” (It also contains the fascinating claim by Courtney Love that Buzz Osborne of the Melvins tried to kill Kurt with a hot shot of heroin.)

Rock and Roll Always Forgets: A Quarter Century of Music Criticism – Chuck Eddy

One of the names on this list I wasn’t familiar with, Chuck Eddy is a former Village Voice music editor and this book collects some of his best articles from the last 25 years. Entertainment Weekly says: “Eddy can make his ambivalence – hell, his basic confusion – about the importance of Jay-Z into as good a description of Jay-Z’s music as has been set down by any hardcore fan.”

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever – Will Hermes

I love the title (named after the first Talking Heads single) and the subject matter of this book: a look at the New York music scene from 1973 to 1977, covering the birth of punk and the roots of hip-hop. In his blurb for the book, Hermes makes a very interesting point that has as much resonance today: “I want people see that this “golden era” – I call it that in quotes – was made with very basic skills and very limited resources when New York City was in the absolute worst economic shape in modern history. If all these people could make amazing [stuff] during really hard times, then none of us have any excuse.”

Retromania – Simon Reynolds

I remember reading a lot of Simon Reynold’s stuff when he was writing for music papers like Melody Maker back in the day. In this book, he looks at the cult of nostalgia that has grown up around music from the past. Spin says: “Rather than find comfort in the glory of the good old days,Retromania considers the senseless worship of rock history as a threat to the potential for the next big thing.”

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution – Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum

As an ‘80s child – and a huge fan of the Irish equivalent MTUSA – this is another book I would love to read. As the Boston Globe puts it: “For those who came of age during the glory days of the music video era – from the early ’80s to the early ’90s – this oral history, woven together by music journalists Marks and Tannenbaum, evokes nostalgia and illuminates some interesting behind the scenes action at the then-burgeoning music network.” And one very interesting factoid is that MTV almost went under in the first two years but was saved by Michael Jackson! (Or, rather, by his videos, one would presume.)

Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music – Edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz

Another name on this list I wasn’t familiar with, Willis (who died in 2006) was a music writer with the New Yorker and the Village Voice, and a great one at that if the reviews of this book are anything to go by. From the Entertainment Weekly review: “Willis writes with a directness and utter lack of fan gush, and her observations sound as fresh, as appropriate to the present music scene, as they did decades ago.” And on a final note, I love this, from the Guardian review: “Writing about the fading of the 60s, [Willis] has the melancholy clarity of Joan Didion, but Didion would never have danced in front of the mirror non-stop to the first five Creedence Clearwater Revival albums to cheer herself up.”

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