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I have quite the thing with (not for) music books.  Basically, I can’t read one without eventually getting royally pissed off about some stray unneeded inclusion or irregularity or overwhelming example of intolerant ignorance towards fans/artists. This is all the odder considering that I own like seven of them. I mean, I usually don’t start frothing at the mouth, but there’s just always something that will ruin my experience reading a music book, whether it’s an overload of encyclopedic information about something that nobody needs to ever know (not even a fan who’s willing to shell out money to read about the subject) or a fawning, doe-eyed style of writing that pressures the reader to the point where they feel like they must like this shit, as portrayed in David Browne’s not-particularly-reader-friendly Goodbye 20th Century, which casts Sonic Youth as The Most Important Band Ever; you can feel Browne practically breathing with anticipation as his narrative moves from Sister to Daydream Nation to Goo, foaming at the mouth to describe yet another Endurable Classic. Like, there’s a reason the book skims over the band’s later period at a feverish pace, instead of abrasively embracing these album’s shortcomings, which would have ultimately been more interesting. And I even like Sonic Youth, like a lot.

Point is, music books are usually cumbersome, bloated, and tiresome, and often irk me in some way or another. But I keep buying them. Like, incessantly. The two I’ve bought most recently are different, in a sense, than Goodbye 20th Century or others of that ilk, as those are basically novel-length summarizations of every aspect of the band’s career and personal life, which ends up reading like little more than dressed-up Wikipedia pages. No, my most recent acquisitions in this uncomely world of literature are The Pitchfork 500 (a chorus of groans sounds) and The Wire Primers: A Guide to Modern Music. The former is a collection of 500 soundoffs of what the popular webzine believes to be the “greatest 500 songs from punk to present”, while the latter is a collection of articles from a popular feature in the well-regarded periodical, which is unfortunately published in England and hard to find in backwards-ass Indiana (typing this, I’m all the more frustrated that I don’t have a subscription). Also, both are essentially more among the reference side of things compared to trying to create something that runs smoothly as a novel, which I figured would be more helpful for me.

This is because I’ve decided that why I buy music books can essentially be boiled down and condensed into one little nugget: I want to learn stuff about the music (man). About how it was composed, about what ideas were circling in the artist’s head, about what drugs he/she was using at time. I fervently subscribe to the belief of “minding one’s business”, so, ultimately, I really don’t care about personal details or divorces; I especially don’t care about wild party exploits, since I go to school and hear that shit all the time anyways. But, as far as the composition and creation in music that I’m already interested in goes, I’m pretty much all ears, which is why these two books work so much for me: they get to the point. They don’t futz around, so to speak.

But I’m also glad I bought both of these so closely together (Pfork 500 last month, Wire Primers last Wednesday), as both have their merits, and both have flaws that could significantly cripple their stature for me personally if I didn’t have another reference to switch to in a flash. As such, they correspond and work quite well together when reading both at the same time. The Wire Primers is narrowly my favorite of the two, but this is a truly personal kind of thing: I’ve clicked through Pitchfork (the website) often enough since learning of its existence a couple years or so ago, and I’ve been accustom to the kind of shit they like, making much of their selections in their book obvious and regurgitated.

Now, a ninja break in flow: for those unaccustomed, The Wire is a weird sort of magazine, one that forgoes many popular trends to focus entirely on avant-garde trends in music (and not the Sputnik avant-garde; the writers’ knowledge runs a little deeper than Kayo Dot and Sonic Youth). It also treats artists like Kode9 and Ornette Coleman and Mark E. Smith like rock-stars. You can probably imagine why I’d think this book is more than just the bee’s knees: it’s a hotbed of info about stuff that I really don’t know much about, and concerns artists that could hardly get a more thorough, in-depth look anywhere else, considering anywhere else probably hasn’t heard of Captain Beefheart or Morton Feldman. Thus, it’s a new world of various shit to learn about and explore. Of numerous articles of great value (the ones concerning The Fall and that whole unwieldy musical genre called “noise” rein in their imposing subjects and form concise, informative articles; they’re excellent starting points for their subjects), the dubstep chapter is ultimately the most impressive: it takes a wildly shifting genre, one that’s become increasingly difficult to pin down to begin with, and forms a roadmap that touches on major points of reference without skimming over some of the more obscure material. It’s something that should be referred to closely and often if you have any interest in the genre; it also helps significantly that the book catalogs only in-print material, easily attainable at your local Amazon.

The Pitchfork 500’s issues with predictability have been aforementioned, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy read. Its constant and seemingly endless manageable soundoffs provide great, quick reading, but only if you can get past the trademarked sardonic and somewhat uppity tone. Such shouldn’t put you off too much, hopefully: there is a aggregation of information to be found here, especially within the book’s opening chapters (as the Pfork 500 runs chronologically from the mid-70’s to present day), which detail the webzine’s less-tread appreciation for obvious artists like David Bowie and Talking Heads, as well as more obscure artists such as ESG and Glenn Branca. The book’s subjects never quite reach Wire levels of anonymity, which is why the Pfork 500 is such a handy companion to its more mature cousin: its more recognizable names (it isn’t afraid to touch on popular artists like Jay-Z with the same pretentiousness it would Scott Walker, which makes for entertaining reading, even if the writing’s a little overblown) offer a counterpoint to when The Wire Primers’ mess of experimentalism becomes too off-putting or overwhelming. Both sadly are rather sparse in design, but Pfork 500 at least looks like it was printed sometime after 1929; it even has color!

Despite my appreciation for both books, and how interesting and informative and ultimately fun they were both to read, I find my faith in music books still not restored. Considering both are essentially compilations of magazine articles (which The Wire Primers actually is, of course), it’s not all that reassuring that these are probably the two music books I’ve enjoyed the most, as far as in-depth journalism about a subject goes: it’s still unlikely, at least at this point, that I’ll ever find a full-length, narrative-led music book that fully tickles my fancy. But forget my qualms with those matters: if you’ve ever heard of or even quite possibly mildly enjoyed any the artists I’ve shamefully name-dropped Greer-style thus far, you should probably run to your nearest Borders and get The Wire Primers and the Pitchfork 500 (unless you already hate Pitchfork; this won’t help to change your mind). Now.





joshuatree
03.24.10
i realize this is long but it's too informal and unwieldy to be a feature so blog!

klap
03.24.10
Cam's book reviews - i like this potential weekly feature.

most music books i've read have been generally good, but i always do get frustrated with reference novels because by their very nature they're often incomplete. novels i enjoyed included cross' bio of kurt cobain, rob sheffield's love is a mixtape, and "this band could be your life" by azzerad, i'll have to check these out.

robertsona
03.24.10
one of the greatest books about music is 'the rest is noise' by alex ross. i also enjoy the pitchfork 500 :X

iarescientists
03.24.10
got the p4k 500 book for free cause i did a survey on there

was surprised to get it in the mail but cool

dylantheairplane
03.24.10
I read this book about Modest Mouse once and it was honestly one of the most boring books I have ever read. I was pretty much a wikipedia page in novel form.

DiceMan
03.24.10
I read " The History of Jazz" by Gioia a long while back and surprisingly enough it was interesting. If you could struggle through some parts that were a little too much information then you would be rewarded with knowing about many influential jazz artists. I'd reccomend it to someone I guess, I just don't reccomend buying it. It's kind of a one time read :)

Satellite
03.24.10
"Fargo Rock City" by Chuck Klosterman is by far the best music-related book I've ever come across (I'm a pretty huge fanboy when it comes to ALL of his works, but FRC deals almost exclusively with music [namely the 80's metal scene]). Definitely a must-read.

Lakes.
03.24.10
The Dee Dee Ramone autobiography is pretty good, its hardly a "music book" though.

joshuatree
03.24.10
can't really empathize with klosterman's tastes in music but he's a good writer. I've always wanted to read the rest is noise too, have never gotten around to it for some reason idk

Satellite
03.24.10
Oh man, I agree with MAYBE 20% of what he says, but he's entertaining enough to make up for it (e.g. writing about how 2000's Kid A accurately describes the events of 9/11).

thebhoy
03.24.10
good stuff cam

thebhoy
03.24.10
also, as a budding writer, you have inspired me to do a novel about music. I will make it good Cam, and I will dedicate it to you.

plane
03.24.10
I read Love is a Mixtape which is about music but not like this. I liked that book.

Urinetrouble
03.24.10
gorillaz-rise of the ogre. really good read

rasputin
03.24.10
the only blog post so far worth reading i love u cam

klap
03.24.10
love is a mixtape was mad good, if sad

Aids
03.24.10
Holy, the whole site should look this good.

Meatplow
03.24.10
the Industrial Culture Handbook got it right

theAlien
03.24.10
essentially every klosterman book (non-fiction) deals with the topic of music and his opinions are always entertaining/interesting, if not entirely accurate hah...
i also read a led zeppelin biography that i later learned was almost completely fabricated although being passed as solid truth, which may or may not have made it more interesting

Iai
03.24.10
Great blog. I read books about music all the time (it's basically what I want to do for a living) and yes, most of them make me angry at some point. The academic stuff so rarely breaks away from anything beyond '69, and when it does, it's like the writer has to put on some kind of forced flippancy to distance themselves from other academics. There are some writers I can't get enough of though - Patricia Rose is awesome.

ThierryTB
03.24.10
I enjoyed Daniel Levitin's This Is Your Brain On Music. Good read mixing music theory and neuroscience trying to explain what makes music so captivating and unique. I guess it may not be for everybody though...

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