Book 'Em

Taking a look at some of the best music literature from the past few months

Historian Richard Crawford must have a bitching record collection, given the breadth of his 900-page America's Musical Life: A History (Norton). Though Crawford sections off American music into folk, popular and classical styles, his coverage is much more thorough than these clean divisions would indicate. Also included are theatrical music, hymns, military marches, parlor songs, Native American music -- all detailed before stepping into the expected categories of blues, jazz, protest music and rock. How current does he get? The book wraps up with Wynton Marsalis, hip-hop, Philip Glass and P.J. Harvey. Unless the reader has lost his job or is a serious insomniac, the intimidatingly thick tome will probably be read as fragments chosen from a monstrous index that bounces from Charlie Parker to Harry Partch to Charlie Patton to "Little Richard" Penniman in a single column.

Editor William McKeen has compiled nearly a hundred paeans to your favorite loud stuff in Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay (Norton). We're given top-drawer soap-boxing by the best rock critics: Charlie Gillett on the five styles of rock 'n' roll; Britain's Charles Shaar Murray on Jimi Hendrix; Nelson George on James Brown; Robert Palmer on Delta blues going electric; and Dave Marsh on the song "Louie Louie." A few upscale, non-music writers get in their licks, too: Thomas Wolfe writes about his encounter with George Harrison during the Beatlemania craze, Terry Southern observes the Stones on their hedonistic 1972 tour, Salman Rushdie offers some of his rock fiction, Joan Didion watches the Doors record Waiting for the Sun. Also included are entries by the rock 'n' rollers themselves: Chuck Berry on hooking up with Chess Records, Ronnie Spector on her bizarre marriage to producer Phil Spector, and Frank Zappa's 1985 statement to the Senate Commerce Committee regarding warning stickers on potentially offensive albums. McKeen's effort shows how far rock writing has come from the days of dry liner notes and win-a-date-with-Ringo teen mag pap.

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