CBR12Bingo – Music
This is a three parter.
A Visit from the Goon Squad – 3/5 Stars
This book has the honor of being the very first book I ever got from Audible. I got it when it won the 2010 National Book Award and I think that audiobook is the best format for this novel as well. The novel is a series of narrative and short stories linked together thematically around music from the 1970s through some unclear point in the near future. They are also linked through the life and career of Benny Salizar, a punk musician turned record producer. Not every story is about Benny or directly a reference to him, but exist in his orbit. The wider range of stories also bring in PR and acting/Hollywood and other related climes. So the stories are mostly told in first and third person with different narrators, there’s also a blending of styles as well. I was initially pretty critical of this book when I first read it, and I think I still am, but it depends on the answer to a question. And this is an interpretive question, not a what’s the facts question. The question is: how much parody does this book involve? I think the book is acerbic and incisive throughout, and it’s drenched in irony. But there’s a few sections that feel like that they might be direct parody of certain writers. If this is correct or I buy this, the book is more interesting than I thought, but not necessarily any better. If not, then these flaws remain from my first reading. So what this comes down to for me is that there’s a lot of really good stuff in this novel, and then there’s a lot of derivative/bad copy of other post-post-modern writers contemporary with Egan.
So these next too books both come from the 33 1/3 series, in which writers (usually journalists, but not always) take up a single seminal album and tell a history of it. This series is widely variable in the writing with sometimes getting a very straightforward history of the album, and if need be, the band or singer too, and in other cases, you end of up with a kind of personal journey of the writer themselves in their connection to the album. It’s definitely a Your Mileage May Vary situation when it comes to this second form for certain.
Grace – 5/5
Daphne Brooks’s history of the Jeff Buckley albums finds itself needing to tell the personal and artistic history of Jeff Buckley to reach any kind of meaningful story here in part because this is a singular album (in that he only made one complete, finalized studio album) but also because of how much of that personal history in enfolded into this work. In addition to all this the very quick rise and disastrously and tragic fall is so sudden and so meaningless at the end, and as that quickly turned into legend, getting the truth down is important. Jeff Buckley grew up in Souther California and is the son of the folk/singer-songwriter Tim Buckley. They look almost exactly alike, but don’t sound all that much alike with Tim Buckley having a warbling deeper voice and Jeff Buckley using falsetto and other forms of singing to take his voice to ethereal heights. But also Jeff Buckley apparently only met his father twice before Tim Buckley died in the early 1970s of a drug overdose. Jeff Buckley wasn’t even allowed at the funeral.
So when he was 18, Jeff Buckley (coming out of a performing arts high school) performed Tim Buckley’s most famous song at a benefit/tribute concert and in the wake of that fame took off for New York and Memphis to work in bands and craft his solo style. Brooks’s book tells all this history with additional analysis of that emerging style and especially taking on the question of the ways in which Jeff Buckley drew so much influence from blues, R and B, and other forms of predominately Black music, and as both Brooks and Buckley suggest without “trying to be Black”.
From there, we get to the writing and riffing and crafting of Grace itself, an album that I absolutely adore, but didn’t find out about until a few year after Buckley had died. Here’s where Brooks’s personal biography (being the same age as Buckley) and growing up around the same place as Buckley (and including her identity as a Black woman into 90s Indie rock) adds some layers to that same story. This is a really engaging and heartfelt analysis, and I think the musical analysis aspects are incredibly insightful and interesting as well. It’s hard to tell whether someone not already completely taken by Buckley would enjoy this as much, but that sort of the point of the series.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – 4/5
Another beloved near one-off album (technically there’s two, but the differences are wide-ranging), from the (late) 90s Indie scene, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea has a lot of the same kinds of mythic elements to it as the Jeff Buckley album. But it’s more so the story of a collective group of friends who were looking for some validation for their weirdness and joy in a town in the South that didn’t care much about that. This is a much more straightforward history of the band, the album, and myth-making. But because Jeff Mangum is still alive and fairly recently active in the music world, it’s a different tone here. The result is still learning the funny and weird history of this album, how Jeff Mangum basically didn’t know anything about Anne Frank until he was in his 20s, read her diary, and lost all sense of the world before, and wrote an album for her and mixed what feels like a steampunk, Dirty South, Klezmer, marching band album celebrating her. Dee dee dee dee.