I read a bunch of Continuum’s 33⅓ books! Now I am going to talk about them. Behind the jump: Music from Big Pink, Exile On Main Street, Horses, Highway 61 Revisited, Radio City.
Pink Moon — Amanda Petrusich: one of my favorite things about this series is the flexibility of form in the books; you can take any tack you choose to illuminate your record. I loved this because I knew very little about Nick Drake, except that Pink Moon was a deeply culty album amongst all the musicians I’ve ever known — split between Petrusich’s history of Drake and his music and interviews with musicians and artists about how they discovered Drake and what he and his music meant to them, it’s a perfect balance to explain this album. (I love Pink Moon, too. I heard it for the first time in the Cowboy’s living room last March.) (Also, the internet in the form of Amazon tells me that people hated this one, but I thought that it was charming, if a bit overwritten.)
Music from Big Pink — John Niven: Niven calls this story about the Band, their battles and fights and demons and dreams, “faction”, that is, merging fact (what happened) with fiction (the life of his fictional protagonist). I learned in many years of fandom to call it Mary Sue Real Person Fanfiction, but I won’t quibble with him — Niven’s self-based hero befriends the members of the Band and tells the story of the group, in flashbacks and here-and-nows, especially the Woodstock period surrounding the recording of Music from Big Pink. It’s occasionally embarrassment squicky, but it is also a testament to a deep love for a seminal album, written by someone who couldn’t be there when it was made, and so tells a story where he could be.
Exile on Main Street — Bill Jankovitz: this was fabulous; it isn’t just a look, in depth, at the music of Exile, though it is partially that, and I was fascinated to listen to the album again with fresh ears and much deeper knowledge of the influences and the arrangements that inform that album. But it’s also a companion to A Season In Hell, which is the deifnitive book on the recording of Exile, and Jankovitz’s book is full of stories about everything that made up Exile — the Frank photos on the cover (did you know the cover wasn’t a mosaic, but a single photo of a wall of photos in a tattoo shop? NEITHER DID I), the bit players in recording, the Keef and Mick stories. It was a well-researched, passionate love letter to a great album (though, still, not my favorite Stones record, and there’s no 33⅓ on Sticky Fingers) and I couldn’t put it down. Definitely the best one I’ve read thus far.
Highway 61 Revisited — Mark Polizzotti: well-researched and well-written, and recommended if you don’t know much about Dylan, this album, or the tenor of the folk/rock scene when this record was made and released. I do, though, because there are plenty of books out there that I’ve already read, and I am not particularly interested in the details of how badly Dylan treated women, because that just makes me depressed. A good read, but not as compelling for me as others have been. (Positively 4th Street, if you’re wondering, about Dylan, the Farinas, and Joan Baez, as recommended reading.)
Horses — Philip Shaw: oh, man, you guys — I love Patti Smith, I love this album, and there was a lot good in this book, lots of moments that made my heart shiver and ache, but it also occasionally got all lit theory-ish on me, and, well: I spent my sole lit theory class in college writing poetry about the back of my friend Adrian’s neck. So that’s how I feel about Lacan, you know? I liked the parts of this that were more about Smith making art like a wild woman than I liked the bits that were about feminist theory and whatever shock value Shaw could drag out of Smith’s work. Because it kind of seemed like Shaw wrote this more to shock than Smith even made art to shock, you know? And, hell, Smith made art to shock a lot of the time. So that bugs me in some way in addition to being uninteresting. Dudes shouldn’t get to co-opt art made by women for their own shock value.
Radio City — Bruce Eaton: part Big Star, part John Fry, part Ardent Studios, part Memphis, part soul and R&B, part the South in general, parts Chilton and Fry and Hummel and Bell, this is all history, in Eaton’s narrative breaks and the staggering oral histories and interviews he did, and it is a love song to Big Star and how they changed the world. If you love Big Star, if you love Alex Chilton and Jody and Andy and Chris, you need to read this one. The best I’ve read so far.