Sunday, January 22, 2012

Books: Love Goes to Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many books and articles have been written about the music scene of the 1960's and then the punk scene of the late 1970's, but in music history, the mid-1970's have been something of a lost era, snubbed by critics as a time of vapid pop and pretentious progressive rock and jazz fusion. Will Hermes looks to set the record straight by focusing on the vibrant music scene in New York City during the years 1973-1977. Taking a wide angle view from rock to jazz, salsa and disco, Hermes shows that in New York City at least, the prevailing notion of an unproductive stretch of musical history is far from the truth. He follows the development of the jazz loft scene, a DIY culture where pioneers like Sam Rivers and Rashied Ali took control of their own destinies by opening their own music spaces in lofts and began to attract the finest improvisers from around the country. In fact, Hermes ends the formal narrative recounting a David Murray/Lester Bowie gig. The beginnings of the DJ and underground rap culture are examined in detail, developing into the club scene that would become disco. Using these genres along with the growing popularity of Latin salsa, Hermes uses them as a lens to view the socio-economic culture of New York City. Rock and roll and especially the birth pangs of what would become the punk scene are examined in detail. Following the likes of Patti Smith, The Ramones, The Talking Heads and burgeoning mega-star Bruce Springsteen, he is able to look at the different dynamics of how bands and musical personalities form and either prosper or flounder. Hermes writes knowingly about the avant-classical scene as well, following the likes of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich as they develop ever more progressive and large scale works. This was a very well written and extensively researched book (with a full bibliography for those looking to read more on a particular topic.) Hermes is able to spin stories so well that even aspects of the musical culture that I wasn't interested in like disco were interesting, if not for the music, than the way they wove themselves into the musical tapestry of the city. This is a very highly recommended book that is must reading for music fans or NYC scenesters. Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever - amazon.com


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