Sunday, May 15, 2016

Book Review - How to Write About Music by Marc Woodworth and Ally-Jane Grossan eds. (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015)

I've been writing a blog about jazz and other subjects since 2003 and even put my ramblings into a book last year, so maybe it was time to learn how to write about music after all. This was the first oversized book I had seen in the 33 1/3 series, a longtime series of pocket sized books that examine a particular musical album in detail. This book leaned pretty heavily on those books as examples of excellence in music writing, but some of the best examples came from elsewhere. Lester Bangs' extraordinary meditation on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks album for example, or Lou Reed's surprising review of Kanye West's Yeezus. The book breaks the writing process down by areas of music writing, and there were some very interesting examples in each setting, such as novelist Jonathan Lethem writing about Talking Heads Fear of Music LP or James Wood's personal essay about Keith Moon. It is interesting to read Alex Ross write about Radiohead in 2001 just as A Heart Shaped Pool is released in 2016 and wonder what has changed. Some of there alternatives are interesting as well, like the example from musician John Darnielle's 33 1/3 book on Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality where he writes in the guise of a young person in a psychiatric care facility. I don't think it works, and wonder if that format would have been accepted if it hadn't been from a respected indie musician. A few pages from a rejected graphic novel of Black Flag's Damaged LP shows a major mis-step, what little we see is great, and it's a shame it wasn't brought to press. At the end of each chapter there's an assignment (good for college journalism courses, I suppose) and a section called The Go-Between's (a sly hint at another critic's darling band) where critics give short hints of advice on the topic at hand. The problem being that there are too many cooks, and they spoil the broth by contradicting each other to the point where one person's seemingly good idea is nearly always rebutted by someone else. This book worked best for me as a compendium of some fun and interesting pieces to read. There is a section on blogging, but it really wasn't what I was looking for, so I no longer feel any shame about being a gushing fanboy with a third-grade vocabulary... How to Write About Music: Excerpts from the 33 1/3 Series, Magazines, Books and Blogs with Advice from Industry-leading Writers - amazon.com

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