Musical moments

May 22, 2010

I got behind reading other things. I didn’t start April’s TBR book, Whispering Pines, on the “northern roots of American music”, till May, but in the last week I finished that and read my 5th book, for May, ZZ Packer’s short story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. So now I can detour again, to a loaned Shutter Island, which a review says is “the kind of book you could imagine Stephen King or Edgar Allan Poe coming up with if they collaborated after dropping LSD”, so looking forward to that :p We saw the movie, so I’m sure the book won’t be as stunning as it would be otherwise, but I’m curious enough to give it a read.

Anyway, this post is all about music, and books about music. I’ve always been fascinated by these sort of artistic schools, and how partnerships and groups form and break and influence and work (like how Pollock’s relationship with Krasner was one of the most interesting parts of that movie, to me). And in this phase, my thinking on it started with James Taylor and Carole King’s reunion tour. Too poor for tickets, I got the CD/DVD instead. I know more about her and her career, and appreciate her music more, than I do his (especially because of how much of his is hers, hers and Gerry Goffin’s).  So the Brill building is just the first musical community that comes up here.

Then they went west, to LA and the Troubadour. Because I didn’t know much of the exact chronology, I was amazed when Taylor said that King gave him permission to record “You’ve got a Friend” while she was recording Tapestry, even though his album would be released first. I guess she knew her record would stand on its own, too; although I think there’s also a great deal to be said for Taylor’s statement that it was just an incredibly generous thing to do.

Whispering Pines: The Northern Roots of American Music…From Hank Snow to the Band is really mostly about the Band, but that’s fine with me, because it reminded me of the fantastic music they created and made me want to listen to it more and watch The Last Waltz again.

The book was encyclopedic without being overwrought. Jason Schneider’s attention to detail really evoked the period of the folk/rock transition and those who either went through it (Dylan) or ignored it (Lightfoot) or found some combination of the two (the Band). It becomes very clear how much everyone was inspired by and was focused on Dylan, and I’m not just talking, here, about the Band. Everyone who was making music at all. And he, in turn, was inspired by all the other musical influences around him. It must have been an incredibly vibrant time.

My only issue with the book was that I felt like I already knew it all, and not because I’m particularly well-versed or knowledgeable about the time or people it discusses, but because, when you listen to the music, you know about Neil Young’s problems, or the community that led to Big Pink (or that Anne Murray really wasn’t all that exciting :p).

There are some times, though, when biography helps. Like hearing about Robert Johnson’s troubled life leads to a greater appreciation of his soulful music, knowing that Sharon Jones used to be a corrections officer at Rikers emphasizes what her voice tells you: she’s one tough lady. Frontperson of the soul/funk revival group Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, I hadn’t known about her until promotions for their latest album, I Learned the Hard Way. If you’re at all interested in funk/soul/R&B (and who’s not?), make sure to pick it up.

It’s so incredible when talented artists finally find the right place for them.