Monday, June 23, 2008

"BOOKS" ABOUT MUSIC

After my recent book post, I thought I’d make an alphabet list of my favorite books about music, had some strange gaps and I’m sure memory losses, but this is what I came up with, using the label “books” very loosely for some of them (and if you’re just tuning in, I make these lists at night falling asleep or back to sleep and usually alphabetical so I can remember them in the morning, even if I don’t get an item for every letter):

A? (all I could think of was Louis Zukofsky's serial poem "A" some sections of which spend a lot of words about music)
BIRD The Legend of Charlie Parker by Robert George Reisner (the first book about Parker after his death, I think, at least the first I read, not very scholarly accurate, but full of great stories and tributes by many who knew him) and BING CROSBY A Pocketful of Dreams: the Early Years by Gary Giddins (one of my favorite biographies)
CARELESS LOVE The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick (volume two of his great biography), CHRONICLES Volume One by Bob Dylan, and COLTRANE by Ben Ratliff
DAY LADY DIED, THE by Frank O’Hara (actually a poem, but a great one that captures what Billie Holiday meant to those in the know at the time of her death)
ELVIS Word for Word by Jerry Osborne (a surprisingly dramatic read of Elvis’s rise and fall in his own words, from interviews and his notes and introductions etc.)
FOREVER YOUNG by Douglas L. Gilbert and David Marsh (Dylan on the cusp of becoming a legend)
GREEN SUEDE SHOES by Larry Kirwin (his story and the story of Black 47)
HORN FIGHT AT THE MISSION CORRAL by Richard Barker (this piece I first saw in the 1960 anthology THE BEATS edited by Seymour Krim, Barker was a jazz drummer and writer who tells the story of a session at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival when Gerry Mulligan tried to control a crowd watching him and fellow saxophonist Brew Moore play together after not having done that in ten years and with a rhythm section neither had ever worked with before, and then Moore steps down to let Sonny Rollins take over, it’s one of the best takes on jazz music and audiences ever written to my mind)
I. W. W. SONGS (the real “little red book”—of songs from the Wobblies)
JAZZSPEAK (this isn’t really a book, it’s a CD that New Alliance put out in 1991 as an anthology of poetry about jazz and with jazz, including luminaries like Archie Shepp and Amiri Baraka, and less well known poets like yours truly with a poem about Eric Dolphy from my 1970s collection ATTITUDE)
K?
LOUIS ARMSTRONG IN HIS OWN WORDS by Louis Armstrong (selected from the reams of typewritten memoirs and opinions he wrote diligently all his life, mostly in various dressing rooms and green rooms before and after shows), LAST NIGHT’S FUN by Ciaran Carson (the traditional Irish music scene in Ireland at its best, each chapter based on a tune and the memories of playing it, or hearing it played or sung) and LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick (volume one of this great biography)
MANNER MUSIC, THE by Charles Reznikoff (a novel published after Reznikoff’s death by Black Sparrow about a classical musician, among other things, obscure but one of my favorites) and MAHLER by Jonathan Williams (a book of poems mostly responding to Mahler’s music in Williams’ unique style)
NEW YORK: Songs of the City by Nancy Groce (a compilation of songs about and/or set in New York City with commentary and some history), and NICARAGUA DIARY How I Spent My Summer Vacation or I Was a Commie Dupe for the SANDINISTAS by Paul Kantner (not exactly about music but by a great musician (and great guy) so music comes to mind when reading it despite the political realities)
ONE TRAIN LATER: A Memoir by Andy Summers (an interesting take not only on The Police and their formation and rise to success and break up, but also of the London and then global music scene of the 1970s and ‘80s) and OUT OF OUR MINDS by George O’Brien (the third in his great autobiographical trilogy, of which the first two, VILLAGE OF LONGING and DANCEHALL DAYS, contain many references to music, but the third actually deals with his rock’n’roll days in London in the 1960s)
POSITIVELY MAIN STREET Bob Dylan’s Minnesota by Toby Thompson (now out in the new edition I posted about, this first book on Dylan written by a 24-year-old fan and writer was the first to crack the myth of Dylan with the reality of the origins of his genius, including that interview with Dylan’s mother!), and POSITIVELY 4TH STREET by David Hadju (an incredibly accurate portrait of the early 1960s as seen through the music and relationships between and among Dylan, Joan Baez, her sister Mimi and Richard Farina)
Q?
ROLLING THUNDER LOGBOOK by Sam Sheperd (rough and real takes on the famous Dylan touring show of the 1970s)
STRAIGHT, NO CHASER The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk by Leslie Gourse
THAT SPECIAL PLACE by Terence Winch (great book mostly about the adventures of Terence and the Irish traditional music band Celtic Thunder—the original, not the recent show of that name)
U?
VOICE, THE by E. J. Kahn Jr. (one of the, if not the, first book about Sinatra, during his first wave of popularity and influence in the 1940s, which I found for a few bucks in a used bookstore in the 1970s and have cherished ever since)
WITH BILLIE by Julia Blackburn (full of those great interviews with the folks who really knew her)
X?
Y?
Z?

10 comments:

Toby Thompson said...

How about Ned Rorem's New York and Paris Diaries? Not specifically about music, but certainly about a musician.

Lally said...

Yeah, absolutely right. I don't have them anymore, but totally dug their honesty when I read them when they first came out. And they are a lot about music as I remember. I think the Paris Diaries was where I first heard about Poulenc (sp?) and other composers off my radar then.

Toby Thompson said...

Nick Tosches' "Hellfire" is a great bio of Jerry Lee Lewis. Gets deeply into Lewis' belief that he plays the devil's music. About which he is mightily conflicted.

Lally said...

I don't know that one Toby. But Ray DiPalma just reminded me in a couple of e mails of two books I owned and loved and we talked a lot about back in the '70s, Charlie Mingus' autobiography BENEATH THE UNDERDOG and a collection of essays on music and other topics by Charles Ives called as Ray remembers it ESSAYS BEFORE A SONATA. Somehow I lost my copies of both those books over the years, but still remember them as almost obsessions when I first encountered them. The Ives had been edited for puncutation etc. which really angered me since obviously (from the annotations and footnotes etc.) he had used as a composer would, for pauses and emphasis and etc. and they "cleaned up"!!

Lally said...

Another great reminder, this one in an e mail from my friend the poet Robert Slater, about Mezz Mezzrow's REALLY THE BLUES. If that's his autobiography (which in my memory had a different name but I can't remember what that might have been!?) but if it is, it had an impact on me as well, though I don't have my copy of that any more either.

Bob Berner said...

Lal--Slater beat me to the punch on Mezz Mezzrow's book, which I read when I was in the 9th grade. It has great anecdotes about both Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. And I'm surprized neither Slates nor Ray DiPalma mentioned the John Clellon Holmes novel "Go," about a saxophone player who gets strangled with his own horn-strap.
Bob Berner

Bob Berner said...

Lal--And for Y you can list Dorothy Baker's Yong Man With A Horn, a novel loosely based on Bix. It was a 50s movie, with Kirk Douglas as Smoke Jordan, the trumpet player, and Hoagy Carmichael as the pianist, natch. Can't remember if Bix's tune "In A Mist" was one of the tunes in the film.
Bob B.

Toby Thompson said...

There are many prose works that try to evoke the sound and rhythm of jazz, but to my eye Kerouac's story, "October in the Railroad Earth" does the best job. It's anthologized in the Viking Kerouac collection, and on record he does a great job of reading it with Steve Allen, of all people, accompanying him on piano. Also, the best piece that I've read about Frank Sinatra is Gay Talese's, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," which is widely anthologized but appeared originally in Esquire in 1965. He followed Sinatra for a month, but Sinatra wouldn't talk to him. Talese got a great story anyway.
Everyone's envious of musicians, we all want to be one; perhaps that's why we keep writing about them. Or like them.

Anonymous said...

Dear M:

Frank Conroy's novel Body & Soul would go on my list, as would Bill Williams's 'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream, my all-time favorite scholarly book, published in 1996 by the University of Illinois Press. It reads like a novel. Bill essentially tells the story of the Irish in America through song lyrics, ca. 1800 to 1920. What he has to say about "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" will change your life.
TPW

Lally said...

Of course, 'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream is one of my all time favorites. I still have it. But I never read Conroy's Body & Soul. I'll have to check it out.