What else do I do all day but read?
And it Don't Stop! The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, Raquel Cepeda, ed.
This is good. Probably the best hip-hop anthology ever published. Many of these writers (Bill Adler, Nelson George, Joan Morgan, Kevin Powell, dream hampton, Greg Tate, Cheo Hodari Coker, Hilton Als, Danyel Smith, Toure, Sacha Jenkins, Emil Wilbekin and quite a few others) have gone on to bigger things, and nearly all of the anthologized pieces are excellent. Almost unintentionally, this book is one of the better hip-hop histories ever written. Greg Tate interviewing Chuck D, the Danyel Smith article about Foxy Brown that caused Foxy to punch her--there's some strong stuff here, and I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys hip-hop or music journalism.
Having gushed enough, though, there are some weak points. A big one is the lack of articles about DJs--or, more broadly, the MC-centrism. Steven Hager's Afrika Bambaataa article, and Harry Allen's elegy for Jam Master Jay, make up the sum total of DJ pieces. B-boying and graffiti are similarly under-represented.
And the book could be accused of the same Great-Man-ism that people find in jazz writing, which is, I supspect, more related to the financial demands of journalism than to intentional bias.
That said, there aren't a lot of really good hip-hop books. This is one of them. Also, Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop
was just released, and is getting excellent reviews.
Condensed Knowledge: A Deliciously Irreverent Guide to Feeling Smart Again
Here's a way to pick out bad reviews of this book: look for words like 'quirky' and 'wacky.' It's another of those fake-reference books, popularized if not invented by the People's Almanac/Book of Lists folks.
This kind of book rises and falls on the strength of the writing, which is why Cecil "Straight Dope" Adams (or Ed Zotti) is pretty good, and David "Imponderables" Feldman is pretty tedious. The people from mental_floss (underscore sic), a magazine with a stupid title, put Condensed Knowledge
together, and they're no Cecil Adams.
Good for the bathroom, if you're into that kind of thing. Fake-reference is a genre where the pickings are often pretty slim, but that's no excuse for reading this third-string cash-in.
Bootleg! The Rise and Fall of the Secret Recording Industry, Clinton Heylin
This is an authoritative, affectionate history of bootleg records. Heylin mentions jazz and classical music, but his focus is on rock music, starting with famous Bob Dylan bootlegs like Great White Wonder
and, basically, ending in the era of CD-Rs.
File-sharing isn't covered as much as I'd like, which is a shame. In the author's view, CD-Rs ushered in an era of low-quality bootlegs, often repackaged back catalog titles, made by opportunistic types with little reverence for the source material and less concern for packaging, design, etc.
On the contrary, though, web communities like eTree and Sharing the Groove are, in my experience, fantastically concerned with sound quality. Most bootlegs passsed around these days specify every step of the digital chain in an .nfo or .txt file. The most energetic promoters of lossless compression codecs are probably jam band fans.
Not long ago, I read a review of another music book which said, basically, that it made you want to take those old records off the shelf, and that that is the highest praise one can give to a music book. I'm not sure I agree with the sentiment, but, measured by that yardstick, Bootleg!
is a winner.
The book didn't just make me want to listen to The Genuine Basement Tapes
--it also made me want to own a 69-record Led Zeppelin live boxset, and I don't even particularly like Led Zeppelin. Somehow, though, just the idea of a 69-record bootleg box set of live shows absolutely captures the essence of Led Zeppelin.
The Beach, Alex Garland
Remember that movie with Leo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton in it? It might be useful for that six-degrees game, but I've never seen it. Frankly, I was always kind of afraid.
But I was reading something-or-other else, and it mentioned the novel that inspired the film very favorably. So I gave it a shot. It's pretty appealing, and a very fast read. It's an adventure story, albeit an at least slightly thought-provoking one.
It'd be a good read while taking a flight somewhere. There's a little Apocalypse Now
, a little Lord of the Flies
, and a little of that condition that leads people to see things in terms of videogames even when they're not playing one.
Of course, when I put it that way, I'm surprised I didn't like it better. Interestingly, Douglas Rushkoff provides a blurb. Equally interestingly, Garland also wrote the script for 28 Days Later
adds Suicide Girls
(note: those links aren't safe for work, dipshit) ads. Something ensues
Three books I've read lately:
Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics, Jim DeRogatis & Carmel Carrillo, eds.
I wanted to love this book. I'm a big fan of bad reviews, and for the most part not a big fan of the albums mentioned herein. But the reviews, many of which are more essayistic, are kind of a mixed bag. And the album selection leaves me lukewarm.
It starts out strong, with Sgt. Pepper's
, Pet Sounds
, the recently-reissued Smile
, but by the end of the book the reader has endured takes on Paul and Linda McCartney's Ram
and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-nerd
, both of which have been justifiably forgotten by everyone but (boomer) rock critics. They're straw men, but maybe that's the point.
And although the selection goes kicking and screaming into the post-'70s era with Born in the USA
, The Joshua Tree
, among others, one could make a good case that not enough time has passed to judge whether OK Computer
and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
are classic albums.
And while everyone will have their own opinions about what they'd like to see included, Appetite For Destruction
is an absolutely glaring omission. All in all, Kill Your Idols
was a fun read, but one I don't think I'll ever return to.
Monster: Living Off the Big Screen, John Gregory Dunne
The late John Gregory Dunne, a respected writer, and his wife, the equally-if-not-more-respected writer Joan Didion, had, for years, a sideline writing scripts, doing rewrites, etc., for mostly mediocre movies.
This is the story of how their adaptation of Alanna Nash's Golden Girl
, a book about slutty drug-addled anchorwoman Jessica Savitch, her physically abusive, equally-drug-addled Svengali and her untimely death, became, eight years later, Up Close and Personal
, a heartwarming romance starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Redford and a Celine Dion song (or, as Dunne puts it in his introduction, "no longer about Jessica Savitch").
I love Hollywood tell-all books, especially darkly comic ones that focus on the business side, but the big problem is that a lot of the people who create these books just can't write. With John Gregory Dunne, you don't have that problem. I've got a hold on his The Studio
as I write this.
Love and Death: A New and Explosive Investigation Into the Murder of Kurt Cobain, Max Wallace and Ian Halperin
Was Kurt Cobain's death a suicide, or a murder? Apparently, the answer to that question rests in Courtney Love's former private investigator's private records, and in a man named Allen Wrench that used to hang out with that guy from The Mentors that got hit by a train, and in the amount of kickback that comes from a 20-gauge shotgun, and in the difference between the dose of heroin that incapacitates a junkie and the dose that incapacitates a novice (and, therefore, in the question of just how much of a junkie Cobain was).
The authors paint themselves as crusaders, urging that the investigation be reopened and speaking at length about copycat suicides. The book is thought-provoking and well-arranged, but it will never be confused with great literature. Best for conspiracy theorists, Nirvana fans and true-crime readers.
Also, a few links of interest:
This Flash-powered Roots Manuva
magnetic-poetry thing is a hoot. (It reminds me of the Fela Kuti make-the-remix gadget
that was used to promote Red Hot & Riot
--and, by the way, Quannum/Blackalicious DJ Chief Xcel's Fela compilation, Underground Spiritual Game
, is worth hearing, and a good introduction to Fela's voluminous catalog. Real review to follow, maybe.)
And this incredulous Washingtonian article
about marijuana has been making the rounds.
I'm totally not a Mac guy, but the newly-announced Mac Mini
is super cool. It's even more stylish than the G4 Cube. I'm daydreaming about buying one as I write this.
The honeymoon's over. The Mac Mini looks cheap, but after you add enough options to make it usable (wireless, bigger HD, more RAM) it winds up costing about twice as much as the advertised price. It's got no slots for expansion (say, a cheaper/better wireless card than Apple offers, a video card, or a sound card). It's got a slow, expensive laptop hard drive. There's only one slot for RAM. It will never run multi-monitor, and there's no digital audio out. And while it includes a 56k modem, both Bluetooth and wireless are fairly expensive add-ons. I don't know who the Mac Mini is aimed at, but I'm pretty sure it isn't me.
If I want another SFF computer, I'll probably wind up with another Shuttle
, or a Hoojum
. Or, if I want a Mac, it'll be a laptop, or something off of eBay (preferably one with the round mouse
that was modeled after a river stone--call me crazy, but I like that mouse).
Four books I've read recently:
A.J. Jacobs, The Know-It-All
editor takes it upon himself to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica
. Yeah, sure he does. If you can suspend your disbelief, you might enjoy this. If you can get past the factual errors, you might enjoy this. If you are a fan of reference-lite books like Imponderables
, you might enjoy this. Me, I was mainly continuing in the hope of getting to the part where the author either gives up the project, arrives at a life-changing epiphany or admits that he's been skimming for comedic material all along. It didn't come. (Here's a Radosh
review of a (scathing) Joe Queenan
David Simon, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
This is some of the best crime writing I've ever read. It was source material for the Homicide: Life on the Street
television show. Simon
's book is excellent. Rather than being strictly procedural or strictly personality-driven, it offers elements of both. And Simon
's Baltimore is a city whose decline is as thorough as that of Tom Wolfe
's South Bronx, or Kris Parker
's. Drugs, racial tension, laziness, incompetence, frustration and desperation--it's got it all. The decay hits at a sense level, which makes for harrowing, thought-provoking reading.
David Simon and Edward Burns, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood
Simon flips the script, writing here about the residents of one particular (economically depressed, crack-ravaged) Baltimore neighborhood. Much like his other book, it's journalism that reads like a novel of social protest. Along with Richard Price, Simon is my latest crime-writing obsession. And speaking of Price: he wrote a script for the third season of Simon and Burns' 'The Wire
' (George Pelecanos also works on it. And HBO made a miniseries of 'The Corner
.' With Charles S. Dutton.)
Gina Mallet, Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World
Why must all books remotely concerned with food have recipes in them? Do people use them as cookbooks? Is this something that literary agents demand? Last Chance to Eat wants to be a memoir of foodie days gone by, and it wants to be a Schlosser-style expose of factory farming, xenophobic soft-cheese prohibitions and the relentless free-market decline of heirloom varieties. In Mallet's hands, these two goals aren't as divergent as they sound. I like food books best when they mix a little social criticism in with the memoir, and this is a good example of that.