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