Saturday, July 28, 2007

Books About Music, Music About Books

No post yesterday, because we lost phone, internet, and power for a spell. Looks like a phone pole got struck by lightning--NYSEG came out and fixed it pronto, but the window of bloggertunity had closed. The break did allow me to do some reading, though, and listen to some music--and the reading was about music, and the music was about reading.

The book is Joe Boyd's new memoir, White Bicycles. Boyd was the manager and producer of a lot of great acts over the years--I first learned his name, when I was teenager, from the liner notes of R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs records, but before that he was responsible for launching the careers of such great artists as Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, and The Incredible String Band. Boyd has a wry, knowing tone and a deep understanding of the complexities of musical culture, and he seems to have had run-ins with every great musician on two continents over the past fifty years. I haven't finished reading it yet, but two standout anecdotes are his "rediscovery" of Lonnie Johnson, resulting in the bluesman's first gig in eight years; and the story of how Walter Annenberg and Dick Clark drove black music off of "Bandstand." Great stuff--and how many books do you know of that have been blurbed by Brian Eno?

The music about books is the CD anthology Zoe sent us, Ballads of the Book, which pairs Scottish bands with lyrics by Scottish writers. The project is reminiscent of One Ring Zero's As Smart As We Are, and is as entertaining--there are words here by Ian Rankin, A. L. Kennedy (there she is again!), and Ali Smith...but it's the singer, not the song, and the standout tracks are those where the performers seemed to find something in the lyrics that isn't obvious on the page. To my surprise, I am digging the more sentimental material--like Norman Blake's setting of John Burnside's "Girl," and Karine Polwart's of Edwin Morgan's "The Good Years." Go figure.

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