Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004
Mickey Hart (Editor); Paul Bresnick (Series Editor)
Publisher: Da Capo Press
October 30, 2004
The Da Capo Best Music Writing series turns five volumes old with the publishing of the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004. The four preceding volumes were reviewed in two previous articles in these pages (Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 & 2001 and Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002 & 2003) and deserve a short reprise here in order to appropriately frame the current volume.
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000
Guest Editor Peter Guralnick
Series Editor Douglas Wolk
In the capable hands of Peter Guralnick the series was inaugurated. Bookishly thorough, the didactic Guralnick sought music writing that possessed "...accessibility, and by that I don't necessarily mean familiarity of either subject matter or style...The writer's only obligation, it seems to me, is to provide some kind of entry into a world (s)he uniquely understands and to give the reader some reason for being there." Egalitarian as his approach sounds, Guralnick requires more of the reader than the other guest editors. Of special interest in this collection is Alec Wilkinson's "Who Put the 'Honky Tonk' in 'Honky Tonk Women,'" an essay reminding us of the fundamental influence of Ry Cooder on the Rolling Stones (and Rock Music's) most fertile period while highlighting Cooder's accomplishment in The Buena Vista Social Club.
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001
Guest Editor Nick Hornby
Series Editor Ben Schafer
In contrast to Guralnick's editorial approach, novelist Nick Hornby (best know for his novel High Fidelity) has a more fundamental interest in reading:
...someone who loves Pink Lunchbox with a passion that brooks no reason, and can communicate with wit and style how the Lunchbox (the Lunchies?) has changed his or her life, than someone who can no longer listen to track 2 of any CD because nothing is as good as Exile on Main Street. [Ouch!].
Mr. Hornby is an observant pop culture scribe whose focus is too immediate to bother with archaic matters. Very much in the moment and with his pulse on what is current, Hornby deftly chose articles notable as Steven Daly, et al.'s brilliant answer to Ambrose Bierce in "The Rock Snob's Dictionary" and Anthony DeCurtis's unflinching picture of the Man in Black in " Johnny Cash Won't Back Down."
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002
Guest Editor Jonathan Lethem
Series Editor Paul Bresnick
Editor Lethem throws open the doors of Hip Hop wide, a trend that will increase over all the remaining volumes. The hip Hop journalism that results is like the music and culture it sets out to define. It employs the militant detachment of jazz and is profane, divine, and informative. What it is not is particularly focused and I suspect that is by design. That said, I recommend that the reader look at Nic Cohn's "Soljas" and Franklin Bruno's "The New DJs Lexicon." Easily the best piece of writing included by Lethem the 2002 Edition is Matthew C. Duersten's lengthy article on Anita O'Day ("The Moon Looks Down and Laughs"). It provides keen insight into this controversial and important jazz artist's life since the publication of her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times (Limelight, 1989). Needless to say, like Keith Richards, Miss O'Day has been living on gravy time for the past 20 years. Also, needless to say, Miss O'Day is the greatest living female jazz vocalist.
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2003
Guest Editor Matt Groening
Series Editor Paul Bresnick
Simpsons creator Matt Groening provides the weakest of volumes in the Da Capo Best Music Writing series, but like sex, pizza, and most jazz even the worst I consumed was still pretty good. The writing Groening included in this edition was neither as academic as Guralnick's, as common man as Hornby's or as crystalline as Jonathan Lethem. The standout essay of the collection is is Michael Hall's "Mack McCormick Still Has the Blues." Here, Hall details the triumphs and tragedies of McCormick's scholarship, poignantly detailing the death of McCormick's greatest potential work that of documenting blues legend Robert Johnson's life, Biography of a Phantom and His still incomplete epic, Texas Blues. Add to this, 24-musical hours with Elvis Costello in "Rock Around the Clock" and this otherwise banal issue is saved.
All of this brings us to the current volume, Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004 guest edited by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart (Paul Bresnick retained for his third stint as series editor). The first crack reveals a lot. Mr. Hart provides the shortest introduction, a mere three pages that betrays volumes regarding the editor's approach to choosing pieces for the collection. In the most appropriate of West Coast explanations,
...Music is part love potion, part healer-communicator, and part soundtrack of our lives. Describing music is like trying to draw a picture of spirit: everyone has a different image in mind, and no two renderings are alike.