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Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006

C. Michael Bailey By

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Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006
Mary Gaitskill, Guest Editor; Daphne Carr, Series Editor
Trade Paperback; 329 pages
ISBN: 0306814994
Da Capo Press

Da Capo Best Music Writing turns six this year with a new series editor, Daphne Carr. Carr is a music journalist, critic, and presently a Ph.D. candidate in the Ethnomusicology program at Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in the Village Voice, Seattle Weekly, City Pages, Chicago Tribune and Venus Magazine, among others. The issue guest editor is novelist Mary Gaitskill. Most recently she is the author of Veronica, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award.

Together these editors have shaken up the series, snatching it from the relative banality of the slim 2005 edition. If Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006 has a central theme, it is madness. Madness in the form of both mental illness and anger, often experienced together. Elizabeth Mendez Berry describes domestic violence as it exists in hip hop culture, actually and metaphorically, in "Love Hurts (VIBE). Ann Powers probes the divisive issue of gender and mental illness in musicians and other creative types in "Crazy Is As Crazy Does (eMusic). Nick Weidenfield describes the slow-motion suicide of David Berman, leader of the Silver Jews, in "Dying In The Al Gore Suite (The Fader). Death and dysfunction remain alive and well in music journalism, presented in the brightest and most dryly hip way.

Gaitskill includes a couple of rare classical articles in Charles Michener's "Going Bonkers At The Opera: Glimmerglass Flirts With Chaos (New York Observer), which details an opera troupe out of control on its thirtieth birthday. Alex Ross addresses John Adams's opera, Dr. Atomic, at length in "Dr. Atomic Countdown (The New Yorker). While admittedly fringe in nature, Gaitskill showed great guts in selecting these two essays.

The jazz front is well represented with Kevin Whitehead's eMusic tome, "Chops: Upstairs, Downstairs With Art Tatum (And Monk)." Whitehead accurately captures the "over-the-topness of Tatum and "wrong-sounding Monk. He describes Tatum's musical approach as, "...somewhere between T.S. Eliot's shard-like poetry and vintage Mad magazine strips, spilling out of their panels. He describes Monk's relationship to Tatum as, "...the stubborn anti-virtuoso Thelonious Monk, whose flat-fingered keyboard attack is all wrong for fast frilly flights, but whose music can resemble an X-ray photo of a Tatum solo: just the bare bones.

These are white-hot observations, concluding that, "Fancy is fine, but momentum is all.

Robert Christgau addresses the enduring legacy that is Billie Holiday in "The First Lady Of Song (The Nation). Christgau addresses the bibliography of Lady Day in light of the recent release of With Billie, which is based on research accumulated by the late Linda Kuehl and assembled by Julia Blackburn. That book and this essay go a long way in dispelling the "myth of Billie Holiday.

Gaitskill has drawn on the internet more than have previous guest editors of this series. Throughout this volume, she sprinkles the 50-word blurbs composed by Mike McGuirk for the online music source Rhapsody. This is certainly the best writing in the collection. McGuirk is a musical polymath, comfortable in multiple genres. A single example illustrates this and indeed the entire trend toward shorter, more concrete succinct writing...and the value of such. McGuirk addresses Accept's Balls To The Wall:

"OK, the frontman is an Aryan dwarf who sings like a lurid cross between Bon Scott and Ronnie James Dio, and the song they are most famous for is called 'Balls To The Wall,' which is about, of all things, having your balls pressed against a wall. And the cover features a guy wearing nothing but a leather jacket and a Speedo. You do the math.

That little blurb tells me more about that music than any 500-word analysis.

Past Issues:
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2003
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004
Da Capo Best Music Writing 2005


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