Monday, April 22, 2002

Heavy metal has this reputation for being dumb and attracting dumb fans. So it confused lots of people to see me reading heavy metal magazines in honors classes in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially as I didn't dress the part. A book that mirrors my experience is Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota by Chuck Klosterman. Despite the title, most of this book applied perfectly well to my Florida experience as a metal fan. This is a fun read for anyone who appreciates the era when pop-metal bands were all over MTV but the people who considered themselves true fans complained that real metal was nearly ignored. And it was truly great to find out that I'm not the only metal fan who also liked the B-52s (Klosterman actually has an explanation for that seeming oddity).

Monday, April 08, 2002

I've grown up listening to blues-influenced rock music, but it's relatively recent that I've sought out the artists who are considered pure blues. In addition to listening, I'm reading, and I particularly enjoyed Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King by B.B. King with David Ritz. Ritz's presence is invisible until he speaks out in the final chapter, and so this book is not just a story of one musician's life, but a social history of most of the 20th century in the United States as it touched that musician, from families sharecropping in the Mississippi Delta to the influence of foreign rock'n'roll in the 1960s (and the 1980s when King did "When Love Comes To Town" with U2). And unlike many biographies, there doesn't seem to be any effort to portray personal relationships as sweetness and light, or blame others for financial problems -- it's all told in a very straightforward and personal manner.

So after that, Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century by Charles Shaar Murray is rather a disappointment. Of course, it isn't claiming to be an autobiography, but the voice of the well-educated music critic gets on my nerves when I'm reading about the bluesman who "doesn't read too fluently." It gets even more annoying when the book switches back and forth between the colloquial Southern English (my home tongue, being raised in South Carolina) of extended quotations from Hooker and his family members, and the much fancier wording of the author. To me, blues, like any music, is about feeling, and calling Hooker a "master raconteur" doesn't really feel like praise of his ability to put across a story. I admit I haven't finished the book yet, but it doesn't seem to likely that Murray's style will change that much in the rest. I don't think I'll be seeking out other music biographies by the same author.