Grown Up All Wrong: 75 Great Rock and Pop Artists From Vaudeville to Techno
By Robert Christgau
Harvard, 495 pp., $29.95
Robert Christgau loves rock--its fans, its "big beat," and last (but not most) the musicians themselves--and he loves rock's complicated, rebellious potential. Grown Up All Wrong collects three decades of his declarations of love--from Nat King Cole to Sleater-Kinney--as they appeared in The Village Voice. Ranging from as short as one paragraph on "Why the Beatles Broke Up" to 14 pages of homage to the early Stones and a gonzo essay about the Replacements that begins, "I mean, fuck art," these essays capture just how it feels to listen to all that noise, contradictions and all.
American Music in the Twentieth Century
By Kyle Gann
Schirmer, 400 pp., $39
Kyle Gann's book is a survey of the major figures in nonjazz, nonrock American musical composition in the 2Oth century--John Cage, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass. Chronologically, decade by decade, Gann does battle with the cliché that jazz is the only indigenous American form of music. He argues that even if you can't find a good name for it (classical? experimental? art music?), this form of music plays an important role in shaping American cultural life.
Visions of Jazz: The First Century
By Gary Giddins
Oxford, 690 pp., $35
This collection of profiles isn't another standard compendium of jazz greats; it's "a canvas of the music over time" by way of Giddins's favorite innovators. Giddins hates that most people can't name five jazz musicians currently under 40--but that isn't the main issue here. He's interested in any musician from the past century who's embodied jazz's singularity through their distinct visions. That's something that crosses historical and demographic borders, and for Giddins includes artists ranging from Cassandra Wilson to Frank Sinatra.
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