Heavy Rotation: James Wood, Music Critic?


Peter Terzian, editor of the aforementioned Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums that Changed Their Lives, writes in to tease the contents of the book, which is scheduled for release in June 2009. A quick scan of one random office shelf here turns up Marooned, the Phil Freeman-edited update to Greil Marcus’s Stranded, two books that take on the desert island question; a few years worth of Da Capo’s Best Music Writing anthologies; Jim DeRogatis’s Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Considers the Classics, and so on. To say nothing of the 33 1/3 series, in which writers write whole books on individual albums, etc, etc, etc.

This, in other words, is a genre on the verge of an anthology of its own. Terzian, however, has found a sort of arts-nerd loophole, as telegraphed by Harpers-excerpted Fahey essay from non-music writer John Jeremiah Sullivan. A quick, non-comprehensive look at Terzian’s contributors list—which, imagine, includes not one individual on the 100-word Spin review section grind—confirms the suspicion. Music writing is fiercely guarded territory—witness the daily Klosterman evisceration in certain proprietary sectors—and the interloper exceptions are few: Jonathan Lethem on James Brown in Rolling Stone. . .Didion on the Doors? Talese on Sinatra?

Enter Heavy Rotation: novelists Benjamin Kunkel and Joshua Ferris on the Smiths and Pearl Jam, respectively, Terzian himself writing about C86 miscellany band Miaow, and, er, literary critic James Wood on the Who’s Quadrophenia, at which the mind just boggles. Those who do this for a living or do this sometimes for a living will greet the full contributors list—the rest is under wraps as yet—with something very close to relief: people who actually know how to write writing about records, presumably jargon-free, axes free of grinding, with—by all indications so far—nothing of the bitterness or cynicism that creeps into the work of those forced to regularly render opinions on, say, Common’s newest record. Imagine that.