New coffee-table books provide more than just pretty pictures
We’re not too entirely fond of what might be termed “coffee table books” here at Rock Star Journalist – mainly because our coffee table is covered with back issues of Smithsonian and the wife’s textbooks. We also just prefer books with text. We’re readers, and outgrew picture books sometime around kindergarten.
However, there are some big ol’ art books that do a fine job of using the large format to display gorgeous artwork alongside insightful text, and in those rare instances, it’s our duty to bring them to your attention. We’re fortunate enough to have had two such books land on our desk this past week.
First up is Matthew Chojnacki‘s Put the Needle On the Record: The 1980s at 45 Revolutions Per Minute, from Schiffer. It’s a selection of 45 single sleeves from Chojnacki’s personal collection. Now, what makes this worthwhile (being as how there’s myriad cover art books out there) is the way Chojnacki has his pages set up. Each pair of facing pages pairs two singles with each other, based on similar content, be it artistic, stylistic, song content, or something else not immediately apparent.
Case in point: He pairs the covers for DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “A Nightmare on My Street” with the Fat Boys’ “Are You ready For Freddy?” There’s background on both groups, and a little analysis of the Freddy Krueger phenomenon. They don’t mention the fact that the Fat Boys’ rendition was an officially-licensed tie-in, while “A Nightmare on My Street” came with a disclaimer.
That’s the one and only problem in Put the Needle On the Record – the sleeves look wonderful, but they take up such a large amount of space, it’s impossible to add much more text than a couple of paragraphs. Chojnacki’s interviews with the artists involved are wonderful, and illuminate a lot about how the song and art go together, but there’s so little, one wishes that the pictures were just slightly smaller, and the text just slightly more.
As a counterpoint, Tom Barry‘s work with photographer Sophia Schorr-Kon for Mark Batty Publisher, Balance: European Hardcore, does a wonderful job of pairing text with imagery. Barry’s in-person scene reports from Germany, France, the UK, and other countries document the underground hardcore scene in Europe. It helps that Barry speaks the language – he’s the drummer for London’s Kartel, and this is not something with which he’s unfamiliar.
The passion that comes from the musicians and hardcore kids being interviewed is palpable. There are folks who do, in fact, balance a life where they have to work long hours at unpleasant jobs, and then devote all their free time to a music with little-to-no financial reward. Adam, of Poland’s Stone Heart, works in a mine. Knowing that makes the photo of him at a show that much more intensely emotional.
The photography by Schorr-Kon is almost cinematic. Images of folks in the pit or bands on stage are shown in sequence, allowing the reader of the book to get an idea of the intensity of what’s at play, here. The photography is crisp, with a heavy amount of shadow. Schorr-Kon is playing with the light/dark dynamic in the pages of Balance, and it works out well. Even if you’re not a fan of the new, slightly more brutal angle of the newer forms of hardcore, this is the sort of the book that will instill you with a new sense of respect for the individuals in the scene. I’d suggest popping over to the Songkick blog, where they’ve got a great selection of pictures from the book.
Both of these books work well, in the sense that they make the reader want to start pulling out singles, LPs, and CDs, and calling up old favorites in iTunes. You’ll see an image of some dude throwing down with some windmill kicks in the pit, and next thing you know, you’re slam-dancing along to Sick of It All’s “Step Down” video in your basement. Then, you take one look at the B-52′s “Private Idaho” single, and you’re trying to trying to frug with your cat. Strong imagery, and strong textual analysis in these books.