For those who love music and books, there’s nothing finer than Bloomsbury’s critically acclaimed 33 1/3, which examines individual, seminal albums, in pocket books that pack a punch. The 33 1/3 series celebrates its 100th book, on Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, on Thursday, September 11 and will be having a party for its 10th anniversary on Thursday, October 2, at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn.
Ally Jane Grossan is a commissioning editor at Bloomsbury. She edits academic books in the realms of pop music and sound studies and is editor of the 33 1/3 series, taking over from founding editor David Barker in November 2012. She is also co-editor of the forthcoming textbook, How to Write About Music. We spoke with Grossan via e-mail about the series and its history.
Author and academic Rupert Till attempts to use his study Pop Cult as a way of looking at various facets of the musical experience in terms of religion. The book’s subtitle, “Religion and Popular Music” is slightly misleading, in that the book looks not at religion in popular music, or popular music’s relation to religion, but popular music as religion. Till succeeds at times, but fails at others.
In analyzing Pop Cult, the book seems very academic, and the chapters are more like transcribed lectures than chapters in a greater work. Rupert Till has collected a lot of information here, but the presentation and interpretation leaves a lot to be desired. Had there been “so-and-so covers this in greater detail in another book” one more time, Pop Cult would have strained its credibility further. Why Till didn’t utilize the work done by other more often, rather than having the reader run to another piece of writing is a continual frustration.
It’s unsurprising that David Kirby‘s Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Joe Bonomo‘s Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost & Found were both released within weeks of each other back in November (and from the same publisher, Continuum). The similarities between the subjects are myriad, and each book references the other’s subject with regularity.
For those unable to make the obvious jump, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were contemporaries, and the boogie-woogie piano was the basis on which each based their rockin’ and rollin’. Both were also notable for their outrageous behavior – Little Richard’s flamboyancy, Lewis’ marrying his cousin, Little Richard writing songs with fairly salacious lyrics, Lewis doing the same – but more importantly, it seems that both vacillated between the sacred and the secular.
As Bonomo aptly sums up the whole trouble, “Rock & roll was the devil’s music,” creating this dichotomy that lay at the heart of Lewis’ music (as well as that of Little Richard) – “the twin pulls of Ferriday’s Assembly of God and Haney’s Big House, light and dark, ascended and damned.”
Thomas Conner‘s recent “Music: Via Chicago” column on Brandon LaBelle‘s new book, Acoustic Territories, makes it seem like the book is worth a look-see. While I’m more into books that examine the nature of the music being produced, or said music’s sociological aspects, rather than the physiological – a la Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music or Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia, for instance – I’m still interested in any writings that explore the nature of sound, just not to the extent of the more “story oriented” material.
However, Conner says of the book: “LaBelle’s study is pretty interesting, dissecting the purely sonic value and meanings of street noise and music and charting the ‘acoustic politics of space.'” For those more interested in the acoustic properties of sound, this seems like it’s worth a look. It’s out now from Continuum Books.