Saturday, December 3, 2016


Q: "Will two-aught-sixteen -- already being referred to as either a Year in Disappointment or a Year We Got Everything Wrong that will haunt us for decades -- come to affect our judgment of its music books?"

A: "Are you kidding? What kind of stupid question is that? Who gives a %$*&? DRAIN THE SWAMP! BUILD THE WALL!! LOCK HER UP!!!"

But is it a stupid question really? In many cases the picks on this year's list can enhance one's understanding of this new upside-down-funhouse-mirror mortal coil in which we now find ourselves entwined.

Yes, out of the 200+ music books released in 2016, there are the pervasive trends from previous years: Splashy memoirs from music-industry insiders (Carole Bayer Sager, L.A. Reid), the recently departed (Maurice White) and unemployed MTV VJs (Matt Pinfield); the scruffy struggles of failed-but-ahead-of-their-time bands (The Hollywood Brats) and punk-rock survivors (Dave Dictor, Keith Morris); inspirational narratives from rappers you've either never heard of (Lecrae Moore?, Jensen Carp??) or who have been incarcerated (Lil Wayne); the packaging of underground D.I.Y. punk culture into glossy and expensive coffee-table art books; these persistent mixtape-and-Spotify inspired "Listicle Books" (spurred by that overripe "A History of [INSERT TOPIC] in [INSERT # OF EXAMPLES]" trend) that use the almighty playlist as a narrative device (or a replacement for lack thereof); continuing excavations of regional jazz scenes (Portland, Boston) and yes, more goddamn "Boomer Books" on Dylan, the Beatles, Grateful Dead, NYC in the '70s, the Doors and the Rolling Stones.

On the other hand, anyone concerned or at least academically interested in music as protest, satire or just plain defiance will find plenty to enjoy here. To whit: Woody Guthrie, nearly a half-century dead, had a very good year. (You think Dave Eggers invented the anti-Trump "30 Songs in 30 Days"? Think again.) You will find not one but two nominees from what possibly is the hippest and scrappiest little press out there: the Minnesota Historical Society. Despite the white riots going on in electoral campaigns in Europe and America, one might find the vitality of Afrofuturism and Post-millennial Feminism surprising and uplifting. Ditto to anyone interested in the tangled racial roots of America, or the global impact of the punk and rap on civil-rights movements. There's even a book here about HATING music -- if that indeed is your thing. Because after all, we really loved to hate in 2016, didn't we?

And of course, if none of this matters to you, a lot of these books are simply a hell of a lot of fun. Like the tour diary written entirely on the back of airplane vomit bags. The Christmas story written by a stoner country legend. The speculative novel about the many children of an obscure and bizarre voodoo-soul singer. The anthropological comparison of the tribes of Trump supporters to the fans of the Insane Clown Posse.

Yeah, right?

So let's get to the list:

Topics Obscure Yet Fascinating
X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music 'On the Bone' by Stephen Coates
Kīkā Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed Modern Music by John W. Troutman

Jazz in the '70s
Beyond Jazz: Plink, Plonk and Scratch: The Golden Age of Free Music in London 1966-72 by Trevor Barre
Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s by Michael C. Heller

Stuff That, Like, Makes You Think
The Hatred of Music by Pascal Quignard

For a City That Can't Stop Reading About Itself
Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe w/ Tom DeSavia
Slash: A History of the Legendary L.A. Punk Magazine: 1977-1980 ed. by J.C. Gabel & Brian Roettinger
Woody Guthrie L.A.: 1937 to 1941 by Darryl Holter & William F. Deverell
Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap by Ben Westhoff

The Year's Best Reprints
The Year's Best Collections
Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason ed. by Toby Gleason
Murray Talks Music: Albert Murray on Jazz and Blues ed. by Paul Devlin
Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader by Greg Tate
Virgil Thomson: The State of Music & Other Writings ed. by Tim Page
Jazz on My Mind: Liner Notes, Anecdotes and Conversations from the 1940s to the 2000s by Dr. Herb Wong & Paul Simeon Fingerote

Books About the Minneapolis Music Scene of the '80s To Tide Us Over Until Someone Writes the Defintive Bio of His Purpleness
Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis by Daniel Corrigan w/ Danny Sigelman
I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland by Michelle Leon
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr

The Continuing Excavation of the '60s
Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III by Robert Greenfield
Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock by Barney Hoskyns
1966: The Year the Decade Exploded by Jon Savage
Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day
by Joel Selvin
Music + Sex + Race
Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family by Daniel Bergner
The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band by Michelle Cruz Gonzales
Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination by Jack Hamilton
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace w/ Dan Ozzi
The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar by Franz Nicholay

Best Books About Pioneers

Music 'n' Politics
7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering Of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane by Nathan Rabin & Danny Hellman
26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie's Columbia River Songs and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest by Greg Vandy & Daniel Person

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
Screamin' Jay Hawkins' All-Time Greatest Hits by Mark Binelli
The Incantations of Daniel Johnston by Scott McClanahan & Ricardo Cavolo

The Best Art Books For Conspicuous Display on Faux-Rustic Glass Coffee Table in Hipster Airbnb in Your Liberal Sanctuary State

The Year's Best Memoirs
The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave w/ Andrea Joyce
Porcelain: NYC, 1989-1999 by Moby
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
I Am Brian Wilson by Brian Wilson w/ Ben Greenman

Best Christmas Books Written by Willie Nelson
Pretty Paper: A Christmas Tale by Willie Nelson w/ David Ritz

The Great American Songbook by Sam Allingham
Jazz Diasporas: Race, Music, and Migration in Post-World War II Paris by Rashida K. Braggs
The Banjo: America's African Instrument by Laurent Dubois
Shit People at Gigs by Olivia Grbac
Sticking It Out: From Juilliard to the Orchestra Pit, A Percussionist's Memoir by Patti Niemi

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