Friday, May 24, 2013

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever

This is definitely the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a while, maybe not the best, though it is really good. The book is a kaleidoscopic social history of New York during its darkest years in the supposedly musically fallow seventies. So much of my favorite music bubbled under the surface in the seventies I always forget that it really was pretty awful time for popular music (as a quick listen to a current day oldies or classic rock station will show). Hermes travels similar ground to other tomes such as Please Kill Me, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, and Ladies and Gentlemen the Bronx is Burning, but his focus is different. His taste is very catholic and he draws on the whole experience of music in New York. The CBGB scene of Blondie, Talking Heads, Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and Suicide gets covered, the ascendance of disco, and the DJ parties that birthed Hip Hop, but Hermes has wider and more eclectic tastes and he draws in the vibrant Latin/Cuban music scene, the minimalist classical scene (Glass, Reich, Riley, and Young), the post Coltrane/Ayler loft jazz scene, rock mythmaker Bruce Springsteen, and multimedia and genre eccentrics like Arthur Russell, Laurie Anderson, and Meredith Monk. He draws connections between all of them and shows what an interconnected town it was. He brings to life a vast assortment of personalities, and places them in the context of that dystopian era of New York (as exemplified by the images from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver), an era of financial disaster, looting, arson, serial murder, power outages, garbage strikes, and crime. He intertwines this all with a bit of a personal memoir which doesn’t really distract and when it involves his personal take on several important albums of the era (Patti Smith’s Horses, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Basement Tapes, and Television’s Marquee Moon) and movies of the era it works at other times it’s a bit inessential. I found the epilogue to be a bit sentimental but not damningly so. My only hope now is that he writes a sequel.

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