Books about music are plentiful this summer, so if you're a music fan who's headed to the beach anytime soon, you shouldn't have any problem finding something to read while you're sprawled on the sand. We've written before about a couple of books that would make great seaside reading: A Visit From the Goon Squad, the award-winning novel by Jennifer Egan about a former punk rock star who wonders what happened to his fame, and Keith Spera's Groove Interrupted, a nonfiction look at the post-Katrina lives of some of New Orleans' musical greats. Those recommendations are ongoing, and here are a few current music-themed books for your sunburning pleasure.
Year Zero: A Novel by Rob Reid (Del Ray, 384 pages, $25).
In this brilliant satire by the founder of Listen.com and Rhapsody.com, aliens travel to Earth from the planet Zinkiwu to make a deal for all of humanity's music. It turns out that since 1977, when other planets began receiving broadcasts of our popular music, human tunes have become the most popular thing in the universe — and so important that the aliens call the year they first heard our music Year Zero, designating a new beginning for every living thing. The aliens' representatives, named Carly and Frampton, make their way to the office of Nick Carter, a patent and copyright lawyer whom the aliens mistook for the former lead singer of the Backstreet Boys. Carly and Frampton want rights to all human music ever copyrighted, unaware of such possible complications as greed, tortuous court proceedings, corporate egos, and the record business' slow-witted self-importance. The novel is filled with funny rock references and asides, but at heart it's a sly, serious — and seriously hilarious — look at the state of the once-powerful music industry and how its leaders wrecked it while making ham-fisted attempts to deal with music "piracy." 0x000A
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes (Faber & Faber, 384 pages, $16).
K, a friend and longtime music writing aficionado whose opinion I respect, tells me I really need to include this book in our beach music round-up. I know better than to argue, so here goes. K says this history of music in New York City in the mid-1970s is one of the best, and as complete a look at that particularly fertile era and place as he's seen anywhere. The city suddenly became a music lab in which disco, punk, salsa and hip-hop were, for all intents and purposes, invented. Add to that the city's now legendary loft jazz scene, and classical composers reinventing minimalism — all amid the city's financial breakdown, rampant crime, and cheap rents — and you get a portrait of one of our era's greatest spurts of creativity, exploration and experimentation. The book, says K, puts the burst of new music within the context of a rapidly changing culture, reflected in everything from drug use to hairstyles to city planning and wars against graffiti artists in the subways. K has convinced me, and this is the next book I'm picking up.
Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock by Jesse Jarnow (Gotham, 368 pages, $18).
Hard to believe, but Yo La Tengo has been around three decades as part of the rock "underground," for lack of a better term. Essentially, Yo La Tengo (the only rock group so far to inspire bumper stickers urging the band to run for President) helped take the '80s' alternative rock attitude of being independent of rapacious music corporations, and made it work as way of life. Without a single hit on pop radio, and playing a mind-boggling variety of types of music that eschews corporate formulas, Yo La Tengo — i.e., husband-and-wife Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley and accomplices — have patiently built a worldwide following of loyal fans who, as far as mainstream culture is concerned, may as well be invisible despite the millions of Yo La Tengo records they've bought. The book looks at the loosely connected web of bands, small labels, college radio stations, clubs, deejays, promoters and journalists who helped create the diverse foundation of what we now think of as the Indie Rock universe. Yo La Tengo has been there the whole way, serving as inspiration, innovators and beneficiaries of the indie revolution. It helped too, of course, that Kaplan (who also is a former music journalist) and Hubley are such creative, unpredictable and dedicated musicians. That comes across loud and clear in this finely written, perceptive book of essential rock history.