Sunday, December 28, 2008

Best and worst in hardcover music journalism

2008 saw the release of a number of books allegedly offering music history. The so-rotten it had C.I. hurling the book across an airplane (see this roundtable) will be omitted. But we will pick the very best and the very worst.

But what about country music today? What about Nashville?

We listen nowadays in the era of Corporate Country -- and have been for a long time -- in which image trumps everything else.

We have cheesecake for the men: Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Sara Evans, Gretchen "Redneck Woman" Wilson (who's marketed as trashy but available), and Shania Twain, who has always been more about looks than memorable songs.

And we have beefcake for the women, men whose jaws are as square as SUVs: Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney (who seems to refuse to wear a shirt in any of his videos), Tim McGraw, Joe Nichols, and Trace Adkins. (Thank God for Toby Keith; he actually looks like the slobby guy next door.)

We even have country music "boy bands" like Rascal Flatts and Emerson Drive. Then there's that Australian pretty boy Keith Urban. (Urban? To balance the pop-culture ledger shouldn't there be a hip-hop star named MC Sh*t-Kicker?) All of them are featured in music videos that hang just enough denim shreds on the women to still be considered God-fearing family entertainment. Think of it as soft-core porn that twangs -- with the occasional sacred number tucked in between.

That's from page 214 - 215 of Dana Jennings' Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and County Music. The backstory. Connecticut Rob e-mailed for the first time in over two years to whine. Jim saw the e-mail the last week of October. He didn't remember the Rob. He just knew Rob was blaming Ava and C.I. for a new book, Jennings' Sing Me Back Home. Ava, C.I. and Ty remembered The Connecticut Cowpoke and Ava and C.I. had actually read Jennings book already and had high praise for it. Dona's up for reading anything and quickly devoured it but some of the rest of us were taking the attitude of: "Country music? Eh?"

Sing Me Back Home

As the last of the holdouts finished reading it, we all agreed it was 2008 best music journalism book. It came out in May and the list price is $24.00. You should be able to find it at bookstores, online and in libraries. Again, we pick it as this year's finest.

For those who fear we are stepping on Shirley & Martha's toes (each year they cover books for The Common Ills), this didn't make their top ten. It's never been plugged within the community and they remember no community member even writing it in. Their list will go up this week and we are not stepping on their toes.

Worst? When C.I.'s hurled a book across an airplane cabin due to its abusive relationship with the truth, for anything to top that opus, it has to be bad, really, really bad. The piece of garbage? Danny Goldberg's Bumping Into Geniuses. No book has been discussed more at C.I. house. People call up to complain, people drop to complain. Like them, C.I. knows Goldberg and calls it, "Complete and utter trash that stabs any and everyone in the back while refusing to get even the basic facts right."

We didn't doubt it but Jim decided to take the C.I. challenge and picked chapter seven (the chapter that has most offended everyone) and throw out random sentences for C.I.'s fact check.

Page 130: "Paparazzi had no interest in rock stars in the 1970s, but Stevie [Nicks] was . . ."

C.I.: In other words, f**k you, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Aretha, Carly Simon,
James Taylor, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Sly Stone and a host of others. Danny's destroyed his mind with drugs.

Page 149: "Figuring it would be of some use internationally, we made a performance video of Tom and Stevie singing the single ['Stop Draggin' My Heart Around'], and it was one of the few available by major artists when MTV began broadcasting in 1982, a few months after Bella Donna came out."

C.I.: Bella Donna was released July 27, 1981. If MTV started in 1982, it would be at least SIX months after Bella Donna came out. However, not only can Danny no longer do math, he also can't do a basic fact check. MTV began broadcasting August 1, 1981, not in 1982.

Page 149: "For years Stevie, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart were the only female rock singers seen regularly on MTV."

C.I.: Stevie's heavy MTV run goes from 1981 to the start of 1986 as a solo, ending with "I Can't Wait" due to people like Goldberg being unable to break "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You?" -- a huge misstep that appalled even Clive [Davis] from a distance as his own label focused on Whitney [Houston]. During that period, Stevie, Pat, Joan and Ann and Nancy were not "the only female rock singers seen regularly on MTV." Annie Lennox of Eurythmics was an MTV star during this same time period. The Go-Gos were intensely popular on MTV. There was Chrissie Hynde [Pretenders], Kim Carnes, Rindy Ross [Quarterflash vocalist], Patty Smyth [Scandal vocalist] and many others. Danny's recording a 'history' that's not bound by facts.

Page 154: "Bill Clinton famously used one of Lindsey's songs, 'Don't Stop,' in his 1992 campaign, so Stevie, as a member Fleetwood Mac, incongruously became a fixture at iconic events of the Clinton administration."

C.I.: For a magazine or newspaper, the grammar of that sentence might fly. For a book from a professional publishing house? Member OF Fleetwood Mac. No one fact checked the manuscript let alone checked the galleys for typos. No, Danny, "Don't Stop" is not Lindsey Buckingham's song! That would certainly be news to Christine McVie who poured her damn heart into writing that song, you stupid, stupid, moron.

Of all the comments made at C.I.'s by various people (some of whom appear in the book) that we've overheard since the book came out in September. "Well he didn't have the brains to hide what a money grubber he was, now did he?"

It truly is an awful book. (And what Jim did for this feature, friends have repeatedly done. It's turned into a parlor game: Open to any page, read a sentence out loud and see how Danny Goldberg cannot pass a basic fact check.) Danny Goldberg may have not just written the worst music journalism book of 2008, he may also have written the worst music journalism book of the decade.

By all means, check out Dana Jennings' Sing Me Back Home which is a pleasure to read and written by someone who actually knows a thing or two facts and reporting (Jennings works for The New York Times). Skip Danny Goldberg's unless you're attempting to play: "What Lie Did He Tell Now?"
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