PositiveBookforumThe book’s prime appeal is its font of anecdotes ... Along the way, it effectively illuminates the sources of D&C’s charms and shortcomings, both for devotees and for skeptics like its director and me. Maerz serves more as choir arranger than critic here, but she wisely highlights certain themes, and a chief one is nostalgia ... In that interest, Dazed and Confused was fortunate in its director, who brought with him the collaborative ethos of Slacker and encouraged his young stars to help shape the material, partly based on the developing off-screen relationships that Maerz juicily describes.
Grace Elizabeth Hale
PositiveBookforum... it’s hard to deny that the Athens Effect was of unusual proportions ... It propagated a thrift-store, sexually fluid, avant-pop aesthetic that seemed more accessible than the extremes of punk or of successors such as goth. The fun of Cool Town is to hear where those elements came from, illuminated by Hale’s theories about why, and, most poignantly, what it means today ... Hale’s account clarifies that all this didn’t just sprout fortuitously like kudzu. It was cultivated like sweet corn ... she pushes back at claims that white indie scenes necessarily serve as advance agents of gentrification by saying that Athens has avoided the drastic upheavals that have beset Seattle, the Bay Area, or Brooklyn—but it would have helped to explore all that in more depth ... But Hale does us a favor by recapturing the experience. Something goes astray when people forget what it feels like to have those ideals and aims, to immerse themselves in that long conversation, and, as the B-52s put it, to dance that mess around.
MixedSlateAll we get here are hints. Then the notes [from Prince] are over. What follows are a couple hundred pages of previously unseen flotsam—photos, drafts of lyrics, notes on the Purple Rain screenplay, a storyboard for a video, etc.—salvaged posthumously from the somewhat disorganized archives at Prince’s Paisley Park compound, accompanied by some quotations from press interviews over the years. All of this material is charming, often hilarious (it includes Prince’s high school cartoons and his sarcastic captions to a photo album he made while recording his first album in 1977 and ’78), and occasionally fascinating ... As a whole, the supplementary material might be more satisfying if Piepenbring’s thoughtful explanations of each artifact’s origins (who’s in the photos, etc.) weren’t shoved into the back of book as endnotes and keyed to page numbers that don’t appear on the actual pages. But perhaps that’s a kind of strategy to preserve some mystique ... it’s impossible to leaf through what amounts mostly to a very fine scrapbook without feeling haunted by how far away it is from the format-busting reinvention of the memoir that the would-be co-authors fantasized about. And worse, without feeling disturbed by whether it represents, despite its best intentions, a collection of mostly white publishing people ending up in control of part of this black artist’s legacy ... Prince really isn’t the author of this book that bears his name. And I can’t help wondering if it would make him declare that there are thieves in the temple.
PositiveSlateHis book, like a great trumpet solo, arrives perfectly timed, just behind the beat, because the past couple of years have suggested that 21st-century jazz could start commanding broader attention ... Chinen includes some material about globalization ... But it doesn’t come until the second-to-last chapter, which feels late for such a crucial theme—I wished it had been integrated earlier and more often, though it’s implicit to much of the content ... My other slight misgiving about Playing Changes is the cool distance of Chinen’s narrative voice. Perhaps due to his newspaper training, he’s not one to make jokes, express strong opinions, try out grand theories, or bring himself into the picture. He’s too elegant a writer for the book to become dry, but (in part, admittedly, because we’ve met in person on a few occasions) I often found myself wondering how the developments Chinen was reporting as a young critic felt in real time and how they affected his perspectives ... Given the range of material he’s working with, though, the book clips along as smoothly and steadily as a drummer on a ride cymbal ... This is a world that desperately called for chronicling right now, and Playing Changes more than meets the occasion, making it one of the essential music books of the young century, so far.
MixedBookforumReckless Daughter is thoroughly researched, with original interviews with Mitchell as well as friends and collaborators across her life span. But its flaws in craft, tone, and focus leave it short of definitive, and a little maddening to read ... The book is at its best on Roberta Joan Anderson’s childhood in repressive, rural, postwar Saskatchewan, and her life-altering experience of being bedridden by polio and quarantined for long, lonely months at age ten ... Reckless Daughter often loops and shuffles chronology in confusing ways, failing to set up important anecdotes or figures. Meanwhile, it belabors its motifs and themes, in ways that are either pompous or disorganized ... He also buys in too much to Mitchell’s own rearview demonizations of her relationships, instead of maintaining a broader perspective on the ways she repeatedly felt compelled, as an extraordinary woman caught in a sexist society, to flee rather than limit herself for any man ... Nevertheless, Reckless Daughter does encompass the sweep of Mitchell’s complicated life. It left me with a fuller sense of her creative process and her relationships with her collaborators. For now it’s the strongest account we have.
MixedBookforumGreenman is helpful on where to focus amid the messy late output, for instance on 2014's Art Official Age. He's less effective at explaining the volume of that vision ... Greenman, white and Jewish, does his best to deal with Prince and race, but he tends to set it too much apart from other subjects. He falls for the misdirection. He tells us about the mythic and scientific sources for Prince's purpleness, but less about his music's blackness, aside from obvious factors like syncopation ... As a fiction writer, Greenman is insightful about Prince's lyrical themes and performances of character, but he is comparatively perfunctory on the music itself. He also writes excellently about Prince's sojourns into film, and his section about Prince's mainly antagonistic relationship with would-be parodists stands out as an original contribution. But the book has a memoiristic aspect, about Greenman's own history as a Prince fan, that comes and goes but never gels, perhaps because it never finds an interesting way to deal with his distance from the kinds of identification that black, queer, and other fans felt with Prince. Compare Greenman's to Tate's, Hilton Als's, or Touré's writings on Prince, for instance, and it feels too much like a hurried browse.
MixedBookforumBowie is the book's strongest through line, enough so that it doubles as a fine stealth biography. But Shock and Awe is also a vital corrective. It presents Bowie not as the unique alien visitation that many of his eulogies described after his unexpected death in early 2016, but merely the most electric and enduring member of a whole cohort of similarly minded artists ... Reynolds's viewpoint leans to the Brit-centric, a nice corrective to the standard American pop-history time line. It also brings its own blind spots ... I think Reynolds protests too much that glam's pansexuality was mostly image and PR...[he is] too cynical about how radical its vision was in a time of cultural retreat, and about the possibilities it opened up for many listeners who needed them ... Reynolds is excellent throughout on the implications of most glam performers—and glam audiences—having backgrounds in the working or lower-middle classes.
PositiveSlateThis particular relic was always one of the most relentlessly self-examining of those lumbering gods, and he spends as much time tarnishing his silver here as varnishing it. Even at his more florid, he must be conceded a magic with words: He can spin not only a yarn but often an extended analysis, too ... Some of the best chapters about it come late in the book, when Bruce is a family man himself but still dealing with his now-elderly father’s erratic and dangerous behavior and searching for some peace and reconciliation between them ... the amalgam of personal and vocational tale makes the book messier but also somewhat distinctive.
MixedSlateIn more than 600 pages, charming stories, celebrity cameos, and creative exegesis become exhausting without some unifying themes, and Costello is chary about them.