For readers it’s an opportunity to appreciate Mr. Guralnick’s career, the music that has excited him, and the progress of his style ... this isolation and these limitations are the true sources of individuality, of vision, of the roots of American music, as Mr. Guralnick has spent his life illuminating. Probably the most compelling burst of writing about music arrives in the portrait of Howlin’ Wolf ... How has Peter Guralnick done it? It’s nothing terribly fancy: He approaches artists thoughtfully and connects with them—rather than their fame, beauty, or choice of handbag—and, through their voices, to their art ... Mr. Guralnick may fold a performer’s private difficulties into his writing about their career but the mistakes never obscure the artist. Mr. Guralnick forgives artists their eccentricities, because, I think, without eccentricity there is no art ... richly detailed ... The author does not focus on himself—and I think he would rather not—yet by the end of it, we appreciate all the more who he is.
Unlike his previous biographies and music histories, Looking to Get Lost is, on its face, simply a collection of profiles and essays (plus one adapted commencement address), cultivated from across Guralnick's half-century career. Individual chapters feature a variety of musicians, record-business icons, and even a couple of literary figures, but the absence of an overarching genre theme creates a void at center-stage, into which the author is drawn time and again to insert personal opinions and anecdotes. Even in chapters which retread memorable narratives from previous books, Guralnick's more pronounced presence in the retelling adds a welcome new layer that makes them worth reading again ... If this is what it means to get lost, it's a wonder anyone would ever care to be found.
It’s not so commanding. There’s something warmed-over about it. Reading it is like watching Merle Haggard perform in an uptight club with a quiet policy and a two-drink minimum ... None of these profiles are bad; none are particularly striking. They’re heavy on quotation and filler ... But there’s a fuzziness to Guralnick’s old stuff, at least when he isn’t writing to the beat of a good anecdote. Part of the fuzziness the reader feels in Looking to Get Lost is because these pieces aren’t dated, and we’re not told where they originally appeared. We’re not looking to get lost; we are lost ... It’s a cliché to remark that a book sent you running back to its subjects’ work with fresh eyes. But Guralnick’s book contains good endnotes.