Category: Books

Best Music Writing anthology: Down to the wire for Kickstarter [Updated]


Over the past decade plus, the anthology Best Music Writing has collected some of year's most engaging music criticism, feature writing and hard journalism, an annual compendium that treats the many kinds of music writing with equanimity, drawing from print and online sources, from tweets to posts to expanded essays, to offer a freewheeling, wide-ranging selection. 

In past years series editor Daphne Carr and editors at De Capo Press have commissioned guests such as Matt Groening, Greil Marcus, Nelson George, former Times pop music critic Ann Powers, Mickey Hart, and the 2011 curator, New Yorker magazine critic Alex Ross, to curate a book's worth of quality music writing from, among others, Times critic Mark Swed, Mary Gaitskill, Carrie Brownstein, David Remnick, Josh Kun, Jeff Weiss and others. (Disclosure: My piece on Ozomatli in Myanmar was in last year's edition.)

For the 2012 version, which will publish in the fall, Carr and company are going the independent route and are in the final weekend of a Kickstarter campaign to finance it.

Writes Carr, who's the author of the book "Pretty Hate Machine," a look at the making and impact of the Nine Inch Nails' early classic album, on the Kickstarter page: "We promise to maintain the high level of attention to quality writing and depth of coverage to as many forms of music and music culture that the book has offered in the past, while reaching out to a global network of writers and publishers, embracing new formats, and serving 21st century readers and writers."

The drive to finance the book ends on Jan. 31, and the Kickstarter page has more detailed information -- including instructions on nominating your favorite music writing for inclusion.

Updated Jan. 30, 7:30 a.m: The Best Music Writing campaign to take the publication independent has met its goal, and will be funded. 


Album review: Lana Del Rey's "Born to Die"

Popeye resurrected: Wilco gets animated for "Dawned on Me"

Wilco at the Palladium: A review of night one of three in Los Angeles

-- Randall Roberts




Bob Mould reads, sings and reminisces at Largo at the Coronet

Bob Mould, formerly of Sugar and Husker Du, reads and signs at Largo
On Wednesday night at Largo at the Coronet, singer, songwriter, post-punk icon and former World Wrestling Federation scriptwriter Bob Mould shared his ideas, both verbally and musically, on his work and life. Mould was touring in support of his new memoir, "See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody," and Times book critic David L. Ulin was in attendance. Writes Ulin over at Jacket Copy

"...the title comes from a song on his 1989 album "Workbook." He opened with the song, playing solo on a blue Stratocaster, then sat down to read selections from his book. The prose was adequate, some incidents more interesting than others ... but let's be honest: Prose was not why we were here.

To his credit, Mould seemed to understand that; he chose passages that had to do with songwriting, beginning with his state of mind after the 1988 implosion of Hüsker Dü. In the wake of that, he began to write the songs that would eventually become "Workbook," and after his first reading, he performed a few, among them "Lonely Afternoon" and "Wishing Well." 

This was the pattern of the evening: Dip into the book, talk about his history, then play music that reflected what he'd read. He did four Sugar songs (the highlight of the night, especially the effervescent ear candy of "If I Can't Change Your Mind") and closed with a brief Husker set, including "I Apologize."


72 Hours: Eleanor Friedberger, Kurt Vile, Rage and more 

Live review: Cults at the Echo

Kaskade issues statement on Hollywood "Electric Daisy" near-riot

-- Randall Roberts

Jack Grisham talks about his book 'An American Demon: A Memoir'


If there’s one thing Jack Grisham’s new memoir avoids, it’s reliving his past as the volatile frontman of a West Coast punk band in simple black and white. For most of the book, it’s pretty obvious he’s seeing red.  Told from the voice of a handsome, volatile demon, Grisham’s book, aptly titled “An American Demon: A Memoir,” combines factual horror and narrative fiction.

This is not a run-of-the-mill band bio. The book, about growing up “brazenly punk” in the 1980s, chronicles almost two decades of Grisham’s inner struggles with family, drugs, sex and violence. Recounting his life from a paranormal first-person perspective, Grisham sees little need for conventional devices such as factual timelines or a sanctimonious happy ending. The 49-year-old Huntington Beach legend, however, isn’t shy about delving into the personal issues that brought him the most pain in life.

Since departing from his nihilist ways more than two decades ago, Grisham has gone on to shock people even more with his metamorphosis into more unexpected forms: family man, 2003 gubernatorial candidate, motivational speaker, licensed hypnotherapist. Given his new lease on life, this memoir is both a haunting retrospective and a cautionary tale covered in the sweat, grit and debauchery of the early L.A. punk scene.  We talked with Grisham briefly about the memoir.

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L.A. Times Festival of Books: The music of the written word


In his new book, "Attack of the Difficult Poems," poet and literary thinker Charles Bernstein writes, "the alphabet is frozen sound." Maybe one of the ways you unfreeze it is to link all those letters together to make words, a gush of sound. A flow of music, if it's all going well.

This weekend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, there are plenty of panels available to satiate those who revel in all the links between words and music: poetic, analytic or otherwise. There will also be performances from bands to, you know, cut through all the yammering that'll be going on. To name two, our friends at Brand X will be presenting Young Hunting on Saturday and Hi Ho Silver Oh on Sunday.

A breakdown of the panel offerings:

Saturday, 12:30 p.m. Patti Smith and Dave Eggers in Conversation with David L. Ulin

In 1967, a chance meeting between Patti Smith and kindred spirit Robert Mapplethorpe birthed a friendship that spun out for decades, through the days of lettuce soup to the end, when the photographer slipped off into death. The author of "Just Kids," which snagged the National Book Award for nonfiction, will chat with Dave Eggers, whose recent book "Zeitoun" won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Current Interest last year. Bonus music points: Eggers' great Spin magazine essay on Joanna Newsom from a few years back, in which he wrote: "Music like this can actually make you feel vulnerable, because it's vulnerable itself, it's bare and unflinching, which gives you the strength to be the same."

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New Johnny Cash biography coming from former Times music critic Robert Hilburn

Johnny Cash at Folsom



Former Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn’s new  biography on Johnny Cash, “In Search of Johnny Cash,” will be published by Little, Brown and Co., the publisher of Peter Guralnick’s massive two-volume Elvis Presley biography, “Last Train to Memphis” and “Careless Love,” and Keith Richards’ recent autobiography, “Life.”

Hilburn’s book will cover Cash’s artistic career and his turbulent life, from his days growing up in Arkansas to becoming one of the true icons of 20th century popular music.

“Of the many great rock pioneers in the 1950s,” Hilburn says, “Cash was the only one who approached his music as more than hits for the jukebox. He wanted his music to inspire and uplift people. In that goal, he was the crucial link between Woody Guthrie’s music of social idealism and commentary in the 1930s and 1940s and Bob Dylan’s music of revolution in the 1960s and beyond.

“Foreshadowing the stance of such landmark bands as the Beatles and U2, Cash recognized that he could use his music and fame to impact social attitudes, whether it was decrying the treatment of Native Americans or offering hope to others downtrodden by society,” Hilburn said by e-mail  Monday in describing his second book since leaving The Times five years ago after serving as pop music critic for 36 years.

His first, “Corn Flakes With John Lennon and Other Tales From a Rock 'n' Roll Life,” contained personal reflections on his experiences interviewing several key figures of the rock era, including Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin and U2 -- and Cash, whom he interviewed numerous times over four decades.  Hilburn also was the only reporter to accompany Cash at his historic 1968 performance at Folsom Prison.

“I want to treat Cash with the critical eye and historical scholarship that he deserves as one of the major socio-cultural figures in America during the 20th century,” Hilburn told Pop & Hiss. “Despite his enormous popularity, I think he was a more important and influential artist and a more complex, often troubled person than even his biggest fans realized.

“His life was often a struggle between his artistry and his addiction -- and ultimately ... each contributed to the other,” Hilburn said. “But through Cash I want to also tell the story of the challenges and demands of artistry; how someone has to keep fighting for his vision -- against record company and/or public disinterest at times -- if he or she is to achieve something truly lasting."

Hilburn just signed the deal with Little, Brown and Co., following bidding by a number of other publishers, and is still researching and writing the book, so no publication date has been set. But he added, “It's absolutely the best place for me to be because the company is so respected in the publishing world -- and they do an especially good job with music books.”

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Johnny Cash and Robert Hilburn (on Cash's left) at Folsom Prison in 1968. Credit: Jim Marshall.

Bob Dylan may have more books on the way [Updated]

Bob Dylan 2010 AP photo 
Bob Dylan reportedly has signed a six-book deal with Simon & Schuster for two more volumes of his acclaimed “Chronicles, Vol. 1” autobiography, which was tied to his “Theme Time Radio Hour” program that ran for three years on Sirius XM radio and additional works, according to Crain’s New York Business.

A spokeswoman for Simon & Schuster, the publisher of the first installment in the projected multi-volume autobiography, said Thursday that the company had no comment on the report.

Crain’s credited the information to “several industry insiders” and said the deal was put together by Dylan's literary agent, Andrew Wylie. No monetary figure was specified in the report, nor any proposed release dates of new books from Dylan.

“Chronicles” drew praise from critics, fans and peers for its impressionistic, time-hopping structure. “Theme Time Radio Hour” tapped Dylan’s deep knowledge of an array of pop music genres as well as his droll sense of humor during 100 episodes recorded over the show’s run.

Updated Jan. 21 at 11:07 a.m.: In response to an inquiry from Pop & Hiss, a source close to Dylan says there is "nothing to announce. [There is] a grain of truth in the Internet rumors, in that a variety of book projects are always being discussed, but no deal like that has been made."

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Bob Dylan at last summer's Hop Farm Festival in England. Credit: Gareth Fuller / Associated Press

Ray Charles Foundation sues the singer's eldest son over book

Ray Charles book You Don't Know Me The Ray Charles Foundation has filed a lawsuit charging the late soul singer’s eldest son, Ray Charles Robinson Jr., with copyright infringement stemming from the use of a photograph and several of Charles’ songs in the son’s recent book “You Don’t Know Me: Reflections of My Father,  Ray Charles.”

The Foundation, which Charles assigned as the owner of his copyrights and intellectual property rights upon his death in 2004, alleges that Robinson’s book used a copyrighted photo, the titles and  lyrics of four of his songs without permission.

The action filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeks $150,000 for each copyright violation and also names as defendants the book’s publisher, Crown Publishing, and Crown’s parent company, Random House, and Robinson’s co-author, Mary Jane Ross. Random House officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The dedication page of Robinson Jr.’s book, which was published in June, reads, in part, “To the memory of my father, Ray Charles Robinson, and all that you were to be and all that you dreamed you wanted to be. I love you come rain or come shine.”

-- Randy Lewis

David Bowie's new book 'Bowie: Object' rocks the Frankfurt Book Fair

Bowie car

One of the hottest properties making the rounds at that annual festival of literary wheeling and dealing, the Frankfurt Book Fair, isn’t some tome by the hot young author du jour. It’s a hard-to-classify work of nonfiction by a veteran rock star. Call it a book oddity.

To hear it from reports coming out of Frankfurt over the last four days, David Bowie’s mysterious secret project, “Bowie: Object,” has been generating a hive of buzz. Word of the book first leaked on the Publishers Weekly website last week, forcing the Thin White Duke to address its existence on

“We still don’t want to give too much away just yet, suffice to say that David Bowie has been working on a book called ‘Bowie: Object,’ ” a post on the site reads.

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Dave Tompkins reads from 'How to Wreck a Nice Beach' tonight at Skylight Books


LaRutan At its most elemental, the vocoder is an instrument of deception. A mode for veiled communication -- slang in binary code. The U.S and Russian militaries used it to compress and encrypt speech to elude enemy interception, but it soon acquired a sci-fi and funk addiction.

Kraftwerk re-conceived it for android enhancement -- to create skinny-tied soundtracks for transcontinental cosmopolitanism. Italy’s Giorgio Moroder sluiced its artificial glow through the shag caterpillar on his upper lip. Rammellzee didn’t need it. His language of thought and theories of linguistic warfare boasted their own encryptions. But he deployed it anyway, with such thrust that it nearly induced vomiting.

Afrika Bambaataa used it to align the planets, the Zulu Nation, uptown and downtown NYC, and even adolescents in North Carolina, who applied to Tommy Boy Records’ Future Beat Alliance, a confederacy covalently bonded through its “propagation of the funk.”

A quarter century later, Dave Tompkins, one of those electro-funk war babies, has written “How to Wreck a Nice Beach,” a megillah of maniacs, militarists and disco mustaches. It is the only book you will read in this lifetime with epigraphs from "The Simpsons" and Poison Clan, ruminations on Vincent Price imitating Oscar Wilde and oblique “Arrested Development” references. It’s unquestionably brilliant, not only one of the best music books of the year, but also one of the best music books ever written.

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Amoeba co-founder uses teen literature to wax on the past, look to the digital future

A few days before Christmas, Harper Teen released the young-adult novel "The Vinyl Princess." While Pop & Hiss doesn't cover the intersection of literature and music nearly as much as we should, "The Vinyl Princess" instantly caught our attention -- and not just because of the striking cover. Yvonne Prinz, the book's author, was one of the founders of Amoeba Music, and her retail experience is reflected heavily in the book. Issues facing indie retailers even crop up in the novel, although they're filtered through a teenage lens. Here is an extended version of a story that will run in Friday's Calendar section. Prinz discussed the book, and shared some of Amoeba's plans for 2010.


Young-adult novel “The Vinyl Princess” doesn’t sugarcoat its description of the independent record store. Many of the regulars? “A ragtag group of desperadoes.” The staff? “Underpaid, overworked” and a “lion’s share of the craziest people in the universe.”

And when the book’s main character, the 16-year-old, vinyl-obsessed Allie, notes that she sometimes comes home from her gig at the fictional Bob and Bob Records smelling “like an octogenarian’s closet,” the appeal of buying music online seems apparent.

The_vinyl_princess_cover Yet Harper Teen’s “The Vinyl Princess” was written by one of the most ardent supporters of indie retail, who also happens to be one of the industry’s biggest success stories. Twenty years ago, Yvonne Prinz and her husband, Dave, helped found Amoeba Music in Berkeley, the real-life store that still stands on the same real-life street, Telegraph Avenue, and that inspired the fictional Bob and Bob Records.

Prinz, who also has penned three books in the Raincoast Books’ Clare tween novel series — “Still There, Clare,” “Not Fair, Clare” and “Double Dare Clare” — drew on her first-hand experiences for the novel, a teen take on “High Fidelity” that offers a loving portrait of the indie outlet, described early in the book as a “house of worship.” The remaining customers are split between the weirdos and the diehards, but all are looking for a place to “find community.”

“It’s a church,” said Prinz, speaking by phone from her home outside Berkeley. “You meet people who never have been in a record store, and you meet people who have never left a record store.”

Sales at Bob and Bob Records aren’t on the level of those at Amoeba, one of the country’s most successful independent outlets, and Allie lives in constant fear that the store’s curmudgeon of an owner will call it quits. It’s a storyline that will sound hauntingly familiar to music fans.

Over the last several years, the physical retail market for music has been vastly diminished, as evidenced by the closing of Tower Records, the Virgin Megastore and key local shops such as Rhino Westwood and Aron’s Records.

In Allie, Prinz has a character facing many of the same issues as the retail store owner. A vinyl-obsessed junkie with a love with music history, she views Wal-Mart with skepticism, and iPods are tools for “tinny-sounding crap.” Yet it’s not spoiling the book to reveal that Allie must learn that she “can’t hide from the world in a record store,” and starts a blog with the hopes of seeking out other vinyl geeks.

Likewise, Amoeba Music will this year take its boldest stride yet into the online world, launching a digital download store this spring or summer. Amoeba will join the likes of Other Music in New York and, a digital outlet that represents a consortium of the nation’s top indie stores, including Fingerprints in Long Beach, as one of the few independent retail outlets trying to claim a slice of the digital marketplace.

“I think the indie music scene missed the boat on the whole MP3 scene, and for an obvious reason — no one wanted to embrace it,” Prinz said. “We were purists. We thought the brick-and-mortar record store would last forever. We were almost arrogant about it. Now, after spending years ignoring the whole thing, we thought we could approach it like we approach our stores. We can be purists, and collect everything an artist has done.”

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