Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever
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Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever

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3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  750 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Punk rock and hip-hop. Disco and salsa. The loft jazz scene and the downtown composers known as Minimalists.In the mid-1970s, New York City was a laboratory where all the major styles of modern music were reinvented—all at once, from one block to the next, by musicians who knew, admired, and borrowed from one another.Crime was everywhere, the government was broke, and the...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Faber & Faber
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Tosh
"Love Goes to Buildings On Fire" is not only one of my favorite songs by Talking Heads, but it's also a very warm and fascinating book by Will Hermes. Focusing on the years 1973 to 1977, in New York City, is a combination social history and a love message to the artists of that era - who really defined NYC as a creative force. A place that touched greatness from George Maciunas (one of the founders of Fluxus) to Patti Smith to Grandmaster Flash to New York Dolls to Philip Glass to Richard Hell t...more
Ed Wagemann
There hasn't been much in American culture to get excited about since the 1970s. The cable tv revolution and gadget boom of the 1980s might have been interesting for a minute. Grunge in the 1990s became boring quickly. Rap is crap. The prescription drug craze, the tech boom, talk radio, all pretty much pale in comparison to the culture that was produced in the 1970s. The '70s had it all, from streakers to wife-swapping swingers and Morgana the kissing bandit to bra-burners and draft-dodgers to C...more
John Norman
This book covers a period of amazing musical experimentation in NYC - punk, jazz, disco, "latin" - a lot was going on, and there was a good deal of cross-pollination between these genres.

Hermes tells a lot of stories -- many I knew, some that I didn't. The ones that were new to me were valuable and provocative.

I think the most valuable part is the account of the rise of Latin / Cuban music, though it gets repetitive towards the end.

Having said all that, I really can't recommend the book. The pr...more
Gus Sanchez
New York City, mid-1970's. The whole place is falling apart. Crime is rampant, the city teeters on complete financial bankruptcy. Things just aren't looking good for the Big Apple. Yet from the state of emergency comes a phenomenally vibrant and highly influential wave of music whose influence still resonates today. The punk scene that emerged from CBGB's; the explosion of Latin music as performed by the Fania All-Stars; experimental forays into jazz and classical music; the emergence of disco f...more
Tuck
fairly good and entertaining re-cap of music in nyc in 1973-1977. the punk and rock portions won't reveal anything new to the punks out there, but the parts on loft scene and latin/salsa worlds are very nice, and steve reich and glass, and those dudes, and laurie anderson, those parts are interesting to me because i didn't know much about that. and the dj's too, herc, and siano. plus all the bars and clubs and storefronts, and parks and youth centers and lofts and theaters where music was heard...more
Adam
This is definitely the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a while, maybe not the best, though it is really good. The book is a kaleidoscopic social history of New York during its darkest years in the supposedly musically fallow seventies. So much of my favorite music bubbled under the surface in the seventies I always forget that it really was pretty awful time for popular music (as a quick listen to a current day oldies or classic rock station will show). Hermes travels similar ground to other...more
Robert Boyd
The conceit of this book is a bit strange--that five years in New York City (1973 to 1977) were unbelievably creative years in all musical genres. But he works hard to prove it, writing about the pre-history of hip hop, the rise of punk, the maturation and peak of salsa, the "loft jazz" scene, the origin and rise of disco, the triumph of minimalism, and the emergence of particular musical artists like Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen. The thing is, so many of these things were unrelated--hip ho...more
Caroline
New York in the mid to late 70s was one of the most creatively active and diverse periods in American history, and it's probably the number one destination for my time machine To Do list. So I expected to really love this book, but it lacks strong narrative and is an uninspired read. It's hard to say how much of that is due to the writer, because it's a necessarily overwhelming period to cover. I did find that his musical descriptions were not helpful, and I ended up skipping sections on genres...more
Noriyuko 'Pat'
This could have been a beautiful book, I think, if Hermes had followed his muse a bit more faithfully and written an autobiography of his life as a lover of great music. Instead, those terrific self-referential moments depicting Hermes as Queens-born-and-bred nerd with a great ear open to everything from Led Zeppelin to Willie Colon to Terry Riley to the Talking Heads were few and far between. The bulk of the book is essentially a report on / collage of other people’s writings on New York music...more
Katie
I didn't finish this one. I was looking forward to reading (or listening to) this one because the 70s in New York seemed to be the perfect time and place for interesting innovative music. It was an exciting time in the arts.

Unfortunately, this book read a bit like a wikipedia article and somehow squashed the excitement of the music scene. It took effort to pay attention. Maybe it's that I already read Patti Smith's Just Kids, so I know how well the story can be told.

I'm convinced that Will Her...more
Frank Jude
Will Hermes’ Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever is one of the most ambitious works on popular culture that I have ever read. Perhaps the most ambitious in that is surveys the radically creative hotbed of New York City in the 1970s (specifically the years from 1973 through 1977) meshing sociology, cultural analysis, and music history into a fascinating tale that those of us who lived through it, as well as those for whom this is history, will find ex...more
Joe Drape
Very readable and insightful snapshot of the New York music scene in the 1970s. Hermes shows how punk, salsa, hip-hop and good old rock n roll were taking flight in dive music bars across the city. Great portraits of Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and the Talking Heads in their formative years. I'm a casual music enthusiasts and this held my attention. Really enjoyed it.
Brian Gruber
Essentially a long, largely chronological list of facts about musicians in New York in the time period, occasionally interrupted by personal, memoir-style anecdotes and bits about music journalism. There seems to be some hope that the sheer mass of information will cause a larger statement to emerge, but it never really does.

Given the way I responded to the coverage of punk, new wave and hip hop (the histories of which I'm already familiar with in this period) versus the coverage of jazz, disco...more
Richard Kearney
Often fascinating, sometimes frustrating, Will Hermes' "Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York that Changed Music Forever" offers a chronicle of several important music scenes in New York City during the mid-1970s (1973-1977, to be exact). Organized into five chapters, each covering a single year, Hermes discusses New York rock'n'roll, punk. salsa, jazz, classical, disco, and hip-hop through a selective focus on key figures and locales.

A Queens kid too young to witness most of th...more
LK Hunsaker
May 23, 2012 LK Hunsaker added it
Shelves: abandoned
I think I have to give up on this one.

Okay, I love music of many genres and since my series starts in 1974 and revolves around music, I thought this would be a great way to plunge myself into the atmosphere and pick up hints and research. I've been reading it off and on for quite some time now. Yesterday I hit page 66 and my brain screamed, "I just can't go on with this!"

There are facts galore, bands galore, drugs galore, crimes, misdemeanors, political throw-ins... but it's not a story. It's no...more
Tim Niland
Many books and articles have been written about the music scene of the 1960's and then the punk scene of the late 1970's, but in music history, the mid-1970's have been something of a lost era, snubbed by critics as a time of vapid pop and pretentious progressive rock and jazz fusion. Will Hermes looks to set the record straight by focusing on the vibrant music scene in New York City during the years 1973-1977. Taking a wide angle view from rock to jazz, salsa and disco, Hermes shows that in New...more
Rupert
I can't rave enough about this book. It covers all types of music exploding in New York from 1973 to 1978. The city was falling apart, so rent and buildings were cheap and artists built from the ruins. Punk and New Wave was starting up, jazz musicians like Sam Rivers and Ornette Coleman were booking shows at their loft spaces, Kool Herc was scratching vinyl for the first time, the Latin scene was selling out Madison Square Garden and Philip Glass held a legendary first US staging of "Einstein on...more
Jeff
Being a fan of music, I have always sough out new (to my ears) and different music to listen to. I love all types of music and will give everything a listen from the simplest straight up pop song to complex free jazz, experimental noise that I don't understand to just something with a good beat as well as songs in a language I don't understand. This books takes five years out of the New York music scene from 1973 to 1977 and shares the story of the beginnings of salsa and hip hop, supposedly the...more
Joseph
I could charitably attribute the scattershot presentation to an attempt at emulating Walter Benjamin's "constellations" method, but Hermes ain't no Benjamin, and it reads like the ramblings of someone with untreated ADHD. The book is most interesting when it contradicts its own basic theses and allows itself the development of context and perspective--which is too rare. Worth checking out from the library so that one can photocopy its 6-page discography and 22-page index, and use them as resourc...more
Mark
I loved this look back at the music scene in NYC back in the 70's. Hermes not only touches upon the prevailing movements in music (rock, punk, salsa, disco, classical, jazz, hip-hop), but also the impact that events had on those various scenes. From blackouts to drug shortages, shifting political leaders and box office releases, music was effected and changed. I also thought it was cool how Hermes illustrated the connectivity of the various schools of music. For example, the conga player from a...more
Jacob
Although I ate this up, I can't imagine too many others will. A long, long list of facts, trivia, and history about tons of great music and bands. Surprisingly little theme-making or any larger unifying thread runs through all the disparate music discussed. I think Hermes' point is supposed to be about some intangible magic of New York in the 70s -- but he never really makes the point and besides, I can't go for that.
Iain
Most rock histories would have you believe that between the 60’s hippies and the 70’s punks there was nothing - a musical desert punctuated only by the brief oasis of glam rock. Well we now all know that to be not true, there was much to admire after the Woodstock hangover and before the UK anarchy

Rolling Stone correspondent Will Hermes believes he’s located one of its main musical wellsprings - New York 1974 to 1978. A dizzying kaleidoscope of music and culture that it seems stupefying it all t...more
Simon
3.5 stars .. An affectionate and engaging history of mid-1970s New York music that has space both for big names like Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen as well as more obscure but important figures in jazz, salsa, and early hip-hop. Hermes, who was growing up at the time the events he described took place, creates a great sense of forward momentum as new artists and new venues seem to be emerging all the time. You won't come out of this book with a deeper understanding of the major players - Smit...more
Blane
The 1970s NYC punk era has been covered ad nauseam it seems. Hermes' book owes a great debt to two of the best: Clinton Heylin's 'From The Velvets To The Voidoids' (1993) & Legs McNeil's 'Please Kill Me' (1996). What makes this addition to the punk history canon special is its approach. Instead of simply concentrating on just "punk", Hermes concentrates on five surprisingly fertile years in art/music/pop culture development in the city: 1973-1977. He places the burgeoning punk movement in pe...more
Zach
This is a really great, fascinating, complete overview of the 1973-1977 New York music scene. Going into this book, I thought it would only give a cursory description of the more well-known venues and artists, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did Hermes cover almost every genre of music present in New York at the time year-by-year, but he also detailed important cultural and political changes of the time. (For example, he would go from describing a concert at CBGB's to street artists wor...more
Michael
Just finished the book and I have mixed feelings. It's presented in an omniscient, everywhere-everyone-at-once tone of voice, leaping from punk to new minimalism to hip hop and graffiti artists to loft jazz to salsa. As such, the panoramic view makes it hard to follow individual musicians or scenes, but it's sufficiently dazzling to overlook the flaws for extended periods. What's most interesting is when Will Hermes breaks the fourth wall and discusses his own involvement in the scene of the mid...more
Lisa
Uneven but good.

That said, I couldn't recommend this to anyone who hasn't obsessed over New York City history and semi-obscure 70's music as I can't imagine that the insane amount of dense trivia contained within would appeal. It seems like there is an epic amount of prior reading/listening that would be important in order to really care. Personally, I have wasted many many hours obsessing over NYC history and semi-obscure 70's music and even I got slightly overwhelmed by the end. Given the den...more
Brad Hodges
The knock on the 1970s is that it was a shitty decade for music, particularly coming after the brilliance of the 1960s. When I first started buying music in that decade, it was of older stuff like The Beatles, or groups that tipped their hat to them, like Queen and ELO. Will Hermes, who is about my age, also came of musical age in the '70s, but he lived in Queens, just a subway ride away from Manhattan, were exciting things were happening.

In his book Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, he recounts t...more
Khris Sellin
The title is a riff on The Talking Heads' "Love Goes to Building on Fire" and it is focused on NYC from New Year's Day 1973 to New Year's Eve 1977.

It is an EXHAUSTIVE account of all the great music that was being made during that time period, from hip hop up in the Bronx, to the punk scene downtown, which are the genres I was really interested in, and also jazz, salsa, disco, experimental... Hermes leaves nothing out.

He was a young kid from Queens during this time period and he mixes in a littl...more
Jnagle4
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire nominally about music, but it's really a portrait of New York City during the tumultuous years of 1973 through 1977, when America's metropolis was on the verge of collapse. The city was dirty, violent and awash in cheap brown heroin. Out of the decay came some of the most influential art ever created. The Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith transformed a tiny bar in the Bowery into a temple of rock n' roll. Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambattaa and DJ Cool Herc we...more
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Hi there. I write about music and popular culture for Rolling Stone, The New York Times and other outlets, and am a regular contributor to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." I co-edited "SPIN: 20 Years of Alternative Music" with my pal Sia Michel.
More about Will Hermes...
Spin: 20 Years of Alternative Music: Original Writing on Rock, Hip-Hop, Techno, and Beyond

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