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I Shot a Man in Reno: A History of Death by Murder, Suicide, Fire, Flood, Drugs, Disease and General Misadventure, as Related in Popular Song
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I Shot a Man in Reno: A History of Death by Murder, Suicide, Fire, Flood, Drugs, Disease and General Misadventure, as Related in Popular Song

3.24  ·  Rating Details ·  63 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
"Death music" is not merely a byword for bookish solemnity, or the glorification of murder, drugs and guns.

Over the course of the last hundred years it has also been about teenage girls weeping over their high school boyfriend's fatal car wreck; natural disasters sweeping whole communities away; the ever-evolving threat of disease; changing attitudes to old age; exhortati
Paperback, First Edition, 272 pages
Published August 15th 2008 by Continuum International Publishing
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Aug 18, 2011 karen rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfictions
i don't read a lot of rock crit or even listen to a lot of music anymore, but i really did enjoy this book which is like a crash course in the history of the murder ballad, and the teenage death song (i have to track down that one about the shark attack!!) and the body count in gangsta rap etc. sometimes i think he lets his prose get away with him: "black angel's death song is what an elizabethan madrigal would sound like after being mugged by highwaymen, dragged on horseback to a subterranean d ...more
Paul Bryant
Jun 23, 2008 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Note - my actual review of this book is now here


One day I'll review this book properly, it's a great subject, but until then here's a little something. There's a great set of old time music on Tompkins Square Records called People Take Warning! Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs 1913 to 1938.

Mostly the music is terrible, but the whole thing is a wonderful psycho-sociological investigation to be filed alongside that weirdo book "Wisconsin Death T
Paul Bryant
You might think that popular music would avoid the subject of DEATH like the – well, the plague. I mean, it’s kind of a downer. But it doesn’t. Popular music always embraces death with a ghoulish relish. I’m looking far in my mind, Lord, I feel like I’m fixing to die. There’s just one kind favour I’d ask of you. Please see that my grave is kept clean. He blew his mind out in a car. A crowd of people stood and stared. Be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box. And who in ...more
Aug 26, 2013 Gina rated it it was ok
The book was at times funny, and generally interesting, but it was also often frustrating and annoying.

At first I was going through it too slowly because I was trying to keep up with the different songs mentioned, listening to ones I did not know. Then, I realized they didn't matter. He throws a lot of songs out there, and if they aren't exactly random, they still aren't exactly necessary. At the end he provides a playlist that is carefully selected and specific and well thought out, and by then
Apr 04, 2010 Carol rated it liked it
Shelves: music
This short book is not long on musical analysis, nor is it a rigorous scholarly treatise* on death in popular music. It is instead an entertaining and illuminating meditation on murder, suicide, disease, and death in popular music, mostly of the 20th century, but reaching a little bit beyond in either direction. Thomson ably covers a multitude of genres, from traditional ballads to gangsta rap and emo with insight and admiration. A lot of the songs he discusses are personal favorites of mine, es ...more
Jun 09, 2010 Nick rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
Like many people, it was on my "I'll get around to reading this someday" shelf for some time. The cover blurb makes it sound so potentially intriguing and so potentially depressing, all at the same time, that it took a while to get my nerve up to read it.
Once I did so, it was hard to put down. Each chapter is a thoughtful, insightful examination of some aspect of the relationship between popular music and death. Thomson examines not only songs about death, but the ways in which we listen to song
Edwina Hall Callan
Nov 22, 2013 Edwina Hall Callan rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-book, 2013
The title is so promising but this book had a hard time holding my attention.
I did learn a little piece of trivia that I'd never heard before.
Paul McCartney wrote the song "Helter Skelter" about an amusement park ride.
(Page 113) "The Helter Skelter is a British fairground attraction that involves sliding down a spiral chute on a mat."
Hmmm ... I wonder if anyone has ever told Charlie Manson that ?
Mar 27, 2009 Guy rated it really liked it
Aangename verrassing, dit boek over ellende in moderne popmuziek in de brede zin. Bestrijkt het hele gamma van oude blues en country, via teenage death songs, exploratie van dood als thema einde jaren zestig, via gangsta rap, etc. Elk hoofdstuk zou een eigen boek kunnen vormen, maar dit is alleszins al een uitstekende voorzet. (****)
Erin Tuzuner
Feb 02, 2012 Erin Tuzuner rated it liked it
Shelves: music, 2012
Not as grand as the extended title would lead you to believe, there is still an allure to this book. Well researched, engaging and spanning centuries in some cases, Thomson reminds us regardless of our well chosen bumper stickers, we all return to the same place.
Katherine Rowland
Feb 09, 2016 Katherine Rowland rated it liked it
Shelves: nf-general
An interesting reflection on how popular music has coped with the concept of death, in its various forms. While I didn't agree with every one of the author's conclusions, I did find much to think about and to consider.
Tara Brabazon
Mar 24, 2011 Tara Brabazon rated it really liked it
This is an innovative, entertaining and well argued book that explores the role of death in popular music history. It is the right mix of carefully selected songs with a well presented overaching analysis.
Elizabeth Olson
May 09, 2011 Elizabeth Olson rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2011
You wouldn't believe the pervasiveness of death stuff throughout the canon of American song! From Appalachian murder songs of 100 or more years ago, to treacly pop, with stops in all genres along the way, it's everywhere -- and the author's dot-connecting and cultural explications are fascinating.
Nov 13, 2012 Erik rated it it was ok
Shelves: music
Better subtitled "A middle-aged rock critic faces his own mortality and pretends to write a music book." Ratio of music-to-self righteous hand-wringing is disappointingly low.
Todd Rongstad
Sep 16, 2009 Todd Rongstad rated it really liked it
A book that ranges over some wide territory, but draws some brilliant conclusions about murder ballads and culture that I will be exploring further in my own work.
Dan Peters
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