I have been a big fan of Andy Greenwald from his work in television criticism for Grantland and his podcast The Watch, in which he and his friend ChriI have been a big fan of Andy Greenwald from his work in television criticism for Grantland and his podcast The Watch, in which he and his friend Chris Ryan mostly discuss recent happenings in television and cinema and pop culture in general; they also occasionally dip into their shared history as music journalists, as both cut their teeth writing about music, which inspired me to seek out Greenwald's seminal text on "emo", which is to date considered to be the authoritative text on the musical movement that started in the '80s.
Greenwald spends the first portion of the book struggling to define "emo", which is unsurprising considering that it is a term that has meant a lot of different things to different people, and, as he acknowledges, has largely been eschewed by the artists to whom it has been applied as an adjective. Once he manages to pin down a still somewhat loose definition (not by his fault), he starts to trace the roots of emo in the DC punk and hardcore scene through to its breakthrough to the mainstream in the early '00s with Dashboard Confessional and many others.
Greenwald's work is considered authoritative in part because it is so exhaustive - almost anyone who had been considered to be a part of the history of emo by the book's publishing in 2003 is included in some way, and a large portion of the book is devoted to identifying a number of the bands who were at the forefront of emo's emergence at the turn of the millennium.
The most interesting parts of the book are the sections in which Greenwald spends time with the artists and fans who are part of the emo subculture, whether that's Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, or Dashboard Confessional; most of the final third of the book is devoted to telling the story of Greenwald's week spent on tour with Chris Carraba and company and how he embodies the ethos of emo so completely.
Greenwald also devotes a couple of sections of the book, including its closing, to analysis of how the then-emerging online community was developing and affecting the subculture through fads like LiveJournals. It was fascinating to read in part as a cultural document of its time, since so much has changed about the internet in the past decade and a half, but I was also surprised at how much of what Greenwald wrote, although dated by its publishing date, still seemed somewhat applicable even in the age of social media.
As much as I appreciated this work for what it was - a relatively universally acknowledged history of a subculture - I left with many questions about the period that has unfolded since. I would love to read a follow-up that analyzed the way that "emo" has grown and changed since 2003, including the online culture, the musical markers, the arguments over whether artists like The Killers or Death Cab for Cutie are, in fact, emo or not, and even the ways in which the emo idea has now arguably been co-opted into hip-hop.
But those questions, unfortunately, are not the territory of this book, which has given me a much better grasp of emo, what it means, and how to approach some of those questions now. Nothing Feels Good is a must-read for music fans and modern pop music historians and philosophers, and I think it will likely always remain significant as a historical document as well as a snapshot of its time, both in terms of music and technology....more
I have been a fan of Moby's music since Play came out almost two decades ago, but I have also been intrigued by his personal perspectives for that samI have been a fan of Moby's music since Play came out almost two decades ago, but I have also been intrigued by his personal perspectives for that same amount of time. Moby has long advocated for veganism, animal rights, social justice, and Christianity - or at least Christ - in his music, writing, and the essays that often accompany his albums, and I hoped that I would find some of that same thoughtfulness in his first memoir, which outlines his early beginnings as a DJ in New York City and ends just as he is creating his hit 1999 album Play.
The book is divided into major sections of his life that cover the decade chronologically, and each section is comprised of short vignettes that serve as glimpses into the life of a twenty-something aspiring musician and DJ living in poverty in NYC. The first half of the book is full of fascinating stories about his life as he works through his suburban Connecticut upbringing, his Christian faith, living in poverty, being part of rave culture, living "straight-edge" (sober), his music increasing in popularity in England, and random encounters with celebrities.
He is achingly honest and open in his self-exploration, to the point that it is surprising that he is able to have this kind of introspection after over two decades. There is a tenderness that permeates his stories, and I really found the way in which he explores his Christian faith - such as it is - to be very intriguing. The stories themselves are quite funny, as well as the candor with which Moby describes the various wacky situations in which he finds himself, and I really enjoyed the start of the book.
The tone of the book changes in the second half, however, as his career takes off and he decides to start drinking again. Though there are glimpses of the honesty and vulnerability he showed in the earlier sections of the book, much of the second half (1995-1999) is detailed descriptions of the various forms of rock star debauchery to which he descends in a continuously drunken stupor.
I did find many of the stories in this section interesting, and I found his writing about his career - especially his poorly received 1997 album Animal Rights - particularly captivating, but I did feel that the whole last half of the book descended a bit too far into tawdry details of drunkenness and random sexual encounters. I suppose that was his life for the last half of the nineties, and the experiences do provide for some funny and interesting stories, but I wanted more of the reflection he provided in his stories from the first half of the decade.
There were some moments that shone in his recollections of those latter years - stories about his mom having cancer and some occasionally clear reflections on the sad state of his life at the time - but the one that really stuck out was in the midst of his drunkenness, when he recounts the story of when a teenage boy asks Moby to sign his Bible, since he knew that Moby was a Christian. It's a fascinating moment in a whirlwind of heartbreaking stories, and one of the redeeming scenes of the entire book.
With all that said, Porcelain is one of the more engrossing memoirs I have read. Even - or perhaps especially - in the last half of the book, Moby is painfully and awkwardly honest, and he mostly seems to be attempting to tell stories of his life without necessarily promoting them or framing them in a particular light.
There is a lot to think about here, including the effects of fame, the consequences of one's decisions, the ravages of alcoholism, grappling with grief, or wrestling with morality and theology. Despite all of the rock star stuff, Moby's memoir is not a typical braggadocio of those encounters; then again, Moby is not a typical musician.
I did learn a lot more about Moby and his life, even though he is still very enigmatic, and I am enjoying listening to some of those early songs with a fresh perspective on the way in which they were constructed. I'm not sure if I can recommend the book unless you're really interested in Moby himself or the culture of NYC's rave and techno scene in the 90s, but I can't say that I'm disappointed that I read it, and I would certainly be interested to read the book he writes about the next chapter of his life....more
I have been a Weird Al fan for two decades, and after finally watching him in concert on Sunday night, I was very excited to read the official book ofI have been a Weird Al fan for two decades, and after finally watching him in concert on Sunday night, I was very excited to read the official book of his life and career. In light of my well-established fandom, I was hoping that this book would provide insights into Al's career and life that I had not yet known or seen many times; unfortunately, it was surprisingly light and devoid of much detail.
Granted, it is a coffee table book filled with pictures from Al's childhood and jokes from Al's Twitter feed, so I don't know that it could have done much more than it did, but it felt light even for its format. Furthermore, I was not a huge fan of Nathan Rabin's writing, as it often seemed to make assumptions about the reader's knowledge and make some broader statements that did not quite seem to always line up.
The book did give an overall picture of the progress of Al's career and it provided enough enjoyment that I will likely return to it again if I feel like I need a fix of Al's personality that cannot be satisfied by YouTube. That said, the definitive Al biography is still waiting to be written, and I remain interested in the whole story. For what it is, Weird Al: The Book is an entertaining diversion for an hour or two, and that's good enough to keep it on my shelf....more
I picked this book up in a thrift store because of the title, which is I suppose the point of stating that Metallica came to church. I had never heardI picked this book up in a thrift store because of the title, which is I suppose the point of stating that Metallica came to church. I had never heard of John van Sloten or New Hope Church in Calgary, but I soon found myself captivated by his journey not only through Metallica but in navigating how to reconcile Christ with the creation and culture around him. van Sloten's stories of preaching about the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, the music of Bach, or contemporary films such as Crash, No Country for Old Men, or The Dark Knight are nothing new for churches - in fact it almost seems cliché after the past fifteen years - but the way he presents and discusses his methodology in working through these various media does present something new.
The main idea that I appreciated was the idea that Christ and creation/culture (ie. the world and what is in it) work together in a relationship of co-illumination and counterbalance - they actually help us to understand the other and cannot exist on their own. It's a provocative idea, but one that resonates deeply with me, and van Sloten presents it as clearly as I've ever heard it told. This is a must-read for anyone who is wondering how to reconcile Christ and culture, particularly the idea of how Christ transforms culture (to use Niebuhr's designation), and what it means to encounter Christ through anything in our world....more