East Bay J's Reviews > Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians

Lost Highway by Peter Guralnick
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Dec 11, 2010

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bookshelves: about-music
Read from March 23 to 30, 2012

In his introduction, Peter Guralnick makes a statement, which, to me, sums up his writing style rather well.

“I reread what I once had written and it seemed right to me, it was not that I disagreed with what I had said, it was just that I could no longer say it so simply.”

This being the first of Guralnick’s books I’ve read, I find that I would prefer the simpler Guralnick to this later, more complex one. He goes on to say, “I have learned that people for the most part want to talk.”

Guralnick is no exception. His writing, while deeply and complexly informed and intelligent, is wordy enough to be distracting. Why say something simply when more words can be used? Because it makes for better, clearer, cleaner, more effective communication. I’ve often wondered, when encountering writing of this type, if it comes from a background in journalism, where word count often reflects pay. In Guralnick’s case, considering he was a writer of magazine articles before becoming a published author, perhaps this is the case. I will say that, had I not been as interested in the subject matter as I am, I would have had a damnable time trying to get through this book.

That’s all the negative criticism I have for Guralnick or Lost Highway. Whether discussing legends of music or relatively unknown musicians, his articles are interesting and informative. That these are articles collected into book form is made evident by Guralnick himself.

There is a great deal to be learned from this volume about music and musicians, but also about the sociological factors of the time, be they economics, politics or what have you. His inclusion of people as well known as Elvis Presley and as obscure as Sleepy LaBeef gives the reader a well rounded look at the blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll music of a now bygone era. I find this to be one of the greatest contributions a music writer can make to the literature, as the relative continuity, the place and time, is often lost or is assumed to be known. This feeling of continuity, the history relative to the surrounding themes and events of the time is of the utmost importance.

Personally, I was thrilled to read articles on Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas, Hank Snow, Scotty Moore, Otis Spann and Sam Phillips. I was pleased to be introduced to the likes of Sleepy LaBeef, Stoney Edwards and DeFord Bailey. I thought it was a smart and insightful move to include an article on Big Joe Turner in a book with two articles about Elvis Presley.

Anyone interested in blues, country and the people who made those sounds will enjoy the wealth of knowledge to be found in these pages. There is much to take in and even more to take away.
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