Sunday, December 25, 2011

Five top books on rock music

Greil Marcus's new book is The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years.

One of the five books on rock music he discussed with Eve Gerber at The Browser:
Bye Bye Baby
by Caroline Sullivan

The author of your next selection is a noted rock journalist. Tell us about Caroline Sullivan and Bye Bye Baby.

Caroline Sullivan is an American woman who became a completely obsessive fan of the Bay City Rollers, a Scottish group that dressed in all tartan costumes in the early to mid-seventies and were momentarily huge. Like a lot of teenage girls, Caroline Sullivan fell in love with them, but unlike most of their fans she proceeded to devote her life to them. She ended up moving to the UK to follow them around, to become part of their world. Bye Bye Baby, which was the title of one of their songs, is a hilarious and entertaining book about crazy fandom. It's completely gripping and what it comes down to is: Will she ever sleep with one of them? And the answer is left ambiguous.

Sullivan is now The Guardian’s music critic. What makes for great music criticism in your view?

You’ve got to care about what you're writing about, and you have to be able to write. I don't think that there's any more to it than that. If you just do it because you want to get free records or you want to meet famous people or because you're a frustrated musician, then it's going to feel false and it's not going to work. If you don’t care about writing, if you're not alive to style – the style in other people's work and the style in your own – then it's going to be leaden and boring and lifeless.

I read a piece recently that a young writer had sent me. He wanted advice on how to publish it. It was a profile and it read like a thousand other ones that you and I have read, where someone is trying to convince you that somebody is really of importance and you should care about him. But there was no emotion in it – it was incredibly slick and everything in it seemed secondhand. It was a flood of clich├ęs, not because the writer didn’t care about what he was trying to write about but because he didn’t care about or understand writing.
Read about the other books Marcus discussed at The Browser.

Also see: Nile Rodgers's top ten music books, Samuel Muston's ten best music memoirs, and Kitty Empire's ten best rock autobiographies.

--Marshal Zeringue