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reading tiger

Reading Wednesday

This week I am reading "How the Beatles Destroyed Rock & Roll," which is not really at all about how the Beatles destroyed rock and roll and which could also easily be titled "How Paul Whiteman Created Jazz" or "How Paul Whiteman Destroyed Jazz." That is to say, its subtitle, "an alternative history of American popular music," is the accurate summation of what this book is trying to do -- review and rewrite the history of 20th century American (popular) music. The author, Elijah Wald, points out correctly that most discussions so far have been critical histories, but that such an emphasis, though valuable, inevitably distorts the picture of how things were on the ground. He also addresses the "popular" part of popular music, which is nice. There's a lot of talk about dancing, too. The book walks through the 20th century noting in particular when and how people heard music -- and thus how things like Prohibition and recorded music changed those things, putting bars that hosted small ensembles out of business for 13 years for example.

Paul Whiteman, btw, is the guy you've never heard of who happened to be the biggest seller of jazz records in the 20s. He is probably most notable today for having commissioned "Rhapsody in Blue." Elsewhere this week I took a glib shot at "Classical Baby" redefining jazz (and "Singing in the Rain") as "classical." Wald problematizes this beautifully, examining the complicated relationship between what we call "classical" -- highbrow art music -- and jazz, and how the two became intertwined. Whiteman has a lot to do with it. Whiteman also has a lot to do with creating a space for jazz to become what it became after him as well.

This book was a gift, bought for me because of its title; I am notorious for my (mild) dislike of the Beatles. (The fact that a mild dislike can be notorious is itself something to ponder.) I put off reading it because I don't really need my taste (or underlying analysis) validated in this case; I am very pleased that I finally got around to reading it.

Comments

That sounds interesting; thanks for the review. I know a bit about Paul Whiteman because I'm interested in old jazz and dance music music in general, and collect 78s. I love this caricature of him.

I'm a baby boomer but also have a mild dislike for the Beatles; it's mostly that I've just heard all their songs too damn many times, and I don't agree that they are the greatest of all time. It does seem to rile people.
That I have heard all of their songs too damn many times is exactly my issue with them as well.
And yet I have not tired of the Rolling Stones.