Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stranded (1979)

The first time I read this was across a handful of sessions standing in various college bookstores, too poor at the time (or maybe too cheap) to pay for a copy. Revisiting it recently I didn't like it nearly as much. Editor Greil Marcus's chatty and expansive epilogue—which directly contravenes the strictures imposed on everyone else—remains the star of the thing. Entitled "Treasure Island," it's a 50-page list of favorites, alphabetized. For the main corpus, by contrast, Marcus has asked his correspondents to select the one album they would take with them to a desert island, presumably for a very long stay. For the exercise he has rounded up many of the usual suspects of the time: Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, Simon Frith, Nick Tosches, Ellen Willis, and so on. Each, in his (mostly) or her way, does a yeoman's job of attempting to rise to the occasion and stand in at the plate. The ghost of DH Dave Kingman broods over the results: walks, strikeouts, and occasional homeruns. I was most impressed this time with Langdon Winner on Trout Mask Replica and, as always, Ellen Willis on the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. Lester Bangs on Astral Weeks is pretty well undeniable too. In general there is a lot of muzzy breast-beating with regard to the concept and various ways to cheat it and hack ways around it and get cute with it (Dave Marsh: "Onan's Greatest Hits"), alternating with earnest defense-attorney closing arguments at trial (Ariel Swartley on The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle). Whether they are over-sincere or overly worked they mostly seemed tedious. And once again, damn, I want Greil Marcus's job. That's half the fun of reading his epilogue, which is pure self-indulgence done somehow so artlessly as to be perfectly charming, not to mention compulsively readable. From Johnny Ace, Russian roulette victim, to the Zurvans, "Close the Book" (End). Release date unknown, he's having such a ball you can't help but wanting to do a version yourself. And don't let me get in your way. I would love to read more of these kinds of broad-sweeping surveys of the music, and from any vantage, not just 1979.

In case it's not at the library.

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