Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dancing about architecture

Book: A Visit From the Goon Squad

Author: Jennifer Egan

Published: 2010 (Knopf)

Pages: 273

I’ve been staring down this book and its good reviews since it came out, resisting the urge to read it because writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Which is to say, there’s always a gap of interpretation that I’m willing to throw myself across because I love both art forms so much, and I usually end up banging my head a good one against waves of description that, fawning as they may be, don’t actually tell me anything. In my experience as a high school newspaper A&E editor, college radio station CD reviewer, Rolling Stone subscriber for far longer than it deserved, and High Fidelity fan, the better the review the more abstract the descriptions and therefore the more removed from living, breathing, sweating music stand the words.

But that’s not the case here. Actually, this collection of stories and incidents and characters on the New York music scene focuses so much on the people and the human bits of music that it’s really easy to slip into the punk clubs and the record label board rooms and undergraduate couches and start listening without noticing until everybody else turns their attention, too. The music underlines the humanity, the good and bad choices, the way time keeps pulling at everyone and their dreams.

It takes a bit of decoding to figure out everybody’s full individual chronological story arcs, but that’s not super important unless you get bored after you finish reading and want a slideshow project like the one the record label head’s former assistant’s kid makes to chart how her family is unraveling. (That was my favorite bit.)  It’s quieter than I expected, literally and metaphorically. Its last little bit of future predicting edges toward gimmick territory without ever touching down.

I don’t regret waiting to read it, or checking it out of the library instead of buying it, but I’m glad it waited for me to discover its charms. 

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