Pages

Currently Reading:


Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Blues and Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer

Blues and ChaosBlues and Chaos: The Music Writing of Bob Palmer

Anthony DeCurtis (ed.)

The best writing transforms the reader.  It shows them parts of themselves that they didn’t know existed, shows them potentials that they didn’t know they had, shows them perspectives that they thought themselves incapable of adopting.  That, I suppose, is the mark of writing that transcends to the category of literature.  The best of the best transforms not just the reader, but the world: think Invisible Man or The Jungle or The Grapes of Wrath.

Blues and Chaos didn’t transform me.  But it did make me buy a lot of CDs.

Bob Palmer, longtime popular music critic for the New York Times and regular contributor to Rolling Stone, had a Hunter S. Thompson approach to music journalism.  He was able to write well about musicians living on the edge because he was a musician living on the edge.  He played and partied with the people about whom he wrote, ranging from bluesmen from the American south to sacred musicians from the mountains of Morocco.  That gonzo journalism granted him access, whether to the inner sanctum of Yoko Ono’s apartment, the back rooms of black juke joints in Mississippi, or the private sacred rituals of his beloved Moroccans.  Of course, it also granted him access to drugs, and subsequent fatal addiction.  Palmer burned brightly and blew out early, like so many of the musicians that he interviewed.

But reading through his book of essays, I realized just how much American and world music I didn’t know.  I started making a CD wish list.  Son House!  How could I have missed Son House?  I felt a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t own the Robert Johnson recordings.  And there wasn’t a single Ray Charles album in my collection.  I picked up a collection of 45s from Morocco.  I looked in vain for recordings of Pandit Pran Nath and had to settle for LaMonte Young.  And still I felt ignorant.  We live in a world with too much good music, and reading someone like Robert Palmer is like drinking from a firehose.  He listened to records professionally; most of us can’t.  But Blues and Chaos is a great starting point for building a sample of things you may have missed.