Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Art & Culture: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘N’ Roll by Elijah Wald

It’s important to know going in that How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘N’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music (Oxford University Press), doesn’t really have much to do with the Beatles at all. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that it has everything and nothing to do with them.

What the book really does is take on everything we think we know about popular music because, as author Elijah Wald tells us, “the past keeps looking different as the present changes.”

In many ways, Wald looks at music from a new and surprising place: the various spots where it is seen and felt. From those who make it and those who, individually, groove to it. This passage explains the title -- and in some ways the book itself -- most succinctly:
If you are not aware of the Beatles, you cannot hope to understand any music of the 1960s, because they are ubiquitous and affected all the other music. Even if some musicians remained free of their influence, those musicians were still heard by an audience that was acutely conscious of the Beatles. They were the dominant, inescapable sound of the era.
And though you might disagree with those words -- or, at least, some of them -- the fact that they are worth arguing is... well... inarguable.

Wald is a musician and writer who has authored six previous books on music including Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues and Global Minstrels: Voices of World Music. How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘N’ Roll is highly readable. Wald adds something new to a field most of us thought had been over planted. The book is lucid, innovative and richly worthwhile.

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