As the joy of being able to spend unlimited guilt-free evenings and weekends at home in front of the TV starts to wear off, Goldstein has turned its head to other sources for intellectual stimulation and entertainment, and while living in an age of technological abundance, sometimes nothing beats a good book. The field of music writing is broad and varied, so there’s plenty to choose from – but to narrow things down a bit, Goldstein compiled a list of its favourite guides, novels and biographies to get stuck into during lockdown.
How Music Works (David Byrne, 2012)
In typical fashion for the leader of one of the most experimental art-pop bands of the ’80s, David Byrne’s 2012 book ‘How Music Works’ defies categorisation by combining autobiography, music theory and coffee table manual in a single tome. In this non-linear, non-conformist collection of writings, Byrne explores the physical, emotional, and intellectual impact of music from all around the world, while simultaneously exploring his life and career with Talking Heads. Through the virtue of great writing, Byrne quite literally explains 'how music works' in easily understandable terms, so that even the most casual music fan comes away feeling enlightened.
Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty
In ‘Every Song Ever’, veteran New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff deconstructs the traditional barriers of genre and offers a new ideology through which to engage with music. In an age where we have access to a greater variety of music than ever before in history, such generic barriers as “rock” or “techno” have become increasingly irrelevant, he argues. And so instead of collating music through these terms, he defines musical traits such as repetition, speed and virtuosity as a way of offering new avenues of listening. You might not think that the melancholy sounds of Nick Drake sit well alongside the heavy metal of Slayer, but in Ratliff’s language they are two sides of the same coin. His book will teach you how to open your mind and appreciate the music you never previously thought you’d find engaging.
High Fidelity (Nick Hornby, 1995)
Nick Hornby’s seminal fiction novel remains as endearing today as it did when it was first published in 1995. The story of a London record-store owner suffering a mid-life crisis, the charm of ‘High Fidelity’ lies in the relatable characters that inhabit its world. The culture of music fandom still remains essentially the same a quarter of a century on from the release of Hornby’s book; only instead of sitting around discussing “top 5” lists for every conceivable musical scenario, we make playlists (or publish blog posts!). Hornby’s vivid geography of London’s independent music circuit in 1995 adds further depth to the appeal of this light-hearted literary pop culture classic.
Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre (Emma Warren, 2019)
This memoir by journalist Emma Warren offers a eulogy to East London jazz venue Total Refreshment Centre, a one-time chocolate factory that became a social club and then an influential arts space before being closed by the council in 2018 due to noise complaints. Notable alumni of the reputable venue include saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings, as well as prodigious contemporary jazz drummer Makaya McCraven, who released a mixtape of his live collaborations from the venue shortly after its closure.
During these strange times of widespread isolation and separation, Warren’s book offers an inspiring argument for the importance of cultural institutions that foster valuable connections between people of all walks of life. It’s an energised and uplifting account of the value of art spaces in the modern world.
Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds (David Toop, 1995)
David Toop is a noted professor of audio culture at the London College of Communication, and a renowned avant-garde musician – so it’s hardly a surprise that his published writings are held in such high regard. His first book ‘Rap Attack’ was considered a pioneering exploration of the history and cultural significance of hip hop when it was released in 1984, and this follow-up, published over a decade later, is similarly influential.
This non-linear exploration of immersive sound investigates everyone from impressionist classical composer Claude Debussy to reggae pioneer Lee’ Scratch’ Perry; from space-age pop producer Joe Meek to surrealist filmmaker David Lynch. It’s an essential text for developing a deeper understanding of the science and culture of popular music.