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June 17, 2011

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Rock & Roll & Read: Coming live from Shanghai Library

ROCK 'n' roll is all about vibrancy, action and most especially movement. Something is always afoot: Curtis Mayfield wanted black people to "Move On Up;" Guns N' Roses became corrupted after a "Move to the City;" The Rolling Stones demanded that "You Gotta Move." Rock pioneer Carl Perkins gave the funeral oration of the rigor mortis corpse of things that don't rock with "That Don't Move Me."

So it rings of a certain irony that one of the most staid locations in Shanghai is also one of the most rocking: The Shanghai Library.

Located at 1557 Huaihai Road M., the library cuts an intimidating figure, with a concrete and glass exterior that seems to sternly signify erudition. Inside there's a dignified coolness, as staff and patrons shuffle along, many with their eyes planted between pages.

That's because in the library that is where the action counts: the movement at hand is of a reader's eyeballs darting back and forth. In the tracking of a reader's eye can be an infinite array of feet stomping, head banging and finger snapping.

Fans of rock 'n' roll literature know that writing can capture more than just a scholarly analysis in the form of a biography of a rock star, or a sociological study of a movement such as heavy metal. Good writing can capture the ephemeral feelings, the inspiration in the air, the underlying urge to simply move.

Checking out English books at the library is certainly worthwhile - rock 'n' roll or otherwise - so it's really unfortunate that the process of getting a library card is made so arduous. For those not from China, you need to bring your passport and long-term residence certificate, pay 50 yuan (US$7.71) and put down a 1,000-yuan deposit for one year of service. Check the information desk at the front for more information.

Hey, you've got to do something between shows.

5 Great Rock 'n' Roll Books Available at the Shanghai Library

"In The Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992"

by Greil Marcus

Marcus's essays detail the decade-plus of punk rock and new wave, providing deep insight into those "who thought pop culture had consequences."

"Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies"

by Robert Christgau

Christgau writes tersely and comprehensively, dissecting effectively almost every pop album of the decade in his signature taut and caustic style. A+

"High Fidelity"

by Nick Hornby

This fictional British novel that inspired the movie of the same name describes the social life of a music fanatic whose life revolves around his hobby - with plenty of real-world references.

"Miles: The Autobiography"

by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe

A startlingly unsympathetic account of the career of the legendary jazz trumpeter, as Davis paints himself as a horrid but deeply fascinating reflection of urban America.

"The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing"

edited by Clinton Heylin

A great overview of some of the greatest prose inspired by the music, including an essay by one of the greatest rock writers, Lester Bangs.


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