The story appears on

Page B12

April 18, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Delving into story behind the grooves

THE story of pop music is usually told as a story of records, and records are poor witnesses. They can make day-work seem like divine whispers, or fail to explain why a musician found his stride in such a place at such a time.

What they definitely don't do, though we very much want them to, is tell much about the places that produced them.

A great cultural-event record - say, "Ran Kan Kan," by Tito Puente; "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers; or "Blitzkrieg Bop," by the Ramones - is, deep inside itself, an index of the journeys of musicians and producers and promoters through particular neighborhoods with their hybrid slang, through clubs run by people with reasons for being crazy enough to open one, through cities changing their temperament through development projects and migration patterns. But, music being music, not much of this comes across when you're listening to it.

"All Hopped Up and Ready to Go," by Tony Fletcher, an English music journalist who moved to Manhattan in the 1980s and now lives in upstate New York, aims to be something that the field of New York City pop-music studies really needs: a casebook of meaningful contact among its populations.

The book's intention, Fletcher writes in his introduction, is to show how New York's cultural mix - primarily the black, Latino and Jewish parts of it - enabled its greatest music across a particularly fertile 50-year period, from 1927 to 1977.

Its heroes, if you read closely, are the connectors between styles, the virus spreaders or hive pollinators who pop up in one chapter and then reappear 10 or 20 years later in another. Sometimes they're musicians; sometimes they're promoters, producers or fans.

These are people like Mario Bauza, the Cuban trumpeter who helped create Afro-Cuban jazz; George Goldner, a record producer in 1940s mambo and 1950s doo-wop; Richard Gottehrer, a Brill Building songwriter who went on to help found Sire Records and work with new-wave bands and Shadow Morton, producer of the 1960s girl group the Shangri-Las and later of the proto-punk New York Dolls.

And there's the musician and actor Eric Emerson, whose career, if you want to call it that, wended through acting roles in Andy Warhol's films, a short period fronting the glam-rock band the Magic Tramps, and friendships with members of Blondie.

"All Hopped Up and Ready to Go" - its title taken from the Ramones song "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" - earns its authority by chronicling the rise of one New York movement after another: bebop, mambo, leftist folk, doo-wop, Brill Building pop, glam, punk, disco and hip-hop.

The book starts with Bauza's first visit to New York in 1927, then 35 pages later jumps ahead to his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie in 1947.

In doing so it name-checkingly skims over the end of the stride-piano era, black musical theater, Ellington at the Cotton Club, Lindy Hopping at the Savoy Ballroom, and Barney Josephson's Cafe Society. This book actually covers 30 years, not 50.

But Fletcher finds his groove in the 1960s and 1970s, with rock and disco, when the narrative bubbles along on outrageous anecdotes, aesthetic movements get charted with full prehistories, and minor players make basic and fascinating assertions.

Fletcher has a rock fan's prejudice: a lot of his book boils down to tales of middle-class transgression. And that's OK, given how much he knows about rock.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend