DA CAPO BEST MUSIC WRITING 2003, guest editor Matt Groening (Da Capo).
My first impression of the latest addition in this essential series was that guest editor Matt Groening is no Homer, his book no Odyssey. The brains behind The Simpsons admits in his skimpy introduction that during his brief career as a rock critic he realised he Òhad the enthusiasm but not the disciplineÓ required. Nearly two decades later, heÕs as likely to be listening to the Chordettes and Frank Zappa as Yma Sumac and Joe Venuti. He can fake it with the obscure stuff, he says, just donÕt ask him to be knowledgeable about the mainstream. His record collection probably resembles his selections here: an eccentric, eclectic mix full of Òstyle, passion and witÓ. ItÕs probably not that large, this edition being 25 percent smaller than the seriesÕ debut in 2000, and his appendix listing Òother notable essaysÓ is woefully short rather than the usual rewarding treasure hunt.
Much of the best writing about music isnÕt found in magazines dedicated to music. Instead, itÕs in publishing polar opposites: glossies like The New Yorker, big-city newspapers or cyberspace fanzines such as Perfect Sound, Tin House and the satirical Onion. Now that the music itself is so readily available, itÕs more of a challenge finding something decent to read among all the dross, and here Groening combined with Google provides a service. One can easily find essays left out such as Eric Idle paying tribute to George Harrison <http://www.dailyllama.com/news/2002/llama157.html> or Andrew HultkransÕ essay on Brian Wilson (subtitle: ÒWhen Good Vibrations Go BadÓ) <http://www.tinhouse.com/Issues/Issue_10/feature.html>
But considering the wealth of material the editors must consider, the appendix could go so much further.
That said, there is plenty of excellent writing in the 288 pages of essays here, I just wish IÕd read fewer of them before. ItÕs useful to have permanent copies of essays such as Elvis CostelloÕs annual Vanity Fair contribution (this one selecting 24 hours of music) and Gary GiddinsÕ always wonderful jazz writing for the Village Voice (here itÕs an accessible guide to post-war jazz). But maybe in future editions, the mainstream essays can just be referenced, while more obscure gems get the spotlight.
Why is the Prodigy a great band to photograph? ÒThey blast forth a palpable visual drama,Ó says veteran Australian lensman Tony Mott in his greatest hits Every Picture Tells a Story (ABC Books). In a phrase, heÕs captured the magic of rockÕnÕroll, and why he keeps trying for the perfect candid snap. Whereas photographers of the dance music scene only have portly, pasty DJs leaning over turntables or stumbling out-of-it punters to work with, here Mott shows the wealth of visual possibilities when show-offs discover noisy amps. Mott is more of a jobbing newspaper photographer with great contacts (ˆ la Henry Diltz) than a stylised artist like Anton Corbijn or Mark Seliger. But his work is usually lively and – given the right raw material, such as GarbageÕs Duke Erikson grabbing Shirley MansonÕs breasts, or Nick Cave grabbing KylieÕs – can be inspired. He is capable of revealing, moody black and whites when he identifies with a musicianÕs work, though his bread and butter requires him merely to be in focus and on time when the presses are waiting to roll. – Chris Bourke