The History Book On The Shelf
In 1995 the UK pop magazine Melody Maker gave away a free book, called Unknown Pleasures. It gave writers the opportunity to rant, froth and hosanna about albums they felt we ought to listen to and probably hadn’t. The book - much sought-after on eBay - feels in memory like the last stand (in print) of a particular tradition in British pop writing. I’ve lost count of the number of British pop bloggers - friends and foes alike - who’ve mentioned it.
The book was effective as hell. I ended up tracking down every record in it, loving more than a few. Bits and pieces of the essays are immovable parts of my mental furniture - Paul Lester on Chic, Chris Roberts on Dexys’, and of course Taylor Parkes’ essay on ABBA’s The Visitors (page 2, page 3, page 4). Before reading it I’d been incurious about ABBA - I had a double cassette of hits (ABBA: The First Ten Years) and my childhood memories, and I felt that was as much as I needed. After reading it I knew I was a fan.
Reading it again - I think for the first time in 15 years - it’s different from what I remember. Parkes’ descriptions of the record are calligraphic - thick, emotional strokes which I’ve since filled up and in with everything musical I came to know about it. This is how pop writing used to work, and never can again: you read a piece before you heard a record, and it was a kind of spell or ritual, creating the music in your mind and - if you were lucky - the music you heard would bring that to life. But the head music came first.
A good question — who is your Taylor Parkes? The critic (or review, or essay, or whatever) that shifted you dramatically from “incurious” to “curious” about something for the first time that you can remember?
That might mean that you have to have been (in retrospect) actively incurious about the thing first. E.g., I remember “getting into music” mostly because specific friends were into it and I wanted to “catch up” but that doesn’t seem quite like what I’m thinking of (or what Tom’s talking about). That was a general and unformed curiosity. I also remember listening to everything that Lester Bangs wrote most passionately about, but again I wasn’t familiar-but-incurious, I was more accurately ignorant entirely.
But it wasn’t until I read “All Ears” by Metal Mike Saunders (several years after it was published, in about 2004) that I took more seriously a form/genre/whatever that I hadn’t thought much about. (That isn’t to say that I treated it “with seriousness,” since “All Ears” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.) The essay opened up a world that I recognized but also wanted, and one that didn’t seem to quite map on to what I was comfortable “knowing” in my own mind. That’s different from the foundational critics I read, who were (in my mind at the time) creating the world from scratch.
(I also wrote what I think was a pretty good follow-up of sorts back in 2005, more journalism than essay.)
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