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Ken Emerson Always Magic In The Air

Some mumbling in the bleachers to the effect that Pitchfork's list of their 60 favorite music books won't direct you to the work by T.W. Adorno you'll most need, or to the bio of Jimmy Durante you'll most want (the only one I've read is Schnozzola by Gene Fowler, which I found quite entertaining, though fundamentally anecdotal). But youff must be served! In any event, many books on the list I've yet to read myself, and some are by people I've never heard of, so it surely serves a purpose.

Tom's been posting cover pics of some of his own faves that didn't make the list, and Tal tossed in a gem of his own; I'm joining in, will add several over the next days or months, favorite authors as yet unpictured.

Ken Emerson was my first rock critic hero, before Nelson, before Meltzer, before Christgau. Wrote about the Dead, about the Yardbirds, about the Stones, about Bowie, but also about one shots, nobodies, and ex-somebodies I'd never heard of. "Without the Zombies, rock would be no different, just poorer." Emerson uncovered the artistry of entertainers and craftsmen who didn't officially matter in the counterculture '60s: pros in cubicles and scruffy kids imitating the previous big thing. So he brought me a world that was way more populated than I'd realized.

Such reordering is now old hat, but taking you to actual busy worlds isn't. Always Magic In The Air is five years old, and I'm only just reading it now. I'm running along with two bookmarks, one as I plunge ahead in the story (Ellie Greenwich has just shown up, in teased hair like comedienne Judy Holliday), the second trailing way behind as I search out old songs on YouTube. Story of the Brill Building musicmakers of the early '60s: songwriters and producers mainly, a setting that gave us "Be My Baby" and "Up On The Roof" and scads more. Here's Emerson on Fabian's "I'm A Man." I'd dismissed Fabian without really listening to him, assumed he was one of the blanker of the idol boys; turns out he was actually something of a punk:

It wasn't long before Case called Pomus and Shuman's attention to a surly fifteen-year-old who had been "discovered" on the stoop of his South Philadelphia row house just after an ambulance carried off his police officer father, stricken with a heart attack.... Fabian's third release, Pomus and Shuman's "I'm A Man," took off, and his fourth, "Turn Me Loose," which they also wrote, exalted him from a hometown favorite on Dick Clark's American Bandstand to national stardom. Both songs accommodated Fabian's narrow vocal range, yet even within those confines the teenager had little more control over his pitch than he did over his hormones. Fabian's macho blurt was so amateurish it inspired mirth in adults but commiseration and identification among adolescents. Who understands better than a kid how hard it is to act like a man?

The track's got something, a good song and a good guitar, obviously, but also a push of energy in the center, from the times, the era, and maybe from the guy who sings it, too.

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Ken Emerson's book rules!!

I cannot express how great "Always Magic in the Air" is. It is a must read for anyone who loves pop music and wonders where it comes from.

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