Dylan Jones |The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music from Adele to Ziggy, The Real A to Z of Rock and Pop (Picador)

biodictionaryWhat I found to be the most difficult was actually continuing to read with the same fervor as I turned the pages.

 

When I received the email about reviewing this book, I got all giddy on the inside as I awaited its delivery to my door. It was the big book of what I love most— music—and I couldn’t believe it was going to be all mine to absorb.

The book is laced with everything from facts and humor to anecdotes about moments in pop music. Dylan Jones is a great writer with a talent to draw you in to what you’re reading, but what I found to be the most difficult was actually continuing to read with the same fervor as I turned the pages.

Opening the dictionary, Dylan quotes a reviewer who said of A Tribe Called Quest’s first album, People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths of Rhythm, that it was ““So sweet and lyrical, so user-friendly, you could play it in the background when you’re reading Proust.’ This was hip-hop moving from the foreground to the background, from upstage to downstage from the dancehall to the gallery.”

Progressing through the alphabet, I felt a little confused because he mentioned the aquacrunk, Baltimore, the blues, the Cambridge, Eel Pie Island, West Side Story, and the other various things and places involving music, which seemed so out of place. Why? Because from the title and subtitle of this book, I thought it would only contain artists. I think mentioning other parts like places and producers should have just been linked with artists instead of being randomly thrown in. I understand these things may have had a significant influence on pop music, but they just weren’t effectively linked to the artists.

As Jones addresses artists such as Adele, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and U2, it showcased why I was so intrigued about reading this book in the first place. These musicians have shaped and reshaped the way we appreciate and gauge music.

I was a little disappointed when it came to legends like The Beatles, Prince, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, and Michael Jackson. I anticipated reading pages upon pages of their historic moments, influence on pop culture, and some other profound discoveries, but I walked away (figuratively speaking, of course) feeling like they were just glossed over, whereas some other artist unbeknownst to me received four to eight pages of exposition. Maybe Jones was trying to do something different by not giving the usual suspects pages and pages upon praise, but it didn’t work for me.

As a Beyonce fan, I felt cheated reading only one line that called her Miss Versatile (I laughed). Granted, that does pretty much sum up her artistry, and I’ll leave it there. Saying that Eminem is “proof that white trash can do hip-hop just as well as black trash;” I’d like to know what exactly makes white and black trash? Just reading it made me cringe. This is how jokes go terribly wrong.

While I’ve never read David Thomson’s The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Film, this A to Z reference made me reflect, chuckle, furrow my brow, and question how subjective popular music is through the eyes of someone else—the tastemakers, if you will. Most importantly, it taught me that just because you want throw a book across the room, you shouldn’t, because maybe, just maybe, it’ll make for a great display of authority: authority to put it right in its place on a shelf, only to be picked up for a quick onceover of that book you really wanted to read, but when you got your wish, read it: It was only fragment of what you thought it would be, and you wondered the whole time, Why did it have to ruin your vision?, but it feels great to have it on your shelf after all. | Ashley White

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