Reading - May 2016

Guitarist (June 2016 / Issue 407)
Interesting article about Zemaitis guitars.
The Week (23 April 2016 / Issue 1070)
The Week (30 April 2016 / Issue 1071)
Serious by John McEnroe (with James Kaplan) (2002)
An easy and interesting read, but a little repetitive. He downplays how much effort and practice it must have taken him to reach the standard he did (all autobiographies do this, though) and the recitation of match after match gets a bit dull, although in this it probably reflects the reality of a touring life. The book could do with an update, since it's 14 years old and McEnroe is still very active on the circuit, both as a seniors player and commentator. (edit: the follow-up, But Seriously, is due in June 2017, according to Amazon.)
The Week (7 May 2016 / Issue 1072)
Guitar & Bass (June 2016 / Vol 27 No. 09)
The Week (14 May 2016 / Issue 1073)
Private Eye Annual 2009 edited by Ian Hislop (er, 2009)
I found this at the "book exchange" at work. It's been fine for occasional dips into when I have a few spare moments (it's taken me over a month to finish) but reminds me why I stopped subscribing to Private Eye - it's very repetitive.
The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie and the 1970s by Peter Doggett (2011)
Well written, full of facts and insights ... and just a teensy bit dull.
Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook by Dave Hunter (2013)
Effects pedals are a recent enthusiasm of mine (I had four at the beginning of 2014 and I now have sixteen, only one of which is one the original four). If you frequent the online forums, you'll see a lot of posts about Tube Screamer variants, specific op-amps and chips that supposedly contains the magic smoke needed to sound like SRV ... all very confusing to someone just finding out about these things. This book contains pretty much all you need to know to hold your own in these discussions - a history of how pedals came about, descriptions (including basic circuit diagrams) of the different types, in-depth discussions of classic pedals (like the aforementioned Ibanez Tube Screamer) and newer variants, and interviews with some prominent figures in the burgeoning world of "boutique" pedals. Great stuff for a guitar geek.
The Week (21 May 2016 / Issue 1074)
The Week (28 May 2016 / Issue 1075)
Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre (2013)
Third time around, this is really starting to grow on me. Also, I now own it (£3 at Fopp, thank you very much).
Guitarist (July 2016 / Issue 408)


The Man Who Sold The World

David Bowie and the 1970s
Peter Doggett

Well written, full of facts and insights ... and just a teensy bit dull

This book ticks so many boxes for me. David Bowie was the first "serious" artist I discovered as a teenager; I have known and loved all (well, most) of his seventies albums for as long as I have really loved music. Plus Revolution In The Head, to which this is explicitly a sequel/homage (apparently the late Ian MacDonald was intending to give the same treatment to Bowie as he had The Beatles), is one of my favourite books about music. If that wasn't enough, Peter Doggett wrote the fascinating You Never Give Me Your Money. And given its structure - essentially, short essays about every song - it should be perfect for dipping into whenever there is a spare moment.

Despite all those good things, I struggled with it, and I'm not entirely sure why.

The structure doesn't help actually; there's no easy flow through the book since it's always stopping and starting - I found the same with Revolution In The Head, if I'm honest. I also realised that there are larger parts of Bowie's seventies output that I am unfamiliar with than I thought (particularly Pin Ups, 'Heroes' and Lodger), so the discussions of those songs didn't engage me much.

However, where TMWSTW differs the most from the Beatles' book is that while MacDonald gives lots of interesting facts about the music (personnel, instrumentation, keys etc), Doggett concentrates on interpreting the words. I've said before that I don't listen to lyrics much. It's pop music, not pop poetry. I understand that it's much easier to write about what is said than what is not said; as the famous quote goes, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture".

Nevertheless, it's incumbent on any music journalist to make the attempt, and while Doggett does so sometimes, it's not a particularly good or informed analysis. He admits in his introduction that he can't claim the same level of musical knowledge as MacDonald (a "trained musicologist", apparently) and so paid more attention to other aspects - to the detriment of the book, in my opinion.

I learned many things about David Bowie I didn't already know and it served me as a reasonable substitute for a biography (I find them pretty dull usually). It also gave me some interesting things to think about next time I listen to the albums. What it failed to do - and this is the fundamental test for any writing about music - is make me want to rush back and hear them again with new ears. And so on those grounds it must be judged as less than a success.