When you jack your publishing company’s name out of Strangeways, Here We Come’s liner notes, it’s the world’s worst-kept secret Headlong Into Harm Press likes the music. Like, a lot. We’d like to think of ourselves as ’90s indie record label, except that instead of putting out albums, we put out books. And we’re more than twenty years behind schedule. And it’s a lot harder to order a whiskey in a book store than a music club. About then, the wheels fall off the metaphor and we stop thinking about it, and talk about some of 2018’s best music books instead. That’s really why you’re here, anyway.
The impetus for this blog? The impending (like coming out this Monday) of Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves, Sept. 10 from the University of Texas Press. Chronicling the Chicago punk scene of the ’00s, there’s a lot of parallel, if not necessarily overlapping, history with Headlong into Harm Press. That’s just one of 2018’s best music books, though. If any of these sound worth your time (hint: they all are), pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore.
Night Moves, Jessica Hopper
Hopper’s likely best known for 2015’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic or, if you keep up with the music press, as an MTV editor and Pitchfork contributor. Before that, though, she headed up Hopper PR, a boutique PR firm that represented a remarkably influential roster of bands through the years (The Dismemberment Plan, The Promise Ring, Lifter Puller) and a DJ and staple in the Chicago punk underground in the aughts. This collection promises to pull from her journals of the day, representing some of the last days when being independent was a political choice, not a career move. Is it good? It’s not out yet, so who knows. But we’re willing to bet that it is.
Strange Stars, Jason Heller
Science Fiction get short shrift in the cultural canon, but Heller focuses on the way-out ’70s as a time when the coolest rockers in the world, (Sun Ra, Pink Floyd and, obviously, David Bowie, among others) were turning to the nerdiest books on the planet. The unlikely spiritual partnership drove pop culture for most of the decade, driving funk, glam and post-punk, and Heller digs deep to put a new perspective on pop music’s development.
Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock, Steven Hyden
As the cadre of white dudes who defined classic rock, monopolize the airwaves and imagination of guitar-slingers since the ’60s starts to (finally) retire and die off, Hyden looks at the vacuum left by their presence. Can classic rock remain relevant (or, at least pretend to remain relevant) as its architects slide into history? Will Baby Boomer rock become a thing of the past, or has it made its legacy permanent on listeners? An interesting take that’s as much about the Boomers’ stranglehold on everything American as a reflection on rock’s monoculture, Twilight of the Gods explores a potential cultural shift.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib
Personal essays as music criticism is almost always pretty shaky. Abdurraqib’s the exception. Combining new pieces with essays already published in the New York Times and Pitchfork, he takes intensely personal looks at pop culture and the black experience. It works because he’s not just another hack trying to rip off Lester Bangs, but a true inspired voice.
Best Music Books of 2018
What else is on the horizon? Any great reads we need to know about? We’re only two-thirds through the year, so there’s got to be others, right?