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Luc Sante reviews books by Nick Hornby and Geoffrey O’Brien on pop music

From 2004. Worth a read, if you like this sort of thing, which I do, but I guess most of you don’t.


  1. gagan says:

    i had no idea! finally a post where i feel compelled to write something.

    i found the “but i guess most of you don’t” part of your post funny. given the extraordinary level of intellect present in the piece you’ve shared, i could see your tastes spanning the gamut. i am not big on classical music, but i wager much of your audience loves nothing more than a “solid” opera or beethoven/bach/mozart/whoever. my imagination runs wild over their facial expressions when reading this piece.

    anyways i found one quote so poignant that i wanted to share it, as it really sums up my view on people who claim to love music versus those who actually do:

    “… a culture of repressed, squirrelly, obsessive young men who use pop songs as emotional surrogates, and for whom a mix tape is the equivalent of a feverish eight-page letter handwritten on both sides of ruled sheets torn from a notebook. “

    i too have noticed that many people wouldn’t be able to listen to “good music” if they’d used it in a relationship (that inevitably runs its course, since the majority of us are “unlucky”). it’s a shame when people associate great music to memories they no longer cherish.

    “And despite crunk1 and grime2 and death metal and underground hiphop or any of the other dozens of current genres that might trouble the adult nervous system, you can easily find brand-new examples of the same stuff you’ve been listening to for the last thirty years, so there’s no reason to feel snagged on a branch while the tide of history surges on.”

    i still enjoy those crunk songs now, seventeen years later. i may be living down to a stereotype but lil jon brought something different. it was fun.

    wish this were true today. pop music has been bad since bain capital got its paws on Warner and then the radio networks. big surprise there.

    i like the mix tape analogy. i had to read the article twice to fully grasp that not only are the collection of essays analogous to a mixtape, but the music they discuss (songs, whatever) are also a mixtape.

    very very highbrow stuff dr gelman (in a good way).

    • Andrew says:


      I recommend Adam Gopnik’s story, The Musical Husbands, from 1992.

      • gagan says:

        i want to read this so bad. the abstract is fantastic.

        for some reason the new yorker archive isn’t playing nice with safari or firefox. get a black page when i go to the actual article.

        “They argue with Other musical husbands about things like ‘monster cable.'”

        i can’t believe this article is almost thirty years old and provides an example that is still true today (albeit more pre-2008 than now).

        this article is the perfect opportunity to solicit your feelings on multichannel audio:

        have you ever heard dvd audio/sacd?

        i am praying you are offended by such a question, and will proceed to lecture me on how you had the EAGLES/AEROSMITH quadraphonic vinyls.

        maybe i’ll get even luckier and hear some story from 20 years ago when your hair was longer (hahaha) and your friend came over and rushed to your home theatre system to pop in Band On the Run on DTS-CD (or TOTO’s SACDS [the gold standard if you ask me]).

        i daresay you may even have a story about camping out for a LaserDisc player where you bought The Wall (apparently superior to the DVD version).

        it upsets me multichannel formats are being abandoned because today’s casual music fan doesn’t really appreciate the experience. of course this problem is exacerbated by the fact today’s artists are exactly what you’d expect from bain capital.

        what upsets me MORE about today’s casual music listeners is they are far, FAR less financially-important than even 20 years ago.

        as an example: around the time this gopnik article hit press, achtung baby was still picking up steam (internet being uncommon and all). my older cousin had the mysterious ways single (cost about 5-7ish dollars CAD at the time). iirc when our family purchased the album (our first CD for our 1993 toyota camry XLE SPORT!), it was 30 CAD but i think that was due to demand. assume it could have been obtained cheaper (say 20-25 dollars).

        the rule of thumb from what i recall was that you’d buy an album if it had a couple good singles since it was (TYPICALLY) close to buying the album.

        simple math: mysterious ways, even better than the real thing, one.

        now you’re close that there has to be one or two filler tracks that makes the album worth it (whose gonna ride your wild horses, acrobat, so cruel, etc), so you buy it.

        if you only like those three songs, then at least you get B-sides (or in U2’s case: remixes) that are not on the album. there is incentive for “real fans” to own both. for me, oasis was that band. in my view, they have, bar none, the best B-sides out of any group i’ve ever listened to. i found myself chasing down singles box sets (i got this rare one from japan in 2007 with all the singles up to that time) and i was SO happy.

        now you can buy a “single” for 99 cents. the a-la-carte model is killing the music business. while i completely endorse freedom of choice, this is just lethal.

        for cable tv, for example, at least you can change per-channel pricing and both sides can reach some compromise; that is, there is some ‘future content expectation’ people would pay for (hbo is a good example). you can’t do this for music. your money has to show your appreciation for the present without any future.

        we need artists who entice us to adopt new formats or media to make the industry viable again, because it just isn’t working anymore. something has to break today’s music model.

        i think the lack of talent in the present landscape is, in itself, one way it will happen. i think this became apparent when chart companies (like the UK charts) started including streams (free listens, pretty much) in chart performance, as opposed to sales. all of today’s “top artists” are actually juicing their streams, and we don’t even know much of today’s music is actually being consumed.

        the fact that charts now include streams also shows you that something is amiss in pop music.

        it’s perverse but reflective of the bain capital effect on music.

        for this reason alone, we should miss michael jackson.

        i worry about this because music is the ultimate vehicle for change. music videos used to be amazing because they’d capture your imagination about a song (Speed Demon was a HUGE letdown. like HUGE). there were so many angles you could take on properly-produced pop music.

        now there is none and i fear this lack of mental cultivation may lead to devolution (i’m serious).

        sorry for the long post but you strike me as a “real” fan of music. rare to run across people like this in today’s world.

        • Andrew says:


          I hate to burst your bubble, and I’m sorry to have admit this, but my favorite band is REM.

          • gagan says:

            wha? what makes you think i wouldn’t like REM?

            i’m not a *huge* fan, and i confuse occasionally confuse the frontman with Live’s (lol) but they’re not bad at all.

            i’m “young”, but this is my favourite REM tune:


            you totally like multichannel audio, don’t you. REM’s entire discography is in multichannel iirc. i’m sure the examples i shared above apply to those discs hahah

            • Andrew says:


              I know zero about music production—I don’t even know what multichannel audio is! But I did read a biography of REM (it was called Perfect Circle), and I do remember that some of them were record-collector types. Anyway, I had no idea one way or another if you liked REM; I just have the impression that REM is pretty uncool.

              • gagan says:

                if “REM is pretty uncool”, i would need earmuffs for what they would say about toto (first album, Hydra, and IV are ‘all time’ albums).

                if you’re an REM fan i think you’re missing out, man.

                i guess it’s fair to be a music fan but not necessarily know about the different formats.

                do you have a newer vehicle? these days it seems many cars will play DVD Audio.

                you are really, really, missing out.


                i don’t think you need to really know *about* music production to understand how different these are. they often move ‘tracks’ (layers) to rear/side channels (depending on effect).

                typically the bands are heavily involved in the mixing. i’m not a huge ‘live show’ guy, but one thing i’ll say is the multichannel experience is not simply a studio-quality recording ‘made to sound live’.

                it’s something else. i can’t really explain it. CHECK IT OUT MAN. REM’s mixes are supposed to be right up there with the best examples for why fans need to adopt the format. their entire discography is on DVD Audio (as is Depeche Mode–highly recommend Music for the Masses in DVD audio as well).

                in the words of ben stiller in starsky and hutch: DO IT.

              • Andrew says:


                I have a music player on my bike but it’s pretty low-tech.

              • gagan says:

                words fail me dr gelman.

                i guess you don’t *need* multichannel audio, but i figured you’d have something to test it out. my apologies. i forget you’re in new york and cars aren’t as practical when you’re commuting to columbia.

                aren’t you the slightest bit curious? there are FLAC versions of REM’s multichannel releases if you’re ever bored.

                to be fair we only have two ears, and you can still do quite a bit with stereo. BUT STILL!

  2. Less interested in yr 2004 books about music and more sad for todays inevitable announcement that Daft Punk are officially retired.

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