I can’t begin to tell you the sense of relief when I finished this book. It had been staring at me-unfinished-for weeks.
You’d think that an oral history of the New York City music scene from the early 00s (well, the white, middle class, trust fund bit of it) would be accessible and inviting but what emerges from this overlong, extraordinarily self regarding book are a pile of pretty unpleasant human beings and, in some instances, cocksure charlatans feted as if they were some kind of artistic geniuses.
This is- in a nutshell- 500 repetitive pages of “The Strokes were brilliant, weren’t they?” Well, they might have been but the argument for their brilliance should, to my mind, go beyond how cool they were and how many drugs they were able to ingest. I’m no prude but much of this book is akin to being on the last train home when you’re sober and everyone else has had a skinful. It might be thoroughly delightful for them but it sure as hell isn’t for you.
This is not just about The Strokes though: they just happen to be the centre of this tale. Loose connections between bands and artists are offered up as proof positive of a “scene” even though these self same bands and artists go out of their way to tell you that no such coherent scene actually existed. If there is anything that holds these artists together is the reemergence and critical fawning for guitar based rock music and, true to form, there’s plenty of comment from the NME which is hilarious given this is just about the time when everyone started ignoring them.
Structurally, the book suffers from a lack of coherent editing and it assumes a knowledge of the characters in the narrative that would win you the weekly pub pop quiz hands down. Characters enter and exit without explanation or context and chapter headings are a ramshackle collection of quotes, snatched lyrics or rock journalist cliches.
The book’s biggest problem is the absence of context or a critical eye. These acts exist in an exclusive bubble where, seemingly, everyone is a genius or a misunderstood genius so you have genuine talent (Ryan Adams for example) alongside, say, Vampire Weekend who, even their most ardent supporters would acknowledge, are likely to be nothing more than an Oxford comma in the history of music. Remember this is the same decade when Eminem basically ruled everything; in this world, it appears to be Har Mar Superstar. This is no criticism of either artist but, come on: live in the real world.
On the plus side, Goodman adroitly evokes a sense of time and place pretty well but I’m less and less convinced that it’s a place that anyone with any sense of humility would want to be a part of. Compare this to the determination, hard work and sheer bloody mindedness of the artists in Michael Azzerad’s This Band Could Be Your Life ( which this book has laughably been compared to) and you’ll soon be left feeling empty and short changed. For the most part the artists here come over as entitled, smarmy and with a mere modicum of talent.
The author clearly loves the music that emerged from this scene but it’s buried in as much love for the scene itself and, over 500 pages, it is BORING. When it was all over, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. There is some wonderful music from NYC from the decade this book covers. You should use your hard earned money on buying some of it; this book might be big but, regrettably, it’s not clever.