The Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing. Edited by Marc Smirnoff. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2008.
“Marc Smirnoff, editor and founder of both The Oxford American and this book, tells us in his introduction that it is his intention here to celebrate a decade of Oxford American Southern Music Issues and ‘prove that great music writing is not only possible but, in this book, alive and thriving’ (sleeve note). By the editor’s own admission, the magazine was conceived as an anti-Rolling Stone to seek out ‘meaning, not facile PR blather…discoveries, not the repeat button… (and) death to clichés’ (p. xxi) aspiring to become ‘a music issue that, rather than kowtowing to the marketplace or focus groups, paid tribute to how music seeps into us’ (p. xxi). Smirnoff challenges us with his premise: ‘What better homage to music than prose that is also musical and supple and daring?’ (p. xxi) and urges satisfied readers of this book to become Oxford American subscribers to encourage the mode of writing presented here. In this context, it is tempting to see this book as little more than a snipe at a rival magazine and blatant marketing ploy; yet further inspection garners some unexpected rewards…
This attractive looking book will doubtless catch the eye of a good many and, by reaching out across the Atlantic, it may also heighten interest, scholarly or otherwise, in The Oxford American magazine and some of its contributors. Its contents provide a captivating succession of well written quick reads, unsurprising perhaps since most of the essays have been penned by established fiction and non-fiction writers, whose lack of criticality is compensated for by emotive writing which appeals to the soul as much as the mind; seeping in like the music, maybe, through a sense of shared human experience. The allure of this vast anthology lies in the diversity of its contents and there is something
here for almost everyone, from scholar to avid fan of music writing to casual reader alike. Non-American readers of this volume may enjoy being introduced to some new writers, and for those more familiar with American music writing penned by the likes of Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus and Richard Meltzer this book might make a refreshing, albeit slightly unconventional, diversion.”
Brief extract from my book review published in Popular Music, Vol. 31, Issue 3. Cambridge University Press, 2012