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February 15, 2012

Book Notes - Will Hermes - "Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

In the mid-1970s, New York City was in turmoil, facing financial bankruptcy, blackouts, a recession, and rising crime, but the music scene was thriving. In Love Goes To Buildings On Fire's Will Hermes captures the city's evolving music scenes of the era from hip-hop to punk, salsa to rock and roll.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"A hip, clever, informative look at an unjustifiably dismissed musical era that will have readers scouring iTunes for the perfect accompanying soundtrack."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Will Hermes's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever:

Obviously there's a lot of music discussed in Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, in which I built a jump-cut narrative from the explosion of musical creativity during five pivotal years ('73-'77) in New York City. There are a few mixes on Spotify devoted to the book; one industrious gentleman went so far as to compile a 300+ song playlist, arranged chronologically according to when the song is referenced in LGTBOF.

That's a sort of music-geek obsessiveness I can relate to.

If that many songs seems a bit daunting, I offer the following for Book Notes: an annotated playlist of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire's greatest hits – the music that helped inspire me to write it, and which epitomize the spirit I tried to capture.

Talking Heads – "Love Goes To Building On Fire"

The group's debut single, which somehow never made it onto Talking Heads '77. I adapted the title as a metaphor for artists bringing love-beauty-music to a city whose unwanted buildings were literally on fire, as owners torched them wholesale for the insurance. I love the dry, Television-style guitar sound on the live versions, the Stax-Volt brass on the studio version, and the debut of David Byrne's anxious, soul-geek delivery---especially the line about his loves going "tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet like little birds!" I never heard a bird tweet on the Lower East Side in the ‘70s, which makes me like the line even better.

Patti Smith – "Piss Factory"

This prose-poem memoir about leaving a shitty job and following your dreams to New York, set to Richard Sohl's piano and Lenny Kaye's snakey guitar lines, still give me chills. It recalls early Bruce Springsteen, which isn't odd: The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle had just come out when it was recorded, and the two singers (and future collaborators) both hailed from South Jersey. My vote for the most moving thing Smith ever recorded.

New York Dolls – "Trash"

In all it's incoherent, hook-barbed groping, this was proto-punk's greatest pop moment: the short-sharp-shock tune-whoosh of ‘50s pop-rock and the glammy brutishness of Nuggets-style ‘60s garage acts. It's greatness might not have saved them even if it hadn't fallen on deaf ears, commercially speaking. But it inspired the birth of punk on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously. And they've yet to make it into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of fame? What the fuck?

Eddie Palmieri – "Una Dia Bonita"

Sure, Carlos Santana mixed Mexican and Cuban music with psychedelic rock. But this may be the most mind-expanding piece of 20th-century Latin music ever recorded. In its full-length version, it's a 15-minute trip through modern classical composition, free improv, Afro-Carribbean drum jams, Nuyorican dancefloor salsa, and stoner studio trickery.

Television – "Marquee Moon"

It's tough to pick a Television song, but the title track of their debut album--one of the greatest rock LPs ever made--splits the difference between the epic "Little Johnny Jewel" and the more concise lyricism of "Friction" and "Venus De Milo." Tom Verlaine has confessed to being a fan of the Grateful Dead's "Dark Star," and you can hear it in here.

Eddie Kendricks – "Girl You Need A Change Of Mind"

This 7+ minute 1972 jam by the former lead singer of The Temptations was to disco what Horses or NY Dolls or Raw Power was to punk: a transitional burst of brilliance that had one foot in the past (falsetto-spiked Motown r&b) and one in the future: horny, hypnotic soul with the extended percussion breakdowns that dancers live for.

Meredith Monk – "Gotham Lullaby"

A wordless art song for voice and piano that unspools an astonishing range of emotions. Originally part of the music for Monk's 1973 multi-media opera/performance piece Education Of The Girlchild, later recorded for the 1978 LP Dolmen Music, it's a compact argument for her importance as a composer alongside more celebrated peers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. On September 11, 2001, during a concert in Stuttgart, Germany, Bjork performed a version of it as a tribute to the people of New York City.

Incredible Bongo Band – "Apache"

The first few seconds of this ‘72 latin-funk jam is one of hip-hop's foundational rhythms, and it's been called the "national anthem of hip-hop." But that sounds a little serious for a track that's so much fun. This is the most famous iteration of an instrumental jazz tune song with a long pedigree; there's a surf version by the Ventures, and even Bruce Springsteen covered it on occasion in his early days.

The Ramones – "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker"

If any Ramones song deserved to be a radio hit, it was this, from their best record, 1977's Rocket To Russia. It reached #81 on the American pop charts. Life is often unfair.

Royal Blue – "Moontipping"

Maybe more so than any of the music I write about in Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, The New York City loft jazz scene was a product of its time and place, and it was never adequately documented on record. But Rashied Ali, in addition to being an astonishing drummer and a club owner (Ali's Alley), also ran an indie label, Survival, that captured some great music. They released a session with singer Royal Blue backed by Ali's house band (Ali Plays The Blues Feat. Royal Blue) and it includes this tune about getting high, a blues with a dazzlingly avant-garde sense of swing. Royal Blue was a ladies man and a troubled soul, according to Ali; he was reportedly found dead in the street on the Lower East Side one night, his head smashed in by a length of pipe.

Steve Reich – Music For 18 Musicians

If I could take only one piece of music to a desert island, this would be it. Timeless, and time-suspending – which seems like what you might want if you were marooned on a desert island. Or even an island like Manhattan.

Will Hermes and Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Austin Chronicle review
Baltimore City Paper review
Barnes & Noble Review review
The Big Takeover review
Boston Globe review
Full Stop review
Kirkus Reviews review
Los Angeles Times review
The Millions review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
New York Times Book Review review
Paste review
PopMatters review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Wall Street Journal review

All Songs Considered interview with the author
The L Magazine interview with the author
Papermag interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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