What makes a musical genius?


Named for one of the memorable songs from that first album, “Last Chance Texaco” also presents accounts of her problematic romance with Tom Waits, Lowell George, and Dr. John. The musicians have trouble, but it is the music (beginning with “West Side Story” and Laura Nyrow’s childhood obsession) that gives her stability. She has had success writing the wonderfully ballad “Company” – “a visceral, tortuous process … these were pure emotions such as airy and uncontrolled as a color or tingling.”

There is a detailed account of a truly strange, fictional encounter with Van Morrison at an Irish concert, but she mostly bounces through her last several decades, in which she has continued to make interesting, if less celebrated, new music, And grew out to just be the “girl in the red berry”. Nevertheless, Jones portrays an attractive, distinctive self-portrait.

Ricky Lee Jones and Sinead O’Connor will find themselves among kindred spirits in Leslie Chow You Are History: The Twelve Strongest Women in Music (Repeater, 147 pp., Paper, $ 14.95). The book Slim, Sharp considers a number of female artists, from Janet Jackson and Taylor Swift to TLC and Nicki Minaj, a group that Australian cultural critics Chow sees as “outliers”, marking moments where culture is theirs. The effect may have changed to include, but in no way attempted to. “

Chow’s real premise is that music writers’ preferences are all wrong, that they analyze the lyrics rather than the sounds, and that the pop canon “very often … recites the same old stinging monologues and blatant cynicism.” Of course he is right – it is a lot easier to write about words than music, especially if words, and not music, is how you make your life. And he is right that one effect of this strategy is to reduce the contributions and achievements of female pop singers, who are often dismissed as minor figures next to the Dylan / Cohen axis of rock ‘n’ roll “poets” .

Chow makes some of her subjects more concrete than others, and some women – Kate Bush, Shakespearean Sister – resonate far more in the UK than in the States. (The subtitle is also an unnecessary distraction.) But she consistently delivers comments that are bravely smart and original: that Taylor Swift is “as obsessed with fashion as FitzGerald,” that “Rihanna doesn’t sing as much The blunt batting sound, “that Janet Jackson’s best music is defined by” the fascinating tension between rigor and relaxation “.

“You’re History” demonstrates the importance of these details, but they serve a larger point, which is to try to understand the mysterious and uncanny essence of music. “The best pop songs are not ‘universal’, but are uniquely specific in their descriptions,” she writes, to understand a song that “involves trying to digest the emotional meaning of sounds – something that historically criticized Has been reluctant to. “Chow often writes about the wordless elements of singing, saying at the beginning of the book that the story of pop can be told in songs as a history of” ooh “- leading to appendix , Inevitably and happily: “The Greatest ‘Ohs’ in Modern Music.”

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