“Songbooks” seem simple. Weisbard went back and reread more than 150 volumes, classics and quirks of American musical writing. In chronological order, he browses biographies, memoirs, songbooks and academic studies, from “The New-England Psalm-Singer” by William Billings (1770) to Jay-Z’s memoir “Decoded” (2010 ).
There are breaks along the way to talk about books such as “Swing That Music” by Louis Armstrong (1936), “Bound for Glory” by Woody Guthrie (1943), “Blues People” by LeRoi Jones (1963), “Mystery Train” by Greil Marcus (1975) and the revealing biography of Frank Sinatra by Kitty Kelley in 1986.
Weisbard revamps the canon, paying particular attention to black, gay, and other voices who have often been marginalized. âNothing is more important in American music than African American music,â he writes, âreal, racially fantasized and one rule, from blackface minstrel to spirituals, to ragtime, to jazz, to blues, to rock, soul, hip-hop and EDM “
Via Anthony Heilbut’s book “The Gospel Sound” (1971), he writes about how gospel music has been the blues, in a way, for gays and lesbians. One chapter is titled “Finding the Blackface in the Bluegrass”. He discusses the work of some of his favorite young critics, including Jessica Hopper, Amanda Petrusich, and Zandria Robinson.
He considers fiction. Regarding “Sister Carrie” by Theodore Dreiser (1900), he observes that, although it contains little music, the novel “revealed more than any previous book about the aspirations of urban pop addressed”. Weisbard refers to Jonathan Lethem, the culture-saturated Generation X novelist, as “the greatest used bookstore clerk of all time.” Lethem’s eventual biographer is expected to clinch this title.