Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Music Writer Smackdown

Jon Caramanica, in a recent New York Times piece, juxtaposes Anthony DeCurtis's recent edited volume of Robert Palmer's writings against a similar collection of Robert Hilburn's work (edited by Hilburn himsel). Palmer was at the Times for almost a decade and then at Rolling Stone. Hilburn was at the other Times, the Los Angeles Times for 30 years. The take-home point of the review: Palmer understood music and didn't glorify the musicians he covered; Hilburn has repeatedly gotten swept up in the cult of personality. Caramanica is maybe a little heavy-handed, but I haven't read either book, and honestly know very little about Hilburn as compared to fully respecting Palmer's work.

The choice bit is perhaps this comparison:
Hilburn writes of [John Lennon] reverently in this book, as if he were oracular, unattainable. As a result, Hilburn becomes smitten. By the time he has to write about Lennon on the day of his murder, he’s practically switched teams. “My first thought,” he says of seeing a co-worker in tears, “was ‘Why is she crying? John was my friend.’ ”

... In one essay, [Palmer] recalls admitting to Lennon and Yoko Ono during an interview that he was unfamiliar with much of their solo work: a little too laissez-faire, perhaps, but better that than too reverent.

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