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Shake It Up:

Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z

(Library of America)


Rock and Roll gets classy


Editors: Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar

Genre: anthology

Reader Appeal: Adults


Hey guys and gals, strap on your headphones, get your records ready, and make sure you pack some snacks because we’re headed on a time travel trip that will blow your mind!

Ok so that’s a little over the top. Truth be told I wanted to be a disc jockey when I was younger.

Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z takes you on a literary journey with retrospectives ranging from Bob Dylan to Axl Rose and articles on subjects like disco, guitars, the importance of the Beatles and my favorite “After 30 years, I finally went to a Barry Manilow Concert”. The authors include a who’s who of music journalism: Nat Hentoff, Stanley Booth, Ellen Willis and Robert Palmer just to name a few.

We begin our trip in 1963 with the man who popularized folk music Bob Dylan. As you read you realize this is before some of his greatest music was yet to be heard. A few chapters later were in 1973 with the amazingly talented Ellen Sander and Led Zeppelin. This story more than any other in the book upset me, It made me realize that maybe I don’t want to know about the seedy underground of rock and roll. Black Dog by Led Zeppelin was on the radio not so long after I read Ellen’s piece and even though it was written over 40 years ago I felt a little sick to my stomach.

Alright here we are in the 80’s our stop here won’t be long, I’m driving this time machine so I get to decide where we go. Time to get weird with David Bowie and Scary Monsters. Debra Rae Cohen writes a review that made me tear up a little, it made me miss an artist that could weave a story with every cut. We’ll be listening to this in the background as we head to 90’s. Jessica Hopper fills us in on Emo: Where the girls aren’t. A slight confession, by the time the emo music hit the scene I was full into listening and listening again to early rock. Record stores were all but gone and I started saying things like “back in my day…” and “when I was a kid…”

We’ll end in 2013 with the best of the best Danyel Smith and Barry Manilow. Danyel and I don’t have too much in common, we’re close to the same age, we were band kids in high school and that’s about it. Oh, except we both love Barry Manilow and saw him in 2013. I’m familiar with Danyel as an author and a television commentator. Never in a million lifetimes would I have guessed that she was a Manilow fan. I bet she would never guess that I’m a Sugar Hill gang fan.

Shake it up makes rock and roll smart and intellectual.  I can take that in a small dose, but I like my rock and roll to be hard and driving with a little hip movement and a lot of attitude. And also, a little Manilow never hurts.

Let's Talk About It

Use these questions to spark discussion among family members who are interested in this book:

  1. You’re stranded on a desert island, but you remembered your record player, but only one album. What is it?

  2. What music moves you the most? Do you have different playlists for different actions?

  3. What style of music most shaped your childhood?




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