In praise of a music critic who knows his history
When your book is a history of music criticism, it is a tall order. As a critic, I learned the hard way that when your book deals with a subject other than your own interests, the subject can be one that has already been thoroughly covered elsewhere by people with far greater expertise and insight.
I wrote The Great Book of the World, by turns a history of jazz and a history of black music, about a subject I knew very little about, and in both cases failed to find a single expert who would have been prepared to write my book. As a result, I had to do the research myself, and the result – a book that for readers with an interest in the history of jazz is a fascinating and informative account – is the one and only book by and about a music critic as long as I have tried to think of any.
But the other day, I had a most refreshing and enlightening encounter with a music critic – one who seemed to know more about the history of the subject than anyone I had ever met.
He had written a book about a subject I knew nothing about, and he has been a champion of the subject for some time – someone I know of from a personal level and not from a professional one, but, nevertheless, a great champion and supporter of the subject.
He had published a book not about jazz but about my favourite subject – the history of music criticism. It was called, by the way, The Great Book of the World.
I felt, as always, at a loss for words, and was embarrassed to admit my ignorance – yet I was very curious to know how he had managed to write a book about a subject about which I knew almost nothing. I made a mental list of the people who had written about this subject, and I couldn’t immediately think of a single one – and I had no idea what the book’s primary topic was.
But, finally, I stumbled upon a book that