Just when it seems as though nothing new could possibly emerge from within the bounds of a given form, the form changes. It might happen so subtly that you don’t see it coming. Or it might blast in like a fast-moving freight train, shattering boundaries and altering the way that the form is perceived and appreciated. Will Hermes documents such a radical evolution in the genre of music in his new book Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York that Changed Music Forever – the five years in question being lodged in the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon was president, the war in Viet Nam ramped down and the economy and social conditions in the Big Apple itself hit the skids. Hermes will be at Inquiring Minds in New Paltz for a reading and book-signing on Friday, December 9 at 7 p.m.
As senior critic for Rolling Stone and prolific contributor to The New York Times, The Village Voice and other publications, Hermes’ long-term connection to the music scene lends credence to this history. So when he refers to the “myth that the early-to-mid-‘70s was a cultural dead zone,” the reader notes the term “myth” and reads on to discover the beginnings of such now-iconic names as Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith and David Byrne, steeped as they were at the time in “the worst situations [that sometimes] produce the deepest beauty, and the most profound change.” He also notes events and developments happening outside the music scene: teachers’ strikes and school closings, the influx of heroin into neighborhoods, the swine flu panic, attempted presidential assassinations and worse. Hermes writes, “Amid all the creative ferment, the City rattled toward bankruptcy like an old IRT train.”
Citing the emergence of Johnny Pacheco and the Fania All-Stars, Grandmaster Flash, the New York Dolls, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Blondie, Ruben Blades and a range of others more or less recognizable, all using New York City as a musical laboratory, Hermes pulls together an impressive bibliography, discography and filmography for almost-academic documentation, effectively setting himself up as a de facto expert on the era. More humbly, he acknowledges five pages’ worth of other contributors, living and dead, to the tome.
With a wrap-around depiction of the scenario by former Village Voice cartoon journalist Mark Alan Stamaty on the book jacket and a webpage offering a few amazing early clips of those young, skinny, outrageous music-makers (“Videos! Music! Incriminating photographs!”), Love Goes to Buildings on Fire is an informative and entertaining read. Check out www.willhermes.com and meet the author at Inquiring Minds bookstore, located at 6 Church Street in downtown New Paltz. Call 255-8300 for further details.
For a compendium of Hudson Valley author events, booksignings and readings, read Ann Hutton’s Bookings column in Almanac at https://ulsterpub.wpengine.com/bookings-decembers-author-signings-readings/.