“Traveling with the Ghost of Someone He Admires”–A Conversation About Music Books with Brian Cremins

Today I’m welcoming back to the show my first repeat guest–who also happens to be the human I’m sheltering in place with–the writer, musician, and scholar Brian Cremins.

(You can stream our chat via the embed here, on Anchor, or pretty much anywhere else you source your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and Google Podcasts.)

Brian’s joining me today for a recorded version of an ongoing conversation we’ve been having basically since we first met a little over a decade ago, all about our favorite books about music.

Because we’re both writers and both musicians, it turns out we have a lot of thoughts about the intersection of those two disciplines!

We both chose a small stack of books that are important to us individually, though of course there’s a lot of overlap between our lists, and of course there were dozens of other books that came to mind during the course of this conversation.

In talking about those books, we also discuss the way music critics listen to music versus the way musicians listen to music; how descriptive language can mystify what a musician is actually doing in a way that might not be helpful; how the best books can feel more like traveling companions rather than destination points; and spending time imagining what certain albums sounded like in the days before everything was instantly available to us online. Plus, Brian finally goes on the record with his comparison between the Hall and Oates song “I Can’t Go for That” and Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place.”


The Travis Morrison quote comes from this interview in Vice from July 2013, and is as follows:

Q: Was there ever a time when you felt self-conscious about your taste?
A: Not really, no. I don’t know why. I mean, I don’t think musicians think like that. Musicians tend to have appetite where Music People have taste, if that makes sense.

The musical clip is from The Clientele’s song “When I Came Home from the Party” off their album Strange Geometry.

Charles Shaar Murray’s Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and the Post-War Rock ’n’ Roll Revolution. That book deeply informed my old blog post Fifteen Thoughts About Jimi Hendrix on the Occasion of His Birthday

Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century by Charles Shaar Murray

Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and the Black Experience by Greg Tate

No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan by Robert Shelton

Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties by Ian MacDonald

Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story by Laurie Lindeen

Why Sinatra Matters by Pete Hamill

Perfect Example by John Porcellino

This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band by Levon Helm with Stephen Davis

The Bluesman: The Musical Heritage of Black Men and Women in the Americas by Julio Finn

Andy Summers’s memoir is called One Train Later. The quote from the book about the solo from “Every Breath You Take” is as follows:

“Every Breath You Take” will go to number one on the Billboard charts and stay there for eight weeks. I will be asked, “How did you come up with that? Where does it come from?” as if one sits down and works out a formula for these things. My poker-faced answer is usually along the lines of “God spoke through me, I’m merely the vessel.” But in fact as a guitarist, with the bloody thing hardly ever out of your hands, the fingers build their own memory and I think that you go along with pockets of information, things that you tend to play or go to when you pick up the instrument, and then they slowly morph into another set of responses. During the summer I had been playing through the forty-four Bartok violin duets, thinking I might do some of them with Fripp. They are well suited to the guitar and with their intervallic structures and modal ambiance are not a thousand miles from the Police guitar sound, hence the ability to immediately lay the fitting part to “Every Breath.” It was already there, even if by way of Eastern Europe.

Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll: The Memoirs of an Alchemical Guitarist by Richard Lloyd

From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock by Clinton Heylin 

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century by Greil Marcus

Enrico Riley was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1973 and is a Professor of Studio Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. 

Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight by John McDermott with Eddie Kramer

Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta by Robert Palmer

You Call It Madness: The Sensuous Song of the Croon by Lenny Kaye

Waylon: An Autobiography by Waylon Jennings with Lenny Kaye

Robert Fripp’s online diary

Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft by Eric Tamm. Tamm’s own website is currently defunct, but you can still download a .zip file of the book here via the Brian Eno site More Dark than Shark. 

Let’s Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson

The 33⅓ series

Carl Wilson’s old blog Zoilus

Ken Cormier’s Bandcamp page. One of our favorites of his is the song “Close-n-Play.”

The musical clip is from the radio edit of the Hall and Oates song “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).”

The musical clip is from Radiohead’s song “Everything in Its Right Place” off their album Kid A.

You can read the Roland Barthes essay “The Grain of the Voice” from Image Music Text online here

Love Me Do! The Beatles’ Progress by Michael Braun. Of the book, John Lennon famously said, “A true book. He wrote how we were, which was bastards.” The letter from Sharon Flood is on pages 169-170 of the 2019 Graymalkin Media edition.

Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hajdu

The Secret Sugar Daddies by Lara Levitan

Lick Me: How I Became Cherry Vanilla by Cherry Vanilla

I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela des Barres

The Michael Moorcock novella “A Dead Singer” appears in his collection Dying for Tomorrow.

Episode number 6 of I’ll Follow You, Writing and Recording American Romantic Music with Brian Cremins

The Felus Cremins Band, American Romantic Music