Books: “Holding the Note” by David Remnick
Imagine you were an impresario like Bob Geldolf or Bill Graham, tasked with arranging a concert of your favorite musicians of all time, live or dead. Who would get top billing—Luciano Pavarotti or Patti Smith? Should Bob Dylan go on before Paul McCartney or vice versa? What about Aretha Franklin—would she keep her unofficial title of Queen of Soul or lose it to Mavis Staples?
Unfortunately a concert like this only exists in our wildest dreams. But New Yorker editor David Remnick has packaged his collection of essays on these musical greats in his new book “Holding the Note”—which is the next best thing to an imaginary mega-jam.
As readers of The New Yorker know, the beauty of Remnick’s writing colors every subject he writes about. But he seems to have a particular affinity for musicians, perhaps because he is one himself. This leads him to interviews that probe deeply into how these musical greats became so great in the first place. And if the pieces contain a little gossip here and there, all the better.
Pavarotti, we learn, constantly worries about gaining weight and catching a cold—not necessarily in that order. Paul McCartney suggests who really broke up the Beatles (hint: it wasn’t Yoko). Blues artist Buddy Guy reveals two of his inspirations: Muddy Waters, and his mother. Patti Smith’s hero meanwhile was Marcus Aurelius.
As different as they are, these artists share a reverence for two icons: Little Richard and Bob Dylan. Dylan for the most part loves them back—particularly McCartney and Leonard Cohen.
We used to read Vanity Fair for celebrity stories. But who needs adulatory puff pieces? If you want the literary real deal on these musical icons, allow David Remnick to catch you up.
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