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In The Zone


This is only my second post of the week and, to be honest, I don’t have much to say. I finally, finally, have my head deep down writing my new book – and while for the first couple of months I enjoyed putting up my daily post as a form of writing warm-up, I’m now so deeply immersed in the story that I’m barely raising my eye above the parapet to see what else is going on in the world. Rather, I’m using almost every moment I have available in the working day to get the book finished somewhere close to its already extended deadline.

For those who don’t know, this book – provisionally titled Walk On The Wild Side – traces the whole history of the New York music scene(s), going neighborhood by neighborhood, genre by genre, from the arrival of the Afro-Cubans and future bebop musicians in the 1930s right up to the present day. Along the way, it will stop in at Greenwich Village for the folk scene, the Lower East Side for the birth of punk, the Bronx for the arrival of hip-hop, and so on. The idea is to show how the streets of New York gave birth to so much music that changed the world, and to connect the dots between these different genres in a way that’s never been discussed before.

It’s an enormous project, by far the biggest I’ve undertaken, and at times the sheer size of it has terrified me. In particular, and this is nothing new, the initial chapters have proven the most troublesome. It’s never easy to decide at which moment in time to begin, nor how much back story to tell, besides which, in the desire to get one’s facts right, many of which concern delicate issues of race and class, there’s endless rewriting as the text books pile up and fact-checking becomes an increasingly contradictory exercise.

…And then the story starts telling itself and the words begin to flow. It’s currently the late 1950s, rhythm and blues has just mutated into something called rock and roll, the success of Frankie Lymon, The Chords, The Drifters and others has encouraged almost every school kid in New York to take up singing as a hobby, and the likes of George Goldner, Morris Levy and Alan Freed are busy promoting, recording and making as much money out of these kids as possible. The book is very much meant to be about the music as it emerges from the streets, so I’m trying to keep board-room details to a minimum, but this was a particularly fascinating period in the business, full of street hustlers who smelled gold in them there street corner singers, and who dug as much of it as they could, by any means necessary, before Government powers started setting the rules.

Long and short: if I don’t post as frequently over the coming couple of months, you’ll know why. I’ll find a way to keep the front page active, even if it’s just by passing along anecdotes from the book as I write it. Hopefully I’ll emerge on the other side, still somewhat sane. And hopefully you’ll stay onboard for the ride.

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