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Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock Paperback – Jun 5 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (June 5 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592407153
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592407156
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 481 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #290,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 14 reviews
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
For fans, this is a find (in-depth review) June 15 2012
By John L Murphy - Published on
Format: Paperback
It took guitarist Ira Kaplan and his wife, drummer Georgia Hubley, fifteen tries before they found the right bassist, James McNew. This happened over a decade into their career. It began, perhaps apocryphally, with a Village Voice ad: "Guitarist & bassist wanted for band that may or may not sound like the Soft Boys, Mission of Burma, and Love." They formed Yo La Tengo at the end of 1984, when he was twenty-eight and she was twenty-five. This proves their devotion to their craft, and to their endurance as one of America's most innovative rock bands, beloved by a devoted few.

As The Onion summed up their fan base: "37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead in Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster." This is one band where the audience mirrors the performers, for nearly thirty years. But, Yo La Tengo benefits by their maturity, growing up involved much more deeply responsible for the indie rock movement as they constructed its formation behind the scenes as well as on stage. Journalists, artists, managers, 'zine writers, sound engineers, roadies, label managers, DJs, promoters: this adds up to only a brief resumé.

In 1964 at seven, Ira Kaplan fell in love with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the car radio. As Jesse Jarnow phrases it, all of the band "inhaled the spore" as this music consumed them. Kaplan barely graduated from Sarah Lawrence. He wrote for the New York Rocker in the days when CBGB and Patti Smith ruled, and championed local talent around the Hudson against musical Anglophilia, yet his favorite band arguably remains The Kinks.

Still, along with many early-1980s rock musicians, Kaplan admired the punk movement, their alternative heirs, and their common idols, The Velvet Underground. Georgia Hubley, the daughter of avant-garde animators John and Faith Hubley, inherited their quirky, artistic sensibilities and fit with Kaplan's suburban, earnest, yet countercultural sensibility. They began their career, bidding farewell to maybe as many bassists as Spinal Tap had drummers, with a jangle which epitomized their adapted home in a pre-gentrified Hoboken across the river. They hung out at Maxwell's, near the coffee factory of the same name, and, jittery, learned to play better and worry less about nervousness. The modesty of their approach has never left them, and it attests to the quality of their music for so long.

Their chronicler devotes much space and extends earnestly an analogy of the Jersey trio to the roots of the Major Leagues in Hoboken as an alternative predecessor well over a century before. For a band who craves baseball, barbeque, and an intimate relationship with used record stores, roadhouses, and off-beat pop culture which fills their leisure time between gigs, this suits Jarnow's diligent tone. This book will please those already in the know, as with collector-driven pursuits. It crams pages with songs, bands, records, fanzines, comedians, brands, and all the detritus of the past fifty years which nourished the band and its audience. One wonders how David Lee Roth's riposte that all the critics loved Elvis Costello because he looked like them translates for these unassuming three musicians.

Certainly, Jarnow shares their immersion as a record-store habitue. His density of references accumulates; he turns his subject into a symbol of indie rock as it leaves the clubs, courts MTV, faces the demise of vinyl and the rise of Napster, peruses the fine print of lawyers and the connivance of big labels, deals with iTunes, and learns to buy in and not sell out. Yo La Tengo scores movies with original contributions, and you can hear a few seconds of them in a Coke ad for the 1992 Atlanta Olympics and an episode of The Gilmore Girls. Yet, the three manage to keep a low profile and in their rumpled hoodies, jeans, and Converse shoes, they look no different than their audiences, at least from my firsthand experience. This study will please those who seek a comprehensive account of the band, as well as a cultural representation of how Yo La Tengo stands for the very movement they helped form, in far more diverse and dedicated ways than most fans or musicians could ever sustain.

Jarnow's biography blends a fan-oriented account of the band with a survey of how the trio established as individuals first and then as a band the template for indie-rock survival. They emerged among the vanguard of what started out as "college rock" via the free-form New Jersey station WFMU in the aftermath of hardcore and post-punk. Husker Du, R.E.M., and The Replacements sought an international audience, along with hundreds of bands from, well, many college towns.

As Jarnow sums up their debut LP, Ride the Tiger (1986): they surprised with eclectic cover tunes in concert (they never repeated a set list) and on record they captured "the sound of good taste". Gradually, they incorporated noise and feedback over folk, and like the Velvets, veered from pop to assault, high-art to novelty, Tin Pan Alley to thrash, masterfully. The past decade, their albums have edged into be-bop, jazz, and sultrier, more sullen moods. Jarnow skims over the first half of their discography on labels smaller than Matador, and a reader who is not a listener may wonder why they stand out sturdily on record and slyly on stage as a nimble, witty trio, infatuated with their obsession.

While critical acclaim slowly grew, as with many indie rockers, they could not cash in plaudits for a paycheck. Typically and for a long time, music brought in less than half Kaplan and Hubley's income, as they did the odd jobs in the music business and labored as part-time copy editors of often wretched pulp fiction. One song, "Mushroom Cloud of Hiss", typifies the way Kaplan's mind works under whatever circumstances it found inspiration from a series of "bawdy old Western tales". Kaplan's sleepy attempt to correct a mangled manuscript's phrase: "The mushroon cloud of hiss penis." A leading Spin critic sniffed of their first full-length that it was music to copy-edit by, an inside joke, I suppose, for a band whose sense of humor and comedic flair receives welcome attention here.

All the same, despite the origin of their often misspelled and garbled name from a typically hapless Mets Spanish-speaking fielder's call for "I've got it," the mild-mannered, thoughtful, erudite, and wryly funny band's private life gains no sustained exposure. The three keep their distance from even their allies, among their audiences and the critics. Jarnow notes when Kaplan and Hubley were in their forties, finally making a living at music, they "built a public career on the notion of a priori love--an engine hidden from view, its only evidence every record they ever released".

One gains less sense over more than three-hundred pages of narrative how the band comes across in concert with their rotating wheel of fortune to pick songs--or how the loud-soft dynamics the band excels in engage their audiences as much as themselves in unpredictable shifts. Kaplan's ability, as with Lou Reed, to overlap lead and backing lines on guitar, Hubley's mingling of delicacy and bash, and McNew's harmonies and textures receive nods, but these skills merit applause and deeper analysis. Their confident forays into more hushed dynamics and retro-pop sensibilities, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (1997), And then nothing turned inside-out (2000), and I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (another sports phrase, 2006) receive limited song-by-song notice, but overall, the emphasis on the culture Yo La Tengo thrives in rather than the contexts their own music contributes constitutes the main content.

Fans will not need a reminder of why their music matters, but newcomers may supplement this with the albums themselves. They provide an understanding of why this band not only covered (at their debut Hanukkah charity concert series at Maxwell's in 2001, they played 123 songs over eight nights) "We're An American Band" but epitomizes it in typically good-natured yet encyclopedic fashion. This fits their status as between "tumble" and "logic" on stage and in whatever comprises the rest of their life, if there is one beyond soda pop, TV jingles, comedy reruns, the diamond, or platters of ribs.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Great career bio with some curious gaps Aug. 20 2012
By Hotrodimus - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jesse Jarnow's Yo La Tengo bio is a great read for longtime fans like me who have really struggled with a lack of information on "The Story of Yo La Tango," between the band members' storied shyness and the general lack of media coverage throughout their career. It's also interesting how YLT's lifecycle has almost perfectly followed the initial rise of the American Underground movement that later turned into the heyday of Indie Rock, then later mutated into the Pitchfork-led "Indie" monoculture that persists to this day, with YLT as elder statesmen. Jarnow is to be commended for not only recognizing this trend, but accurately portraying the cultural shift and the band's increasingly complex place and figurehood within the "Indie" monoculture - something that most rock writers are just starting to recognize and incorporate into books.

The one downside about the book is that there's hardly any insight into the conception, writing, recording, inspiration, etc. of the band's studio albums. If you blink you'll miss "may I sing with me" entirely. YLT are an obsessive record nerd's band, and yet you're not really going to find any behind the scenes info, insight into lyrics or song titles, studio stories, that aren't already known or available. Considering that the band members themselves are listed as primary references, I was surprised to see that almost all of the meagre content in this regard was familiar to me from the Roger Moutenot "Tape Op" interview and a few other sources. There's no talk about gear (considering YLT are a pedal, obscure drum machine and organ and amplifier-fueled band) at all. I was really hoping for a peek behind the curtain of the band's wonderful albums, and there's just basically nothing in this regard on a per-album basis other than "They convened in Nashville to record the new record. They enjoyed barbecue. A few months later, the album was released to mediocre sales."

Still, there's a lot of ground to cover and it's a good biographical overview of the many people involved in the story.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
finally! June 8 2012
By redone - Published on
Format: Paperback
the title says it all! this has been a long time coming. being a fan since I was a tween - this sheds a nice light on the scene that has influenced my entire life. it is so great to read all the details and stories from such a vast array of people that were so closely involved with the band from day 1.

jarnow did his research and you can clearly tell that he put his heart and soul into this publication. he is clearly a fan and made sure to cover all bases without being overwhelming and too wordy. he sheds a nice light on each album and release, their touring and self promotion. the coverage and research that went into Hoboken alone is worth the read!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Semi-Big Day Coming July 24 2013
By Kraig Kemp - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
First off, I have all of Yo La Tengo's albums and have seen them live. I listen to them almost daily. I feel this book is for fans only. Even as a fan, I longed for a more in-depth look at their lives. Don't get me wrong, there are some interesting facts and some insight into where they came from and their journey. Overall, however, I just feel a lot of it was really boring. Hey, if someone wrote a book about my life and described my job as it progressed on a monthly basis for 25 years it would be a snooze fest. I just would like a bit more passion to come across on the page. It is written well, but about a quarter way through the book I just became bored. I read a lot of biographies, especially rock band/musician biographies. This one is written better than many, but it is not as interesting as most I have read. If you like Yo La Tengo a lot, it might be worth it. If you're just getting into them, I would just enjoy their music.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A good, in-depth look at a great band Feb. 18 2013
By H. Stilley - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was only a minor Yo La Tengo fan before I read the book. I spent a few days reading the book in the summer while simultaneously listening to the corresponding albums as they were being described in the book. Jarnow goes into extreme depth with the stories behind every album. The book flows well while also chronicling some of the other big events in music as the Yo La Tengo stories unfold. Their music really doesn't sound the same anymore.

A must-read for any Yo La Tengo fan.