cover image Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair with '50s Pop Music

Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair with '50s Pop Music

Karen Schoemer, . . Free Press, $25 (241pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-7246-9

In an ambitious first book, former Newsweek rock critic Schoemer offers a skittish fusion of memoir and revisionist music history exploring how pop music shapes our values. In 1996, after listening to a retrospective of songs by '50s teen idol Connie Francis, Schoemer set out to understand the music that originally matched her bitterly divorced parents, in order to understand "[w]hat expectation of their youth could have been so great that its disappointment left them so angry." Thus begins an odyssey that takes readers to a musical landscape on the cusp of rebel rockers, sexual revolution and the civil rights movement. Schoemer talks with Pat Boone, Fabian, Georgia Gibbs, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Tommy Sands—and her holy grail, Connie Francis. Meanwhile, she constantly reassesses her critical (and often cynical) sensibility against the undeniable emotional connections evoked by pop songs she'd long dismissed as kitsch. Schoemer is a plucky narrator; she has written an enjoyable text that alternates between beguiling interview set pieces imbued with the author's lucid sociomusical analyses of such curious hits as "Mule Train" and musings on her middle-class, suburban Connecticut upbringing in the 1970s and '80s, and development from rock critic to Rolling Stone scribe, wife and mother. (Feb. 8)