cover image On Celestial Music: 
And Other Adventures in Listening

On Celestial Music: And Other Adventures in Listening

Rick Moody. Little, Brown, $15.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-10521-7

In this immensely rich collection of essays on music (all of which have been previously published), novelist Moody (The Ice Storm; The Four Fingers of Death) compares the pleasures we get from literature to the pleasures we get from hearing favorite pieces of music. “Literature, exactly like certain moments in song... wants openness, experiences of consciousness and sensation, and it wants these described in a way that is felicitous and sweet.” Literary effects, he points out, are “like harmonic intervals are like metrical feet are like time signatures are like cycles per second.” Moody ranges widely over different musical styles and musicians, from indie rock darlings Wilco and Jeff Tweedy and the Pogues to Pete Townshend and the Lounge Lizards. In one of the collection’s most tuneful pieces, “Against Cool,” Moody (much like Susan Sontag in her famous essay on camp) evocatively traces the evolution of the meaning of cool from Miles Davis through Kerouac and the beats and the 1960s up until the present day, where he suggests that “cool is spent; I suggest we begin to avoid cool now.” In his essay on the Christian artists Danielson Famile, he observes that they “create something closer to the sonic equivalent of the genuine difficulty of contemporary faith, because they create music that is incredibly ungainly and awkward, as faith is ungainly and awkward, though no less fervent.” Just like a good rock album, these essays were meant to be played loud. (Mar.)