Holding the Note: Profiles in Popular Music

Knopf. May 2023. 304p. ISBN 9781400043613. $30. MUSIC
New Yorker editor and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Remnick (Lenin’s Tomb) comments on musical personalities, many of whom he saw perform and interviewed during the later stages of their careers. Structured in a conversational style, the book touches on artists like Leonard Cohen, Aretha Franklin, Buddy Guy, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Mavis Staples, Bruce Springsteen, Pavarotti, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith. Remnick ruminates about the connections and similarities among many of his subjects—depression and Dylan affected Cohen; Franklin’s preacher father’s hardships shadowed her; and Guy influenced Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters. Springsteen, a troubadour of the United States’ forgotten class, is fit but self-conscious about his earned wealth; Pavarotti often took time off for weight-loss regimens; and Dylan and Smith remain mutual supporters. Remnick also contends that Richards eventually lost creativity, although not his performative skills; that McCartney epitomizes the Beatles’ inventiveness with melodies and inside jokes; and that Staples meshed with Dylan and Franklin.
VERDICT General readers might best savor this anthology of articles, a tribute to the resilience of maturing music performers, by perusing them one by one.
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