Blues & Chaos: The Music Writings of Robert Palmer
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Dec. 4, 2009
Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmerby Robert Palmer; edited by Anthony DeCurtis
Scribner, 452 pp., $30
When Robert Palmer died in 1997 due to complications of liver disease, the Rolling Stone headline read: "America's Pre-Eminent Music Writer Dead at 52." It was appropriately high tribute to a critic who elevated popular music to serious and academic study. As contributing editor to Rolling Stone in the 1970s and the first chief popular music critic for The New York Times, as well as author of the seminal Deep Blues, Palmer wrote with incomparable authority, his encyclopedic knowledge and dogged devotion to music's roots broiling with haughty humor and inherent understanding not simply technical but aesthetic and personal, as he battled his own demons alongside rock's first generation. Anthony DeCurtis' compilation of Palmer's writings showcases his critical breadth, from blues and jazz to punk's first screeds and the earliest considerations of "World Music," all interconnected and fraught with intellectual vigor. What shines most is the diversity of Palmer's writing style, as rich as his subjects and evoked in unparalleled studies of Ornette Coleman, Richard Hell, and Tom Verlaine and uncompromising portraits like "The Devil and Jerry Lee Lewis." Like the critic himself, Blues & Chaos is a complex collection in pursuit of histories endlessly entangled in the present and always pushing for the possibilities of the future.