Best Music Writing 2010 and Corn Flakes With John Lennon and Other Tales From a Rock 'n' Roll Life
Edited by Ann Powers
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Dec. 10, 2010
Best Music Writing 2010edited by Ann Powers
Da Capo Press, 352 pp., $16.95 (paper)
Corn Flakes With John Lennon and Other Tales From a Rock 'n' Roll Lifeby Robert Hilburn
Rodale, 296 pp., $24.99
Most people discussing the death of rock criticism are the writers themselves, often logrolling as one another's biggest fans. Editor Ann Powers' thoughtful eye on contemporary rock writers avoids that fancy stepping, and many of the chapters are notably good. Sean Nelson's rambling treatise on sex and 1990s rock & roll "Let's (Not) Get It On" is quite layered with interesting tangents and his still-youthful remembrances. Best Music Writing is clearly not about critique – interviews often escape the ability of a writer to dissect the conversation; Eugene Holley Jr.'s otherwise informative Q&A with Maria Schneider comes off dry and all quote, whereas Raquel Cepeda's visit to a classroom to discuss Rihanna v. Chris Brown dazzles in its many facets. Contrast the many voices with Robert Hilburn's alone. The venerable Los Angeles Times music critic is old-school in every sense of the words. His words in Corn Flakes With John Lennon are velvet strokes to the velour nap of Best Music Writing's youth. It's not just that Hilburn has been there and gotten the tour T-shirt for any band he wanted. Hilburn is the real thing writing about the real thing. His chapter on Ice Cube, N.W.A, and growing up in the South beats all the essays in Best Music Writing, eloquent and curious and evenhanded. Corn Flakes is written memoir-style with sidebar chapters featuring bulleted highlights of favorite concerts, quotes, and opinions he doesn't flinch from stating. Hilburn's a pro, and they don't make 'em like that much any more.