Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen

by Bill Bentley

Rock & Roll Books

Rock & Roll Books

There's a book I've hauled around since college called Defining Moments in Music, a chronological history of Western music told through hundreds of short entries written by dozens of authors. It's informative and intelligently written, but too academic and ugly for my coffee table. Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen deserves that placement.

Here, similarly bite-sized items on rock & roll and its offspring – from the King (Elvis Presley) to the King of Pop (Michael Jackson) – convey the crucial nature of music through passionate tributes that grow the reader's love of auditory thrills. Veteran record man and native Houstonian Bill Bentley states the obvious but never obviously: The Beatles split the musical atom, Bob Dylan authored the Sixties' belief system, Kiss would've been P.T. Barnum's favorite band. His gift for language fuses the images into one comprehensive collage, out of which rises a primal universality.

Compiled from the Smithsonian's call for favorite fan photos – their own or iconic hits – that cull results in little-known and unseen pictures ranging from Nirvana to Bob Marley. The breadth of subjects includes the Austin-centric annotator's loving tributes to Alejandro Escovedo, 13th Floor Elevators, Doug Sahm, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, plus cult essentials like Tom Waits and Fugazi. Make some space on your living room footrest.

Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen

by Bill Bentley
Smithsonian Books, 216 pp., $40

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