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Josh Friedberg: Music Historian's Corner writesCHIRP Radio Summer Reading List 2022: Josh Friedberg

From July through September, CHIRP Radio is sharing reading recommendations from its DJs and volunteers. Up next is a list from CHIRP volunteer Josh Friedberg.

Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music by George Lipsitz

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

George Lipsitz is one of the most important and insightful American cultural historians of the last few decades, known for writing such books as The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. His work on music does a better job than most at incorporating academic concepts and terminology into useful and accessible essays and chapters. This 2007 book looks primarily at music movements and moments from the 1990s and 2000s. I’ve read more than half of the book so far, and I appreciate Lipsitz’s wide range of musical subject matter and expertise. The book is very theoretically sophisticated, but very much worth reading for anyone interested in pop, hip hop, jazz, EDM, salsa, and other forms and their connections to the wider world.


The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

I’m taking a class on this book, and while I’m struggling with the discipline of doing what Cameron calls morning pages daily, I am finding reading this 1992 classic and doing its exercises beneficial. Cameron believes creativity involves play and a sense of giving back to whatever you think of as God (she uses the acronym Good Orderly Direction at one point). The weekly artist’s dates and the different exercises are helping me tap into blocked parts of me when it comes to creativity, including for my writing.


Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound by Daphne A. Brooks

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

I had read a few of American Studies scholar Daphne A. Brooks’s published articles before, but this book is a far more ambitious undertaking. This 2021 tome is a deeply researched, richly theory-driven account of archival work by and/or about Black women musicians, novelists, critics, and journalists. It might seem jargonistic for some readers, but the book is nonetheless brilliant. I am more than halfway through and look forward to this book continuing to make my head spin with its ideas.


Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic: A Comedian’s Guide to Life on the Spectrum by Michael McCreary

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Canadian comedian Michael McCreary’s endearing 2019 memoir is one of the funnier and more poignant texts I’ll read this year. McCreary writes about navigating friendships, school, the comedy circuit, and different social challenges with exceptional wit and intelligence. The memoirist Michelle Tea has sometimes decried the form of memoir as narcissistic, but McCreary’s book feels necessary for a lot of people who struggle to understand autism and other forms of neurodiversity. (And while I’m here, you might want to check out my TEDx talk on autism and creativity...)


All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Though I didn’t find this 2000 text as revelatory as some of the late cultural critic bell hooks’s more scholarly work in books like Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992), rereading All about Love recently did help affirm my belief in hooks’s brilliance. In a more accessible way than some of hooks’s cultural criticism, this book is a useful tool for redefining love in a society where real love is often undervalued and pop cultural depictions of love skew perceptions of what love is. hooks's defining love in terms of actions nurturing others’ spiritual growth is powerful, as are arguments about love and abuse. Very worth reading.


Blues People: Negro Music in White America by Amiri Baraka and LeRoi Jones

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

I read this book in 2011, and frankly I hated it. I found it essentialist, primitivist, anti-Semitic, and free of much evidence to support Baraka’s controversial arguments. I’ve since realized the importance and influence of this 1963 book, regardless of my assessment of it, and I am looking forward to rereading it. Seeing this book’s influence on the work of cultural critics I appreciate, including Nelson George and Mark Anthony Neal, has made me curious to come back to it. Baraka’s stature as a poet, playwright, and cultural critic may gain traction in my mind when rereading this book. Then again, Ralph Ellison’s legendary acerbic review of Blues People may prove just as insightful to me as it did then. We shall see.


Keep an eye out for more book recommendations coming soon!

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