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Patrick Masterson writesCHIRP Radio Summer Reading List 2022: Patrick Masterson

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

Because this is CHIRP, I’ve elected to list music-related books below in the event that you’re starved of something to page through this summer. For those on a budget, I’ve also noted which among them can be found at a Chicago Public Library location near you. Get a card if you can’t get your own copy and get familiar.

Pop Stars, Hardcore Heroes, and House Legends: 10 Years of Chicago Reader Music Features by Leor Galil

BUY: Chicago Reader

Chicago’s only remaining full-time music journalist and one-time third-best pizza in the city compiled some of his reporting into a handy little book as the Reader explored novel ways to fundraise during its long, arduous (but now, thankfully, complete) conversion to nonprofit status. Anyone claiming to be a fan of Chicago music but not reading Galil’s features is either lying or fresh off the bus from Dubuque, but either way, reportage on stories ranging from Angel Olsen to Angel Bat Dawid and Frankie Knuckles to footwork are included herein to help you catch up. Aside from Leor’s effortlessly digestible prose, it also doubles as a nice snapshot of the city’s sonic life during the 2010s. You’ll have to pick up a copy of this one from the Reader directly, but it’s worth it to support one of the city’s finest alt-media institutions (after CHIRP, of course).


The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper

BUY: | Chicago Public Library

Another Reader vet whose editorial work also includes stints at Rookie, Pitchfork and MTV News, Hopper is well known beyond the Windy City and her subjects run the gamut from Coachella dispatches to one of my favorite essays from an old Punk Planet about the lack of female voice in emo, which forever sullied Cursive for me. (“There’s always Joan of Arc,” she wrote in my signed copy from a Quimby’s reading.) Note that while the hefty, brightly colored, 400-page 2021 second edition from FSG is also available at CPL, I’m recommending the more manageable, muted 2015 original from Featherproof for the sake of your beach reading.


Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture by Jace Clayton

BUY: | Chicago Public Library

Better known as Dutty Artz co-founder DJ /rupture and famous in the blogosphere’s ascendant years for Mudd Up!, you might come to Clayton’s globe-hopping ruminations thinking they’ll feel heavy, that you’ll be lost in a miasma of unfamiliar names, styles and cultures. Not so; mixed with all the deftness of the Gold Teeth Thief mixtape that originally put his name on the map, Jace gives you an Anthony Bourdain-style glimpse into global music culture and how technology is changing it peppered by his own experiences chasing down artists or lugging vinyl around foreign lands. You’ll read it so fast, a library renewal won’t be necessary.


Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip-Hop by Lance Scott Walker

BUY: | Chicago Public Library

In stark contrast to every other book on here, you can feel the heft of Houston’s oppressive summer heat weighing down Lance Scott Walker’s tome on the origins of its hip-hop scene as told by those who were there. Walker, a Houston native, had tried this before with 2013’s Houston Rap, but that one’s proven harder to get over the years. Plus, this book is longer at some 350 pages, most of which are chock full of text. Some names (Geto Boys, Project Pat, Chamillionaire) might ring familiar, but it’s his Q&As with lesser known characters that really gives this its local flavor. Easy to break up between pool parties, you nevertheless might find yourself using the maximum amount of library renewals. (It’s 15 unless someone else places a hold behind you. Ask me how I know.)


Freedom, Rhythm & Sound: Revolutionary Jazz Cover Art 1965-83 by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker

BUY: | Chicago Public Library

Summer can sometimes be so hot, you don’t really want to read anything, just flip pages and absorb some culture passively to get through the days. I get it; so does Soul Jazz. That’s what coffee table books are for, after all, and the ever-reliable UK label’s assortment is as well curated as you’ll get on that front. Take your pick from this one, Cuba, Dancehall or Reggae Soundsystem because they’re all good for what they are—just don’t expect much contextual analysis of the artists and records selected beyond general scene-setting intros like the one from BBC DJ Peterson, the one major drawback of projects like these.


My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music Compendium by Steve Krakow

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Then there is the comic, which straddles the line between purely visual art and the glory of the written word. I’m not a comics guy, frankly—Pipe Garfield is about all I keep up with these days—but Steve Krakow aka Plastic Crimewave’s ink drawings of obscure Chicago acts, which were collected by Featherproof in 2015 and which he still diligently contributes to the Reader to this day, remain an essential education for cratediggers and those looking to stretch their local music legs. Give your brain a break without totally shutting it off. 


Listen to This by Alex Ross

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Though there’s a convincing argument to be made that his extensive survey of 20th century music in The Rest Is Noise is more laudable for the education it provides, New Yorker critic Alex Ross’ second book of features and essays is equally valuable for how much ground it covers in its more approachable format. The best part about Ross, in either case, is his writing; indeed, the first words of Listen to This in the preface are, “Writing about music isn’t especially difficult,” and he sure makes it seem that way whether you’re reading him on his home turf of classical music about Schubert or on the latest Björk record. Great writing from a great writer.


God Rock, Inc.: The Business of Niche Music by Andrew Mall

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Given it was written by a professor of ethnomusicology at Northeastern in Boston (and, full discretion since we’re not above nepotism here, a CHIRP founding member who was in the original 2010 DJ starting lineup) and sections were rinsed by peer review, you might think a book about the business of the Christian music industry called God Rock, Inc. would come at you drier than a sandbar. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Though he doesn’t dumb it all the way down for a general audience, Mall holds the worst proclivities of academic overwriting at bay for an enlightening experience on how “Christian” even came to be a genre in the first place. Trust me: You have no idea Amy Grant was in the game for so long. 


Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78 rpm Records by Amanda Petrusich

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

Paste and Pitchfork alumnus Petrusich had already proven herself as a book writer with her 33 1/3 entry on Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and a travelogue marinating on American music with It Still Moves, but Do Not Sell at Any Price digs deeper in a different way to root out the maniacs who hoard shelves full of ancient shellac. As much about the people populating this peculiar world as it is about the history and artists that formed it, Petrusich does a fine job shedding light (but not too much) on the 78 subculture.


What's Good: Notes on Rap and Language by Daniel Levin Becker

Buy: | Chicago Public Library

I’m not just recommending this because I’m in it (though to be clear, I am also doing that), I’m also recommending it because it’s a book for anyone interested in language—and if you came here to read about reading, my assumption is you qualify. Written by an Oulipo member and pedantically ripping apart everything from the Notorious B.I.G.’s paraprosdokians to Pusha T’s signifying ornaments, Levin Becker’s affable homage to hip-hop linguistics is worth a flip through in any season, especially the one you’re in as you read this.


Keep an eye out for more book recommendations coming soon!

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Topics: chirp summer reading list 2022

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