“The language flies away, only gesturing at communication…”

But once a chapter, Mr. Marcus leaves his fellow critics behind and lets loose with what you might call a solo: He describes the song in question, visualizes it (“you try to make a narrative out of it all, to see the music”), and, like a guitarist losing himself trancelike in his solo, lives within it, becomes it. Very few critics attempt this stuff, and it’s the high point of each chapter. Now—it’s very now—the language flies away, only gesturing at communication. Mr. Marcus is riffing: a guitar solo is “a guitar, more than a guitarist, replacing the story you’ve heard with one you haven’t”; suddenly “this is not just a song’; at the climax, “what was simply a song… is now a cauldron, and in that cauldron all songs, the band’s songs, every song they’ve ever heard, every song that has ever been played, the impulse to make sound, the desire to sing and play itself, is boiling over.” Encore!

Tripping through time to discover what connects Buddy Holly, Beyoncé, Ben E. King and the Sex Pistols, by Wesley Stace, Wall Street Journal


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