It’s hard naming favourite music writers, like being forced to pick a favourite band I guess. You don’t always want to listen to The Beatles or much as Kendrick Lamar might take your fancy you can’t just listen to only that. It’s the same with great writers – you get different things from different people.
In this series I have already written about Sylvie Simmons and Greil Marcus – and they are two of my favourite music writers, but it goes beyond just music writing with both of them – in that they’ve written around the subjects of music, as well as writing very brilliantly about music. They’ve written creative non-fiction and creative fiction, music and non-music.
And the same is true with Nik Cohn.
Just check out this article – now a year old – from Cohn. Great writer. Great writing.
He’s one of my favourites. Always has been. And that amazing new/ish piece of writing looks back.
His book, Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom has been reissued (again). Written in 1969 it was the first definitive account of rock’n’roll – discussing, in past tense, music up to and including 1968.
There’s a wonderful rhythm to his words, a strut, there’s sweat and sex and there’s craft – all the things you want and expect from good rock’n’roll. Great music writing should take you there – taking you to the music, or back to the music, but while you’re reading it the writing takes the place, for those moments at least, of the music. It is the music – while you’re reading it.
And Cohn’s writing has that vibrancy – every time.
The article I’ve linked to above is worth your time – that’s your great piece of music writing for today. Enjoy it – as Cohn plugs the re-release of his book, sure, but does so much more than just that…
But Cohn was no one-hit-wonder. His 1976 feature, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night (click there to read the full article) was the trigger for the movie Saturday Night Fever.
He has written novels, including the hilarious satire, I Am Still The Greatest Says Johnny Angelo (written before Awopbop, when Cohn was a teenager) and his 2005 book, Triksta: Life and Death and New Orleans Rap is another great piece of writing, a travelogue as much as a music/culture book, proof though that he has kept his mind musically sharp and open. Even the recent novella-sized The Noise From The Streets (a Kindle Single) has everything great that I love about Cohn’s writing wrapped up in it. A good entry point, even.
There are plenty of great Cohn books and articles but Awopbopaloobop still reads beautifully. It’s fun – and funny and exhilarating, lively, enticing, quite magical in fact. You curl up with it and want to read it, as if a novel, and in one sitting. I’ve returned to this more than any other music book. So for that fact alone he belongs here as a part of this ongoing list of authors I admire.