Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is one of the greatest drummers around and with a trainspotter’s knowledge across so many styles and genres of music – as both player/participant and as observer/listener – he’s already proved himself a talented writer across a range of Op-Eds, blogs and his own social media channels, then there was his brilliant memoir which also showcases his zest, his fandom, his ability to consider things critically but to also shut off that faculty and gush when it is required.
So that’s what happens here – in this picture book and history of the influential Soul Train show. Now you can dial up almost any clip on YouTube but when the show ended and – most recently – when presenter/mogul Don Cornelius said his final goodbye to the world in 2012 it seemed like Soul Train was lost, hanging there, so evocative of an era but never quite correctly contextualised.
Here is that contextualisation.
Questlove approaches this with the insight and memoir-hints of a fan who grew up with the show – a towering part of his musical education. But he’s also travelled back through the shows to cross the Ts and tick off lists, to double-check and to build a quite impressive timeline that works through the show’s impressive run from 1971-2006. It’s a coffee table book with pictures that tell their own story, the book can be enjoyed the first time through for simply the images. But the detail that Questlove offers, naming silent dancers, reminding of key moments when gender and race were transcended, or even better, blended and then forgotten is the real achievement here. It’s his words – the words of humble fan and dedicated researcher all in one, the words that rebuild the world that was Soul Train. So many amazing debut performances, comebacks, collaborations and of course the one-hit-wonders too, the has-beens, the forgotten…
It’s all here. And it’s a fabulous read.