At the first Best Music Writing 2011 reading at powerHouse Arena last night — another happens at Housing Works Café tomorrow night — eight contributors addressed the crowd. Kelefa Sanneh analyzed hip-hop lyrics; Dave Tompkins recounted his surreal visit to a National Security Agency cryptology symposium, in connection with his history of the Vocoder, How to Wreck a Nice Beach; Lauren Puchowski described the difficult life of a Washington, DC wedding singer in a plug-in-your-iPod age; Franklin Bruno spoke in praise of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the celebrated Nashville songwriting team; Wendy Lesser recalled her encounter with Georg Friedrich Haas's in-the-dark Third Quartet; Nitsuh Abebe, whose BMW piece is on CocoRosie, read aloud from a recent review of Lou Reed and Metallica's Wedekind album; Sasha Frere-Jones, whose BMW piece is on Sade, explored a curious nineteen-seventies anthology of anxious ruminations on pop music and youth; and Vanessa Grigoriadis gave a wryly admiring account of her meetings with Lady Gaga. Jeremy Denk was also scheduled to appear, but rehearsals with the Chicago Symphony understandably took precedence.
I don't know of any other venue where non-academic music writers from so many different genres can intermingle — and that's why the Best Music Writing series is so valuable. At the end of the evening, Daphne Carr, who has served as series editor since 2006, made the ostensibly sad announcement that Da Capo Press has decided to cease publication of the book. This is not the end, though. Daphne will carry on, re-launching Best Music Writing as the flagship title of what she describes as a "new, music-writing-focused press." A committee of ten writers will assist her in culling pieces for the book, extending its already wide geographical and stylistic reach. She is seeking to raise $30,000. Anyone who gives $15 or more will receive a copy of the 2012 edition. There are more details at Daphne's blog. I urge interested readers to support the project. Best Music Writing has become a significant institution in the crisis-ridden world of music criticism, and it should go on.