THE WORDS OF EVERY SONG
By Liz Moore
Broadway, 320 pages, $12.95
The Words of Every Song comprises 14 linked, coincidence-laden stories about people in and around New York’s pop-music world—almost half of them female, for once—by a 2005 Barnard graduate whose lizmooremusic.com invites the visitor to stream 12 of her literate folk-rock songs. Those seeking insight into the music business should proceed forthwith to Jen Trynin’s memoir, Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be (2006)—it’s strictly 90’s, but Ms. Trynin has been there and gets it. Liz Moore has been nearby and doesn’t.
The corporate environment Ms. Moore describes is untouched by the economic crises and paranoid malaise of the downloading age—is in fact so stable that according to the omniscient narrator, a shallow 26-year-old A&R man is destined to remain at the same implausible major label for a long, lucrative career. The label’s big star is an implausible contemporary hybrid of Tom Petty and Dave Matthews, or perhaps a male Sheryl Crow. These have to be guesses because, unforgivably, this music book is almost devoid of musical description. Note the title: Words are Ms. Moore’s métier.
Not that there are no musical insights—Ms. Moore clearly retains vivid memories of adolescence, and within their sensitive limits her accounts of the inner lives of fans are both touching and acute. But what really interests her is what interests most literate folk-rockers: romantic vicissitude. Nine of her vignettes are dominated by affairs of the heart, and in three or four others love is the capper or subtext. Moreover, Ms. Moore craves romance per se, not sex-drugs-etc., and she’s so old-fashioned she refuses to distinguish it from marriage, an institution that plays a key role in five stories if you count the one where the young opera singer agonizes over her affair with a married German pop producer far from his hearth and home.
Good for the opera singer, I say—those Europeans and their damn sophistication. Rock ’n’ roll myth and sometimes rock ’n’ roll reality assumes the primacy of instant gratification and fucking around on the road. But for most of its practitioners, especially in these days of lowered expectations, that stuff is harder than it’s supposed to be, and it gets old quick. So the good-hearted star brings his wife and babies on tour. The manipulative bisexual up-and-comer eats herself sick after her male New Age lover dumps her and is then solaced by the female label secretary she’d cast aside. One sideman mourns the high school sweetheart he’s helped drive to suicide, while another, haunted by taking the virginity of a young fan who happens to be the long-lost daughter of an engineer mourning his abandoned marriage, makes a futile play for his high school English teacher.
If all this sounds a trifle silly, it is. But it’s also likable, well-rendered, sweet. As someone who’s listened to many more singer-songwriters than any literate person should, I was gratified to encounter one who could translate her wholesome values to the page.
Robert Christgau writes for Rolling Stone, and his Consumer Guide column is published monthly at MSN Music. He’s the author of Grown Up All Wrong (Harvard).