Books for Christmas: Music: popular - Missing several beats with the critics who believe in yesterday

IF YOU credit one of the many myths to come out of New Orleans, it's just 100 years since Buddy Bolden and his pals first played what we might label "jazz". Another legend (spread by critics) claims that, after an elastically-defined Golden Age, things have gone downhill ever since. Here, Philip Larkin became the most notorious decline-and-fall merchant; the scattered jazz pieces collected in Reference Back (Univ. of Hull Press, pounds 19.95) showcase his entertaining grumpiness about post- Bop modernism, and his loving appreciation of the music it replaced.

"Declinism" can crop up in the strangest places. With tongue only partly located in cheek, the singer-composer Joe Jackson asserts that, after the ragtime virtuosi of the 1900s, "it's possible to see the whole history of popular music in the 20th century as one of steady decline". Jackson first emerged in the mixed-up aftermath of Punk as a restless, adventurous songwriter - for which he caught "some fairly heavy flak" from fundamentalist critics, as the indispensable, better-than-ever second edition of Rock: The Rough Guide (Penguin, pounds 17.99) reminds us. His winning memoir of a musical apprenticeship, A Cure for Gravity (Anchor, pounds 9.99), disproves his own thesis with its shrewdness and sensitivity. This is one of the finest personal accounts of pop life in Britain.

No one could deny the conspicuous decline of Elvis Aaron Presley. In Last Train to Memphis, Peter Guralnick took the kid from Tupelo to the peak of his late-Fifties fame; now Careless Love (Little, Brown, pounds 19.99) traces the King's pitiable descent, or slo-mo suicide. But this gripping biography reaches back beyond all cheap hindsight. It portrays a generous, gifted soul wrecked by the most toxic strains of celebrity ever to invade an innocent host.

Presley, the white boy who sounded black, burned fast and died young. Veteran blues maestro John Lee Hooker has wryly watched his music plundered and packaged for half a century and more. In Boogie Man (Viking, pounds 17.99), Charles Shaar Murray puts this dogged odyssey into the wider frame of "the American 20th century", just as he did so well with Jimi Hendrix in Crosstown Traffic. Hooker, very much alive, offers more of an elusive, moving target, but Murray still manages to pin down both the man and the history.

James Miller's Almost Grown: the rise of rock (Heinemann, pounds 12.99) confidently tells the story of the 30 years that separate Wynonie Harris's recording of "Good Rockin' Tonight" in 1947 and the twin calamities (so Miller thinks) of Presley's death and the Sex Pistols' birth. Yes, declinism again: it all went pear-shaped after Punk, argues the learned professor. Readable, provocative, cleverly divided into chapters that narrate the turning-points of pop, Almost Grown remains a major work in the field even if you reject its doomy Larkin-esque valedictions (with Johnny Rotten playing the role of Charlie Parker).

It's not quite so much of a landmark, though, as Gary Giddins's magnificent collection of essays Visions of Jazz: the first century (Oxford, pounds 25). In 600-plus masterly pages, Giddins (of the Village Voice) rebuts the rhetoric of the Golden Age via superb evocations of figures as disparate in culture and style as Jelly Roll Morton and Cassandra Wilson. This is great critical writing, by whatever lofty yardstick you wish to invoke. Neil Tesser's Playboy Guide to Jazz (Bloomsbury, pounds 14.99) can hardly compete for eloquence, but its explanatory discographies do a most valuable, reader-friendly job.

There's even a sense of vanished idyll about Dave Haslam's lively history of pop culture in Manchester, England (Fourth Estate, pounds 12.99). Haslam, once a DJ at the Hacienda, knows his Manc bands inside out. So I believe him when he names Jimmy Savile as a key player on the Sixties scene. Yet Haslam ends, after the Happy Mondays era, with unhappy Saturdays of mayhem in the city's clubs. Once again, a story of decline and fall - though not one applicable to The Fall, a band he still reveres.

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us