Book Reviews

What I’m Reading: July 2015

Of Baseball and Brill Building; How baseball took hold of New York…and how a building built the New York music scene in the ’60s.

The Giants of the Polo Grounds by Noel Hynd This 1989 volume traces the entire saga of the New York Giants baseball team from their 1880s origin right up to their sad 1957 departure from the Big Apple. Normally one would expect this type of chronology to be a dry tombe bogged down by our modern day obsession with the “numbers” of the game- happily this is not the case as Hynd literally brings to life an epic saga of hope, despair, money-grubbing, booze-hounding and good old basic baseball- played in the daytime on a patch of green on Manhattan’s Emerald Isle. Hynd has a way with words and he has weaved a wonderful drama atop the bare bones of each years statistics as we march on through time viewing the details of the lives of Mutrie, Ward,McGraw, Mathewson, Hubbell, Terry, Ott, Mays and Durocher. By concentrating on this definitive New York story Hynd has written one of the more important baseball volumes ever. Where Ken Burns seemed to be obsessed with a certain personal strain for each of his narratives Hynd has managed to retain the core essence of baseball- the game itself- as the cornerstone for each tale. A joyous book, not just for baseball lovers, but people who just love a good book!

Always Magic In the Air by Ken Emerson
Modern pop music owes a great deal of debt to the Midtown New York area that incorporates the Brill Building. Nearby by the Brill Building is another building at 1650 Broadway. Housed in these building during the 1950s and 1960’s were the composers of many of the standard pop classics that continue to serve as the cornerstone for Oldies and Classic Rock radio stations. The grand-daddios of the Brill Building were Lieber and Stoller two hip cats who essentially ushered in the rock era with ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in the mid-50s. Lieber and Stoller established the songwriting composing team charicature (ie. a piano, a desk and 2 people vocalizing as they create a #1 song) and they were soon followed by the enduring teams of Bacharach/David…Goffin/King…Mann/Weil…Barry/Greenwhich…..etal.
Author Emerson presents a meticulous chronology that is full of vibrancy and a joy to read. Emerson doesn’t bog the reader down with too many personal details about the principals and sticks to the core story of how the craft of songwriting of that era seemed to capture the magic of the socio-politcal mood that defined the ’50s and’60s. These composers were bright, aware people who used the template of popular song to communicate how and what they felt…..many of these songs are not complicated and were produced (many by the eccentric Phil Spector) in a simple high quality manner that has allowed them to be re-embraced in the digital age.
Like a perfect martini Emerson has captured their story and serves it up without comment, allowing us to digest at our leisure.