As a teenager in the 1970's, I was never a Beatles fan (I was more into the Stones), but some of John Lennon's post-Beatles music, such as "Mother" and "Imagine", made such a strong impression on me because they sounded like they were coming right out of his very personal inner self. But I was a bit too young then to know exactly what was going on politically. This book filled me in with the information on the cultural and political background in America that Lennon walks into at the time and vividly depicts how he lived through the period and influenced many people (to the point that Nixon was afraid of him). Sure, as a former Beatle, it was probably easier than anyone to make a difference in the world, but he didn't have to do any of the things he did. His attempts to get involved and make a difference even in the local community levels appeared sincere and are consistent with his music. I am glad someone wrote a book about this period of Lennon's life.
Before listening to "How Music Works", based on what I knew about his music (his Talking Heads days anyway; my favorite album was "Remain in Light"), I thought to myself: does he mean "How Modern Pop Music Works"? But after listening to it, I now think that the title is appropriate, at least up to the current period.
This book covers a wide range of topics, including: how the historical, social, and technological environment shaped the type of music; what he was feeling/thinking while going through the experience of making music with Talking Heads in the lower east side of New York City in the 70s and 80s; how different cultures and people influenced his music; the financial aspect of making music in the current music production environment, and more. I can tell that he is extremely well read, but his interpretation of cultural/social aspects of music is unique, I think. He is also a very good writer. I really enjoyed this book.
Honestly, I didn't know who Dave Van Ronk was until I listened to this book. I got this book because I was interested in learning about the 1960's music scene in Greenwich Village. The book taught me much more than what I had expected. Dave Van Ronk is hilarious and honest in his depictions of the period. I was fascinated by the period, disillusioned a little bit but overall really enjoyed the journey through his experience. I always thought Bob Dylan was an elusive character, but Van Ronk's description of him perfectly explained why this was the case. Greenwich Village in the late '50s and early '60s was such a unique place/time - so many of the musicians who flocked in the area influenced each other. Sure, Dylan had a talent, but he would never have emerged as he did without the unique window of space/time described in this book. I also learned what it was like to be a musician trying to be himself. Thank you, Dave Van Ronk. Thank you, Elijah Wald. I recently passed through the neighborhood and felt so sad that many of the cafes/bars described in the book were gone and replaced by chain pharmacies and banks...