BOOK

Joyful Noise

by Eric Liebetrau
On Celestial Music: And Other Adventures in Listening
By Rick Moody
Back Bay, 448 pages, $15.99
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Moody reserves his highest praise for “Some Propositions Concerning the Lounge Lizards,” in which he muses on the genius of bandleader John Lurie. Moody recalls his favorite concert ever, a forty-five-minute Lounge Lizards show at Lincoln Center in 1992, and Lurie, the band’s saxophonist and composer, responds in a phone call with his own memories: “There was so much love and strength. It was something that, while we were playing, could absolutely not be denied ... there was a mounting ecstasy and power that could not be stopped.”

Inventiveness, rebellion, and self-destruction — themes that persist throughout the collection — also define the final essays, illuminating not only the ecstasy of music, but some of the agony that comes with it. “The Problem of Impairment” focuses on the Pogues and their disheveled frontman Shane MacGowan. Moody takes this subject as an opportunity to discuss the intersection of drugs and music, and the complicated notion that many artists have produced their best work while high: “The problem with impairment ... is: can you love the artist despite what he or she has become? Or must you love them in the process of unbecoming? Can you bear witness to impairment without participating in it? Is it possible to love the drunk and hate the drink? Recognizing the infirmity, can you love an artist nonetheless?”

Only occasionally does Moody’s zeal tip toward excess, and most readers will welcome the author’s ardor and encyclopedic knowledge. In this era of holier-than-thou music criticism, it’s refreshing to find passion, intelligence, and unrestrained joy all in one package. Moody knows his stuff, and he makes readers want to know it, too; his rapturous dissections of popular music and its most intriguing practitioners will have music junkies dusting off their old vinyl or firing up Spotify to satisfy their cravings.


Eric Liebetrau is the managing editor and nonfiction editor of Kirkus Reviews, and writes for several other national publications.

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