From Publishers Weekly
Taking his title from a song by Joe Simon, novelist, poet and essayist Young (Heaven: Collected Poems, 1956-1990) presents a collection of essays prompted by hearing pieces of music. Some of these "musical memoirs" celebrate various performers-among them John Coltrane, James Brown, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker-but more often the music calls up events in his own life. For example, Rosemary Clooney's recording of "Come On-a My House" leads to an account of a chance meeting with his idol, William Saroyan, one of the composers of the song; Janis Joplin's "Mercedes-Benz" touches off a recollection of his experiences as the owner of one of these cars. Young's exuberant essays are imaginative and lyrical paeans to the magical powers of both language and music.
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Implied by the book's subtitle to be on music, Young's essays are primarily about Young himself. He doesn't write about the likes of John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, and Aretha Franklin from a critic's standpoint but instead effectively conveys the emotional experience evoked by hearing their records. Young uses the tunes as touchstones for autobiographical narratives that tunnel through the social tumults of the 1960s, post office employment, and buying a used Mercedes for $600. Young's stories are particularly affecting on account of his self-deprecating humor, pathos-laden characterizations, and prose style that's rhythmically rich enough to be worthy of the association with his musical idols. One story, about working in a biology laboratory and the experience of wearing the white lab coat around town, revolves around Booker T. and the MG's "Green Onions," then ubiquitous on jukeboxes: "Now I'm forced to realize that I was the one who was green at one end and sprouting at the other," Young recalls. For anyone who uses music as a key to personal reflection, Young's essays are delightful companions. Aaron Cohen