From Publishers Weekly
In an ambitious first book, former Newsweek rock critic Schoemer offers a skittish fusion of memoir and revisionist music history exploring how pop music shapes our values. In 1996, after listening to a retrospective of songs by '50s teen idol Connie Francis, Schoemer set out to understand the music that originally matched her bitterly divorced parents, in order to understand "[w]hat expectation of their youth could have been so great that its disappointment left them so angry." Thus begins an odyssey that takes readers to a musical landscape on the cusp of rebel rockers, sexual revolution and the civil rights movement. Schoemer talks with Pat Boone, Fabian, Georgia Gibbs, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Tommy Sands—and her holy grail, Connie Francis. Meanwhile, she constantly reassesses her critical (and often cynical) sensibility against the undeniable emotional connections evoked by pop songs she'd long dismissed as kitsch. Schoemer is a plucky narrator; she has written an enjoyable text that alternates between beguiling interview set pieces imbued with the author's lucid sociomusical analyses of such curious hits as "Mule Train" and musings on her middle-class, suburban Connecticut upbringing in the 1970s and '80s, and development from rock critic to Rolling Stone scribe, wife and mother.
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*Starred Review* This is no conventional music history. Although Schoemer, Newsweek's former chief pop-music critic, spends considerable time recounting the lives and careers of seven often overlooked and, in her opinion, underappreciated fifties pop icons--Patti Page, Frankie Laine, Georgia Gibbs, Tommy Sands, Fabian, Pat Boone, and Connie Francis--she spends much more examining her fascination with these performers, whose careers were already in eclipse when the Beatles led the British pop-music invasion. Schoemer admits that when she began research for the book, she shared the conventional belief that these singers were square, uptight, utterly conventional representatives of the conformist era in which they flourished. Worse, their careers seemed to have been based entirely on selling shallow, silly, emotionally dishonest new songs and homogenized covers of the rougher, more authentic work of such black performers as Little Richard, Etta James, and Big Mama Thornton. Over the course of the book, Schoemer depicts a journey to deeper understanding of the era, the music, and herself. What makes her intellectual trip especially exciting is her willingness throughout the book to explore issues both personal and professional that most critics are terrified to confront, most notable among them the thin line that divides interest from obsession and the observation that all music criticism, indeed all criticism, is subjective and autobiographical. Jack Helbig
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