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Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever Hardcover – November 8, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A fantastic journey through New York's 1970s underground music scene.
--Booklist (starred review)

"A fascinating book that covers not only the new rock music of the day, but looks back at New York between 1973 and the end of 1977, a time when hip-hop was being birthed, salsa was finding its voice, the avant-garde scene was being heard, and the new loft jazz scene was being born."
-Bob Boilen, NPR's All Songs Considered

"Love Goes to Bldgs on Fire by @WilliamHermes is as fun & insightful as that other 1970s NYC classic, Jonathan Mahler's Bronx is Burning."
--Hugo Lindgren (New York Times Magazine) via Twitter

Although the 1970s appeared to be a musical wasteland (remember Debby Boone?), senior Rolling Stone critic Hermes reminds us forcefully and refreshingly in this breathtaking, panoramic portrait of five years (1973-1977) of that decade that music in New York City was alive, flourishing, and kicking out the jams.
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Hermes's attitude, sharp ear and smart big-picture view turn what could have been a small book into something special. A hip, clever, informative look at an unjustifiably dismissed musical era that will have readers scouring iTunes for the perfect accompanying soundtrack."
--Kirkus Review

Practically every paragraph about music here is also about something else just as fascinating--race, city planning, ambition, drugs, hair-dos. Braiding intricate research with his own teenage memories, Hermes has a bird's eye view of a great city, and has his ear to the ground. (Sarah Vowell)

By simply putting things in chronological order, Will Hermes shows just how astonishing New York City's music was in the 1970s. But he does more than that: he brings depth and discernment and an eye for odd detail, making his book an essential work of cultural history. (Luc Sante)

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire is an almost perfect portrait of New York music culture: specific yet comprehensive, enthusiastic yet objective, and as informed as it is personal. The four-page section of what (seemingly) every interesting person in NYC was doing on the night of the '77 blackout could have been a book unto itself. (Chuck Klosterman)

A must-read for any music lover, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire will no doubt inspire nostalgia in readers who lived through the era, and make those who didn't wish they had. (Liz Raftery, The Boston Globe)

Will Hermes grew up in Queens, but Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, his new book on New York's 1970s music scene, is no nostalgia jag--it's a detailed time-machine trip that zooms in on everyone from the New York Dolls to Steve Reich. (Rolling Stone)

Meticulously researched and engaging. (Eric Been, The Wall Street Journal)

I thought there was nothing left to say about the seventies NYC music scene, but Hermes puts it all together--punk, salsa, jazz, hip-hop, disco--into a portrait of a city in ferment, with new bubbles of innovation popping up all over. (Dan Kois, Vulture Recommends (New York magazine))

Revelatory. (Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A))

There's no mistaking that this book will have a special appeal for people who were exposed to this music when it was developing--mostly those living in New York in the mid-70s--but Hermes does what a good writer does. He makes the rest of us (this writer included) wish we'd been there. (Georgia Young, Paste)

[Hermes] does an expert turn here in his book about the music scene in 1970s New York, moving between musical genres and the human worlds they contained with the light-headed excitement of a bright grad student who's transferring from one subway line to another. (Emily Carter, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

[A] breathtaking, panoramic portrait of five years . . . that music in New York City was alive, flourishing, and kicking out the jams. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

Hermes moves effortlessly back and forth between the various musical genres while interspersing stories of New York at a time when the city was on the verge of financial ruin and moral collapse. (Booklist (starred review))

From the Author

"(4 stars) The first book to trace the parallel ascents of every sound born in the city in that dense time--not just punk, disco and hip-hop but salsa, loft jazz, and downtown minimalism... Rich in details and laced with the author's own musical memories, this tells the sonic tale of a city at a low point that finds its creative peak." 
-Mojo magazine UK

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (November 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865479801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865479807
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #631,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I’ve often felt that in the mainstream rock press mainly ignored the advent of Hip Hop and Disco and overstated the importance of Punk Rock. The cultural significance of Hip Hop and Disco often found little appreciation with writers on popular culture. Only in recent years has Rolling Stone magazine begun to take Hip Hop serious for example, a mere 40 years after its conception.

Will Hermes book does a lot to place Hip Hop and Disco in the proper context. Not only does he seem to have a fond appreciation of the genres, he places them against a political and social economical backdrop that does a lot in explaining why the genres would grow as big as they did. Such insights were long overdue in writings about popular culture.

But the book even goes further than that. Will Hermes restores Bruce Springsteen’s place in the early seventies Rock and Punk scene. Because Springsteen became an act of mega proportions it is easy to forget how close he was to acts like the Tuff Darts, the Dictators and the Heartbreakers early in his career when he played the same joints as the Ramones and Patti Smith.

Hermes also analyses parallel developments in classical music, Jazz and Latin-American music. Minimalism seems to have been a common trend across the board as a response to the dire economical times.

Will Hermes often writes form the perspective as a fan, tells about his own experiences seeing some of the now legendary acts when they were just coming up, thus adding a contagious flavour to the book. But he also seems to have gone to great lengths to familiarize himself with the genres that did not necessarily play an important part in the soundtrack of his youth.

The book portraits a full picture of an era without coming of too academic.
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Format: Hardcover
First, a disclaimer: I knew Will very well back in the mid- to late-70s; we hung out together and went to many concerts. (A whole group of us were regular concert goers.) So my opinion of this book is certainly influenced by that personal connection.

In any case, Will looks at a somewhat arbitrary 5-year period in the 70s (he easily could have extended it a year or two in either direction), and goes into great detail about the NYC music scene during that time. Not only did it see the rise of groups from CBGBs and Max's Kansas City (Talking Heads, Ramones and others), the minimalists (Steve Reich, Philip Glass), performance artists, and the early days of hip-hop, but it also was a key time for the ascendancy of salsa, singer-songwriter rock (Springsteen, Patti Smith, etc.) and jazz. Will was always an eclectic listener, and among my friends, was the one with the most varied record collection. He writes here about all these styles of music - yes, even disco, which sucked - with erudition and feeling.

As I look back on the 70s from a distance, I realize that not only were those formative years for my own musical tastes, but that they did, indeed, have lasting influence. Will points out how much of this gestation was under the radar for years before becoming influential, and highlights a number of forgotten musicians and artists that were essential back in the day. (And there were plenty of non-NYC bands that passed through: the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis - okay, I was a prog rock fan), Santana, the country rock bands like Lynard Skynard and the Marshall Tucker Band, and so much more.)

New York City in the late 70s was an amazing city for concerts.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book as research for a novel I'm writing. I loved the concept of focusing on this pivotal period in music in New York. And while there are some great nuggets buried in these pages, the fragmented narrative made for an unsatisfying read at times. I longed for an overarching narrative, something to tie this collection of anecdotes together. There really are some lovely gems in here, and I appreciated the exhaustive attempt to document this period in music history. But as another reviewer said, the book lacked both structure and depth.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As some other reviewers have noted, the book jumps around quite a bit. Initially, I found it really frustrating how quickly the author would jump from subject to subject, as I frequently wanted more depth than was provided. However, as the book developed, I found that the pacing of the book really helped reinforce the author's viewpoint of what these times were like, and all of the interesting acts competing for a young man's attention. And, as the book unfolded, there was a lot of depth provided on many different artists/subjects. I also liked that it was not just about the punk movement, but encompassed a wide range of other musics. All in all, a really great read, and very informative. It's really a shame that the Kindle edition was not full to all sorts of links to the different subjects, but there is a handy list at the end of suggested sources to get deeper into some of the subjects.
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I bought this at the end (I hope!) of a long infirmity caused by a herniated disc. It's featured in a Nick Hornby book; Hornby suggests it with the warning that the reader might buy a bunch of music as a result. Good advice; good warning.

Hermes' knowledge is encyclopedic, and his ear for detail positively overwhelming. Set lists are laid out. Short movies are described in detail. Addresses and hotel room numbers are recollected. Amp and turntable cartridge numbers are cited. At some points, you think, good gracious, just STOP. But what points? How do I know what I want but someone else doesn't? (I skipped through most of the stuff about the jazz, because I know nothing about it. I ate the punk stuff with a tiny spoon and scraped out the bottom of the battered iron bowl.

I did indeed regularly launch songs and music to hear what I was reading. I listened to Latin music I've never heard before (even if you have) and relistened to punk that I have (RAMONES). The detail in the early days of rap is gorgeous, even if the DJ names blurred after a while.

Omnivorous music fans who, like me, are just old enough to have missed this era and who would be delighted to be led through it by a thoughtful, passionate guide will find it valuable.
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