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the Complete Review
the complete review - music

Big Noises

Geoff Nicholson

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Title: Big Noises
Author: Geoff Nicholson
Genre: Music
Written: 1991
Length: 228 pages
Availability: Big Noises - US
Big Noises - UK
Big Noises - Canada
  • Rock guitar in the 1990s

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Our Assessment:

A- : brief vignettes about rock guitarists, very well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Fearlessly Geoff Nicholson wrote this book about Rock Guitar in the 1990s in 1991. In it he presents thirty-six "appreciations" of thirty-seven guitarists (Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo are the twofer). Each appreciation is a mere three or four pages long, and includes a picture and a selected discography. The collection is prefaced by an introductory essay, proceeds alphabetically with the guitarists, and concludes with "One Hundred more Mighty Guitar Moments".
       It sounds like a book that could only interest the true guitar fanatic, but it is an entertaining little book with a broader appeal. More entertaining, in fact, than Nicholson's fictional homage, Flesh Guitar (see our review).
       Nicholson begins with "A Case-History", a faux-movie scene that finds him a patient on the couch, with Dennis Hopper playing the psychiatrist. It is a short, playful introduction, in which Nicholson explains and makes his excuses -- how he made his selection, and why, and the difficulties writing such a book presents. Authors explaining themselves and their work generally prove tiresome; not Nicholson, not here. Witty, clever stuff, just short and long enough, Nicholson, the great master of the novel about obsession, lays bare his own obsession here.
       The appreciations are arranged alphabetically, and the first one is -- Derek Bailey ? Gutsy move right there on Nicholson's part, beginning with a guitarist who -- so Nicholson in 1991 -- "has yet to make his MTV debut". (We suspect he's still waiting for it, ten years later.)
       In three or four pages Nicholson sketches each guitarists background, musical influences, style, accomplishments. He does so effortlessly and wittily -- there's barely a weak sentence or banal description (at least none that Nicholson himself isn't aware of and doesn't acknowledge). A few anecdotes, clever personal asides, some highlights (and some lowlights) from the guitarists in question -- these are surprisingly fully realized little pieces. These aren't jottings -- this is rich (but not heavy) stuff.
       Nicholson always admits to the subjectivity of his undertaking. It's personal opinion and personal experience that are decisive -- but Nicholson knows his guitar players and has apparently listened to more of this music than one might imagine is possible. Fortunately, he is not only a fan, but truly a knowledgeable aficionado. And fortunately he is not a mere critic. He points to the guitarists weaknesses where necessary, while acknowledging strengths that are not always redeeming. Yngwie Malmsteen seems to him "the world's worst major guitarist, and living example of just how good you can be without being any good at all."
       The summaries are to the point -- cutting to the quick, but generally with a gentle touch. Surprisingly, there is little repetition -- how many ways can guitar playing be described ? one wonders at the beginning -- and Nicholson brings almost all of the guitarists to life.
       Nicholson pays due homage to the history of guitarists past, not getting caught up in a single style or period. From hard rock to experimental to blues, every style is represented. Grand masters such as B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, Edward (sic) Van Halen, Carlos Santana all get their due. A number of lesser known names also find their way into the collection, making for useful and interesting diversity.
       Naturally, one can disagree with much of what he writes -- his choices of guitarists, his estimation of them, his likes and dislikes -- but Nicholson makes a good case for everything he writes. Surprisingly, the book and the appreciations still stand up well a decade after he wrote them (as most pop music criticism, for example, most definitely does not).
       Nicholson is in top form here. It's hard to shape this material in an interesting way, but Nicholson manages. His sentences are expertly crafted, the wit dosed just right. It's an impressive effort, doing what it sets out to do very well. Certainly recommended.

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Geoff Nicholson: Other books by Geoff Nicholson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       English author Geoff Nicholson, born in Sheffield in 1953, has written a flurry of novels. He lives in Los Angeles.

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