Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Oral History

Along with reading four other books, I'm in the middle of reading Saturday Night Live's oral history, Live From New York. The book is a monster at 656 pages, but after reading the newest Harry Potter book (at 652 pages) in one week, I realized I could eventually finish Live from New York in a timely fashion.

Back when old SNL reruns (as in, from '75-'80) were on cable, I couldn't get enough of stuff like the Coneheads, the wild-n-crazy guys, Jaws making door-to-door visits, cheeseburger cheeseburger and Nick the Lounge Singer. Since I haven't seen an old rerun in years, I'm in the dark with some of the relatively obscure sketches/actors that are brought up. Sometimes topics change from paragraph to paragraph and I get lost. Thankfully co-authors James Miller and Tom Shales add some commentary here and there to help tie things together. With certain other oral histories, there isn't enough commentary or no commentary at all.

Probably the biggest offender of this "no commentary" presentation is Please Kill Me, the oral history of punk. I know a few things about the music of New York Dolls, the Stooges, the Ramones and the Velvet Underground, but I don't know very much about the individual band members' lives. I believe the approach with PKM was to talk about the people's lives and supposedly the music comes out. Well, that approach works if you know tons of personal info about these bands and their music, but with no commentary tying certain bits together, I get a little lost. I often feel like I'm overhearing a conversation, not feeling like I'm being spoken to.

Now I don't want to sound like I need my hand held on this stuff, but when you the reader don't feel a connection, you have to wonder. Tackling a huge subject like the history of SNL or punk is a huge undertaking so I think oral histories are the way to go. But some light-shedding is needed.

1 comment:

jefito said...

That SNL book is great, and so are oral histories. If you're in the mood for fare that's a bit meatier, I suggest checking out any of Studs Terkel's books. He's the undisputed master of the craft.