One of the coolest things to come across my desk recently was And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl, an amazing book by Roger Bennett and John Kun. Subtitled The Jewish Past as Told by the Records We Have Loved and Lost, the book is a fascinating history of Jewish-related music told primarily as an examination of cover art.
Starting off unexpectedly with Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow, the book uncovers some seriously kitschy titles such as Charlton Heston Reads "Out of Egypt", Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites and Bob Booker and George Foster present Al Tijuana and his Jewish Brass. Insightful, funny and damn educational, the book is a must have for any serious musicologist.
Speaking of books, after the jump are some other, older titles that are worthy gifts as well.
Lipstick Traces by Griel Marcus is not only a detailed examination of the one and only U.S. tour of the original incarnation of the Sex Pistols, but it's also a mind boggling journey through the history of punk, art and various medieval societies. Some critics complained that Marcus had overstepped his range, but Lipstick Traces remains a miraculous work, a heady and hefty piece of criticism that is the perfect bathroom companion.
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And, lastly, check out Frank Zappa's autobiography, which is possibly the best written book ever by a major musical performer. Uncompromising in its details of life on the road with his band, The Mothers of Invention, Zappa's prose is sharp and his narrative compelling. But those with weak stomachs should beware: A few tales are adult-only. But who could expect differently? Zappa's tragically short life was an R-rated experience beginning to end and this book relates a good portion of it. --Darryl Smyers