Book Review: 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This To Sing About by Joshua Clover


Author: Joshua Clover
Title:  1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This To Sing About 
Publication Info: University of California Press (2010)
ISBN: 0520267877
Summary/Review:

Cultural critic, poet, and professor Joshua Clover examines the pivotal year of 1989 as it manifested itself in popular music.  He has three main focal points.  First, the transition of rap music from Black Nationalism to gangsta, from East Coast to West Coast, through Public Enemy and NWA (with a short dalliance into the third way of De La Soul’s da inner sound, y’all).  Next, he goes to England for the rave scenes of “The Second Summer of Love” which is both a term I’ve never heard before and a culture I knew little about.  Back in the US, Clover heads to the Pacific Northwest for the emergence of the inwardly focused punk/metal blend of grunge.  Later chapters also explore what was on the Billboard charts in 1989 and explicates the vapidity of the Jesus Jones’ song that provides the subtitle of the book.  The ultimate conclusion is that popular culture embraced the image-event of the fall of the Berlin Wall but missed that actual revolutions of  that year.  Overall, this was an entertaining trip down memory lane (not to mention filling in the gaps of the things I missed the first time around) but found the author’s use of an overly scholarly tone off-putting.  If you’re interested in music criticism and the history of the late 80s/early 90s, pick up this book as it won’t take long to read, but otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it.

Recommended books: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock n Roll by Elijah Wald and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield.

Rating: **1/2

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