Will Hermes is a boy from Queens who loved to rock somuch he went on to become a senior critic at Rolling Stone and is the author of the new music book LoveGoes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever.In his six years of research for this refreshing chronicle of New York 1973-77-- including summers spent reading every issue of the Soho Weekly News and the VillageVoice covering those years -- Hermes has wisely chosen to focus more on thepeople than the music, safely sidestepping the downfall of most music booksthat overwhelm with TMI about the sessions and the players. Finding six seminalmusical movements of those years - hip-hop, loft jazz, punk rock, disco, salsaand avant-garde (think Philip Glass & co.) -- Hermes goes back and forthfrom one scene to the next chronicling the lives and times with wonderfulanecdotes. Though many of the principals have moved on to the great beyond, hewas still able to interview Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, DavidByrne, Laurie Anderson, Anthony Braxton, Willie Colon, Eddie Palmieri, RichardLloyd and dozens of other now legendary musicians. Immensely readable,informative and, most of all, fun, LoveGoes to Buildings on Fire, reminds us where we came from and notincidentally, why New York remains a hub of creative production. An added bonusis the discography which lets you look up the performers on Spotify and listenwhile reading!
DavidHershkovits: Who would you have liked to interview for the book who is eitherdead or wouldn't cooperate?
WillHermes: I wish I'd been able to speak with the late JoeyRamone, as much to just chat as for any research purpose. I gather he was areal sweetheart. And Lester Bowie, who was the most acute and amusing voice tocome through the loft jazz scene.
DH: InLove Goes to Buildings on Fire thesections pertaining to CBGB and the punk scene you chronicle a significantamount of drug use among people like Tom Verlaine, Johnny Thunders, RichardHell et al. But there's none of that in the sections about Philip Glass, SteveReich et al. Was that because there was none? Or were they reluctant to talkabout it?
WH:It wasn't really part of their scene -- though their audiences were oftenpretty high, it seems! Those guys were extremely work-focused. Kurt Munkacsi,who was an integral part of Glass' ensemble, told me "Drop acid and try to do aPhilip Glass performance? You couldn't possibly. The music was too complicated.The most anybody did was maybe have a glass of wine or smoke a joint." On theother hand, drugs were a big part of the scene around composer La Monte Young,as you might imagine for a guy whose performances, such as they were, literallylasted for days.
DH:You place Bruce Springsteen in the downtown scene with Patti Smith. Though Iwas aware of their collaborations, I never thought of him in those terms. Wasthat a stretch for you? Or was he really there?
WH:He didn't hang at CBGBs. But he played shows at Max's Kansas City in '72 -- Ihave some videos posted at lovegoestobuildingsonfire.com He told me about opening for the New York Dolls, which I write about. He alsorecorded his albums in New York, bought British punk singles at Bleecker Bob's,went to shows and after-parties. And in a sense, he and Patti Smith were comingfrom the same place: Kids from Nowheresville, New Jersey, who were besotted byDylan's poetry and wanted to yank rock 'n' roll back to basics, back to streetlevel. There was definitely a mutual admiration society. And the song theywrote together, "Because The Night," may be the best pop song eitherof them ever did. They played it together live for the first time in 1977 atthe short-lived CBGBs theater on 2nd Avenue, where apparently they also playedthe Who's "My Generation." If anyone has a bootleg recording of thatshow, please let me know!
DH:What were your favorite parts that you were forced to cut?
WH:Pretty much all the good stuff is in there. I could have geeked out moretalking about records, certainly. But I was more interested in telling thestories of these young musicians coming up in New York City. I wanted to make anarrative that would be a fun read, not just a reference volume or a book ofcriticism.
DH:What did you learn that you didn't know before? Whose music do you care aboutnow that you hadn't before?
WH:I knew very little about the salsa scene going in, but came to love the musicdeeply. The best records -- Eddie Palmieri's The Sun of Latin Music, Willie Colon's Crime Pays, and especially Conceptsin Unity by Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental Nuevayorquino -- are as good asanything that came out during that era. I thought I knew a fair amount aboutthe loft jazz scene, but I learned a great deal more. That era was never givenits due by jazz scholars, in part because its importance was brushed aside byWynton Marsalis and other gatekeepers. But that's changing. A lot of youngplayers are exploring and extending that loft spirit of invention.
DH:Looking around the scene today, do you think a similar approach might be takenon the subject in 25 years or so?
WH: Oh, sure. All the hybrid scenes that have beengrowing in Brooklyn over the past decade or so -- rock, jazz, compositionrooted in European and other traditions -- are producing remarkable work. It'sbeen kinda slow for New York hip-hop and dance music lately, in terms ofinnovation; those scenes seem to have become more virtual, less regional. ButI'm sure there's something coming around the corner. In New York City, therealways is. That's why people come to here.
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire is out now.