Rock and roll was invented by black people living in the southeastern part of the United States, though at the time it wasn’t called rock and roll and they weren’t called black people.
Lewis Grossberger is many things, but a historian he ain’t. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Turn That Down! actively contributes to the endumbening of anyone who happens to read it. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, considering the fact that we’re talking about rock and roll, which has a proud tradition of lionizing things which make a person dumber.
The joys of reading Turn That Down! come not only from the systematic disinformation Grossberger spreads at every turn, but the sheer glee to be had in watching one man tear so gleefully at the entire notion of history books. This purports to be a history of rock and roll, but really, it is fairly obvious that Grossberger’s interest in the music stops at around the mid ‘70s—to his credit, he says as much in the Preface to the Forward (”...there were hardly any good rock songs written after 1974…”) It’s no surprise, then, that the fifties and sixties get half the book, while the later 35 years are compressed into about half the space. Frankly, I’m only mildly shocked that Grossberger keeps his disdain for MTV, the entirety of electronic music, grunge, hip-hop and pretty much every note of music recorded in the entirety of the 1990s down to a dull roar.
But that’s the glory of the book: this is a crank’s history, which takes full advantage of the crank’s prerogative to erase entire decades of unwanted history. But it is telling that while he can spend three whole chapters mocking Elvis and four on the Beatles, the bulk of ‘90s music culture is dealt with in a chapter entitled “Best Actual Names of Real ‘90s Bands”. I know humor is subjective, but surely he could have actually, you know, written a joke about Rage Against The Machine other than the fact that their name is slightly humorous to old people. (Because I’m a nice guy, I’ll write one for him: “Rage Against The Machine was a band so terrifying to the plutocratic oligarchs whose oppressive rule they were dedicated to violently overthrowing that their music was published and distributed by one of the largest multinational corporations in the world.”)
Although his biography insists that Grossberger is American, the tone of the book is quite British, featuring as it does an incessant stream of puns, quips and nonsensical digressions. This type of silliness usually has a hard time in America, but it makes for a filling read. Pretty much every sentence in the entire book has a joke of some sort, be it lame or not. Mostly, it must be admitted, of the lame variety—but he gets points for trying. Any book like this is hit-or-miss by nature. I laughed fairly often. I especially liked the photo of the four grizzled Confederate soldiers with the caption indicating that the subject was The Band, and the chapter on 1960s San Francisco written by J.R.R. Tolkien was a nice touch.
But seriously, this is just not the type of book I can imagine anyone actually buying. This is the type of book that you find in your weird friend’s bathroom, and end up reading for two hours while coming down from a mighty buzz. That’s the name of the beast, or the nature of the game, I can’t really remember which. Whether or not this will be a book you want to shoplift is totally a function of whether or not you think the following sentence is funny:
“The third child of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and a giant carp that washed up on the shores of the Red Sea, Berry Gordy was born in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, in 1929.
If you understand why or why not that sentence was funny, then, as I said, this may or may not be the book for you.