Turn That Down!: A Hysterical History of Rock, Roll, Pop, Soul, Punk, Funk, Rap, Grunge, Motown, Met

Tim O'Neil

Lewis Grossberger is many things, but a historian he ain't.

Turn That Down!

Publisher: Emmis Humor
Length: 206
Subtitle: A Hysterical History of Rock, Roll, Pop, Soul, Punk, Funk, Rap, Grunge, Motown, Metal, Disco, Techno & Other Forms of Musical Aggression Over the Ages
Price: $14.99
Author: Lewis Grossberger
US publication date: 2005-06
Amazon affiliate
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

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.





Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia, East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression (premiere + interview)

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.


Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.


'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.