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Henry Cow - In Praise of (Written) Learning

As I said a few blogs back, I was intending to read the rest of Benjamin Piekut’s new book on Henry Cow, having been recently sent a copy of the book’s Introduction by the author himself. As I said in the blog, the chapter was mainly contextual, siting the Cow in their time and place, and stating their main influences: jazz, Frank Zappa and then-contemporary classical composers such as the Darmstadt lot and the serialists. I was never really a huge Cow fan - I loved Unrest, however, which has remained a personal favourite, being one of the three purchases that I made immediately before starting university (the others being Escalator Over the Hill and From the Mars Hotel, if you’re in any way interested).. I will always remain fond of these three albums as madeleine-like portals to the autumn of 1974.

I’m always up for a good read about music, and feel that the early 70s is a rather neglected period for leftfield recordings. There were a lot of these between, say, 1969 and 1974, but most critics seem to regard these years as a slough of prog rock and jazz-rock follies, so I’m always interested in books that explore this time in a more positive frame of mins. Piekut is an academic writer, and his books are published by university presses - his earlier - Experimentalism Otherwise: the New York Avant Garde and its Limits- appeared in  2011 in the University of California’s imprint; his HC book is from Duke University Press. I should have been forewarned and forearmed by the price of Bernard Gendron’s Chicago Uni Press publication Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant Garde (another prolix title among many others in the academic field): a 222-word paperback costing £25 (weighty title, weighty cost?). Sure enough, when I enquired at our local Waterstone’s in Crouch End, Henry Cow: the World is  Problem also cost £25 in paperback and £120 in hardback. At this point, I backed out. I’m not that into early 70s leftfield music.

Now, I realise that academic books tend to cost more (look at the cost of art books), but this does seem rather excessive. The guy behind the counter thought that it might be a print-on-demand service, in the expectation that sales might be minimal. Academic books also tend to be of high design quality, and I know from experience that printing costs can be very high (my own books cost me around £8 each to print), but it does seem a shame that sales are liable to be even lower because of these sort of prices. On a more positive note, it does seem that the ‘Kindle Revolution’ has stalled, and people do seem to be reading hard copy still. On the tube, I do see many folk reading actual books (although far more are reading their electronic devices). Certainly, all three of my kids read hard copy books, and have bypassed Kindle entirely. 

So there is cause for optimism here, as regards the printed word, even though books, especially hardbacks) do seem prohibitively expensive for many potential readers.

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