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The first work of prose by the brilliant poet Kevin Young, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize   Taking its title from Danger Mouse’s pioneering mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album, Kevin Young’s encyclopedic book combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical choruses to illustrate the African American traditio The first work of prose by the brilliant poet Kevin Young, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize   Taking its title from Danger Mouse’s pioneering mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album, Kevin Young’s encyclopedic book combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical choruses to illustrate the African American tradition of lying—storytelling, telling tales, fibbing, improvising, “jazzing.” What emerges is a persuasive argument for the many ways that African American culture is American culture, and for the centrality of art—and artfulness—to our daily life. Moving from gospel to soul, funk to freestyle, Young sifts through the shadows, the bootleg, the remix, the grey areas of our history, literature, and music.  


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The first work of prose by the brilliant poet Kevin Young, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize   Taking its title from Danger Mouse’s pioneering mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album, Kevin Young’s encyclopedic book combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical choruses to illustrate the African American traditio The first work of prose by the brilliant poet Kevin Young, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize   Taking its title from Danger Mouse’s pioneering mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album, Kevin Young’s encyclopedic book combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical choruses to illustrate the African American tradition of lying—storytelling, telling tales, fibbing, improvising, “jazzing.” What emerges is a persuasive argument for the many ways that African American culture is American culture, and for the centrality of art—and artfulness—to our daily life. Moving from gospel to soul, funk to freestyle, Young sifts through the shadows, the bootleg, the remix, the grey areas of our history, literature, and music.  

30 review for The Grey Album: Music, Shadows, Lies

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Mishap

    If more academic books were like this we'd all be academically inclined but it would be rare for any of us to be as smart, insightful, creative, generous, and amazing as Kevin Young. You. Read. Now. Here's a partial list of the themes he names and explores: 1) Shadow Books. 2) Contraband versus Counterfeit. 3) Masks, Mistaking the Mask for Real, Appropriating the False Mask. 4) Reversals of Meaning. 5) Escape to the North, Canaan, Outer-space. 6) Is it Better to Be Unread or Misread? 7) The Blackness of If more academic books were like this we'd all be academically inclined but it would be rare for any of us to be as smart, insightful, creative, generous, and amazing as Kevin Young. You. Read. Now. Here's a partial list of the themes he names and explores: 1) Shadow Books. 2) Contraband versus Counterfeit. 3) Masks, Mistaking the Mask for Real, Appropriating the False Mask. 4) Reversals of Meaning. 5) Escape to the North, Canaan, Outer-space. 6) Is it Better to Be Unread or Misread? 7) The Blackness of Black Culture and Black Culture is American Culture. Just some, and they are applied to: Literature, the blues, poetry, jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, novels, eras, spirituals, food, the Body, the Breaks, and more. I was marking pages for quotes so much there isn't room here to reproduce them, so you'll have to go pick this up. Extra points for the treatment of punk rock. It wasn't mentioned very often but it was talked about smartly when brought up and even called a "cousin" to hip-hop (which is something I always thought).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Russ Marshalek

    an absolutely brilliant, essential read. just....wow

  3. 4 out of 5

    Daphne Vogel

    Stunning. I'd recommend this to everyone based on the first ten percent alone. I have no doubt the rest will be equally brilliant.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    After skimming this in a bookstore today, I retrospectively regretted not winning it in that GR giveaway a few months back. A whole chapter on Bob Kaufman!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard Sanford

    One of the best cultural histories I've read in years. A book of essays as profound and vibrant as the first time I read Greg Tate's Fly-Boy in the Buttermilk or David Toop's Ocean of Sound or Reginald Shepherd's Orpheus in the Bronx or Albert Goldbarth's Many Circles. Long stretches I had to read out loud just to see how they tasted.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Garrett Peace

    Maybe I’m being disingenuous when I file this under “read,” because, well, I didn’t read all of it. It’s due to the library in a couple of days, and I’m only (literally) halfway through, and I’m struggling to keep reading. Young is intelligent, no doubt, and this is incredible in just how thorough an examination it is, but . . . I’m just not all that interested any more, as bad as that may sound.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Kevin Young chronicles Black artists and how they have shaped USAmerican Culture. "I believe it is Black culture (which is distinct) that transforms American culture (making it more Black and thereby more distinct)....American culture is Black culture --and it is this unique African American culture that in large part makes American culture popular the world over." It is beautifully written. It is a poetic, personal critique of the art and artists of the 20th century. I was introduced to a few ne Kevin Young chronicles Black artists and how they have shaped USAmerican Culture. "I believe it is Black culture (which is distinct) that transforms American culture (making it more Black and thereby more distinct)....American culture is Black culture --and it is this unique African American culture that in large part makes American culture popular the world over." It is beautifully written. It is a poetic, personal critique of the art and artists of the 20th century. I was introduced to a few new names in literature and song. The chapters on Rap and Hip-hop had me running to the record store and youtube to hear the songs he talks about. I knew some of them, but not most. Or having heard them some time ago, I needed to hear the afresh in light of Young's descriptives. As a white guy of a predominately white upbringing and in current mostly white social setting, I have grown to view Black culture as "other". Whether it was watching Soul Train for the occasional top ten artist and marveling at the exotic "costumes" and hair styles, or dismissing as unlistenable the Rap with angry and profane and misogynist lyrics, Black culture wasn't ever derogatorily "other" or somehow "less than", but it was not welcoming. I didn't understand. It was distinct, almost as if it were political or protest songs to a struggle I couldn't weight in on. I could empathize, but I wasn't going to sing along ( most times). Kevin Young's book elucidates how all of Black culture, the Pips, Dr Dre, Hurston, Hughes, Coltrane, Parker, Lawrence Dunbar, Bob Kaufmann, and others all rise out of the their American experiences and, in turn, influence what follows. For all of us.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    Essays on race, culture, and music. The language is stilted and strange, a style particularly grating on a subject matter that is seemingly so fluid: soul music. It seemed too difficult to get through such a cerebral and obtuse take on material so intrinsically visceral and enjoyable that my reading was patchy and uneven, although a beautiful and insightful passage on the magic of falsetto singing did stand out: You could say that black folks' very yearning is a kind of technology - a conveyance, Essays on race, culture, and music. The language is stilted and strange, a style particularly grating on a subject matter that is seemingly so fluid: soul music. It seemed too difficult to get through such a cerebral and obtuse take on material so intrinsically visceral and enjoyable that my reading was patchy and uneven, although a beautiful and insightful passage on the magic of falsetto singing did stand out: You could say that black folks' very yearning is a kind of technology - a conveyance, if you will, that like the soul shout or moan is meant to usher us beyond the beyond. Falsetto in soul music, where it occurs with notable frequency, is such a chariot, partly earthbound, with claims on a sound beyond nature - reaching for the supernatural...Falsetto is the supernatural made vocal, Ariel for the airwaves: simultaneously hypermasculine and lovingly feminine, sexy yet chaste, falsetto in soul music is a sign of vulnerability that emerges from strength.It is the deepest voice, after all, that often creates the highest. As falsetto reveals, soul embodies a set of opposites, even contradictions: "Love and happiness" as Al Green sings, and helps us to know these may be two different things. Something that'll make you do wrong, will make you do right.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Post Defiance

    Originally posted at http://postdefiance.com/seven-swans-a..., written by Timothy Thomas McNeely. In The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, poet Kevin Young goes in search of what it means to be African-American in America, and comes up with an answer that may or may not surprise: African-American culture is American culture; that is, it can be taken as an encompassing example of what it means to be American. Young traces black history in America, noting just how much personal invention – Originally posted at http://postdefiance.com/seven-swans-a..., written by Timothy Thomas McNeely. In The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, poet Kevin Young goes in search of what it means to be African-American in America, and comes up with an answer that may or may not surprise: African-American culture is American culture; that is, it can be taken as an encompassing example of what it means to be American. Young traces black history in America, noting just how much personal invention – lying, storytelling, improvising – goes into creating the culture we all live in, how creativity out of adversity is the story of America as a whole, as much as it is the story of African-Americans in particular. The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness by Kevin Young. 483 pp. Graywolf Press. $25.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mely

    Hard to summarize. Dense and ambitious cultural criticism focusing on African American culture, with particular attention to counterfeits, masks, variable personae, and truthful lies. There's quite a bit about how African American writers and musicians did modernism and postmodernism before they were named, and how their work and fantasies of black people were appropriated and incorporated into the work of the white writers of the canon. The focus is mostly on African American works and their ce Hard to summarize. Dense and ambitious cultural criticism focusing on African American culture, with particular attention to counterfeits, masks, variable personae, and truthful lies. There's quite a bit about how African American writers and musicians did modernism and postmodernism before they were named, and how their work and fantasies of black people were appropriated and incorporated into the work of the white writers of the canon. The focus is mostly on African American works and their centrality to American culture. I particularly liked the bit talking about the elevator as a recurring symbol in African American literature. It gave me a long list of writers to read, reread, or catch up with.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Beka

    I could only get to about page 50 of this book. It's not that the subject matter is not interesting to me, it is that I cannot handle the writing style. It seems very grating toward the subject manner. I also have yet to find a real purpose to what I am reading. If there is theme, either it hasn't been shown yet, or I have lost it in the writing style somewhere. I give it two stars because I am generally a patient person (I can read math textbooks for heaven's sake!) and have so far found this b I could only get to about page 50 of this book. It's not that the subject matter is not interesting to me, it is that I cannot handle the writing style. It seems very grating toward the subject manner. I also have yet to find a real purpose to what I am reading. If there is theme, either it hasn't been shown yet, or I have lost it in the writing style somewhere. I give it two stars because I am generally a patient person (I can read math textbooks for heaven's sake!) and have so far found this book mostly a waste of time. However, I have respect for the author tackling such a subject, and also he has shown that he has vast knowledge of the subject.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This was a fascinating, energetic, challenging book to read. And well worth it. The author, who as a poet, has a real talent for language - and uses it to open our eyes to the American story - in black and white (in particular). His writing about truth and lies is very powerful. His insights on American history, popular culture, music and poetry are wise and thoughtful. I learned a lot in reading this book - not only about the subject manner - but also about the varieties of ways good writing ma This was a fascinating, energetic, challenging book to read. And well worth it. The author, who as a poet, has a real talent for language - and uses it to open our eyes to the American story - in black and white (in particular). His writing about truth and lies is very powerful. His insights on American history, popular culture, music and poetry are wise and thoughtful. I learned a lot in reading this book - not only about the subject manner - but also about the varieties of ways good writing makes an appearance in our lives and nation. Fascinating. I’m very glad I read it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Che'rei Holley

    The Grey Album: Music, Shadows, Lies was a good read. I found it hard to follow, but by no fault of the author. It was filled with so much information about a subject, that I realize now, I knew little about. Definitely a good read for someone who is more familiar with the literature and music of black Americans. Very well researched piece. I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Borshuk

    Staggering in its comprehensiveness, Young's first collection of essays offers a sprawling consideration of African American literary and musical expression, reading those traditions through deep historical context and astute consideration of their distinct aesthetic qualities. Inventive and satisfying throughout.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott Schneider

    I only got about half way through this book. It's very difficult but thought provoking reading. It's just that I am not steeped in all the literature he cites. I did enjoy the parts about jazz though, except when he starts praising Ezra Pound. It is an interesting book, but I couldn't not put it down.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris Witt

    Ultimately interesting look into the history of African American contributions to the arts from the 1800s up to present time, tracing the evolution from "storying" up through hip hop. Not the easiest read, however. You'll be challenged.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Terrible and incomprehensible. Honestly, I could only get 50 pages through because it felt like the author was trying to be so clever that he sounded like a moron. If I could discern the meaning in one or two of his sentences, it might have gone further to give some meaning to the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charles Ellenbogen

    https://wordpress.com/post/30111049/5... I'm not sure I understood it well enough to rate it properly. https://wordpress.com/post/30111049/5... I'm not sure I understood it well enough to rate it properly.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

    The introduction is sprawling and beautiful and poetic (and made me buy the book) but the rest of it reads like lit crit and I don't have time for that right now. Maybe another day!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tiger

  21. 4 out of 5

    mary

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Crockett

  23. 5 out of 5

    Colin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ell Corp

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Leal

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina

  27. 5 out of 5

    McPhaul M.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ed Skoog

  30. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm Tariq

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