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Book Review Project: "Wilco: Learning How To Die"

silverystars 14 / 105  
Sep 28, 2007   #1
Quoted from my assignment sheet:

"Book Review: 1000 words. Choose a non-fiction book on a subject that appeals to you. As you read, note ideas that are potential areas for research. The day you present your book to the class orally, you will also turn in a written copy of your report. The written review should begin with a heading which includes all the bibliographic information (5 points) about the book using the MLA manuscript style. You should then include the following: a summary (20 points) (be sure to state the title, author, and the number of pages), a section on genre (5 points,) structure (10 points,) persona (10 points,) style (10 points,) mechanics (15 points,) a brief section with biographical information about the author (15 points,) and a list of at least five questions which will lead to a research area (10 points.)"

Here is what I have thus far. I have, at this point, about 750 words. From the tone of the instructions, it appears that the summary is simply that, and not a personal evaluation, so that presents a personal challenge to me. I know that I need to especially need to expand my summary, but am uncertain at this point how to go about it without meandering, becoming redundant, or expanding issues perhaps only touched on or hinted at by the book. Also, I am confused by the differences between such items as "structure" and "style," so I have not written about the book's style. And I am also stumped on possible areas of research; I thought of two, but I need three more. I am wondering if I am not focusing enough on the book itself as much as the actual story of the band. Which is confusing, since the book IS the story of the band. :) Any and all help is, as always, much appreciated!

Bibliographic Information:Kot, Greg. Wilco: Learning How To Die. 1st. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

Summary:According to Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot in his book, "Wilco: Learning How To Die," Wilco, and in particular its founder, Jeff Tweedy, have become the complete opposite of what the music industry expects from a major-label recording artist. The work of Tweedy's previous band, Uncle Tupelo, which he founded in 1987 with high school friend Jay Farrar, was simple enough: American roots music, such as bluegrass, country, and folk, filtered through a hard rock mentality and sound.

As their stature soared, Farrar's relationship with Tweedy grew tumultuous and strained, leading to the 1994 breakup of Uncle Tupelo. In the wake of that split, Tweedy immediately formed Wilco, who, at first, were easy to categorize as merely a straightforward, countrified rock-and-roll band. But Kot notes that, with each album Wilco releases, they have consistently frustrated the expectations of their fans and the industry again and again by distancing themselves from their rootsy beginnings. With those creative strides, however, come unexpected waves of change.

The book's most dramatic example of that occurs amidst the making and release of Wilco's fourth album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," during which time Tweedy dismissed two members of Wilco and recruited a new drummer and a new producer. Soon after, the band was unceremoniously dropped by Reprise Records, due to the label's hesitance to release the album, their most sonically and lyrically adventurous to date. Rather than waiting to release the album officially, Wilco began streaming it on their website for free, garnering attention from fans, the media, and record labels. Upon its release, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," became their highest charting and most selling album.

Over the course of its 244 pages, Kot definitively examines how Jeff Tweedy has dealt with, for better or worse, the pressures of his escalating fame, supporting a family, and conflicts with bandmates and his record label. Overall, the book is a championing of Tweedy's and Wilco's restless search for experimental freedom in defiance of the music industry's desire for quick success and easy marketability. Their struggle for personal and artistic satisfaction by challenging not only listeners, but also themselves, makes for a compelling and thrilling music biography.

Style:The language the author uses is typical of what would be written by an eloquent journalist: a third-person narrative at once clear and succinct in meaning and pace and rich and varied in choice of descriptive words and phrases. A few sections could be described as rambling in contrast to the rest of the book, such as when Kot takes time to detail the inception of the alternative country music magazine No Depression. But on average, each chapter covers close to a year, keeping the tempo of the book fairly fast-paced and succinct.

Biographical sketch: Greg Kot was born March 3, 1957 in Syracuse, New York. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Marquette University in 1978. He worked for the Quad-City Times from 1978 to 1980 as an editor, where he first began writing about pop music. He then joined the Chicago Tribune as an editor from 1980 to 1989. During that time, Kot self-published with friends the music and culture fan magazine Ego, which was available on newsstands and in bookstores in Chicago, where he honed his writing chops in the process. In 1990, he became the head music critic for the Chicago Tribune, a position he has held ever since.

His work has appeared in such music magazines as Blender, Entertainment Weekly, Mojo, New York Times Sunday Book Review, Rolling Stone. His work has also appeared in Encyclopaedia Britannica and such books as "Harrison: A Rolling Stone Tribute to George Harrison," "Cash: By the Editors of Rolling Stone," "The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock," and "The New Rolling Stone Album Guide." He also appears in the 2002 Wilco documentary "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," directed by Sam Jones.

Kot also co-hosts, along with Jim DeRogatis, music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, the music talk show "Sound Opinions," which broadcasts on radio, television and the internet. Kot also works as a youth basketball coach. He and his partners operate Over the Edge, a Chicago-based youth program that prepares grade-school athletes to compete at a high school. Kot is currently writing a new book, "Ripped: Indie-Rock and the Laptop Generation," to be published in 2008 by Scribner/Simon and Schuster. He lives in Chicago, Illinois with his wife and two daughters and, according to the section about the author in "Wilco: Learning How To Die," "far too many records."
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Sep 28, 2007   #2
...I just noticed yet another "it's". But it's okay. Or is it..."its"? Ha ha! :)
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Sep 29, 2007   #3

You're right, this should be "its": Over the course of it's 244 pages

Style is not the mechanics of the writing, but the tone. It has to do with word choice, passive versus active voice, how fast the action moves along (more so in a novel, but perhaps applicable here, too), how formal the writing is, as opposed to using casual speech, tight or rambling, poetic or sparse, and so on. You could do an internet search on "writing style" and see if you can find out more about it if you're still not sure.

It's coming along very well--keep up the good work!


Sarah, EssayForum.com
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Oct 1, 2007   #4

I think you have done a splendid job! I understand what you mean about writing about the band's story vs. the book itself. It's difficult for me to tell, not having read the book, but as far as I can see, it appears to be a good balance.

Your section on style is very good, especially your observations about pace. You're an excellent writer! It looks as though you're well on your way.


Sarah, EssayForum.com

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