God Is In The Radio: Unbridled Enthusiasms 1980-2020 (Omnibus Press)
by Barney Hoskyns
Over the past four decades Barney Hoskyns has been a consistent chronicler of music, an arbiter of taste and a beacon of consistency. He writes with the passion of a true fan and the discretion of an astute critic. A perfect amalgam of the heart and the soul. This appositely entitled compendium of his musings. borrowed from The Queens Of The Stone Age, God Is In The Radio - Unbridled Enthusiasm is fifty pieces culled from forty years of sifting and discerning. Both an Aladdin's cave for the curious and a benchmark for the already initiated, it cuts through the years with an incisive enthusiasm as a crash course on the pitfalls and joy of the music industry. Hoskyns is equally at home writing of Frank Sinatra and Television. Steely Dan to Mary J Blige. Music to him is a universal force and categories are there to best ignored. Quality is paramount, and despite the variety of sounds he presents his readers with, they do not jar when collected under a single cover. A deft act in itself.
As a guide to appreciation he is the perfect scribe. Of that generation when music was a physical thing, something to be sought out, discovered and pondered over, his book is also an elegy to a disappearing way of listening. The digital age has reduced appreciation to a verbal demand. Evenings spent engrossed in album sleeves and the small print on 45s, the design of record labels and covers, are no longer a unifying experience. The presence of music is now a small speaker in the corner. Vinyl and compact discs are stored away in attics or cellars or given to charity shops, deemed as the physical clutter they sadly represent to a clinical mind. The relationship most now have with music is a fleeting one, new songs played as background, or listened to on phones. Like fine art reduced to a photocopy, something has been lost. A death of passion is evolving. If sex was a listening thing it would be a far less beguiling experience.
Hoskyn's passions are deep and committed. The title of the book encapsulates the loss. Before we were chained emotionally to keypads, the aural glimpse of a song from a radio, the waiting for something to arrive was enough, was all and was sufficient. It became something akin to possession and had to be found. A quest would evolve. Journeys would be made to listening posts and record stores. The object was one of desire and there was a kind of love at play. A need to own a song. Now everything is uber available much of that almost religious passion has flown. Hoskyns is the embodiment of such a fervour; his articles are prayers, hymns and parables, be their subject Tom Waits, The Beach Boys, Sly Stone, or Stevie Wonder. He desires music as a life enhancing force, something to share and inspire. Something to live for.
This book is a guide for those who wish to listen. A chronicle from an evolving world where hearing has become a fleeting experience, his words make one want to commune with the artistic offerings of someone you know only through their songs, preferably alone in a darkened room, or to animatedly talk to friends about -- to share, discover or remember. Perhaps the tortured briefness of the lives and outpourings of Sandy Denny and Judee Sill, the wistful eloquence of Sufjan Steven, or the grunge dynamics of Nirvana. Read an article at random and then go and buy the album. This is a wonderful swathe cut through the rich world of records and discs. A perfect bran tub of delights. Even as a download, this world of riches can still be yours.
A book that perfectly evolves, an air of suggestion, an index of rewarding possibilities.
An indication that passion yet remains.