Music History Done Right: Peter Blecha and Sonic Boom

Any second-rate hack can mash a group of facts together into a book. Fortunately, Peter Blecha is no such hack, and Sonic Boom is no such book.

Blecha’s Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from “Louis Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit daisy-chains the stories together into one cohesive narrative. From Richard Berry to grunge, Blecha shows how each artist and each artist’s era flowed into the next, borrowed from the past, and built something brand new.

I read music history books on the regular. Glancing over to my bookshelf right now I see Waging Heavy Peace (Neil Young), Songs in the Key of Z, Bruce (Springsteen), and Testimony (Robbie Robertson)…among others.

As someone with such an absurd number of music books, I can say that Blecha’s Sonic Boom is one of my very favorites, and not just because I live in the Northwest, nor because I came of age in the grunge era. It’s just a damn good book.

After reading Sonic Boom, I realized that Nirvana and grunge didn’t erupt out of a vacuum. The Northwest music scene has always been categorized by a gritty individualism. It’s got a garage-rock heart, and it’s always had a garage-rock heart.

Aberdeen, Washington: Not the Lying-Down Kind

Now, when I listen to Louie Louie, I hear its premonitions of Smells Like Teen Spirit, and when I listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit, I hear the ghost-strings of Louie Louie. As a lover of history, that is the thing that I most appreciate about Blecha’s work.

In examining the Northwest musical currents, Blecha reveals the heart of the whole region. It’s this glowering, laughing thing in wet overalls covered in wood chips. It’s got a brilliant smile full of missing teeth. It’s carved out of granite and fog and sewn together with train rails.

You can’t get what the book’s got to give simply by looking up the individual parts on Wikipedia. I sound like a car salesman but I don’t know Blecha and this isn’t content marketing. It’s just how I feel.

Blecha’s a real writer in an age of hacks (this includes me). Read his book. It’s a good one.