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Hollywood Shack Job Does a Bad Job

February 15, 2013

A number of years ago I heard about Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius (satellite radio) and pestered the hubby to subscribe so we could listen. Absolutely worth the cost of the subscription! It’s my favorite radio station (with apologies to my second-favorite, the local college station) and it’s where I discover lots of new (and old) music. Little Steven’s daily commentaries are a hoot but also provide a good deal of fascinating info on everything from rock and roll to medieval history to Martin Scorsese.

So it was with a great deal of excitement that I opened the pages of the book I got for Christmas, Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music in Film and on Your Screen. Mike heard Steven rave about the book on his program, saying one chapter was “worth the price of admission.” The author, Harvey Kubernik, is a production consultant (whatever that is) on the Underground Garage, but even knowing the probable bias from Little Steven didn’t deter Mike. So he bought it for me, and my brief glance on Christmas Day showed chapters on Kim Fowley and Andrew Loog Oldham. Sounds fun, right?

Wrong. Kubernik’s approach to sharing his love of music in film is misguided, poorly executed, and downright obfuscating. Each chapter is an interview with an individual who has some kind of role in getting music on film: musician, songwriter, producer, filmmaker, director, music or film critic, screenwriter, documentarian, or music supervisor. Many of these people seem fascinating and have some interesting things to say, but the interview approach just doesn’t work for all of them. Kubernik does nothing to clarify any inarticulate commentary, and his interview skills remind me of the kind you’d find in Teen Beat magazine—”What’s your favorite soundtrack?” Really?

The book’s title provides a clue to Kubernik’s writing style, which is hardly one I’d expect from the author of an academic press. The Urban Dictionary says a shack job is “any couple that cohabit without benefit of marriage,” usually meaning a mistress. So he’s using an old hippie term for the relationship between music and film? Does he really think music and film will never be married? If so, there’s absolutely nothing in these pages to indicate that. Instead, he wanders across time, formats, perspectives, and roles to enthuse about music in film without bothering to educate his readers on how to appreciate a good marriage between the two.

And pardon me for complaining about something I know a lot about, but the editor of this book should be shot. I’m appalled that a university press (University of New Mexico Press in this case) would publish something this bad. Each chapter presents a kind of bio at the beginning, followed by the Q&A with Kubernik. But every single chapter also includes a bio at the end of the chapter, which invariably includes almost identical information from the beginning. There’s no reason for both, and a good editor would have insisted on combining them. In addition, the structure of the book is poor and, even if the interview presentation were kept, a restructuring and reordering would have greatly enhanced reader comprehension. And the many typos and ungrammatical errors are just inexcusable.

If you want to learn about music in the movies, find some other book to read because this one won’t help you a bit.

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