Gary Giddins’ new book on Crosby is great. But even so, I didn’t think it was quite as good as his first, extraordinary volume, that went up to 1940. After reading the second I re-read the first to make sure. And I was right: it’s almost as good but not quite. Yet, who’s quibbling? I don’t think anything could be. Cumulatively, the books are one of *the* great accounts of twentieth century American popular culture ever written. Reading them you get not only a sense of Crosby and his significance but a thorough account of the recording industry of those years, what was innovative when during the period, an account of radio at its peak and an excellent account of Hollywood at its height. All meticulously recorded, annotated, thought through.
One of the wonderful things about living now is that you can read Giddins, go to the song he’s talking about on youtube (they’re almost all there), and then read him as to why the singing, the song, or the arrangement is interesting or innovative, and one in fact does end up understanding. Giddins claims Crosby as the most significant figure in American popular music next to Louis Armstrong (and he well explains why it’s not Sinatra, Presley or any of the other contenders). And whatever your views are before reading, you’ll be absolutely convinced after.
Those of you into fan studies might also be interested in the newest volume for other reasons: much of the account of Bing in New York during the war years is taken from diaries of two sisters, dedicated fans, one of them in her late twenties, who stalked him so thoroughly it would put the FBI to shame. It is a meticulous researched and ethically woven through the narrative.
If you’re at all interested in American popular culture, in music, cinema, radio or the performing arts in America in the twentieth century, these two volumes are essential reading. I sincerely hope there are plans for a third.