The Show I’ll Never Forget: 50 Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Concertgoing Experience. Edited by Sean Manning. Da Capo. $16.95.
Here’s a fascinating idea that, for most readers, will become tedious long before the end – if they even bother to read through the entire book. Sean Manning delivers exactly what his book’s title promises: 50 writers’ reminiscences of the most memorable concert each has attended. The word “concert” refers specifically to popular music or jazz: not one writer here remembers a classical concert, which is the result of the particular writers selected by Manning and their particular predilections.
There are actually 49 concerts discussed here – two writers attended one of them together and apparently both found it their most memorable experience – and they are arranged chronologically, from 1955 (Miles Davis) to 2005 (Metric, whose performance gets the two-writer treatment). There is enough overlap of time frame to make it surprising that only one writer chooses each performer (with that single Metric exception). Lynne Tillman picks a 1965 Rolling Stones performance; Rebecca Brown chooses a Beatles concert the same year. David Gates picks James Brown in 1968; Gene Santoro chooses Jimi Hendrix that year. Bruce Bauman picks Television in 1975; Karen Karbo chooses the Sunshine Festival the same year. It’s almost as If Manning went out of his way to choose writers with different tastes – or writers who would agree to pick different favorites.
This leads to the question: for whom, other than Manning and the writers, is this book intended? The approaches are all over the place. Linda Yablonsky writes movingly of a 1970 Nina Simone concert and of the death of her, Yablonsky’s, father. Tracy Chevalier discusses his Queen fandom in writing about a 1977 performance. Elizabeth Crane offers a kind of coming-of-age story intertwined with a Billy Joel concert in 1978. Holly George-Warren uses a 1989 Van Morrison concert as the springboard for a piece about herself, her partying and her own days playing in bands.
Almost all the pieces here are at least intermittently attractive. But, again, at whom is the book aimed? Are there putative readers out there who are fans of this particular group of 50 writers, or even of 40 of them, or 25, or 10? Are there people who are equally interested in reading reminiscences of concerts by Led Zeppelin (1973), the Horslips (1980) and Beck (1994)? Manning provides no connective tissue, simply offering an introduction that is his own most memorable concert (R.E.M., 2004). It’s hard to get past the idea that this book is essentially 300 pages of self-indulgence, giving popular-music writers a chance to talk about all the great bands they’ve seen plus a chance to pump themselves up a bit on the coolness scale. The writing ranges from the mediocre to the quite good, and it’s likely that fans of any of the people or groups mentioned will enjoy a chapter here and there. But there’s no cohesion to The Show I’ll Never Forget, and it’s unlikely that many readers will find more than a fraction of the book worth their time.