Photo by Michael's Downstairs Neighbor

Photo by Michael's Downstairs Neighbor

Michael Azerrad

Author, Journalist, Musician

Michael Azerrad is a critically acclaimed author, journalist, musician, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Talkhouse.  His definitive 1993 biography Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana was the only band biography leader Kurt Cobain participated in and was published six months before his death.  It is a first-hand, intimate work and the interview tapes between Azerrad and Cobain are the basis of the fascinating 2006 documentary film Kurt Cobain: About A Son.  His 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 chronicles the groundbreaking '80s punk and indie rock scene.  It profiles the legendary bands Black Flag, Minor Threat, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Fugazi, Big Black, Butthole Surfers, Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney, Beat Happening, and Mission of Burma.  The Observer named Our Band Could Be Your Life one of the "50 Best Music Books Ever Written" and it is 100% essential reading.  This is Michael's Fidelity High: Steve Reich // Music For 18 Musicians // ECM Records // 1978.  Michael says, "One spring day in my junior year of high school, I found myself alone in the house, somewhere out in the suburbs of New York.  It was the weekend, everyone else was out somewhere, and it was raining hard, that northeast rain where the drops are so big and splatty that when they hit your head, it hurts.  There was nothing to do, so I fired up the living room stereo, turned on the radio and twisted the dial up to 102.7.  WNEW was one of the first free-form FM stations in the country, bound not by a strict format but only by the whims of the DJs.  You could get turned on to a lot of really cool music that way.  The WNEW DJ was probably playing stuff like Joe Jackson and Tower of Power and Joni Mitchell, but then he got on the mic and said something like, 'You know what? We're going to play something a little unusual now.  It's an excerpt from a piece by a composer here in New York named Steve Reich.  It's not like a lot of the music we play on the station, but just stick with it, look out the window at the rain and listen.'  And the music faded in.  At first I thought it might be electronic music, it was so… mathematical.  But it was acoustic instruments: marimba, clarinet, strings, piano, voice and other sounds I couldn't quite identify, but clearly organic. It was kinetic, but it was also serene — like a finely beaded curtain, you could look closely at it and see how busy the work was, or you could step back and note how the whole thing billowed gracefully.  I'd never heard anything even remotely like it.  It was exquisitely beautiful, even moving.  It reminded me of New York City: sophistication and energy that added up to a huge, ineffable, restless beauty.  And so I looked out the picture window at the sheets of rain coming down in impeccably parallel diagonal lines, a hypnotic visualization of the music — it all came together into one of those perfect music moments that burn themselves into your mind forever.  Eventually, maybe seven or eight mind-rearranging minutes later, the music faded out.  The DJ said the piece was called Music for 18 Musicians.  In an era when ambitious rock music had titles like Tales from Topographic Oceans, I even loved the no-nonsense nature of the title.  I begged my dad to pick it up for me at the Sam Goody near his office in the city.  (The copy you see in the photo is the one he got for me.)  When I listened to the whole thing, it was even more amazing than the first time I heard it.  I'd gone on family trips to the city since I was an infant, and I loved the place, but right then and there, on that rainy afternoon, I realized that I had to live in New York City.  I had to be in a place that gave me the same feeling that Music for 18 Musicians did.  So I made sure I went to college there.  And I've lived in New York ever since."

@michaelazerrad