The Fun Stuff and Other Essays by James Wood; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 339 pages ($27).
Lest anyone wonder why there are critics in this world, there will always be James Wood’s title essay here about The Who’s legendary wildman drummer Keith Moon to answer them. Wood is a New Yorker staff critic and as readable, formidable and fearsome (to many, among his subjects, chiefly) as any literary critic we have. So this collection is a superb collection of Wood on such vehemently literary subjects as Tolstoy, Edmund Wilson and George Orwell on one side of the library and Lydia Davis, Paul Auster, Geoff Dyer and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” on the other.
But kicking it all off by way of self-explication is Wood “growing up “in an English cathedral town” to be a mannerly and proper performer on the piano and the trumpet. “But what I really wanted to do as a little boy was play the drums … Noise, speed, rebellion, everyone secretly wants to play the drums because hitting things, like yelling, returns us to the innocent violence of childhood.” And to Wood, “the drummer who was the drums when I was a boy, was the Who’s Keith Moon, though he was already dead when I first heard him. He WAS the drums, not because he was the most technically accomplished drummer, but because his many-armed, joyous, semaphoring lunacy suggested a man possessed by the antic spirit of drumming. He was pure, irresponsible, restless childishness … John Entwhistle’s incessantly mobile bass playing was like someone running away from the scene of the crime; and Keith Moon’s drumming, in its inspired vandalism, was the crime itself.”
Moon was no mere time keeper. He was all fills. “There is no time out in his drumming because there is no time in. It is all fun stuff.”
For Wood, critic and critic, “this playing is like an ideal sentence of prose, a sentence I have always wanted to write and never quite had the confidence to: a long passionate onrush, formally controlled and joyously messy, propulsive but digressively self-interrupted, attired but disheveled, careful and lawless, right and wrong.” He’s a writer people need to read.
– Jeff Simon