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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blue Monday by Rick Coleman

Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'N' Roll by Rick Coleman. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-306-81491-4

So when did rock 'n' roll begin? What year? What song? What artist would you point to? In 1956, a reporter asked Fats Domino this question: “Fats, how did this rock 'n' roll get started anyway?” Here's the answer he received: “Well, what they call rock 'n' roll,” stated Fats, “is rhythm & blues, and I've been playing it for fifteen years in New Orleans.”

The primary premise of this, the first full-length biography of Antoine Domino, Jr., born in 1928, and commonly known to one and all as “Fats” Domino, is that he, Domino, should be recognized as one of the progenitors of the music that came to be known as rock 'n' roll, or later, just plain “rock” music. If not the inventor, Fats Domino was indisputably one of the the earliest popularizers of the genre.

The book's title, Blue Monday, refers to that very dark and indeed blue day, the Monday when Hurricane Katrina blew into the “Big Easy,” and destroyed much of New Orleans. As author Rick Coleman puts it:

One of the myriad stories in the wake of the worst natural disaster in American history was the boat rescue of seventy-seven year-old music legend Fats Domino and his family from his submerged Lower Ninth Ward home. His story indicated another perceptual disconnect. Though he had rarely sought publicity, the Katrina story was the most national attention Fats had received in years, shocking even old fans who didn't even know that he was still alive. Though he had been the best-selling early rock 'n' roll star after Elvis Presley, Domino had been all but forgotten.

The lack of recognition and attention for Fats and his accomplishments is another major them in the book. The important role that rock 'n' roll played in the breakdown of the barrier between the races, literally paving the way for integration, is another important theme. These prominent themes provide the subtext of the book.

The primary focus remains Fats himself and the year by year history of his career. Unfortunately, we are all too often overwhelmed by the parade of dates, concerts, contracts, band members, managers, and producers who come and go, often with little or no rhyme or reason. And I wish there were more emphasis on analyzing the music itself. As a music theorist personally, I decry the kind of analysis (if you can even call it such) that rarely goes beyond record label kinds of musical description.

Still, this is a good and valiant first effort at chronicling the life and times of Fats Domino, without doubt an important figure in pop music of the 20th century in general, and in rock music in particular. Author Rick Coleman is to be commended for filling this gap in musical biography. Definitely recommended for anyone interested in the topic.

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