Feature: David Marsh Seeks Enlightenment In American Grandstand

Roaming through a Seattle bookshop in 1991, I came across exactly what I sought: an unknown book about popular music.

Its cover was dull, so gray that I presumed it might date from the '50s or '60s. In fact, it had been published in 1987 by

Riverrun Press, a publisher I'd never heard of, either. I also had never heard of the author, Christopher Small, or of his other

book, "Music-Society-Education."

"Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in Afro-American Music" (now available in paperback) seemed no

more prepossessing than any other academic treatise published at $29.95 and four years later marked down to $14.95. I

didn't expect much. You could spend a lifetime weeding through bad academic writing on popular music -- these days, you

could do that at the newsstand, since it infests almost all pop-music print magazines -- but when I hit the bookstores, I seek

enlightenment, not tenure.