Questlove’s new book, “Soul Train, The Music, Dance and Style of a Generation” serves as both a celebration of the cultural phenomenon Don Cornelius’ landmark television show has been as well as picks up where his previous book, this summers autobiographical “Mo Meta Blues”, left off. Questo uses here an engaging form that details the history, high points, features and recurring segments, artists, fashions, and dancers of the long running music program, interwoven with his opinions of the artists place within the changes black music was undergoing at the time they made appearances on the show.
Quest personalizes his experiences with viewing Soul Train. Soul Train and Seasame Street were the only two programs his parents allowed him and his sister to watch unsupervised. Just as he does with music in his autobiography, he uses performances and moments on the show to reminisce on the impact they had on him, both as a budding musician, as well as a young man. His respect for Don Cornelius is deep, as is his belief that Soul Train was the best televised chronicle of post-Civil Rights black style, issues, and music. He organizes his book into sections on the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, the three full decades of the shows existence to this point. There is a top ten list of moments on the show that lists moments that were either musically or culturally signifigant, and it also gives profiles of the people who really made the show work, Soul Train’s fabulous dancers.
“Mo Meta Blues”, his autobiography, was notable for using a song or album to discuss every year of his life up until the time of the writing of the book. These songs, what he was listening to at any particular time, either help to trace his physical, social, emotional and musical development, or provide a soundtrack to his life. It’s an interesting literary practice that stems from the belief that music is the art form most directly related to memory. He expands on this in this book, using episodes of Soul Train either to trace artists career progressions, whether soul, funk, disco or hip hop was the happening black style of the time, or how the sets and choices of dancers reflected either an earthy, grass roots community vibe, the high class aspirations of disco, or the upwardly mobile LA vibe of the 1980s.
The book therefore serves as a users guide to the show, chronicling performances and putting them into a context of late 20th century musical progress, as well as making note of the moment in time Quest’s generations music began to be ascendant in popular taste over his parents. Therefore it’s not only a cataloguing of Quest’s tastes and opinions, but it reflects what a good deal of the Soul Train audience might have felt as well. The book is not only a great starting point to discuss the show, but a great starting point to discuss the history, music, and culture of those three decades as well, making good on the belief that Soul Train is the ultimate TV time capsule of Urban/Black culture. But you don’t have to take my word for it….get the book, and check out some Soul Train episodes on Aspire TV, as well as check out the DVD’s that have been released, and see if you don’t break out dance moves just a tad more often.