Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock by Jesse Jarnow (Gotham Books)

If I made a list of bands in order of how exciting I think their biography would be, Yo La Tengo would probably come in somewhere around #335. There’s no over-the-top debauchery, no insane personalities or meteoric rise and fall in popularity. Yo La Tengo just aren’t that kind of band. With no standard rock-bio elements to build on, author Jesse Jarnow smartly links the story of Yo La Tengo to the larger story of the indie rock genre. He does an excellent job of detailing the band’s long history in the margins, while simultaneously showing how they’ve made major ground-level contributions to many of the institutions that dominate today’s indie rock landscape (Pitchfork, Matador Records, indie-comedy…etc.) The book’s only shortcoming is that it’s the story of Yo La Tengo as a band, and not the band members. So, even though you spend over 300-pages with them, the band’s core of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew remain frustratingly distant as individuals. You can tell they’re self-deprecating music geeks with a passion for cinema, food, and baseball, but that’s it. I guess they wanted to make it all about the band, but the best band biographies always leave you feeling as though you know the band-members, even if you’ve never met them, and I don’t get that from Big Day Coming. The author also makes an errant mention of The Feelies’ debut album Crazy Rhythms coming out in 1979 (it came out in April, 1980), which is a sloppy oversight, given that the book is about music geeks and going to be read by music obsessives who know this sort of information like the back of their hand. The book also raises a valid question of “Why now?” Yo La Tengo are arguably as popular as ever, so why not wait a while to see where their story goes from here? Even if the flawed execution keeps it from being definitive, I give Jarnow a lot of credit for making one of the first books to deal with American indie-rock without any direct connections to hardcore, SST, grunge or any other genre offshoots.