Butterfly In The Sky: “Soul Train: The Music, Dance, And Style Of A Generation” – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

soultrainQuestlove is as close to a modern renaissance man as I think my generation will get. The dude has jobs into the triple digits, and does them all with the coolness and composure of a cucumber. He’s a drummer, a producer, a bandleader, a musical puppet master, a talk show music man, a restauranteur, a traveler, a critic, a designer, a college professor, and a writer. He has now written two books, both of which I’d highly recommend, and one of which I just finished reading.

It’s called Soul Train, and it is an in-depth look at the television show that was as foundational to an entire generation of kids as Sesame Street. Questlove has basically written the most interesting and educational coffee table book I’ll ever read, and for me, a guy that previously knew nothing about the TV show Soul Train, it was a history, music, and culture lesson all rolled into one.

Soul Train was the foundational TV show that Questlove grew up watching. His parents were very strict when it came to popular music, but they approved of Soul Train. It became his window into what was hip in the ’70s and ’80s. In his book, he explores the music, the fashion, the artists, the dancers, and the overall cultural movement that this show helped foster.

I have a proclivity towards most anything Questlove is involved in, so I really enjoyed this book. The face that it was a coffee table book didn’t actually sink in until I unwrapped it (Christmas present) and it was twice as big as I thought it was going to be. It’s also chock full of pictures. I was expecting a book along the lines of his memoirs, Mo’ Meta Blues, which is far more conventional (white pages, all text, regular size, etc.) but instead opened this behemoth.

No matter. While this fits inside the coffee table book category, it is still a fascinating read. You get immersed in the culture of the ’70s and ’80s through the pictures. They tell as much of a story about the show and what it meant culturally as Questlove can communicate through his words. It’s as important to see the photos of Don Cornelius interviewing the biggest names in soul music as it is to read Questlove’s descriptions of seeing him on the show, ever staying composed in the spotlight. You get a dual sense of who this man was and what he stood for, what he was trying to represent through his television creation that was unlike anything else of its time.

And Questlove’s got stories. For as many candid and behind the scenes photos as grace the pages of this book, Questlove tells so many show stories and makes the reader feel as though they’re there, seeing the cameras zoom around the dancers and seeing Don interact with the musical guests.

This show was Questlove’s musical childhood, and that comes through in his writing. Questlove lived and breathed Soul Train and the reader gets a sense of what it was like to grow up with Soul Train being your cultural connection to kids in your neighborhood but also kids across the country. He communicates so well what this show meant to his generation and why it deserves its place in America’s history as a pop culture institution.

This was a really fun read, and if you have any connection to Soul Train in your childhood, I’d recommend this book. It’ll be a fantastic walk through the past.

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