—Charles Taylor

Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967
By Dominic Molon, with Diedrich Diederichsen, Anthony Elms, Dan Graham, Richard Hell, Mike Kelley, Robert Nickas, Simon Reynolds, and Jan Tumlir | Yale University Press | 288 pages | $50
You didn’t hear it from us, but rock music sort of “gets around” if you catch our drift. Kind of slutty, actually. You don’t see sculpture hanging all over literature, or opera rolling out of graffiti’s apartment at all hours. However, rock music seems willing to “collaborate” with pretty much any artform with a heartbeat and an audience. You can thank Warhol for first introducing rock into the go-go art world, but for a broader, clearer, and rawer look at the 40-plus-year itch between rock and visual art, and the painters, sculptors, performance artists, and assorted bon vivants who’ve made careers from scratching the shit out of it, check out Sympathy for the Devil. A companion work to an exhibition that originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art , Chicago (and is currently at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art through January 11), Sympathy combs through the art, rock, and art-rock scenes of pre-, mid-, and post-punk LA, NYC, London, and Europe through lively texts from Richard Hell, Simon Reynolds, Bob Nickas, and Dominic Molon as well as a rich selection of artworks. With grandiose neon installations from Jason Rhoads, eerie drawings from Raymond Pettibon, raw video stills from Pipilotti Rist, and a host of restless minds from Cory Arcangel to Richard Prince to Rita Ackermann, the variety of ways art and rock have hooked up are as richly represented as the distinction between them is recklessly blurred. Those two might not always get along, but they always look good trying.

—Michael Brodeur

The Thames: A Biography
By Peter Ackroyd | Nan A. Talese/Doubleday | 510 pages | $40
The Thames is a mere 215 miles long (the Mississippi and the Amazon are over 4,000 miles each), but it’s the most storied river in Western civilization, and it incorporates, as Peter Ackroyd points out, “the myth of the nation.” It’s all here: Dickens and docks, Blake and bridges, malt and Milton, processions and plagues, swans and sewers, poplars and Pooh sticks, the etymology, the geology, the history, the songs, the smells, the sounds, the colors, the light. With just a handful of plates — mostly old drawings, prints, and photos — this is a thinking person’s gift book, as Ackroyd, describing the river as the blood of human civilization and a metaphor for life (and in the process reminding us that we’re 60 percent water), riffs on space, time, and eternity. In other words, he takes the beginning of T.S. Eliot’s The Dry Salvages — “I think that the river/Is a strong brown god” — and runs with it.

—Jeffrey Gantz

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