Book Review: Big Day Coming – Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock

Written by Book Reviews, Books

As a rock snot, music writer, and Young White Male, you’re kind of supposed to already know everything there is to know about Yo La Tengo. It’s like that list of books they give you in high school to familiarize yourself with, because some college professor might drop a reference to Winesburg, Ohio, and you gotta know what he’s talking about. Such is the case with YLT—you’re expected to know every album, song, B-side, and legend.

That’s kind of true of any indie band, that cliquish mentality, but to get up to speed or fill in the holes, where do you go? Fortunately, we’ve now reached the point where the influential indie rock bands of the ’80s and ’90s are getting the Extremely Long and Detailed Biography treatment once reserved solely for boomer bands with godlike lead singers. Leading the pack is Jesse Jarnow’s remarkable Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock.

The story of Yo La Tengo is the lost entry of Our Band Could Be Your Life. But while Jarnow’s account of the band takes on a lush, highly detailed “you are there” feeling from Ira Kaplan’s childhood up to the present day, it lacks Azerrad’s offputting reverence and humorlessness, instead using a chatty tone, a casual method of communication not unlike that of friends or bandmates shooting the shit or talking about a band they like. Jarnow just happens to know, or came to know, everything there is to know about New Jersey’s finest band that was always just a little bit in front of one “scene” or behind another.

Big Day Coming spans the last days of punk to college rock to indie rock, to all the other things they called alternative rock that Yo La Tengo created and nurtured. There’s lots of nostalgia for the dirty, free-form New York and New Jersey that no longer exist, but really, the book isn’t really about Yo La Tengo. It’s about youth, and the mind-cracking discovery of music at a young age, and the subsequent forging of taste and artistic identity. Jarnow makes it personal, and it’s quite beautiful, this exhaustively researched and joyous, unpretentious travelogue of wonderful, real-American rock.