If I had to sum up David Walley’s 1998 release in one word, it would be ‘snoozefest’. Teenage Nervous Breakdown: Music and Politics in the Post-Elvis Age is more of a personal nostalgic take on life than insightful look at how the rise of rock ‘n’ roll shaped the world.
Though the book contains research, most of Walley’s commentary is derived from his own experience and predilections. In and of itself, it’s not a bad thing, but would be better suited for a memoir. The heavy baby-boomer/ex-hippie/weren’t the fifties swell-slant makes it difficult for a younger audience to relate while simultaneously dating the perspective.
Also annoying is the clear fact that Walley never got over high school – he goes so far as to dedicate an entire chapter to explaining how society structures itself in much the same way high-schoolers do. While high school as life is a common metaphor, most of us get over the fact we were picked last in gym class and don’t fixate on it well into our forties. Hopefully for him he really showed the football team who’s boss by putting out this book.
While the content of the book did nothing to move me, matters were not helped by the format. The publishers picked a font that is hard to read (commas and periods are nearly indistinguishable from each other, and each letter has so many serifs it might as well be Middle Ages-era calligraphy), each paragraph has a large break in between (generally reserved for a separation of ideas), and there are several large block quotes per chapter (why not just read the other authors’ work?). This may be a nerdy conceit, but if a book is a laborious read regardless of content, it’s a problem.
If the title and proposed subject matter of the book intrigues you, I’d advise skipping Walley’s entry and going straight for Jon Savage’s Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture. It does an amazing job of tracing youth culture’s rise to prominence and is well-written on top of it. It’s a bit heavier but will save you the waste of time Teenage Nervous Breakdown turned out to be.