"Editor's Bookshelf: Amazing Myths, How Strange the Sound"
"An interview with Steve Turner, the author of Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song."
March 1, 2003
Rock journalist and poet Steve Turner has made a long career of writing about the history of pop music. Book-length treatments have focused on Marvin Gaye, the Beatles, Cliff Richard, U2, and Van Morrison. Most recently he turned his attention to the history of "Amazing Grace."
As a rock journalist, what musician has been your favorite subject?
I enjoyed writing about the Beatles because I'd grown up with them. It was great to be able indulge myself and listen to all the songs. My book A Hard Day's Write told the story behind every Beatles song, and there were a lot of anecdotes about how they came to be written.
How did writing that book inform what you did in Amazing Grace?
I've been particularly interested in backgrounds of things. I've gone to places where particular songs or books were written, like going on the fairy tale route in Germany and looking for where the Grimm's fairy tales were collected, or going to Switzerland and finding where Heidi was written, and also going to David Bowie's Berlin and Dylan's Woodstock. And then I wrote Hungry for Heaven, which was about rock music and religion.
How does your book on "Amazing Grace" relate to Hungry for Heaven?
Well it helped when talking about the background to Judy Collins's recording of "Amazing Grace." The fact that religion was considered okay for rock music around that time—late '60s, early '70s—meant "Amazing Grace" seemed a natural song to record at the time. But it wouldn't have done five or six years before that.
My background in music also meant I'd start out at an advantage because I knew who the artists were and, if they were still living, I knew who to contact in order to talk to them.