Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I Will Dare

Book 6: Let it Be (Replacements) by Colin Meloy (33 1/3 Series)

First off, this is not really about the ‘Mats Let It Be. At least not about the making of it. The sooner you let go of that notion, the happier you’ll be with what the book actually is, which is the memories of someone who came to love “college rock” slowly, his tastes shaped by the whims of distant cool friends and relatives, and built by perusing magazines and record stores, looking for the bands he vaguely remembered someone mentioning. The album is a focal point of this process, and a jumping-off point for ruminations on becoming a music fan. Change all the pronouns from masculine to feminine, and you pretty much have my early years, so I adore this book for completely selfish reasons that may not translate well to anyone else. Its portrait of the indie fan as a young man is absolutely dead-on, right down to the embarrassing music he loved before. Oh, and the author is in a pretty good band, too.

There is a small continuity error in the book, but I pointed it out to the editors, who are fixing it in the reprint and now mailing me a free book from the series, so we should forgive them for that.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Friday, January 20, 2006

It's not terrific, but it's competent.

Book 5: Belle and Sebastian: This is Just a Modern Rock Story by Paul Whitelaw

Things I learned from this book:
-People in bands together should not date.
-The band, their manager, and generally everyone in the book agrees with me that Sinister and Waitress are currently the strongest albums Belle and Sebastian have made.
-Arab Strap was a wee bit peeved about that album title.
-Stuart is a connoisseur of abnormal pants.
-Isobel is the reason Arab Strap and Peasant falter, because Stuart indulged her too much. (See first point.)

Even though the author takes pains to say that maybe Isobel was unfairly blamed for tension within the band, he then goes on to make her sound like a silly twit afraid of travel, sex, adulthood, big crowds, and rock music (oh, and she’s incapable of sustaining an entire solo album). With her memorable quotes including “back when Chris used to bring cakes to practice, that’s when I liked being in the band” and “when you’re on the road, you’re always bent over, rummaging in your suitcase, it can hurt your back”, either Whitelaw is very cruelly sending her up, or she’s an utter twee twit. And speaking of twee, the italicized intros and outros to each chapter are god-awfully precious. Must we keep referring to Stuart Murdoch as “the curious boy”?

Apart from that, though, it provides interesting background on a band that shunned publicity for a long time, and shows the importance of the welfare system for artists in Scotland in the early to mid-90s. Seriously. Everyone was on the dole.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The count-up continues...

Book 4: Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

Lethem is very, very clever. Lethem wants to show you how he can combine Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick. Lethem will not really explain why animals can talk, or what babyheads are. Lethem will make you smirk about everyone being addicted to their own specialized drug mixes. Lethem will let you tie that to today’s use of psychotropics and will let you feel smart and superior with minimal effort. But Lethem can’t quite make you believe that, over the course of a six year lapse that happens in this book, wallets and trashcans and guns (see the title!) start making their own music.

I actually liked this book, although I found the world Lethem constructed a little too busy (at least by the point of the singing trashcans... why?). Also, due to the lack of description of the “babyheads” (a class of people messed up by genetic engineering), I kept picturing them all as large-scale baby Stueys. Still, it’s a fun, smart read; I could see this being made into a very intelligent first-person mystery video game quite easily.

I'm now reading a lot of books on music, so expect it to get less respectable around here. I'm almost done with the Belle and Sebastian bio, y'all!

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Books and Surliness

I have no clue how much I read throughout the course of a given year. Sure, I’m usually reading something, but I go through periods when I’m reading magazines/websites/cookbooks/craft books, when I can’t find a book to fit my mood and thus thumb through the first 20 pages of every book in the house before I start trolling the used bookstores, and when I get so busy with various other things in my life that my reading rate slows waaaaay down.

Therefore, I’ve decided to count the books I read this calendar year. This is in part inspired by the 50 Book Challenge on LJ (and VCB’s book blog), but I’m not really looking to hit a certain number, just see what number I hit.

Of course, if the number is looking low, this public documentation may compel me to read more to make myself look better. Can’t measure position without affecting momentum, you know.

With this count, I also introduce a new feature: I will write a Short, Unenlightening Review of Literature for this Year (SURLY) for each book I read. I’ve finished three books far, so let’s get started.

Book 1: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
I admit, I read this almost entirely because there’s a Decemberists song about the author. It’s sweet, though a little slight, and I liked the earlier part of the book, focusing on the oppression of knowing you’re a mediocre child around smart people better than the latter part of the book, where the emotional distance of the family and each person’s escape into mysticism to fill the void was rather relentlessly expounded upon. Also, although I’ve not seen the movie, I kept picturing the parents as Juliette Binoche and Richard Gere. Way too attractive to be these people.

Book 2: The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ by Jim Fusilli
This book is like crack to me, as I mentioned in an earlier post. Fusilli covers all of the songs on Pet Sounds, and somehow manages to link Brian Wilson’s sadness to his use of complex harmonies without it sounding like bullshit. It’s a pretty good primer of the Beach Boys up to the recording of Pet Sounds, though it doesn’t get to the part where PAUL MCCARTNEY IS EVIL.

Book 3: After the Quake by Haruki Murakami (partial re-read)

Hey, it’s Haruki Murakami. Hey, it’s emotionally alienated people in weird situations. But this time… there’s a naturally occurring reason! I love Murakami’s short stories (Elephant Vanishes is one of my favorite works of his), and I’ve been meaning to finish this slim volume since I saw the Steppenwolf adaptation of the last two stories. All these stories occur after the Kobe earthquakes, but before the subway attacks later in 1995 (a time during which Murakami lived in America, teaching at Princeton). I’m going to have to pick up his nonfiction work about the latter tragedy, Underground, because his work here is lovely.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"Behind the Music" + books + good music = love

Oh dear. I’ve just found another cultural product on which I can (and probably will) spend much time and money. I’ve known about it for some time, but I didn’t get addicted until my grandma hooked me up. I’m not even done with the first voyage, but I want to take another trip soon.

Yes, folks, I’ve finally started reading the 33 1/3 series.

I suppose my ardor is pretty predictable. I love books, these are books. I like critically acclaimed music, most of these books are about highly regarded albums and are often written by esteemed music critics or indie musicians. And I love the VH1-style “Behind the Making of the 50 Greatest Albums that Rocked the 90s” shows. (My love for the show on the making of Back In Black by AC/DC exceeds the love I’ve felt for many actual people.) And now, I have books that read like smarter versions of these shows, largely about music I actually really adore. Sweet.

Right now, I’m working through Jim Fusilli’s take on Pet Sounds. It’s a pretty straight-ahead work; a little preface on the author’s tough times and how his life was saved by rock and roll, then right into Brian Wilson’s emotional problems and studio habits. I know other books in the series take different approaches (at least one of the books is a novella), but this was a good starter (not least of all because I adore this album). As smart as she is, though, I suspect my grandmother opted to pick this one over my other recommendations of The Replacements’ Let It Be and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea because she knows who the Beach Boys are.

Now I just have to stay away from that “Purchase all books in this series!” button on Amazon…

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...