While we wait for the mail to show up with some nifty new books (a history of Krautrock and Patty Smith's book about Mapplethorpe, to name a couple), we'll once again pull a book off the Wayward Blog bookshelf. This week, it's Rob Sheffield's Love Is A Mix Tape.
When Love Is A Mix Tape came out, my wife and I immediately special-ordered it, to make sure we'd get it as soon as possible. We'd met in our early/mid-20s, and the first few years of our relationship resulted in several mix CDs, where we both attempted to suss out the other's intentions hidden within the lyrics of the songs.
We figured that a tale of doomed love, framed by a collection of tapes Sheffield discovered and listened to after his wife's death, would be so overwhelmingly beautiful and touching that it would instantly become one of favorite books (along with Terry Pratchett's Where's My Cow?, Michael Perry's Pop. 485, and Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything).
Sadly, that was not the case. While a touching tale of two misfits who find love, despite the fact that they've very little in common, Sheffield's marriage to his wife Renee happened so quickly following his meeting her that there's very little between them upon which to reflect. It's more a story of what's not there than what is.
Slowly but surely, the book moves along, and I found myself hoping that Renee would live, so there'd be more story. The book's cut short by Renee's death, and the rest of the story consists of Sheffield making friends with her friends and family, and learning who she was.
The descriptions of music are amazing, but it's the fact that Sheffield doesn't bring the same details and energy to his depictions of his wife. It's obvious he knows one better than the other, and that's where the sadness comes from. Were that he could've known Renee as well as he knew the bands and songs of which he speaks.
In the world of novelty recordings, none are so interesting as those done by celebrities. While Leighton Meester might be recording with Robin Thicke and Cobra Starship these days, she's merely the latest in a long line of acting professionals who've decided to take a step into the realm of music.
For every success story like Meester or JLo, there's a laundry list of failures. Now, those failures are sometimes far more interesting and timeless than one would think. The success of Rhino's Golden Throats series in the late '80s and early '90s introduced many of these recordings to a wider audience than the fans who might have bought them when they first came out.
Authors George Gimarc and Pat Reeder dove deeply into the field of celebrity recordings in their book Hollywood Hi-Fi. In the book, they go over "over 100 of the most outrageous celebrity recordings ever!" (or so says the cover). Now, while they do the usual suspects -- Shatner and Nimoy (with an entire section on Star Trek, actually), Buddy Ebsen, Jim Nabors -- they also dig through the really out there stuff.
Unless you're an obsessive novelty music collector, you probably aren't aware of the innumerable recordings done in character by actors in the '60s. Joe E. Ross did "Ooh Ooh!" Frank Gorshin did "The Riddler." Hell, even Ted Cassidy did "The Lurch" (which isn't to be confused with the song of the same name that Cassidy performed on The Addams Family).
Hollywood Hi-Fi is the sort of book that will send you scurrying for iTunes or Soulseek. The descriptions of some of these albums and singles are so well-written that you can't help but need to hear these records. A case in point being Robert Mitchum's Calypso...Is Like So, wherein Mitchum is described as "a more authentic calypso singer than Vanilla Ice was a rapper."
There's a companion album, too, although it's out of print and runs a few bucks. A revised edition of the book is due out soon, too. You can sign up at the authors' website for when the new edition is released.
Warren Perkins' Putrefaction Live is, at its heart, a prodigal son story. James Claw returns to the Navajo reservation where he grew up, leaving Flagstaff behind.
Rather than being a straight novel with the usual problem, rising action, resolution plot structure, Perkins' novel takes the form of a slice-of-life tale. Claw's story is intercut with the tales of the various side characters in Putrefaction Live. Those side stories include that of Angie, a mother of two whose husband is in the military and never around, Ray's father, and assorted others.
These interstitials bring to mind Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, wherein the story of the Joad family was split up with tales of migrant life and economic hardship. The interludes both inform the reader, helping to set the novel's tone, and at the same time making characters that would otherwise appear caricatures seem more rounded.
Metal in the novel -- specifically, Putrefaction, the band Claw joins -- is presented rather sympathetically. It's the metal of grindcore, not the metal hair bands and leather pants. Bands like Crytopsy, Napalm Death, and Cephalic Carnage are all the touchstones of what Perkins wants you to hear when he presents a song about Indian water rights called "Dry Genocide" with the lyrics "Thirst! Die of thirst, savages! The sun will bleach your bones!"
It's amazing that Perkins can bring a concert to life so expertly, with descriptions such as this one:
Before them was a moving mass of hair, a sea of bobbing bodies obeying the beat they were providing, like worshipers of the metal priests they must be.
Descriptions such as those stay with the reader, but that is the downfall of Putrefaction Live. The book is almost nothing but character studies and set pieces, and the issues introduced seem to melt away with little plot development as to their resolution. The novel is a swift read, and an enjoyable one, but everything happens out of sight, with little in the latter half of the novel to call a plot.
You can purchase the novel from the University of New Mexico Press.
Nick Brownlee's history of disposable popular music, also known as "bubblegum," is a treatise that gives its otherwise flippant topic a modicum of respect. However, at the same time, Bubblegum: The History of Plastic Pop is a bathroom read, simply because the subject matter is a litany of Svengalis and their proteges.
Bubblegum is defined by The Rock Snob's Dictionary as a "reactionary lite-pop movement of the late sixties and early seventies instigated by record producers and songwriters who correctly deduced that there was a youthful pop audience not being served by the prevailing trends of psychedelia, power-trio blues revivalists, and nascent prog." Bubblegum songs are known for "their insanely catchy compositions of Teletubbies-level repetitiveness and simplicity."
There's not an act in this book that doesn't seem to have been manufactured in some way, shape, or form. Granted, because the book has its origins in the United Kingdom, there's a strong focus on acts who never made the slightest blip on the American charts (Take That, et al), but there's still a strong focus on the acts of the '60s, where one had groups that were so manufactured, they featured actors, as opposed to musicians, such as the Monkees (although Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork were actual musicians, Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones were full-on actors, Dolenz having been a child actor in the fifties).
Of course, manufactured acts would go even further as the sixties came to close, with the "ultimate manufactured pop band" the Archies. The Archies were taken from a comic book and turned into a cartoon equivalent of the Monkees, but with the added advantage that the band was animated, thus eliminating the necessity of having actors being able to perform live.
Bubblegum is probably more enjoyable for the pictures and factoids than any serious commentary on its subject, but it's certainly an entertaining read to have on one's bookshelf.
Ooh, boy. Nice work by the folks over at Flavorwire. They've put together what they call "the Ultimate Hipster Reading List."
The only book on the list I can recall reading is The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry. However, that book is just about one of the best things I've read in the past decade. Trust me, I've been unemployed or broke enough in the previous ten years to have found every good thing to grace the shelves at the Lawrence Public Library.
Along with Joe Meno's The Boy Detective Fails, it's one of the books to redefine what detective fiction can be. Rather than following the traditional Dashiell Hammett noir or Agatha Christie whodunit formula, the books work with the nature of memory and how reality can be perceived.
So, it looks like I've got some more things to add to my reserve list -- after I get through this stack of post-holiday, non-thinking, ridiculously violent thrillers from John Connolly.
We return to the Rock of Pages bookshelf this week to bring you the classic history of Norwegian black metal by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground.
Have you ever seen that episode of Metalocalypse, "Birthdayface," where the band gets Murderface the most brutal birthday present ever -- the car JFK was shot in, with the chair Lincoln was shot in as the driver's seat?
As metal as that is, it can't hold a candle to the stuff done by Dead and Euronymous. Killing people, eating their brains, burning down churches: these guys basically make every act in corpse paint look like total ponces.
The book is good in the first half, when things are getting going, but when the authors move into the second half, there's an awful lot of politicizing. It gets a little heavy-handed and turns into commentary on what happened, rather than presenting new material.
However, this book is a necessity for any fan of music. Hearing the gist of what happened isn't nearly as...well...brutal as reading the details of what happened.
Nicholas Rombes' A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, 1974-1982 is a superb work, in that it doesn't provide the neat, pat definitions one has come to expect from most academic tomes. Instead of basic factual pieces or biographical paragraphs, Rombes uses as his definitions excerpts from fanzines of the early punk era, as well as respected tomes on the subject.
So, rather than there be an entry on Black Flag, there is instead an entire page devoted to No Policy, the "one and only EP by the D.C.-area band State of Alert (S.O.A.) fronted by Henry Garfield (who later became Henry Rollins)," taken from Michael Azerad's Our Band Could Be Your Life.
Flipping through the book, one will find at least a half-dozen bands only heard about tangentially explained in detail (two pages on the Dils, for instance), while also giving space to The Road Warrior, Dr. Spock's baby book, and director Alex Cox.
This is one of those books that one simply flips through at random, reading wherever the page might fall open. If one expects it to be anything at all, there will be nothing to be had but disappointment. Reading it with the mind that there will be surprises, and a list of new bands to find, and the possibility of a new perspective, will yield far more positive results.
If you go to the book's blog, there's a contest where you can win an atographed copy of A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, as well as one of the 'zines Rimbes used as research material. He wants to know what band (past or present) doesn't get the recognition they deserve. Entires are due to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 21.
One of my recent checkouts from the library was the excellent comic collection I Saw You, which is an anthology of comics based on Craigslist "Missed Connection" ads. Edited by Julia Wertz, it's one of those little books you breeze right through, and by the time it's done, you want more.
On the bright side, this is exactly the sort of thing to get a comic-loving friend for the holidays, or even the non-comic-loving perpetual single in your life. Wertz managed to wrangle strips from some of the biggest names in indie comics, like Peter Bagge and Keith Knight.
What makes this really interesting is the following, which fell out from between the pages as I was reading it on the couch this weekend:
It's the track list to a mix tape. And it's really kind of sweet, in a new infatuation kind of way. Actually, when you consider the inclusion of "Solid Gold" by Eagles of Death Metal ("We'll come dancing and we will make you sweat"), Bowie's "Sweet Head," and that Reigning Sound song ("Come on over to my house/We can have ourselves a ball") , this is a sweaty, new love kind of mix. There's bodily fluids being exchanged at this point.
If anyone out there made this, or knows who did -- let us know. We'd love to see how the person who got it reacted.
British celebrity cookbook author, television host, and vision of loveliness Nigella Lawson is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition," where you can usually hear Steve Inskeep fawning over her food.
Of course, said food comes under fire for the massive amounts of butter and bacon which Lawson uses. That is, of course, why everything she makes seems to sound like a deliverance of manna from heaven.
You can listen to Lawson when she appears on today's "Up to Date" with Steve Kraske on KCUR 89.3FM at 11 a.m. You can safely assume there will be food consumed. Lawson's voice sounds like it's describing sexual acts when she talks about the way food tastes, so make sure you're wearing loose pants when listening.
If you so desire, Nigella Lawson will be at the Unity Temple on the Plaza tonight at 7 p.m., promoting her new book Nigella Christmas: Food Family Friends Festivities. The event is sponsored by Rainy Day Books and is $35, which gets you a copy of the book, and admittance to the event.
Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture, by Kaya Oakes, is a fantastic book. The title is a little deceptive, however. Rather than deal with "indie" as the accepted term of today "hipsters in skinny jeans," horn rims, and mellow college rock, Oakes traces the culture of artists, writers, and musicians outside the mainstream from the sixties until present day.
There is a touch of holier-than-thou inherent in the book that I'm not too fond of. Much like the recent trend in punk documentaries is to present an aura of "you weren't there, and it's too late for you," Oakes seems to lament anything that's not 100% DIY.
Still, the idea that "indie" means "independent" is explored thoroughly in the pages of Slanted and Enchanted. The book mvoes from a brief history of the hippie break from the establishment to punk rock, and uses music 'zines to talk about independent publishers. From there, Oakes moves to self-published comics, discussing R. Crumb at first, and moving on to Daniel Clowes and how comics like his Ghost World and others like Persepolis became feted films.
The chapter that explores an avenue that's not received much attention outside the pages of Bust is "Hands On," which goes in-depth on the topic of handmade goods. Etsy is held up as an example of how things can be both good (the ability to sell your handmade goods to a large audience) and bad (having to "click through two thousand images of totes until [you] find the perfect one").
While the tone may at times be a bit preaching, Kaya Oakes has in Slanted and Enchanted a book that manages to explore all the facets of the way "independent" culture became "indie" and how it might go back there again. Exploring as she does all the facets of the independent world, Oakes has written a book that will provide a greater understanding to all that crack it open.
Read the introduction to Slanted and Enchanted. (PDF)
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