A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Music from Big Pink

It never occurred to me before this series started that we might end up publishing works of fiction. One of the books we're publishing later this year is a novella by John Niven, who (not so long ago) played in a band called the Wishing Stones. I still have a 12-inch single of theirs.

Anyhow, John's book is great - it's a powerful story of musical creativity, intense friendship, drug addiction, unrequited love, the joys of the Catskill Mountains, and lost dreams. I honestly think it's one of the best first novels I've ever read. We'll be printing up some advance copies in a couple of weeks, for reviewers. But if you want one just for fun, email me (david@continuum-books.com) - I'll send a copy to the first five people.

In the meantime, here's how Music from Big Pink, by John Niven, starts:

Toronto, 1986

I don’t know why I was crying like that. I hadn’t seen the guy in years and he hadn’t crossed my mind in months. But here I was, standing right in front of the Mini Mart, reading the newspaper and bawling my fuckin’ eyes out. The stuff I’d just bought – canned soup, Wonderbread, turkey roll, processed cheese slices – spilled from the dropped brown bag and rolled over the sidewalk.

Sitting down heavily on the curb (I’m in my forties and weigh nearly 300 pounds: I do everything heavily these days) I stared at the photo in the Star of a gaunt, bearded Richard. I looked at the headline again, hoping the words might have changed in the last few seconds. That ‘DEAD’ would somehow have become ‘ALIVE’. Or ‘PARTYING’. But it hadn’t. It still said:


Suicide, it said. He’d fuckin’ killed himself. Richard had done that. He’d killed himself. I kept right on crying. I’d had a shitty week and I’d just had an argument in the grocery store – the guy who runs the place accused me of passing him a bum bill (I hadn’t, although I had twice before, getting away with it the first time and around it the second) and we wound up getting into it. I was on an economy drive until the welfare check arrived at the end of the week and I hadn’t shot up since breakfast. It was now late afternoon and I was jerking, man: my sweat just froze in the early March breeze.

After a while an old girl stopped and – this being Canada – asked if I was OK. I looked up and caught my reflection in her Foster Grants: the rotted, broken teeth, the starbursts of broken blood vessels across my yellowing cheeks. Neither of us needed to be seeing this. Bravely, like a child, I sucked the sobs down and nodded. She handed me a dollar and walked on. I wiped my face with a ragged shirtsleeve, gathered up the cheap food, and hurried home.

The place was a living shit-house. It had taken my parents thirty years to own the house and me just three to run it into the ground. I would have drawn the shades but they were already down. I did the thing with the spoon and the lighter, the brown powder and cotton ball, the old hypodermic. (Glass and steel, pre-war, my father’s.)

A heavily treated guitar came in like an ancient tramp wheezing his last, then the woody toms, deeper than a crack on the floor of the Atlantic. I took my shirt off, found a halfway decent vein, tied off, put the needle in, and pressed the plunger. I turned the old stereo (also my father’s) way up, lay down on the rug, and let the intro go through me as I started to glow; the tempo of the song good and slow, slow as memory, the beat of my heart. Finally, here was Richard’s voice, trembling in fuckin’ agony; ‘We carried you in our arms, on Independence Day.’ He sang the words the way he’d sung everything: as though the information contained in the lyrics would end him.

I stared into the black rippling pool of the speaker, feeling every tremor and pulse like breath on my face, wondering if over the years the fibres of the cone itself had somehow become stained, impregnated with the thousands of songs, the millions of notes, that had shivered as they passed through and out into the air: electrical impulses becoming sound that became meaning and heartbreak. I turned away and looked up. It took me about a minute. There was a crack in the ceiling above me and, like magic, a tiny fleck of plaster broke loose and came floating down, like a sorry kind of snowflake, or maybe a leaf.

Sixteen bars, a spoonful of Iranian heroin, and I was two decades back into myself, floating happily through another time, another place. A time when we were all making money, driving good cars through the mountains, getting high, getting laid. A time when we were all living, not just waiting. Life is all just waiting after a while.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

An interesting article about the series appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday. You can read it online here. Thanks to J. Niimi for expressing the series' appeal much more eloquently than I could.

Will 14,000 people really buy Kim Cooper's book about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea? Pretty cool that Domino are are reissuing that album in the UK in September, anyhow. And we might - just might - be putting on some kind of NMH-related show in NYC in November or December.

Monday, July 25, 2005

30music review

Just stumbled across this review of three books in the series (Forever Changes, Electric Ladyland, Pet Sounds) on a website called 30music.com.

Don't know much about that site, but if you're interested, here's the piece.

Jim Fusilli on the radio

Jim Fusilli, author of our Pet Sounds book, will be appearing on Soundcheck on WNYC, between 2 and 3pm on Thursday this week, the 28th.

WNYC broadcasts on 93.9FM in the city.

I think Bob Mould is going to be on the same show as Jim, too. Listen in!

Wolk vs Meloy

My friend Bob (who designs all the covers in the series) forwarded me this chat between two 33 1/3 authors, Douglas Wolk and Colin Meloy.

Misfortune is, indeed, a very entertaining novel. I just need to finish the damn thing.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Series review in Tape Op

There's a piece in the new issue of Tape Op magazine, which calls the series "music writing done right" and concludes with this analysis of J. Niimi's R.E.M. book:

J. Niimi's book on R.E.M.'s Murmur, one of my all time favorite albums, gets it just about perfect. The book begins with a brief history of the band up to the point of recording Murmur. Next is a detailed account of the recording sessions for the album, with lots of interviews with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. Next is a track-by-track analysis of the album. This is followed by Niimi's own experiences upon first hearing Murmur, providing the historical and cultural context of the time, which leads to a discussion of what is meant by the term "Southern Gothic." Finally, an examination of the lyrics and Michael Stipe's use of language concludes the book. I've read a few other books on the band and this album, but I still found this to be insightful and a great read.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

You ignorant unliterary Americans make me puke

Off-topic, for which I apologise, but there's a great review of our B.S. Johnson biography in this week's Village Voice.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bill Janovitz on the radio

Bill Janovitz, author of our book on Exile on Main St., will be chatting about the album on The World Cafe with David Dye, on Saturday July 16th and Monday July 18th.

Go here to find your local station, or you can listen to the show online by going here.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

East Bay Express

Here's a link to a piece in the current East Bay Express, written by Rob Trucks.

There's more of the article on Rob's blog, which also features a good interview with Stevie Jackson, among other bits and pieces.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

I spent most of yesterday evening curled up with Kim Cooper's manuscript, with the album unhealthily loud in my headphones. The manuscript needs just a tiny bit of tinkering, but it's going to be such a good book. It's warm, charming, and inspiring: a great oral history of a remarkable group of people. Here's an extract...

As if afraid or unwilling to slow down, Jeff fueled his creativity with cigarettes and endless cups of coffee from the Dunkin’ Donuts down the street, staying awake until dawn working and reworking the songs that would end up on In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. When he did sleep, strange things happened. Jeff was subject to night terrors, waking dreams and sleepwalking, and occasionally he would bring his housemates along for the ride. Laura remembers one night when “He thought that all these monks were coming in the house, and there were buckets of water, and he was trying to move these buckets out of the way because the monks were gonna spill them all over the floor. He’s jumping around, telling me, ‘The monks are here! You gotta get out of the house!’ I was sound asleep and I woke up. ‘Get out the window!’ And I got out the window! And I’m standing outside in my underwear in suburbia. And then I realized, god, he’s just dreaming, I better get back in there.”

Jeff’s favorite place to sing was in the bathroom—fortunately, the house had two—and nearly everyone who visited has stories of hearing Jeff’s booming voice and amplified acoustic strum from behind the closed door. Fellow songwriters marveled that he rarely seemed to write lyrics down, instead working out songs by singing them again and again until the words fell into a repeatable pattern. Ben Crum, from the Athens band Great Lakes, quotes his friend Louis Schefano, who Jeff once told that he almost felt like he didn’t write the songs that ended up on Aeroplane at all, “but that he had just channeled them from somewhere.”

In addition to the (relatively) conventional songs he was writing, or channeling, Jeff devoted considerable time to making tape loops in emulation of musique concrete composers like Pierre Henry. Ultimately, he chose not to release these recordings, although some of these would be played on Jeff’s show on WFMU that aired in 2002.

As a songwriter, Bryan Poole was fascinated by Jeff’s creative process. “I could tell when he would be pacing around the room that those songs would be so personal. They came from a space inside of him that he wasn’t even sure where it was coming from. He says he has these pieces, these film strips. A lot of the time I think he pieces together these things in his head that he sees.” Sometimes the music from the next room sounded so magical, Bryan idly thought about putting in a tape and hitting “play”—but it would so clearly be a violation of Jeff’s trust that he never acted on the idea.

Bryan was also curious to hear what the genius next door was listening to. He discovered that Jeff had a great, eclectic record collection. Pierre Henry was a constant, and Jeff liked to play and sing along to Neil Young’s song “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” probably the only mainstream music Bryan ever heard from his room. He’d play weird old Folkways ethnographic records, free jazz on Impulse, electronic music. And everyone in Jeff’s circle seemed to adore the Minutemen, that jazzy San Pedro punk trio who were as close as brothers, with an intense connection that must have seemed familiar to the Elephant 6 collective.

Drawing on years of compositions that were never recorded, or had only appeared on small-run cassettes, Jeff often took pieces of old songs and integrated them into new ones. Laura Carter would spot bridges written when Jeff was fifteen making their way into songs destined for Aeroplane. Even though this was his second formal album, there was such a huge backlog of material that there was no question of a sophomore slump.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Stop Smiling

Here's a piece about the series in the excellent Stop Smiling magazine. (Not sure if it 's in the print version, or just online.)

Somebody really needs to help me out with some interview technique training.