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

Friday, June 30, 2006

A little more Bee Thousand

I'm really enjoying the Guided by Voices book that we're working on at the moment. So much so that another short extract couldn't do any harm, right?


It’s tempting to make a myth out of the Guided by Voices story, to turn the reality (like any reality always more messy and vibrant than the tale that recounts it) into a by-the-numbers rise-to-glory narrative. But that would belie what Guided by Voices was — and, in doing so, betray what makes their music — and particularly Bee Thousand — worth caring about. The elements are all there to shore up a tall tale: the rise to a lofty place in the indie rock firmament on the wings of purity and passion; the decade or more toiling in obscurity on art that recommends itself as a fit occupation for its makers only at the 11th hour; the workings of a rare inner compulsion so strong it’s hard not to ascribe to it the language of legend rather than allowing it to remain at its real, strange potency; the miraculous turn when labor and compulsion are rewarded with buzz and love and listeners.

Given that all of the plot-points above are true enough, it would be easy to translate this version of the facts into a pretty story with Bee Thousand as epiphany, the work of "genius" finally finding a place in the world where its creators never expected to make a ripple let alone a splash. In a sweet and creamy version of this feel-good plot there follows the devotion of People Who Matter, the awe of musicians whom the band holds in awe, the adulation of a rock polloi who see themselves reflected in some "average" and "old" guys gone gold (or its underground approximation), or more charitably — and probably more truly — the adulation of people who simply loved what they heard.

But, however true they appear to be, these are the elements that tempt the truth to stray in order to fill a formula. The thing is, there’s nothing formulaic about Guided by Voices’ music or their move from invisibility to relevance, a trajectory along which the release of and response to Bee Thousand is, unmistakably, an event, but not an easily contained one. Call it a Fourth of July for the skeptical citizens of some rock and roll county of the uncool, where dangerous home-made fireworks explode in stunted, asymmetrical shapes over the outskirts of a city in view of anyone looking up instead of gazing at his or her shoes. It’s an American tale of triumph, sure enough, but one, if we resist the temptation to make it a blockbuster, that has more to do with a vision of native self-reliance, one full of contrary impulses and willful individuality, rather than homogenized product or lowest-common-denominator marketability. Under the story, untouched by the story, is a music that’s explosive, revelatory, playful, off-color, aggressive, tender, untamed — and a manifestation of what makes real art work, mean something, move us.

Dylan Encyclopedia - more entries

Oh, and if you want to sample some more entries from Michael Gray's new book, you'll be able to do so, all next week, right here.

Writing Competition, etc

Just wanted to say thanks to everyone who's sent in an entry for the Under-21 writing competition - it's going to be great fun reading all of these, and not easy choosing a winner, to be published in this book. Also, who knew that the kids were so into Phil Ochs?

We're off to see the always charming Voxtrot in Prospect Park this evening. Have a great weekend, everyone...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Beastie Boys on WFMU

Yesterday evening Dan Leroy, author of our Beastie Boys book, was on "Coffee Break for Heroes & Villains" on WFMU - talking about Paul's Boutique, and playing a whole bunch of demos, B-sides, Dust Brothers/Matt Dike material, and more. You can see the playlist for the show, and listen to it archived here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Joshua Ferris: Then We Came to the End

On the flight back from New Orleans today (which turned into a mini-ordeal, thanks to the East Coast weather mess), I finished reading Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris. It's a galley proof we picked up at Book Expo a few weeks ago - a debut novel that's not due to be published (by Little Brown) until March next year.*

It's a wonderful, wonderful novel. Ferris has taken the most boring, predictable subject matter for a young novelist (hey, let's write about working in an office!) and has turned it into something genuinely new. It's funny, compelling, disturbing, moving, and has the neat trick of constantly refreshing itself just when it's about to become predictable. The book's USP (yes, it's about advertising) is that it's written in the first person plural. This really ought to scream "gimmick!" but it doesn't, not once. Perhaps this will spawn endless debates about "who" the narrator/s is/are, but I was happy not knowing.

Here's an extract from very near the end of the book.


The funny thing about work itself, it was so bearable. The dreariest task was perfectly bearable. It presented challenges to overcome, the distraction provided by a sense of urgency, and the satisfaction of a task's completion - on any given day, those things made work utterly, even harmoniously bearable. What we bitched about, what we couldn't let lie, what drove us to distraction and consumed us with blind fury, was this person or that who rankled and bugged and offended angels in heaven, who wore their clothes all wrong and foisted upon us their insufferable features, who deserved from a just god nothing but sorrow and scorn because they were insipid, unpoetic, mercilessly enduring, and lost to the grand gesture. And maybe so, yes, maybe so. But as we stood there, we had a hard time recalling the specific details, because everyone seemed so agreeable.


Somewhat bizarrely, there's a promotional trailer for the novel on youtube already, and you can subject yourself to it here. This seems to me a deeply dubious way of marketing a novel, especially a novel that need never be turned into a film. Oh well, don't let it put you off the book.

*If you want to borrow my copy, email me and I'll send it to you, as long as you promise to send it back before long.


Just got back from a weekend in New Orleans, at the American Library Association's annual convention. The city seemed, in many ways, back to its usual self - except dramatically scaled back. So many stores, restaurants, bars, simply aren't open any more. Still, we did our best to spend some money while we were there, and everyone seemed genuinely grateful that the ALA had decided to hold its convention in town.

We've had a few email problems the last few days - so if you've sent me an email and haven't heard anything back yet, you may want to send it again...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Some people are liking our book, already!

It's early days yet, but The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia's initial review coverage (reproduced below, in brief, with sideswipes surgically removed) is very promising.


Magnificent…won’t just astonish readers with its detail about Dylan’s work…contains so many insights and refutes so many myths about the rock ‘n’ roll era in general that it’s invaluable as both a reference guide and a personality study – Nashville City Paper

Amazingly well-researched and surprisingly readable – Library Journal

Deeply impressive…destined to be the most important Dylan book, bar none – Gerry Smith, The Dylan Daily

It has wit, opinion, style, and asks to be read, not just consulted…Gray appraises and scolds with terrific confidence…Staggeringly erudite, meticulously sourced… - The Village Voice

Utterly idiosyncratic – New York Times

All you need to know, and more, about [Dylan] – Richard Corliss, Time.com

Comprehensive and up-to-date – Slate

Door-stopping detail – The Toronto Star

Sunday, June 18, 2006

B&N, Union Square

Overheard in NYC, Saturday June 17th, 12.52pm:

Stranger no.1: "What the hell are those?"
Stranger no.2: "I think they're all novels about albums."
Stranger no.1: "Why would anyone do that?"

Friday, June 16, 2006

Guided By Voices

Another of the books we'll be publishing in September/October is Marc Woodworth's paean to Bee Thousand. It's the first book in the series to include a sonnet - not altogether surprising, considering that Marc is also the author of this book.

Marc's GBV book also includes a lengthy essay by Bob Pollard, some delightful fan confessionals, and a deliciously highbrow analysis of "Hot Freaks". Oh, and a photo of Tobin Sprout's Tascam Portastudio One 4-Track Recorder.

Here's a taste...


Making something from what we remember — making art from the memory of art that we love, making art from our own lives and imaginations — is not incidental to our being, but essential to it. When Robert Pollard writes the song “Bee Thousand” with falsetto harmonies inspired by “Happy Jack” (1967), he is remembering The Who — in one sense simply recalling what he has listened to before with pleasure and, in a more complicated way, putting together again the parts (re-membering) in his own way a work of art that is still alive in him. The title of the song is further enriched by the fact that the words bee thousand bear the same rhythm as, and nearly rhyme with, the name Pete Townshend, The Who’s songwriter and guitarist.

We could do worse than calling this process of creating a new name and song out of the memory of an old one an example of being “guided by voices.” Liberated from the connection to the name of a band, the phrase guided by voices resonates afresh, providing a succinct description of the process that all artists, led by memory, desire, love, and an unnamable compulsion to create new work, find at the core of their activity as makers.

The song title — “Bee Thousand” — becomes the name under which the album Bee Thousand is released in 1994 (an album which does not include the song “Bee Thousand”). Along with a memory of the la-la-la harmonies of British mid-to-late-sixties pop (even as Pollard substitutes “wabba wabba wabba way” for “la la la la”)—which itself was a species of nostalgia (see The Kinks) for the British music hall of the 19th century — and the echo of Pete Townshend’s name, there is also a connection, however tenuous or unintentional, between Bee Thousand and the Ventures’ song “The Two Thousand Pound Bee (Part 1),” the “first single recording to use a fuzz-box guitar.” As Bee Thousand the album is most often described — in praise or censure — as a radically noisy, fuzz-saturated recording, there seems a fatedness in its connection to that moment in 1962 when a soon-to-be essential kind of impure sound first appeared on a rock record. The Ventures’ fuzz-box guitar sound was a diverting novelty in its moment at the beginning of Robert Pollard’s favorite musical decade; the “noise” issued by Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand in the mid-nineties echoes and expands upon that introduction, offering both pleasure for and a challenge to the listener in the form of songs that incorporate and are sometimes defined by noise.

But however many instances of inspiration by or homage to the larger musical culture that precedes it Bee Thousand contains, there is a more local series of memories — what we could call personal memories — which attach to these two unexpectedly twinned words that become the title of Guided By Voices “breakthrough” record. There’s the memory of Jim Pollard, the brother of the “band’s” main songwriter, noticing a mile-marker on the side of an Ohio road that reads, or looks like it might read, “Z1000.” There’s the memory of Robert Pollard noticing a movie marquee advertising the 1992 St. Bernard dog-based Hollywood comedy Beethoven, a letter “u” pressed into service instead of the required letter ‘v’ so that the film name mutates from Beethoven to Beethouen. And there’s the more slippery memory of a Dayton, Ohio nightspot once called The Thousand and One (though it had a different name — Walnut Hills — by the time the Pollards had a regular table there at the dawn of Guided By Voices’ celebrity) where the guys spent evenings talking and drinking with writer Jim Greer (who would go on to author Hunting Accidents: A Brief History of Guided By Voices). The former 1001 club, a place that makes the myth of a musical “scene” in Dayton possible — a myth that gained currency, in part, because of the power of the record called Bee Thousand — is a place kept alive, however unconsciously, in that title.

Before whatever personal, cultural, or social meanings attach to those two joined words bee thousand, before they become the familiar name of an album that can be assigned a place in a movement or a signpost along a particular aesthetic journey, the reason they became the titles of a song and then an album is because they simply sounded good to Robert Pollard, his brother, their friends. Sounding good is the bottom line — and it doesn’t require a complicated aesthetic explanation. Putting together words that work. We could simply call this process writing, though, as we can see from the mile marker, the marquee, and the bar it doesn’t require sitting at a desk, plumed pen in hand and deep thoughts running through your head. Written down or simply imagined, this kind of making requires memory and accretion — daily incident experienced, stored, and eventually finding expression. The formulation bee thousand contains an appealing tension between the unexpected and the familiar, like so much of Guided By Voices’ work. There’s also an element of mystery and untranslatability that distinguishes words put together that sound good in this band’s alternate reality, what Pollard sometimes calls his “dream domain.” Bee Thousand doesn’t mean anything beyond itself and doesn’t translate into something we can explain. It insists on its own unlikely reality. You might envision a thousand bees or you might imagine how the words and their sounds could be reorganized into something recognizable — Pete Townshend, Beethoven, Z1000 — but nothing you try out in order to understand the phrase can change its real nature. As a lyric from one of Bee Thousand’s best-loved songs, “Echos Myron, ” asserts, “if it’s right, you can tell.” The words that name this album are right; you can tell. And they resonate as an introduction to a record that is equally untranslatable, similarly an act of imagination and surprise, however much this act owes to memory, both personal and cultural.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia: Now Available!

This is truly exciting: as of today, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia is on sale at Amazon.com, and from many other fine booksellers.

If you're in two minds about buying one, go to a bookstore, find a copy, and hold it in your hands for a few seconds. Feel the heft of it. See the way Bob's face shines in different ways as it catches the light. Look at the cool CD-ROM, tucked inside the back of the book. (No, you may not steal it.) Flick through the pages and marvel at the lovely text design and the charming selection of photographs. And then read an entry - any entry. You won't be disappointed. To help you on your way, here's the entry on Mike Bloomfield. Enjoy...


Bloomfield, Mike [1944 - 1981]

Michael Bloomfield was born in Chicago on July 28, 1944, hung around the city’s blues clubs from a very young age and by the time he hit adulthood was already one of the great white blues guitarists and one of the earliest blues-rock virtuosos: an influence on all the rest and a pioneer of the extended solo. He learnt from, and sat in with, many blues greats, including BIG JOE WILLIAMS, who once tried to stab him. His short memoir, Me and Big Joe, 1980, describes not only Williams himself but also going with him to visit Tampa Red, SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON, Tommy McClennan, Kokomo Arnold and others.

Bloomfield joined the PAUL BUTTERFIELD Blues Band in late 1964 (in time to play much-admired solos on their 1965 debut album) and increasingly influenced the adventurousness of the group’s subsequent work, flying off in exploratory ways while relying on the Chicago blues-band anchor of Butterfield and his rhythm section. He brought an Indian influence into the group’s second album, East-West, after exploring Indian music on a series of acid trips.

His intermittent relationship with Bob Dylan began, as for so many musicians Dylan has locked onto down the years, with a phone call out of the blue. Would he like to fly to New York and play on this song? There was one style guideline laid down by Dylan: ‘None of that B.B. King shit’: and however you feel about B.B. King, you know what Dylan meant. He wanted the pioneering rock-blues side of Bloomfield, and he got it. Bloomfield took the flight, his guitar on the seat next to him; he didn’t own a guitar-case. The sessions began on June 15, 1965. They started with ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’, didn’t get the take they wanted, moved on to the more obscure ‘Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence’ (the third take of which was issued in 1991 on the Bootleg Series Vols. 1–3), and then, without success, tried ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Next day they went back to it, and the session’s fifth take was it.

A few weeks later, with AL KOOPER, BARRY GOLDBERG, JEROME ARNOLD and SAM LAY, Mike Bloomfield was up there with Dylan facing the partially hostile crowd at the NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL, and back in the studio four days after that, cutting more of Highway 61 Revisited. On July 29, they pinned down ‘Tombstone Blues’, ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ and the ‘Positively 4th Street’ single. July 30 secured ‘From a Buick 6’ and the version of ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?’ that, also labeled ‘Positively 4th Street’, was issued by mistake. On August 2, the highly productive penultimate day, they cut the album’s title track, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ and ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’.

Bloomfield bowed out and went back to his other life. He left the Paul Butterfield Blues Band early in 1967 and on the West Coast formed the Electric Flag, with his old friends Nick Gravenites and Barry Goldberg, plus Buddy Miles on drums and a brass section. Their first recordings were for the soundtrack of the cult film The Trip, followed by a first album, A Long Time Comin’, in spring 1968. Mike Bloomfield left the group that summer, before Buddy Miles prompted them to make a second album (The Electric Flag). The group disbanded in 1969.

Bloomfield had moved on to join Stephen Stills and Al Kooper for an album on which they’re billed as, er, Stills-Kooper-Bloomfield. Supersession includes a very odd treatment of ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’, typifying in its strain after effect that period immediately after the heyday of Angst Bards, when, as this album’s title implies, rock groups suddenly produced superstars: a new term, then, signifying a new breed of people so stratospheric that they could hardly play their instruments at all any more. Quitting their original successful groups, they tried to join forces, generally for one-off gigs in front of massive rock-festival audiences; but excesses of money, alcohol, drugs and ego made it impossible for these titans even to speak to each other, much less work productively. Kooper and Bloomfield were not in the same league, superstar-wise, as Stephen Stills, and perhaps their lesser status is what keeps their collaboration from falling apart altogether.

Bloomfield managed a series of solo albums, uninhibited by the fact that he didn’t know what he wanted to say and was lost outside the framing of a band. In 1973 another not-very-supergroup was attempted, joining Bloomfield with Dr. John and JOHN HAMMOND JR., calling itself Triumvirate and redirecting Bloomfield back towards the blues. It was no success at all. In 1974 Bloomfield contributed to an Electric Flag reunion album produced by JERRY WEXLER, The Band Kept Playing. It didn’t.

He also wrote for ‘underground’ movies other than The Trip, and made appearances in several too. He wrote all the original music for that important 1960s independent film Medium Cool, directed and written by Haskell Wexler in 1969. He appears as himself in Bongo Wolf ’s Revenge, 1970, directed by WARHOL hanger-on Tom Baker, and wrote its original music, and gets credits as musician and lyricist on 1973’s archetypal 1970s movie Steelyard Blues, directed by Alan Myerson and starring Donald Sutherland, Peter Boyle and Jane Fonda. In 1977 he wrote the music for Andy Warhol’s Bad, directed by Jed Johnson.

A decent sampler of Bloomfield’s real work in the 1960s is the compilation Don’t Say That I Ain’t Your Man: Essential Blues 1964–1969. His 1970s solo albums include Try It Before You Buy (1973) and Analine (1977). The same year’s If You Love These Blues, Play ’Em as You Please attracted more attention but by this time Bloomfield was a long-term heroin user and hostile to the idea of touring (though in summer 1980 he toured Italy with classical guitarist Woody Harris and cellist Maggie Edmondson). By the late 1970s much of his modest income was earned from creating the music scores for porn movies, a gig that had been at its best in the much-praised semi-overground porn of Sodom and Gomorrah, made by the Mitchell Brothers in 1975.

Fifteen years after their historic 1965 collaboration, when Dylan was playing 12 nights at the Fox-Warfield in San Francisco in November 1980, mounting a series of golden concerts that marked his first semi-return to the secular world after the adamantly all-gospel tours of 1979 and spring 1980, he went round one day to Mike Bloomfield’s house, not knowing in what condition he’d find the guitarist, and had to climb in through a window to get to see him. They talked, Dylan urging Bloomfield to come to one of the concerts and play with him again. A couple of nights later (on November 15), friends took Bloomfield along, though he was so sceptical of Dylan’s really wanting him to play that he wore his slippers. But Dylan called him on stage, giving him time to adjust to the rather scary situation and much reassurance, by offering the audience a long, affectionate and generous speech on who Mike Bloomfield was. Then they did ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, with Bloomfield delivering a biting, triumphant guitar-part, matched by a second contribution towards the end of the concert, on a glittering, epic ride through ‘Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar’.

Three months later to the day, Mike Bloomfield took a drug overdose and was found dead in his car. He was 36.

Monday, June 12, 2006

An updated sales chart

We haven't done one of these in a while. Here's your chance to see how the books are stacking up against each other, in terms of global sales.

Of the new titles, the Paul's Boutique book is off to the best start. I'm still puzzled by the (relatively) low standing of the books on R.E.M., Elvis Costello, Zeppelin and James Brown. Any ideas?

Got the manuscript today for the Guided By Voices book, so maybe we'll post a bit of that later in the week.

1. The Smiths
2. The Kinks
3. Pink Floyd
4. Joy Division
5. Velvet Underground
6. The Beatles
7. Radiohead
8. Love
9. Neutral Milk Hotel
10. Neil Young
11. Rolling Stones
12. Dusty Springfield
13. Beach Boys
14. Jimi Hendrix
15. DJ Shadow
16. The Band
17. The Replacements
18. Led Zeppelin
19. Prince
20. David Bowie
21. Jeff Buckley
22. The Ramones
23. Bruce Springsteen
24. R.E.M.
25. Elvis Costello
26. Beastie Boys
27. Abba
28. James Brown
29. Jethro Tull
30. The Pixies
31. The MC5
32. Sly and the Family Stone
33. The Stone Roses

Friday, June 09, 2006

Let's Talk about Celine

Carl Wilson's 2007 book about Celine Dion is causing a little bit of friction already. You can read Carl's own post on the subject here, and there are plenty of links and comments attached to that to keep you going for a while longer. I don't want to say anything about this book until Carl has actually finished writing the thing - except that his proposal was, to my mind, the most entertaining proposal we've ever received for the 33 1/3 series.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The New Pop Revolution!

I can't say enough good things about the Dogbox Records compilation CD, Blue Skies Up: Welcome to the New Pop Revolution. If you want to buy it (for a measly 8 quid), you can do so here. Trust me on this, there's hardly a clunker on the whole damn thing.

Sixteen songs, all by bands I'd never heard of until now - maybe they're all being hyped to the gills in the NME already, who knows?

It's hard to pick highlights, but let's have a go. Some bands you should definitely check out:

Swimmer One(electronic pop duo from Edinburgh)

Luxembourg (discopunk elektropop from Cologne - definitely elektropop with a K)

The Schla La Las (Piney, George, Delia, Katrin, and Hannah - nowhere near as twee as the name suggests)

Bib (East London anthemic-dour electropop)

The Bridge Gang (Franzified Hackney punkpop)

The Bleeding Hearts (A staggeringly good Morrissey rip-off, on "Stars")

Nakeru (epic, early Mogwai)

Morton Valence (Swoon-pop, utterly lovely)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Jim DeRogatis and Grizzly Bears

There was an interesting piece on the series by Jim DeRogatis, author of the excellent recent Flaming Lips book, in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times, which you can read here.

In other Chicago news, Nicholas Rombes (author of our Ramones book and of our future publication The Punk Rock Encyclopedia) wrote to tell me of the series on display at Chicago's Virgin Megastore. It looks like all Virgin Megastores in the US are doing a big promotion of the series right now. And if huge displays of the series make you quiver with excitement, there's a gargantuan one at the Barnes & Noble on Union Square in NYC.

In unrelated news, we finally saw Werner Herzog's wonderful documentary Grizzly Man over the weekend: highly, highly recommended. As with so many things, there are some magically numbskulled customer comments on Amazon.com - my favourite of which begins with these words: "Imagine Paris Hilton as a young man in bear country." Now that would be a Fox reality show worth watching.