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

Monday, July 31, 2006

Dylanesque Quiz

One of the fun features of Amazon.com's Search Inside The Book facility is the concordance. According to its calculations, these are the 100 most commonly used words in our Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

1965 2005 again album american another band between black blues bob book born came city come concert country day down dylan early end even film first folk get go good got great group guitar himself hit home ing john know last later life line little live london long love man may music name new night now ny old own part people play played playing re record recorded recording released right robert rock see sessions set sing singer song sound still studio take things though three time tour tracks two uk version vocals went words work world years yet york young

We'll send a free copy of the book, signed by the author Michael Gray, as well as five free 33 1/3 books of your choice, to the person who can write the most entertaining song lyric that uses those 100 words - and only those 100 words - by the end of Friday, August 11th.

Email your entry to me - david at continuum-books.com



In an effort to out-lame Sean Nelson (see entry below), I had a go at this quiz. The aim was to achieve something Bob-like; an aim that was spectacularly not achieved. If anyone else wants to enter, you have another week...


1965 again, know people went American
City life, old folk, sessions playing two tracks

Little Robert, singer song (New York get young!)
Rock released, tour home, London got blues black

Another concert came between studio, recording
Guitar man hit himself, yet re-recorded three things
Played live, play right, take time, even sing
Love long, night now, words work, music-ing

First born UK, film John – good day
Early sound country, though book group version still may
Come down part line, record set NY
2005 vocals: go see last Dylan album name
Later Bob, own world – band years end great

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Court and Spark

Another of the manuscripts I've just received is Sean Nelson's, about Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark album. In this extract from the Introduction, Sean is reflecting upon a magical moment in the mid-70s, hearing his mother sing along to a Joni Mitchell song on the car radio, in Laurel Canyon.


Let’s not forget that this whole scenario was made possible by the radio — possibly AM, probably top-40, definitely commercial. I knew that people sang along with records; I was just beginning to familiarize myself with the practice. But records required intention. You buy it, you learn it, you play it, you sing it. The idea that the music could come to you was brand new, and thrilling. The next step was realizing that other people — friends, strangers, mothers, sons — were out there hearing it at the same time you were, and also singing along. The fact that it was a Joni Mitchell song and not one by, say, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, the Bay City Rollers, or the Eagles, was incidental, but only at first. As years have gone by, I’ve conferred a great deal of meaning on the “Help Me” episode, not only for its small-but-significant expansion of my young pop consciousness, but because it formed a door into the work of one of my all-time favorite recording artists.

Joni Mitchell’s albums, particularly the ones she made between 1971 and 1975, have become essential components of my musical lexicon. The fact that “Help Me” is far from my favorite Joni Mitchell song (it’s not even my favorite on Court and Spark), matters less than the fact that it was my first Joni Mitchell song. And that only happened because it was catchy, clever, universal, and well-constructed enough to become the biggest Joni Mitchell song, before or since, on the radio, reaching number seven on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart, and number one on its Adult Contemporary Singles chart. In the years that have elapsed since that Laurel Canyon afternoon, I’ve gone back and forth many times about the relative value of singles charts in determining a song’s worth. I intend to go back and forth many more times. One thing that can’t be argued, however, is the insufferably pompous entertainment industry maxim that a hit is a hit. (Some things are true even if music biz weasels say them.)

Though I had no idea at the time, “Help Me” was part of a concerted effort on the part of Mitchell and her collaborators to make a hit record after years of critical and cult successes. It was not her first such attempt, but it was her most successful, and that’s a big part of why I chose to write about Court and Spark, instead of other JM records I might like better on a given day. It’s a sucker bet to try and argue that Blue, or For The Roses, or The Hissing of Summer Lawns are better or worse albums than Court and Spark, or than one another. In a certain way, they all feel like one sustained burst of musical endeavor from an artist who had only just begun to understand what she was capable of — and before she had decided to leave that strength behind in search of new powers. Still, Court and Spark is such a clear turning point, not just in terms of its popularity, but in terms of its approach. It represents a perfect example of an artist reaching out to a wide audience without pandering to it, in what feels, 31 years on, like an honest attempt to say as much as possible to as many people as possible.

And not for nothing, but one of the people she reached was me, via my mother, who was living through many of the themes explored on both the song and the album — which could have been subtitled Love and Death in Los Angeles. Thus, the record helps frame not only my love of pop music, but my understanding of the labyrinthine anguish of the human heart. And it has stayed with me as I’ve watched nearly everything I’ve ever believed about both the latter and the former endlessly reverse and evolve. Mitchell recently called Court and Spark “a meditation on romantic love in the context of the times.” In the Los Angeles of the 1970s, a city the narrator of the album’s title track admits she “couldn’t let go of,” that context included a lot of drugs, divorce, and despair. But somewhere in the morass, there lurks the intrinsic, unvanquishable optimism of pop music. While the lyrics tell of ambivalence and conflict, the beat remains seductive, the groove hypnotic, the melodies indelible. As a meditation, it’s incredibly rich. As a document of its time and place, it’s indelible. But, perhaps most importantly, as a collection of songs by a great musician at her peak, it’s still appealing enough to make you want to sing along in the car.

That’s what I call a perfect record.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The last word on Syd

Many thanks to Ben Sisario for bringing this to my attention - a very touching obituary of Syd Barrett in The Economist.


TO THOSE who were young then, the late 1960s were the best thing since 1789. All that followed paled by comparison. This was the time of the Paris riots, with students hurling cobbles and the flics hurling tear-gas back; the first convulsions over the war in Vietnam; the Prague spring, quickly crushed by Soviet tanks; and everywhere the sense that the young, by sheer numbers, could overthrow the established order and make the world again.

If they failed to remake it, this was largely because they were out of it on one illegal substance or another. For many of them, the drug scene was a quick, soggy spliff behind the bike sheds, or a reverential division of a cake of greenish powder, washed down with a glass of Liebfraumilch and covered up with burning joss sticks. Yet at the highest levels of culture the new gods of rock music tripped on much more dangerous stuff, and sang about it. They did not find truth exactly, as much as yellow walruses, purple fields, kaleidoscopic skies and melting buildings, all of which were evoked in music and light shows so new and peculiar that the best way to appreciate them was by being prone and stoned yourself.

Syd Barrett was the very exemplar of this wild universe. As the leader of Pink Floyd, the highly successful psychedelic band that he christened in 1965, he wrote and sang of “lime and limpid green”, of Dan Dare, of gingerbread men and, in the band's first hit, “Arnold Layne”, of a transvestite who stole underwear from moonlit washing lines. His weird words and odd, simplistic melodies, sent through an echo-machine, seemed sometimes to be coming from outer space.

Yet there was also something quintessentially English and middle class about Mr Barrett. His songs contained the essence of Cambridge, his home town: bicycles, golden robes, meadows and the river. Startlingly, he sang his hallucinations in the perfect, almost prissy enunciation of the Home Counties. He made it possible to do rock in English rather than American, inspiring David Bowie among others. The band's first album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1967), made Mr Barrett central, plaintively calling up the new age from some distant and precarious place.

Yet the songs were already tipping over into chaos, and by January 1968 Mr Barrett was unable to compose or, almost, to function. Dope, LSD and pills, consumed by the fistful, overwhelmed a psyche that was already fragile and could not bear the pressures of success. At concerts he would simply play the same note over and over, or stand still in a trance. If he played, no one knew where he was going, least of all himself. The band did not want to part with him, but could not cope with him; so he was left behind, or left them, enduring drug terrors in a cupboard under the stairs in his London flat. Casualties of “bad trips” usually recovered, with stark warnings for the unwary. Mr Barrett, famously, went on too many and never came back.

Friends, especially his Pink Floyd colleagues, tried to encourage him to resurrect his career. Their attempts were heartbreaking. At various times in 1968 and 1969 microphones were put in front of him and he was persuaded to sing and play. Cruelly, the recordings of his solo efforts, “The Madcap Laughs” and “Barrett” (both 1970), caught everything: the nervous coughs, the desperate riffling of pages, the cries of frustration (“Again? I'll do it again now?”), the numbers of takes. The sleeve of “Madcap” showed a naked girl in attendance—there had been any number of those—but Mr Barrett oblivious to her, his face masked by long hair and mascara, crouched shivering on the floor.

Cambridge, where he had learned to play banjo and had proudly covered his first guitar with mirror-discs, seemed the best place to retreat to. He went back to live in his mother's cellar, boarding up the windows, and returned to the painting for which he had trained at Camberwell School of Art. Ambushing journalists were told that his head was “irregular”, and that he was “full of dust and guitars”.

Mr Barrett was now the most famous recluse in British rock. Slight as his oeuvre had been, it proved impossible to forget. His death, from complications of diabetes, brought an outburst of regret from rock stars and fans who were still following him. Tom Stoppard's play “Rock 'n' Roll”, which was playing at the Royal Court when he died, made him a metaphor for revolutionary music: in 1968 a Pan-figure piping liberation, in the 1990s a tired, grey man spotted in a supermarket.

Shining like the sun

His band last saw him in 1975 as they recorded, in “Shine on you Crazy Diamond”, a tribute to him that sounded like yet more encouragement. (“Come on you raver, you seer of visions/Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine.”) Mr Barrett wandered in, fat and shaven-headed and hardly recognisable. As his friends sang “You shone like the sun”, he seemed to laugh sarcastically. He stayed a while in the studio, and then went away.

On the recording, a guitar player drifting in space walks through a door and finds himself in a loud cocktail party. Managers and promoters come up and flatter him, cajole him into working for them, but at last he escapes again. This time, nobody can catch him.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Songs in the Key of Life

I've received three manuscripts in the last couple of days - always exciting. Now if only I can find the time to read the damn things.

Here's the introduction from one of them - Zeth Lundy's book on Stevie Wonder. Will post extracts from the other two, later this week, with luck.


The gun belt that Stevie Wonder wore the day he foisted his sprawling new album upon a pampered press corps was branded with pun and pomp: NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET, it read. The belt, its holsters awkwardly cradling LP jackets, was merely an ornamental portion of Wonder's ostentatious cowboy outfit, fringed and cream-colored and every bit as tongue-in-cheek as the day's celebration was decadent.

The 145-acre picturesque Long View Farm in North Brookfield, Massachusetts seemed a peculiar location from which to unveil the fruits of a prolonged, two-year labor; after all, Wonder's idiosyncratic R&B, a melting pot of funk, gospel, jazz and pop, was hardly the stuff of hayrides and stabled thoroughbreds. But this was hardly just any album that the throng of reporters and special guests, replete with champagne, roast beef and pie, was hearing for the first time — this was Dionysian excess on record, a two-LP-and-bonus-EP set that looked down upon more humble records like a potbellied Frankenstein of technology, genre and craft, a career-defining resting place for the final fevered expunges of unmatched creativity.

Such immoderation was likely expected by those attending the exclusive day of lavish merriment. A $75,000, 60-foot-by-240-foot billboard announcing Wonder's impending album, besieged in eye-seizing rainbows, clouds and stars, had been sitting kingly atop New York City's Times Square for four months. It was an impossible-to-miss public proclamation of commerce in vibrant, anticipatory pastels. The guests passed the billboard (then the largest in the country, perhaps the world) earlier that morning as they were transported to Kennedy Airport in a school of three buses. They had come from Essex House, a luxury Manhattan hotel, where they had been instructed to congregate at 7:30am that morning. A breakfast buffet greeted their bleary eyes and anxious stomachs. While they ate, Wonder's public relations manager, Ira Tucker, discussed the day's involved schedule with early-morning leniency.

The buses delivered the nametag-bearing guests to Kennedy, where they boarded a DC-9, were served in-flight champagne and hors d'oeuvres, and landed a short time later in Worcester, Massachusetts. Three school buses took them deep into bucolic America and their final farmland destination in North Brookfield. The entire trip was a premeditated series of smokescreening exchanges, as if this mass of several hundred people was re-dousing itself, hour to hour, to throw unseen dogs off its scent.

As they debussed for the second time that day, the invited stretched their dormant legs and repositioned their sunglasses. The din of the city and the disorientation of the journey receded as everyone assimilated to the fresh country air and awaited the $30,000 listening party. Here, in the middle of a New England nowhere, they were soon to be privy to the year's most awaited release, a pop cultural event whose pregnancy had been hawkeyed by an impatient, worldwide audience.

And then Wonder appeared, descending a staircase to greet his captive audience. Smiling broadly in his Western getup, his head rhythmically bobbed from side to side. He had cancelled one of these listening parties earlier in the year so that he could tinker with the final product, mindful of its immensity yet sensitive to its perfection. It was too late to do such a thing again. There was a crowd of people standing in front of him. They had been brought here for an unveiling. Still, he could stall just a little longer; after all, they had waited this long, what was another five, ten minutes? Wonder rambled on about his interpretation of the music, about "love mentalism" and about "a positive tomorrow for all people, where we do not just talk about love or just feel it as a temporary thing, but really relate to it as something that lasts forever in our hearts and in our spirits and in the way that we do and our character."

Then there was nothing else that could be said that the music couldn't say better.

"Let's pop what's poppin'," Wonder said.

The 1/4" tape on the reel-to-reel rolled.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

A poet's hands

It's not often that we at Continuum see anyone reading our books in public, let alone anyone seriously cool, so it was a treat to stumble across this image on the internet, on Chris McKay's blog. This is Chris's friend Len, standing next to the great poet Seamus Heaney, who is cradling a copy of our Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pernice on WNYC's Soundcheck

Joe Pernice, author of our Meat is Murder book, was on Soundcheck yesterday to chat about the album and his book. The show is archived, and you can listen to it here.

The global Pernice Brothers publicity machine is about to crank into action - the new album is coming out in October, I believe. And if you go to the band's myspace page, you can hear a wonderful track from it, "Somerville".

Thursday, July 20, 2006


After months of dithering and general cluelessness on my part, you can now - should you wish to - subscribe to this blog, by clicking on that cute orange button on the left hand side, just over there.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The "R" word

Here's a review of two recent books in the series, from Harp magazine.


So far. So good. The rockist 33 1/3 series has been appropriately space, time and scene sensitive — Bowie’s Berlin via Low, Neutral Milk Hotel’s glorious South — without getting lost in any sort of loftiness. In the process it’s becoming a coolly emotional Encyclopedia Britannica of Pop.

For Dan LeRoy’s look at the nasty white boys of rap’s second CD, the New York Times scribe sticks to that location/time continuum so to tell the tale of affluent Brooklyn B boys finding mo’ money and mo’ problems at the hand of sampling, Capitol Records and fantastic LA. Certainly, Boutique was viewed as visionary to the critical cognoscenti. But did your little brother buy it; the one who was still fighting for his party rights? That’s the question most asked throughout: How did naughty frat boy antics become high art and sales worthy in the marketplace of the late ’80s? LeRoy presents aptly funny answers to how the Beasties cut loose from Def Jam’s Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons and made their own way, super slowly, through what could’ve been a disaster. Not only did Horovitz, Yauch and Diamond find happiness — check out the stories of hanging poolside — they removed themselves from all level of novelty act by making collage-hop de rigueur forevermore.

Happily, LeRoy’s book is fast and sharp. Miles Lewis’ look into Sly Stone’s seminal 1971 LP Riot isn’t quite as clear cut. Instead, it’s an often ruminative peek into the Sly one’s post-Stand masterpiece. That’s not to say that Lewis’ take on the funk classic isn’t biting or brisk. It tells the story of black American politics circa 1971, chats up band members, and outlines the headaches involved in not following a wildly commercial success with another wildly commercial success. Perhaps Lewis is simply mimicking Riot’s brooding qualities or those of the multi-discipline musician and flashy host who made it. Perhaps Lewis — a Bronx memoirist currently living in France — is making his own Riot.

By A. D. Amorosi
First printed in Jul/Aug 2006

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bee Thousand, again

Part of the charm of Marc Woodworth's forthcoming Bee Thousand book is the way in which it replicates the feel of the album itself - it's a collage, a patchwork quilt of styles, ideas, narratives, fan responses, and input from band members themselves. Here's a short piece from Robert Pollard's section of the book:


"Hot Freaks" was a revelation to us. I was singing a lyric over one of Toby’s instrumentals and he used a Memory Man to get a vocal sound that for the first time we both thought was really sharp and allowed a better performance. That’s when Toby and I truly started collaborating. It became more than me telling him that I was going to play a guitar part at a certain point or asking him to try to make something sound a certain way. "Hot Freaks," "Greenface," and "Queen of Cans and Jars" were the first songs we taped in the basement where I thought the recording of a full band sounded good enough to be on a record. You can record an acoustic and a couple of other instruments on four-track and make it sound all right, but it was difficult to get everything to sound good when you’re recording a full band with drums. Once we started to get a sound we liked, we would record every little idea we had. Some people thought we recorded too much but my philosophy at the time was that since we could get a sound on the four-track that we liked we should record as much as we could. For an album like Bee Thousand we might have recorded a hundred songs and if twenty percent of them were good, then we’d have a solid album.

Mike Lipps, a friend of mine, said the ingenious thing that we did was to record everything. We’d have a name for everything, a cover for everything, and we’d record everything — we’d think of skits and record them, tape the sound from the television. We were constantly recording and not worrying about what the recordings sounded like. We just wanted to get as many ideas down on tape as we could. And we would always have a name for everything we did, every place we recorded. We called Toby’s basement Collider XL. We called my basement The Snakepit and one time The Public Hi-Fi Balloon. We called Kevin’s basement Laundry and Lasers. We had to name everything. We would have jam sessions but not in the usual sense of a jam session. We’d have all the titles and lyrics ready before-hand. We called them "controlled jam sessions."

I’m impatient. During the time of Bee Thousand, I liked how quickly you could record a complete song. Two or three times a week, I’d have five or six songs and we’d get together at Toby’s or in Kevin Fennell’s basement. We wouldn’t rehearse. There’d be no practice at all. I’d teach Kevin the song, playing it on guitar, while Toby mic’d the drums and then my amplifier. As I taught Kevin the song, we’d record it. Once I thought it was good enough — and it didn’t necessarily have to be perfect — once it captured the idea of the song, then we already had the drums and the guitar down. All we had to do was overdub bass and a vocal and it was finished. The whole process took a half an hour per song.

It was important to me that we capture a song in the least amount of time from when I conceived it to when we put it on tape. That’s the way to capture the purest essence of a song. When we were recording the songs for Bee Thousand, spontaneity was important to me. When you don’t establish a set of ground rules and you don’t care about mistakes, it’s easy. Some of the best music is recorded exactly the way that it’s conceived and created — it’s all happening simultaneously. At any rate, there has to be a point when you say, "that’s good enough."


I love that sentence That's the way to capture the purest essence of a song.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Doolittle reviewed in NYTBR

In today's "Nonfiction Chronicle" in the New York Times Book Review, there's a short - and peculiar - piece on Ben Sisario's Pixies book.

There's a link to the whole article here (including brief reviews of four other books), but the relevant review is here:

DOOLITTLE. By Ben Sisario. (Continuum, paper, $9.95.) A friend of mine once had a girlfriend who kept a careful diary. "Never has so much been written about so little," he'd say. You could say that about "Doolittle," too, an entire book devoted to a Pixies album (part of Continuum's "33·" series). But that would mean you don't know the alt-rock god Charles Thompson, a k a Frank Black. Sisario, who is on the arts desk staff of The New York Times, explains how Thompson and a buddy once placed an ad in The Boston Phoenix: "Seeking female bassist into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul & Mary." Only one person responded: Kim Deal (later of the Breeders). In April 1989, "Doolittle" was released, and history was made. "They had a good angle . . . band with pretty girl and silly name makes weird music that critics dig," Sisario writes. Thompson was "an Everydude, a pudgy blank slate" whose lyrics about "sexual loathing and visions of apocalypse" touched a chord. "I don't know that sex is a totally beautiful, normal thing the way that the gods intended for a lot of people," says Thompson, who (to his credit) refuses to get too deep about his music. In graceful prose, Sisario shows how the Pixies influenced Kurt Cobain (he "told Rolling Stone that with 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' he 'was basically trying to rip off the Pixies' ") and became "one of the most admired and namechecked bands of the decade of alternative rock." Sisario provides an abundance of detail in some areas (e.g., a four-page exegesis on "Monkey Gone to Heaven") but leaves other issues unresolved, like "Why save the U.F.O. songs for the B-sides?" The puzzle remains: why would he (or anyone) want to know?


Erm...maybe because he (or anyone) is interested in the band? Just a thought.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Under 21 Writing Contest: The Winner!

Many congratulations to Dan Connelly - his essay on Phil Ochs' album I Ain't Marching Any More is the winner of our competition. Dan's prize is a quarter of Continuum's annual profits (to be precise, $250), and his essay will be published as Chapter 21 of our upcoming book 33 1/3 Greatest Hits Volume 1, which has extracts from the first twenty books in the series.

It was not easy picking a winner from the entries we received - and honorable mentions in particular should go to Justin Wolfe for his essay about the Strokes, and to Phil Rudich for his essay on Radiohead.

Here's a short taste of Dan Connelly's winning entry:


The Christers, radicals, reactionaries, teetotalers, janissaries, communists and the straight-edgers and I have all found a high in common. We are juiced on indignation. We have an agenda, a movement, a plan (maybe just an angle) for a major paradigm shift. We have wet dreams about marches and protests and strikes and living through Sergei Eisenstein's October but we do nothing. We read pamplets and books and listen to folk music and punk rock and we fantasize and do nothing. We become "political" to get our indignation fix. Our pretensions of "political consciousness" amount to so much masturbation.

That being said, Phil Ochs is my favorite way to masturbate.


And here's a great clip of Phil Ochs performing the title track of the album.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Syd Barrett, 1946-2006

This is the start of John Cavanagh's book about The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.


"That light you can see has taken 36 years to reach Earth," my brother told me as we looked towards Arcturus on a hot July night in 1975. I focused on the star and became mesmerized with the idea that the trajectory of this orangey-yellow glow across space had begun so long ago, or so it seemed to me as a ten-year-old.

Back inside our post-War end terrace house on the outskirts of Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow, I heard something on the radio that night which seemed as remote and otherworldly as Arcturus. To those who have grown up in the era of the CD and the easy availability of just about any sort of music from the back catalogue, I should explain something about 1975. As the glitter of glam rock became faded grandeur, 1975 was surely the year of the sharpest division between buyers of singles and buyers of albums. Novelty records, country dirges and weak imitations of reggae music filled the Top Forty and if anyone put out an exciting single (and the likes of Be Bop Deluxe and Brian Eno tried), then the chance of it getting anywhere was approximately nil. Many "albums bands" didn’t even bother to issue singles at all. I mean bands like Led Zeppelin and, of course, Pink Floyd. I already loved the Floyd’s Meddle, one of the first half dozen LPs I owned, but the thing I heard that night took me somewhere else entirely. Unlike anything I’d heard before, it was called "Astronomy Domine."

It was an event, a discovery. One moment I was looking at distant constellations, the next I was hearing a voice, like the sound of Apollo astronauts hailing the president from the moon, but more remote; a chugging incessant guitar; massive drums; a jagged bass riff and a song which name-checked planets and satellites, seemed to sweep the higher reaches of the infinite, then cascaded downwards towards "the icy waters underground."

This was Pink Floyd? It didn’t sound anything like Dark Side of the Moon, that was for sure. Then the DJ explained that this was from their first album, that Syd Barrett had fronted the band in those days and that he now lived in a cellar in Cambridge.

With my vivid imagination, I was off and running. He wasn’t out in L.A. making dull AOR music and he wasn’t a dead rock star, like Jimi Hendrix. He’d named this first Floyd album after a chapter in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (a favourite of mine!) and now he lived in an underground lair. Was he rock's answer to Mr. Badger, who lived right in the heart of the woods and preferred to see others before he was seen? This Syd Barrett was clearly unique and someone I wanted to know more about. The next day, I looked at the rack of Floyd LPs in Listen Records (the sort of shop where a picture of Zappa appeared on their carrier bags under the slogan frankly cheaper!) and found The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It was full price and I noticed that the more affordable Relics compilation album had "See Emily Play" on it. That would do to start.

Relics, "a bizarre collection of antiques and curios," boasted a couple of amazing tracks from Pink Floyd’s debut album: "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Bike." Once I got into those, I had further incentive to own a copy of Piper. I’m quite sure that these sounds would have impacted on my world whenever I found them, but there was something about the arid musical landscape of the mid-70s which made them even more poignant. Piper has served as a form of musical escapism for many people across time, and an escape from 1975 was most welcome to me.

In time I learned more about Syd Barrett and realised that his journey back to a life in Cambridge had been a harrowing one. The stories of Syd’s difficult latter days with Pink Floyd, his lifestyle and his solo albums have been told and retold, sometimes with due regard for accuracy and sympathy for the subject and, sadly, on other occasions where the urge to print a spicy story overrides any other consideration. I am not a journalist.

This fact was helpful when approaching those who had been stitched up by hungry hacks many times before, people like Duggie Fields, who still lives in a flat he once shared with Syd — his workspace as an artist is the room which features on the sleeve of The Madcap Laughs. Over thirty years after Barrett left that address, Duggie still finds unexpected callers on his doorstep, people who are searching for . . . what? A rock ’n’ roll myth or a man called Roger Barrett who has had nothing to do with the music industry for many years?

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a wondrous creation often seen through the distorted view of later events. These things have served to overshadow the achievement of the Pink Floyd on their debut album; an outstanding group performance; a milestone in record production; and something made in much happier circumstances than I had expected to find.

When I was, let’s say, fourteen, I imagined myself going to Cambridge, meeting Mr. Barrett and becoming his friend. Of course, like many fans who had similar notions, I never did and wouldn’t entertain the idea of disturbing him now . . . I’ll leave that sort of crassness to the journalists who still bang on his door and snoop a photograph of him at the local shops or a view through his front window.

This is not another book about "mad Syd." This, instead, is a celebration of a moment when everything seemed possible, when creative worlds and forces converged, when an album spoke with an entirely new voice. "Such music I never dreamed of," as Rat said to Mole.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Books in the Blade

There's a piece by Rod Lockwood in the Toledo Blade, about the series and one or two other like-minded books, which you can read here.

It's accompanied by this toweringly awesome illustration, which I'm going to get printed out at Kinkos, framed, and put on my office wall. Immediately!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Doolittle on the radio

Ben Sisario, author of our Pixies book, will be chatting about the book and the album on The World Cafe with David Dye this weekend.

The World Cafe will be broadcasting the session on Saturday, July 8th and Monday July 10th 2006. You can hear this show on more than 180 stations throughout the US. You can find your local station by going here. Or you can listen online to XPN Monday to Friday at 2pm EST by going here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Greatest Hits, Volume 1

So, we're busy pulling this book together - you can pre-order it on Amazon.com here (for less than the price of one of the regular series books!), and it should be available around the end of September. It'll have decent-sized extracts from each of the first 20 books in the series, plus the winning essay from our Under-21 Writing Competition (we're working through those over the next few days), and a mercifully short and probably lame-brained introduction by me.

I hope that even if you've already read five or six of these books, this might give you an affordable taste of what else is on offer in the series...