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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Morton Valence

It's childish, I know, but receiving an email like the one below from a new favourite band can be very exciting. It's almost enough to make me miss the Kilburn High Road.

***

David, my Child,

This Saturday the seven of morton valence shall travel to Kilburn and perform wondrous music to the lumpen crowds (ie. you).

This event was predicted many, many days ago, back in July, in the Book of Camilo the Drummer:

And so the band will return from the studio,
And it will be good.
And Junior will say unto the band
Let us head forth to the best bar in North London,
Where the people can sip fine ale until the sun doth rise again,
And men and women do not start to "begat" in the toilets.
(Chapter 3, Verse 4)


Details of the event are below. Please note ALL the details. Do not get anything wrong.

Date: Saturday 2nd September 2006
Venue: The Good Ship, 289 Kilburn High Road, NW6 7JR
Bands: from 8pm onwards
Headline: morton valence
Price: £5 or £4 with flier

Furthermore, the venue serves real ales and a variety of "proper" drinks and has a licence until 4am. The night includes four bands, plus DJs. That’s a lotta music for ya money, mate, a lotta music. FOUR bands. FOUR paaaand. It’s like, you know - do the math.

Other bands performing:

W.I.T. - http://www.myspace.com/witband
The Vigours - http://www.myspace.com/thevigours
My Stupid Hair - http://www.myspace.com/mystupidhair

Lastly, the night will see the official launch of the first latest line of morton valence merchandise. There will be badges, t-shirts, patches, badges, vinyl, t-shirts, patches and much more - all served by our lovely Merch Girls, who will smile at you and not mention your bad breath.

Thank you for your time, David, see you on Saturday.

Yours truly,

Doctor Jules

morton valence director of communications

P.S. There will soon be a new MP3 of the Month (really, a proper one) and sneak previews of the morton valence FOPP EP via our My Space page. morton valence thank you for your patience.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Money for Nothing

Towards the end of this year, we'll be publishing a first book by Saul Austerlitz - Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video, from the Beatles to the White Stripes. It's a very smart, very entertaining read, discussing hundreds of videos, from the sublime to Guns N' Roses to the ridiculous and back again. Here's a short extract from the book's introduction:

***

Music video is about the foregrounding of image. It is an inherent rebuke to the obstinacy of rock snobs who insist on the primacy of the music itself, to the exclusion of marketing, image, and hype. Instead of seeing everything music-related as a sideline to the main attraction of the music, the music video evens out the playing field. Music videos have always been intimately tied up with advertising, serving as the most sophisticated kind of marketing push to sell CD’s, cassettes, 8-tracks, or LPs. They are both advertisements for a product (the music) and ads for themselves. In many ways, music videos are the very products they are shilling for. Music videos may be mere commerce, far more sullied by the touch of capitalism than music’s ethereal purity, but they are no more commercialized than Hollywood films, and far more honest about their essential purpose. Hollywood is also present to sell us on a way of living, whether in the grubby, immediate meaning of pitching Coke over Pepsi, or in the larger sense of American filmmaking being a grandiose ad for an increasingly unreachable lifestyle, but films consistently deflect attention away from their materialist aims with chatter about love, satisfaction, and other such non-material objects. Videos, however, do no such thing; they are open about their desire to sell, and like hucksters shilling their latest wonder drug, each video is an unfulfilled promise of unimaginable pleasures. Music videos are pure consumption- all they ask is to be swallowed gratefully.

Academics like Jody Berlan have often seen music video as a triumph of image over sound, with Berlan arguing in her essay "Sound Image, and Social Space: Music Video and Media Reconstruction" that the video "present[s] a particular mode of cultural cannibalization, in which the soundtrack has been digested lifetimes ago, in fact consumed by the image, which appears to be singing." This analysis fails to acknowledge the basic economic principles regarding the music video. The music video’s purpose for existence is to advertise and accompany its soundtrack, and without the supposedly secondary songs, nary a music video would ever have been made. Music videos are first, last, and always about commerce: they are engines meant to drive consumers to stores to pick up their favorite band’s new CD, and to keep them from changing the channel.

In fact, image does not triumph over sound nearly enough; just take a look at all the hit videos of the past 20 years that would be utterly unwatchable without the catchy songs they are attached to. If the music video is the triumph of disposable image’s empty calories over the genuine feeling of music, what the form needs is more fat. Much like film, videos are at their best when they embrace their own nature, and become what they already are, rather than attempt to march to the beat of another artform’s drummer. This is not to say that only the shlockiest videos, with the most lowbrow content, are worthwhile; on the contrary, some of video’s classics are attempts to imitate the highbrow intellectuality of the avant-garde (R.E.M.’s "Losing My Religion," the Replacements’ "Bastards of Young"). Rather, it is that music video is an inherently visual artform, and it is sheer fallacy to think that some types of image (concert footage and its brothers) are "natural" to the video, while other types are foreign interlopers, disrupting music’s inherent drive toward genuine feeling. If all images are equally created, equally artificial, then why not create something of interest? If music video is the collision of two of the 20th century’s greatest cultural breakthroughs, pop music and the recorded image, shouldn’t we hold the latter to the same standards of ingenuity and formal innovation that we hold the former? In that vein, it becomes useful to treat music videos as short films, but only to a point. Music videos have the ability to be every bit the equal of their feature-length siblings, and demand to be measured against the same yardstick; but to lose sight of music videos’ essential function as outgrowths of the music industry is to treat them as found objects, leaching them of their rightful place in the capitalist structure, and their very reason for existence.

Irrefutable Evidence

I love the utter daftness of this website, demonstrating the myriad links between Morrissey and the death of Princess Diana. Particularly inspired is the section on "Never Had No One Ever", and its references to the Book of Proverbs.

Michael Gray's US Book Tour

Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, begins his two-week tour of the US tomorrow, at the Hall of Fame in Cleveland. If you can make it along to any of these talks, that would be great - Michael is as entertaining in person as he is on the printed page.

Wed Aug 30, 7pm: Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland OH
talk: ‘Bob Dylan & the History of Rock’n’Roll’
One Key Plaza
751 Erieside Ave
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
tel: 216-515-8426

Thurs Aug 31, 7pm: Magers & Quinn, Minneapolis MN
talk: ‘The A-Z of Bob Dylan’
3038 Hennepin Avenue South
Minneapolis MN 55408
tel: 612-822-4611

Sat Sept 02, 5pm: Kleinert/James Arts Center, Woodstock, NY
talk: ‘The A-Z of Bob Dylan’
Kleinert/James Arts Center
34 Tinker Street
Woodstock, NY 12498
tel: 845-679-8000

Tues Sept 05, 6.30pm: The New School, NY NY
talk: ‘Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues’
The New School
66 West 12th Street (between 5th & 6th Ave) NYC
Main Building, Room 519
contact details see below

Thurs Sept 07, 8pm: University of Texas, Austin TX
talk: ‘Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues’
Music Recital Hall MRH 2.608
tel: 512-471-7764

Fri Sept 08, 7pm: Booksmith Bookstore, San Francisco
talk: ‘The A-Z of Bob Dylan’
1644 Haight Street
San Francisco
California 94117
tel: 415-863-8688 or 1-800-493-7323

Sat Sept 09, 7.30pm Black Oak Books
talk: ‘The A-Z of Bob Dylan’
1491 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley CA 94709
tel: 510-486-0698

Sun Sept 10, 7.30pm: Powells’ Book Store, Portland OR
talk: ‘The A-Z of Bob Dylan’
1005 West Burnside
Portland OR 97209
tel: 503-228-4651 or 1-800-878-7323

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

An updated sales chart

Not too much movement on the chart over the last couple of months - most of the books are still selling, but at a very similar rate. Notable exceptions being the Forever Changes book in the UK, on the back of Arthur Lee's sad death, the DJ Shadow book, those on the Pixies and Beastie Boys, and of course the Neutral Milk Hotel book, which keeps going, week after week.

(Note to self: no more books about bands with "Stone" in their name...)

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sound Art event in London

If you're going to be in London on the evening of Friday Sept 1st, here's a fun book launch for you to attend:

Sound / Stage

Performance and Installation by
Mark Schreiber
Ken Ehrlich / Brandon LaBelle
at f a projects, 1-2 Bear Gardens, Bankside, London

Friday, September 1, 2006, 7 - 9 pm

To celebrate the release of Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art by Brandon LaBelle (Continuum Books) f a project presents Sound / Stage, a performance by Mark Schreiber and an installation by Ken Ehrlich and Brandon LaBelle.

Sound / Stage will bring together live sound performance with a specially constructed seating and staging. Working with field recordings and treated electronics, Schreiber's performance will create an atmosphere of textures and minimal tones. In conversation with the performance, seating and staging will be devised by Ehrlich and LaBelle as mobile units allowing audiences to recline and enjoy particular views onto the performance while inadvertently effecting the sound and its distribution through sensing devices responsive to movement. A play of perspectives, sound and its stage will become active in the making of a social music.

*
Copies of Background Noise will be available at a discount provided by Continuum Books.

Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art, Brandon LaBelle (Continuum Books)
The rise of a prominent auditory culture, as seen in the recent plethora of art exhibitions on sound art, in conjunction with academic programs dedicated to "aural culture", sonic art, and auditory issues now emerging, reveals the degree to which sound art is lending definition to the 21st Century. And yet sound art still lacks related literature to compliment, and expand, the realm of practice. Background Noise sets out an historical overview, while at the same time shaping that history according to what sound art reveals - the dynamics of art to operate spatially, through media of reproduction and broadcast, and in relation to the intensities of communication and its contextual framework.
*
Ken Ehrlich is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles. He has exhibited internationally in a variety of media, including video, sculpture and photography. His work interweaves architectural, technological and social themes to play with ideas of invention and circumvention, superstructure and infrastructure, consumption and waste, and site, place and location. His recent project, the Elna Bakker Memorial Windmill, was installed in Elyria Canyon Park in Los Angeles. He is the co-editor of "Surface Tension: Problematics of Site" (2003). He currently teaches in the department of Art at U.C. Riverside and CalArts.
Brandon LaBelle is an artist and writer working with sound and the specifics of location. His installation work has been featured in exhibitions and festivals internationally, including "Sound as Media"(2000) ICC Tokyo, "Bitstreams"(2001) Whitney, "Pleasure of Language"(2002) Netherlands Media Institute, and "Undercover"(2003) Museet for Samtidskunst, Roskilde. He presented a solo exhibition at Singuhr galerie in Berlin (2004), and an experimental composition for pirate drummers as part of Virtual Territories, Nantes (2005). His ongoing project to build a library of radio memories, "Phantom Radio", will be presented fall 2006 as part of Radio Revolten, Halle Germany. He is the author of "Background Noise" (Continuum 2006).
Mark Schreiber predominantly works with sound, seeking to encourage a focused listening experience and exploring ways to stimulate this within a spatial context. Since graduating from Middlesex University with a BA in Sonic Art in 2004, he has curated the concert event "Tone Debris" at the Whitechapel Gallery, participated in the exhibition "Technical Breakdown" in Copenhagen, and produced sound design for theatre. He contributed a catalogue text for the "Six Sites for Sound" exhibition in 2005. His soundtrack for Dan Perjovschi's "My World" (2006) slideshow was screened at a Royal College of Art "Again for Tomorrow" exhibition event, and his installation "Light's Thread" (2006) was exhibited at the National Museum of Kosovo. Recently he performed at the "Simultan" festival in Romania. He is currently preparing material for his first solo CD release.

For further information, please contact the gallery - +44 20 7928 3228 or info@faprojects.com

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dumb It Down

It occurred to me, walking up 8th Ave in Brooklyn this morning, that "Dumb It Down" off the last Pernice Brothers album, might be my favourite song of the last couple of years. I still marvel at how some brilliant pop songs can do this - a handful of words, a chiming guitar, a couple of handclaps, and whole worlds of thought open up.

The beauty of this particular song is that it is itself condensed, simplified, dumbed down (OK, it has one long word in it): the very things it rages against, so prettily.

***

Dumb it down ‘cause I’m terrified
Dumb it down I’m anaesthetized
Dumb it down for an easy fit
Dumb it down ‘cause I’m used to it

Dumb it down I can’t love a thing
Dumb it down I love everything
Dumb it down for the average Joe
Dumb it down I don’t want to know

I don’t want to know
I don’t want to know
I don’t want to know

Friday, August 18, 2006

Guardian review of the Dylan Encyclopedia

It's a hard life, book publishing. You put your heart and soul into a book, working with the author to make it as good as it can possibly be, and then you send it out into the world, and..........................sometimes, silence. Other times, not silence, but comments and mentions and reviews that just seem, somehow, wrong. As if all the author's work and all of the publisher's collaborative efforts just don't mean very much. But then occasionally - just occasionally - a review comes along, a review that shines a perfect light on the book in question. And everything, at least for a while, is golden. This is one of those reviews.

***

'Pop 1960-62: not all hopeless'

Mike Marqusee delves with delight into Michael Gray's inspired Bob Dylan Encyclopedia

Mike Marqusee
Saturday August 19, 2006

Guardian

The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia
by Michael Gray
832pp, Continuum, £25

Dylan's work merits encyclopedic treatment not only because of its intrinsic richness and cultural import, but also because of its multi-sided, history-fraught nature. He crosses many boundaries. His sources are bewilderingly multiple. His evolution is complex, marked by political, aesthetic and philosophical debates, entangled with big business, pop culture and personal pettiness. Because there are so many avenues into and through Dylan's work, an encyclopedia is an apt tool for exploring it. That's especially true when the encyclopedia in question is so much more than merely a compendium of Dylan-related facts.

Michael Gray's book embodies a lifetime of critical engagement with Dylan's art. It's probably the most comprehensive work on the subject, and also one of the most entertaining.

The scale of research is colossal. Facts have been assiduously double checked, sources scrupulously detailed. Nothing is taken on trust, a necessity in a field of studies beset with rumour and hypothesis. Gray has made excellent use of the efforts of Dylan fans who have, over the years, unearthed all kinds of data, much of it previously available only in fanzines and websites. There's also original material, discovered by the author, modestly buried away in entries such as the one on Bob Yellin, a member of the folk-singing Greenbriar Boys: he turned kibbutznik and met Dylan during the latter's mysterious 1971 visit to Israel. (Dylan, Yellin recalls, "was interested in planes: what aircraft Israel had, that kind of thing.")

Gray has also had to master a ludicrously wide array of extraneous topics. TS Eliot, Memphis Minnie, Sam Peckinpah, Bertolt Brecht, John Donne, Lord Buckley, Kenneth Patchen, Joni Mitchell: Gray is familiar with each and shows a balanced appreciation of their connection with Dylan.

It's not only that Gray has read everything remotely related to the subject; he has also listened to everything, and with great care. He makes evaluations - phrase by phrase, song by song, album by album - because he understands that doing so is a necessary part of engaging with the artist. He editorialises freely and intelligently.

Entries cover Dylan's friends and family, session musicians and touring companions, artists who influenced Dylan or interacted with him, critics (declaration of interest: there's an entry on me), fanzines and websites. Other themes range from "Poetry, American, pre-20th century" (acutely placing Whitman in Dylan's aesthetic family tree) and "film dialogue in Dylan's lyrics" (where we find a possible source for Dylan's aphorism "To live outside the law you must be honest") through "guitars, Bob Dylan's electric", "country music, Dylan's early interest in" and the assumption-busting "Pop 1960-62: not all hopeless" and "Interviews and the myth of their rarity".

As Gray notes, "Bob Dylan's reach is too wide, too deep and too long for any book about him to cover it all." His encyclopedia is not systematic; it can't be. If it had tried or pretended to be, it would have been misleading and artificial, and a good deal less revealing than the book Gray has produced.

So there's no entry dedicated to "Masters of War" or "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", but extensive treatments of "Spanish Harlem Incident", "Jokerman", "Angelina" and "Blind Willie McTell" (Gray at his best, illuminating line after line of this masterpiece, which was recorded in 1983 but inexplicably unreleased until 1991).

Gray is alert to the fluidity of ideas and associations in Dylan's art and microscopically attentive to his choice and delivery of words. He has a keen sense of when Dylan's faculties are clicking and when he's just going through the motions. He rightly feels aggrieved when Dylan seems to disrespect his own art. There are harsh words for the mid-80s albums (Empire Burlesque is a "shameful spectacle") and for Dylan's unevenness in performance. In the entry on "recording quality and cynicism", he notes Dylan's lazy indifference to the presentation of much of his later work, observing insightfully that Dylan's "cynical outer shell ... in the corrosive form of some kind of self-contempt, some denigration of his own artistry, has seeped inside. It damages the very integrity it was meant to protect."

For all this breadth, the book's central subject is not dissolved in postmodern intertextuality. The living, breathing, struggling Bob Dylan is always there, an individual with a unique voice, responsible for his achievements and failings. In "Co-option of real music by advertising, the" Gray is scathing about Dylan's deals with Coopers & Lybrand, McDonald's and Starbucks, and in "Book endorsements, unfortunate" he lays into Dylan's increasing willingness to play the entertainment industry game, as just another celebrity on the circuit of mutual promotion.

As the author notes in the straight-faced entry on "Gray, Michael", his Song & Dance Man, published in 1972, was the first full-length critical study of Dylan's work; its third, massively expanded edition, published in 1999, featured a long, revelatory essay on Dylan's use of pre-war blues. That knowledge and passion also enriches the encyclopedia (see "Johnson, Robert", or "Estes, Sleepy John").

There are glimpses of Gray: a comment on provincial British record shops in the early 1960s ("if a record was in the top 10 they'd sold out of it and if it wasn't, they'd never heard of it") or the memory of an encounter with Jimi Hendrix at York University in 1967: "standing calmly in the group dressing-room, looking immaculate and relaxed, Hendrix talked warmly about his 'total admiration' for Bob Dylan - and then went on stage to include in his set an amp-assaulting, torridly original version of 'Like a Rolling Stone' ..."

Dylan fans will protest about omissions and dispute opinions; the inevitability of these reactions is part of the fun of the book. So for what it's worth, I wondered at the absence of Jim Forman (the civil rights agitator addressed by Dylan on the sleeve notes of The Times They Are A'-Changin': "Jim, Jim, where is our party?") and Davey Moore (a boxer killed in the ring, the subject of one of Dylan's protest songs). Curiously, the entry on Dave Van Ronk makes no mention of his leftist politics, and the entry on No Direction Home misses Scorsese's only personal appearance in the film, when he does the voiceover for Dylan's rant at the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee award dinner in December 1963 (where he said he identified with Lee Harvey Oswald). There's no Martin Carthy, a regrettable omission, and no Donovan, on reflection a good point well made.

Occasionally the writing is over-concentrated. Because Gray is so attuned to the echoes of older works in Dylan's songs, he sometimes over-stresses the concordances and under-states the differences. Unlike Gray, I'm not sold on Under the Red Sky (however, in making a case for it as a major Dylan album, he takes us on an intriguing journey through the history and structure of nursery rhyme that illuminates Dylan as a whole). I'm also dissatisfied with his declaration that "The quest for salvation might well be the central theme of [Dylan's] entire output". As an evocation of the troubled, restless, seeking spirit that has driven Dylan, it's just too one-dimensional.

But there are wonderful entries - on, among many, Bert Cartwright (Dylan scholar, civil rights activist, Baptist minister); Dylan's home town; and Flo and Lynn Castner, who among many other contributions to society introduced Dylan to the music of Woody Guthrie. And as far as I'm concerned, anyone who can write of George Harrison that he was a "crucial Beatle ... for fans of musicianship and people who recognised a decent human being when they encountered one", while describing U2 as an "Inexplicably successful Irish rock group formed in 1980, fronted by one of the world's most self-important and vain celebrities", has heart and head in the right place.

The CD-rom accompanying the book is a genuine bonus. It includes the entire text, is searchable and enables readers to click from entry to entry, charting their own paths through this densely populated territory.

The encyclopedia succeeds admirably in demonstrating, in Gray's words, that "to burrow into Dylan's art at length and in detail is not to shut the door on the wider world in pursuit of a narrow obsession but rather to open up that wider world, to be sent down a thousand boulevards ..."

· Mike Marqusee's Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s is published by Seven Stories Press

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dylan contest winner!

Thanks to all those who entered our rather taxing lyric-writing contest - at the very least, you all came up with entries that were better than mine.

Hard to pick just one winner, but I'm giving the prize to Ric Kangas, for his entry reproduced below. (Ric: email me and tell me which five 33 1/3 books you would like, on top of your signed copy of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.)

***

STUDIO TAKE: TRACKS TWO, VERSION THREE

Folk man playing another song
Blues recorded sessions; "Black City John"
London rock group set singer right
Music sound good, though long night

Still, live guitar played "First Come"
Words between life, yet, get young
Country vocals went old New York
Even Dylan himself released last work

Born again band "Love Record Line"
Early years end world play time
1965 concert, film, recording things
2005; now see bob sing

NY album hit book ing came
Little later, know own part may re name
UK tour great day go down
American people got Robert home

***

Note: Ric's winning has nothing to do with his also having an entry in the book!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Two quick recommendations

It's been a busy week - driving all over England (and a tiny slither of Wales), then down to Harrisburg, PA and back to NYC yesterday.

A couple of albums I've been enjoying a lot recently:

* The Pirate's Gospel, by Alela Diane (thanks to Mike McGonigal for the tip). Check out Alela's website here, and order one of her CDs too: lovely songs, lovingly packaged.

* Lanzafame, by Tap Tap - I don't know much about these people at all, but apparently they're from the UK and there are two of them. Try the first song, "100,000 Thoughts" here. They have the whole Arcade Fire thing going on, but shorter quicker punchier, more ramshackle.

We should have a winner for the Dylan quiz early next week...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Arthur Lee, RIP

First Syd, now Arthur.

I was lucky enough to catch a handful of "Arthur Lee with Love" shows in NYC over the last couple of years, and I won't forget the glee and energy with which Arthur performed those songs.

Here are the last few paragraphs from Andrew Hultkrans' book about Forever Changes - written in early 2003.

***

Arthur Lee, as he predicted in 1967, would ultimately have to "serve his time and serve it well" – for a trumped-up 1996 firearms offense of which a witness from the scene testified in court twice that he, not Arthur, had fired the gun. A victim of California’s recently enacted "three strikes" policy for felonies of any sort, Lee was sentenced to eleven years and did nearly six at Pleasant Valley prison in Coalinga, California (a foul-smelling tundra known and feared by drivers of Highway 5 as the site of the biggest beef cattle feedlot/slaughterhouse in the state).

Fortunately, he endured this hellish experience with his well-honed tolerance for solitude and by composing songs in his head, songs that he would now like to bring to the world. He has a crack band in LA’s Baby Lemonade, who play Love classics with more musical grace and facility than the original lineup, and he has been touring the world playing a flawless setlist from the four Elektra Love albums. The show I witnessed at the Bowery Ballroom, New York City, in the summer of 2002 was a peak concert experience even for this veteran punter. From the rattlesnake tambourine signaling Love’s punk Bacharach nugget "My Little Red Book" on through all the songs the most hardened Love devotee would want to hear, this is no nostalgia act. The man is on fire. Not preaching, inciting to riot. More recently, he and his band have staged complete run-throughs of Forever Changes across Britain, backed by a chamber orchestra, receiving standing ovations and glowing reviews. He was honored by Parliament. He met the Prime Minister. He alternately wears bandanas and cowboy hats, sometimes both at once. He plays the tambourine with conviction and without a hint of irony. He sings like a man half his age. His songs are better than those of most bands currently operating. And whatever their original sense, they all sound like redemption songs today; the "haunting" lyrics of Forever Changes, with hindsight, seem more prophetic than ever. How does Arthur account for their timelessness? In April 2003, to Murray Engleheart for Australia’s Beat magazine, he put it this way:

It was just the way I felt at the time about the situation around me, and I was fortunate enough to put it in music. I saw something and I wrote about it—and it’s happening exactly right now. It keeps repeating itself, the wars and things, you know?…It’s like an everlasting thing, it’s like it’s always going to be. And my last words to this planet if I had passed on in that time period were Forever Changes, meaning that’s what’s happening on this earth, that’s what I saw happening.

And why is this 58-year-old crazed genius not back in LA, eatin’ chicken like a motherfucker and rollin’ in his Caddy – ordinary, noble pursuits he is more than entitled to indulge till his dying day? Because, as he claims, God came to him back in 1995, before he was sentenced to prison, and said (enunciating, as Arthur does, very clearly): "Love On Earth Must Be." Apparently, this directive was reiterated several times during Arthur’s imprisonment. Back in the ’60s, Arthur’s songs came to him in dreams, and he knew then as he knows now that when you get the call, you pick up the phone — red or otherwise. And if the call says go out and tell the people, well, then, you go out and tell the people—but quick. As Charley Patton said in "Oh Death," "Lord, I know my time ain’t long," so Arthur Lee says, of his song "Nothing": "This song to me means life is short. It’s sort of like Ecclesiastes in the Bible—meaningless….I’ve studied the Bible a lot. I know a man’s words are as deep as the water," adding, with equal depth, "Even though our lives are so short, we’ve got time to get involved….We shall perish, you know? The thing about me…the soul goes on.…I’m doing what I’m doing because I have a lot more work and I choose to do it."

***

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs

Another of the books we'll be publishing towards the end of this year - let's say October, but who really knows for sure - is LD Beghtol's 'field guide' to 69 Love Songs. And that's basically what LD's book is - a field guide. It begins with an extensive A-Z lexicon of words, terms, and phrases that crop up on the album (from "Clove cigarettes" to "Charo"), and continues with a song-by-song guide, one example of which appears below. (Don't worry - the book does explain who the participants are...)

It's the first book in the series to be written by someone involved in making the album in question, so if you're looking for critical detachment, you may wish to look elsewhere. But if you're a big fan of 69 Love Songs, this should be quite a treat.


***

2.14 “Washington, D.C.” Claudia
1:53min, G major, 4/4 (190bpm)
Genre: Chamber of Commerce
Listen for: Lovely piano with dotted-eighth-noted echo, the perfectly enunciated “ain’t”

Stephin I had to do fact-checking with Sam, who’d lived in D.C. for a while. He gave me the cherries.

Claudia After its release I heard that Washington’s NBA team was playing the opening part of this recording as their pre-show music. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is they should pay us for it. Also, I had a terrifying moment being pitched by a documentary about George W Bush. They asked to use the shouted "W!" synchronized over an image of the president accepting his candidacy at the primary, hands raised over his head in victory. Obviously I refused this placement.

LD At the 1999 pre-release show in D.C. the audience went berserk over this one, much as it did at MergeFest during “All My Little Words.” Both had been rather rowdy before. But I guess rabid regional pride is always in vogue—happily, for people such as Sufjan Stevens.

Miss Gretchen It’s the Toni Basil cheerleader character here that’s so appealing to me. I was a cheerleader in junior high—because I liked jumping around and yelling. But I had no idea what “First and ten!” meant so I soon quit.

Kevin Clarke My novelist husband, KM Soehnlein, was on an East Coast book tour. I was to rendezvous with him in our nation’s capitol. I arrived from San Francisco and jumped on the Metro to meet him in Dupont circle. Roller luggage in tow, iPod on shuffle, anticipation of the reunion quickening my step, I headed up the escalator into what I could tell was a top-ten day. At the precise moment my foot hit the sidewalk outside, my iPod delivered: “W!! A–S-H!! I–N-G!! T–O-N, baby! D-C!!” I exploded into laughter and disbelief, but immediately adopted the song’s rhythm, and strutted down the street on my way.

John Claudia and I share guitar parts. There’s one chord we never agreed on: A minor! E minor! Whatever!

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