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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Stairway to...no.32

I'm a sucker for meaningless lists, and for the perfumed pages of Blender magazine, so it was disturbingly exciting to see, in their current issue's "40 Greatest Rock and Roll Books" line-up, our very own Erik Davis at number 32. If you haven't yet read Erik's book about Led Zeppelin IV, you're missing out on a treat. (Although you wouldn't guess it, from the reviews on Amazon...)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A book cover

We're publishing this excellent book in the spring, and just received this cover from one of our designers. I love it to bits.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pop Conference 2007

I've never been able to make it to one of these, but maybe this time will be different. Thanks to Eric for the information.



Waking Up From History: Music, Time, and Place

The 2007 Pop Conference at Experience Music Project

April 19-22, 2007
Seattle, Washington

Music happens, then it ripples. What is the relationship between the circumstances that produce music and our swirling notions of pop's past, future, and zeitgeist? How do the times affect the notes? What factors literally and figuratively change the beat of a city? Some decry postmodern "pastiche," while others defend pop concoctions as multiculturalism in action or intoxicating aesthetics. But what are the power relationships at work when music stops time and lets us dance in place?

For this year's Pop Conference, we invite presentations on music, time, and place. This might include:

*Reading time and place into musical innovation. The breakbeat as a refunking of sonic structure and origin myth; or the social history of changing time signatures.

* The racial, class, and gender components that constitute a pop place or time's "we"; the mutating New Orleans of the hip-hop, funk, R&B, and jazz eras, for example.

*Evolving notions of musical revivalism: retro culture, questions of periodization in music, and the validity of the concept of youth culture as a sign of the times.

*Geographies of sound, or how place is incorporated sonically. Lise Waxer called Cali, Colombia, an unlikely bastion of salsa revivalism, a "city of musical memory."

*The dematerialization of the album into the celestial jukebox and other new media. Does the Chicken Noodle Soup dance live on 119 and Lex or on Youtube?

*How dichotomies of nearness/experience and farness/history affect music fanship, music writing, and music making.

*The "place" of pop now, culturally, professionally, and certainly politically.

Proposals should be sent to Eric Weisbard at EricW@emplive.org by December 15, 2006. For individual presentations, please keep proposals to roughly 250 words and attach a brief (75 word) bio. Full panel proposals and more unusual approaches are also welcome. For further guidance, contact the organizer or program committee members: Jalylah Burrell (New York University), Jon Caramanica (Vibe), Daphne Carr (series editor, Da Capo Best Music Writing), Jeff Chang (author, Can't Stop Won't Stop), Michelle Habell-Pallán (University of Washington), Josh Kun (University of Southern California) Eric Lott (University of Virginia), Ann Powers (Los Angeles Times), Simon Reynolds (author, Rip it Up and Start Again), Bob Santelli (author, The Big Book of Blues), and Judy Tsou (University of Washington). We are excited to announce that presentations from this year's conference will be considered for a future issue of The Believer.

The Pop Conference connects academics, critics, musicians, and other writers passionate about talking music. Our second anthology, Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music, will be published by Duke in 2007. The conference is sponsored by the Seattle Partnership for American Popular Music (Experience Music Project, the University of Washington School of Music, and radio station KEXP 90.7 FM), through a grant from the Allen Foundation for Music. For more information, go to http://www.emplive.org/education/index.asp and click on "Pop Conference."

Monday, September 25, 2006


There's a good piece by Bill Friskics-Warren in the current issue of the Oxford American, about our tendency to lean too heavily on words when reacting to music - something that Bill's book (linked to above) deals with brilliantly.

Here's an (very slightly tweaked in the first paragraph) excerpt:


The practice of logocentrism, of romancing words at the expense of nonverbal forms of expression, has marred pop criticism for decades. Among other lapses it has contributed to the reviling of disco as mindless dance music; it’s led to the dismissal of a hypnotic vamp like James Brown’s "Licking Stick" as repetitive, and of the willful inanity of the Ramones’ "Beat on the Brat" as artless.


This exegetical mindset, this need to take hold of works of art and get a logical handle on them, isn’t confined to the way people hear music. Take anime, the sometimes plot-indifferent Japanese medium to which my son introduced me a few years ago. Initially, just about every time he’d gauge my enthusiasm for a new series or movie (all of which were dubbed in English), I’d shrug, "It’s all right," before adding, "but what's it about?" A similar attitude is at work when people look at a painting by an abstract expressionist like de Kooning and ask what it means instead of letting the piece wash over or assail them. The same goes for anyone who sees a film by a surrealist like Buñuel and seeks to locate its storyline rather than pausing to take in the harrowing sensuality of the images moving across the screen.


The parsing of music into verbal and nonverbal categories is also one of the hallmarks of "rockism," the logocentric attitude that subscribes to a host of false dichotomies such as hip vs. square, hard vs. soft, raw vs. slick, authentic vs. fake, and rock vs. pop. Rockism tends to favor white, macho guitar music over dance-oriented idioms of black and Latin origin. It favors the playing of one’s own songs over the spinning of records made by someone else. It lies behind the veneration of artists who write their lyrics, those with something to say, over performers who merely sing words supplied by others. Rockism is what prompts people to ask, "Beatles or Stones?" as if they couldn’t imagine that the answer could be, "Both, and James Brown, Martha Reeves, and Dusty Springfield too!" Rockism induces people to size up, canonize, and suppress music instead of abandoning themselves to its pleasures and powers. Rockism betrays a divide-and-conquer mentality rooted in phallocentrism, the hierarchal identification of the masculine with logic, and thus as the animating and grounding force in the universe. They don’t call it "cock rock" for nothing.


This isn’t to say that words don’t matter, or that we should abandon our minds entirely to our senses. But as our word-obsessed, increasingly fundamentalist world persistently reinforces, they also can cause damage, and often on a cataclysmic scale. All of which is merely to suggest that we not give words, or the meanings and ideologies that we attach to them, so much power, and that we engage the world with greater immediacy and let fewer things, conceptually or otherwise, come between us. And, when it comes to music, that we never stop hearing the likes of Little Richard’s world-historical "A-wop-bop-a-lu-bop" — as transcendent an expression as any uttered, and utterly nonsensical to boot. An eloquent reminder, as Talking Heads later bid us, to stop making sense.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

33 1/3 Greatest Hits, Volume 1

Just in from the printers, and on sale already here (and on sale any day now from the usual book and record stores), is 33 1/3 Greatest Hits Volume 1 - our collection of excerpts from the first 20 books in the series, ranging from Dusty to the Ramones. The book includes a short introduction written by me, as well as Dan Connelly's much more entertaining essay on Phil Ochs, the winning entry in our inaugural Under-21 Writing Contest.

I thought this anthology might be worth publishing, as a way of perhaps enticing more people into the series. Seems like a good way of sampling the variety of approaches on offer. Anyhow, if you're a reviewer or a bookseller or a librarian or a magical combination of all three, and would like more information on the book, feel free to drop me a line.

The cover image, by the way, started life as an homage to those Top of the Pops compilation albums from the 1970s, and gradually morphed into something much more hipsterish. I still think we should make some t-shirts like this.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Exciting to learn that the forthcoming anthology Marooned (edited by Phil Freeman, coming from Da Capo presumably in 2007) is finished, manuscript-wise. Here's the table of contents:

Motörhead - No Remorse, by Phil Freeman
Skunk Anansie - Stoosh, by Laina Dawes
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless, by Ned Raggett
Various Artists - History Of Our World Part 1: Breakbeat And Jungle Ultramix By DJ DB, by Michaelangelo Matos
Divine Styler - Spiral Walls Containing Autumns Of Light, by Scott Seward
John Martyn - Solid Air, by Simon Reynolds
Alice Coltrane - Journey In Satchidananda, by Geeta Dayal
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew, by Greg Tate
Scorpions - Virgin Killer, by Dave Queen
Stereolab - Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements, by Douglas Wolk
Spiritualized - Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, by Daphne Carr
Dionne Warwick - Legends, by John Darnielle
Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, by Matt Ashare
Dio - Ultimate Collection, by Anthony Miccio
The Meters - The Meters, by Jeff Chang
Stephen Stills - Manassas, by Kandia Crazy Horse
Brand Nubian - One For All, by Tom Breihan
The Cars - The Cars, by Rob Harvilla
Sonny Rollins - A Night At The Village Vanguard, by Derek Taylor
Iron Maiden - Killers, by Ian Christe

And the blog about the book can be found here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Ballet - Mattachine

Over the last couple of weeks I've been listening a lot to Mattachine, an album by The Ballet. There are some very clear links in these songs to the work of Stephin Merritt, and the whole album is beautifully, beautifully done. Looks like they're in the middle of making some more copies. There are two songs to download here - you'll know after the first 30 seconds of "In My Head" whether or not you love this band.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I'll Take You There

We've just republished Bill Friskics-Warren's wonderful book on pop music and the spiritual urge, I'll Take You There, as a paperback. If you haven't read this yet, I do recommend it - this book contains some of the best writing about music I've read in a long while.


Ann Powers, who's writing a Kate Bush book for our series, had a good one of these on her blog last week, so here's my own version.


A book that changed my life

Hmm, nothing so far. A book that may have changed my way of thinking about books themselves would be Nicholas Nickleby, or David Copperfield, or Our Mutual Friend or Little Dorrit – I went through a serious Dickens phase when I was 14 or 15, and almost nothing since (see three questions down) has ever quite matched his blend of humour, anger, pure storytelling, and utter mawkishness. I’m a sucker for that – I can barely read a single sentence of Dickens without breaking into a smile. Feels like home.

A book I’ve read more than once

Oh What a Paradise It Seems! by John Cheever. Readable in one sitting, if you have a rainy, miserable Sunday to spare. This is the book of a very old, very wise, very cheeky man – endlessly playful and irritable and loveable. I’ve no idea what Cheever was like as human being, but this book makes me want to hang out with him, big time.

A book I would take with me if I were stuck on a desert island

Three books: The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. In fact, I would deliberately consider being stuck on a desert island, just to experience reading this trilogy like that – stranded and alone, imagining fierce armoured polar bears floating towards me across the ocean.

A book that made me laugh

It seems a little unfair to put this book into this category, as it does so much more than make me laugh, but: What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe. I read this every two years or so, and it only gets better. Smart, sharp, clever, angry, bitter, adorable, and containing my favourite joke ever: pretty much the perfect novel. This is beyond childish, but if you don’t love this book, then we should not be friends. (See also: The House of Sleep, by Jonathan Coe. Different, but just as great.)

A book that made me cry

The Furies by Janet Hobhouse. The saddest, bravest, most mesmerizing book I’ve ever read. A terribly flawed novel, for obvious reasons, but guaranteed to reduce me to a quivering wreck every single time.

A book that I wish had been written

A big, towering, rallying cry of a non-fiction book that brutally lays out how our civilization is on a downward spiral of shallowness and meaninglessness, and shows how our obsessions with sex, money, politics, novelty and religion will reduce us all to gibbering wrecks. A book that will start a grass-roots movement, a revolution. Kinda like Atlas Shrugged, but nicer. And non-fiction.

A book I wish had never been written

The book my Dad wrote about my Mum, to help him get over her early death from cancer. Still too sad to read again, after all these years. (Self-published, only a few copies.)

A book I’ve been meaning to read

Maybe a comic book or graphic novel? I know I’m missing out on a whole culture here, but I’ll probably just carry on reading regular books instead.

I’m currently reading

Stuart: A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters. Not quite as great as most people seem to think, but still a very good, eye-opening and funny biography of a disturbed, violent homeless man in Cambridge, England, told in reverse. Includes this wonderful paragraph, on pp.213-4: "In biography, most of the time, the real person is a nuisance. One wants them out of the way. If only they’d stop muddying the waters with inconsistencies, denials, forgetfulness and different interpretations of your language, you could extract their essence and be off down the publisher’s. The heart of it is probably this: the subject fears that if you get what they are down on the page then you have debased them, so they flap about like aboriginals claiming photographs steal their soul. What, me? That’s all there is to me? Fuck off! Biff! Take that!"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Talking with Ben Sisario

If you enjoyed Ben Sisario's Pixies book, you might also enjoy this in-depth conversation about the book, between Ben and the venerable Rob Trucks, on the arty/erotica/naked/wordy site Uberbelle.

Riot in Mojo

Reproduced below is a 4-Star review of Miles Marshall Lewis's book about Sly Stone, from the October issue of Mojo.


While focusing primarily on Sly Stone’s chillingly ambivalent snapshot of post-"Love Decade" unrest, acclaimed essayist Miles Marshall Lewis stretches the conventions of Continuum’s 33 1/3 series on specific albums, offering heartfelt insight into the bitter arc of the Family Stone’s career, and the grander malaise that contributed to their downfall. Lewis’s track-by-track analysis is informed and impassioned, exploring the murk of distressed funk and murmured paranoia, while an opening, novelistic father-and-son conversation sets a mise en scène of social uprising and progressive soul with effective subtlety. Quotes drawn from Dave Marsh’s brilliant (and out-of-print) Stone oral history give crucial context, and Lewis doesn’t shy away from the dirt of the Riot sessions’ nihilistic hedonism. But it’s his ability to make sense of this album’s cocktail of crushed optimism and acrimonious revolt that makes this volume so impressive. — By Stevie Chick

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Highway 61 Revisited

The second of the new books that are now in from the printers, and will be on sale in bookstores in the next couple of weeks, is Mark Polizzotti's about Highway 61 Revisited. You can pre-order the book on Amazon.com here.

It's possible that we've overdone the Dylan on this blog in the last few months, but Mark's book is a fresh and incisive piece of Dylan writing. Mark is an accomplished translator and wrote an acclaimed biography of Andre Breton. Here's a sample of what he has to say about Bob:


A leftover from the Bringing It All Back Home sessions, "Barbed-Wire Fence" is built around a standard twelve-bar blues structure - normally the first two lines identical, followed by a third, "answer" line - which Dylan immediately subverts by playing with the absurd specificity of his opening:

Well, I paid one million seven hundred thousand and fifteen cents
Yes, I paid twelve thousand one hundred and nineteen dollars and twenty-two cents
To see my bulldog bite a rabbit and my hound dog sittin' on a barbed-wire fence

Needless to say, Dylan further confuses the issue in the next take by singing an entirely different set of numbers.

One number remains constant, however: in the second verse (or third, depending on the take), Dylan laments, "This woman I got she's killin' me alive / She's makin' me into an old man and man, I'm not even twenty-five" (in Lyrics 1962-2001, this inanely turns into "she's filling me with her drive" and "thrillin' me with her hive," which doesn't match either recorded version or even make good nonsense). Apart from that rare bit of autobiographical exactitude - Dylan was twenty-four when he recorded this - the "woman he got" opens another intriguing possibility. Futile as it is to play "who is it," it's not too much of a stretch to hear behind this line yet another swipe at Joan Baez, who as recently as a few weeks earlier was still trying to turn Dylan into an old man with her dogged fidelity to his protest material - apparently not having heard that he'd been so much older then, but not now.

"Barbed-wire fence," in many respects just a warm-up exercise, is notable as an early example of the band members figuring each other out, and even more of Dylan happily revisiting his old Elston Gunn persona. (It is also sometimes cited as an early draft of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" because of its reference to an Arabian doctor who "wouldn't tell me what it is that I got" - though apart from the lyric, the two songs have little in common.) The earlier of two known complete takes sounds like nothing so much as a garage band pounding out "Louie, Louie," with copious amounts of harmonica and Dylan's clunky piano standing in for the Kingsmen's organ. Behind him are Al Gorgoni with some electric strumming and Bloomfield tryiing out some standard-issue blues riffs ("that B. B. King shit"). By the next complete take, the band was following the song with more conviction, providing a much stronger bass-and-drum rhythm section (this version, in fact, starts off with yet another Gregg snare shot) and a strong two-beat organ accent playing off Gorgoni's rolling guitar licks. Bloomfield, meanwhile, had found his way into the song, and by midway was burning through a frenetic solo that anticipates his scorching fills on "Tombstone Blues." After this take they moved on to "Rolling Stone."


Friday, September 08, 2006

Nirvana, In Utero

We've just started using new printers for the 33 1/3 books (in Canada, no less!), and today we received advance copies of a couple of the first ones. They look good, and they even smell vaguely Canadian.

So, the first book is Gillian G. Gaar's, about In Utero. It should be on sale in all the regular 33 1/3 stores in 2-3 weeks, or you can pre-order it on Amazon.com here.

It's one of the more straightforward books in the series, and I love the calmness with which Gillian describes the album's rather messy conception and birth. Here's a short passage from Chapter 6, "The In Utero Sessions":


Then there was another go at "Sappy." It was a very unusual choice for the sessions, as the group hadn't played the song live since November 1990 (and after these sessions they would only play it a further three times). This version was the most fully produced band version of the song, slightly shorter than previous band versions, with a faster tempo and a noticeably stronger drum part. This version also begins without the instrumental intro on some of the earlier versions.

As for why the song was again revisited, Novoselic says simply, "We liked to play that song. I put that bass line together four years before that, and I thought it was really great, so I never changed it. It seems like nobody ever changed anything else on it, either. You can hear older versions of, like, 'Lithium' or whatever, the bass lines are different, or the guitars, or something's different. But why is it that this song, every time we recorded it, everybody did everything exactly the same? Well, I was totally happy with it, so why change it?"

Actually, the song was not "exactly the same" each time the group recorded it. There were always some variations - the Albini version featured a different guitar solo in the instrumental break, and was in a different key - though they were admittedly minor ones. And there still remained some dissatisfaction with it, as "Sappy" didn't appear on any of the proposed track listings for the album. "I actually think it's a pretty good song," is Albini's summation. "I don't remember it being bad. But I think it wore out its welcome on the band, apparently."