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

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A "Rid of Me" Review

Here's the first chunk of the San Francisco Bay Guardian review, written by Amanda Davidson, of the new PJ Harvey book in the series. (I won't show the whole review, as it rather gives away the book's ending!)


The best musical covers occur when some kind of alchemy takes place. What starts out as an act of homage or repetition turns into revelation as the new version throws light on, say, the lyrical subtext or rhythmic potential that seem to have been hidden within the original. Kate Schatz magics a similar sort of transformation in her fictional cover — revolving around two outlaw-lovers, Mary and Kathleen — of PJ Harvey's 1993 album Rid of Me.

As Kathleen puts it, "When you're a child in this town, the first thing anybody ever tells you is: do not go into those woods.... (The second thing they tell you, if you're a girl in this town, is shhh.)" Moved by a force of pure mystery, Mary kidnaps a willing Kathleen — ties her wrists and drags her to the woods. This moment ties the story to the music from which it sprang — not just by picking up the album's opening lines ("Tie yourself to me") but also by improvising on Harvey's motifs of female rage and desire, both social and intimate in scale.

Rid of Me: A Story, coming out in July, is part of Continuum's 33 1/3 series, whose pocket-size volumes each take up the task of entering a single, seminal album in some way. Appearing alongside works of musical biography and criticism, Schatz's is the third fictional entry in the series.

It is a testament to her vision that the book doesn't follow the narratives of Harvey's songs too literally or linearly. Its 14 chapters start and end with the opening and closing lines of the album's corresponding 14 songs, and broken lyrics surface as imagery and backstory throughout, most often to haunting effect. But the text mainly draws from the music atmospherically; listening to the album after reading the book, I was overcome by the uncanny feeling that the woods had been inside of the music all along. Not in the lyrics per se — the lyrics almost threw me off track — but in the spare, ominous guitar rhythms of the album's opening refrain and the thorny, dissonant instrumentation on "Man-Sized Sextet," all those frenzied strings.

Most of the story takes place in that liminal space of danger and possibility — the woods at the edge of the city. But what woods are these, and what city? Schatz mixes realism with fantastical elements to stage the kind of critique made available through the dystopic operations of science fiction. As Kathleen and Mary hide out in an abandoned hunting cabin, as they fall in love (wildness and safety), as their stories unravel, as the cabin metamorphoses, it becomes clear that a larger wish has seized them — the desire to enter history.


Not sure if the book has reached stores yet, but it's definitely available from Amazon, and should be in all the usual outlets very soon...

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