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

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

33 1/3 listening party and panel discussion at Bumbershoot

Seattleites and Pacific Northwesterners are encouraged to check out this year's Bumbershoot Festival. As part of a Labor Day weekend lineup that includes just about everyone under the sun, on Monday afternoon at 4:45pm, there will be a panel discussion and listening party moderated by Ann Powers (Chief Pop Critic for the LA Times), including 33 1/3 authors Michaelangelo Matos (Prince's Sign o' the Times), Eric Weisbard (Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion I & II), Kate Schatz (PJ Harvey's Rid of Me), and Mike McGonigal (My Bloody Valentine's Loveless). Should be pretty sweet.
More info is here.

And while we're on the topic of the Pacific NW, Kate Schatz will also be reading at Powell's on Hawthorne in Portland, OR on Thursday, August 30th 2007 at 7:30 PM. If you can't make it to the reading, you can always pre-order a signed copy from the Powell's website.

Monday, August 27, 2007

MBV reunion?

Apparently My Bloody Valentine may (if they feel like it?) reunite for Coachella in 2008. The reunion is believed to coincide with the new album, a retrospective box set, and a brutal cold front blowing through the region of hell. No word on whether this band will be opening.
via the Brooklyn Vegan.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Kate Schatz is on Soundcheck!

Kate Schatz was on WNYC's Soundcheck talking about her 33 1/3 on PJ Harvey's Rid of Me this afternoon. In the next couple of hours an archive should pop up on the show page. You can also weigh in on which album you would like to see turned into a novel.

And if you keep listening, you can learn all about the latest installment of "Trapped In the Closet."

Here's the audio:

Kate will also be reading at Powell's on Hawthorne in Portland, OR a week from today (Thursday, August 30th 2007 at 7:30 PM). If you can't make it to the reading, you can always pre-order a signed copy from the Powell's website.

Monday, August 20, 2007

33 1/3 t-shirt contest!

We made a very short run of 33 1/3 t-shirts for the Book Expo earlier this year and when David put something up on the blog for the 20-odd leftovers, they were spoken for in a matter of minutes. Now those of you who didn't get in on that batch can have a shot at designing your own.

Threadless is having a t-shirt design contest that kicked off August 15 and runs through September 15. The lucky winner of the contest will get the following (drumroll, please):
  • Numark TTUSB Turntable with USB Audio Interface
  • Sony high power capacity DJ-style headphones
  • RCA Vinyl Record Care System
  • The full set of amazing 33 1/3 books (45 in all!)
  • $500 Threadless Gift Certificate (can be redeemed for $200 cash)
  • $2,000 in cash
Not bad at all... For more info about the contest, head over to the 33 1/3 Loves Threadless page, or click on the picture above. Good luck! We're looking forward to seeing what you can come up with.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hugo Wilcken's New Novel

Hugo Wilcken, author of the David Bowie book in our series, has just had his second novel published in the UK, by HarperCollins.

You can buy a copy from Amazon.co.uk here - I'll be buying my copy when I'm over in the UK next week.

American rights to the novel are still available, so if you work for a fiction publisher and you're interested, drop me an email and I'll put you in touch with Hugo.

And here's a synopsis of the book:

The year is 1928. Sabir – petty criminal, drifter, war veteran – is on a prison ship, bound for a notorious penal settlement in the French tropics. On his arrival, he is sent out to a work camp deep in the South American rain forest. There, he wins the confidence of the camp's idealistic commandant, who sets him the task of carving a landscaped garden out of the surrounding wilderness. At the same time, Sabir plans his getaway with a band of like-minded convicts, through the jungle and across the ocean on a stolen boat. His only hope, he realises, is to become someone else entirely. To escape into a different dream…

Colony is a gripping narrative of mystery and menace, set in a tropical underworld. Brilliantly evoking an atmosphere of colonial decay, the novel explores the ever-shifting boundaries between identity, memory and reality.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Berkeley Event on Sunday 19th

For those of you in the Bay Area, this coming Sunday brings a trio of wonderful 33 1/3 authors to Pegasus Books on Shattuck Ave.

Starting at 7.30pm, please go and listen to:

Shawn Taylor reading from his Tribe Called Quest book;

Douglas Wolk reading from his James Brown book;

and Kate Schatz reading from her PJ Harvey book.

If you can show your support, I know they'd all appreciate it.

Rid of Me in San Francisco

Kate Schatz will also be reading this Thursday 8/16 at 7:30pm at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco with The Revisionist author (and fellow encyclopedist) Miranda Mellis. It is part of the Ecstatic Monkey reading series.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

My New Favourite Simile

From p.297 of this book (which you absolutely must read - it's wonderful):

He shrieked, but it didn't stop the beating; he begged, and that didn't stop it, either; he blacked out, but that was no relief; the niggers kicked him in the nuts and that perked him right up! He tried to drag himself into the cane, but they pulled him back! It was like one of those nightmare eight-a.m. MLA panels: endless.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Memory Lane #2

In memory of Tony Wilson - quite possibly a cantankerous prick and yet a man for whose existence we should all be eternally grateful - (also, Martin Hannett) here's an extract from Chris Ott's book on Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, which was part of the second batch published in the series, back in January 2004 - and which has been selling very steadily ever since.


To this day, the surviving members of Joy Division complain about Hannett's hand in the sound of Unknown Pleasures, which they immediately felt weakened their deafening live sound. Of the recording process, Bernard Sumner later recalled: "Martin didn't give a fuck about making a pop record. All he wanted to do was experiment; his attitude was that you get a load of drugs, lock the door of the studio and you stay in there all night and you see what you've got the next morning. And you keep doing that until it's done. That's how all our records were made. We were on speed, Martin was into smack." Joy Division still identified with punk's urgency, having seen every first-wave British punk band in person and performed with many of them. Hannett's forward-thinking obsession with digital delay and the distant, warehouse guitars he favored created a sound too studio-processed, too close to the excesses their generation was still burning at the stake. "She's Lost Control" and "Insight" incorporated an electronic drum pad from the beginning, but both songs were driven as much by Bernard Sumner's overblown guitar and Peter Hook's unforgettable treble bass riffs. Though all parties would come around to Hannett's approach and the use of more ambient and electronic sounds, much of Joy Division's music was, at this point, still in line with punk rock's evolution. Bernard Sumner summarized his and Hook's initial feelings in the Heart and Soul box set: "We resented it, but Rob loved it, Wilson loved it, and the press loved it, and the public loved it: we were just the poor stupid musicians who wrote it! We swallowed our pride and went with it." Oddly, Stephen Morris has never complained much about the production, considering his performance was the most affected by Hannett's techniques.

"I mean Martin did teach us a lot - he taught us to look at music and our songs and our sounds in a totally different way. We had a very narrow vision of them, we'd just turn our amps on and that was it. When we got in the studio we couldn't understand why the monitors didn't sound like our amps. He taught us to make allowances for certain things like that," admitted Peter Hook in Charles Neal's Tape Delay, but he also complained that Hannett "took it right down"; one wonders how their newer, slower tunes like "Candidate" and the majestic "I Remember Nothing" could have been "rocky", as he put it, even in concert. If not as grievously tortured as the anthems they'd record for Closer, they were romantic, bleak tunes. Bernard Sumner has been humbly forthcoming about Curtis' central role in Joy Division: "He was a catalyst for the rest of us. We would write all the music, but Ian would direct us. He'd say, 'I like that bit of guitar, I like that bass line, I like that drum riff.' He brought our ideas together in his own way, really."

As such, Curtis loved Unknown Pleasures. Hannett had taken their dark rock and roll and infused it with the kind of confrontational, novel soundscapes that Ian so admired in groups like Throbbing Gristle and Kraftwerk. Hannett had made Joy Division's debut as formidable and unique as the records Curtis loved. It seems clear that Joy Division was changing again, in Ian's mind if not Hook's and Sumner's, and Hannett shepherded that change at a speed that left the guitarists feeling that the record was taken away from them a bit. Which, in one literal sense, it was: Hannett didn't want the band members present while he mixed Unknown Pleasures, and would head to Strawberry at all hours of the morning hoping to avoid them. Peter Hook: "The scene was stupid from the word go. Martin never understood that he was working for us. We were paying him and so he should have done the mixing when we said so...he should have done what we said at all times."


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Memory Lane #1

It's easy to get nostalgic when you're 37. I remember a more innocent time, when the Jam going straight in at Number One on the singles chart was almost a national event; when the strike force of Cottee and McAvennie were tearing up Division One for the Hammers, and when you couldn't get the ad jingle for Kia-Ora orange squash out of your head for days on end.

We're coming up on four years since the 33 1/3 series started, so I'll be running an occasional series of short extracts from some of the early books, for any of you who've come to the series more recently. Perhaps this will help to establish whether the series has been going downhill, uphill, or has been cunningly skirting the countours of contemporary music criticism in order to exert the least possible amount of energy.

First up is Dusty in Memphis by Warren Zanes - a book that seems to be loved by some (including Jerry Wexler, who has bought dozens of copies over the years) and hated by others (it received one or two bizarrely vitriolic reviews). Here's a short extract from Chapter 2 of the book.


There is no avoiding psychobiography when writing about Dusty Springfield. She was troubled, out of place in her world. The authorized Dusty Springfield biography portrays Dusty's life as one long, often sad if occasionally and curiously joyous, car crash of a life, a redemptive turn coming late in the game but almost too late. If one is to believe the biography - and why not? - Dusty was a good but deeply conflicted soul, more often settling for diversions from her torments rather than solutions to them. The vulnerability we hear in her voice, it seems, is not some fluke but the sound that pain makes when it comes out of a certain body. If both simplistic and romantic, this art-born-of-pain interpretation of the Dusty Springfield story remains the most viable version. Why banish such a reading simply because the story has been told too many times of too many people? In Dusty's case, it fits. It's hard to avoid the reasonable enough idea that singing was perhaps Dusty's one valve to let off a little of the pressure building inside. Well, singing and - as the biography seems to insist - throwing food.

Given all of this, her tangled, chaotic life story and her alienation from a public that at different times embraced her and forgot her, one can well imagine that the notion of an elsewhere, a more real other place, a place where something vaguely related to freedom could be experienced would prove a potent concept to Dusty. If children are forever off in some land of their own making, those adults who believe they have left some crucial part of themselves in childhood - and Dusty was unequivocal in thinking this - will often return to those landscapes of childhood for a lost object, will often become involved in transport as a way of life. And, indeed, it seems that the South, that imagined region of authenticity sitting just beyond that field, was one of the elsewheres to which Dusty often returned. She found something in the music and the magic of the South that gave her, if only in the imagination, a more sastisfying home. The music she loved was merely the sound, the raw expression of a sense of freedom, that came out of that home. The South was her elsewhere. And Dusty in Memphis, whether consciously produced as such or not, is her tribute to just that place.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Beefheart on NPR!

Kevin Courrier, the author of the 33 1/3 on Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, will be interviewed by host David Dye on NPR's World Cafe on Thursday, August 23rd. To see if you can listen live through old fashioned radio waves, there is a list of stations here, or you can listen online to the WXPN/Philadelphia stream from 2pm-4pm by clicking here: http://xpn.org/listen_live/listen.php
...or if you're hard at work between 2-4, you can listen at your leisure from the online archive on the NPR site.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pink Moon, on its way

We got the manuscript this week for Amanda Petrusich's forthcoming book about Nick Drake's Pink Moon album. The book covers a lot of ground - Drake's early career; the recording, release, and failure of the album itself, and the record's new life on the back of a VW car ad in 2000. That's where this extract comes from...


For record companies, the economics of advertising made sense. In 2000, the well-documented dip in record sales (long attributed to the rise of downloading and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks) meant panicked labels were trying to figure out new ways to shift albums, horrified that their entire business model would soon be rendered obsolete. “At that time, record companies were really starting to get hurt by Napster and other things. They were losing profitability,” Matt Miller, President and CEO of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, explains. “One of the value propositions involved with advertising and licensing went off like a light bulb. They had these vast libraries [of licenses for songs] and their marketing budgets were going down, and here were marketers with already-bought air-time.”

“When we first started doing it, licensing a real band was a feat of social engineering,” former Arnold copywriter Shane Hutton explains. “There were a couple other agencies that were also trying, but [Arnold] found a way to do it the best – maybe our concepts were non-threatening to the bands. A lot of bands said no, but a lot of bands said yes. Now, there are a lot more licensing opportunities that come by my desk. It used to be one or two music houses that would put their D-level talent on the ‘For Advertising’ list, and we could get CDs of, like, Rick Astley’s brother’s band,” Hutton sighs.

“And I was like ‘I don’t want to put Rick Astley’s brother’s music on my spot at all.’ We would get the flotsam and jetsam from the music company, and it wasn’t what we were after. Now we get Beyonce’s album two months before it comes out. We get sneak previews of, like, P.O.D. – bands that never would have been considered for commercials before. Not that they’re so genius, but because they’re so ubiquitous in the mainstream and they don’t need any money and it just never would have happened,” Hutton continues.

“Sometimes there are integrity issues. But mostly I just think it’s about what’s selling and what’s not selling. It’s like the green grocer – ‘Gotta get rid of those grapefruits, they’re getting a little soft! Send ‘em to the ad people, they’ll eat it!’ But now we’re getting top-level talent, and people aren’t so freaked out by it. And I think that’s because more people are doing it – if I was in a band, I’d be like ‘Wait, you have a history of doing good work as an advertising agency, you win awards, you please people, you don’t do schlocky crap, I’ve looked at your reel and I like it. My record company is willing to offer me $75,000 worth of media placements on my new album. You’re willing to offer me, what? $4 million worth of media placement? You’re going to give me $4 million worth of media weight in this commercial that you’re gonna get Michael Bay to shoot? And you’re gonna link it to a website and people are going to be able to link to my website and buy it from me on my website for $10? Yes.’ I think a lot of bands are starting to figure out that it’s not going to hurt them if it’s done tastefully. And in a fragmented marketplace, a lot of bands just want some kind of exposure,” Hutton nods.

Hutton also acknowledges a handful of larger cultural shifts. “The other front to the impetus of change in this arena is hip-hop – just in general. In hip-hop, the words ‘sell out’ are a goal. It’s not a problem, it’s an intent. People are waiting for the dude to come by with the right about of money – and the dude after him, and the dude after him, and the girl after him. So you have hip-hop totally willing to sell out on one side – all their videos look like huge parties, everyone has money with their own face printed on the front, and it doesn’t look like that bad of a thing, they’re selling shoes, clothing, perfume. They’re in movies and shit, they’re a fucking enterprise. Then you have bands with ‘integrity’ on the other side, doing videos where they’re standing in the rain, in a mud field, talking about broken hearts and shit. And you’re like, ‘Uh, where do I want to be?’ So it’s changing. There are still bands that say ‘No! I would never sell out to a commercial, man, because I saw The Doors and I saw what happened to them and that fucking blows.’ But much less so – if I had to pick a percentage, I would say it’s at least 65% better than it used to be.”

“Think back to what was happening in advertising at that time,” Miller nudges. “Advertisers were facing a fractured media market. They were trying to engage consumers in ways they had never been engaged before. Primarily because they were entering into what would end up being a lifelong battle with other media – with DVRs, with the internet, with control being put into the consumer’s hands. Advertisers were trying to create small pieces of entertainment for their brand, and while the overall goal was still to sell, the method had to be much softer. It became more of a contract – you give me your 30 seconds, and I’m going to make it worth your while, because I’m going to entertain you. And if that proposition didn’t pay off for the viewer, they were gone. In 2000, we started to see the entertainment values in advertising reach new peaks. And one of the ways people have done that is licensing songs. It happens in many different ways – with popular songs everyone knows, like Led Zeppelin for Chevrolet or the Rolling Stones for Microsoft, or with a song that no one has ever heard. Advertising used to have three channels, and they had you – you had to sit there, and you had to sit through it. Now you don’t. So how are they gonna make you sit there? They’re gonna pay you with entertainment values. A lot of the time it’s comedy, but it can be other things – a beautiful picture, a little story being told, an emotional musical track,” Miller shrugs.

Advertisers were beginning to understand – and harness – the emotional draw of music. “Instead of just buying the recognition of a famous song, now agencies were buying an unrecognized song and counting on its catchiness or emotional wallop to hit a nerve,” Stevenson adds.

Obviously, for Nick Drake, the Cabrio commercial was more beneficial than exploitative, facilitating a second renaissance, bringing Drake’s name and sound to a considerably larger audience than he had ever entertained before. I ask Hutton if he was surprised by the jump in sales for Pink Moon. “It went from zero to a shitload,” Hutton says. “I know that. Nick was number one on Amazon.com for thirteen weeks or something like that, twenty-five years after his death. We knew people might want to buy it, because historically people had asked about buying other songs that we had used on-air. But each time you do [use a song], it’s a gamble. I would love to say we were fully aware of what was going to happen and everything went according to a checklist we had created, and we expected the phenomenon, but you can only throw the dice on the table – you can’t predict the numbers. We knew some people were gonna want to buy it – but no one was prepared for how many.”