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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

50 and counting...

Just got back today from the SBL Conference in Boston, where it was *mighty* cold over the weekend, and heading off for a few days of Thanksgiving rest in the Catskills, tomorrow morning. Below is a list of the proposals we've received so far, if you're interested. And again - seriously - do not be discouraged if one of the artists on this list is the subject of the proposal you're working on right now. Just make yours better!


The Fall
The Jam
Van Halen
The Zombies
Against Me!
Jefferson Airplane
Mary Margaret O'Hara
Yo La Tengo
Various Artists
Smashing Pumpkins
Herb Alpert
De La Soul
David Thomas and Two Pale Boys
King Crimson
John Cale
Allman Brothers Band
Songs Ohia
Iron Maiden
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
George Harrison
Van Morrison
The Rolling Stones
Paul Westerberg
The Cars
Incredible String Band
David Bowie
Cat Stevens
New Order
The Electric Prunes
Ol' Dirty Bastard
Sigur Ros
Red House Painters
Big Black
Lou Reed
Yo La Tengo
David Bowie
Britney Spears
The White Stripes
Robert Calvert


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wire's Pink Flag

Wilson Neate's excellent book about Wire and their Pink Flag album is rapidly nearing publication. It features extensive interviews with band members, some wonderful rare photos, a preface by Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner, and a whole lot more. Absolutely one of the best books in the series - trust me on this one.

Here's a very brief teaser...


In contrast with punk’s multicoloured sartorial assault, Wire were predominantly black-and-white. Lewis recalls that the “conceptual angle of what [the performance] should look like” included vetting the colour and style of their clothing. In 1977, he notes, “we were down to ‘it’s black, white and pink’” (quoting “It’s So Obvious”). “Plain, dark clothing evolved because we didn’t want any distractions,” explains Gilbert. “We didn’t want people thinking we were a rock band.” They also shunned stereotypical punk gear, favouring more theatrical touches. Newman, for example, occasionally went barefoot and sported a surgical smock. Gilbert describes this as “an escaped mental patient look.” Still, Gilbert himself admits to some misguided style choices: “I had this ridiculous affectation of wearing ballet shoes onstage. With pink bed socks.” That said, Wire knew where to draw the line: they were briefly managed by Roxy Club founder Andy Czezowski, but, as Newman points out, “He got sacked because he wanted to buy us pink leather trousers.”

Unsurprisingly, early audiences expecting punk rock were sometimes confused. Wire spurned what were, notwithstanding a confrontational attitude and new habits like spitting, the tired norms of rock performance. In addition to avoiding unnecessary musical and physical gesture, Wire didn’t drink or smoke onstage and weren’t shambolic. They were mostly affectless and uncommunicative: they didn’t banter or encourage audience participation. Gilbert was well aware that Wire didn’t please everyone: “It’s their Friday night. They go out to see a punk band, jump about, scream and spit—that was the orthodoxy of the time. People coming on as if they’d come to mend the fridge wasn’t what audiences were looking for.”


Friday, November 14, 2008

Big Star's Radio City

We're currently working on the manuscript of Bruce Eaton's 33 1/3 book about Big Star, which will be publishing in the next couple of months. As well as some wonderful, never-seen-before photos, the book is a treasure trove of original interviews with surviving band members and several others who were there, at Ardent, while the album was being made. Here's a brief extract from near the start of the book.


Alex Chilton’s reluctant to non-existent relationship with the rock press over the past thirty years can make a noted curmudgeon like Van Morrison seem downright friendly and accessible. In a notable brush-off to writer Barney Hoskyns for a 2004 MOJO article he explained "A lot of people do their best and still completely misunderstand everything about me, and I’ve just completely had it with co-operating with it or playing along with it in any sense whatsoever.”

With that quote rattling around in my head, I headed to Philadelphia one bright October morning in 2007 to meet with Alex regarding the possibility of an interview for this book. He agreed to at least listen to what I had in mind – a focus on the music – and give it some consideration. I agreed to leave my tape recorder home. After lunch at and some general catching up, we took an extended walk around the South Street neighborhood, stopping along the way at various shops and (Alex bought a beautiful vintage classical guitar for $150 – quite the deal). Somewhere along the way, he offered, “Well, if you want to know the story of Big Star, you have to go back about 300 years…” and then started to tell the story from his point of view. I tried to take it all in – trying to hold onto each little detail while two more came right at me. When he finished, I told him “If I’d had a recorder on, we’d be half done by now.” At the end of the day, Alex agreed to talk on the record. We met again in Philidelphia two months later at his girlfriend’s apartment. Sitting at a small table, he talked about his life before Big Star, music, and the album that for all its acclaim, he still has decidedly mixed feelings about.

As Chilton sees it, the Radio City story doesn’t begin with his joining Big Star or even meeting Chris Bell as a young teen. If you really want to understand Big Star from his perspective, you have to go to back the arrival of John Chilton of Canterbury, England on the shores of Virginia in 1660 – three hundred years before John Lennon met Paul McCartney and started sowing the seeds for the British Invasion that would ultimately lead to Big Star. Purchasing a tract of land on what is now known as Curryoman Bay off the Potomac River, John Chilton built an estate named Currioman just down the road from the eventual birthplaces of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. The Chilton family prospered for generations in Virginia. You can still drive down Chiltons Road and visit family graves. Born in 1816, John Marshall Chilton, the great-grandson of John Chilton, grew up in Virginia until making his way to Mississippi in 1840. It’s likely that he came by way of New Orleans – his younger wife Sally was from the Crescent City – and ultimately settled in Vicksburg, Mississippi, some 250 miles downriver from Memphis.

Alex Chilton: That’s how my branch of the Chiltons got to Mississippi and they stayed there until three years before I was born. John Marshall Chilton, my great-great-grandfather was a lawyer and wrote a history of colonial Mississippi territory that is pretty good reading. He died in 1859 at the age of 43 but left a lot of children. My great-grandfather had been born in 1853. His name was Harrison Randolph Chilton. I guess that some of the Chiltons fought in the siege of Vicksburg but they seemed to have moved inland sometime around the 1860s to around Clinton, Mississippi. By the 1870s they were in Clinton and stayed around there.

My great-grandfather moved over to a river county. He tried having a big plantation over there but it washed away in a big flood and ended up being sheriff in Isiqueena County, which is the end of the world. If you ever end up going there you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s way, way out there – the poorest place I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve read a statistic that around the turn of the 20th century, when he was still sheriff, the ratio of blacks to white was nineteen blacks to one white in the height of the Jim Crow era. My grandfather grew up there in the town of Meyersville. My father [Sid Chilton] grew up over there in eastern Mississippi around Starkville and stayed in Mississippi until the war – he was in the Navy during the war.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Miriam Makeba R.I.P.

A very sad moment on Sunday, with the death of Miriam Makeba - who suffered a heart attack after a show in Italy. In the words of Nelson Mandela, it seemed only right that her last moments were "spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause."

Here's a passage about Makeba from our wonderful 2004 book Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music & Politics in South Africa, by Gwen Ansell.


Miriam Makeba did not fall off the musical map when she went to Guinea-Conakry. Instead, she landed in a West Africa where cultural nationalism and generous patronage for culture were important features of the construction of the new postcolonial states. Indeed, when the apartheid regime withdrew her passport, several African states had offered her diplomatic papers. So Makeba was able to tour, to sing, and to write new political songs, and to communicate about South Africa at the highest level, to the heads of states becoming important in the Non-Aligned Movement.

Her own music flowered as a result. In the reissued Miriam Makeba: The Guinea Years, she finds again the range of voices that she sometimes left on the shelf singing African folk with Harry Belafonte. Singing in nine languages, she creates sound as well as song, reaching for fuller, deeper, and hoarser tones. With aplomb she selects the right floating praise verses in the role of traditional djelimuso, and gets tight jazz swing from backup players, including the doyen of manding guitar, Sekou "Diamond Fingers" Diabate. She was, in fact, doing exactly what she had done in South Africa: selecting the best musicians and working with them to shape a new sound from traditional, neotraditional, and jazz raw materials. Quite how influential this was on African female singing styles is only now being acknowledged. Asked to name their early influences, singers as diverse as Angelique Kidjo, Oumou Sangare, Tshala Mwana, and Sally Nyolo have all mentioned records by Makeba as an inspiration.


(Relief-block print of Makeba by Stephen Alcorn)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Quick off the mark

The first ten proposals we've received (none of which I've read yet) are for books on albums by:

The Fall
The Jam
Van Halen
The Zombies
Against Me!
Jefferson Airplane
Mary Margaret O'Hara
Yo La Tengo

None of whom are artists covered in the series so far. Interesting!

A slathering of Slayer

The November issue of Metal Maniacs magazine has a great review of DX Ferris's book about Reign in Blood - it concludes like this:

"To say that Reign in Blood is mandatory reading for fans of the band and the album is ridiculously understated. Perhaps more importantly, the book is essential for anyone with an interest in heavy metal." (Scott Alisoglu)

Also: You have two chances to get a free taste of the book. First – and this one is guaranteed – send an e-mail to Slayerbook [ at ) gmail.com, and you'll receive a .pdf file of the chapter of about the album-opening song “Angel of Death,” a stone-cold thrash-metal classic.

Second, you have until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, November 16 to participate in Metalsucks.net’s Slayer Olympics.

The metal news site and Ferris are teaming up to give away three personally dedicated, autographed copies of the Slayer book, one to each winner of three competitions. Readers can compete to 1) create the best alternate Slayer lyric or 2) identify the most glaring grammatical error in Slayer’s body of work. (In fairness to the band, sometimes a dangling participle is necessary to give a lyric a precise flow.) Also, fans can 3) submit the most rad picture of themselves with Slayer merch. If it’s racy, you must be 18 or over to participate.

Big Takeover Review of Master of Reality

From the estimable Big Takeover magazine, a great review of John Darnielle's book:

Book shelves are cluttered with gossipy, surface glances at a band and standard "snort and tell" memoirs, written after the drugs and fame have worn off. There are exceptions, but it is rare that any tome depicts what music actually does to a person. And none perhaps do it as well as this fictional look at Black Sabbath's Master of Reality. Darnielle, leader of The Mountain Goats, uses teenager Roger Painter, confined to a psychiatric center in 1985, to tell the tale. The book is a journal he is mandated to keep, and his venom at being deprived of his Walkman—and thus not being able to take solace in his favorite album—well, the pain is palpable. It's the impact—the angry insolence of Ozzy Osbourne, the bleak landscapes of music made by those apart from society, to which Painter relates—because he's one of them. This is a masterly look at the corrosive emotion of youth and the invaluable solace that music gives. Read it, even if you'd rather stick knitting needles in your ears than listen to the album in question. Because it's about you.

And a reminder that you can catch Mr. Darnielle on tour, here:

Nov 5 Chapel Hill, NC, Cat's Cradle
Nov 6 Washington, DC, 9:30 Club
Nov 7 Philadelphia, PA, Theatre of the Living Arts
Nov 8 Brooklyn, NY, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Nov 9 New York, NY, Webster Hall

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Would you like to write a book?

You may be interested to know that, as of RIGHT NOW, we’re accepting proposals for future 33 1/3 books, to be published in 2010 and 2011. Please read the information below carefully – I’ve tried to outline the process as clearly as possible.

You can send in one proposal, about one album. Multiple submissions will not be accepted. Draconian, but true!

The “one book per band/artist” rule no longer exists. Therefore, we’ll consider proposals for books about any album that hasn’t already been covered in the series, or isn’t already under contract.

You can find a list of titles already published in the series here, and the books listed as “Coming 2008” and “Titles Announced for 2008 and 2009” are also off-limits. On the “Unknown Status” list, none of these are under contract any more (some of them never were!), with the exception of the books about Kate Bush, Lucinda Williams, and the Clash. So, just to be clear – if you send in a proposal for a book about Pink Flag or Loveless, it’ll be ignored. But if you send in a proposal for a book about The Basement Tapes or Chinese Democracy or Kid A, we’ll absolutely consider it.

The deadline for submission of proposals is midnight on Dec 31st. So you have until the last minute of 2008 (New York time). Any proposals received after that time (and I’ll be watching – drunk, but watching) will not be accepted.

If you have written a book for this series already: we love you, but we’d like to give others a chance. Spreading the wealth, kinda.

If you have submitted a proposal before, but have been turned down, you’re very welcome to have another go.

Regarding your choice of album: this is entirely up to you. I don’t, sadly, have the time to answer emails asking “would album X stand a better chance than album Y?” – so use your best judgment here. My advice would be this: we are looking to sell some books. That’s the bottom line. If you are absolutely convinced that we could sell 4,000 or 5,000 copies of a book about your chosen album, then go for it.

All proposals must be submitted via email. The address for submissions is as follows:


The subject line of your email must use this format: “Proposal for Big Country’s The Crossing”. (This will really help me keep it all organised: thank you in advance.)

Please don't send proposals to my regular work email. And if you have any questions about this process, ask them in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to answer them.

Your proposal should take the form of a Word document attachment. Don't include it in the body of your email.

All proposals that we get at the yahoo account will be acknowledged within a few days of receipt – except towards the end of December, when I may be offline for a little while. I’ll acknowledge those ones as soon as I’m able.


All proposals need to include these simple things:

Your name and contact details;

An outline (up to 2000 words) of how you would approach your album of choice. (This is key. Don’t assume, just because you’ve chosen a no-brainer record, that you don’t have to convince us about it. The best proposals have a real clarity to them, a purposeful angle, and a sense of determination. Why do you love the record? What’s fascinating about it? Why will thousands of people want to read about it? In this section, include any details as to whether you would contact the band/artist in question, or other people connected to the record in some way. Artist involvement isn’t essential, but it can certainly help.)

Up to 500 words about yourself, outlining why you're qualified to write about this record;

A couple of paragraphs on how you would help us promote your book: we do everything we can, but an active author makes a huge difference;

And finally, which book in the series would you hope to emulate, in terms of style and content?


A few more random details…

Absolutely anyone can submit a proposal, except for authors already under contract for the series. You don’t need to be a professional music writer or a legendary rock flautist to be considered.

Will we accept proposals about compilation albums? Yes. About live albums? Yes. About jazz albums? No. (Nothing personal!) About an album that hasn’t been recorded yet? Go ahead, convince us.

The books themselves are between 25,000 and 35,000 words. Almost invariably, this sounds easier than it is. So please only submit a proposal if you’re serious about writing one of these, and if you’re able to commit to it.

Also: I'd advise against doing this for the money. We can’t pay very much – there’s a modest advance against royalties. But if your book ends up selling nicely, you’ll get some decent pocket money for several years to come, and we try to supplement that with translation deals, audiobook deals, etc.

This is hard to predict, but I’d hope to have a yes/no decision for everyone who sends us a proposal by some point in March. It really depends on how many we receive.

Last time around (in early 2007), we received about 450 proposals, and ended up offering contracts to about 20 of them. So the odds aren’t great, when you think about it. If you bruise easily, you might want to think twice about trying this. On the other hand – go for it – it’s fun!

I sincerely hope this covers everything. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section to this post, and we’ll do our best to answer them. As we discovered previously, this system isn’t perfect, but we’ll do everything we can to make it fair, and as open as possible.

Oh, and if you want to share this posting on message boards, facebook, other blogs, go ahead and link to it. Thanks!