The 33 1/3 series can be hit or miss; the hits tend to be along the lines of minor editorializing and a lot of history and details with interviews. The books that are good are really good and worth checking out if you like the artist or album on offer.
The misses are dramatic in their misses:
- Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” is a dictionary of all the words used in the lyrics of the album. Seriously.
- The Smiths’ “Meat is Murder” is a novella about suicide and how much it sucked being an emo kid in the midwest in the 80s. It’s not bad, but it isn’t about the album.
- Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality” is another novella (by Josh Darnelle of The Mountain Goats) about misunderstood teens.
- Radiohead’s “OK Computer” is a bone-dry analysis of the album that discusses none of the music and reads like a treatise on the history of boredom.
- Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation” is small doses of interestingness between pages of fawning and not-very-well-thought-out prose. I hated this book so much that I registered on Amazon in order to give it a bad review.1
- PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me”, another novella.
- The Band’s “Music from Big Pink”, a novella about a fictionalized ‘friend of The Band’ who is Zelig and Forrest Gump in his ability to be around at crucial moments in the making of the album. Then there’s the bits where the story centers around him and there’s nothing about the album. Yeah.
- Throbbing Gristle’s “20 Jazz Funk Greats” by Drew Daniels (of Matmos). An excellent read consisting mostly of a description of the track/album followed by commentary on it by both Daniels and the band members, from snippets of interviews Daniels conducted with each, separately. There’s a lot of good insight on the tracks and themes behind the music and no overlap with the other books about TG (“Wreckers of Civilisation” or RE/search stuff etc). Daniels’ back-of-the-book blurb says his day job is as a professor and the writing shows it, but thankfully he’s also a fan of the band, it’s music and specifically this album. It really feels like he wrote the book he would have wanted to read, as a fan.
- The Minutemen’s “Double Nickels on the Dime” by Michael T. Fournier. There’s bits of fanboy on this, but the enthusiasm gets funneled into good writing and interesting insights, with appropriate interviews. I learned that my CD copy has tracks missing from the original double album. I wonder when SST will get off it’s ass and put out a deluxe version of it.
- My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” by Mike McGonigal. Extensive info on and from everyone (except Colm), a great read especially if you don’t want to read the book about Rough Trade just for the MBV bits.
- R.E.M.’s “Murmur” by J. Niimi is hands-down the best book in the series. Organized and well-written, broken into distinct sections that have a logical flow, even if you don’t like the band, this is a worthwhile read. The content about the artwork and lyric content is particularly great.
- David Bowie’s “Low” by Hugo Wilcken. Good but focused pretty strictly on Low (although it does touch slightly on “Station To Station”), with very few mentions of thematic ties to the Berlin trilogy. The quotes from Eno and engineers on the album are quite interesting although it does show Bowie at his most paranoid assholish worst (e.g. denying Visconti producer credit on a whim, etc.)
- The Beatles’ “Let It Be” by Steve Matteo. Covering the Let It Be and Abbey Road periods (Abbey Road was released first, but recorded after Let It Be — there’s material from each recording session on the albums), with a lot of background on the dissolution of the band and it’s effect on the bandmembers. Not a great deal of demonizing of Yoko beyond fact-stating (“yoko was at this session, beatleX was annoyed at her” etc).
- The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main St.” by Bill Janovitz. A song-by-song breakdown of the Stones’ Americana-influenced album.
- The Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” by Dan Leroy, the addition of the info on the singles and B-sides is really great.
- Belle and Sebastian’s “If You’re Feeling Sinister” by Scott Plagenhoef, short and sweet, although if you’ve read anything about the band or this album in another book, it’s unlikely that you’ll find something amazingly new or brilliant.
- Nirvana’s “In Utero” by Gillian G. Gaar. Quotes from Albini and info on the videos from this album make this a nice little read.
- Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” by Amanda Petrusich, good but suffers from that there is so little known about Drake, there’s quote from musicians on how the album affected them spread out through the book and they wind up feeling like padding.
- Velvet Underground’s “The Velvet Underground and Nico” by Joe Harvard, a lot of quotes from other musicians but this doesn’t feel like padding, mostly. Excellent info and history on early days of the band and it’s Warhol period.
- Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Kim Cooper, a close contender with the ‘Murmur’ book for best-in-series; a lot of info about a group and album that not much is known about. Everyone interviewed and lots of info about the songs and the band proper.
- Pixies’ “Doolittle”: aside from no Kim Deal involvement, everything you could ask for in a book that focuses on just this one Pixies album. Covers the reunion, extensive Frank Black interviews.
1 Special moment of hate: the author writes the lyric to a song and postulates that it’s about a religious thing; something about Satan or fear of Satan, tied to lust or sexuality. He then mentions that he brought this up to Kim Gordon who told him, “no, that’s not what it’s about. that’s totally wrong.” But he decided to leave it in the book anyway. Or analyzing a vocal aside “kick it!” as being about heroin, a few pages away talking about how Sonic Youth and Public Enemy shared a recording studio and how SY were influenced by PE, as if the “kick it!” had no ties to hip-hop.
I enjoy making stuff.
Let me ‘splain. No, takes too long, let me sum up:
creating is fun. you make a new thing and ideally in the process you learn something about yourself even if it’s something trivial like “i was able to finish this stupid tiny goal”.Â Not every song has to be some Leonard Cohen self-torture brutally honest thing about how Janis Joplin blew you in a hotel room (no, really). Sometimes it has to be. Sometimes you gotta blow off steam about whatever — war or how you can’t stand your fucking job or how that evil bitch broke your heart or whatever. I’ve found that to do that type of stuff justice I have to focus, I can really only get to the austereness, the economy of language that says it exactly right, if I grind against the thing, let it fester like a thorn in my side and then I can think about it dispassionately, clinically. But for making the thing for the sake of making the thing, I find that I need to collaborate, even if it’s improvisationally, with someone else. Something to bounce off of, a spark that makes you go “I had never thought about it quite like that”. There’s a Tom Waits interview where he goes on and on about his wife and he describes how sometimes she’ll help him write a song by suggesting that he write as if they were, for example, travelling in China with a banjo. I don’t know where the hell I’m going with this. Maybe I should collab more. Today’s jam at Eden’s place was short because we ran out of cabling and couldn’t record and I wound up having to go play taxi driver again. C’est la vie.
It’s the return of the giant link-list email newsletter thing, now consolidated into a blog post for
yourmy convenience. Would anyone be interested in an occasional mix-CD?
Bacon. A food so delicious that the bible forbids it. Sin with me: bacon cupcakes, Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 commits suicide by bacon, bacon explosion, get that bacon out of your teeth with bacon floss, chocolate bacon and the coup de bacon, candied bacon ice cream
File under “and people say I’m hard to shop for”: happy vagina t-shirts, aquarium toilet, check out the speakers on her, vagina perfume
File under “like goldy, but with iron”: Catholic church needs to read the bible more, apparently
Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself: http://www.cliqueclack.com/tv/2009/01/07/the-prisoner-is-free-and-online/
Science! It works, bitches! : Tattoo changes color with glucose levels.
Rob wants to give you a high five!
So…about that salmonella peanut butter: bird shit.
There are no words for Starfish hitler
Science makes a mermaid.
Cory Doctorow’s got a story over at Tor.com which is pretty cool. It includes a sly little reference to The Cuckoo’s Egg by Cliff Stoll (the 0.75$ error leading to a spy-ring thing). That book was the first thing I ever read about hacking, in probably ’89 or ’90; the first time I heard of telnet or unix. It’s dated as hell now — fuck, it was dated as hell in ’90, I bet, but it’s got humourous little flourishes that make it entertaining even now:
Dave knew my ignorance of obscure Unix commands. I put up the best front I could: “Well, theÂ eÂ flag means listÂ both the process name and environment, and theÂ aÂ flag lists everyone’s processâ€”not just your process. So the hacker wanted to see everything that was running on the system.”
“OK, you got half of ‘em. So what are theÂ gÂ andÂ fÂ flags for?”
“I dunno.” Dave let me flounder until I admitted ignorance.
“You ask for aÂ gÂ listing when you want both interesting and uninteresting processes. All the unimportant jobs, like accounting, will show up. As will any hidden processes.”
“And we know he’s diddling with the accounting program.”
Dave smiled. “So that leaves us with theÂ fÂ flag. And it’s not in any Berkeley Unix. It’s the AT&T Unix way to list each process’s files. Berkeley Unix does this automatically, and doesn’t need theÂ fÂ flag. Our friend doesn’t know Berkeley Unix. He’s from the school of old-fashioned Unix.”
The Unix operating system was invented in the early 1970s at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. In the late ’70s, Unix zealots from Bell Labs visited the Berkeley campus, and a new, richer version of Unix was developed. Along with hot tubs, leftist politics, and the free speech movement, Berkeley is known for its Unix implementation.
A schism developed between advocates of the small, compact AT&T Unix and the more elaborate Berkeley implementation. Despite conferences, standards, and promises, no consensus has appeared, and the world is left with two competing Unix operating systems.
Of course, our lab used Berkeley Unix, as do all right-thinking folks. East Coast people were said to be biased towards AT&T Unix, but then, they hadn’t discovered hot tubs either.
From a single letter, Dave ruled out the entire computing population of the West Coast. Conceivably, a Berkeley hacker might use an old-fashioned command, but Dave discounted this. “We’re watching someone who’s never used Berkeley Unix.” He sucked in his breath and whispered, “A heathen.”
I just stumbled on a site about Set Theory Primer as it relates to music theory. Which reminds me of my favorite story about music I wrote that no one ever heard.
Bunny called me up, “hey there’s a gallery opening, we’re doing a music/performance/installation — the theme of the gallery is Summerian/Babylonian art, they’re showing some pieces etc etc”
I dig Sumer, cradle of civilization etc etc and I’ve read through Snow Crash so I know just a bit more than nothing about their language construction (atonal glosolalia? or some shit. doesn’t matter, i’m not writing poetry). So I look up Summerian music. Turns out it uses a 60-tone scale. Because I am S-M-R-T smart, I figure OK, I can make music akin to atonal 12-tone theory pieces, but I have to use 1/2 and 1/4 microtones (ie, bends and half-bends) and viola, 12-tone automagically becomes 60-tone. So I write this long droning piece in an open D tuning and because it would be a bitch to be bending whole chords (although you get some really awesome dissonances, some sonic youth/glenn branca shit going on where the notes beat against each other in the air) I go and get me a slide. So it’s like this blues hawaiian indian drone monster thing. It’s made of pure, concentrated awesome.
And then the day of the show, come to find out they go on an hour before they said they would and also that the music has been relegated to the alley behind the gallery. Which is OK, since that’s where the party people’s at anyway. Ran into solo and other people from the wayback.
Hey Ladies, he’s 22 and single: http://www.bmezine.com/news/guest/20080318.html
I cannot stop singing and dancing along to the Wombat’s “Let’s Dance to Joy Division”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyCi4CMD29w
Everything old is new again, part 9843: V TV series to be remade: http://io9.com/378520/closer-than-ever-to-a-v-movie-and-new-series
Previously on LOST: What?
Hey, remember Silence of the Lambs? Great Movie, huh? Remember when Clarice tries to bribe Hannibal Lecter by promising him a reassignment to Plum Island, home to Animal Disease Studies? Hey, guess what’s in the news!? http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080411/ap_on_go_ot/animal_disease_1
I have been listening to JWZ’s mixtapes pretty exclusively for the last week or so. They are made of 100% pure awesome. http://www.dnalounge.com/webcast/mixtapes/ They are in fact, how I found that “let’s dance to joy division” song. In the admittedly unlikely case that you were wondering who JWZ is, if you’re using Mozilla/Firefox, he’s responsible for that. http://www.jwz.org/
I may have, once or twice, mentioned how awesome I think Phillip K. Dick’s short stories are. Have I mentioned that he was fucking crazy? http://www.philipkdickfans.com/weirdo.htm
I love old world maps, especially old world maps of the old world. Wait, that came out wrong. Anyway, here’s a cool site all about strange maps: http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/
Awesome? AWESOME: http://www.yuppiepunk.org/2008/04/a-not-so-complete-history-of-literary-tattoos.html
Common Ties, a post-postsecret site. or something. instead of postcards, it’s stories and pictures tied together. mostly sad, so far.