Friday, December 12, 2008

Review at Blurt + Audio of Hammer Museum Reading

Blurt Magazine has a review of Shoot Out The Lights online by the Rev. Keith A. Gordon. The good Reverend says:

If all this sounds confusing, well, it is... Childs provides a completely different way of looking at an album from the couple dozen previous 33 1/3 series books that I've read, and the first three or four chapters are difficult to slog through. By the end of the sixth chapter, though, the damn thing begins to make sense, and if you stay on the ride through the end, the insight proffered by Childs is rewarding as well as eye-opening.

Hayden Childs has definitely broken beyond the normal form of rock criticism with his take on Shoot Out The Lights, creating a review of some depth and intelligence, his critique as layered and textured as the album it explores. Whether you're a longtime fan of the Thompsons, or a listener just discovering the brilliant and disturbing Shoot Out The Lights, Childs' book provides the perfect guide to this difficult album.

Thanks! I feel pretty good about that one.

Also, for your pleasure, please take a listen to my reading at the Hammer Museum from October 29 of this year with Scott "If You're Feeling Sinister" Plagenhoef and Kim "In The Aeroplane Over the Sea" Cooper. You can't see the presentation (although maybe I'll figure out a way to put that up here sometime), but you can hear the commentary and music. Scott & Kim were fun co-presenters and the Q&A was a blast.

Edit: I'm unable to embed the player for some reason. The audio is here, though.

2nd edit: I think I worked it out.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back from L.A.!

Great reading, great experience. Scott Plagenhoef talked about Belle & Sebastian's aesthetic and the changing face of music fandom with the advent of the Internet and the access it provides. I showed Richard & Linda Thompson pictures, some courtesy of Blair Helsing, a new Internet pal who drums in the San Francisco jazz combo Echo Beach Band, and some graphic depictions of Dante's Inferno, while I read from the book. Kim Cooper read parts of her narrative about Neutral Milk Hotel and showed an artist's rendition of the lyrics to "Holland, 1945". We had a pleasant Q&A with the audience and signed some books. I had a number of great friends who showed, plus my brother flew down from the Bay Area. All in all, a wonderful experience. Thanks, Hammer Museum!

Also want to mention that it's 33 1/3 pitch time! Get your pitch together.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reading in LA TOMORROW

I can hardly believe it myself, but I will be reading from my book at the Hammer Museum in LA tomorrow evening at 7.

Incidentally, I learned a lot from this article, and I think you can, too. (Thanks to the RT List!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

3 x 33 1/3 at the Hammer Museum in LA

It's free! Be there!*
* should you happen to be in the vicinity.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I have a new gig as part of the crack team blogging about movies at The Screengrab, which is's movie page. My first post is up now. It ain't much, but it's a start. I'll post more for tomorrow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

LA Reading at Metropolis Books

So, a week & a half ago, I read from Shoot Out The Lights at the delightful Metropolis Books in LA with Kim Cooper and David Smay. And it was fun! The picture above is from Pinky's Paperhaus, and it depicts my famous "man in a box with a microphone" mime routine.
I'm coming back to LA on October 29 to read at the Hammer Museum with Kim Cooper and Scott Plagenhoef. Don't miss it!

RT interview on Graeme Thomson's blog

Graeme Thomson's new book I Shot A Man In Reno is about death in popular music, and it sounds fantastic. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Of interest here: Mr. Thomson was kind enough to post a wonderful interview with Richard Thompson on his blog.

Also of interest: Mr. Thomson had some entertaining posts while guest-blogging at Powell's Books.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More on the KEXP review + reading in LA on Saturday + sad news

After I posted that last review, I had an amicable back & forth with Chris Estey in the comments thread. He had this to say:

I have to say I’ve been struggling a bit in hindsight with my criticism of your fictional aspect to the book. I was actually leery of your combining a fictionalized character with so much story behind such an important record being readily available, but you really did pull that element off well, too. Perhaps much better than I suggest in my final paragraph above. Other 33 1/3 volumes had done it, as had other writers elsewhere, to a less satisfying level of literature. Thinking back on it, you did a really good job of telling a story many of us can identify with — the feeling that the creator of an album (or story, for example) is a twin of ours, creating a disturbing simulation of our own existence. I had bought “Shoot Out The Lights” just before my deep, several-year engagement with a girl fell apart, and the LP didn’t seem to have any lyrics that couldn’t have been written about my own existence. You captured that weird energy between fan/listener and singer/songwriter so well that it’s been more memorable than a lot of other fiction I’ve read this year. So, well, I want to thank you and encourage people even more to check out your analysis of Richard & Linda Thompson’s (arguable tie for best) album, with less hesitation than my review originally stated. You’re a damned good writer!

Man! High praise, indeed. Thanks, Chris! If you're ever in Austin, let me buy you a beer.

Just a reminder: Don't forget I'm reading in LA at Metropolis Books on Saturday, August 30, at 6 pm with Kim Cooper and David Smay. It will be 33 1/3-tastic!

Also, finally with the sad news: Dave Smith, a scholar of Richard Thompson's music, recently passed away at the far-too-young age of 58. His book The Great Valerio, a close analysis of Richard Thompson's themes and inspirations, is a surprising and pleasurable read for all RT fans. And you can download it for free from the Internet. Do the man proud.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Another review + upcoming reading

KEXP read my book! And mostly liked it! I can live surprisingly well with being called "too ambitious" by those guys.

Childs adds a fictional narrator, a philosophical folk rock doppelganger
who assesses the moves of the declining couple as his own life spins out of
control, in mordant comparison to Dante’s Inferno and Virgil’s Descent. I have
to admit that I found this part of the book a little distracting, and a mash-up
of perhaps more personal creative writing with a remarkably solid analysis of
the Thompson’s output ends up feeling too ambitious. (Childs is similar to
conceptually extrapolative Camden Joy, but gives a lot more of the archetypal
solid rock write trivia and insight.) Fortunately, this interwoven subplot is
pulled off enough not to ruin the spot-on observations and criticisms that fuel
the rest of the book. It shouldn’t keep you from reading it, and you should buy
the album Shoot Out The Lights immediately if you haven’t got it.

I have to point out that I don't mind this ambiguity some reviewers feel about the fiction in my story. I knew it would be offputting for some, but it serves the primary thesis ("Shoot Out The Lights is a song-cycle about living in Hell") by giving readers a narrator and arc to mirror the story of the Thompsons, plus it allowed me to revel in certain flavors of darkness that are, happily, not a part of my own life. I suppose one of the common threads in the cricitism is that the story and analysis could have been better integrated. Maybe so, but I should state that the back-and-forth between reality and fiction was intentional and meant to be somewhat comic (the fact that I am explaining this is a sign that maybe I failed at that). I meant Virgil's perpetual confusion and misery and sad-sackist intellectualism to lead him to jumble his honest reflections of the album Shoot Out The Lights with his own position as a fan, an outside observer, and the ultimately flawed guide to the album. He's less a poet from a bygone day than the creepy loner who narrates many of Richard Thompson's songs. But the fact that I am explaining this is another sign of failure. Therefore, by the logic of this paragraph, I can live with failure. QED.

In other news: PEOPLE OF LOS ANGELES! I'm reading with Kim "In The Aeroplane Over the Sea" Cooper and David "Swordfishtrombones" Cooper at Metropolis Books on August 30th at 6 pm! You will notice that all three albums under discussion have the distinct scent of nostalgia for an impossible past. What could be more fun than talking about that?

PLUS, if you have yet to do so, GET ON THE BUS. The "Crawling Down Cahuenga" Tom Waits tour bus, that is. If there's still availability, you owe it to yourself.

Reading at Grimey's with Will Kimbrough!

The good people of Grimey's Records in Nashville made this possible. Here's a recording of the show from August 14, 2008. There's a couple of places where I may have stretched the facts a little bit in a belabored shot at being funny, but I think the truth is served. Also, when Will Kimbrough comes back to the mic late in the show, he mentions that when he met Richard Thompson, RT was the soul of human kindness. I agree with him, although it's inaudible on the tape (I'd already walked away from the mic), pointing out that I doubt Thompson or Linda Thompson Kenis were avoiding me out of spite, but more likely because I was asking them to discuss one of the most painful times in their lives.

Quick addendum: fellow 33 1/3 author John "The Who Sell Out" Dougan showed up. The guy is awesome, as is his book. Go buy it!

(Press the Play button below to hear the recording.)

Will Kimbrough burning up "Shoot Out The Lights"

Fat guy attempts jokes, bores friends and strangers:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Grimey's Reading, first notes

I read from Shoot Out The Lights at Grimey's Records in Nashville last Thursday. Let me first say that Grimey's is an incredibly fantastic place, with a killer selection of music and a supercool, super-knowledgeable staff. Let me also say that Will Kimbrough, who is a great guy, tore the shit out of some Richard Thompson songs. And I stammered my way through a reading somehow. I have a recording that I'm thinking I'll post when I get the chance! Let me also say that John Dougan, the scribe behind the awesome 33 1/3 book on The Who Sell Out, also showed up, and he is also a super-cool guy. I very much enjoyed comparing notes about the writing of our respective books.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I'm not going to be online often over the next week to 10 days, so I just wanted to mention that I'll be reading from Shoot Out The Lights in Nashville a week from Thursday, 8/14, at Grimey's New & Preloved Music at 6 pm with the incredibly awesome Will Kimbrough joining me to play some Richard Thompson songs. If you're in Nashville or thereabouts, come on down!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

33 1/3 blog has an excerpt from my book about Phillippe Petit's tightrope walk between the World Trade Center Towers in 1974. This post was inspired by Man On Wire, the new film about Petit. Go see it! It's coming to Austin in another week or two, and you'd better believe I'll be there at the earliest opportunity.

There's an interview with Petit on Salon here. The guy's fascinating, so go read it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Recap: Reading At The Carousel 7/12

Because I am lame, I didn't ensure that there would be anybody with a camera on hand last Saturday at my Austin reading/Richard Thompson hoot night. One woman fortunately took a couple of pictures, of which the attached is the only one where I don't look like a drooling idiot or trained monkey.

So, here I am at the lovely Carousel Lounge, reading in-between the bands who played RT songs all night. The Carousel, as you can see, has a certain David Lynch-ian atmosphere, enhanced by the giant paper-mache pink elephant behind the stage, visible at the right in the photo.

The musicians were just great, too:
  • Lee Barber and Brian Beattie (who is formerly of the legendary post-punk band Glass Eye) played "I Misunderstood," "Why Must I Plead," and "Keep Your Distance" from Rumor & Sigh;
  • DD Dagger, playing saxophone over guitar-and-drum-machine loops, sang "Calvary Cross" and Kirsty MacColl's "Dirty Old Town" (mostly known for the Pogues cover, but RT has covered it on more than one occasion, too);
  • Elizabeth Jackson sang three songs, accompanied only by a single instrument: "Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair" on accordion, "Withered And Died" on bass (and this version was so achingly beautiful that I can't believe we didn't record it), and "Crazy Man Michael" on violin;
  • The Distant Seconds rocked the heck out of "Shaky Nancy" and "Wall Of Death";
  • I played "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and "The Great Valerio" acoustic; and
  • my band Parks & Wildlife played "Shoot Out The Lights," "Walking on a Wire," and ended with "Calvary Cross," where Distant Seconds guitarist Matt Baab and I did the dueling lead guitar solo thing for far too long. Rock cliches are fun!

The local press didn't give us much love in advance, but we had a decent turnout, anyway, at least for that bar. Probably 80+ people there, most of whom hung in until after midnight. Pretty decent for a crowd of mostly older, ex-hipster types.

Anyway, my thanks to everyone who showed up! It was loads of fun, and y'all were kindhearted and indulgent to listen to me read to you for 10+ minutes at a time while the bands were getting ready. I had a blast, and hope y'all did, too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another SOTL review (that may be my favorite ever)

This review is my favorite ever:
“Shoot Out The Lights” by Hayden Childs is a masterful 116-page obsessive’s
factual and fictional paean to the 1982 eight-song album, as well as to Richard
Thompson, and to a lesser degree to Linda Thompson. Ten pages into the book, I
realized that I had little inkling of the musical specifics that Childs was
putting under his microscope. After four successive and attentive listenings of
the entire CD, I was ready to go back to my reading. As Childs pursued his
inventive and slightly mad takes on the significance of each track, of the
context, emotional and musical of every bar, I would go back to my iPod and
listen again to the song under discussion. I finished the book and stood back,
realizing that “Shoot Out the Lights” is now a burned-in part of my interior
landscape, of my internal sound track, and is there in ways that as yet I do not
fully and probably will never fully comprehend.
Inventive and slightly mad! I have to put that on my business cards. Awesome.

Monday, July 7, 2008

This Saturday, July 12, 2008: Richard Thompson Book Release Party and Hoot Night in Austin!

The venue is The Carousel at 1110 E. 52nd Street. Starts around 9 pm.

Not only will I be reading from the 33 1/3 book Shoot Out The Lights, but musical guests will be playing Richard Thompson songs all night: Lee Barber, DD Dagger, Elizabeth Jackson of the Darling New Neighbors, The Distant Seconds, and Parks & Wildlife. Come on down!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Today's Powell's Blog post: Cormac McCarthy does Scott Walker.

Also, if you're in Austin and have Time Warner Cable, you can see me tonight on ME TV (that's Music Entertainment), channel 15, on a show called Tex-Mix airing around 6 - 6:30. Excitement!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Post No. 2 for Powell's! Today it's Pynchon and the Fiery Furnaces. Yesterday was Flannery O'Connor and The Fall. I'll be there all week! Try the veal.

Monday, June 30, 2008

I'm guest-blogging at Powell's Books this week, and the first post is up, should you find yourself wanting to kill a couple of minutes.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Here's two reviews!

"Childs tackles Shoot out the Lights for the latest installment of the wonderful 33 1/3 series. He provides deft analysis of the album track by track, through the nonfiction eyes of a musician whose life bears an eerie resemblance to Thompson, but without the success. Oh, and he throws in references to Dante's Inferno for good measure (see this week's Wikipedia link). I was skeptical of this approach at first, but it really works well."

- via Distractions

And a little more mixed:

Those two approaches – literary criticism and fiction – come together through what in a way is Childs’ central thesis: that Shoot Out the Lights resembles Dante’s Inferno . Shoot Out the Lights the book thus is set up to also resemble that portion of The Divine Comedy, with Childs’ fictional main character Virgil going through his own dark journey. This fictional device is a unique one, but to me not especially successful."

- via Erasing Clouds

Friday, June 20, 2008

Weekend Update

Sad news: the excellent Richard Thompson For Completists website is going down in the next couple of days. Visit now.

At some point, I intend to continue my review of 33 1/3 books I have known. Also, I will be adding reviews of my book here whenever I find them. This may prove harder than you think.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My book is in stock at Amazon and Powell's now. Buy it!

I have some upcoming promo things!

1. I'll be guest blogging at Powell's the week of June 30 - July 4. What a great way to celebrate the birth of this country!

2. My Austin book release party is July 12 at the Carousel Lounge. There will be bands playing Richard Thompson songs and I'll read a few excerpts of the book. Yeah!

3. I'll be in Nashville on August 14 reading at Grimey's. Woo, Grimey's!

4. I'll be in Los Angeles on August 30 at Metropolis Books with Kim "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" Cooper and David "Swordfishtrombones" Smay. Those guys are awesome, and I'm excited about sharing the stage with them. They're organizing a Tom Waits tour bus for the same afternoon, which should be oodles of fun. This will also be my first trip to LA, so hooray!

Also, my friend David Schwartz's book was published the week. Buy it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Amazon says they're temporarily out of stock of Shoot Out The Lights. Does that mean they shipped all of the ones already ordered? Or that they never got any? Inquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In which I inform readers about recent developments

Advance copies landed at my house yesterday, which was coincidentally my birthday. Coming to a bookseller in the next two weeks.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

33 1/3 No. 39: Matthew Stearns - Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation

From Here To Obscurity, 2/26/08:

I've been reading a lot of 33 1/3 books recently. Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation is one of my favorite albums, going back to my teenage years. This book combines interviews with members of SY with a read on the lyrics and music. As a guitarist, I sort of wish Stearns had gone further by describing the wacky tunings and crazy guitar punishment Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo dish out. I liked how he tied SY back to the No Wave "movement" of the late 70s and then to Rhys Chatham's and Glenn Branca's subsequent noise-minimalism compositions. Ultimately, though, I love Daydream Nation for its mystery and unknowable nature, and I don't think that Stearns - or anyone, really - could tease out all the elements of strangeness on the album. Good effort, though, definitely, and a fun read for Sonic Youth fans. And it inspired me to listen to Daydream Nation quite a lot over the last few weeks, so yay for that.

Style of book: interviews, lyrical analysis, song descriptions

33 1/3 No. 38: Marc Woodworth - Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand

Woodworth's GBV book was great fun for me. I actually discovered them through the buzz around their following album, Alien Lanes, which is so ingrained in my consciousness that I know every single word on that album, in order. Bee Thousand is a close second, and I know most of the words, but stumble here and there.

Woodworth collected fans' stories, which appear in the book alongside his history of the band and the lo-fi aesthetic that produced Bee Thousand. I love this approach. Bee Thousand is a labor of love, sounding like it was knocked out in a basement only for the pleasure of those who made it; it makes sense that such a democratic approach to music should have a democratic fanbase.

Style of book: personal, lots of interviews, journalistic, fan-oriented

33 1/3 No. 37: John Dougan - The Who's The Who Sell Out

Also discussed last month on From Here To Obscurity:

Dougan's 33 1/3 contribution focuses on the cultural context surrounding The Who's Pop Art masterpiece. It's on the MOJO-journalism side of the 33 1/3 style guide, but well worth reading. Especially if, like me, you consider The Who Sell Out the apex of their career and one of the best albums of all time.

On a side note, I've long wanted to play in a band that covers this album start to finish. If you're interested in joining me, contact me when my kids get older and I have more time for that sort of silliness.

Style of book: journalistic, even a bit academic

33 1/3 No. 36: Mike McGonigal - My Bloody Valentine's Loveless

I just wrote about this last month on From Here To Obscurity! Here's the post, mostly word-for-word.

McGonigal's take on the 33 1/3 form is semi-journalistic, although McGonigal inserts himself in the role of enthusiastic guide. I love this album, but it's by design a mystery of sorts. It's a loud, distorted rock album that is almost ethereal. There's few lyrics on it that seem to make sense, but the songs seem perfect as they are. But I'm afraid I'm running out of new ways to say things about 33 1/3 books. The facts in the book are fascinating, the interviews enlightening, and McGonigal's personal touches are loads of fun. If you're a MBV fan, you should read it. If you're not, you probably won't dig it. If you've never heard MBV, go get the album and the book at the same time and read it while you listen.

Style of book: journalistic, personal

Friday, April 25, 2008

Man On Wire

My book on Shoot Out The Lights is a work of fiction, although it deals with real people (like, say, Richard and Linda Thompson) and real events (like, say, any of those that reference Richard and Linda Thompson). One of the real people who crops up in the book is Philippe Petit, the high-wire artist who walked between the World Trade Center in 1974, between the recording and release of one of Richard & Linda Thompson's two great tightrope-as-metaphor songs, "The Great Valerio." In researching Philippe's stunning walk, I mostly relied on his memoir To Reach The Clouds. After I'd finished the draft, my wife found a lovely children's book by Mordicai Gerstein called The Man Who Walked Between The Towers. This morning I read that someone's made a movie about Petit called Man On Wire. It's playing at the Tribeca Film Festival four times over the next week, and man, I wish I lived in New York. I can't imagine that this could be anything but incredible.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

33 1/3 No. 32: Miles Marshall Lewis - Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On

Lewis starts his book with an extended conversation between himself and (presumably) his dad about what Sly meant. He launches into the context of Sly Stone's career and then how There's A Riot Goin' On fits in. There's a lot of discussion about the relative worth of each album and the tragic trajectory of Sly's life, compared to the uplift of his music. Well, the uplift prior to Riot.

I should point out that I love this album, and this is the book that brought me around on the issue of breaking the MOJO article mold. I bought a copy of the book while on vacation in the Pacific Northwest and ended up giving it to a friend after I read it. At the time, I'd just started Shoot Out The Lights, and I was still committed to writing a journalistic take on the album. I'd read Piper At The Gates Of Dawn a while before and disliked the deviation into the author's personality. But Lewis's book convinced me that a 33 1/3 book could be personal and still work. So I'm not going to review Piper here until I re-read it, and I can thoroughly recommend this one.

Style of book: personal, contextual, meditative, sympathetic.

33 1/3 No. 31: Ben Sisario - The Pixies' Doolittle

Doolittle was one of my favorite albums in my junior year of high school. I had a cassette I'd made with Doolittle on one side and Surfer Rosa on the other, and I could just let it flip around and around in my car without changing it for weeks.

Sisario spoke to all the Pixies except Kim Deal, getting firsthand information about the making of the album and the band dynamic. He offers an interpretation of the lyrics, but for the most part, it's a journalistic approach. He's an entertaining guide, and it's an entertaining book about a phenomenal album.

Style of the book: Journalism and song analysis.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In Richard Thompson news, his website reports:

For those who have tickets to the upcoming April shows, we're sorry to bear
the bad news that Richard received a scorpion sting while on vacation in Mexico,
incapacitating his right hand for an expected 2-3 weeks. Reluctantly, he is
forced to postpone all of the April shows until later in the year, but expects
to be back up to speed in time for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
on May 2. Stand by for news of rescheduled dates.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Continuum sent me the proofs of the book on Friday. I've been going through them for changes and have a few minimal ones that I plan to send back tomorrow. Everything looks fantastic! It's especially thrilling to see my handiwork in the ultracool 33 1/3 font and style.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

33 1/3 No. 29: Kim Cooper - Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Here's what I had to say about Kim's book back in December 2005:
If you're like me, you love Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea with a passion that few other albums achieve, and you have been looking forward to the 33 1/3 book for as long as you've known about it. Well, ok, there's probably only 1000 or so people in the country who fall into that category, but MAN, what a great album and what a great book about it.

Kim Cooper (the editrix of Lost In The Grooves, Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, and Scram Magazine) gets to the heart of the story about this album. As NMH fans know, Jeff Mangum produced only one prior NMH album, On Avery Island (released in 1996), which was pretty much created without a band, then brought in a group that became the NMH that we all knew and loved. NMH put out the amazing In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in 1998, went on a short tour to support the album, then more or less disappeared. I remember when they came to Chapel Hill on that tour, but I didn't go see them because I thought I'd have plenty of options to see them again. I was wrong.

Cooper spent some time with Jeff Mangum while researching the book, and it shows, despite his unwillingness to be directly quoted, in her insight into his elusive genius. She also spoke with the other major members and friends of the band, who provided her with the in-stories that show exactly how this band bottled the lightning in 1998. Cooper's depth of research and sympathy for her subject are wonderful to read.

I probably should have mentioned that I owe Kim Cooper a huge debt of gratitude for including my contributions in the music encyclopedia Lost In The Grooves, which she and David Smay edited back in 2004. Despite my omission (which I mentioned elsewhere), I thought In The Aeroplane was a tremendous book about an underappreciated gem. The album has been growing in notoriety since, partially - I hope - due to Kim's book.

At the end of the review, I said:
I pitched Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights to 33 1/3, and I can say with confidence that this is exactly the sort of book I'd attempt to write about that album if the editors give me the go-ahead. Some of the other 33 1/3 books have been too much about the ego of the author; Cooper disappears into her narrative, and her book is infinitely better for it.

While it was true that I pitched Shoot Out The Lights to Continuum in the oral-historical style with a desire to emulate Kim's book, I wrote a very different book, part novella and part album review. Some people will certainly be disappointed. Also, I've grown to appreciate the more personal 33 1/3 books since, and regret the comment about the other author's egos. That was unfair and untrue.

Style of book: journalistic, enthusiastic. Generally refuses lyrical analysis. This kind of journalistic approach is especially great for an album like In The Aeroplane Under The Sea, which is somewhat obscure by design.

33 1/3 No. 22: J. Niimi - REM's Murmur

Niimi's book combines several of the strategies seen thus far. There's a MOJO-style look at the recording of the album, a short memoir about the author's own connection to the music, and a track-by-track analysis of the music.

Incidentally, I saw REM on the Colbert Report last night, and even though the music they're playing now is so pale in comparison to their auspicious beginnings, it reminded me (again) just how important they were to me when I was young. For Southern white kids wanting to play college rock (while wearing onions on our belts, as was the style of the day), REM made it seem like anything was possible.

Style of the book: MOJO-style journalism, song analysis, personal introspection. Well-rounded!

33 1/3 No. 21: Franklin Bruno - Elvis Costello's Armed Forces

Here's what I had to say about this book back in March 2006:
Bruno's book doesn't seem to have a central thesis about the album, but is full of fascinating little details and detours (rather like Bruno's music, I think) and similarly heightened my appreciation for an album already near the top of my personal pantheon.

I haven't re-read it since, so I don't have anything new to add.

Style of book: thoughtful, ruminating, blending journalistic detail with lyrical and contextual analysis of the album.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

33 1/3 No. 16: Colin Meloy - The Replacements' Let It Be

Meloy's 33 1/3 book is a memoir about growing up in Montana and how the Replacements reached him when some other bands didn't. As a fan of his band The Decemberists, I found it interesting, but not too surprising, that he'd find their sort of emotional folk-based punk resonant.

Anyway, this one won't tell fans anything new about the Replacements, but I suspect most Replacements fans love the hell out of Let It Be already. It's easily one of my favorite albums, and one of the most formative tastemakers from my teenage years. I'm a couple of years older than Meloy, but as a guy who grew up in the cultural wasteland of southwest Alabama, I get where he was coming from, and I appreciate the chance to share that with him.

Style of book: memoir, almost no journalism. Mostly about Meloy's youth and teenage years, and it's written with panache, although it is a bit too verbose for its own good at times.

33 1/3 No. 4: Andy Miller - The Kinks' The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

Here's what I had to say about this book back in Feb 2005:

Continuum's 33 1/3 series has writers and musicians writing about albums they love, and TKATVGPS (the album) is certainly a worthy subject for such a book, being one of the finest albums ever recorded. As much as I've loved this album in my life, my personal connection to it is even greater since I played in a cover band last year that did this album, start to finish, and pretty much nothing besides.

Miller discusses the circumstances surrounding the album's recording (the Kinks in crisis point, unable to tour America, and bassist Pete Quaife about to quit the band) and the themes of the songs. TKATVGPS is a concept album about memory and regret, one of the best examples of idiosyncratic songwriting and point of view with a inestimable influence on indie rock, with a few tracks that veer from the main concept into loosely-connected character studies. Forget Lola and Arthur, this is Ray Davies at the top of his game.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Miller's discussion was the context for the least-coherent song on the album, "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains." Miller argues that the "Smokestack Lightnin'" riff was intended to lightly mock the British bands, contemporaries of the Kinks, who got their start playing American blues songs and later embraced pop songcraft. Like the best of Ray Davies songs, though, the sarcasm is underscored by a deep humanity and compassion for the subject. Although the singer lives in a museum, he's driven insane by all the peaceful living because he simply wants to be a good old renegade.

Anyway, enough dancing about architecture. Miller's book was a fun, short read about an album that belongs in every music fan's home.

Style of book: Long MOJO article, journalistic.

33 1/3 No. 2: Andrew Hultkrans - Love's Forever Changes

This is what I had to say about this book back in Feb 2006:

Hultkrans's book is much more enjoyable than Barney Hoskins's Arthur Lee book, which I read last year, although he uses Hoskins as a source. Hultkrans is mainly concerned with the voice of Forever Changes, a voice he calls prophetic in the Old Testament sense. I'm a little distanced from my initial impressions now, but I have a new, greater appreciation for the lyrics of the album, which I had already thought fantastic. "Live and Let Live," in particular, sounds even more like the end of the world, and maybe it is.

Style of book: New interpretation of lyrics. Lots of context about late-60s LA rock scene. Thoughtful descriptions of Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean, the primary songwriters for Love. More interpretative than journalistic.

33 1/3 books I've known

I'm going to provide a short guide to 33 1/3 books I've read, for your reading pleasure. I think all 33 1/3 books are worth reading and the other authors are my colleagues now, so I'm not going to pan any one of them. But I'll briefly mention the overall style and aspects of the book that stick out in my head.

Monday, March 31, 2008

It's on your side. You know as much as it to you reveals. It flies, is money, and waits for no man. And it's our Super-Special Topic for The High Hat No. 10: It's Time.

Yes, 10! Can you believe it? Ten issues of America's little webzine that could! And we want YOU to be a part of this Ultra-Special Issue.

Of course, if you're not interested in writing about our Extra-Special Topic (Had we but world enough and it...), we're also interested in your thoughts on movies, music, tv, books and arts, and life itself.

Please send your pitches to highhatsubmissionsATgmailDOTcom by April 30th. We're looking for finished articles by May 15 so we can go to press in June. It is of the essence, so be on it!

Ever yours,
The Editors
Looks like the book will be coming out in about six weeks. Hooray!

I've been trying to deal with time commitments, which have led to some harsh realities. First, I won't actually read 50 books this year, as promised on my other blog. Instead, I think I'll discuss some of the other 33 1/3 books I've read here, and I'll continue to talk about other books there. Is that clear? I have no idea.

I should say, too, that I think any book in the 33 1/3 series is worth the time to read it. Although the authors take a number of different approaches to their books, I think it's wrong to assume that your sense of aesthetics is such so that only a few of these approaches are worthwhile. So, I'm going to say what I like about the book and what the approach is. Maybe I'll mention why I like one book over another, but maybe not. These people are my colleagues, after all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Recently on the Richard Thompson List, people were discussing which current artists have been influenced by Mr. Thompson. I'm a dedicated lurker on that list, and several weeks behind, so I didn't read the discussion until far too late to contribute to it. But I do have an opinion.

I was originally going to distinguish between those influenced by Richard Thompson The Guitarist and Richard Thompson The Songwriter (and I would have thought Richard Thompson The Vocalist would be a harder sell as a major influence on anybody, but Dave Alvin has talked about learning how to sing from him).

Anyway, RT The Guitarist has a style that is one of the most literate in rock music. It incorporates influences from such disparate elements as: The Shadows' surf rock, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt's swing jazz, McCoy Tyner's fractured chording, Gene Vincent and James Burton's essential rock & roll sound, the modality of the traditional folk music of the British Isles, the minimalism of Robbie Robertson (and Robertson's Pops Staples fetish), the melodicism of Clarence White and the Byrds, and a healthy dose of the avant-noise of Ornette Coleman. His electric sound is usually pure Fender-on-Fender, the clean Strat sound through a lightly reverbed Fender amp. He prefers the 4th Strat position, blending the middle and bridge pickups into a clean quack. To me, that's the purest electric guitar sound in the world. But he also overdrives his sound when he needs to. One of his main guitars has a neck-position P-90 pickup and I believe his pedals include an Ibanez 808 (or a similar boutique pedal).

RT The Songwriter pulls from many of the same sources - the Byrds, Sun Records, the Band - and produces meticulously constructed songs that span all sorts of rock and folk genres. In his best, there's generally - but not always - a world-weariness in the lyrics, a sense of looking beyond the surface for greater meaning, often an unreliable narrator, and a structure with unassailable surface logic that disguises its unconventionality.

In rock circles, Mark Knopfler is an obvious example of a RT influencee, his entire career built on sounding as much like Richard Thompson as possible. Richard Lloyd of Television has a similar tone, but apparently did not discover Thompson until after recording Television's first two albums. However, Lloyd's brief replacement in Television, Peter Laughner, was a huge fan. Laughner also co-founded Pere Ubu (and David Thomas of Ubu made several albums with Thompson), and I think Thompson's influence on indie rock is considerable. Pete Buck of REM. Bob Mould, with his nutty tunings and fractured chords, is, like Lloyd, a latecomer who sounds like he grew up on Thompson. I hear quite a bit of Thompson in Curt Kirkwood's style on Meat Puppets II and Up On The Sun. J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, definitely. Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo has internalized Thompson's clean and dirty tones. Lou Reed has talked about how much he loves Thompson, but that would be later Lou. Robert Quine sounded like Thompson sometimes, but I think he and Thompson share a lot of influences.

On the folky-countryish side, Buddy Miller owes the man a clear debt. David Alvin of the Blasters & the Knitters. David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. Any number of semi-adventurous acoustic players, like Bruce Cockburn and David Wilcox (although neither of those guys does anything for me). Michael Hedges used to cover one of his songs live.

John Cale's albums from the 70s sound like he's been listening to Richard Thompson and the Fairport Convention, and Thompson plays on his 1974 album Fear. Elvis Costello covered the man, and it would be surprising if Stiff-era Nick Lowe wasn't a fan. Besides many of those already mentioned, he's been covered by X, the Del McCoury Band, Tony Rice, Mary Lou Lord, the Bis-Quits, Jo-El Sonnier, Beausoliel, Graham Parker, David Byrne, Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Linda Ronstadt, David Gilmour, Bonnie Raitt, the Neville Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Victoria Williams, Arlo Guthrie, Caitlin Cary of Whiskeytown, and Albert Lee (who Thompson would probably consider an influence). The late, lamented Mendoza Line (and the side project Slow Dazzle) specifically mentioned his influence in their liner notes.

All of this is to say that the man casts a long shadow over rock, indie rock, and folk circles.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Over at From Here To Obscurity, I listed my top 25 albums of 2007. Discerning readers may notice that neither Richard Thompson's Sweet Warrior nor Linda Thompson's Versatile Heart are on my list. The reason is simple: I didn't love those albums as much as I loved the ones that made my list.

I liked Linda's album more than Richard's. Versatile Heart was lovely and sweet and touching, although I think if it had been her 18th solo album instead of her 3rd, I may not have found it as touching. Still, as is, Linda is the best female vocalist of her generation and she's working with top-notch material. There's not many surprises, but the album was overall a thing of beauty that would have made my list if it had been a little longer.

Sweet Warrior was Richard's 18th solo studio album. Like many of Thompson's albums from the last 15 years, it has a handful of standout tracks ("Dad's Gonna Kill Me" being the most prominent killer tune here), a few solid - if forgettable - songs, and some tracks that probably needed a little more time to cook. Among the things I ponder in the book are diminishing returns for aging musicians. Richard's been making solid music for so damn long now that I think he probably doesn't have as finely-tuned an internal quality detector as he had during the earlier part of his career. This isn't to say that he produces dreck - far from it, in fact. He somehow manages to write at least one (and up to three or four) great tracks every time he puts out an album.

In the book, I compare him to Neil Young, who has produced about twice as many solo studio albums with what I think are greater diminishing returns. Young's prime was roughly concurrent to Thompson's back in the 70s. Young had a similar resurgance back in the late 80s/early 90s. But Young is doing well if he manages to get a single great track onto an album these days.

Now, both Thompson and Young are career artists who need to support their families and provide for their legacy, and both are deserving of whatever accolades they get. The fact that Thompson can produce a very good EP's worth of material every couple of years (even if it is padded within a full album's worth of songs) is a testament to his lasting talent and I will continue to buy every album when it is released and see the man's live shows when I can (although I should confess that I skipped his September show in Austin because I was superbusy with the manuscript, so I felt like I spent all my free time with the man's work, anyway, and didn't want to weigh myself down further).

There's a larger question here about how the past plays against the present for pop musicians. The Mekons' 2007 album Natural made my list, after all, and they're on their 17th studio album. There's two differences for the Mekons, I think: the audience and the collective. The Mekons have managed to stick around without ever losing their ties to the avant-garde or their capacity to take 90 degree turns, partially because the people who are the Mekons are determined to maintain their artiness and partially because Mekons fans love them for their capacity to surprise. When Richard Thompson or Neil Young have taken 90 degree turns in the past, they've left a significant chunk of their audience behind. Their fans don't want surprise, but instead more of the same. Thompson and Young have a financial disincentive to challenge listeners, which explains why Thompson's more challenging music is usually limited to side projects. The Mekons also have the advantage of several songwriters with driving visions and a commitment to collective principles to minimize conflict. Thompson and Young are solo songwriters, driven by only their own interests and obsessions.

So I guess this is a long way of saying that as a listener, I value surprise and novelty in the short term more than new twists on the same, so familiarity actually works against an artist in my aesthetic. On the other hand, in the long run I value the passion that leads to surprise and novelty, which is why I consider Shoot Out The Lights, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Pour Down Like Silver, and Rumor & Sigh among my favorite albums.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Continuum is saying to look for this book in April (aught-8). So be prepared. And don't believe the description on the web page at Amazon, Powell's, or what-have-you. This book is both a novella and a review of the record. It is not the definitive bible of the album. Many of the people who created the album, including Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson Kenis, were uninterested or unavailable to talk with me, and thus much of the manuscript, which is, incidentally, still in the editing phase, involves a fictional protagonist ruminating on the meaning of the songs.

Anyway, there's not much news yet about the book. According to his web site, Richard Thompson is performing his "1000 Years of Popular Music" show around the East Coast and Mid-west for the next month. Also, some of his live albums are available for download for the low-low price of $9 there. Beats the $20 I paid for them.