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Continuum Books' 33 1/3 Series


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#1 Joel

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 04:40 PM

I don't think we have a thread on this series of books on classic albums, so let's talk about it. Which books have you read? Liked? Disliked? Kevin's been repping Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love, which I'll second -- I learned so much about Quebec, which is handy now that I live in Canada.

I've also read Grace (Jeff Buckley) by Daphne Brooks, Achtung Baby (U2) by Stephen Catanzarite, and most of Master of Reality (Black Sabbath) by John Darnielle and Loveless (My Bloody Valentine) by Mike McGonigal(both while standing in a bookstore). Of these, I think Darnielle's fictional diary of an institutionalized teenage metal fan was my favorite -- I liked Catanzarite's, but it kind of suffered because the whole book was about the lyrical themes of the record and he doesn't quote the lyrics (presumably due to lack of permi$$ion$).

Obviously, I'm looking forward to Jessica Suarez's Pinkerton (Weezer); I am the author of one of the seven other proposals for that book over whom she triumphed.

What else? Thoughts?

#2 Andy Whitman

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 09:21 AM

I don't think we have a thread on this series of books on classic albums, so let's talk about it. Which books have you read? Liked? Disliked? Kevin's been repping Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love, which I'll second -- I learned so much about Quebec, which is handy now that I live in Canada.

I've also read Grace (Jeff Buckley) by Daphne Brooks, Achtung Baby (U2) by Stephen Catanzarite, and most of Master of Reality (Black Sabbath) by John Darnielle and Loveless (My Bloody Valentine) by Mike McGonigal(both while standing in a bookstore). Of these, I think Darnielle's fictional diary of an institutionalized teenage metal fan was my favorite -- I liked Catanzarite's, but it kind of suffered because the whole book was about the lyrical themes of the record and he doesn't quote the lyrics (presumably due to lack of permi$$ion$).

Obviously, I'm looking forward to Jessica Suarez's Pinkerton (Weezer); I am the author of one of the seven other proposals for that book over whom she triumphed.

What else? Thoughts?

The only book I've read in the series is Amanda Petrusich's take on Nick Drake's Pink Moon. I assume these books, as a whole, are aimed at 20- or 30-something hipsters who missed the music the first time around, and who discovered it long after the fact from their friends or, in Nick Drake's case, from a TV commercial. It's a bit of a stilted approach, but I understand it. I remember a similar series of books in the '70s on "hot" writers, a sort of "Who the Hippies Are Reading When They're Not Completely Stoned" quick survey of the likes of Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Herman Hesse.

My impression is that Amanda really loves the music of Nick Drake, and that fact alone makes me want to grade on the curve. She's also a fine writer. There was a good, (albeit well known and readily available elsewhere) overview of Nick's music and the personal demons/addictions Nick was dealing with during the recording of Pink Moon. The twist, and what struck me as somewhat odd, was the focus on the VW television commercial that exposed Nick's music to a new generation. Yes, it was something of a cultural phenomenon, and yes, I guess it's good that a bunch of hipsters got to hear music that they probably wouldn't have otherwise heard. But as an old Brit-trad-folk-loving fart who was listening to Nick Drake's music, you know, like, when he was still alive, it just struck me as somewhat artificial, and it certainly removed the music from the broader context that Nick Drake was working within. Nick was hanging out and recording with other like-minded musicians, and he was actually part of a bigger movement that took in the likes of Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention, and The Strawbs. And so I balk a little at the stereotypes; the lonely, isolated romantic left to ruminate on cruel fate with his broken heart and his hashish, etc. It makes for a good, heartbreaking story, of course. And as Nick's compatriot Richard Thompson has noted, suicide can be a real career boost.

I don't mean to be unduly harsh. I'm thrilled when anyone discovers the music of Nick Drake. His music is well worth discovering. And I'm an Amanda Petrusich fan. But my main gripe with the book is probably also my main gripe with the series (I don't know; I'm extrapolating here). It mythologizes the music and the musicians. And I like them better when they're unadorned; just plain, talented, bundles of contradictions, as most people are.

I'd love to hear other reactions to the book series.

#3 Holy Moly!

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 11:27 AM

The books seem to vary wildly in approach, and, i assume, quality.

I've only read the Mike McGonigal book on My Bloody Valentine (refreshingly gushy, sincerely communicates love for the album) and the Carl Wilson book on Celine (Theoretical, personal, very funny). Knee-deep into the Black Sabbath book, and it's a deeply moving work of fiction that is effective in helping me understand the emotional impact of metal and Black Sabbath in particular.

#4 Joel

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 11:56 AM

I assume these books, as a whole, are aimed at 20- or 30-something hipsters who missed the music the first time around, and who discovered it long after the fact from their friends or, in Nick Drake's case, from a TV commercial.


Actually, I think that book is the exception rather than the rule. Of the dozen or so I've read or skimmed, only Pink Moon matches that description. I think if you picked up another one you might be pleasantly surprised. I keep meaning to pick up the OK Computer book -- it was written by the head of the music department at Oxford Brookes University (which has nothing to do with Oxford University, but still).

#5 Joel

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 01:48 PM

FYI, Bloomsbury Academic (who acquired Continuum not long ago) has announced a call for proposals for the next round of 33 1/3 books.


Unless someone tries to talk me out of it, I am going to submit a pitch for DC Talk's Jesus Freak. I know this is probably a bad idea for several reasons, but it might be brilliant. I've sent unsuccessful proposals for their last few calls, for Weezer's Pinkerton (Suarez's, sadly, was never finished, so maybe someone else will do it this time around) and Judee Sill's Heart Food. As much as I love those albums, I am strangely compelled to go with Jesus Freak this time around. But I'm serious about being talked out of it.

Let's talk more about this. Have you sent in a proposal in the past? What books would you want to see written by Andy (the Weakerthans' Reconstruction Site?) , Thom (The Trees Community's The Christ Tree?), and others? Will you send a proposal this time? Go for it!

#6 Joel

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 11:44 AM

While I'm at it, I had an actual dream a few nights ago that I was curating an edited volume along the lines of the 33 1/3 series, only it was writers writing essays about their favorite obscure Christian rock records. I think I might try to actually do it. Eh?

#7 Darren H

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 11:49 AM

If I had the time and talent to write one of these books, it would be about Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus.

#8 Greg P

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 12:26 PM

Unless someone tries to talk me out of it, I am going to submit a pitch for DC Talk's Jesus Freak.

I'd like to hear some of your arguments for its inclusion. It's so easy to filet and grill that album, especially if you don't handicap it out of the gate for being CCM. The title track in particular is hard to get past. But, there are clearly some merits, namely production quality, arrangement, genre-hopping and art direction. But that's all sorta prefaced by the fact that it's a "christian" band, is it not?

Edited by Greg P, 08 March 2012 - 12:50 PM.


#9 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 01:06 PM

I daydream about such a book for Scenic Routes or Chagall Guevara, but recognize it is silly talk. I do think the right writer could get a Gretchen Goes to Nebraska book published.

#10 Joel

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 12:51 AM

I'd like to hear some of your arguments for its inclusion. It's so easy to filet and grill that album, especially if you don't handicap it out of the gate for being CCM. The title track in particular is hard to get past. But, there are clearly some merits, namely production quality, arrangement, genre-hopping and art direction. But that's all sorta prefaced by the fact that it's a "christian" band, is it not?


I haven't thought of too many arguments yet, but I actually think it is a great record, full stop. What makes it interesting fodder for the series, though, is that it represents (to me at least) sort of the apex of mainstream contemporary Christian rock, in terms of sound, production, commercial viability, and Evangelical identity. And maybe it's just because I was fifteen years old the first time I heard the single, and I was exactly its target audience and it pushed all the right aesthetic, musical, and cultural buttons for that audience, I (still!) think it's a good single, too. if I may be so self-centered as to quote my own book [not the putative one about DC Talk -- the one I did about listening to Christian rock in the 90s] , this is kind of my argument:

Jesus Freak is the most important Christian rock record of all time. When it was released anybody who had been paying attention to music immediately noticed a suspiciously outdated Nirvana influence— suddenly Toby McKeehan was wearing a ripped cardigan and had messy blonde hair and a penetrating, listless stare. Yet Jesus Freak manages to be the apex of all Christian-culture-baptized pop- pastiche artifacts ever and to be a really good collection of ten songs (minus the two interludes and Kevin Max’s hidden poetry track), six of which were number-one Christian radio singles. Jesus Freak is a remarkably savvy mash-up of hip-hop, R & B, grunge, and radio-friendly pop. None of the songs are bad, unlike their previous efforts. What makes the record truly fascinating is that it is mostly not about God: this is an album about being an evangelical Christian. And it’s done well, with artistry and grace and innovation, which is saying something for a band who used to crib lines directly from Public Enemy.


I still see DC Talk as the touchstone of what CCM was in the 90s, and I also think the different ways its members have gone have been really interesting -- Toby McKeehan, who basically continued in the vein of DC Talk's trajectory, is probably one of the biggest pop CCM star of the last decade (right?), Kevin Max keeps doing his best to try to do weird and alienating and cool things but can't escape CCM, and MIchael Tait, after doing some somehwhat less successful rock projects, sort of recapitulated 90's CCM by becoming the lead singer of the Newboys, who are sort of a 90's legacy band (although one that has ridden the trends of Christian music from the 'crossover' period to the 'worship' thing to ... well, whatever they do now, I don't really know).

So, I guess I think Jesus Freak is a really well-made, important album, with good-to-great songs, that represents a culture that probably remains occluded (but, I hope, at least intriguing) to the 33 1/3 books' audience.

Of course, I have to make this all sound a little sexier.

Edited by Joel, 09 March 2012 - 12:56 AM.


#11 Greg P

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 07:07 AM

Jesus Freak is the most important Christian rock record of all time. When it was released anybody who had been paying attention to music immediately noticed a suspiciously outdated Nirvana influence— suddenly Toby McKeehan was wearing a ripped cardigan and had messy blonde hair and a penetrating, listless stare. Yet Jesus Freak manages to be the apex of all Christian-culture-baptized pop- pastiche artifacts ever and to be a really good collection of ten songs (minus the two interludes and Kevin Max’s hidden poetry track), six of which were number-one Christian radio singles. Jesus Freak is a remarkably savvy mash-up of hip-hop, R & B, grunge, and radio-friendly pop. None of the songs are bad, unlike their previous efforts. What makes the record truly fascinating is that it is mostly not about God: this is an album about being an evangelical Christian. And it’s done well, with artistry and grace and innovation, which is saying something for a band who used to crib lines directly from Public Enemy.

Nice, Joel. Although I would argue about there not being a bad song on there or about it being "innovative" in the true sense, I still agree the album was revolutionary in the CCM universe and still stands today as a turning point in the genre. It's unfortunate for evangelicals that it never progressed any further than that album, either for the band or their peers, and that the movement sputtered and died shortly thereafter.

Only a CCM frontman could straight up swipe the riff and the intro roar from Smells Like Teen Spirit on the album's title track and get away with it-- a full two years after Kurt's death and long after grunge had already begun its fade in popularity among the pimply-faced masses. If a secular band had attempted this feat, they would've been mocked and ridiculed into oblivion. In fact, the reference is so blatant that it borders on Weird Al parody. But because most evangelical youth group kids in 1994 were not allowed to listen to Nirvana, the music sounded like the second coming of the Beatles to them. I remember well, because I was very involved in youth ministry at the time.

One part Nirvana, one part Chili Peppers funk, one part Collective Soul FM radio-friendly pop-rock, one part Seal-- basically elements from every popular pop music trend of 92-93. From a strategic marketing standpoint-- brilliant.

But the funny thing is, a lot of the music works. And so does the other stuff -- the 'tween song filler, i.e. the instrumental interlude, the jokey Jesus Freak reprise (which poked fun at southern evangelical church culture--pretty edgy for the time) and the Kevin Max poetry thing... This had never been done or even hinted at in CCM before.

It's so easy to tear it apart now-- and yet... yesterday after reading this thread I listened to "Just Between You and Me" and was instantly transported to 1994. Suddenly I was 25 and driving some youth group kids back from a retreat in my Isuzu Trooper. In some ways I miss those days. And like it or not, it's hard to deny the song's effectiveness. And in a wormy, guilty pleasure sorta way-- almost unbeknownst to me-- many of the other tunes have embedded themselves in my life as well. Maybe that's the hallmark of "great" music after all.

Write it, Joel!

Edited by Greg P, 09 March 2012 - 07:15 AM.


#12 Joel

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 02:15 PM

I'll try not to let this get out of control, but it's really interesting to see how the three members of DC Talk each perform the song some 10-15 years later.

#13 bloop

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 04:42 PM

Jesus Freak book : 33 1/3 Series
"Armageddon" : The Criterion Collection

?

#14 Josh Hurst

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 04:47 PM

Jesus Freak book : 33 1/3 Series
"Armageddon" : The Criterion Collection

?


I would contend that it is erroneous to think all of the books in the series must be about GREAT, or even good, records-- see the entry on Celine Dion.

But then, I would also contend that Armageddon is a pretty good picture. :)

#15 bloop

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 04:51 PM

Celine does seem to be the odd one out there as it stands right now, sure.

As for "Armageddon", well, it's pretty alright, but it looks out of place next to Bergman and Kurosawa.

#16 Joel

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 05:20 PM

Well, 33 1/3 isn't reissuing classic records, it's commentary on important records. (I'm not a movie buff but I think the Criterion Collection is about putting out the movies themselves, right?) Their criteria is "original research, stories in the history of popular music (recent or otherwise) that haven’t been told too often (if at all), and perspectives that will broaden and develop the discipline of writing about music, as read by a global readership of music scholars and fans."

I'm not saying a DC Talk book would do all that...but it could. Maybe. A little.

#17 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 05:57 PM

bloop wrote:
: As for "Armageddon", well, it's pretty alright, but it looks out of place next to Bergman and Kurosawa.

But perhaps less so, next to RoboCop, etc. (Not that Armageddon is anywhere near RoboCop's league.)

#18 bloop

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 06:21 PM

I'm not trying to comment on the quality so much (although that analogy works somewhat, too), but that it seems like a sharp contrast with most of the others.

Edited by bloop, 15 March 2012 - 06:26 PM.