July 31, 2007

Summer reading: Best Music Writing series (Da Capo Press)

I have an admittedly short attention span on planes. Usually I zone out with music, taking advantage of the silent hours to explore the inevitable backlog of new tunes on my iPod. If I do read, it’s often the guilty indulgence of People magazine that I only buy in airport bookshops or –even better– Reader’s Digest. On this latest trip, I found something much better.

Da Capo Music Press is one of the finest purveyors of music books out there. They asked me if there was anything in their (superb) current catalog that I’d be interested in checking out, and the first book I’ve cracked of the box they sent is the anthology Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006. The seventh year in the series, I found a lot to love here from a variety of sources last year ranging from traditional print media, online journals, and even (yay!) music blogs. The commentary varies from straight up album/song reviews to artist profiles and in-depth theoretical pieces on serious topics loosely related to music as a foundation.

The introduction by editor Mary Gaitskill explains the vibe of the anthology: “I put these pieces together like a mix tape of sounds a person might hear in life — get up in the morning, put on an old T. Rex song, go outside, hear “Gold Digger” coming out of somebody’s car, nameless electronica coming out of someone else’s. A guy walks through the parking lot whistling an aria from Bizet’s Carmen; something high and haunting leaks out of a passing boy’s iPod. Go into a store and there’s a faux cowgirl on the sound system singing some artifically sweetened blues. All day songs fly past; some get lost in traffic noise, some enter your imagination and take strange dream-shapes that get inside your thoughts and feelings and make them different.”

I loved that because she expresses exactly how the world sounds to me. People will ask me “where do you get all your ideas for posting?” And my answer is this: Once you start paying attention to the music around you, you hear it everywhere. There’s no shortage of things to listen to, experience, and write about. It’s why I love writing this blog, and it’s why I enjoy reading collections like this one.

Here are three snippets from the book to give you an idea of why you should pick it up for some good summer readin’. Guaranteed to enrich your brain 437% more than People.

by Ann Powers

What I’ve noticed about “crazy” rock musicians is that ones whose music offers the most insight into the turmoil of emotion tend to be women, and that these crazies tend to receive less hero worship than their male counterparts. . . [t]heir inner demons are in constant dialogue with a world that already demonizes anything less than neat that emanates from the feminine realm. A male artist getting crazy can come off as threatening, but he’s also often greeted as a prophet or, conversely, an endearing holy fool. A woman artist getting crazy is a different kind of mess–one that raises the general discomfort level by raising the specter of uncontrolled sexuality, irresponsible motherhood, violence done to or by the secred “gentler sex” — all elements of our common consciousness that have haunted us since Medea’s time and have never been resolved.

Your Ghost – Kristin Hersh (featuring Michael Stipe)
The rest of this interesting piece looks at those who have struggled with demons, like Hersh, Daniel Johnston, Lisa Germano, Nick Drake, or Mary Margaret O’Hara.

THE BEATLES–”Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine”
(Reached No. 1 on 20th August 1966)
by Tom Ewing
Part of a series to write on all UK #1 hit singles
The brisk orchestral arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” is tense and fussy, with something of Eleanor’s spinsterish neatness: the strings bring to mind sewing, or sweeping the steps, one of those little daily things you do unthinkingly, or instead of thinking. They also sound a little like a horror film soundtrack, and Eleanor Rigby is cinematic, and it is about horror. It’s Paul McCartney taking one of pop’s smooth-rubbed words –”lonely”– thinking it through and recoiling.

“Eleanor Rigby” remains neat to its end, so neat you might forget that this question of the lonely people hasn’t remotely been answered. For that you need the other side of the single, “Yellow Submarine.”

Intentionally or not, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” make a perfect pair. Crushing isolation as the flip of a song that values limitless community — “And my friends are all aboard / Many more of them live next door.” The one set in a drably recognizable town, the other in a fantasy utopia. Recital and singalong.

Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles
Yellow Submarine – The Beatles

The Enduring Bond Between Huey Lewis and the Developmentally Disabled
by Katy St. Clair
. . . The band recently celebrated its 25th anniversary by performing at this year’s Marin County Fair on a cool summer night a few weeks back. This was Huey Lewis & the News’ stomping ground, where they began two decades earlier, playing around San Rafael and Mill Valley. Suffice it to say, this show was something all my clients were looking forward to.

There are a lot of stereotypes about retarded people and most of them are false . . . [t]here is however one stereotype about retarded people that is true, one broad brushstroke that one can make about them all: Good gosh a’mighty, retarded people love them some Huey Lewis. Part of the reason is that Huey is apparently a sweetheart who does a lot of volunteer work with people who have developmental disabilities. But another big part is the music.

A bunch of people from a group home had set up camp on the opposite side of the stage, laying out blankets and picnic food. Bobbi recognized some of her friends and waved. “Huuuuueyyyy!” they all yelled back. It was just like people who yell “Bruuuce!” at a Springsteen concert, only more retarded. In fact, Huey Lewis is a retarded version of Bruce Springsteen. Think about it.

[Please read the full and wonderful article here]
Back In Time – Huey Lewis


  • Oh, come on, Huey is smooth.
    Springstein is a Spaz monster.

    Anonymous — July 31, 2007 @ 11:59 am

  • Hey, I didn’t say it….and you definitely have to read the whole piece to get the subtlety of the context, but it was an observation that made me laugh out loud.

    heather — July 31, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

  • Ok, so Huey does good and Sprintein is just a spaz.

    So then Huey would be helping Sprintstein then.

    Anonymous — July 31, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  • I just laughed out loud at that Huey Lewis bit, and I’m always looking for something to pass the time during overnight shifts, so I’m definitely going to check this book out asap.

    Lauren — July 31, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  • I thought this year’s edition was a real drop-off from previous years, but it’s still great. One of the things I love best about them is the fact that they include writings from blogs, and even include the comments. It’s an acknowledgement that people outside of the MSM can write well and have valid opinions, and it’s refreshing and encouraging to see.

    Andy Grabia — July 31, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

  • Who has to think about it?

    russell — July 31, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

  • Huey Lewis is great…good american rock and roll w/ pop hooks. how can you not love huey???
    one of my fav’s….i have all the records…

    SINEDDIE — July 31, 2007 @ 8:02 pm

  • your a deushbag for posting that sick comment. I propose a boycott of your blog!

    Anonymous — July 31, 2007 @ 8:45 pm

  • a) I believe it’s spelled douche.

    b) If you are referring to….the last excerpt on retarded people? I can’t tell from the brevity of your comment, but you really should read the actual piece, I am worried that my excerpts didn’t do justice to the spirit of the writing. The author works with the mentally challenged and loves her work and her clients. She doesn’t think there is anything wrong with the word “retarded” (meaning slow, and she’ll explain that in the piece and how she likes to reclaim that word for positive use). She talks a lot about the joys of her work, and the joy her clients seem to unanimously find in the music of Huey Lewis. And she’s dang funny. I can’t ask for more.

    heather — July 31, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

  • Great, Heather… just great… coffee out my nose at the Huey post. I used to do a bunch of volunteer work with retarded kids… A time of hugs and Huey. Was life ever better? Hilarious…

    Bill — August 1, 2007 @ 1:17 am

  • I read the Huey Lewis article in the Utne Reader a few months ago– and it really is terrific. While using a term that so many people throw around as a playground insult, she humanizes the patients she works with, connects with Huey Lewis and write just an amazing piece.

    It can be found in it’s entirety here.



    SB — August 1, 2007 @ 6:59 am

  • Thank you VERY much for that link, Sean. I added it to the post.

    heather — August 1, 2007 @ 8:52 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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