Thinking

Overlooked Culture

Maybe I’m fol­low­ing the wrong peo­ple on social media, but has the word “over­looked” lost all mean­ing as it per­tains to cul­ture? It seems to me that when we’re still print­ing spoil­er alerts for ten-year-old TV shows that “over­looked” has lost all explana­to­ry pow­er. Now when I see that word in a review, I roll my eyes. Chances are the reviews are just as over­looked as the cul­ture they describe, if not more­so.

Sure, with­in your niche the new records from Vam­pire Week­end or the Nation­al may be on everyone’s lips, but it’s a safe bet that the word of mouth out­paces actu­al con­sump­tion of that par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al arti­fact. You may per­ceive that those records have gone main­stream, but the real­i­ty is your neigh­bor has nev­er heard either band.

There’s def­i­nite­ly a bright side to this; with this shift, it appears to me at least that snob­bery los­es in the bar­gain. The on demand nature of cul­ture now enables any­one curi­ous enough to book­mark those things men­tal­ly and nar­rows the gap between the expert and the novice. More­over, we’ve done away with the cul­tur­al mono­liths that once dom­i­nat­ed the pop cul­tur­al land­scape that allow us to gath­er around real and imag­ined water cool­ers for dis­cus­sion and debate.

But how do crit­ics describe this shift as the pace of cul­tur­al cre­ation plows under what came before? Blink and you could miss the next cul­tur­al epicy­cle. Has cul­ture been mar­gin­al­ized or per­son­al­ized? Can any­thing be described as ephemer­al, or were we just always talk­ing to our­selves, the myth of mono­cul­ture just anoth­er imag­ined com­mu­ni­ty peo­pled exclu­sive­ly by elites?

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Reading

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom

Free­dom will be remem­bered as a sto­ry that cap­tures a very strange chap­ter in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. It’s hard to put a fin­ger on it, but the mood of the last decade is some­thing Franzen nails. His char­ac­ters rep­re­sent the amoral fugue state we drift­ed off into col­lec­tive­ly after 2003. I’m not even sure his hol­lowed out char­ac­ters could real­is­ti­cal­ly course cor­rect, yet they do, and for that rea­son I was some­what dis­ap­point­ed in the nov­el.

Equal­ly ter­ri­fy­ing, alt-coun­try act Wal­nut Sur­prise rep­re­sent­ed one of the worst musi­cal move­ments of the decade. We have only our­selves to blame.

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Reading

Woebot’s 100 Lost Rock Albums From the 1970s

Matthew Ingram’s fan­tas­tic Woe­bot blog was an inspi­ra­tion to me as a crit­ic. His vora­cious appetite for and catholic taste in music pushed me to expand my palate and lis­ten to music oth­ers may have dis­missed as less­er works. In short, Woe­bot had big ears and it didn’t hurt that he could write.

I’m final­ly read­ing his ebook, 100 Lost Rock Albums from the 1970s and it’s bring­ing back lots of mem­o­ries. This is the music I fell in love with around the time Stephen Malk­mus released Pig Lib and even name checked the Ground­hogs on tour. Some of the ground Ingram cov­ers is famil­iar, but what makes the book so reward­ing are the impos­si­ble to find albums that rekin­dle my love for crate dig­ging.

If you’re look­ing for a place to begin, check out this com­pan­ion playlist on Spo­ti­fy.

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Doing

A Lesson in Accumulation

Remem­ber when you used to eval­u­ate prospec­tive friends by the books they read, the movies they watched and the music they lis­tened to? Feels like a long time ago, right?

Less than 10 years ago I would still scur­ry to book­stores and record shops, or spend beyond my means on DVD sales online. Then that sud­den­ly stopped.

Now, as I try to make sense of my home with­out being over­run by my toddler’s toys, I find myself wish­ing I’d made bet­ter use of the library. Where’d all this stuff come from? When did I ever think I’d read all the books I bought on whims, or watch all the DVDs I hoard­ed. Let’s not even talk about the music that accret­ed in my apart­ments over the years.

Since things start­ed going dig­i­tal in one form or oth­er I’ve been reluc­tant to go all in. For those of us who’ve had phys­i­cal media all our lives, a hard copy is a reas­sur­ing thing. Now I wish I’d tak­en the plunge soon­er.

This is all to say I’m purg­ing vast swaths of my cul­tur­al col­lec­tions. If you’re some­one who still likes these things, be in touch. You get dibs.

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Thinking

Whither Original Geek Jobs?

When I was grow­ing up, I always dreamt of work­ing at a record store. Whether I was in Kutz­town, NYC or Philly, I’d always drop off an appli­ca­tion and say a prayer for a few hours a week at a cool shop, most­ly to sub­si­dize my record habit.

Now those gigs, along with sim­i­lar ones at book and movie rental shops, are dis­ap­pear­ing. What’s a geeky kid to do for those jobs we take on sum­mer break, or those we take after, say, get­ting out of grad school?

Sure, you can always sign on at a temp staffing firm, but where’s the fun in that? I know plen­ty of peo­ple who’d soon­er take a job that paid less at a cool shop. What those gigs don’t have in pay, they make up in pres­tige. How can one do under­em­ploy­ment in style these days?

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Reading

Geeta Dayal’s Another Green World

I think I speak for every­one when I say that Geeta’s take on Bri­an Eno’s Anoth­er Green World for the 33 1/3 series was hot­ly antic­i­pat­ed. I can think of few titles in the series that gen­er­at­ed as much excite­ment from the time her pitch was accept­ed to pub­li­ca­tion. Those who wait­ed will be rich­ly reward­ed by her insight­ful look into Eno and his approach to record­ing his land­mark album, Anoth­er Green World.

Gee­ta avoids the land­mines that sur­round a work like this. She brought her A game when it came to research­ing this book, dig­ging up cool quotes and get­ting great input from the peo­ple who helped Eno make this record. She doesn’t fetishize Eno’s genius; rather, she inves­ti­gates his meth­ods to demys­ti­fy the way in which Eno made the album. For any­one who’s been intim­i­dat­ed by Bri­an Eno as a mono­lith, this is a great way to get into his work, and the book offers a glimpse into his approach to his lat­er ambi­ent works that makes them much more acces­si­ble.

For a book series that can be pret­ty hit or miss, Geeta’s take on Anoth­er Green World sets the bar high for oth­er authors who want to dis­sect an album they love. Con­grat­u­la­tions, Gee­ta! It was well worth the wait.

Buy it from Ama­zon for just $7.88!

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Reading

My Take on the 33 1/3 Books Series

I final­ly fin­ished read­ing The Kinks Are the Vil­lage Green Preser­va­tion Soci­ety (TKATVGPS) Andy Miller’s con­tri­bu­tion to the 33 1/3 books series. It’s not a long book, but it took a minute for me to actu­al­ly get into it, even though the Kinks are prob­a­bly my favorite band of all time, and this album is of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance to me. Why? Well, like many of the books in the series, it’s not exact­ly the smoothest read.

The book’s struc­ture is strange. It first tells the sto­ry of how the album is made and the var­i­ous stum­bling blocks that the Kinks — or rather Ray Davies — ran into along the way. That’s the sort of sto­ry I’m inter­est­ed in read­ing and it was an engag­ing one. How­ev­er, once that sto­ry ends, it begins again, this time as a painstak­ing account of each song that was writ­ten and record­ed dur­ing this peri­od, along with some spec­u­la­tion about why it had or hadn’t appeared on the final ver­sion of The Kinks Are the Vil­lage Green Preser­va­tion Soci­ety. It doesn’t sound as bad when I write it here, but trust me, read­ing the same sto­ry told two dif­fer­ent ways smacked of a wit­ness per­jur­ing him­self on the stand.

Such is the rep­u­ta­tion of the 33 1/3 books series. Every author approach­es his or her book dif­fer­ent­ly, and even the most adven­ture­some  music fans approach the series with trep­i­da­tion. These are beloved albums after all.

Now comes word that the series itself has hit a snag due to the cur­rent state of the econ­o­my. I’m not sure any­one would be sur­prised con­sid­er­ing how both the music and pub­lish­ing indus­tries have fared late­ly. I just hope that Gee­ta Dayal’s Anoth­er Green World book sees the light of day. (Of course I’m root­ing for Christo­pher Wein­garten’s It Takes a Nation of Mil­lions book, too, but that’s in the more dis­tant future.) As author Dou­glas Wolk once (infa­mous­ly) wrote of 33 1/3, “the series that more peo­ple want to write than to read!” I guess that makes the 33 1/3 series the Vel­vet Under­ground and Nico of microniche music books!

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