Your blogger has been busy lately, traveling. I went to an eight thousand person writer’s conference, AWP, held this year in NYC. Since I was only there a few days, there was little time to do anything but wander the corridors of the hotels, going to all of the book displays. I did do quite a bit of walking in the cold rain, since I’d stayed in a small Times Square hotel away from the conference mob. This is the only time I really spent time on “the streets”—which were mostly filled with tourists like me. It was festive, but not really New York. (Although I’m beginning to wonder if that New York I met during that year I lived there even exists now. The place is so oddly clean and polite.) My only musical adventure that might be even vaguely New Yorkish was an encounter on a late night Friday Times Square—packs of teenagers hitting the shops, couples leaning out with their tiny cameras. Much giggling. Walking along, I heard a surprisingly adept kind of drum and tamborine funk coming from the sidewalk ahead. Some chanting that was a little jazz and little Afro-Pop….Yes, it was that ubiquitous Hare Krishna band of hippies, but hell, they were actually—pretty good? So good that they’d gathered a circle of observers who were actually dancing and chanting and laughing (while also making fun of the words and turning them into obscene street raps).
And that’s pretty much all the music I heard. I don’t even think there was muzak in the elevators.
While wandering the book displays at AWP, though, I did run across some terrific music books. Very surprising, really–AWP isn’t about music, and any music books there are usually memoirs or books of poetry that use music as a launching point. But then I ran across a publisher in the book displays that has a terrific range of music books: a series called 33-1/2. Check this out: tiny little books about the size of singles, all on a single musical song or album. So you can read a little book of music essays about the Pixies’ Doolittle, the Kinks’ The Village Green Preservation Society, Celine Dion (the one I’m reading now—it’s all about taste and bad taste and the author being from Canada)–. You can also get a collection of bits from all of the little books in a collection appropriate called 33-1/3 Greatest Hits. The publisher: Continuum. Continuum also publishes tomes like the story of the independent band The Fleshtones and a history of noise in music. You can check out their web site (and buy their books) at http://www.continuumbooks.com, but keep in mind that it’s a dry and dull site that is clearly aimed at non-media-savvy academics. You have to click on the links to Popular Culture, then the links to General Music, and finally you’ll find a list of their music titles. I suggest jotting down the ones that interest you and then getting on amazon.com to find out what the books are really about. If you do a search on amazon for 33-1/3, all of the little books will pop up.
At this display, I struck up a long conversation with a dreadlocked young woman who seemed to know a lot about both the books and the music. Our conversation was one of the best things about the conference for me. Later, at another display, I met a guy who was carrying one of the 33-1/3 books and we talked about music & the music novel he has coming out on MTV Books. I realized then that there’s a kind of cadre of music nuts that crosses all lines and manage to meet one another no matter the circumstances (such as being surrounded by 8,000 giddy and hustling creative writers). I felt a little less lost in the mass of people.