Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Read / Write (Or, “Why books make better music .”)

Yesterday I received a fantastic package in the mail. The package contained several books that were published by TNI – a now more-or-less defunct publishing house that was based out of Seattle, WA.

There were a lot of books. I started in at lunch with a collection of Ichiro-isms called "Baseball is just Baseball" -Ichiro Suzuki being the superstar Japanese outfielder for the Seattle Mariners. A lot of the humor in the quotes lies in the fact that Ichiro doesn’t speak English and relies on a translator, so a lot of the interpretations of his statements are partly mangled. But there is a real sense of intelligence and warmth and wisdom that comes out of what he says as well. Which is surprising. And since I work in a bilingual environment, I deal with these sorts of things all day. Made me laugh, hard.

The second book I started on was Adam Voith’s Bridges with Spirit. I am on page 54.

While it isn’t fair to review a book I haven’t yet completed, I can’t seem to think about much else since I started it. Voith shows a knack for storytelling and the book flows in a very conversational way. I read the first chapter, a semi-true story about the author’s father's encounter with The Beatles in 1964, out loud last night to a group of friends as we drank wine and dozed off to sleep in my living room. And it felt like there was someone in the room telling a really good story. Which was a perfect fit for the evening.

Having grown up in Fresno, often dubbed the Midwest of the California, I can really relate to the sense of isolation Voith articulates as a middle class artistic, punk-rock-type in a town full of not artistic, not punk-rock-types. I think most of the folks who read this blog probably went, or are going through something like that, and I think we can all agree that it is not the worst sort of isolation one can go through. It could be argued that it actually helps build character. Either way, I do believe that a true sense of camaraderie develops amongst those who have gone through that kind of "ugly duckling" life experience. I feel like we’re in the same club.

Hopefully we're all swans now. Right?

Voith’s accounts of road trips, ex-girlfriends and adventures in record stores all seem eerily parallel to the way I grew up. The little hurdles I had to clear to become “me” are all based around the same basic premises : girls, travel and music.

Since I can’t really “review” the book (though I highly recommend it up to page 54 for sure), I thought I would instead mention a few other music related books that have struck a chord with me in the last couple years. Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned and Donnell Alexander’s Ghetto Celebrity.

Hairstyles of the Damned

I did an interview with Joe Meno for my old website, Fresno Famous, a couple years back. At the time, Meno was a regular contributor (or maybe a staff writer?) for the now defunct Punk Planet, from Chicago and was embarking on a book tour with a bunch of fellow novelists and zinesters. They made a stop at the Barnes and Nobles in Fresno, which is probably the least punk rock spot in the world, but I was impressed by the way he “toured” behind his book. It was all laid out really similar to the way a punk band would tour – he pulled together a bunch of his writer friends, piled them into a van, and then made easy one day drives to every town he could -- and not necessarily shooting for “big” shows in “big” cities. He was pretty much happy to “play” wherever they would let him.

I wish I could remember the names of the guys he was on tour with.

Meno and his friends read several chapters from the books they were working on, the tone ranged from outrageously funny to morbidly depressing, but they were all really, really reading. It was a blast to see 3 older punk guys sitting at a little table in front of the children’s section in a corporate book store reading some pretty heavy stuff out loud to a group of soccer mom’s and less than subversive young adults.

It was totally punk rock.

If you would like to read my interview and review of the book (which is good), you can still read them on Fresno Famous.


Ghetto Celebrity

Written by Donnell Alexander, Ghetto Celebrity is another novel I reviewed while working on the Famous site. We had been running the site for a couple months and our editor got an email from Alexander that basically stated, “You have to write about my book.” As it turns out Alexander had attended Fresno State and part of the novel was set in our town of Fresno, which is what we were covering, but we had this thought in the back of our heads which was like, “We’re nobody, why should you be so adamant about us covering your book?”

I never figured out exactly what drove him to write us, or to be so persistent about us reading and covering the book, but I admired the tenacity and it was one of those propositions that you can’t refuse. I often wish that more people were like that, where they basically want something so much and feel something is so important that they convince you of the goal’s importance. Does that make sense? I much prefer that type of person, that type of writer, to the sort of person who can go “either way” on a topic. Even if he is not the best writer in the world, I feel like Alexander has something really important to say, and I think part of this impression was created by his sense of his own importance.

This concept carries over into the book as well. Ghetto Celebrity, Alexander’s memoirs, was penned by Alexander at the ripe old age of 33 and details his time as a music writer, sportswriter and a husband and father – in all these endeavors Alexander gives a detailed explanation of the successes, failures, pitfalls and crazy fucked up shit he went through. It is a roller coaster of a ride that has you questioning his sanity as well as his moral conduct.

Despite the fact that both the book and Alexander have some deep flaws, I walked away from both impressed with the fact that they also represent something really beautiful and it was amazing to me that Alexander could pull something beautiful out of the giant, don’t-look-now-sort-of-shitstorm he landed himself in.

It is funny, deep and important.


P.S. Here is a great song by my friends The Henry Clay People that I wanted to share with Voith as a I read his book. I shall dedicate it to all you part-time suckers who struggle everyday to pluck the beauty of the shitstorm of life. That’s a mouthful.

DOWNLOAD : Henry Clay People - Working Part-Time (yousendit link)

P.S.S. Remember when Cursive came to Fresno last year? And how Tim Kasher just hung out at Livingstone’s (local bar, FYI) and randomly there was a television crew there shooting a local nightlife segment? Remember? Well, I found the footage. Should be on the blog tomorrow. Way less entertaining to watch than it sounds right now. But funny.


Jessface said...

I hated hairstyles of the damn.
It was a really bad version of Perks of Being a Wallflower.
And all the music on the kid's mixtapes were all really really bad metal bands.

haha you feeeeel me?

Malcolm Sosa said...

I honestly don't recall what were on all the mixtapes, I'd have to go back -- but I do know that the book details the dude's musical growth from bad metal and guns and roses to more socially conscious punk stuff like 7 seconds.