We had a great time at our launch party last night at 285 Kent. Many thanks again to the bands who performed — Vacation, Widowspeak, and Real Estate — and to Jenn Pelly/Pellytwins for help presenting the lineup & for promoting. Thanks to Todd P for the venue. Thanks also to our publicist, Claire Heitlinger, and to David and John Mark at Continuum. Finally, thanks to the 250+ bodies who filled that steamy room for a night of summery rock and roll. It was a great way to kick off the titles: we hope to meet more readers/fans of the albums at future events.
Photo (of Cyrus flogging one of the books) courtesy Derick Melander.
Sometime soon we’ll make a return to regular NYC lit and culture blogging. This week we’re still caught up in launching our 33 1/3 volumes on Some Girls and Marquee Moon.
Tuesday morning we’ll be live on This is the Modern World with Trouble, which runs from 9 am to noon on WFMU. Our conversation with Trouble will happen sometime around 10:30 and last for a half hour or 45 minutes.
Although we’ve had our head in 1970s NYC for the last year or so, we’ve been really keen on launching the books with a live music event that celebrates the sounds of our own moment. We hope these give you an idea why we’re so excited about these particular acts:
We are also planning a more festive launch party with live music from the current BK scene in Williamsburg on 6/26. We’re still working out details on that event and will post updates as soon as we have things finalized.
You can also tune in to hear us on WFMU the morning of Tuesday the 28th, where we’ll be talking with DJ Trouble about the NY scene in the 70s and perhaps even spinning some tunes related to our books. Find that at 91.1 FM or at wfmu.org around 10:30 that morning. Comment or post questions live as we go and we’ll do our best to respond.
We hope to see and/or meet many of you at one, two, or three of the above. Catch you on the airwaves/Internet for the fourth.
This afternoon’s installment in our guest playlist extravaganza comes from the 33 1/3 series’ mastermind, David Barker. David, a UK native with a PhD in English from Newcastle University, is U.S. Editorial Director at Continuum Books in New York. He conceived and launched the 33 1/3 series in 2003. (Here’s a 2005 interview conducted by Daphne Carr, who six years later is the author of the series volume on Nine Inch Nails.) Cyrus and I owe David a special debt for accepting our proposals and keeping our volumes on track. Thanks, too, for participating in this playlist series.
Five NYC Songs
1. Caitlin Rose: “New York”
I’m not sure that this live version quite does the song justice, but it’s a brilliant portrayal of how one’s first visit to NYC at a tender age (or any age?) can have a huge impact: “Tennessee, when I get home / You just better leave me alone / Don’t try to claim me as your own / I’m not the girl I used to be…”
2. Fannypack: “Seven One Eight”
I have a horrible feeling that Fannypack were/are some kind of post-ironic Park Slope hipster joke band (and I can’t be bothered to look it up, obviously). But I’ve loved this song since it came out a few years ago, and the nonsensical way that it encapsulates a certain way of being young, dumb, and carefree in NYC.
3. Harry Nilsson: “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City”
My Dad was a huge Nilsson fan when I was growing up in suburban England in the 70s. This song is gorgeous, wistful, aspirational, and lovely.
4. The Fleshtones: “Destination Greenpoint”
How does it feel to be part of a legendary NYC scene, and then basically forgotten about, 30 years later? You have to read Joe Bonomo’s fabulous book to find out, but this relatively recent song sounds like a bunch of middle-aged guys still in love with the city after all that time, and putting their peers to shame.
5. The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl: “Fairytale of New York”
Preposterous, really, that this song was prevented from being the UK’s Christmas Number One in 1987, by the Pets Shop Boys’ cover of “Always on My Mind.” It’s a work of singular genius, encapsulating so much of what visitors think/feel/believe about New York City, and it never fails to make me cry when they play it on every single Virgin Atlantic flight from the UK to NYC in the month of December.
Well, over at 33 1/3 they’ve finally made the big announcement we’ve been holding our breath for. Much to our delight, Television’s Marquee Moon (1977) and The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls (1978) will be added to the series’ list of titles …
… and we’re writing them! I’m sure I speak for the other guy when I say these projects will be dreams come true — for us at least! We’re honored, certainly, to have made it to the “chosen eleven.” We’ll be working on these volumes, which we’ve conceptualized as part of our larger engagements with NYC cultural history, with a tentative deadline of summer 2010. I’m sure we’ll have some updates to post as we go.
We’ve mentioned before our affection for the series, especially those volumes that move beyond memoir or criticism to offer something like a cultural history of the time and place a particularly seminal record was created. We even asked our students in Writing New York last year to buy Joe Harvard’s volume on The Velvet Underground and Nico, one of the albums (along with Patti Smith’s Horses) we include on the course’s syllabus. We conceptualize that unit as “From the Beats to the Punks.”
I’ve long had in mind a couple titles I’d propose to 33 1/3 if given the chance — and now that it’s here I’d like to put the question to friends, former students, and whomever else may be reading this (we know have more readers than people who comment). That’s right! Consider this a lurker amnesty post: we want to know what albums you think should be recognized as cornerstones or records of important moments or movements in the city’s cultural history.
Tip: the series has until now enforced a policy of publishing only one book per band, but given that they’re dropping this rule (!), feel free to suggest albums for bands already in the series. The full list of published and planned volumes is here.
Can’t think of key NYC albums? Maybe New York Magazine‘s recent feature on the New New York Canon will prompt you.
Over the years we’ve tinkered here and there with our syllabus for Writing New York, trying to fix little problems that have plagued us along the way.
One challenge I’d never expected when we planned this course originally is that the beloved unit I’d conceptualized as “from the Beats to the Punks” would run into a little roadblock: most of our students weren’t familiar (yet) with the music we assigned them to listen to: The Velvet Underground and Nico and Patti Smith’s Horses. We assign these albums in part to talk about what happens in the East Village from the late 60s to the mid 80s: a lot of folks who start out with ambitions to be poets — Tom Verlaine would fit in here too — wind up being rock stars instead. (When I lecture on this unit I also spend a lot of time on Highway 61 Revisited, but to this point we haven’t required them to listen to it in advance of lecture. That may change this year.) A related problem: many of our TAs haven’t really had prior experience with the Velvets or Patti, which means the discussions they lead on the album have been uneven at times.
What to do? How to prepare them in advance — beyond simply asking them to listen to a record many of them have never listened to before? Our attempted solution for the coming semester is to have them buy the 33 1/3 series’ volume devoted to The Velvet Underground and Nico, by Boston music scene veteran Joe Harvard. Like many titles in this brilliantly conceived series, Harvard’s volume is part personal essay, part criticism, part history. Plus it will take them through the album track by track once it provides adequate background. It should work well for us, I think, because it both contextualizes the Velvets in the world of the late-60s East Side scene and demonstrates how just about everything that followed, in terms of rock and roll at least, was authorized by the Velvets. (A related argument I like to make is that the Velvets were authorized in part by Highway 61, but that’s a story too complicated to get into here.)
From Harvard’s introductory section, in which he explains how he came to the Velvets rather late — in the late 1980s — after having been involved in Boston’s punk scene from 1977 on:
My musical life had, in fact, been thoroughly infused with, surrounded by and enriched because of the Velvet Underground. I just never knew it. Bowie, Iggy, the New York Dolls, most key Boston and New York underground bands–all had been so strongly influenced that discovering the Velvet Underground’s records was like meeting someone’s parents. Suddenly, a whole lot of things started to make sense. Little idiosyncrasies, unique mannerisms you find attractive in little Junior — here, their source is laid bare, revealed as hereditary after just a few minutes with Mom and Pop. Listening to the Velvet Underground I could hear bits and pieces of the aural landscape of my favorite records, elements of much-beloved bands who inhabited my world. Willie Alexander’s relentless EMI electric piano drone, the monotone vocal-meets-distortion-over-a-jungle-drum-beat of “Pablo Picasso,” the remorselessly unyielding metallic piano of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” screeching seagulls from Patti’s “Birdland” and the two chord trip around the world in Jonathan Richman’s “Road Runner.” It was all there, and a hell of a whole lot more, on The Velvet Underground and Nico.
The other thing there, of course, is a whole set of inroads into Downtown cultural history in the late-60s.