A quick ‘what writer friends of mine are up to’ post

Because there’s some great stuff happening, even in the midst of all the crud. (But isn’t that always the way?)

  • Tom Ewing of Freaky Trigger‘s had a great week — amazingly he ended up on BBC Radio 2 to talk briefly with the rather horrifying Chris Evans about Popular, which I can’t stress enough as being the best long term collection of pop music reflections from a single artist out there currently under way. I caught the live broadcast but you can listen to it here for the next few days, his bit’s about an hour and ten minutes in, apparently. Meantime, FT has started a wonderful new series of posts dedicated to reading all the stories by one of my favorite authors, M. R. James. Given the excellent quality of the commentators this will be a treasure, and I’m already looking forward to seeing how some stories I absolutely adore will be given new insights.
  • Tim Finney, who bounced back from that operation a year ago without a trouble, is part of a new televised panel that will be running down in Melbourne in March, Dancing About Architecture — no word about whether it’ll be streamed or not but I have hopes YouTube or the like will be of assistance. Anyway, more news via their Facebook page and, I presume, their just-started weblog, but for now I just want to publicize this all-too-perfect promo image, one of three done for this:
    Tim Finney feeding his habit
  • Finally, Bill Brewster, co-author of the essential Last Night a DJ Saved My Life and one of the folks behind the excellent DJHistory site, has announced the forthcoming publication of Vince Aletti’s The Disco Files 1973-78, a collection of the many pieces Aletti wrote during that time on the music and the clubs and so forth. In ways, this is the equivalent of the work Tim and Tom have done over this decade, observing and commenting on pop as it emerges and is codified — what Aletti was doing was no different, if in a much different context and with a different readership. But all three sought to capture lightning in a bottle, and while Tim and Tom have the advantage of the Net to draw everything together under one roof, Aletti’s work needed this kind of effort to help make it known again. You can read a sampler of the book here — this already looks like an essential publication, and while I’m not sure of US publication details yet, personally I think I’m going to splurge for it — though only after my birthday!
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Another plug for Popular

A few months back I discussed Tom Ewing’s ongoing blog project, so check back and read up there on it all. Just wanted to call it to everyone’s attention again thanks to this absolutely stellar entry from the other day on Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.” To quote a bit:

What is the relationship between the charts and everything else? The charts are a show home for pop music, filled with its shiniest mod cons, but one stuffed with hidden doors and tunnels, records that can tumble you out of pop and into other worlds which have their own codes and rules and no cosy countdown to set things in order. And in those other worlds – some of them, anyway – the charts are a sunlit palace of temptation, but to step (or be plucked) into it is to risk having your life and art and the world it came from turned higgledy-piggledy.

Every so often a door between the palace of pop and one of these other worlds opens so wide that every visitor can’t help but notice it and the walls between what’s mainstream and what’s not suddenly seem very thin. “Double Barrel” is one of them, so you could argue is “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”. So is this: it promises a sharper, smarter, more dangerous place than Number One hits generally admit you to.

Superb, as is the series as a whole. To repeat what I said before, keep track of this series. This is just one of many great heights.

A quick plug for Popular

I’ve linked to and talked about Freaky Trigger more than a few times — Tom Ewing’s spark of inspiration to go the fanzine route but to make it native to the Web a decade back remains one of the best general English-language cultural discussion sites out there. Its UK focus may limit the appeal to general readers but in terms of a collection of intelligent, passionate writers (and often commenters) it is top of the line.

It started due to Tom’s interest in music thanks to the now-retired New York London Paris Munich blog — well worth a scrounge in the archives — but the current main feature on music on FT, aside from Tom and company’s continuing work flying the poptimist flag, is a project he’s been literally working on for years and which still has a long way to go: Popular, which he describes as:

The UK’s 1000+ Number One Hits since 1952, reviewed, in order, irregularly, for as long as I can bear to keep doing it. A history of pop in the shape of a chart.

You can subscribe to the feed here if you’re up for following the whole FT site feed, and I do recommend it very much — this is the kind of project that was made for the Web and which could easily have constituted a book on its own (and may yet, for all we know).

This post is prompted by a recent entry which in ways can give a newcomer a perfect handle on the whole thing. Given the UK focus there are plenty of songs which are utterly unfamiliar to even a dedicated music freak, but others are just part of the pop consciousness well beyond music. And “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is just such a song.

Being able to look at an older, perhaps overly familiar piece of art in general with fresh eyes and providing a different perspective is something which not many writers have. Tom’s one of the lucky ones, and his take on said masterpiece of grandiosity is one of the best. To quote the opening:

There is a pub in North London called The Swimmer At The Grafton Arms. It prides itself on well-kept beer and a well-kept jukebox, the latter with an deeply tasteful selection of fine rock and soul music. I haven’t visited for a couple of years, but it used to have, on this jukebox, a Queen Greatest Hits CD. And next to Track One on this CD, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, was the handwritten instruction: “DO NOT PLAY. NOT FUNNY.”

For me, that kind of sums up “Bohemian Rhapsody”’s very weird place in rock music. It is known by millions, loved by millions, but somehow still not quite….respectable.

Partially due to the song’s fame, the comments exchange has been one of the most detailed already in the history of Popular and it’ll doubtless grow. Larger point — if you like what you see, keep track of it, at least dip in from time to time. As what constitutes the ‘charts’ continues to fragment and make less and less immediate sense as such, Tom’s sociomusical history provides a far richer focus to the endless lists.

A little something on Freaky Trigger — Europop 2008!

Tom at FT dropped a line and I’m always happy to publicize his excellent tournaments like this — here’s the page, and here’s the details:

It’s a “pop tournament” we’re running based on the upcoming European Football championships, but no interest in football is required to take part: you just listen to two MP3s and say which you like more!

Have a blast!

Meanwhile over in the UK — “A Bite of Stars, a Slug of Time, and Thou”

I’ve mentioned my love and admiration for the fine crew at Freaky Trigger for a while now, and Mark Sinker of that parish referred me to their newest radio project on Resonance FM, “A Bite of Stars, a Slug of Time, and Thou”:

A Bite of Stars, a Slug of Time, and Thou will delve deep into the science fiction short stories of SF’s Golden and Silver Ages. The pulp and avant-garde writing of c.1935-65 has fallen out of public memory; hosts ELISHA SESSIONS and MARK SINKER and their astounding guests* will return to this forgotten motherlode, once bedrock of the entire field. Eli will read evocative extracts, then quiz Mark and guest on authors, styles, subtexts sexual and political, technique, value, impact and legacy, plus changing fashions and meanings in backdrop, tech and alien allure — and anything else that pops into their pulsating crystalline brain-lobes.

As you can guess, this is perfect grist for the mill for at least one of my regular readers (hi dere QuartzCity!) and doubtless many others as well. Elisha and Mark are a great team and great folks, and this will likely be the most entertainingly informed coverage on this subject for a long time to come. Check it out!

[UPDATE — mostly unrelated but this enjoyable interview today with John Darnielle via io9 touches on sf and other genres as it relates to his work, both musically and in his writing]

Check out Freaky Trigger’s site redesign when you can

Content still the same high quality as ever, but now things look a little different. Loved the old layout and this is a nice variation on it, less a ground-up rewrite than it is a general do-over in terms of look. It’s been a long while since I contributed and I seem to be happily ensconced over here anyway, but working on it was always an honor and privilege and I’m glad to see it thriving as never before; Tom and company continue to be inspiring figures all around.

I’ve been cited in a Strokes biography

There’s something I didn’t expect.

The original piece being referred to can be read here.