Literary Review

Music and Sex #10: Writing and Rachel Redux

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Like his bandmates, Walter was relieved that the group could lapse for a while as midterms approached. He had to write a paper for Lit.Hum. that he hadn't started yet. He decided to do it on More's Utopia, since he'd been familiar with it since high school thanks to AP English and thus had already read it all instead of just the sections on the syllabus. He like More too, as a person, though granted that was based on the play A Man for All Seasons. The stubbornness of his position in regard to Henry VIII was something Walter identified with, though he doubted he'd be willing to be executed over anything no matter how right he thought he was.

Music and Sex #9: Debut

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Walter got a call from Tony about getting together and, while they were chatting, complained about the guitarist situation.

"Hey, I know a guy who wants to be in a band. He's been bitching about everybody here playing guitar so there aren't enough bands to go around. You should talk to him."

Walter did so within minutes of getting the guy's phone number. Albert Imperatori, or as he styled himself, Emperor Albert, listened to Walter's explanation of what the band was aiming for, and its repertoire, and said, "I'm in. Better have a rehearsal tonight if you've got a gig tomorrow, right?"

Herschel Silverman R.I.P April 17, 1926 - September 19, 2015

Our friend Steve Dalachinsky reports that Long Shot publisher Danny Shot says poetry scene icon Herschel Silverman passed away quietly today. Silverman, the least bohemian of the Beat poets, served in the Navy in World War II and the Korean war, then worked for thirty-four years at his candy store in Bayonne, New Jersey and raised a family, but also wrote and published poetry on the side after being inspired by Allen Ginsberg's 1955 poem "Howl." The candy store was named Hersch's Beehive, and Beehive Press was his self-publishing outlet, though he was also published in many magazines. A children's book about him, The Candystore Man, was written by Jonathan London.

Music and Sex #8: Rachel, Keith, and William

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here). Warning: more highly graphic TMI.

A weekend of fruitless fretting almost led Walter to agree that Martial had the right idea and the show should go on with no guitarist, and with just Walter on keyboards, but really all he'd come up with for sure was a new band name -- The Living Section, for the Wednesday arts portion of The New York Times. The other guys all agreed that was an improvement. However, he couldn't bring himself to propose to them what, in his head, he had dubbed the Martial Plan.

Music and Sex #7: Battles of the Band

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

As 1980 got going, Walter was distracted from Janie’s absence by progress on the band front. Garrick had found an electric guitarist, Tom O’Reilly. Though still lacking bass and drums, they decided to try putting together some new songs and practicing some covers -- because as TomO (as he styled himself) pointed out pragmatically, a good set of rockin’ covers would get them gigs at the frats that lined the south side of 114th St. Over a round of beers at the Marlin, a brightly lit bar that had less visual flair than a high school cafeteria, but the cheapest beer near campus, they decided to take turns suggesting covers.

Röck Read Röund-Up

As I mentioned way back on this post from 2008, as much as I’ve tried to branch out, my tastes are pretty narrow when it comes to reading material.

I’d love to say that I’m broadly well-read when it comes to the more celebrated books of the day, but it’s just not true. If you’re looking to engage in a discussion about today’s most incisive fiction, you’re much better off speaking with my wife (who works in publishing) than one such as I. Truthfully, I’ve pretty much lost my taste for fiction almost entirely. Unless I have some vested interest (like, say, I know the author or it’s about something near and dear to me), I usually cannot muster up the interest to crack the binding.

Music and Sex #6: New Experiences

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

[Warning: the chapter below contains "adult situations." Seriously, this one's not for the faint-hearted.]

Walter’s new home, Carman Hall, was an utterly soulless pile of cinder blocks. No effort at all had been made, during its design and construction two decades earlier, to build in anything conveying the slightest sense of warmth. No carpeting in either the halls or in the suites, no wood anywhere except the doors, no decorative touches, nothing but bare straight lines. One imagined it had been designed so it could be hosed down with minimum effort between school years to as to be literally as well as aesthetically antiseptic. There was not even any accommodation made for cooking; not only were there no kitchen nooks, even hotplates were forbidden (though, given that they were horrific fire hazards, that made sense, which was not to say that the ban was not widely flouted).

Music and Sex #5: Marching, Stealing, Singing, Puking, Spinning

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Other opportunities to interact with women included the marching band. It wasn't much of a band, but that didn't bother Walter; it meant it didn't take up much of his time. With the occasional exception, the same songs were played at every football game, so one rehearsal per week sufficed. In high school he'd been the third or fourth best trombonist, but here there was just one other trombonist, and they were on par with each other. If Walter felt like skipping rehearsal one week, nobody cared, since the music was easy and he could sight-read it adequately.

Nor did he have to practice marching formations, because they really didn't bother with that. Their formations were a sort of rebellion, illustrations synced to the smart-ass script read by the announcer, and they merely ran around between formations instead of marching. The announcer helpfully said in advance what the formation depicted -- "The band now forms a door and plays 'I Hear You Knocking'" -- serving to remind the band members what came next while also explaining to the bemused audience what the sloppy rectangle on the field represented and what the cacophony was supposed to sound like.

When they played a new song, maybe there would be an arrangement written out in advance, but more often a couple of trumpeters would play the melody in a comfortable key, the two tuba players would play chord roots, and everybody else would fake the harmony -- not only was intending complexity bound to not come out right, there was more than enough accidental complexity under normal circumstances. Sometimes the announcer would declare, "The band will now form an amorphous blob," a bit of snarky irony, but the music was often amorphous as well, though never announced as such. (Now that would have been funny.) In other words, precision was not prized beyond generally keeping together.

Music and Sex #4: West End Follies

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

The bar across Broadway between 113th and 114th Streets, the West End, was supposedly famous. Or at least the orientation materials had seemed to consider it an important part of Columbia history because it had been a hangout for literary figures, some of them Columbia men, though he had not yet read anything by any of them. Of more interest to Walter, there was jazz there. In passing by one Saturday afternoon on the way to Citibank, he'd seen a sign boasting that the Louis Armstrong All Stars were playing.

Talking Back to The Dean

By Robert Christgau (Dey Street Books)

After a considerable dry spell, my reading life has significantly picked up (possibly due to a sorely unsolicited amount of "free time"). I’ve hungrily paged through some great books in the past few weeks like NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 by Tony Rettman, A Drinking Life by Pete Hammill, Wake Me When It’s Over, the memoir of former Luna Lounge owner Rob Sacher, Diaries 86-89 by Miles Hunt (he of The Wonder Stuff) and, of course, Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. Given my particular predilections, I’m obviously still a sucker for oral histories, tomes about NYC lore and good ol’ rock bios. What can I say? That’s just the type of crap I like.

So you can imagine, then, my enthusiasm upon learning about Going Into The City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man by Robert Christgau, the so-called “Dean of American Rock Critics.” As it’s a memoir purportedly detailing the fabled journalist’s days in the rock trenches as a nascent music scribe in the still-endearingly-gritty New York City of the 1970s, one might be hard pressed to imagine a book better suited to my tastes. Hell, it even boasts a fetching, vintage shot of the Bowery on the cover. Clearly, I was going to devour this book whole.