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Category: Music

See Moby up close at Book Soup

Moby_2011 There will not be approximately 100,000 people between you and Moby. There might be 50 or even 500, but whatever it is, the number will be manageable.

That is, if you head to Book Soup on Monday to get "Moby: Destroyed." Come 7 p.m., Moby will be ready to sign copies of the book and his latest album, "Destroyed," but no other memorabilia. He won't be posing for photos but doesn't mind if you take them. The book "Moby: Destroyed" is full of photos that he's taken on the road -- empty hallways, full stadiums, cities lit up at night.

"I hope somehow in these pictures," Moby writes, "I'm able to convey the mundanity of touring, juxtaposed with those moments of the strange and/or sublime. One minute on tour you're by yourself in a soulless airport, the next minute you're flying over the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. One minute on tour you're by yourself in a soulless backstage area, the next minute you're on stage pouring your heart out to 75,000 people. Touring is all contrasts and strangeness, and that's what I'm trying to convey in these pictures."

Moby was born Richard Melville Hall. The "Melville" is for Herman Melville, who was thought to have been his great-great-great-granduncle. His stagename came, of course, from "Moby-Dick," Melville's great novel. He could have picked something else by Melville, but "Moby" sounds better than "Typee," "Omoo" or "Bartelby."

Recently Moby restored and moved into a grand old Hollywood home, but he spent most of the summer on tour in Europe. He returns to L.A. for the Book Soup book signing -- and he just might be at the opening of the gallery show of his photographs in Culver City on Saturday night.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Moby in Spain in July. Credit: Albert Olive / EPA

Dana Spiotta's fake album art imagined at emusic

ThefakesalbumcoverDana Spiotta's novel "Stone Arabia" has been getting rave reviews, including one from Times critic David L. Ulin. He describes the premise: "The story of Nik Worth, nearly 50, a former rock 'n' roll wunderkind who dropped out of sight but continued to make music, 'Stone Arabia' is a novel of obsession -- although whose obsession is not always clear. There's Nik but also his sister Denise, who narrates much of the book and offers a necessary counterpoint to his interior fantasies...."

Nik's music-making is accompanied by his equally avid myth-making. He creates scrapbooks for his imaginary bands, writes reviews, both positive and negative, of their shows and albums. He creates album art for records that are never released, only circulated among a few friends. In "Stone Arabia," Spiotta creates excerpts of Nik's writing but leaves his meticulous artwork to the imagination.

The imagination of, it turns out, a number of artists recruited by emusic. "We commissioned five of our favorite artists to design album covers for five of Nik’s biggest albums," writes emusic audiobooks editor Maris Kreitzman. "The results are as creative and brilliant and eccentric as Nik himself."

Spiotta provides commentary on the album covers. "There is something perfect about the sneer of the title and the rudeness of the frog," she writes of Alex Eben Meyer's imaginging of the record "Take Me Home and Make Me Fake It." "The title is self-deprecating and aggressive, and somehow the frog in bunny ears hits it exactly right."

The artists make real three of Nik's imaginary bands -- imaginary twice-removed, because Nik is, of course, fictional. There are album covers for the poppy band the Fakes, the more introspective Nik Worth and the serious, challenging band the Demonics. All have a vintage feel, as Nik was creating his albums over the years, but also look like you might stumble across them in a contemporary record store.

For that to happen, someone would have to take Nik's songs, as they're described in the book, and actually record them. Will fiction stretch that far into reality?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Artwork created for the Fakes album "Take Me Home and Make Me Fake It." Credit: Alex Eben Meyer / emusic.

ALOUD's 2011 schedule selling out fast

Joandidion_1996
A highlight of this fall's ALOUD series from the Los Angeles Public Library will be Joan Didion's appearance, discussing her new memoir, "Blue Nights." She'll be at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in conversation with Times book critic David L. Ulin; tickets are sold out, but there will be some for sale at the door.

Some ALOUD events, such as Didion's appearance, include a ticket fee; others are free. One free event that's already completely booked is rapper Common's appearance Sept. 16 at the Central Library in conversation with television journalist Kevin Frazier. Standby tickets may become available.

However, there are plenty of events for which you can still make reservations. Karl Marlantes, author of "Matterhorn," will appear in November to discuss his memoir of Vietnam. That month, there will also be a discussion on Philip K. Dick with his daughters Ilsa Dick Hackett, Laura Leslie and Jonathan Lethem, co-editor of the forthcoming "The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick."

September appearances include those by Adam Winkler, discussing his nonfiction book "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America"; memoirist Alexandra Fuller; and author Diana Reiss on her work with dolphins.

In October, Liberian political activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee will discuss her book "Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War"; David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, will talk about his book "Don't Shoot" with LAPD chief Charlie Beck; and Ariel Dorfman will discuss Chile, his friend Salvador Allende and his new memoir, "Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile."

There will also be a dose of fiction in October from Irish novelist Anne Enright and MacArthur "genius" fellow Colson Whitehead, who takes on zombies in his upcoming novel, "Zone One."

See the complete list of ALOUD fall events here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Joan Didion in 1996. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Booktrack: A soundtrack for books

What brings Salman Rushdie, screenwriter Paul Haggis and James Frey together? Booktrack, the soundtrack for books. Or rather, the party for Booktrack, which happened in New York on Wednesday night.

As the video above demonstrates, Booktrack provides a soundtrack for ebooks that includes ambient music and sound effects, and that plays according to the pace at which you're reading. 

It comes from a shiny start-up that has lots of friends (see also Rushdie, Haggis and Frey). Booktrack partners include Sony/ATV (for music) and HarperCollins (for books). Currently Booktrack-enhanced ebooks are available as apps in the Apple store, and the company says that an Android version is coming soon.

Booktracks cost just a bit more than non-enhanced ebooks -- $12.99 versus $9.99, for example, for its first booktracked novel, "The Power of Six" by Pittacus Lore, which comes from Frey's company Full Fathom Five. Upcoming Booktracks include short stories by Rushdie and Jay McInerney.

The company also has plans to Booktrack several classics: "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (river sounds?), "Romeo and Juliet" (weeping?), "Peter Pan" (flying?), "Pride and Prejudice " (minuets?), and "Jane Eyre" (cold winds blow across the moors?).

-- Carolyn Kellogg

David Foster Wallace, via the Decemberists [video]

 

David Foster Wallace's 1,104-page novel "Infinite Jest" may not yet be ready for translation to the big screen, but a portion of it inspired the new video for "Calamity Song" by the Decemberists from "The King is Dead."

Lead singer Colin Meloy had just finished reading "Infinite Jest" when he wrote the song, he tells NPR.

The book didn't so much inspire the song itself, but Wallace's irreverent and brilliant humor definitely wound its way into the thing. And I had this funny idea that a good video for the song would be a re-creation of the Enfield Tennis Academy's round of Eschaton — basically, a global thermonuclear crisis re-created on a tennis court — that's played about a third of the way into the book. Thankfully, after having a good many people balk at the idea, I found a kindred spirit in Michael Schur, a man with an even greater enthusiasm for Wallace's work than my own. With much adoration and respect to this seminal, genius book, this is what we've come up with. I can only hope DFW would be proud.

Wallace, as far as I know, never recorded an indie rock album, but Meloy has ventured into the publishing world. He's the author of the 33 1/3 book "Let it Be," a memoir about listening to the Replacements, and is the author of the upcoming middle-grade book "Wildwood," illustrated by his wife, said to be the first in a trilogy.

Maybe the next Decemberists video will include something else inspired by David Foster Wallace's writing: processing tax forms ("The Pale King") or taking a cruise ("A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again").

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Sing your favorite book at the Hammer Museum

Sing Your Favorite Book at the Hammer Museum
I'm not sure what it's about, exactly, but if I could have gotten to the Hammer Museum by lunchtime Thursday, I would have made it a point to see Sing Your Favorite Book in action. Thursday's book, excerpted: Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," sung by Tany Ling.

The series is curated by musician and sound curator Jessica Catron, and seems to be a mashup of words and song. It's connected to another novelstic mashup on exhibit now, Ed Ruscha: On the Road, which is a meeting of Ed Ruscha's art with Jack Kerouac's text.

"Having created his own limited edition artist book version of On the Road in 2009 published by Gagosian Gallery and Steidl, and illustrated with photographs that he took, commissioned, or found," the Hammer writes, "Ruscha has created an entirely new body of paintings and drawings that take their inspiration from passages in Kerouac’s novel."

The Sing Your Favorite Book series continues at the Hammer Thursdays around lunchtime into the fall.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Singing. Credit: J. Astra Brinkmann via Flickr.

Bob Mould comes of age at live show in L.A.

Bobmould_2005
On Wednesday night, outside the Coronet Theatre, my friend Erik and I remarked that we had never seen Bob Mould. All those years, all that music and somehow we had missed him. No Hüsker Dü shows, no Sugar, even though, for much of the early 1990s, the latter was my favorite band. Even though, without him, the indie rock movement (the Pixies, Throwing Muses, Nirvana) would have never gotten off the ground.

As Mould would recount later, from the stage of the Coronet, a promoter once told him that if his timing had been better, he "could have been Pearl Jam." The crowd -- a mostly full house -- laughed. For him as well as for us, I suppose, timing has never been the point.

Mould was at the Coronet under the auspices of Cafe Largo, for an evening of music and spoken word. His memoir, "See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody," was published last month (see our review); the title comes from a song on his 1989 album "Workbook." He opened with the song, playing solo on a blue Stratocaster, then sat down to read selections from his book. The prose was adequate, some incidents more interesting than others ... but let's be honest: Prose was not why we were here.

To his credit, Mould seemed to understand that; he chose passages that had to do with songwriting, beginning with his state of mind after the 1988 implosion of Hüsker Dü. In the wake of that, he began to write the songs that would eventually become "Workbook," and after his first reading, he performed a few, among them "Lonely Afternoon" and "Wishing Well." 

This was the pattern of the evening: Dip into the book, talk about his history, then play music that reflected what he'd read. He did four Sugar songs (the highlight of the night, especially the effervescent ear candy of "If I Can't Change Your Mind"), and closed with a brief Husker set, including "I Apologize."

Continue reading »

The Reading Life: Ellen Willis' vinyl deeps

Ellenwillis_1980s This is part of the occasional series The Reading Life by book critic David L. Ulin.

I've long considered Ellen Willis something of a hero. I hope I live longer than she did (Willis died in 2006, at 64), but otherwise, it's an exemplary life. She was the first pop music critic of the New Yorker, writing 56 pieces for the magazine between 1968 and 1975 that trace her relationship with "music that boldly and aggressively laid out what the singer wanted, loved, hated ... [and] challenged me to do the same."

In the mid-1970s, she began to focus less on music and more on feminism and her own stunning brand of liberation politics, becoming an editor and writer at the Village Voice and later founding the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at NYU. Her writing is rigorous, unrelenting, in your face: not in the sense of mindless provocation, but because she was so smart. "Students and colleagues fondly describe her as shy," recalled Robert Christgau in a 2007 tribute, "but she wasn’t shy -- she was thinking, and ignoring you."

Willis understood that criticism -- at least as practiced in a publication such as the New Yorker -- was equal parts service journalism and cultural commentary, requiring her to connect to the commercial demands of her readers (Should I buy this record? Should I pay attention to this band?) while also transcending them. Her music writing is remarkable for never losing sight of this duality, which is, of course, the duality at the heart of pop.

"What cultural revolutionaries do not seem to grasp," she wrote in "The Cultural Revolution Saved from Drowning," a September 1969 report on Woodstock, "is that, far from being a grass-roots art form that has been taken over by businessmen, rock itself comes from the commercial exploitation of blues. It is bourgeois at its core, a mass-produced commodity, dependent on advanced technology and therefore on the money controlled by those in power."

Four decades later, we take it for granted, this idea of rock's commodification, but Willis is after something deeper: to call out, even celebrate, rock's contradictions, its inherent blend of commercialization and ecstasy. "You think it's funny," Joe Strummer sang in 1977, "turning rebellion into money." And yet, for Willis, there’s nothing funny about it, since what Strummer's getting at is rock 'n' roll's most fundamental tension: the quixotic desire to make revolution (cultural or otherwise) one product at a time.

"The Cultural Revolution Saved from Drowning" is one of 59 pieces in "Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music," all but 12 from the New Yorker. Edited by Willis' daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz, it is, in the words of current New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones, "like finding a missing Beatles album" -- a result of both its engagement with its moment and the acuity of Willis' eye.

Continue reading »

Joe Henry's writing life

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

When Joe Henry was earning his MFA at the Iowa Writer’s Program, Kurt Vonnegut was one of his teachers and novelist John Irving was a classmate. Before going the MFA route, Henry had been a laborer, rancher and professional boxer. But his greater claim to fame is as a songwriter: His songs have been recorded by a who’s-who of popular singers including Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris and Roberta Flack.

He began writing songs back in 1969 while living in New York City, working in construction and training as a professional boxer. Soon after, he began writing poetry about Colorado, Wyoming and Lime Creek, winning awards from the National Wildlife Federation and others for his conservation efforts in the West and for “the celebration of the natural world in his work.” The work was read and performed in various venues for years before Henry decided to collect the various scenes in a single volume.

Friends and reviewers have called his debut novel, “Lime Creek,” lyrical, and they aren’t kidding. The book is a series of pictures, of verses about a family living on a horse farm in rural Wyoming. Scenes from the book have been performed by Henry’s friend, actor Anthony Zerbe, in a stage performance titled: “A Lime Creek Christmas.” Hard work, beauty, raw cold, pure spirit — it’s a book-length song, an opera. Henry just needed more space. For our review of “Lime Creek,” check out this Sunday's Discoveries book column. And for more info on Henry, visit his website and listen to some of his music. 

For the record, 2:32 p.m. July 10: A previous version of this post mistakenly included a video clip of another singer named Joe Henry.

-- Susan Salter Reynolds

Rick Springfield pleads not guilty to post-FOB DUI

Rickspringfield_booksign Rick Springfield may go down in history as the celebrity author to have the most fun after his appearance at the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Springfield, an actor and singer, appeared at the Festival of Books Sunday, May 1. He spent nearly an hour on an outdoor stage speaking to KPCC's Alex Cohen and taking questions from the audience to talk about his memoir "Late, Late at Night."

Several hours later, at around 8 p.m., police stopped the "Jessie's Girl" singer in Malibu; he had been driving his 1963 Corvette. Springfield is said to have registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.10% on a breathalyzer, and was reported to have been "belligerent," threatening to kill a deputy and his family if the $200,000 Sting Ray were towed.

Springfield had been feisty during his appearance at the Festival of Books. "You! You, where are you going? Am I boring you?" he called to a departing audience member. "I'll take my pants off if you stay." On stage and in his book, Springfield was candid about wrestling with his demons, particularly depression, which he called Mr. D. "Mr. D has a pretty good sense of humor. He's sitting there in that vacant chair," Springfield said, pointing to the back row, "telling me what I jerk I am."

Wednesday, an attorney representing Springfield appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence.

Springfield, who was born in Australia in 1949, made a splash in America as a pop singer in the 1980s with his hits "Jessie's Girl" and "Don't Talk to Strangers." His musical success drew attention to his role on the hit soap opera "General Hospital"; he began playing Dr. Noah Drake in 1981 and left to focus on music, but he reprised the role from 2006-2008. Springfield has continued acting on television, recently in "Hawaii Five-0" and "Californication."

He's next scheduled to appear in court; he's due there Aug. 15.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Rick Springfield signs a copy of his memoir "Late, Late at Night" during the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Credit: David Livingston / Getty Images

 

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