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L.A. Times Festival of Books: The music of the written word

April 29, 2011 |  6:14 pm


In his new book, "Attack of the Difficult Poems," poet and literary thinker Charles Bernstein writes, "the alphabet is frozen sound." Maybe one of the ways you unfreeze it is to link all those letters together to make words, a gush of sound. A flow of music, if it's all going well.

This weekend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, there are plenty of panels available to satiate those who revel in all the links between words and music: poetic, analytic or otherwise. There will also be performances from bands to, you know, cut through all the yammering that'll be going on. To name two, our friends at Brand X will be presenting Young Hunting on Saturday and Hi Ho Silver Oh on Sunday.

A breakdown of the panel offerings:

Saturday, 12:30 p.m. Patti Smith and Dave Eggers in Conversation with David L. Ulin

In 1967, a chance meeting between Patti Smith and kindred spirit Robert Mapplethorpe birthed a friendship that spun out for decades, through the days of lettuce soup to the end, when the photographer slipped off into death. The author of "Just Kids," which snagged the National Book Award for nonfiction, will chat with Dave Eggers, whose recent book "Zeitoun" won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Current Interest last year. Bonus music points: Eggers' great Spin magazine essay on Joanna Newsom from a few years back, in which he wrote: "Music like this can actually make you feel vulnerable, because it's vulnerable itself, it's bare and unflinching, which gives you the strength to be the same."

Saturday, 4 p.m. In Flux: The Music Biz

Moderated by Times pop music editor Randall Roberts, this panel will examine what has happened to an industry grappling with challenges to its old way of monetization, whether Spotify, low album sales or good ol' piracy. Panelists include Dan Charnas ("The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop"), Fred Goodman ("The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springstein, and the Head-On Collision of Rock and Commerce") and Simon Reynolds ("Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984"). Bring your theories for a new world order, as dictated by your iPod -- they will be welcome here.

Sunday, 10:30 a.m. Jonathan Lethem in Conversation with Carolyn Kellogg

Some writers listen to music, and then some writers turn it inside out, looking for clues to how we construct our sense of taste and aesthetic values. Few bands can withstand that kind of poking and prodding but Talking Heads, a longtime obsession that Jonathan Lethem chronicled in "The Disappointment Artist," is up for the task. A recent resident of Los Angeles after years of Brooklyn-bound existence, Lethem will talk with L.A. Times writer Carolyn Kellogg about his latest, "Chronic City." Hopefully, he'll also reprise a bit of his presentation that he brought to the EMP Pop Conference this spring, titled "I Wouldn't Live There If You Paid Me: The House-Training of Talking Heads' Urban Grievances."

Sunday, 3 p.m. A New Chord: From Stage to Page

In her memoir, "Rat Girl," Kristin Hersh focuses on one extraordinary year in her life: At 18, she became a mother, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and her band, Throwing Muses, recorded its first album. Since then, she's emerged as one of the most captivating characters of '80s and '90s indie rock, and her book captures her wild imagination. On this panel moderated by Scott Timberg, a frequent contributor to the L.A. Times and lover of The Smiths, Hersh will be joined by other writer-musician hybrids: Novelist Rob Roberge, guitarist for the Violet Rays, the Danbury Shakes and the Urinals, recently released a collection of short stories following the down-and-out, "Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life." The former guitarist for Shudder to Think, Nathan Larson, has his debut novel "The Dewey Decimal System" out now from Akashic, the publishing company started by Johnny Temple, former bassist for Girls Against Boys.

More information on panel location can be found at latimes.com/festivalofbooks.


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-- Margaret Wappler

 Photo: Patti Smith in a New York City cab. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times