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Banned Books Week: Candide

 

Get ready for Banned Books Week. September 30 - October 6, 2012.

 

Michael Chabon’s Real and Imagined Storefronts

 

Our guest blogger is Matt Werner, author of Oakland in Popular Memory, on sale now at Diesel, Oakland. Visit Matt online at www.mattiswriting.com

 

Jorge Luis Borges wrote fake book reviews of books that didn’t exist. Michael Chabon has taken this postmodern literary conceit beyond Borges. Chabon has not only written fan fiction based on his own writing, but he’s created stores from his fiction in real-life. Take for example Diesel bookstore in Oakland which was converted to Brokeland Records.

 

This fictional record store has replaced the independent bookstore from September 7-14 to correspond with the release of Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue. Chabon opening Brokeland Records goes beyond book marketing. It’s an interesting addition to postmodern literary experimentation, in that it raises the question, What happens when a fictional store you’re writing about, becomes real? And this isn’t the first store to be created from Chabon’s fictional work. The Escapist comic bookstore on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley is named after Chabon’s comic creation The Escapist from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

 

After writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Chabon edited two volumes of The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, collecting comics by artists like Brian K. Vaughan and Roger Petersen drawn in the style of the Golden Age of Comic Books from the 1930s and 1940s.

 

To put these fake bookstores and books in context, Chabon writes in his essay collection Maps and Legends about creating realities that don’t exist, and he references Jorge Luis Borges when coming across mysterious book called Say it in Yiddish. Borges writes in his essay, Kafka and His Precursors, “The fact is that each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.” How this quote relates to The Escapist fan fiction is that if a reader who first reads The Escapist comic books and then reads The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay may think that these comics were created first, and Chabon later wrote about these in his novel (when the opposite is true).

Moreover, because Brokeland Records opened on September 7, four days before the release of Telegraph Avenue, a tourist visiting Oakland and seeing the record store and later reading Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue could think the record store predates the novel (when the opposite is true).

Or instead of Borges, perhaps Chabon was inspired to set up this fictional storefront from a more local source: Dave Eggers. Eggers created the 826 Valencia Pirate Store in 2002 to compete with “Captain Rick’s Booty Cove,” an imagine a megastore of pirate supplies on the other side of San Francisco. Eggers created this because the 826 Valencia Writing Center building was zoned for retail, and Eggers needed to sell something in the space. This spawned the trend of where each 826 tutoring center has a fake storefront, like the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co., and the Bigfoot Research Center in Boston.

 

And coincidentally, the September 12 book release party at Brokeland Records (née Diesel bookstore) was a benefit for the 826 Valencia Writing Center. It will be interesting if this record store--open for one week to promote the book--inspires a local business owner to create a permanent Brokeland Records, similar to The Escapist comic bookstore. Perhaps one day, an entire street could be populated with stores from Chabon’s literary works!

 

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By Matt Werner

Author of Papers for the Suppression of Reality and Oakland in Popular Memory. Email Matt at editor[at]thoughtpublishing.org.

 

Digital Landscape, Analog River

 

I've played music, toured, and put out records for the past fifteen years. Last week, I received a copy of my own band's new LP in the mail, something that is always a delight and has lost none of its novelty over the years. But this time around, there was a crucial difference: this was not a vinyl release, it was a vinyl reissue, its reprint date falling approximately 13 years after the record's initial pressing. The album artwork had been cleaned up, new photos had been added, the vinyl was a brilliant electric blue, the package included a free digital download of the album, and it felt like getting my first record in the mail all over again - which, in a very literal sense, it was.

In 2012, it's easy to think of music as a purely digital phenomenon; the audio equivalent of a PDF, a file that can be sent and received quickly with minimal degradation, working well enough on various devices, possessing compression rates that are adequate if not ideal. Like the printed word, music is all too frequently reduced to something that sleeps, genie-like, on a hard drive or digital cloud until summoned with a few idle clicks. When the aforementioned record first came out in 1999, vinyl was a secondary, subservient format: CDs were bought and sold by the case, while LPs were just for collectors, generally sold in ones and twos. By 2012, the digital/analog poles had moved even further apart: now, because the reissue came with a free download, a CD wasn't even necessary, and LPs had received a strange, posthumous promotion from secondary format to only format.

 

In addition to being a musician, I'm also a letterpress printer. From a purely industrial perspective, vinyl records and letterpress printing have rise/fall/rise histories that follow similar timelines: to put it in flatly economic terms, both were once-massive industrial processes rendered almost entirely obsolete as they were replaced by late-20th century digital technologies. But in the early years of the 21st century, both have experienced a small but steady resurgence, particularly among younger generations. Even if this hasn't exactly happened at a level that would ruffle the respective music and print industries, it's nonetheless enough to have assisted not just in the survival, but in some particularly hip/hipster areas (Oakland/SF, Portland, Brooklyn, and as of recently, apparently the entire South), an increase in the number of independent music stores and print shops.

I'm not a luddite and I'm certainly not an analog purist. I have an intimate understanding of the ways in which analog music and print cultures are dependent on digital means for their production and propagation. But I also believe that the sound of a vinyl record and the feel of handmade prints are beautiful and irreplaceable things, and should not be filed away in dead archives, but kept alive, and made new in a way that fully embraces modernity, an ongoing flow in the shadows of the digital peaks far above.

--John Peck

 

Linda and the Neat, Pink Turntable

 

With the revival of vinyl as a popular medium for music, I find myself surrounded by a new generation discovering vinyl records for the first time. I’m definitely dating myself here, but I had my first experience with turntables and 45 RPM’s in 1965.

I had a strong and early interest in listening to the radio and the music my dad played around the house. I fell in love with his music: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, The Lettermen, and Trini Lopez. My mother, recognizing this, took me to what was then Gemco and we picked out a very simple, easily operable turntable. On the outside it looked like a small suitcase, pink with a red handle. When you unlocked and opened it, the inside was gray and plastic, with a three-speed dial. Equipped with my neat, pink portable, my mother and I perused the records themselves. Being only six then, I wasn't all that familiar with who sang the songs I would wait by the radio for hours to hear, only how they "went". I had to sing through my favorites until I’d hit upon the title, like "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There" (which to my mom's delight were on two sides of the same disc!) and "She Loves You" and "Do You Believe In Magic". I took home those three 45's that day, along with the requisite plastic adapters so they'd fit on the turntable. 

As time went by, I learned more about the artists that were on the Billboard Hot 100 by listening to Casey Kasem on Sunday mornings. We eventually went back for my first LP's by The Mamas and the Papas, Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, and The Hollies.

 

--Linda

 

 

 

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