I was compelled to buy my first jazz album after hearing Siouxsie and the Banshees haunting cover of Billie Holiday’s "Strange Fruit". It was during my goth punk phase (long before goth was trendy) and I was immediately taken with its dirge-like horn section, which brought to mind a Southern funeral procession. I remember going to Mystery Train Records in Cambridge, MA in search of a Billie Holiday album with her version of the song. Amidst the bins, I found what I was looking for. I don't recall which album it was, I only remember it had her face on the cover. I took it home, put it on the turntable, positioned the needle to the corresponding thick black line, sat back and got chills as I listened to her unique vocals render the lyrics of one of the saddest, most heartwrenching songs I've ever heard.
It was in the summer of 1964 that I received my first jazz record as a gift from my brother -- Jimmy Smith's The Cat, arranged and conducted by Lalo Schifrin, on the Verve label. As I remember it, the first time I listened to it, it was late July in the suburbs of Kansas City, Kansas. No one else was in the house, the air conditioning was on, and it was about 95 degrees outside and very humid. The record player was in the corner of the dining room and I put the record on and looked at the jacket. The first song was "Theme from 'Joy House'", some movie at the time which I've never seen or tried to. The song starts with an upright bass: bum- bum- bum-bum-bumbudit/bum-bum-bum-bum-bumbudit, followed by Jimmy Smith's moody melodic Hammond B-3 setting this atmospheric, beat, urban, late'50's-early '60's sonic sketch, part movie house, part nightclub, part street -- melodramatic, cool, thrilling.
Strange things happening at our Oakland store--large wooden structures to be hidden in the basement--encrypted emails and hushed phone calls. Curiouser and curiouser.
It’s a confusing time to be a young record collector. All the hip kids are pirating thousands of digital tracks for free, gluttonously downloading years of listening time that they’ll likely never enjoy. The sole purpose of the CD has been reduced to something musicians’ girlfriends can sell at the merch table (well, it’s more like: “You like that hoodie? We’ll throw in the CD for free. Okay, just find us on facebook”). Cassettes are an ironic image to be printed on a t-shirt. And I actually have no idea how an 8-track works, but there’s a chick at the farmer’s market who makes furniture out of them. Essentially—and this is the modern crisis we face when it comes to all physical media—we’ve become poor consumers of music, unwilling to truly invest and truly listen, more concerned with quantity than quality.
A few years ago, in an attempt to infuse my life with some intentionality (see also: veganism, Skechers Shape-Ups), I bought a record player. Sony actually does a nice $99 turntable with a USB port so you can rip audio tracks from your vinyl. My dad donated an old Pioneer receiver he had in his garage and some speakers that work great, once I evicted the resident spiders. The whole set up sounds pretty good, considering that I have no AV powers. The first night that I sat in front of my speakers, spinning a Simon and Garfunkel album at a volume much greater than my computer can produce, I was struck by The Great Vinyl Truth—the thing you’re told over and over but never believe until the day you just realize—EVERYTHING SOUNDS BETTER ON A RECORD. There’s no comparison. Close your eyes and you can almost believe that the band is in the room with you, no drugs required, this is experience-enhancement at its best.
Of course, many of you know this. Have known this. You’re probably shaking your head at the sad state of today’s youth; twenty-two year old girl thinks she discovered the magic of vinyl. But I did, didn’t I? And against some pretty terrible odds. Vinyl, though seeing a little spike in popularity lately, is fetishized; tucked into a niche market along with typewriter repair and straight-razor shaving. People either do it because they’re old and inflexible or because they’re young and counter-culture. This doesn’t leave a generous space for those (and I suspect it’s actually a pretty big club) who simply love music, who want to hear great things and curate a well-rounded and intentional record collection. For this very reason, my first vinyl purchases were out of dollar bins at the thrift store (it takes a while to warm up to the $20 price tags on new, contemporary albums). It is why I have more than one Barbara Streisand record, the orchestral score to The Man of La Mancha, and a Best of The Lawrence Welk Show. They were cheap and I was confused--trying to apply my millennium consumption sensibilities to a measured, life-long pursuit.
We at Diesel are great proponents of physical media. We are library-builders, loaner-outers, and book-cuddlers. It is not lost on me that a society who forgets about vinyl is more likely to forget about books, eventually, someday. The reason I’ve got records on the brain (besides the fact that I just found a pristine pressing of ELO’s Out of the Blue), is that we recently announced the publication party for Michael Chabon’s latest, Telegraph Avenue, which is about the Bay Area vinyl scene. In conjunction with Chabon and Harper Collins, Diesel will be throwing quite the shindig on Wednesday, September 12th and the first 200 customers to pre-order a signed copy will get an invitation (for details, click here). That’s not the only reason I’m excited about vinyl today…but that’s a surprise for later so stay tuned.
1. Comic-Con. I want to attend Comic-Con before I die. Story workshops, artist talent searches, expert panels, exclusive screenings, and great, literary characters come to life--the heroes and villains of comic books and graphic novels. It's like grown-up Disneyland (ish) with the colorful labyrinth of booths and epic photo opportunities and swag. So much free stuff. And, of course, I'm a supporter of any time a group of people gathers to discuss the art of storytelling and encourage young artists...while wearing costumes.
2. The American Novel. PBS has launched a series about the American novel, covering 50 novels over 200 years. Starting with The Last of the Mohicans and going on through Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, the in-depth review hits all the high points that you'd expect, as well as unearthing titles I'd never heard of. What are you, A Hazard of New Fortunes? Who are you, Frank Norris? They also break down the prominent themes of "the American novel," offer synopses and author bios, and have an interactive element where you can sound off about the novel that really gets your nationalism going. Once again, PBS, you've tricked me into thinking that learning is fun.
3. Book Bookmarks.
These are little printings of poetry collections from James Wright and Robert Bly. This is almost as charming as when the promotional material for Lloyd Kahn's Tiny Homes book was a tiny tiny copy of Tiny Homes.
"The books, published by Wesleyan University Press, are so small you can put them in your back pocket, your shirt pocket, or maybe even that little vestigial pocket inside the pocket of your jeans. They’re so small that I’ve used them as temporary bookmarks for other, regular-size books."
Read the rest of the article here.
**The following is an adaptation of a conversation that actually happened, more or less, between actual booksellers, give or take, with undisclosed reliance on/participation of the internet.**
Today at Diesel we unpacked our first wave of DVDs, now on sale at all our Diesel locations. The selection is small (wait, what’s a positive word for “small”--intimate?), six “classic literature” adaptations, many of which have become classics in their own right. When I pulled the PBS Macbeth out of the box, for example, Patrick Stewart all bloody-handed on the cover, my co-worker was like:
THAT is an excellent adaptation. Lady MacBeth is chilling.
And I was like:
You should watch it, Kate Fleetwood, you know, she played “Woman with Baby” in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. And she did some voice work in the last Harry Potter movie.
So, she’s never been in anything else...
Okay, it may have been the Harry Potter video game. But the film is very true to the play, it’s an excellent modernization, none of that Kenneth Branagh Hamlet business where the setting is some vague Euro cloud-land.
But it’s not that difficult to adapt a play, is it? I mean, it’s written to be performed. It doesn’t require the slash-and-burn of adapting a behemoth novel. War and Peace. Anna Karenina. Actually, Tom Stoppard is doing a new adaptation of Anna Karenina that’s coming out in the fall, I think. I’ve never been more excited to see the film of a book I haven’t read.
You didn’t read Anna Karenina?
That’s not true. I dressed up for the midnight premieres of all three Lord of the Rings films before I ever read the books. Which, by the way, might be my favorite adaptations of all time.
You dressed up for the Lord of the Rings premieres?
I mean, the battle scenes are a little mixed up and a few characters are missing, but who’s really sorry that Tom Bombadil got the boot? If you want to talk LOTR, who is Tom Bombadil even supposed to BE? What does he mean? Why won’t he help them fight?
Yeah, I don’t want to talk LOTR with you.
Aragorn. I went as Aragorn. I actually was able to use the same brown robe to be Aragorn, Obi Wan at the Star Wars premieres, and Dobby for a few of the Harry Potter’s. And then lit it on fire while waiting in line for The Hunger Games. Just Kidding. I went as a mockingjay.
How are you going to re-purpose your robe for Anna Karenina?
Do you think there’ll be a midnight showing? I may have to invest in some new pieces.
Well, I’m looking forward to the Cloud Atlas adaptation. I hear they had six different directors tackle the six distinct segments of the novel. I mean, it sounds like a terrible idea, doomed to result in a disjointed product, but isn’t that what you would have said about the novel if you knew what David Mitchell was up to?
I just hope they do the book justice. There’s such margin for error. Things I’m sorry I wasted two hours on that had no reason to be terrible: The Rum Diary. WHYYYYY?
That was really awful.
Never Let Me Go. That was a tragedy.
More like “Never Let Kiera Knightly Play A Complex Character.”
Robert Redford as Gatsby.
DiCaprio as Gatsby might turn out alright. But I don’t believe in Tobey Maguire. He ruined Spiderman. Was Seabiscuit a bad movie or do I just hate Tobey Maguire?
The Cider House Rules. That was an epic movie.
It was an epic movie because John Irving wrote an epic book and then a mostly good cast acted it and Michael Caine huffed a lot of ether. I’m not giving Tobey Maguire a pass because Charlize Theron is cute.
He was good in The Ice Storm. Totally solid performance. Great book by Rick Moody. Adaptation win. New question: Has Tobey Maguire ever been in a movie NOT based on a book?
WHOA, he’s going to be in the film of Life of Pi as well. But yeah, he made that creepy Brothers movie about coming home from war and being a psycho. Not a book. You know what was great? October Sky.
That wasn’t Tobey Maguire, that was Jake Gyllenhaal.
You know, Tobey Maguire is sort of a poor man’s Jake Gyllenhaal.
Who, coincidentally, stars in my favorite adaptation of all time.
Lord of the Rings?
Brokeback Mountain. Based on one of Annie Proulx’s short stories. The dialogue is almost word-for-word. Very impressive.
I miss Heath Ledger.
I miss him too. I miss him too.
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1. Page to Stage.
Hebbel am Ufer, an experimental theater group based in Berlin, has taken on a 24-hour-performance-project of adapting David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, not just for the stage, but for the city of Berlin. Slate's Aaron Wiener writes: "This isn’t entertainment in the traditional sense. It’s Wallace-style capital-E Entertainment, whose primary purpose isn’t to bring enjoyment—though it can be enjoyable—but to captivate, to incapacitate, like the novel’s deadly eponymous film whose viewers are so thoroughly entertained that they cease to eat, drink, sleep and, eventually, live."
2. Getting Out More.
There's a general consensus, when it comes to the myth of the productive writer, that one can only battle writer's block in a Kaczynski-chic cabin with a fifth of whiskey. I'm not saying that that doesn't sound like fun, but a new study from the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that the moderate commotion of, say, a crowded coffee shop actually boosts creativity. It has something to do with the mind's natural response to distraction--or perhaps it is the by-product of fighting distraction--it's very scientific. Read the article in The Atlantic.
3. Building a Child's (digital) Library.
Every year it gets more and more difficult for books to compete for a child's attention. These aren't the green-slime evils of Nickelodeon anymore, friends, kids have their own iPads and those iPads have Angry Birds. Here are some great tips for re-purposing those touch screens as e-readers in a productive way. I love that the second tip is "co-reading," that is, reading with your child. We may find entertaining substitutes for a good book, but there's no substitute for story time, just the two of you.