Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Swordfishtrombones (33 1/3 Series) by David Smay

We have become a driving household. Six weeks ago my father in law was taken to the hospital. He has since been moved to palliative care. Combine this with the usual school events and ringette games and the family schedule, such as it is, gets thrown seriously out of whack.

These events alter the reading habit too. A friend of mine once told me he'd read a bunch of John Irving novels while his wife underwent a series of critical operations. Now that he and his wife were on the other side of that health crisis, he couldn't remember anything about the novels, except that he had no trouble following their plots.

I'm not quite that preoccupied, but even so Continuum's 33 1/3 books are a very welcome alternative to choosing between "heavy lifting" novels and mysteries. They are wee things: roughly 4" X 5", 125 pages or so. They fit easily into jacket pockets, and look as if they were built to accompany the CDs of the albums they dissect and laud. They are written and published for people (guys, mostly) for whom the liner notes are never enough.

There are now over 60 of these books, and I had trouble deciding where to start. On the face of it my choice of Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones by David Smay (A) was almost counterintuitive. I don't mind Waits in small doses -- on a mixed tape, or a "various artists" CD -- and I'm sure a concert would be an event worth the price and logistics of attending (certainly the movie was worth it). But it's rare that I bother myself with an entire album's worth of his material. Tom Waits fans are frequently Neil Young fans, and both performers start with the roadblock: Folks, you didn't come here to listen to something "pretty," so brace yourselves and let's go.

So why bother at all? I wasn't sure, but I dozily read through the first 25 pages in which Smay recounts Waits' preoccupation with the freakish, his determination to control his musical legacy, his stubborn streak and litigiousness when it comes to advertisers, and how advertisers would still give anything to get a little Waits' sound behind their corn chips and automobiles, and gradually I found myself compelled to accept Smay's own thesis: "Maybe Carnivale's creator never listened to Tom Waits -- doesn't matter. Because that vision that Tom created moves and breathes in the world now ... the Tom Waits Carnival is part of our common currency."

Damn. He's right!

I doubt I'll spring for another 60 titles, but I'm sure my 33 1/3 library is bound to get larger. If Continuum would like, I've even got a proposal for Jason & The Scorchers' Thunder & Fire (A), linking its underlying narrative to the preaching of Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. I'm cheap, too: Will Write For Books.

Links: the 33 1/3 blog, my post on Jason & The Scorchers.


Yahmdallah said...

I've so wanted to read these, but I'm not about to pay for them. And, alas, my library can't get ahold of a single one.

DarkoV said...

I've been wondering whether to take the plunge. I've delayed, as I think these books can/will be an expensive and long-term addiction. Your choice certainly sounds like a good place to start, Mr. WP.

Hey, have you caught this Hornby piece in the NYT?

DarkoV said...

2 things about Hornby piece.
1) Dr. Dog. I'll try again with this group. I'm still not past luke-warm on theses guys.
2) Check out some of the comments. Youths!?!?. No props for Mr. Hornby.

Whisky Prajer said...

Y-man - 60 books at 10 bucks a pop is difficult to justify. Mind you, so far my collection is a mere half-dozen ... a little easier to explain to my wife (I did not, for example, see the need to purchase ABBA Gold).

DV - yikes: the kids are NOT alright! Harder on the old man than he is on them, as a matter of fact. Although I very much doubt he's losing sleep on the matter.