Wrapped up in (the) Books

A quick wrap-up of other stuff I’ve been reading or “reading.” 

Ghost World, Dan Clowes – Quiet, haunting, lyrical; also very, very funny. Perfectly captures how truly awful teenagers can be, yet somehow still manages to make Enid Coleslaw a completely sympathetic protagonist. If you only know the film version, this is well worth reading. The movie is good, but the addition of Steve Buschemi's character throws off the story's center of gravity at the cost of the book's powerful simplicity.  

Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad – Every other indie rock bio: lots of tall tales about drug-fueled moronry and crappy vans, lots of strategic disses designed to construct a heroic narrative around the book’s chosen aesthetic. (Pavement comes in for a particularly egregious example of the latter in the book’s epilogue, getting tagged as a “suffocatingly insular” death knell for the punk rock underground; you just know that if this were Pavement’s story, the same author would've made them the self-aware antidote to punk’s brutish machismo, if not a redemptive return to the movement’s art school roots. It’s kind of the way that when super heros fight, the one whose name is in the title always wins.)

Yet it’s as compulsively readable as all good junk should be, and it does offer some legitimate insight into the meaning of punk’s DIY ethos. And it made me want to go buy some records by the bands I haven’t really heard, which is maybe the real point. 

The Books at the Southern – Charlottesville’s newest music venue, filling the former Gravity Lounge space, is delightfully unfinished—literally. All exposed plywood and primer, its opening night felt more like an illicit warehouse show than the faux-slick C-ville affair it’ll surely wind up as.

As for the band: The Books are an act so decidedly un–rock and roll that they actually gave a lecture at UVa before their performance; but in a way that’s completely refreshing, at once arty and approachable. Their music—performed on cello and acoustic guitar with an array of audio samples and electronic noises, and accompanied by artfully oddball collages of found video—is a strangely harmonious mix of the ridiculous and the sublime, kitschiness and elegance.

Just to give an idea: they opened the set with samples from a goofy self-help video—skillfully edited to look even sillier—and closed with an entirely sincere rendition of Nick Drake’s “Cello Song.” But all the band’s disparate resources are managed in such a gentle, meditative way that the combinations never seem jarring—the sound of a thoughtful intellect quietly holding together multitudinous ideas.