Thursday, July 30, 2009

READ HARD — Believer Music Issue — Beatles post-Beatles — AUGUST 5 PARK-LIT EVENT

I. Read Hard is out! It's a collection of some great pieces from the last five years of The Believer. We could have easily filled several more volumes of equal thickness—and hopefully we will someday...As an appetizer, McSweeney's excerpts my essay on the work of Charles Portis, a piece that appeared in the very first issue of The Believer, back in 2003. I've always like this list of food in Portis's first novel, Norwood:

With reportorial precision, and without condescension, Norwood captures all manner of reflex babble, the extravagant grammar of commercial appeal − stray words bathed in the exhaust of a Trailways bus. This omnivorous little book has a high metabolism, digesting everything from homemade store signs (i do not loan tools) and military-base graffiti to actuarial come-ons and mail-order ads for discount diamonds. Appropriately enough, the characters are constantly chowing down. On one leg of the journey, Edmund B. Ratner (formerly the "world's smallest perfect man," before he porked out) and Norwood's new sweetheart, Rita Lee Chipman, are described as having eaten their way through the Great Smoky Mountains. Norwood's decidedly humble (call it American) menu nails the country's midcentury gastronomy with a precision that today takes on near-archaeological value: canned peaches, marshmallows, Vienna sausages, cottage cheese with salt and pepper, a barbecue sandwich washed down with NuGrape, a potted-meat sandwich with mustard, butter on ham sandwiches, biscuit and Brer Rabbit syrup sandwiches, an Automat hot dog on a dish of baked beans, Cokes and corn chips and Nabs crackers, a Clark bar, peanuts fizzing in Pepsi, a frozen Milky Way.

II. The Believer Music Issue is also out! Q: What's in it? A: A lot.

Arthur Phillips (The Song Is You) on writing about music (or, as they say, dancing about architecture); Brandon Stosuy interviews Phil Elverum (here's a taste); Joe Hagan—author of the classic Bill Fox piece that rounds out Read Hard—on another underappreciated songwriter, Benji Hughes (the online version features two streaming songs that will make your day); Blvr editor Ross Simonini does double duty, writing about Jamaican dancehall and violence, and interviewing Radiohead's Thom Yorke; Greil Marcus; Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black...a long piece by Michelle Tea...Justin Taylor with an excellent appreciation of David Berman's Actual Air, upon its 10th anniversary...a piece on Lawrence Welk...Ben Greenman...Hilton Als "performing" a sentence (à la Barthelme) about PJ Harvey...the inimitable Paul Collins, and more! Double issue! Get it before the newsstands run out! Because they always do with this one...

And I haven't even mentioned the Daniel Handler-curated CD, a real ear-opener, featuring names you know—Lloyd Cole (?!!!), Dave Wakeling, the Waterboys' Mike Scott, Sam Phillips, Stephen Duffy (!!?), David Sylvian (!!?!), Lisa Germano, and more—all great, but you cannot miss the Mike Scott song. It is an EPIC, like the best Waterboys songs (though also different).

(Blvr music issue trivia question: Who wrote an article for an earlier Blvr music issue entitled "The Song Is You"?)

III. One last thing I'll mention—David L. Ulin imagines the ideal Beatles '70s albums, using material from their disparate solo albums. In a nice bit of cross-magazine fertilization (eh??), the Utne Reader blog did an "imeem" playlist of the Ulin-imagined post-Fab Four album, Too Many People. It's fun to listen to...and it kicks off with "Imagine"...

IV. I won't be in New York for this, alas, and neither will Heidi, but the Believer and McSweeney's will be taking the stage for a Park-Lit event next Wednesday, August 5, at Bryant Park, 12:30 p.m.—lunchtime edification! (Here's more info at New York mag.)

Aforementioned music issue contribs Messrs. Phillips, Hagan, and Stosuy will be there, as will two new McSwy's novelists: Jessica Anthony (The Convalescent) and my old-PTSNBN colleague James Hannaham (God Says No). Amanda Stern hosts. (Copies of Read Hard and the music issue and the novels should be available.)

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