Just in time for tomorrow’s reading is Cabildo Quarterly issue #6, early spring 2014. With new poetry by Bruce Pratt, David Lawton, Karyn Lye-Neilsen, Kathleen Ellis and Leonore Hildebrandt, and new fiction by Jeffrey Schroeck.
Since my book on the Minutemen’s album “Double Nickels on the Dime” was published in 2007, I’ve always known when it was pitch season for the 33 1/3 series because friends – and friends of friends, and complete strangers – have written to me asking for help and advice. This year’s deadline is fast approaching, and with it the number of emails has grown. I figured it couldn’t hurt to make a post about the process. So:
Your book needs to sell. The pitch process is wrapped in romance, to the point, sometimes, of distraction – I can’t think of another group of people more sentimental than music fans. We’re all the way we are because our lives were changed, somehow, by some album or band. (For me, it was the Sex Pistols.) It makes perfect sense, then, to try and pay back whatever debts we feel we incurred through writing about that band or album.
A lot of the pitches that I read never get beyond this point, though. Certainly there’s something to be said for simple appreciation, but there needs to be a hook. I don’t think that “(album) is seminal” or “(album) is underappreciated” or even “(album) is a product of a certain time and place” do the job, because pretty much any record you can think of is a product of a certain time or place, and is either seminal, underappreciated, or both. You need to have a better reason than these. Take a look around the ‘net at some pitches which were accepted – and pitches that weren’t. You’ll see these themes emerge and repeat.
The romance of it all –“I get to write about my favorite record!” –sometimes obscures the fact that you’re pitching a book idea to Bloomsbury Press. Publishing is a business. The bottom line is the bottom line. I remain convinced that the stories around some of my favorite records would be compelling ones. But no matter how well I wrote about, say, the systemic decay of New England mill towns, and how these monuments to a bygone era infiltrate the psyche of young residents and leach slowly into the creative process, who’s really going to buy a book about New Hampshire emo math metal giants Stricken for Catherine? Their friends and family, certainly, but that’s all of like eighty people. Consider the line between cult and seminal. Are the Embarrassment well-known enough to warrant a look? The Raincoats? The Slits? I don’t know the answer, or where to find the line. Consider your album in the grand scheme – and do so honestly – when pitching, because you’re asking Bloomsbury to invest in your assessment thereof.
I know talking about business torpedoes any and all romance, but you need to figure out why your book will sell. What hook will push it past the boundaries of ‘for fans of the band’? Why should money be invested in your idea?
Start now. Like today. The parameters of the pitch process, what with their samples and outlines, are more involved than they used to be, and allow authors a head start. But if you’re serious, you won’t rest on your laurels, waiting to hear back. The writing process inevitably takes way more time than you think it will, no matter how seasoned you are.
Even if you’re not writing during the wait, you should be doing legwork: gathering materials, developing contacts. It’s not a requirement to have access to the band you’re writing about, but it never hurts.
Transcribing any kind of interview will always take longer than you think it will, too.
If your pitch doesn’t get accepted, you can likely still have your work published someplace else, be it in print or online. This can only help your future prospects.
Add something to the conversation. Up above, I mentioned the Sex Pistols as The Band Who Did It For Me. Their absence in the series is, at first glance, very conspicuous. But after that first glance it makes sense.
I used to spend my lunch periods in the library of Concord High School, looking through microfilm for any fragment of information on the band. That’s how it used to be, pre-internet – I didn’t have the cash to buy the imported books about them, and I wanted to know all I could, so I was left to my own devices. In the 20+ years since then, there have been umpteen books about the Sex Pistols, magazine articles, films. And they’re all available easily online.
In 2014, I’m not sure there’s any need for another book about the Sex Pistols, any more than there’s a need for another book about, say, the Beatles. What more can be said about them at this point?
Consider this as you pitch. Up above, I mentioned an invisible line of importance. The line extends in the other direction, as well. Bands and artists who have been written about to death might have audiences, but because they’ve been so extensively researched and discussed, finding a new angle might be a challenge.
Scott Tennent’s book about Slint’s “Spiderland” is a fanstatic example: prior to its publication, the band’s history was largely a thing of rumor and innuendo. Tennent’s book is well-researched and –sourced, and does a great job not only putting the band’s work into context, but establishing a timeline and history for its release and subsequent impact. Touch and Go’s imminent deluxe re-release of the album, and Lance Bangs’ forthcoming documentary film on the band will continue the conversation.
Money should not be a motivating factor? Most potential authors haven’t been concerned about the monetary aspect of pitching the series. A few have, though. Let me tell you straight: there are way better way to make money than writing a book about an album. Don’t get me wrong here: the opportunities I have been afforded have been worth more than any advance, and I’m extremely grateful for them. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking book sales = $. The royalty rate is 10% of net, which is around $1.50 per book – unless the sellers get volume discount (think Amazon and their ilk here), at which point it goes down to 50% of 10% of net.
My book was published in 2007, and is solidly in the middle of the League Table, which ranks all the entries in the series by sales. I expect my advance to be paid off sometime in 2017, if the current rate of sales continues.
Bloomsbury has changed the way authors get paid: advances are no longer offered (except under special circumstances). This means you’ll get checks after your book is published, rather than waiting, as I am, to sell enough books to pay down what you owe. If you have a steady job, this shouldn’t be a problem; it might be if you work on spec or freelance for a living.
Avoid the spectacle. When I pitched the series it was because I saw a hole in it I thought I could fill. I had no idea that there was a level of spectacle that accompanied the process: I simply wrote to then-editor David Barker, asked how to submit an idea, and followed his guidelines.
There’s hype on the series blog, what with its lists of proposals, shortlists, and (especially) commenters. Thank goodness I had no idea these things existed: it’s nerve-wracking enough to pitch without considering all the other people who have also submitted. Hell, the sheer volume of proposals is enough to stagger, to say nothing of finding out that multiple people have pitched your band/album . No good will come of obsessing after you’ve finally submitted: if anything, the endless feedback loop will make it harder. Dip in at your own risk.
Have fun. Seriously, what could be better than researching and writing on your favorite record? Don’t stress out about it too much. Have a good time. Hopefully things will work out. If they don’t…
Nothing personal. If you don’t get accepted, move on. Pitch again next time, either with the same proposal or with another one. You will know the process, which will make the next time easier.
I hope all this helps. If you have questions I haven’t addressed, or comments, feel free. Good luck!
Michael T. Fournier
(link to image here: http://www.roozecentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/security.jpg)
Another Casualty of War
There are no men
standing by the fireplace, no rats
racing across the ceiling, no enemy
invading the house or the yard.
It is the illness, they tell me;
the illness, I tell my mother
until she can barely stand
the sound of the word, until
neither of us can speak
it again. It has taken him
from her, ripped him from me,
from reality. He awakens,
screaming go for cover!
searching for his shotgun,
while mom whispers into the phone,
begging my brother: come quick,
he has a knife.
By the time his son arrives,
my father is asleep again.
We can all pretend
it’s peaceful; still
his legs keep running.
it is always the curves, the swerve along ess, the choice to follow road, not head into the Strait; decide (always a millisecond of space between gas and brake): straight ahead (eyes lock forward through rails and woods), crash down cliffs and settle into estuaries or rivers that turn around beds (but by then you’d be at your end); a choice — single straight mark dotted by death; body tense and determined betrayed by a thought of road beyond curve, a question that forces the foot gently left
Rooze works across multiple medias and genres and often spills one onto the other. As someone who lives predominantly in liminal spaces — in borderlands and hybrid identities — she is drawn to creative works that also occupy those spaces, works that do not fit neatly into the expectations of genre. Her ongoing exploration of liminal texts can be found at blurringtheline.org and her weekly Field Notes on writing can be read at http://www.roozecentral.com
Book punx unite! Saturday 3/8/14 at Flywheel, Easthampton MA
Review: “Elastic Smile,” by Great Western Plain
Molly and Leopold Bloom, at the end of Ulysses, curled up in the bed all yin-yang style amidst a mess of kicked-off covers, after Joyce has put the reader through the wringer of shifting styles and narrative tones.
That book was a slog, often infuriating, yet it’s still considered one of the greats. This leads, of course, to the question: What do we want as an audience? I wonder about it sometimes, as I talk to my classes about music, or try to. By turn, they either have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention something I think is obvious or surprise me when the obscure gags I think I’m making for my own amusement somehow work. AC/DC flies over their heads, but Gainesville pop-punk sticks. I can’t figure it out.
I think it has something to with the way we listen to music. It’s fragmented into videos, ringtones, whatever, and then, in optimal cases, reassembled – either that or it’s just aped. Sometimes it’s with purpose and intention, others it’s just because “hey, I bet we can do ________.” You know this.
Both have pros and cons, certainly. And make no mistake: I love seeing few-and-far-between bands that sound like Boys Life or whoever. I ‘ve listened to all the bands playing in the emo revival looking for credible swipes of my late-90’s, pre-Dashboard rustbelt favorites. But I’m coming to understand that the same criteria still apply now as did in the past: it’s way more fun, and more rewarding, to follow trajectories rather than always looking for the New Thing.
This review comes in a week where Brick Mower’s stuff is getting some prerelease buzz, and Mark Kozelek is finding another peak in his twenty-five year cycle. It’s great: already six weeks into the year and awesome new records are popping up at a manageable-but-intense rate (or is it the other way around?). It’s nice, too, that bands I like are involved, because ultimately, despite the contentmongers and Upworthy hooks and screaming demands for clicks, this is all about conversation. The generalist in me tries to keep half an eye on everything so that I can talk to far-flung friends in bars about the latest flame, but what I really want to do is argue about the way things have evolved (rather than the way things have changed – there’s a difference).
So the fourth official release by Portland ME’s Great Western Plain fit right into this conversation: their career (though they would probably never call it that) scattered across boring miles of highway and and umpteen other bands, is easily recognizable as self-contained even as it shifts. There’s Tim’s guitar tone, which is both inviting and every bit as brittle as that Lloyd-y bit in “Kidsmoke,” and there’s Tony, who musta sank cash into both drumhead stock and supernumerary research for all the ferocity with which he pounds away back there, and there’s Mikey P with basslines conjured straight outta WMA, a fleece dream (see what I did there?) of Dinosaur and Sebadoh.
But there’s the progression, too, despite the familiarity. Their first one (1), “Moustache Eye Patch,” was shambly and seemingly held together by so much duct tape and the centripedal force of accelerating ideas, a less smug “Wowee Zowee.” From there it was the primal scream therapy of “Don’t Cook Off The Alcohol” to this past summer’s “Lure and Kitsch/Flutter And Slack,” which refined their pop process and shed some of the earlier tropes – Tim, for one, abandoned (or perhaps stepped out from behind) the nasal twang of the previous recs, now (really) singing in a breathy, direct drawl.
Turns out that the summer’s terse pop gems were just the hook, the lure into the suckerpunch foreshadowed by the “Youth of America”-ish sprawl of December’s (wait for it…) “Wipers” single. “Elastic Smile,” as is turns out, works to both negate and reinforce the previous records: the familiar tones and extra limbs and fuzz are all still there, but with different intent. This is announced right up front in “Thom,” perhaps a nod to the departed (to New York) guitarist of the late, lamented Whip Hands: twelve minutes influenced as much by the holy trio of Faust, Neu! and Can as by any of the previously namedropped acts. Sure, this is recognizably the same Great Western Plain (2), but hold it up against “Alcohol,” say, and the difference is staggeringly declared: we were there, and it was cool, but now we’re here – deal with it (3).
Not to say there’s no hooks here –the twentysomething riot of “Buhrlynn in a Rainy Day” is rife with ‘em, both vocally and musically, and the fourth-floor walk-up “Lights are Loud” is a yeastie swagger, to name two. And not to say it’s change for the sake of it. These records document purpose and intention. They’re part of the band’s evolution, incessant and honest, as they ingest and synthesize ideas. It’s no coincidence that a bassline which sounds not entirely unlike a break from the Minutemen’s “Glory of Man” ends the record – if you’re listening closely, you’ll recognize it as the same bassline that begins “Thom.” You know that trick, right? “Double Nickels” uses it. So does “Infinite Jest.” It’s commitment to progression, a Mobius strip: Molly and Leopold Bloom, at the end of Ulysses, curled up in the bed all yin-yang style amidst a mess of kicked-off covers, after Joyce has put the reader through the wringer of shifting styles and narrative tones.
Michael T. Fournier
2/14/2014 @ The Candy Barrel, New Brunswick, NJ
2/15/2014 The Holy Undergroundnderground, Baltimore, MD
2/16/2014 @ Nacho House, West Phily, PA
2/17/2014 @ The Dunes Washington, DC
2/19/2014 @ The Silent Barn Brooklyn, NY
2/20/2014 Kristina’s World, Providence, RI
2/21/2014 @ Hotel Vernon Worcester, MA
2/22/2014 @ The Monkey House Winooski, VT
2/23/2014 @ The Whitehaus Family Record JP, Boston, MA
Cabildo Quarterly seeks short fiction submissions.
We’re looking for previously unpublished literary stuff, up to 3000 words, for our broadsheet journal and/or webpage.
We’re not crazy about genre submissions, fantasy, or sci-fi. We are interested in flash fiction, literary fiction and weird, innovative stuff.
Send your submissions to cabildoquarterly [nospamnospam123] at the gmail.
It starts in bud, the false willow,
tender as the babies the tomcat got.
He lined them up on my doorstep
like toy soldiers, throats slashed.
Because they were so tiny,
I thought of paper cuts, insult’s welling sting.
I put them in a paper sack for drowning
down the black well of a garbage bin.
Then I dug a grave from mica earth,
my shovel scraping permafrost.
Too early for flowers. Too late for nests.
I didn’t wash my hands for a day.
I left gritty new moons in cheese
eaten straight from cellophane,
snapped salt crackers like bones.
In the season that breathes too heavily,
earth shaken from nightmare.
Days are longer; light weak.
Tea light, tea leaves, the rotten mulch of spring.
I miss my layers, mornings when essential cold
pulled my hood tight as an arrow slit,
mummified my face with a scarf.
Eyelashes caked white with constant sorrow.
Now the birds return like old enemies,
croaking some impossible excuse.
She left a carrot streaked with earth,
freshly pulled—no, a muddy spade
held upright by an inch of dirt.
She might not have heard him
if she’d been digging. Might not
have surprised him in the kitchen,
a backpack gaping with electric toys
slung over his shoulder. He got
to her knife-drawer first.
She had her gardening gloves on
when they found her, arms spread
to protect her speckled floor
from stains pooling on her chest.
The back door was swinging.
What is set in motion cannot rest.
Pale bamboo shoots in the ground
measuring where to dig next.
Last summer’s ties, white rags
on the rusty fence. A few spikes
of April grass and her purple
tulip, one petal poised to fall.
Angele Ellis’s work has appeared on a theatre marquee (after winning Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ G-20 Haiku Contest in 2009), in journals and periodicals (including GreySparrow, Mizna, Grasslimb, THEMA, Shine, Encyclopedia Destructica, Pittsburgh City Paper, and yawp), and in anthologies—Come Together: Imagine Peace (Bottom Dog Press), Natural Language (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh), Make it So (Hyacinth Girl Press), and Carlow University Press’s Voices from the Attic series. Look for more of her work in a forthcoming print edition of Cabildo Quarterly.
I tried everything in my formative music years. No, not like that – get your mind out of the gutter. What I’m talking about here is styles, genres. My fanzine reading, the real entrée into punk rock, was as broad as I could make it – it was cheaper, after all, to read zines than to buy records blind as we waited for bands to come to New Hampshire (or tried to bum rides to Boston). Sometimes it was consensus amongst the swath, or sometimes it was some trusted arbiter throwing out a recommendation. Get burned a few times and pull names from the list; hit a few out of the park and keep reading.
You know it goes: listening, after a time, becomes vetting. Screaming no, time changes yes, melody please. The sweet spot, the wheelhouse, is hard to pin down, but it’s there. Or was there, anyway – the very specific brand of band that makes me sit up and say “this is exactly it,” I thought, was exclusively a thing of the past. Or so I thought until this band Minutes blipped across my radar screen. Goddamn.
The specifics of what makes this band so good are many. This is cerebral music, certainly, but the band is unafraid to wear many hats: “In Your Own Fuel” is a straight-charging, four-on-the-floor pounder, all party rock and cymbals, widened in scope by dual vox and a subtle guitar line sneakily snaking behind it all. This duality is at work throughout the rec: Minutes knows, and loves, the vocal trick where the sung vocals are deadpanned while the backing vocals are shouted, behind, in a higher pitch for extra emphasis, as in “Boxes.” “I’ve Learned To Roll,” manages to play simultaneously languid and taut thanks to a guitar line which wouldn’t sound out of place on the Instrument soundtrack. “All Is For The Best” feels like Sonic Youth suddenly unconcerned with distortion or alternate tunings. And “Raise Our Fists Up!” Seriously one of the songs of the year all year: anthemic without being an anthem, tight dueling guitars forming notes where there are none, and that abrupt end, another trick the band knows and loves – get in, say it, and get out. (Minutes – get it?) If you hear some DC in your Kalamazoo, you’re right, as Ryan Nelson, he of Most Secret Method, one of my favorites, is here.
The only negative here is that the band has been around for a while, and I missed them. Don’t make the same mistake.
Michael T. Fournier/cabildoquarterly.tumblr.com
The crescent moon shaped scar
on my thumb shows a sliver
of lighter skin between the dark.
My brother’s pocket knife slipped
beneath my skin just above
the knuckle and below the nail.
Blood flowed over the rusted blade
warming the metal, welcoming
it into my body, making room.
I pass it on to my younger brother,
dreading the day when his blood
streaks the blade, and he gets a scar
that mirrors mine.
My Story in the Key of A Minor
I made sugar cube castles, then coated
them with mother’s hairspray to ward off ants.
I ate crackers smeared with grape jelly
on the front porch, listening to silence.
Do you know the sound the train makes as the track curves,
wheels screaming against the railing?
I was a student of music, learning every instrument
I could, searching for my melody.
I touched the velvet dresses on my porcelain dolls
rubbing them back and forth between my fingertips.
At night, I read to my brother and sister, huddled
under a blanket on the bathroom floor, with a flashlight.
I wore books on every inch of my body,
waiting to feel safe again between the binding.
The most beautiful sound I heard was the rushing
of waves toward me out of the blackness.
Christina Mock lives and teaches in Texas where she recently relocated after her graduation from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program in January 2012.
Hurricanes of Love: “Quintorian Blues” 2x LP (Feeding Tube Records)
You can’t blame me for being initially skeptical of the Hurricanes of Love.
I first encountered HoL when I went to a house show a few days after I painted the name of my 80’s throwback hardcore band — in Crass-y stencil letters —onto the back of a leather jacket I got in the mid-nineties. My bandmates were playing there in one of their other bands.
I was the oldest dude there, easy. The whole place, this cavernous house, was full of kids giving me the eyeball, even in the room with like eight mattresses stacked vertically against the wall. One of the first interactions I had was with this kid in a wheelchair, who rolled up to me and pulled on my sleeve to tell me he liked the band on the back of my jacket (which, at that point, had not released anything), saying that they sounded like Reagan Youth.
So, it was with both eyeball and obvious bullshit in mind that I stuffed myself into a tiny room with thirty or forty other people to watch the first of like nine bands that night (my friends playing seventh, in the basement underneath where we stood, four or five hours afterwards), except the band, Hurricanes of Love, was just this guy, with long hair and a Gandalf beard, who fingerpicked like crazy and sang songs about smoking weed on the Appalachian Trail (except he didn’t say he smoked weed– he ‘puffed pounds’ ). He was one of those guys who liked to insert extra syllables into words for no reason –side of friz-ies, hold the miz-ayo – and referred to everything as being gangsta or holy or psychedelic of off the chiz-ain (When my friends arrived, they asked Frank where to park, for example, and he said ‘go down the road, and take your first holy left’).
There were songs in his delivery, to be sure, but he was kinda making stuff up as he went along, too. More bullshit, in other words. But charming as hell. At first, I stood there, trying to figure out what to think about the dude playing, the party, the whole thing.
Nobody in the room moved for as long as the dude played. I thought it would be a long fifteen minutes, half-hour, whatever it was to be. But there was a song early on in the set, ‘Waterfall,’ which did it for me. Frank was a great guitarist – equal parts ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ and John Fahey –and his singing, though occasionally reaching for and not hitting the right note, was pretty amazing as he freaked out at the song’s crescendo, hollering and kinda growling WATERFALL with such sincerity that the only thing to do was buy it, the whole thing. Then everyone wandered off to the kitchen, the mattress room, the basement, where other bands played. My friends and I retreated outside to holler WATERFALL and giggle and look over our shoulders to make sure he wasn’t standing behind us. By the third or fourth band, everyone was gone to some other show in the neighborhood.
And since then, me and my friends haven’t stopped talking about Frank and his Hurricanes of Love. No shit.
Leave it to the guy writing songs which purport to be Minor Threat to wonder if the bearded fingerpicker is milking a schtick, right? I think one of Frank’s best qualities as a performer is that despite the lingo, he allows listeners (or showgoers) to get over themselves, such is the strength of his performance and (yeah, I’m gonna say it) his energy: Frank is this dynamo of ebullient goodwill, just as his name suggests.
Since that show, I’ve followed Frank/Hurricanes of Love, reading all the press and missing every single one of his area shows (even the one in the same town as me, dammit!). I knew that he moved to Western Mass, but he’s never here because he’s on the road all the time, psychedelic gangsta pimp that he is, playing the most holy siz-ongs for all the people. The Western Mass connection is at the fore on ‘Quintorian Blues,’ though, released by the local wackos at Feeding Tube in Northampton.
Past HoL recordings have varied in sonic quality, which I don’t think has been that big of a deal: Frank’s songs sound good with background hiss, and they sound good, too, crisp, as they are throughout the four sides of ‘Quintorian Blues.’ Speaking of the name, there’s a lot of blues to be had here – Quintorian, Rich Mountain, Quartz, Lonely Mountain and Moses Lake varieties are here. There are several which are blues in the more traditional sense, with repeating musical phrases and sung vocals (rather than the rambly travelogues/most holy car trouble numbers, like ‘Winter Home’ and the side-spanning ‘Moses Lake Blues’). The variety works well: Frank’s an engaging and gifted storyteller, but I’m not sure this record would be as strong without prearranged/less improvisational aspects, which are here and stand well on their own.
So get over your most holy self, gangsta. Quintorian Blues is off the chain.
Michael T. Fournier