Rock Gods #389: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Saying is One Thing Paying is Another put its money where its mouth (and instruments) were, Thursday at the Bullfinch. The indie side project, which has eclipsed The Casterbridges band from which it grew, held a fundraiser for what the band calls “New Bold Ideas in Audio.” Simply put, they want some enterprising person to build them a new amp. (They’ve been borrowing one, and the owner’s moving several states away.) Presenting this as an intellectual and social challenge made for an innovative Finch gig. The between-song patter was a science-based pep talk. And by the end of it, seriously, a kid in the back of the room had run home and fetched an amp he’d been building for himself. It was experimented upon by the band in the alleyway behind the club after the show. Apparently there are kinks, but the wonders of Science prevailed, the universe has gained a new level of knowledge, and SiOTPiA has gained a new piece of equipment.

Tonight: CoCaLe—anagramatic for Couldn’t Care Less—don’t rehearse. In fact, they barely play. They just couldn’t… well, you know. Somehow they got a gig at Hamilton’s, home of slavish cover bands. This seems unmissable. … …except that’s there’s a “Frisk Fest” benefit at the Bullfinch to defray legal bills from a drug bust affecting a band whose lawyers would rather they weren’t making such a big deal of it. The show starts at 4 p.m. and features Dry Measure, Table of Paper, Capa City, W8, A Po and the Caries, Sir Face, Great Gross, 3 Knots and Perch of Stone. Yes, one of those bands got caught with dope. … No show at D’ollaire’s. Paying for its sins. …

Riverdale Book Review

The new Archie? So much to say. Not a botch. A workable new beginning. But I’m obsessed with shelf life. How long can any such reinvention last? We kind of know, thanks to the Archie “new look” series of a few years back, or the Life With Archie multiverse. A couple of years, probably, before the mix of drama and comedy gets consumed by the drama and continuity and loses the interest of anyone but the loyalest fans.

It’s not that I disapprove of bringing a classic character into the here-and-now. It’s just that I openly question something that works so well in short, colorful bursts and imposing such grand structure on it. Archie comics endured throughout the second half of the 20th generation in large part due to the comic ingenuity and rapidfire pacing of writers such as George Gladir and Frank Doyle and artists such as Stan Goldberg, Dan DeCarlo and Harry Lucey. This new Archie isn’t taking cues from them. It ought to, for longevity’s sake.

Scribblers Music Review

The theme from the Saint TV show has been pervading the house for weeks, as I work through the new Shout Factory box set of the series. This is the most complete Saint set ever offered in the U.S., with nearly 40 episodes from the third and fourth season available here on DVD for the first time. I love the show (and the Leslie Charteris books which begat it) for its variety, adventurousness, worldliness. I also love its Edwin Astley theme music, despite the fact that the same clips are used over and over and over. There’s always the same intro music, the same “discovery” music, the same fight-scene music (Saint fight scenes are like WWE ballets by thin men in nice suits). It could get overwhelming, annoying, repetitious. But the Astley theme, which interpolates a whistling melody created by Saint creator Leslie Charteris himself back in the 1930s, never grows tired for me. It’s emphasis, it’s underscoring, it’s soothing, it’s sensational and above all it’s Saintly.

Book Thoughts

Spent a morning with Sally (who’s now 11) at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison last week. We hadn’t been there in ages, though a few months ago I co-led a book tour of New Haven that R.J. Julia sponsored. When I told Sally she’d been there years ago to see a live theatrical presentation based on the Junie B. Jones chapter-books, staged in front of a schoolbus in the bookstore parking lot, Sal said she thought she’d dreamed that.

There is something dreamlike about R.J. Julia. It’s the kind of comfortable, clean, well-kept, fully stocked independent bookshop that existed in most East Coast suburbs throughout the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, but these days are as rare as, well, most things to do with the printed word.

Many bookshops were driven out of business by large retail book chains such as Borders and B. Dalton, which eventually went under themselves. The few that have persisted have earned every sale they make: they are attentive to customers’ needs, buy new stock carefully, diversify their offerings without undercutting their main purpose (R.J. Julia has non-book gift items and jigsaw puzzles) and sponsor events which bring in the community as a whole and don’t just target the same diligent regulars.

But, just as wisely, in this age of immediate online purposes of anything made under the sun, these stores know that they can’t be all things to all people.

I read something on Facebook recently about someone seeing a front-cover review in the New York Times Book Review and being unable to find the book at several different independent bookstroes. The intimation was that indie bookstores, by not stocking the Times’ noteworthies, are not doing their job and are thus complicit in their own extinction.

As a former bookseller myself, I disagree. Much as many indie bookstores (and record stores for that matter) would like to have ready copies of any and every book any potential customer might require, that’s simply not how the business works. When my small shop was around in the late 1980s—when you could still dream of making a go at such a career—the spate of New York Times-honored books were a snare and a delusion. The problem was the same then as now—bigger dealers had easier access to them, could buy them in greater quantities, could sell them (often at discounts greater than the profit margin—“loss leaders,” as they’re known) and didn’t mind remaindering them if they didn’t sell. Back then, it was the was the brick-and-mortar retail chains we were fighting. Now, it’s obviously Amazon, and in some cases the online presences of the publishers themselves.

Bookstore economics are largely concerned with shifting around large amounts of “credit” from publishers. The smaller you are, the tougher that is to do. Stocking every single book recommended by the New York Times is one way of distinguishing your shop, but you might be better off special-ordering those titles when requested and using your funds to develop a niche where you’re not in direct competition with major retailers. Besides, most independent bookshops are so small now that they couldn’t stock all the books mentioned in the Times if they wanted to. Most are too small to contribute to the sales reports that make up the Times bestseller lists, or to influence which books get continued press coverage. Independent bookshops don’t ignore the Times. They just have to carefully select the titles they know will have appeal to their regular clientele, and which might have a chance to sell if they’re still on the shelves after that issue of the Times Book Review has expired.

A well-curated stock of mysteries—or histories, or whatever genre suits the community—where customers learn to trust the tastes of the curator, can be worth much more in the longterm than a stack of Times-reviewed tomes where the recommendation has national but not necessarily local importance and in which the bookseller might have only casual interest.

When I was in Montreal last summer and expressed amazement to a native there that there were so many small bookshops in the city, he replied “It’s because Amazon doesn’t do a good job with French language books.”

You should not berate your poor local indie bookstore for not carrying the book you read about in the Times. Instead, investigate what they have on their shelves. It’s called browsing, it’s a lost art, and you don’t need a program or guidebook to participate.

Sally and I walked into R.J. Julia Booksellers last Thursday with no idea at all of what books we might buy, or if we might buy any at all. We were vaguely cognizant that (other daughter) Mabel needed the next book in one of one of the Rick Riordan new-myth series; we found what she needed at once, and Sal found two hardcover novels-for-kids for herself. We also got Chris Grabenstein novel (the whole family had enjoyed his Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library), a small book on hummingbirds (we’ve put up a feeder at home), Judd Apatow’s new collection of interviews with comedians, the autobiography of Alice Cooper Group bassist Dennis Dunaway, and a jigsaw puzzle. That’s as wide-ranging a bunch of books as I could possibly hope for in any decent small bookshop. (I browsed hundreds of contemporary novels and classics, but held off buying any of those simply because I’ve got a huge backlog of fiction to plow through at home.)

The next day I was in downtown New Haven, and felt guilty about not buying books even more locally. So I went into Atticus on Chapel Street. There, I picked up Mark Adams’ Meet Me in Atlantis, which has been unavailable at the public library for weeks, and a book I didn’t think I wanted, but realized upon browsing it that I very much did: A. Brad Schwartz’s admirably even-handed and well-researched Broadcast Hysteria—Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News.

I don’t let some media talk me out of appreciating other media. I can be distracted, but I make an effort to maintain balance. Books are real, a foundation of my home and life. R.J. Julia and Atticus (and many many other shops) are not to be walked idly by. They are of a fundamentally different character than websites and catalogues, and should be embraced for their knowledge, their sense of community and their unique attachment to the wonders of the written word.

Rock Gods #388: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Words from Albean has some ferocious fans. The followers meet weekly in the back of an antique shop to discuss the band’s latest doings. If this seems excessive for a local act, know that WFA are also gamers. They work intricate clues for secret fantasy missions into many of their songs, and especially into their between-song patter. The band plays once a month at Worst Shop, the free-stuff storefront behind one of the College on the Hill dining halls. Words from Albean occasionally gets other gigs—the Bullfinch next Thursday, with Hysterical Ghost—but strangely enough, those shows haven’t been mandatory for the faithful in the same way that the Worst Shop ones are.

“As much as we’d like all our fans to be at every show,” explains Xan ManGod (Words from Albean’s Main Orator), it seems like too much to ask to make them pay whatever the cover is at all these clubs.”

That may change with the WFA cult subsidy, which has been proposed and openly discussed at the Worst Shop meetings. A gaming fee, as well as proceeds from certain band merch (felt crowns, perhaps) will be pooled so that a crowd of gamers can attend local Words from Albean shows as a group outing.

The band is obviously psyched, though the pressure is on. “We’ve only been together about a year, and we’re lucky to be asked to play a lot of shows. We’ve only had to worry about writing quest clues for the Worst Shop ones. Now we might be doing it at every show. Plus maybe not all the audience is into it.

We shall see. Or, as they say in the back of the Worst Shop, “You have not yet the vision to know.”

Tonight: Great Gross at the Bullfinch… 3 Knots at Hamilton’s… An Evening with WD40 at D’Ollaire’s, 8 p.m. (Oily show!)

Riverdale Book Review


As mural-forming puzzles go, the six collectible issues of Archie #666 leave a bit to be desired. They only vaguely match up thematically, and not at all in terms of of angles or perspectives or being able to see the characters’ feet. Also, given that this is the last issue of a certain phase of the Archie flagship title, why are the covers a celebration of the extended Archie ensemble and not of just Archie? After all, Betty and Veronica and Jughead and Reggie and Kevin have all had their separate starring titles, none of which is currently in print (though the joint Betty & Veronica title is still going strong, and the end of the Jughead hiatus is nigh). And some of those minor characters depicted here never actually made it into the Archie title.

On the other hand… Hey! Fireworks!