A Farewell to Sound Fix

I read today that the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix is closing down in mid-April. Given that I’ve spent a fair amount of time there — both at their original Bedford Avenue location and at their current space on North 11th Street — this hits home in a lot of ways. It would be an understatement to say that I’ve bought quite a bit of music there over the years. And during the days when they had a performance space, I saw more than a few fantastic events: an Alex Ross reading; fantastic acoustic sets from Scritti Politti and Oxford Collapse and Arthur & Yu. I put together a couple of events there as well — a benefit for the East River Music Project and a music-themed reading.

And here’s where, maybe, I start pontificating. If you click on the Gothamist link above, you’ll note that the first two words in the slug for the story are “dying breed.” And…I don’t know about that. Rather, I think that “record stores are dying” meme has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, at least in the northern Brooklyn area around Sound Fix, I don’t know if I’d say that record stores are dwindling. If you walk from Greenpoint down to, say, Metropolitan Avenue, your route will take you past a whole lot of record stores: Permanent Records and Record Grouch and Co-Op 87 and Sound Fix and Academy Annex and Earwax. It’ll also take you past the original location of Heaven Street, before they relocated to Bushwick. And I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Rough Trade isn’t still planning to open a store somewhere in Williamsburg — all of which leads me to think that, at least in certain neighborhoods, finding a record store isn’t hard.

That said, this quote from Sound Fix’s James Bradley, in the Gothamist piece, suggests the complexities of the issue — and, probably, will point some young economics writer to create a stunning analysis of North Brooklyn’s record stores in the future.

“We’ve been selling more and more vinyl, and I really thought for a period of time we could make it through just selling vinyl,” says Bradley. “But we kept running into the same problem: the record companies weren’t producing enough….”

As someone who’s been trying (to no avail) to find the new Nick Cave on LP at a record store in New York, I can see his point. Of the stores on my theoretical record-store pub crawl above, most have a sizable amount of used vinyl on sale. Finding a shop where I know that a particular LP is on sale isn’t always easy.

And, while I have good things to say about pretty much every indie record store in New York City, I’m going to miss Sound Fix tremendously.

New Zine Column, Four In

peppers

So I started a zine column at Vol.1 Brooklyn.

The first was about zines dedicated to Black Flag and Neutral Milk Hotel. (Not at the same time, mind you.) The second looked at zines made by members of Blessed Feathers and Case Studies. The third focused on the return of Rumpshaker and Chickfactor, and the fourth examined travel zines.

As of now, the column runs every other Thursday — though there are also certain features that this led me to that I’m not sure I’d have done otherwise. (My chat with one of the founders of the APRIL Festival, for instance.) Right now, it has me reading a lot more unexpected works; I’m curious to see where it’ll go from here.

Under a Volcano

Earlier this week, I took part in the Book Report Reading Series. And I read a report on Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. Just…maybe not the version you remember.

Under the Volcano was the first in what was was intended to be a trilogy. Lowry’s Over the Pond followed, with Just About Level With the Butte completing the trilogy, killing off two of the three students and elevating the third into a kind of superhuman being. The two books that follow — Inside the Wind and On a Diagonal From the Northeast Corridor — take as their main characters Dolores, the younger sister of the demigod Harrison; Robert, killed off in Just About Level With the Butte but resurrected with a robotic body; and the man-book hybrid Alfonso, an immortal being cursed with a condition that resembles, but is not actually, aphasia.

(It was a whole lot of fun.) Also, I might as well post this song, which is almost related, in that it mentions volcanoes.

On Laird Hunt

The first time I encountered a mention of Laird Hunt’s fiction was in The Believer — Rick Moody had written a glowing essay about his work, and (given my fondness for Moody’s writing) I was hooked. Not long after that, I read Hunt’s novel The Exquisite, which is both head-twistingly plotted and one of the best evocations of early-21st-century New York City I’ve read. (Much like Moody’s “The Albertine Notes” and Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City, Hunt’s use of surrealism to evoke that period of time seems like a wise choice.)

Hunt has a new novel out this year, titled Kind One. And in a new piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books, I looked at Hunt’s body of work with an eye towards what his latest novel might say about his progression as a writer.

Finding a label for Hunt’s six books isn’t easy; he juxtaposes pulp traditions, ambiguous narratives, and a fondness for referentiality in them, but never at the expense of being readable. His latest novel, Kind One, seems to be his most traditional — it’s set in a specific and distinct historical moment and features a linear narrative. But even here, Hunt’s eccentricities manifest themselves, leaving Kind One as an expansion of what his fiction is capable of achieving.

You can read the whole thing here.

The West

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Went out to Seattle and Portland. Saw good friends, bought some books & some records, and rediscovered the pleasures of wandering through a city at night, half-buzzed on too much coffee. I hope to be back out in that part of the world before long.

Cellists & Serendipity

Synchronicity is weird.

I recently read Paul Elie’s Reinventing Bach for a profile on Elie; it was there that I learned quite a lot about the life of the cellist Pablo Casals…

…who was in turn referenced in one of the stories in the Paris Review anthology Object Lessons, which I was also reading for an assignment. It was also in that anthology that I first encountered the fiction of Jane Bowles…

…who shows up repeatedly as a point of reference in Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, which I’m presently reading. Strange how these things line up…

Hair Metal & Writing Consultations

Potentially of note: the fundraising/pre-ordering campaign for Hair Lit now has a new bonus offered. For $20, one can get (along with your copy of the anthology) a consultation with one of several contributors to the anthology. Susannah Felts, BJ Hollars, Nick Ostdick, Ben Tanzer and I are all participating in this, so if you’ve ever wanted to talk short fiction with me over Skype, now’s the time…

Getting Retro

I’m happy to announce that I have fiction in the second edition of Joyland Retro. Specifically, the story “An Old Songwriter’s Trick,” which appeared on Joyland a few months ago. If the first edition is any indication, this will be a handsomely-designed print edition; if you’d like to order it at a discount, you can do so here, with the code 9HK4J57J.

Thoughts & Questions After Reading John Brandon’s “A Million Heavens”

Not long ago, I read John Brandon’s novel A Million Heavens and later wrote a short review of it. Brandon’s novel is a sprawling, complex work; there’s less of an overarching plot than a series of intertwined subplots that eventually reach a satisfying point of convergence. Writing said short review wasn’t easy: this is not a book that lends itself well to neat summaries. I could probably have written two thousand words on it without losing stride; it’s a book that occasionally recalls some of Robert Altman’s more sprawling efforts, and its conclusion serves as a neat payoff for its numerous winding threads.

And yet, reading it, I did find myself with a couple of questions that I didn’t have space to bring up in the review. Ergo…

  • A now-dissolved cult band figures heavily into the structure of the book; one former member of the band spends the novel in the afterlife, while his former bandmates feud over their musical legacy. At times, they seem to tap into a sort of contemporary suburban angst; at others, they seem so strange and iconic that easy descriptions don’t seem to fit. Arcade Fire meets Sun City Girls, maybe?
  • There are references to home cassette recordings made in the novel, though the book’s setting is contemporary. I don’t know many home recordings these days that aren’t done on computers — is this meant to be a sign of one character’s economic straits? Is it a mark of stylization?
  • There’s a reference to “Nevers” in the book — is Brandon making a reference to the film Hiroshima Mon Amour, where a Nevers reference is prominent?

Bringing the “Homeric Detail” at Manhattan Inn

Sign denoting the writers’ table.

Last week, I read at Manhattan Inn with Karolina Waclawiak and James Yeh. The event was the first installment of Hearken, a new series started by John McElwee. It was a pleasure taking part in this event alongside Karolina and James, as both are remarkably nice folks whose work I also enjoy reading. And delivering one’s work in the round made for an interesting and unique experience.

And now, Kai Tammoh at Electric Literature‘s fine blog The Outlet has posted a recap. For the record, I will gladly accept the adjective “Homeric.”