Tobias Carroll writes fiction and nonfiction. He's the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn, and his work has recently appeared in Tin House, Midnight Breakfast, The Collapsar, The Collagist, Joyland, Necessary Fiction, and Underwater New York. He recently completed a short novel, and is at work on another.
I’ve just started Calvin Tomkins’s Lives of the Artists, which opens with a profile of Damieb Hirst. Reading it, I was amused to find that I had apparently attended Hirst’s first solo show in New York. (I realized the artist was Hirst a few years later; I hadn’t realized the significance, though.) This wasn’t, mind you, because I knew anything about art. No; this was because a friend was working next door to the gallery at the time (1996, to be exact), and told me, “You have to check this out! There’s a cow chopped in half–it’s fucked up.” Out of such things is an appreciation of contemporary art born, apparently.
Every once in a while, this blog dozes off for a spell. Especially with Vol.1 around, as I end up being able to transmit a lot of my weird pop-culture theorizing over there. Still, I like having this site around, and for reasons outside the simple “it gives me somewhere to link things I’ve written.” I’m getting a pretty good idea of what I’d like to do with this, but that first big post (which may well get ranty; I know not, as of yet) requires a bit more time to get right. So for now: a photograph of caffeine. More soon.
In the next month and change, I’ll be taking part in three readings.
On Tuesday, April 10th, I’ll be at Public Assembly as part of Vol.1’s Greatest 3-Minute Punk Stories event, talking about the time I went into the studio with my friend’s powerviolence band to record backing vocals for them. (Spoiler: hilarity, as well as an audio clip that’s become several friends’ ringtone, ensued.)
And on Friday, May 18th, I’ll be at Book Thug Nation along with Michael T. Fournier (author of the novel Hidden Wheel and the 33 1/3 on Double Nickels on the Dime), Mike Faloon (editor of the terrific zine Go Metric and author 0f The Hanging Gardens of Split Rock), and Michael DeCapite. I will do my best to represent all writers whose names are not some variation on “Michael.”
[So: I'm on a listserve for contributors to Dusted, and we've been taking turns posting things about artists we're fond of. This was my contribution, which I figured I'd post here.]
Eventually, I’ll talk your ear off about The Spinanes. For the most part, when I say TheSpinanes, I’m talking about the original lineup: Rebecca Gates on vocals and guitar, Scott Plouf on drums. (The albums Manos and Strand; the singles collected on the EP The Imp Years.) But really, I’m also fine with talking about the version of the band that recorded the last full-length made under that name, Arches and Aisles — essentially, Gates and a host of Chicago post-rock types, several of whom would also show up on her sole solo effort to date,Ruby Series. (There’s also a 7″ of Rolling Stones covers that’s utterly fantastic; if memory serves, Ted Leo was a touring Spinane for a little while,. though I never got to see that lineup.) But — I’m getting ahead of myself.
I went to a show at the Westbeth Theater Center in 1996, where The Spinanes played on a bill with Versus and Elliott Smith. I’d heard some good things about them from friends. I was in my second semester of college then, and was probably at my most musically intolerable: lots of straight-edge hardcore*, lots of crappy alt-rock. I cite the show as life-changing even though I don’t remember much about the bands that played — I think Smith was the artist on that bill that was the most musically striking to me. It did lead me to pick up Strand a day or two later, though, and…
…I can’t quite explain just what it is that makes me love this album. The Gates/Plouf duo sounds tight and fantastic; Gates’s lyrics are smart and blistering and delivered amazingly. It’s the sort of album that sounds fresh to me whenever I hear it: some new facet of an arrangement makes itself apparent; some new hook arises; some new lyric strikes me as amazing. I’m not sure exactly where I’d place it, but it’s a relatively constant presence on personal top 5 lists, something I can’t say for most records.
(Manos? Also terrific. Arches & Aisles? Totally worth it. Imp Years? Has “Hawaiian Baby,” for God’s sake.)
Also, one of these days, I’m going to post my circa-’98 interview with Gates (done for a piece for my college paper, and for my zine**). I did get to chat with her about a year ago, and saw her at Europa last summer. Still highly, highly recommended.
*-i.e. to the point where musical talent ran second to how straight-edge you were. Remember the ’88 revival? I do! Oh, do I ever.
**-profile ran in the paper; full interview ran in the zine.
Many years ago, I ended up directing a video for a Seattle band called Crystal Skulls. (If you’re not familiar with the band in question and your tastes in music run towards pop with smart, occasionally biting lyrics, you could do far worse than checking out one of their two albums.) It was an interesting experience: it ended up falling into the category of videos that didn’t feature the band at all, and there were a couple of aspects of planning for the shoot that…well, let’s just say that I learned a couple of things for the next time I undertake such a project.
Where I’m going with this (hey, look: me digressing. Imagine that) is that singer/guitarist Christian Wargo now has a new band, Poor Moon; they have an EP coming out on Sub Pop in March. Admittedly, the guy’s been keeping busy: he’s also a member of an obscure folk-rock outfit called Fleet Foxes. But as a fan of his work as a songwriter, I’m glad to hear that this group exists. The MP3 that Sub Pop has up now? Also pretty catchy.
A couple of months ago, my friends Diehard were playing an afternoon CMJ show. The band following them had a less-than-enticing name: Diarrhea Planet. A couple of the folks from Diehard advised me to stick around, and I’m glad that I did: DP’s sound recalled a number of irreverent, anthemic punk bands I enjoyed listening to ages ago. Turns out theirs is a sound that one can appreciate just as much at 35.
When I first started thinking about doing a zine in the mid-90s, two of the zines that inspired me most were Rumpshaker and Anti-Matter*. And pretty much since late last month, I’ve intended to use that as a point to link pieces by the editors of each: Eric Weiss’s interview with Carrie Whitney on the followup to her excellent All About Friends compilation**, and Norman Brannon’s essay “The Death of a Music Writer: A 20-Year Exit Strategy.” It’s always a fine thing when the writers who said smart, inspirational things about music (and why you should care about music) seventeen years ago are doing it just as much today, you know?
*-the third critically important zine for me growing up was Trustkill, for the record.
**-which featured Botch covering “Rock Lobster,” which was utterly awesome. See above.
I’m re-reading Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City for one of the book groups I’m in, and I figured it might make sense to delve into Kevin Avery’s biography of Paul Nelson, Everything Is An Afterthought. (Robert Christgau points out in his review of Avery’s book that Nelson was the inspiration for Chronic City‘s Perkus Tooth.) So far, I’m through the first part of Nelson’s book — the biography takes up about 180 pages, and is followed by a collection of Nelson’s criticism. Highly recommended so far, though also heartbreaking, frustrating, sometimes triumphant, sometimes maddening.
Another Christmas finds me in scenic New Jersey, along with family, beagles, and a pair of Krampuses hanging from the tree. My reading material: Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (shades of years ago, where I’m pretty sure Needful Things was my Christmastime reading.) Here’s hoping the holiday season finds you well.
Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (Scribner)
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (Little, Brown and Company)
Vanessa Veselka, Zazen (Red Lemonade)
Justin Taylor, The Gospel of Anarchy (Harper Perennial)
Colson Whitehead, Zone One (Doubleday)
Nathan Larson, The Dewey Decimal System (Akashic)
Ellen Willis: Out of the Vinyl Deeps (University of Minnesota Press)
Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (Greywolf)
John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (Farrar Strauss & Giroux)
Jeff Sharlet, Sweet Heaven When I Die (W.W. Norton)
Lisa Wells, Yeah. No. Totally. (Perfect Day Publishing)
John Williams, Stoner (NYRB Classics) Alexander Chee, Edinburgh (Picador)
Barbara Comyns, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (The Dorothy Project)
Bruce Chatwin, On the Black Hill (Penguin)
Dennis Cooper, The Sluts (Da Capo)
Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn (Grove Press)
Michael Kimball, Us (Tyrant Books)
Michael Kimball, Dear Everybody (Alma Books)
Rick Moody, The Four Fingers of Death (Back Bay Books)
Paul Harding, Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press)
Anne Carson, Nox (New Directions)
I also picked up Temporary Residence’s Bitch Magnet collection the other week at Sound Fix, and am slowly making my way through that. I’ll admit that I’d known of the group primarily as Sooyoung Park’s pre-Seam band; so far, I’m enjoying exploring their discography, which is heading to some unexpected places. (It’s also prompting me to revisit Seam’s body of work, which is never a bad thing.)