A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Friday, June 30, 2006

A little more Bee Thousand

I'm really enjoying the Guided by Voices book that we're working on at the moment. So much so that another short extract couldn't do any harm, right?

***

It’s tempting to make a myth out of the Guided by Voices story, to turn the reality (like any reality always more messy and vibrant than the tale that recounts it) into a by-the-numbers rise-to-glory narrative. But that would belie what Guided by Voices was — and, in doing so, betray what makes their music — and particularly Bee Thousand — worth caring about. The elements are all there to shore up a tall tale: the rise to a lofty place in the indie rock firmament on the wings of purity and passion; the decade or more toiling in obscurity on art that recommends itself as a fit occupation for its makers only at the 11th hour; the workings of a rare inner compulsion so strong it’s hard not to ascribe to it the language of legend rather than allowing it to remain at its real, strange potency; the miraculous turn when labor and compulsion are rewarded with buzz and love and listeners.

Given that all of the plot-points above are true enough, it would be easy to translate this version of the facts into a pretty story with Bee Thousand as epiphany, the work of "genius" finally finding a place in the world where its creators never expected to make a ripple let alone a splash. In a sweet and creamy version of this feel-good plot there follows the devotion of People Who Matter, the awe of musicians whom the band holds in awe, the adulation of a rock polloi who see themselves reflected in some "average" and "old" guys gone gold (or its underground approximation), or more charitably — and probably more truly — the adulation of people who simply loved what they heard.

But, however true they appear to be, these are the elements that tempt the truth to stray in order to fill a formula. The thing is, there’s nothing formulaic about Guided by Voices’ music or their move from invisibility to relevance, a trajectory along which the release of and response to Bee Thousand is, unmistakably, an event, but not an easily contained one. Call it a Fourth of July for the skeptical citizens of some rock and roll county of the uncool, where dangerous home-made fireworks explode in stunted, asymmetrical shapes over the outskirts of a city in view of anyone looking up instead of gazing at his or her shoes. It’s an American tale of triumph, sure enough, but one, if we resist the temptation to make it a blockbuster, that has more to do with a vision of native self-reliance, one full of contrary impulses and willful individuality, rather than homogenized product or lowest-common-denominator marketability. Under the story, untouched by the story, is a music that’s explosive, revelatory, playful, off-color, aggressive, tender, untamed — and a manifestation of what makes real art work, mean something, move us.

10 comments:

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Nik said...

Can't wait to read this one. Enjoyed Jim Greer's recent book on the band but it felt more about the "scene" and less about the creative process behind some of their works... "Bee Thousand" is easily in my top 5 album ever and deserves a closer look.

Anonymous said...

jaysus man... slow down with the adjectives, asides, adverbs and general thesaurusery. i like the subject matter, but don't make it awkward to read

Anonymous said...

i agree with the previous comment. hopefully, the rest of the book is better than the intro. the language is distracting.

Anonymous said...

Downscale the lingo, baby! You definitely gotta have more use of "shit" and "fuck" in the book - that's more Dayton, ya know? And Dayton *is* B1000.

You think any of us can understand this -- "It’s an American tale of triumph, sure enough, but one, if we resist the temptation to make it a blockbuster, that has more to do with a vision of native self-reliance, one full of contrary impulses and willful individuality, rather than homogenized product or lowest-common-denominator marketability."??

Why not just write...."When Toby got that 4-track, Bob would call him day and night and say 'Tobe, I gotta come over and record something - ya got time?'" BAM! Tractor Rape fuckin' Chain babee!

Not from Dayton,
A. Fan

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the other comments. That extract was crap. Don't over-intellectualize the most kick ass record ever. I'll be pissed if that book throws around empty 100 dollar words as easily as that last paragraph just did. You're gonna kill the magic behind GBV if you try to intellectualize it like a sophomore pysch major. GBV is the everyman's band. Not the snobbish, trendy indie rock intelligentsia's band. Shit yeah, it's cool.

-O.B.Joyful

Morgan Daniels said...

Oh, fuck off the lot of you. I for one am glad that the Bee Thousand book is being written by someone worthy, someone who can actually string five fucking words together. You're really doing yourselves no favours at all by complaining about it being too wordy.

Anonymous said...

I just finished the Beatles Let It Be 33 1/3 book and must say that it was so fun to read--academic, but not bogged down, with an excellent fluid storytelling feel-- that I was a little disappointed to read the two excerpts from the Bee Thousand book. I hope these are not characteristic of the writing style used during essential plot points. Maybe the dude cashes his thesaurus for the heartfelt wordy intro and gets concise during the meaty parts.

scott walker said...

the fact that B000 is my number one album ever allows me to simply appreciate someone dedicating an entire book to the genious of this recording. big words or not, i'm gonna hold judgment until i actually read the book. imagine that.

Anonymous said...

The complaint about "$100 words" is pretty hilarious, considering the subject of the book. Bob Pollard throws wads $100 words from second storey windows! OK, the writing style in these samples is overwrought, but I think these two passages are getting at the truth: the record, and so much of Pollard's work is very much about memory and meaning-making. Woodworth doesn't use the word here, but I've felt that Pollard is one of the most deeply religious rockers ever. Definitely antinomian, but religious nonetheless. I'm looking forward to reading the full book.

- jakemorocco