IT'S WHO YOU KNOW 

Like a Record, Baby

Though it should come as no surprise to those of you who have endured my insufferable prose over the last few months, allow me make matters all the more translucent: I am not what you might call a "reader" of "books." You might think this a slight handicap in my line of work--as a "writer" of "words"--and in that thought you would be invariably correct. And while I will admit a certain respect for those with the patience to wade through volumes thick and fanciful, I don't envy them--as my crass lack of intellectual refinement allows me that much more time to read record reviews and listen to records. The rather frequent exception to the book rule, however, tends to surface when I have exhausted the information I can glean from record sleeves and the Internet--in which case I am prompted (read: forced) to indulge in nonfiction of the biographical variety.

It was in this desperation that I initially approached the 33 1/3 series--a collection of novellas Continuum Books began publishing way back in 2003. The books--22 in all, written by a variety of journalists (Steve Matteo, Michaelangelo Matos, Douglas Wolk, Mercury contributor Mike McGonigal), musicians (the Decemberists' Colin Meloy, Pernice Brother Joe Pernice, Nothing Painted Blue's Franklin Bruno, etc. ) and other notables--are titled things like Sign 'O' the Times and Let It Be to correspond with albums of some great personal importance to their particular authors. Moved (for reasons evident) to pick up a copy of Pernice's Meat Is Murder last year, I was taken aback to find not a dutiful exploration of Andy Rourke's drug habit, nor an exhaustive list of studio techniques and sessions, but instead, a sappy work of (gulp) teenage Fiction. Despite my professed aversion to literature's form as a whole, the book was relatively engrossing, at least enough to compel me through it in the window of a few hours. Furthermore, it introduced me to 33 1/3's compelling potential: a sort of open-ended editorial philosophy that welcomes the biographical, autobiographical, fictional, or any amalgam of the lot. In doing so, the series quietly breathes some life into the world of music fanaticism--thoughtful explorations of the power of music that, in length alone, transcend some of the vain self congratulations of folks like Greil Marcus and Nick Hornby. Sure, there's a good deal of indulgence within, but propelled and consumed by a mercurial obsession with single, specific articles as they are, the works feel more like an explosion of sincere, humbled appreciation than anything else. As with any such series, the results vary widely--but at roughly 115 pages per volume, the investment is more often than not justifiable. Hell, I can even finish them--and that's saying something.

Colin Meloy, Michaelangelo Matos, Douglas Wolk, and Mike McGonigal read and discuss their contributions to the 33 1/3 series Monday, Jan 10th at Powell's on Burnside, 7:30 pm.

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