A Giant Book Launch

(26 comments)

Right, lots to cover here. First of all, the final part of Alex and my guest-editing 33 1/3's blog is up, with me running over some videos of and about They Might Be Giants.

As this suggests, our book for the 33 1/3 series on They Might Be Giants' 1990 landmark Flood is now available for purchase. The Kindle edition looks to be, for some reason, held back until November 28th. Nobody tells me anything about these things or why. Further frustrating is that in the UK, print isn't available until January, although, oddly, you seem to be getting the Kindle edition in two weeks. There are no doubt sound reasons for this as well.

But enough about the details. Let's talk about this book. And then after I talk about it, I'll give two copies away.

Flood is, without being particularly autobiographical at all and with half of it written by someone else, probably the most personal book I've ever written. They Might Be Giants formed an absolutely massive part of my childhood cultural landscape, effectively plugging the gap between my flaming out of interest in Doctor Who come 1996 and the early stages of adulthood represented by college. They were the soundtrack to my middle and high school years.

Much of this had to do with their peculiar status as the quasi-official band of a summer camp for "gifted and talented" students that I went to. The camp, called CTY, was a three-week session in which you took a condensed eight-hour-a-day course, punctuated by a smattering of mandatory fun including a trio of weekly dances. Within these dances there was a canon of songs that absolutely had to be played somewhere in the event, culminating in the final song for every dance, Don McLean's "American Pie," a fact about which there is a ten thousand word essay just begging to be written.

CTY is an impossibly large experience for me. It marked the first time in which I was in any sort of social setting in which I was normal. Frighteningly so, at times. This necessitated a rather massive paradigm shift. And my experience was hardly unusual - indeed, Alex attended a few years before I did. The camp was also deeply leftist in terms of the leanings of its student population - there was a widespread protest against an administrative decision to forbid cross-dressing in 1997 - and an aggressively horizon-expanding experience. It is a carnivalesque experience for anyone whose usual social interactions are defined by the ever-present threat of bullying. That the age range in which one attends - 12-16 - coincides with puberty and interest in sex further adds to the strange and heady mix.

Returning to the dances, then, it is notable that They Might Be Giants had two songs in the canon: "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." No other band had two slots like that. No other band ever could. So let's freeze the image there. In a context in which hundreds of nerds encounter widespread social acceptance for the first time, overlapping with sexual awakening, come weekly dances - a particularly fast pace of them. They carry with them all the attendant social and romantic pressures of an ordinary high school dance, only at higher speed and intensity. And the album most directly associated with this intoxicating cultural cocktail of hormones and revised social order is They Might Be Giants' Flood.

Which brings us to the topic of the book: why?

The question, as asked, is not really one about me, simply because my experience is so utterly standard, nor even one about the limited world of CTY. There's a whole generation of geeks for whom Flood is, in effect, their version of The Queen is Dead. And this is true despite the fact that the album has no references to anything overtly a part of geek culture, the band largely dislikes the suggestion that they're icons of "nerd rock," and the band's background comes out of the postpunk New York "no wave" scene.

Our suggestion is that the album title is revealing here - that part of the band's appeal is their embrace of an aesthetic of flooding - of utter, unabashed excess. Those who recall the coverage of the 90s in TARDIS Eruditorum will note an entire section in the book about hedonism and paranoia that is familiar, right down to using The X-Files as a central text. But our suggestion is that by embracing the aesthetic of flooding at the precise moment that they did They Might Be Giants inadvertently aligned perfectly with a rising geek culture.

Which is to say that this is a book of interest to lots of you. It's a book about a particular 90s pop album, yes, but it's also a book about the rise of geek culture in the 90s and what that meant.

As befits its focus, the book's style is willfully discursive. It meanders through a massive number of topics, and Alex and I both took a perverse delight in squeezing in as many as possible. Hence the tone of our video promoting the book, which, in turn, brings us to our two book giveaway. First, the video, which I will note is very silly.


Second, a free piece of trivia, which is that in editing the video down we cut the following items: new wave, no wave, ocean waves, Super Mario Bros, Kings Quest V, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Now, then. To win a copy of the book from my nice little pile of complimentary copies, you simply have to do the following: pick one of the topics promised (including the six cut ones above) and guess in comments what it is we say about it in the context of Flood.

Two copies will be awarded. The first for the most impressively accurate guess. Impressiveness will in part be judged by being non-obvious. Guessing that we talk about fondue forks in the context of "Hot Cha" will earn you few points, while guessing that we talk about them as part of a larger argument about the influence of 70s Swiss erotica on the band... will still earn you few points because you'll be completely wrong, but is at least a noble effort.

Which brings us to the second copy, which will be given to the most entertainingly wrong guess. As befits discussion of They Might Be Giants, entertainment is not defined primarily by an attempt to be funny, but by an idiosyncratic seriousness. Which is to say, deliberately outlandish suggestions are not a ticket to success.

The contest remains open until Tuesday, and will be judged by my esteemed co-author, Mr. Alexander Reed.

Finally, a plea. If you like my work or are interested in this book, buy it and buy it early. These days books live and die by their initial sales. Beyond that, this is my first professionally published book, and sales on it will directly impact the ease with which I can sell future books to publishers.

Also, if you enjoy it, please, please, please review it on Amazon. The 33 1/3 series has a chronic problem where it gets bad reviews from people who expect books to be little more than extended Rolling Stone articles as opposed to the populist scholarship that they are. Please, help counterbalance that. (And if you liked A Golden Thread, that could really use some reviews too.)

Thanks, as always. I'll be launching yet another book in just a few more weeks - I'm typesetting it this week, and the cover is already basically done.

Comments

Chris 3 years, 7 months ago

Well at least the pre-order link for Kindle exists. Pre-ordered!

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Kevin Stafford 3 years, 7 months ago

And I just received my copy yesterday from Amazon!

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Champiness 3 years, 7 months ago

Based on the nature of the frying pan line in "Particle Man", and your previously stated conjectures about what that song might mean, I'd say "what it's really like to get hit with a frying pan" will have something to do with the negative ramifications of living in the geek culture that TMBG reflects, or perhaps just living outright - a sort of "dark night of the soul" for the book.
Of course, it could also just be about the history of slapstick comedy.

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matt bracher 3 years, 7 months ago

Does it matter, Kindle v. paper copy?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Paper helps boost our first-week sales, but it doesn't matter enough that anyone shouldn't get the version they want.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

Frying Pan is obviously a reference to the Greek god Pan, who like all the Greek gods is actually one of Satan's demons (1 Corinthians 10:20) and so of course is frying in hell with the rest of the sinners. Being "hit with" him is obviously a typo for being hit ON by him. Just say no.

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John Toon 3 years, 7 months ago

No wave: "Particle Man". Wave vs Particle... he could be either, but the particle is no wave. Let's talk about No Wave Man. He's doin' the things he can in his jazzy-punky non-commercial scene, but nobody cares - "What's he like? It's not important." (We might even say nobody sees No Wave Man - in which case he cannot be collapsed by direct observation. Maybe he still is Particle Man.) "Is he a dot, or is he a speck?" - on the map of commercial music, neither, presumably. "When he's underwater, does he get wet?" When he's underground, does he get dirty? Or does the dirt get him instead? Or does he avoid the dirt, the filthy lucre, the soiled hands of A&R Man (who's he, Triangle Man?) altogether by going underground? Nobody knows. No Wave Man.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you! But you should guess to get a free copy too! :)

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 7 months ago

You know, Phil, I really wish you'd change your look back to this: http://333sound.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/alex_phil_and_the_band.jpg

At least S. Alexander had a consistent look, it seems.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, I think we should all be in charge of how our host looks.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

I'd offer some intelligent comment but I keep getting distracted by the fact that SOMEONE keeps moving my chair! >:(

Good luck with the book!

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Ed Jolley 3 years, 7 months ago

Did a large procession wave their torches as my head fell in the basket?
Dead

The traditional accompaniment to the torches wielded by stereotypical mobs is the pitchfork, and yet there is no mention of such an implement in the lyrics to Dead. But what does this omission indicate?

Bearing in mind the symbolism of the pitchfork in Grant Wood's American Gothic, and the sentiments implied by the track Minimum Wage, it may be a straightforward critique of the Protestant work ethic, but other readings are possible. Could it indicate wholesale rejection of the agrarian lifestyle (or, at least, an expression of sympathy with the viewpoint expressed by Talking Heads' The Big Country and (Nothing But) Flowers)? The ideal of a bloodless revolution (with the decapitation of the song's narrator a reminder that such ideals are rarely lived up to)? An attempt to indicate approval of the mob, by removing from their hands the tool often associated with cartoon devils? Or something less obvious?

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jsd 3 years, 7 months ago

I'll buy a digital version the second it is available. I've revisited TMBG since you mentioned you were doing a book on them. My daughter (9yo) is now addicted to Istanbul. Can't get her into anything else yet but I'm working on it...

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 7 months ago

For starters, I appoint YOU his new hairstylist!

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

Nah, pitchforks are for rural mobs. Peasants use pitchforks in farming. Guillotine mobs tend to be urban.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

You should introduce her to the original version too.

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Champiness 3 years, 7 months ago

And there goes my hope of winning the "entertainingly wrong guess" copy...

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Josiah Rowe 3 years, 7 months ago

I have nothing witty to say about TMBG, except to note that "Particle Man" is about the pre-Socratic philosophers. But I was a CTY kid too, about a decade before Phil, and I smiled to see that the phrase "mandatory fun" survived at least a decade in the CTY lexicon.

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Chris 3 years, 7 months ago

When Flood hit the scene, I was too young to really understand music. I heard their version of "Istanbul" and was all "they ruined that song!" At twelve years old, I was a crotchety old man, but I've gotten better, Benjamin Button style, and today I appreciate songs as abstract compositions removed from any particular performance.

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Chris 3 years, 7 months ago

How Long A Pop Song Is Supposed To Be

Everything that needs to be said about this topic was already said by The Residents. If you wish to award them the prize, I'll be happy to accept the award on their behalf. The following comes from the CD release of The Commercial Album:


Point one: Pop music is mostly a repetition of two types of musical and lyrical phrases, the verse and the chorus.

Point two: These elements usually repeat three times in a three minute song, the type usually found on top-40 radio.

Point three: Cut out the fat and a pop song is only one minute long. Then record albums can hold their own top-40, twenty minutes per side.

Point four: One minute is also the length of most commercials, and therefore their corresponding jingles.

Point five: Jingles are the music of America.

Conclusion: This compact disc is terrific in shuffle play. To convert the jingles to pop music, program each song to repeat three times.

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Ed Jolley 3 years, 7 months ago

Guillotine mobs tend to be urban.

But Guillotines aren't the only means by which people can be decapitated.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

They're the only method that works consistently and reliably for me.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, I went to the "junior" CTY (forget if it had a special name...) in 92 and the real camp in 94. I distinctly remember having to suffer through quite a bit of mandatory fun.

One of the towering regrets of my life is turning down the girl who asked me to the dance at the '92 camp. In my defense, I was 11 and still a couple of months away from puberty, but still.

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Ed Jolley 3 years, 7 months ago

If guillotining is what works best for you, that's fine. Nevertheless, others have favoured the use of other implements such as axe, sword or the decidedly rural scythe.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Hopefully Accurate Guess:

"Everybody wants a [pet] rock to wind a piece of string around [and drag it behind them as though it were on a leash]."

Probably Inaccurate Conjecture:

"This song refers to the Baby Boomers and their regressive reaction to the emerging punk culture of the 70s."

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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