Saturday, August 4, 2018

Music! Books! Books about Music! Focus on Michael Zadoorian, author of Beautiful Music.

Wednesday, August 15, 7 pm, at Boswell: Peter Coviello, author of Long Players: A Love Story in 16 Songs, and Michael Zadoorian, author of Beautiful Music

Thursday, September 6, 7 pm, at Boswell: Lil Rev, celebrating the release of his new CD, Mountain Dulcimer.

Saturday, September 22, 7 pm, at Boswell: Jessica Hopper, author of Night Moves, in conversation with Justin Barney, Music Director of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee (our event's cosponsor)


Back in the winter, Jason and I went to Winter Institute in Memphis. As I've said before, it's a great opportunity to learn about our industry, discover new books, and network with fellow booksellers. But the oyster in the pearl is definitely the chance to meet authors. There are multiple opportunities to get books signed by writers who are promoting upcoming (and sometimes current) titles. If you follow Book Con, it's kind of a private version of that.

I generally try to head to these programs, whether it is Winter Institute in January-February, Book Expo in May-June, or Heartland Fall Forum in September-October, with at least one book read that is being promoted, something I can help talk up. In the best of all possible worlds, I would have read three or four. I have attended dinners where it seemed like my fellow booksellers had read every featured book by the feted writers. That's not me.

To bookend that idea, I usually like to start reading at least one book that I received at the show, often on my way home from wherever it is. This year, the book I chose was Michael Zadoorian's Beautiful Music. Now I didn't expect to host Michael - though he doesn't live that far away (Detroit), we didn't see him for The Leisure Seeker, though I had met him many years ago at Schwartz for his first novel, Second Hand.

Zadoorian has a distinctive way of writing, in short journalistic bursts, despite the stories falling into the fiction camp. Second Hand was about a guy running a vintage, well, not boutique, that gives it too much glamour, so I'll say store. I called it Nick Hornby-esque. His second novel, which was made into a film with Helen Mirren, is about an elder couple, one in treatment for cancer, the other with Alzheimers, who escape from their families in a trailer.

And Beautiful Music? Here's my rec: It’s late 1960s Detroit and young Danny Yzemski listens to CKLW on his radio. Dad loves music too, but his sound of choice are the beautiful music instrumentals that we now call elevator music. And mom? She sits on the couch drinking and ranting. Danny has to swerve to avoid the bullies at school and work both, and only his friendship with a tall kid with a white boy Afro who shares his taste for Iggy Pop, NME, and secret record runs to Korvettes (a discount department store), keep him sane. Let’s just say that things get worse before they get better, with the family disintegrating and racial tensions ratcheting up at school. Beautiful Music (told in rat-a-tat, diary-like entries) is both funny and poignant, nostalgic and surprisingly of the moment. Danny messes up sometimes, but you’ve got to give this kid props for trying. Rock on, Yzemski!

The thing about music is that I mostly listen to it in two ways: 1) Second hand from whatever Jason's playing at his desk 2) On my phone or laptop when I'm trying to remember what something sounds like. Often this stems from me reading a book (or sometimes an article) about a song or artist. So you can only imagine that when reading Beautiful Music, I more than once went back to reference songs. Here is some of the music referenced in Beautiful Music, and some notes.

"Build Me Up, Buttercup," by The Foundations. Danny is listening to the song on Detroit's CKLW. This was a clear channel station, officially from Windsor, Ontario, and you could listen to it in New York at night if the weather was right. I recall the best reception on New Year's Eve 1974, when I wrote down most of their top 100. There were a lot of soul crossover songs (like The Miracles's "Do It Baby") that didn't get play on the pop stations of New York, which to me, were more disco-y than R&B. It felt like WABC played The Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat" every 15 minutes, not that this was a bad thing.

"And When I Die," by Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Danny requests this. Let me just say that anything written by Laura Nyro qualifies for classic status. Several more songs are mentioned that are in rotation, making it clear that we are talking about early 1969.

"The Look of Love," by Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '66. Another of my favorites. One of my sisters owned both Look Around and the Fool on the Hill albums, and honestly, I'd listen to them both right now if I wasn't writing this. A&M always had other albums from their catalog on the record sleeve, so while I didn't own Equinox or Herb Alpert Presents..., I feel like I did. By the way, the DJ in this passage, J.P. McCarthy, later had a talk show for whom I used to book guests when I was at Warner Books.

Super Stereo Sound Effects. While I didn't own this album, my father, like Danny's loved the beautiful music stations while driving. I later read a book called Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong, by Joseph Lanza, that I believe actually had a long life in print - it's still published by University of Michigan Press.

"We've Only Just Begun," by the Carpenters. I was a complete Carpenters obsessive, like Danny's mom. And also like the Yzemski family, we bought most of our LP albums at Korvettes. As Casey Kasem would tell you, the song began as a bank jingle.

"Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)," by Gladys Knight and the Pips. I would definitely call myself a Pip fan, but the only album I had was the Claudine soundtrack, which, sadly, had very few Gladys Knight and the Pips songs. Classic bait and switch! Hey, it was 12 for a penny I think.

"Seasons in the Sun," by Terry Jacks. Danny learns that the songs he likes are "bogue" from his new friends. This was actually a pretty "bogue" song. I didn't like it when I was 13 and I don't like it now, even though I have learned it was a French song written by Jacques Brel and adapted by Rod McKuen. That's quite the pedigree.

"I Wanna Be Your Dog," by Iggy and the Stooges. Now Danny is a certified teen. Loving Iggy Pop is a badge of honor for Detroiters.

"Generation Landslide," by Alice Cooper. From the famous Billion Dollar Babies album. Little Dan is all adolescent. If you ask me for Alice Cooper songs, I can sing you little pieces of "School's Out" and "Only Women." Looking at this brought back memories of my Billboard-obsessed youth that Cooper had not one, not two, but three songs that peaked at #12. Like many rockers, most of his later hits for dreamy ballads with the edges shredded to make them less, well, whatever you're supposed to do to show that you're too cool to be beloved by adolescent girls.

"Funk #49," by the James Gang. This is one of those modest pop hits that became ubiquitous through placement in films. I wouldn't have been able to connect it to a tune if you asked, but when I heard it, I knew it well enough.

"Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo," by Rick Derringer. Danny can't get the song out of his head while he's walking around school, and now I can't either. This is one of those songs that in the days before the internet, I knew what the song was (from it's strong chart showing on Billboard), but I didn't know how it sounded. I swear, one of the first things I did when I could listen to music online was figure out what this song was.

"Tonight's the Night," by Rod Stewart. Now that I know. It was a big #1 hit when I was obsessing over radio play. That said, I think my interest in Rod Stewart peaked with "You Wear It Well." How come so few of my American 45 purchases came with the picture sleeves, but all my British ones did? They clearly had them. Oh well.

"Future Games," by Fleetwood Mac. It's from the first album to feature Christine McVie but doesn't include Lindsey Buckingham or Stevie Nicks. I only really know them going forward from the eponymous album in 1975.

Note that these songs, while all included in Beautiful Music, are slightly different from the official playlist. And now to analyze the blurbs!

From Nancy Wilson of Heart: "The story of Beautiful Music is painted with rich, exquisite detail and all the painful hyperawareness of growing up in a culture of mixed signals, confusion, and loss. Salvation comes through music. A miraculous safe place in which to belong." For some reason, I associate Heart with WKBW in Buffalo, another clear channel station that loved their independent album on Mushroom Records which had both "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man." It's my favorite Heart album.

Don Was, the Grammy Award-winning producer: writes "Michael Zadoorian has captured an era when Detroit simmered with anger and fear while it simultaneously reverberated with the joyous noise of rock and roll. Beautiful Music eloquently evokes the beauty, confusion, and power of that late 1960s/early 1970s milieu." Ok, I was also a Don Was groupie. Part of it was because he seemed to take a try at a lot of artists I liked, like Carly Simon and Michael McDonald. I was a huge fan of Ofra Haza's Kirya. But I think my adrenaline surged the greatest when I first heard Cosmic Thing by the B-52s. I still remember thinking, "this guy has taken everything I love about the band and distilled it to perfect popness." The Grammy is for Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time.

And just to bring it home, not that Ofra Haza dueted with Iggy Pop on a song called "Daw da Hiya" from the Kirya album.

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