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33 1/3: The Most Intriguing and Inspiring Series on the Planet by Richard Van Camp

Posted on by Richard Van Camp
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If you haven’t discovered this yet, the 33 1/3 imprint from Continuum Books is this series of tiny mind bombs in which authors are invited to interpret an album any way they want: from the technical (Dai Griffiths’ interpretation of ‘OK Computer’ should be his PhD thesis) to the post-apocalyptic dreamscape novelette Kate Schatz’s oracled off of PJ Harvey’s ‘Rid of Me’ Album.

It was the first page of Kate Schatz’s interpretation of ‘Rid of Me’ that won my attention as I picked the book up at Coachella years ago. I couldn’t believe that there was a series that would allow authors free range on writing about their favourite albums in any way they wanted. Kate opens with the same lines PJ opens with in Rid of Me: “Tie Yourself to Me.” Our main character is Kathleen who hates her life and has just been released back to her family for a crime which is unclear. Together, Mary and Kathleen vanish together in a secret world of bondage and espionage as the world ends in fire with “Rid of Me” as a soundtrack. To know that this is Kate Schatz’s first work of fiction and that she was allowed to take her first book wherever she wanted to is astonishing and soul inspiring.

I always wondered why The Afghan Whigs’ album ‘Gentlemen’ never reached the heights it deserved. It’s one of my all-time favourite albums. I wore it out as a cassette and it’s been with me through all my numerous moves. It is a classic! Thanks to Bob Gendron who did the research and interviews with the band, I now know it was a number of reasons-–both internal and external of the band and label—-that ended the Whigs and gave birth to The Twilight Singers.

I didn’t know that Greg Dulli whipped off six of the vocals in one night in the studio: “Fountain and Fairfax”, “When We Two Parted”, “Gentlemen” and “What Jail is Like” and “Debonair.” One of my favourite songs “Be Sweet” was written in Bordeaux (one of my favourite cities!) and debuted in Paris on the Congregation tour.

Ben Sisario got to drive around with Black Francis to interview him for The Pixies’ ‘Doolittle.’ To know that Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis aka Frank Black) is happy as a dad at 40 with a wife who adores him brings me comfort. The Pixies were the perfect band for me in my college years and it’s great to know Mr. Thompson is a happy man these days with these reunion tours.

I read Dai Griffiths’ interpretation of Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ and, honestly, I couldn’t understand most of it: “The Radiohead contribution is a firmly dilineated four-part form, with a slower third section and a curtailed coda”. (What?!). But I do agree with Dai’s that Thom Yorke has an “angelic register” in Karma Police. This was not the book for me, but I appreciate the technical everything about the album.

The other books I am looking forward to in the series is Marvin Lin’s interpretation of Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’, Joe Pernice’s take on The Smiths’ ‘Meat is Murder’ and Mike McGonigal’s diving into My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless.’

For a full list of all the books in the series, please check out:

I can’t think of any other series quite like this, and I look forward to updating this blog as I read the rest of the books that interest me. Wow!

I also can’t think of a series I would love to write for more. I would write about three of the albums that changed my life forever: The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’ and The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘First and Last and Always’ and ‘Floodland.’


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