5 Albums I'd Like to Read
I suppose it was inevitable that Rush wrote a book. To move from long-form albums with intricate plot-lines and involved character development to a multi-hundred-page novel with the same isn't really much of a leap, after all, and prog has always been at least a bit about bombast. What could be more bombastic than expecting a fan to sit through 66 minutes of music and 300 pages of the same story?
Novelize this, please.
While it seems silly at first blush, it got me thinking about the nature of song. If you think about it, songs were stories first. The literary tradition arguably began with song, its melodies and rhyming verses acting as an aid to the re-telling of myth and history. Memorizing 600 words of prose? Painful. Memorizing a three minute song? I'm guessing you know how that goes.
With that in mind, it's clear that Rush just reversed the process, or turned it into a circle, with a story begetting a song begetting a story. If they can do it, certainly others can too. If you mix and match song writers and authors, I'm pretty sure you can come up with some pretty compelling work. Take these, for example:
5. The Mike Gunn, A Dream About Jim
Jim Brown's eye?
I've known Jim Brown, the album's inspiration, for more than a decade. If you shopped regularly at the Alabama Theater Bookstop, you know Jim too. He's the guy with one eye, though you may not know it. He wears a pair of sunglasses with one lens popped out (over his good eye), though he used to wear an eye patch. That's him on the cover of the album up there, an album put out by my friend and former Bookstop coworker John Cramer's former band.
The album is so drenched in the fuzz of cosmic radiation that it's actually difficult to pick out much in the way of lyrics, but there are a few tidbits along the way that point me in a narrative direction. From the possessed cyborg vocals of the almost-title track, demanding "Jim. Jim Brown Now," to the trippy freak out of "Jim Brown's eye staring through my missing mind," I think the saga of Jim Brown would work well under the pen of the late, great Philip K. Dick.
With Dick's penchant for drug-addled fever dreams, quasi-mystical encounters, and general inquiries into the fucked-up, I see A Dream About Jim as the lost chapter of the VALIS trilogy. Jim Brown as emissary of a benign cosmic force. Dreams that become a reality that is just a dream. Jim Brown's eye, Eastern Religions, drugs, paranoia. I'm thrilled and terrified just thinking about it. Maybe it's all just a Chew-Z hallucination, offered up from the hand of Palmer Eldritch, Jim Brown's eye staring up from his palm as you take the proffered pill.
4. The Mountain Goats, Tallahassee
John Darnielle's tale of love, loss, fury, and resignation deserves a novelist equally capable of harnessing the confounding emotions of a man lost in the tide of his own life. The weight of a world, thrown behind the tangled web of one couple's failing romance. The grand and the mundane appropriately entwined, as life refuses to do anything so simple as let you go. Wanting a thing, or perhaps, at least, its end, so desperately.
The sense of inevitability pervades the album, even with its momentary detours through glimpses of the fleeting happiness that set this tragedy in motion, made more poignant by their placement throughout the album. "Yes," we think, "I could have made the same mistakes." Found our lives unraveling similarly, struggling to make sense of the loose ends and knots that can't be undone, nor worked fluidly back into the life from which they came.
The scope and scale of Darnielle's tragedy, like all those that really speak to us, is at once limitless and infinitely intimate. We can see it in ourselves. We can see it overlaid against everything around us. We can feel it consume. Phillip Roth would have a field day with Darnielle's doom.