So 33 1/3 just released their shortlist of potential books in their ongoing book series focusing on culturally significant records. That faint grinding noise you hear is the wailing and gnashing of teeth from over 400 dejected writers, bloggers, and grad students, myself included. The list that remains is, as you can imagine, a pretty interesting cross section of musical tastes. Now, I recognize that the 33 1/3 Series is all about bringing a fresh perspective on records that are infamous, influential, and important, but there are a few records that made the list that, for some, may call into question the intent of the series (as well as the general well-being of those who proposed them).
Most of the people who submitted are trying to be good sports in the comments section and say how excited they are about titles that did make it, all while valiantly defending against the few malcontents who grouse on about how their proposal didn't make it but a proposal for Garth Brooks' Chris Gaines project or Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak, a record released just a few weeks ago, did make it. "33 1/3 isn't about just a straight retelling of the facts it's about the authors interpretation, maaaaahhhn..." Well, yes and no. 33 1/3 certainly places a premium on creativity and unconventionality, but at the end of the day it's about the album, not your precious little creative nonfiction project.
With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about what we could potentially see from 33 1/3 more "radical" shortlist nominees. And for those of you who are crying "foul" and demand to see my proposal I'll be posting it separately in the next few days.
Britney Spears - Blackout
Tracing Britney's roots back over several generations, our intrepid author links Ms. Spear's Louisiana roots to her great, great, great, great-grandfather, Butterford DuBois Spears, the illegitimate child of a wealthy white planter and his black mistress. Through groundbreaking genealogy research and scholarship, the author pieces together the fragments of Butterford's life to create a picaresque tale that in many ways parallels Ms. Spear's life. From obscure poverty to the heights of 19th century Louisiana society, Butterford became one of the most influential men in New Orleans until a series of professional and personal misfortunes caused him to become a reviled figure. Returning to the relative anonymity of his sugar plantation "Croisement" (French for "Crossroads"), Butterford reinvented himself as a prolific inventor and solidified his comeback when he gained a patent for an early form of mechanical shears. Drawing parallels to Ms. Spear's own life, the author investigates questions of celebrity, the cost of fame, and the legacy of family in our contemporary society.
The second proposal is actually a no-holds-barred tell-all account by Kevin Federline.
Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak
Utilizing 808s and Heartbreak as a launching pad, the author weaves a classic story of inter-galactic romantic longing that will not be soon forgotten. Set aboard the International Space Station, it's the story of Dr. Jim Jacobson, a brilliant pilot and physisist who, at 3 years, 6 months, and 17 days is the longest serving crew member at the ISS. Physically and emotionally isolated, he is incapable of forging a meaningful connection with most of his crew. When new crew member Vanessa Lane arrives and takes a liking to the fumbling, awkward Dr. Jacobson, his emotional walls begin to crumble and he soon forges a connection with Vanessa. But when a new arrival, the dashing chemist Dr. Rick Vanworder, begins a flirtatious friendship with Vanessa, Dr. Jacobson must decide whether it is better to love and be hurt than to never love at all.
Slint - Spiderland
Finally digging up the truth to one of indie-rock's most cryptic and influential records, the author discovers that all those rumours about the band having a collective nervous breakdown during the recording were simply the result of some childish meddling on the part of David Pajo and Will Oldham.
The Hold Steady - Seperation Sunday
WELL FR. McGEE WAS A RIGHT OLD DOG, HAD SISTER MARY HELEN DRINKING UP A FOG. AND DOWN AT THE BAR "THEIR ON FIRE" BUT THEY CAN'T SEE EACH OTHER THROUGH JAMESON DESIRE.
NOW DEBBIE CAME FROM THE WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS STILL DIDN'T STOP TOMMY BOY FROM SAYING NOW HOW ABOUT THAT. SHE SAID I WOULD LEAVE THIS DUMP BUT I GOT A GOOD LIFE, PITCHING ROCKS AT THE SWELLS AND THE NEAR DO WELLS.
M.I.A. - Kala
It's 2057 and the small island nation of Sri Lanka has been at peace for over thirty years following the final defeat of the Tamil Tiger Liberation Front, which had been agitating for a seperate Tamil state since the 1970s. Brutally repressed since the cessation of hostilities, the Tamils live in urban squalor and enjoy the status of second-class citizens in Sri Lankan society. Into this world, a young Tamil man named Erambu discovers a beat up cassette tape in a refuse pile. The tape, though scratched and inaudible in parts, bears the music of a long forgotten musician, whose message of political radicalism and Tamil pride was surpressed years ago. The tape is a revelation to the fatherless Erambu, who begins to disperse clandestine copies of the tape throughout the Tamil community. Pretty soon there is an explosion of Tamil activity and Erambu finds himself at the center of a revived Tamil Tiger organization. Utilizing the music of M.I.A. as a vehicle for the possibility of radical change, the author explores ideas of national and ethnic identity and the glamourization of poverty and resistance.
Lou Reed - Metal Machine Music
This book will simply be the author typing the letter "R" for 90 pages, with some variation on pages 49, 62, and 77, respectively.
Girl Talk - Night Ripper
Taking inspiration from Girl Talk's own stylistic cut and paste technique, the author will utilize a variety of stylistic approaches, often on the same page, to analyze the cultural weight of Night Ripper. Jumping from first-person narrative to investigative journalism to memoir to second person flashback, the author turns his study of Night Ripper into a piece of meta-writing that calls into question issues of ownership, inspiration and the quickest way to a dance party.
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
A surprising inclusion perhaps given the album's relative short-lived existence, but like 808s and Heartbreak, its forceful appearance on the pop culture radar demands analysis. Here, the author links Vampire Weekend to a long tradition of racial and cultural pirates, from Black Beard to the Beastie Boys. He argues that though their ransacking of disparate musical styles such as reggea, afrobeat, and highlife may have seemed an innocent by-product of our quickly globalizing world, Vampire Weekend are actually at the center of a vast tradition of exploitation of oppressed peoples by white males. (Please Note: This paper is based on a presentation delivered at the 2008 Atlantic History Conference at Duke University).
Lil' Wayne - Da Drought 3
This book, written by the artist in question, will simply be drunken boasts and slurred metaphores delivered over backing tracks from a variety of superstar producers. It's release date will be continually delayed.
Well, there you have it. If you ask me, it's gonna be a good year for 33 1/3, particularly if they can ever get Lil' Wayne to complete his book.
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