Nightly meditations on 33 1/3

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections. Back in the mid-80s, I used to have a little ritual I'd perform every year. I'd select a biography, autobiography, or session/musical history about The Beatles and I'd read it while listening to a housemates' pristine vinyl copy of the The Beatles Collection (from end-to-end) on a kick-ass stereo. I so loved and looked forward to each yearly immersion. Fast-forward to 2005 and a posting by David here that Boing Boing pal Erik Davis had authored a book on Led Zeppelin's fourth album, part of a series of books on iconic records, called the 33 1/3 Series. I ordered Erik's book and have been collecting the series ever since. I can't tell you how much I enjoy them and how much deeper they've taken me into the music I love so much. Each book is somewhat unique, there's no set formula, although they all focus on a single album and most tend to have a chapter or two to set up the album, a chapter for each track on the album, and then a follow-up chapter or two. The books are each about 130-140 pages, so they're a quick read -- unless you want to ritualize the experience like I do. For each title, after I buy it, I download the album onto my iPod. Every night, before bed, I listen to one of the tracks, read the chapter on that track, then I listen to the track again. It's really an amazing way of penetrating deeper into the music. Usually after I'm finished with a particular book/album, I'll obsess over that artist for awhile, tracking down and listening to their entire oeuvre, wishing there was a 33 1/3 book for each record. I just recently finished the 33 1/3 for Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and then went off and listened to any of his records I could find. I think I understand his work (both his music and his painting) now in a way I never would have without having gone on this journey, little pocket tome in-hand. My next excursion is going to be Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.
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Forthcoming titles I'm jazzed about are Kate Bush's The Dreaming and Brian Eno's Another Green World (although it's been perpetually forthcoming -- rarely a good sign). I got so psyched after reading Erik's book, I even proposed one of my own, for Eno's Before and After Science, but the timing ended up not being right for me (especially given the labor-of-love-sized advance). One caveat about these books – the quality is very hit and miss. There seems to be a lot of latitude for the authors to step out (the whole enterprise is very passion-driven) and follow where their muse takes them. Some end up in a better place than others. But even when a title draws up short, I've still enjoyed the ride, and the books are so brief, it's not like I've invested a lot of time or money. David Barker, editor of the series, maintains a blog about 33-1/3, which you can find here.
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