SLOWLY, SPITTING CRAWLS THE SNAKE: 10 TOP READS OF 2011

27 Dec

Listen: Just like we stated this time last year, we love year-end “Top Ten/Best Of” music lists as much as anyone, not least because counting to ten represents the furthest extent of our mathematical abilities. At their best, these lists serve to elucidate, shining light on artists and work that might otherwise go under-appreciated or worse, unheard. A list can put a year of listening in perspective and and help stoke your sonic fires for the year to come, and this year, there are plenty of great lists waiting for you to devour.

But when it comes to the apes that revolt … we plead no contest. As previously indicated, I’m tempted to let my pompous nature take over (again!) and say something about how further attempting to compartmentalize the subjective and sacred nature of our sonic rituals to fill ill-fitting categories of “best of,” “top 10″ and “the year” only serves to fuel … something I don’t want to fuel. I’m tempted, but I will resist.

The fact is that putting together a “Top 10/Best Of” list feels like toil to me, and as our friend “Ticklish” Terrance McKenna said so memorably, “man was not put on this earth to toil in the mud.”

Rather, this year we will indulge our love of the written word, just as we did last year and the prior thirty-seven years (links currently unavailable).

We take a quick look at ten reads that made 2011 memorable – not just books, mind you, but the more encompassing “reads.” The decision to move the content of this list beyond the strict confines of printed, proper books is largely born out of necessity. I think I would be stretching to choose ten books from this past year that I can recommend without reservation, which speaks much, much more to my increasingly devolving, lackadaisical and long-in-the-tooth reading habits than it does to the quality of writing being put forth by authors around the globe. But it also says something about how our reading habits continue to evolve – and it says something about our desire to salute those strange, strange idiots who put in great time and effort into sharing original, quality reading material online. After all, I proudly count myself among those idiots.

You may say it’s a cop-out, but I’m not the only one. In no particular order, for no particular reason, please take a moment to consider interacting further with ten of the best reads these Apes revolved around in 2011.

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone, Illustrated by Josh Neufeld

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Yes, I listen to NPR. What is this, a witch hunt? Psychedelic credibility now in tatters, allow me to opine that this smart, short book is both an excellent primer and a necessary refresher course for those among us who prefer to not get fully overheated each time we watch the news. Gladstone reminds us that all of the problems that make our media consumption so messy – bias, pandering and straight-up lying – were present at its very creation, while Neufeld reminds us that complex situations are often rendered less so through the magic of cartooning.

The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years by Greil Marcus

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I listen to NPR and I’m a Doors fan. Christ! The witch hunt continues! Every band should be so lucky as to have a book about them written with the style, grace and enthusiasm that Marcus brings to The Doors, whose tale has been previously chronicled in nearly every form imaginable. But Marcus has no interest in a chronicle, no interest in allowing us the deadening comfort of hearing the same old “classic rock” narrative again. Rather, there’s something meditative and digressive in Marcus’ approach, as if to remind us that forty-plus years is a pretty long time to sit and think about music, and if you’re not careful, you may learn about some other things during that time – things like White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art, Wallace Berman, and Kim Gordon. Break on through, friends.

Optical Sounds Issue #3

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The stories of men and women across the globe striking it rich following the production and printing of a psychedelic rock and/or roll fanzine are legion, of course, and we fully expect the UK’s “Screaming” Lord Cambridge to be the next to see his coffers filled via this enterprise. Of course, the riches discussed here are musical rather than monetary in nature. Yet we recall what our friend – and huge fan of The Heads, from what we hear – Erich Fromm has learned us: “Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much.” And “Optical Sounds” gives and gives and gives – the Oneida and Rocket Recordings interviews alone are worth the price of admission, and that’s only the tip of the really, really awesome iceberg. We offered our psychedelic propers to “Optical Sounds” in the not too distant past, but it bears repeating when considering a labor of love of this nature.

The Quietus

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I’m fairly certain that my browser landed safely at the homepage of The Quietus on each day of 2011. I would assume the same was true in 2010, and I predict the same will be true for 2012. Why? Perhaps it’s because the writing featured by The Quietus is, almost without exception, three things that I have always wanted to be, but have yet to achieve: brainy, British and well ahead of the curve. Proof? Ahead of the curve there again, I’m afraid, provided by this overview of the best writing from the entire year just past. Let’s just say that anywhere you can find Youth from Killing Joke talking about his all-time favorite albums, you’ll find me there.

Longform

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The simplicity of the Longform mission is reflected in its uncluttered page design – “Longform.org posts new and classic non-fiction articles, curated from across the web, that are too long and too interesting to be read on a web browser.” Long and interesting? Without question. Too much so to be read on a web browser? I’ve never heard of such a thing. We read through T.V. eyes these days.

Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries by Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen

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It’s not merely the eye-popping, bursting (nearly six pounds!) archival nature that makes “The Slayer Mag Diaries” such a treat – though there is that, too, and it’s a measure of dedication we’ve come to expect from Bazillion Points. For any one who spent their adolescence obsessed and involved in the very real, very chimerical death/black metal underground of the late 80’s and early 1990’s, this book is about as close to time travel as one can possibly get, with perspective given by the stoic, honest and occasionally disturbing reminiscences of author Kristiansen. Return to a time of great volume, a time of cassette tapes sent through the mail, a time of stolen beer consumed with reckless abandon in the backseat of parked cars, a time of almost incalculable anger and hatred. And then move on, quickly. Metalion was there, as there as anyone can possibly claim, and his memories are both hallowed and hollow. “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields

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Hey! That guy that you sort of worshiped when you were younger? Turns out he was kind of a dick, at least sometimes. Don’t act so surprised. You knew that. It often happens that way. Bear it in mind.

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

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Hey! That guy that you sort of thought was a dick when you were younger? Turns out that he was kind of worth worship, at least sometimes. Don’t act so surprised. You knew that. It often happens that way. Bear it in mind.

Three-Way Tie! I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm

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That you can take three topics about which my emotions run from nonplussed to actively hostile and – through the magic of oral history – have me enthralled strikes me as a pretty neat trick. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I stayed up way past my bedtime on many nights this year, flipping page after anecdote-laden page of these three thick tomes, only to teach myself things I’d already learned – namely, junkies are a drag, Keith Olbermann is a prodigiously talented, smart, funny asshole and MTV should (still!) get off the air. Bonus points go to “Our Town” for the author’s name – it’s like a book on jazz written by John Poletrain.

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes

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Never mind that I’m inclined to enjoy any book wherein The Ramones, Arthur Russell and DJ Kool Herc play not insignificant roles.  Never mind that I’m inclined to enjoy any book wherein the author cops to smoking some PCP. Never mind that Hermes details with great precision, verve and flair not a clash of cultures, but rather a largely unseen connection of cultures – or, as Hermes himself summarizes near the start of this fascinating book, “”All of this activity — largely DIY moves by young iconoclasts on the edge of the mainstream — would grow into movements that continue to shape music around the world.”  Never mind all that – check out the cover. I could live happily ever after in that cover.

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2 Responses to “SLOWLY, SPITTING CRAWLS THE SNAKE: 10 TOP READS OF 2011”

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  1. SLOWLY, SPITTING CRAWLS THE SNAKE: 10 TOP READS OF 2012 « Revolt of the Apes - December 30, 2012

    […] Just like we stated for the past two years, we love year-end “Top Ten/Best Of” music lists as much as anyone, not […]

  2. TEN TUNES AND TEN TOMES WITH THE VACANT LOTS | Revolt of the Apes - May 30, 2013

    […] then: as a music website that has for three years running persisted in listing our ten top pieces of reading material, along with being fortunate […]

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