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Two fun reads and one sad breakup

June 14, 2013

This is “What’s Making Me Happy This Week,” a weekly feature inspired by the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week are two items I read, the first in the Arts section of the New York Times, the second in The Believer magazine. But before I get there, I have to mention something that is making me unhappy today: Kim Deal has left the Pixies. One of my all-time favorite bands, I was too young to see them play in their first incarnation before they broke up in 1993, but I was lucky enough to see them live at the Wellmont in New Jersey in 2011 on their Doolittle “Lost Cities” tour. It would end up being one of the last dates they’d ever play together and a very memorable experience for me. I’m really bummed that I won’t get to see Black Francis and Kim Deal together again. Together they are so much stronger than they are individually. Sorry Kim, the Breeders just can’t compare.

But enough sadness for one day, what’s making me happy? First, this article in the Times about the resurgence of vinyl. I’ve been a vinyl enthusiast for a long time now, so it shouldn’t mean much to me that the Times has picked up on the trend. Nevertheless, some of the statistics and quotes made me smile. In the past couple of months, three of the biggest releases made a significant splash in terms of first-week vinyl sales: Daft Punk sold 19,000 Random Access Memories LPs, the National sold 7,000 Trouble Will Find Me LPs and Vampire Weekend sold 10,000 LPs of Modern Vampires of the City. That’s a lot of vinyl, and looking at the bands named above, it’s selling to a young crowd, so it’s not a nostalgia-driven trend. My favorite quote was the one that concluded the article, from an industry executive: “We never expected the vinyl resurgence to become as crazy as it is, but it’s come full circle. We get kids calling us up and telling us why they listen to vinyl, and when we ask them why they don’t listen to CDs, they say, ‘CDs? My dad listens to CDs — why would I do that?’” Ha!

The second thing making me happy this week is the May edition of Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column in The Believer (which as you know I shamelessly rip off every month with the Stuff I’ve Been Reading), and specifically his take on one book: Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes. Maybe I should have been excited about this book prior to this week: there is a blog dedicated to it, it was reviewed in the Times and by NPR, it is in NPR’s list of The Best Music Books Of 2011, and, well, it’s a popular book about the music scene in New York City in the 1970s, a topic I’ve shown a LOT of interest in. Alas, somehow this book had eluded me, but thanks to Hornby it is now on my to-read list.

It’s not just the existence of this book that makes me happy though, it’s also the feelings evoked by Hornby as he writes about it, which is why I specifically mention his column. Hornby notes that “Hermes’s book is a prime example of the sub-genre that has probably emerged as my favorite over the last few years: readable, rich, and intelligent nonfiction about the roots of creativity.” I agree that this is a fun new sub-genre – the inner workings of creativity and the mind interest me as well – and I am pleased that such books continue to get written and attract attention.

Unfortunately, you can only read an excerpt of the column online – the full version is only available in print – and therefore online readers miss the question raised by Hornby that really makes me happy: “Can literature change your life?” Straight away he answers, “Yes, I know it can, because this is the second time it’s happened to me.” The first is unique to Hornby (or writers generally) – literature changed his life because it gave him a job, as an author. While nice for him, this means next-to-nothing for you and me. But after reading Hermes’ book, literature changed his life a second time in that it introduced him to a whole new world of music (not just, as you might expect, 1970s punk rock, but also salsa, loft jazz, and the beginnings of hip-hop). Hornby says that Hermes “cost me (and arguably owes me) several hundred pounds on iTunes and ruptured my relationship with guitars. So, you know. Kudos to the power of books.” I second that kudos, and add another one to the power of music. It’s always nice to be reminded how much music and literature can profoundly affect someone. After all, that’s what this site is all about.

And that’s What’s Making Me Happy This Week.

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