If you have never listened to music by The Books, do yourself a favour. The release of their first album, Thought for Food (2002) (followed by The Lemon of Pink (2003) and Lost and Safe (2005)), had reviewers agreeing on two points: it’s brilliant and it’s genre-defying. The Books construct strangely named songs from a mish-mash of sound bites recorded in public, stock recordings collected over years, their own music and increasingly, some mumbly singing. For example, I was amazed to read one day that the bizarre intro to Motherless Bastard was an actual recording made among families visiting an aquarium.
When I was in Japan and China, I was obsessed with my video camera in order to capture scenes that display the differences and visual cues of things I do not easily process or understand culturally. This was also because the languages spoken were foreign and could not provide additional insight into the lives of the people. In England, where I am now, I struggle to find great video footage, something that would be interesting to watch afterwards. There are amazing photo moments, all sadly lost, because they involve unique, scary or pathetic people and I don’t have the guts to whip out a 1971 Minolta SLR and shove it in their faces. But it is as if the key moments I need to capture to understand the people, culture and classes are the sounds - the conversations overheard, the announcements, the soapies and TV commentary.
I was in a second-hand music shop in a small country town yesterday and in the shop was a teenage boy with one hand in his track suit pocket fidgeting with his privates the whole time, while obsessing over the horror DVDs with his other hand, thumbing them, taking them out, putting them back. Every now and again, he would turn to the owner and say things like:
“Excuse me, do you have any more Chuckies?”
“Excuse me, any Freddy Kruegers?”
When he wanted to buy some gore splattered DVD, the owner asked him for his 18-ID, to which he was stumped and only managed to say: “What about a 15-ID?”
This was a perfect The Books moment. I did not need video or a photo of him against a grey wall, hand in pants, holding a horror movie. I needed that sound clip, his accent, the way “Chuckayys” was pronounced and I was poorly prepared for it.
Later in the afternoon, sitting in the Great Evil, McDonalds, a mother and daughter sat next to me. After saying grace for her Big Mac, the young one immediately started:
“Mum, do you know how old David Beckham is?”
“Mum, do you know how old Ashley Cole is?”
Here I have to stop, as I can’t remember whether she really said Cole is 25, but the conversation worked it’s way through virtually the whole English World Cup soccer team and the little girl knew the ages of them all. It was such a fabulous sound bite, it needs to be put to music. Again, I was ill-prepared.
The question now is, should I get a digital Dictaphone-type gadget, or does it make me a voyeuristic pervert? My opinion is, it’s like taking a photo, it’s an impression of a moment, and whereas a photo can be enhanced and manipulated, human voice is bare for all to hear. I might just.
PS – for fans of Chuck Palahniuk. I have started reading Haunted, and as usual, he does not give you any time to settle down in a nice, comfy narative. Brutal stuff.