Tonefiend Book Week 2013: Epilogue

Monday: Theory and Technique
Tuesday: Gear
Wednesday: Repairs and DIY
Thursday: Biography
Friday: Fiction

Thanks to all my smart and cool readers who contributed to the first (maybe annual?) Tonefiend Book Week! I loved chatting about some old favorite books, and getting exposed to so many cool new ones.

An encyclopedia of rad.

An encyclopedia of rad mods.

I have just two quick additions: the first concerns an exciting new acquaintance, and the other a sad departure.

In comments to Tuesday’s post on DIY and repair books, reader smgear mentioned Nice Noise, a book on prepared guitar by Bart Hopkin and Yuri Landman. I immediately ordered a copy, and received it the other day. I’m blown away. It’s a small-format book, a mere 72 pages, but it is a veritable encyclopedia of alternate guitar treatments.

Hopkin (he edited the journal Experimental Musical Instruments and wrote the fabulous alternate instrument books Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones and Orbitones, Spoon Harps & Bellowphones) and Landman (he builds mutant guitars for Sonic Youth, Liars, Melt Banana, and other artists) discuss pretty much every avant-garde guitar mod I’ve ever heard of, and many besides. It’s not just a catalog — it’s a detailed how-to, meant to be consumed alongside the pair’s online audio library of musical examples. I’m sure you’ll be reading about it more here, because I’m definitely going inflict some of these rad alterations on some unwitting guitars.

One of the finest rock-and-roll novels.

A great rock-and-roll novel.

An a sadder note, the death of Scotland’s Iain Banks this weekend reminded me of a book that should have been inclued in Friday’s installment on musical fiction. Both funny and moving, his 1987 novel, Espedair Street, is simply one of the finest rock-and-roll novels ever. Its protagonist is a fabulously successful rock star (think Floyd or Fleetwood Mac in their prime) who must process his own past while grappling with the prospect of suicide.

Readers in the UK, where Banks is hugely popular, may be surprised to learn he’s strictly a cult figure in the States. While Espedair Street is his only work to focus on the music world, he wrote many fine novels marked by wry humor and vast empathy. (The Crow Road and Whit are two other favorites of mine.) He also wrote scads of science fiction under the name Iain M. Banks. Banks, 57, had only recently learned he was dying of cancer. In April he composed a final communique to his readers, writing:

I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps). By the time this goes out we’ll be married and on a short honeymoon. We intend to spend however much quality time I have left seeing friends and relations and visiting places that have meant a lot to us.

6 comments to Tonefiend Book Week 2013: Epilogue

  • Sorry to hear about Iain Banks. I’ve read many of his novels (the Crow Road being my favourite) and have enjoyed every one. He was a rare talent as a sci-fi novelist and I was delighted when he got away from genre and started shooting from the hip. I’ll be reading Espedair Street soon.

  • Paul

    It’s a bloody tragedy. I (like many of my countrymen of a certain age) grew up with (and though) his literature. One of the absolute most humane human beings. I can’t believe there will be no more of his books. His press release about his illness breaks your heart.

    It’s been an horrible couple of years for tragic news. Glen Campbell, Wilko Johnson and now Iain.

    • joe

      So true on all counts. I really wish Banks were better known here in the States. “Humane” and “human” asre perfect descriptors of his big-hearted view of the world.

  • This is a bit of an aside, but we missed a couple of important books: Zen Guitar; words to live by. This Is Your Brain On Music is a little clinical and not particularly well-written given the subject matter, but still a pretty essential read.

    • joe

      I really dug “Your Brain on Music.” Author Daniel Levitin is a bona-fide ex-musician, and he speaks as intelligently of that side of the equation as he does about neuroscience. You don’t need any science background to enjoy the book — it’s definitely suitable for general readers.

      • I’ll have to give it another read – don’t get me wrong, I loved the subject matter, I just remember it being a wee bit clunky, but my memory is rarely to be trusted!

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