Everything Happens on Klickitat Street

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1. The above artwork is from a book called Uncovered by an artist named Thomas Allen who carves printed characters off the covers of pulp novels and arranges them in three dimensions (via Boing.)

2. I've had a strange urge to write about music lately. That's why I wrote this review of Led Zeppelin's re-release of the classic 1976 movie/album The Song Remains the Same. I didn't get to see the reunion in London, but I did have fun writing this article.

3. More about music writing: I love it when authors or critics I discuss in my weekly review of the New York Times Book Review contact me with gripes or other reactions. I recently mocked a Beatles book (because I am a mocker) called Can't Buy Me Love based on a reviewer's comments, and author Jonathan Gould emailed me to ask why I would criticize a book I hadn't seen. This is a fair question, so I requested a review copy and have now read the book.

Jonathan Gould is correct: All You Need is Love is a very satisfying Beatles biography, written with authority and taste. Gould's best skill is in the deconstruction of individual songs like "Eleanor Rigby" or "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". He discerns meaning in each detail (for instance, the background vocals in songs like "We Can Work It Out" indicate that the band members are communicating well, whereas the lack of complex background vocals on The White Album means the opposite). I could read Jonathan Gould's song breakdowns all day, though I was less interested in the historical treatments, maybe just because I've read it all before (" ... as the jet taxied towards the terminal packed with screaming fans at the newly named JFK Airport ...").

I also have some problems with Gould's harsh judgement of Yoko Ono, who couldn't possibly have done the good work she's done if she were the artistic phony he portrays. He's also improbably dismissive of the wonderful skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan, who he must be the only person in the world to dislike. Still, small quibbles aside ... Can't Buy Me Love is a solid and well-written Beatles book.

4. Everything happens on Klickitat Street. Here's Denise Hamilton in the Los Angeles Times visiting the hometown of Beverly Cleary, where it all took place. "Which house was Henry's? Where was the vacant lot where the kids found discarded boxes of bubble gum to sell at school? Could that mutt be Ribsy's great-great grandson?"

Minor correction, though: Denise Hamilton asks why Ralph Mouse is the only Beverly Cleary work to ever make it to television. But Ramona was once a series on PBS (though not a very good one).

5. Some poets have been asking me when Action Poetry (our ongoing subterranean creative writing activity here on this site, to which you are invited) will be back on LitKicks. The answer is: soon. I am working on some exciting new software that will make it better than ever. But it's going to take a little more time, and when it's ready I'll be rolling it out in stages. I'm guessing we'll be back in full swing by mid-January of next year (if everything works correctly, which is a big "if").

6. I've been tagged for a meme by fellow blogger Ed Champion (who, by the way, is running for National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors). The idea here is that you have to list the first sentence of the first blog post of the first day of this month for every month of the past year. I've done this below, and here are my main findings: I'm obviously having a rough winter; I'm pretty grumpy; I can write some really long-ass sentences. Hmm, and all this time I thought I was a minimalist. Anyway, here's my twelve:

December 2007: "We're having some tech problems here in the Land of Literary Kicks."

November 2007: "I'm taking a sanity break today; I'll be back to review the Book Review next weekend."

October 2007: "Philip Roth's Shakespeherian-titled Exit Ghost has certainly been kicking up the chatter."

September 2007: "Bravo to Jim Lewis for an enthusiastic and bracing New York Times Book Review front cover piece that begins like this: Good morning and please listen to me: Denis Johnson is a true American artist, and Tree of Smoke is a tremendous book ..."

August 2007: "Yeah, I'm unpleased with the choice of Charles Simic for United States Poet Laureate."

July 2007: "I'm reviewing today's New York Times Book Review from a peaceful backyard in rural Indiana, as bullfrogs croak, hummingbirds buzz around my head (did you know that a hummingbird likes to eat half its weight in sugar every day?) and maple trees tower above."

June 2007: "Walking the vast hangars of Book Expo America 2007, I pause to consider what we can learn from this amazing display of publishing ingenuity."

May 2007: "I forgot, in yesterday's post, to post my own response to the question many interesting folks from Richard Ford to Lawrence Ferlinghetti have been answering: why are book reviewers important?"

April 2007: "I can't complain (and you know I like to complain) about a New York Times Book Review whose cover article informs me about a literary patron and publisher I'd never heard of, jazz-age ocean-liner heiress Nancy Cunard, who apparently published Samuel Beckett, anthologized W. E. B. DuBois, made love with T. S. Eliot and took her political idealism to such an insane extreme that she ultimately lost all her wealth and most of her friends."

March 2007: "I checked out Shelfari, a new book-oriented social networking site that's getting some buzz based on Amazon.com buying a stake."

February 2007: "Okay, so I'm way way way behind on all the review copies various nice people have been sending me."

January 2007: "As promised last week, I've begun rereading the only known novel featuring late President Gerald Ford in the title, John Updike's Memories of the Ford Administration, originally published sixteen years after the end of Ford's presidency."

I'll pass this meme on to, hmmm, let's see ... Caryn, Jamelah, Christian Crumlish, Eric Rosenfield and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
9 Responses to "Everything Happens on Klickitat Street"

Obviously Page stole "Stairway to Heaven" from Randy California (this is easily seen in the YouTube vids of Spirit/Randy C). Your thoughts?

And a trivia question - who wrote Zeppelin’s best song - "The Levee’s Gonna Break"?

by Milton on

Memphis Minnie! Not that I've actually heard the original "Levee Breaks" from the '30s ('20s?), but it's one of my favorite bits of musical esoterica with which to try and impress people at parties.

Page stole almost everything, but he was still a genius. That's one of those irritating rock history quandaries. I only wish he'd been quicker at the time to give the credit where credit was due.

Great "Song Remains the Same" review, although you seem to like it a lot more than I did. I always thought it captured them at a strange, slightly awkward transition period -- they'd lost a lot of the spunk of their early days, but hadn't quite managed to bring their more ambitious later period structures in place. (At that concert, they don't yet seem like a band who could put something like "Kashmir" together.)

For my money, it's "How the West Was Won," a triple live record from the '72 tour. On that one, they don't just sound like a great band, they sound like an unstoppable, primal force. It's scary, and you almost have to turn to military history to find anything to compare them to. They sound like Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, in musical form. They sound like Muhammad Ali. It pisses me off that I wasn't alive to see it.

Speaking of Lonnie Donegan, I bought a compilation album of his a year or so ago, and to me it's interesting, but if you like this kind of music you need to listen to classic Jug Band music from the 20s and 30s to get the real deal. Memphis Minnie's music is definitely in this vein, although I have never heard her version of "When the Levee Breaks"; but that is one of those tunes that was recorded by a lot of Country Blues artists under various titles, and with various combinations of lyrics. If you want to hear a truly excellent interpreter of American Folk music, check out "Spider" John Koerner. He did several CDs on Red House Records that are truly outstanding. What does this have to do with Led Zeppelin? Nothing, except that Jimmy Page certainly soaked up his fair share of this genre of music.

by Levi Asher on

I think I have that same compilation, Michael, and it's a really good one. Donegan has a great voice, and I think the songs age well. I love old jug band music too, of course, and delta blues, the old Harry Smith stuff ... sure, Jimmy Page swiped a lot of ideas directly from these old songs and put his name on them. I don't blame him -- it's not like Blind Lemon Jefferson was going to get paid in either case. And what Zeppelin did with these old tunes was so original that they deserve the songwriter credits, as far as I'm concerned.

I listened to "Taurus" by Spirit/Randy California. Yeah, okay, those are the opening changes to "Stairway", no doubt. But it's not like Randy California was doing much with the song before Zeppelin grabbed it.

by Jason Robinson on

Good review. I have been on the fence about purchasing this re-release. I still have the-warbled-from-heavy-play cassette version that I purchased in 1985 when I was 13 and just discovering Zeppelin for the first time. Though I would still catagorize them as my "favorite band of all time", I have not listened to them heavily for several years now due to their omnipresence during my youth and the fact that I have memorized every line to every song. I agree with the post that cites "How the West Was won" as a superior recording...but still i may check this out.

by Caryn on

I think you were probably right about the Gould thing in the first place. If I have to hear about one more Beatles missive, especially a pompous interpretive one as excerpts of this point it out to be, I will vomit. Like Burt Bacharach so eloquently said, what the world needs now is not more Beatles fawning. And anyone who would dismiss the master of Dead or Alive can go f... well you know what they can do. Still, a clever way to score a review copy. Of course the same thing might be said about Led Zeppelin. Not that I would say such a thing, of course.

Levi, i like the corny fantasy sequences in The Song Remains the Same. Zep's manager at the time, Peter grant, was by all accounts, quite thuggish (all in the name of watching out for the interests of his homeboys, the band). The machine gun sequence prefigures gangster fascination, even if it is silly.

And the Jimmy Page fantasy sequence, while low-budget by today's standards, represents that acid/zen/nirvanna sensation of seeing one's entire life in one moment - Page climbs to the mountaintop and a beard forms on his face, etc.

At least that's the way I remember it.

The thing I can't stand about that concert is the meandering lead guitar at the end of Stairway to Heaven. It is nowhere near as tight as the studio version.

Some of my favorite Zep tracks are on a three CD set recorded live from BBC broadcasts. I think we talked about that before.

by Duncan Brown on

Lonnie Donegan is a Glasgow legend, as is Jack Bruce, Donovan, Maggie Bell - sometimes referred as Glasgow's Janis Joplin - Alex Harvey and his younger brother Les. Alex played alongside the 'Silver Beatles' back in the Hamburg days. His younger brother Les is probably the only Rock.n.Roller to fully realize the 'Christ Fixation' which surrounds some or even most 'rock gods'. He ascended to that status by dying beautifully and horrifically in public when he plugged in his guitar at the start of a gig and was frazzled to death in front of an adoring audience. There was no Resurrection, and no Stairway to Heaven on that occasion, so the story goes.