Houston Calling

33 1/3: Meat Is Murder

July 31st, 2005 · No Comments

One morning as I was jogging my way past the bronze plaque commemorating the deaths of one student and one motorcyclist, my necktie flapping like a windsock, Ray floored the brake pedal of his Dodge as he closed in on me. Fifty mile an hour traffic came to a screeching, nearly murderous halt behind him. He leaned over and rolled down the passenger side window in one fluid motion. He dispensed with formalities while I marveled at the audacity of his driving and, tossing something at me, winked and said, “Here. I’m going to kill myself.” He pegged the gas, leaving a surprisingly good patch of rubber for such a shitty car. In the gutter, sugared with sand put down during the winter’s last snow, I saw written in red felt ink on masking tape stuck to a smoky-clear cassette: “Smiths: Meat.”

A Catholic high school near Boston in 1985. A time of suicides, gymnasium humiliations, smoking for beginners, asthma attacks, and incendiary teenage infatuations. Infatuations with a girl (Allison), with a band (The Smiths) and with an album, Meat is Murder, that was so raw, so vivid and so melodic that you could cling to it like a lifeboat in a storm.

–taken from Meat Is Murder, by Joe Pernice

I may be a bit behind on this, but I recently discovered the 33 1/3 book series. Each book is devoted to an album deemed worthy by the publishers (Continuum) and various writers (some musicians, some critics, some scholars). The publisher’s website describes the series this way:

Thirty-Three and a Third is a series of short books about critically acclaimed and much-loved albums of the past 40 years. By turns obsessive, passionate, creative, and informed, the books in this series demonstrate many different ways of writing about music. What binds this series together, and what brings it to life, is that all of the authors–musicians, scholars, broadcasters, and writers–are huge fans of the albums they have chosen.

Other books in the series include The Replacements’ Let It Be, written by The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, The Clash’s London Calling, the Stones’ Exile On Main Street, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures by Pitchfork‘s Chris Ott, R.E.M.’s Murmur, Neil Young’s Harvest, Radiohead’s OK Computer, and Pet Sounds. Many more are available. Check their website or Amazon.com.

The first book in the series I picked up was on Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, an album I enjoy but, as a book, reads like a college essay (there is such as thing as diving in too deep, I guess). The second book, however, was much better — no doubt helped by the fact it is about an album by one of my all-time favorite bands, The Smiths. The book, Meat Is Murder, was penned by Joe Pernice of The Pernice Brothers, whose latest album, Discover A Lovelier You, is beautiful enough to make you cry and will more than likely make my best-of list for 2005. You should check it out.

Back to the book:

This is Pernice’s first novel and he doesn’t disappoint. As indicated above, he tells the tale of those long-ago high school days (his in a private Catholic school as opposed to those of suburban public school — but the similarities are definitely there). He recants struggles with family and peers, delves into the topics of sex and death, and of course, discusses his soundtrack of the times. The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder album plays an integral part in his life during this time, and it is great to read such a refreshing and honest tale.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you think.

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Tags: Music