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September 12, 2007

Note Books - The Sharp Things

The Note Books series features musicians discussing their literary side. Past contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, and many others.

The Sharp Things make orchestral pop music second to none, complete with lush, perfect arrangements, clever lyrics, and a level of musicianship rarely heard these days.

Any band that would name their newest album (A Moveable Feast) after Ernest Hemingway's first posthumous publication is a sure fit for the Note Books series...

Of the band's latest album, The Big Takeover wrote:

"Their previous blueprint of Divine Comedy's update on Scott Walker remains, but it's expanding: This lush pop full of douceur de vivre evinces the lovely gauze of Harry Nilsson with mid-period Tim Buckley."

Many thanks to Jim Santo for orchestrating (no pun intended) the band's Note Books contribution.

Free and legal mp3 downloads from the band:

"Cruel Thing" [mp3] from A Moveable Feast
"Ocean Part Deux" [mp3] from A Moveable Feast
"Rey" [mp3] from A Moveable Feast
"Storm King" [mp3] from A Moveable Feast
"Stockholm Street (live)" [mp3]


In their own words, here is the Note Books entry from the members of the Sharp Things:


Perry Serpa (lead vocal, piano)

Cruel And Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order by Mark Crispin Miller
About 3 years ago I picked up a book called The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations On A National Disorder by Mark Crispin Miller and spend a long weekend laughing my ass off at his observations of Dubya's many very public (and some private) flubs. When I finished laughing, I put the book down with a fear that he's plenty dumb, but just smart enough to be dangerous. Miller's follow up succinctly confirms that fear, from the family jewels to Halliburton to Iraq and beyond. You realize just how f*cked we are...and how bad this regime is. The author basically asserts that this country's founding fathers would be turning in their graves and smartly criticizes the setback religiosity of the Bush Administration. Chilling stuff.


Jim Santo (lead guitar)

Sadly, I am no longer the avid reader I was as a boy, when I practically lived with my nose in a book, but a great one can still knock me on my ass. Here's three of my all-time favorites.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
"Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!" The father of all pirate yarns captivated me as a boy -- and thrilled me no less when I read it again a few years ago. The dramatic entrance of pegleg Long John Silver is seared into my memory. Jim Hawkins in the apple barrel, Skeleton Island, Ben Gunn -- storytelling gets no better than this.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
I was deeply into horror as a kid, devouring the Poe catalog along with Stoker, Shelley, Lovecraft and other gothic masters. This collection of short stories scared the shit out of me. Especially "There Will Come Soft Rains": a post-nuclear-war nightmare set in a suburban home where the family has been vaporized but robots continue to care for the household. When Bradbury described the silhouettes of children playing catch burned into the side of the house, I ran screaming into my parents' bedroom.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro
Reading this, I was reminded of the scene in "The Matrix" when Neo first learns the reality of his existence. Being born and raised in the New York Metro region, to be confronted with the fact that every structure that defined the contours of my life -- the highways, bridges, tunnels, beaches, parks, and public housing, not to mention the United Nations, Lincoln Center, Shea Stadium and soul-crushing traffic jams -- were all the creation of a single individual was chilling to say the least. And then to learn that Moses, through legislative sleight-of-hand, essentially created a fourth branch of government, over which the other three had no control, with himself as the unchallenged ruler -- wow.


Aisha Cohen (viola)

I don't get to read a book often. However, one of the interesting ones I've read, and one of my favorites, is a book called The Hiram Key: Pharoahs, Freemasons and the Discovery of the Secret Scrolls of Jesus by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. It's one of those books I just couldn't put down until it was finished. It's non-fiction. Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas are two freemasons who set out to discovery the story and truth behind masonic ritual and in doing so uncovered all sorts of crazy ties and connections between masonic rituals, king making ceremonies of ancient Egypt, the Jewish religion, Jesus and the founding of America, among other things. There's too much going on in that book to just summarize, but it will kinda change your view of history and the world. It's a really good read!


Rich Holst (bass guitar)

Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz translated from the Polish by Danuta Borchardt
Ferdydurke is a surreal novel written in 1937. The name is meaningless: there is no character named Ferdydurke. It is a defense of Immaturity. A grownup awakens to find himself transported to the world of schoolboys. He is dragged from his house by a schoolteacher and forced to re-live the early adolescent awkwardnesses, in starker terms made more acute by his adult knowledge and experience. The translator notes that Immaturity (and not Youth) was the word insisted upon by Gombrowicz because it carried the sense of unpleasantness; of a thing inferior. But because there is no escape from this bizarre nightmare, the reader is brought along on a sociological and philosophical exploration of the comparative values of Innocence and Worldliness. Filtered through the lens of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, some cruelties emerge more severely than their memories reflect. But this is only part of the novel; the most important and most coherent in the narrative sense, yes; but not the most interesting. What I find even more compelling than this intense Kafka-esque, psychological, 'schoolboy-scenes' from Pink Floyd-The-Wall-before-The-Wall-was-written, is the interpolated chapters "The Child Runs Deep In Filidor" and "The Child Runs Deep In Filibert." Each of these chapters has its own preface wherein the Author (or mock-author/narrator) breaks in: At first to alert the reader to the break in the narrative, and then to analyze the plot of the story thus far. This analysis is farcical, self-mocking in tone. These interpolations themselves do little to directly advance the plot, they are fairy tales with a hallucinogenic feel. It's a great read. It's an interesting question in this age of google- and YouTube-fueled hyperawareness: Is there a valued essence lost with the loss of Innocence? Is there a need, or even a way to preserve it in our children?


Steve Gonzalez (drums)

I don't really have any books that have had a huge impact on my life. Most of the books I have read have been regarding sports, and specific athletes and their accomplishments. I couldn't tell you the authors, so basically I am not a good source for this. The only common theme that weaves through the many books I have read are that everyone that has ever had a dream had perseverence, relentlessness, hours and hours of practice and hard work, lots of self discipline and determination, and a never say no attitude. Those are the qualities that have made an impact ion me, and I have incorporated into a lot of areas of my own life.


Andrea Dovalle (violin)

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Fun! Yes, nerdy, but totally fascinating. I plan on reading this again.

Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Total page turner, super well written, reminded me of the "saga, epic" feel of 100 Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

I like to leap between fiction and non-fiction. I'll be reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer next, outta curiosity.


Bob Byrne (piano, keyboards)

The book that most changed my life was a seventh-grade science textbook which I bought for a nickel when I was in the first grade . My grammar school had a sale of unneeded books and they shuffled us upstairs to go shopping. That book, whose cover showed a "water strider" bug demonstrating the property of surface tension, explained to me that the universe and everything in it, including me, was made of molecules, which were made of atoms, which were made of electrons, protons, and neutrons (no quarks in 7th grade). It instilled in me the understanding that the universe is run according to purely natural operations. It let me know that technological progress is the result of rational thinking, and that the opposite of that was akin to sticking one's head in the sand. It taught me that science, however dimly it may illuminate our world, is the only light. Reading the textbook at such a young age also gave me this insight: grownups treat kids as if we are stupid. We are not. We are intellectual sponges, and we should be taught science before superstition indellibly marks our perspective. They should show us the light.


Brad Madsen (trombone)

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
This novel is about the ego of man. In it, the main character John Galt is slowly destroying society by removing the minds of the time. He helps them decide to stop subjugating their brilliance for the whims of society, and when they see how they've been enslaved, they choose freedom over slavery. His greatest supporter (although she is his enemy for most of the novel), Dagny Taggart, supports a failing railroad as her brother destroys it by supporting the idea of altruism in its complete form. I love the novel because it elevates the ego and pride in one's accomplishments as the most important thing, and holds dear the idea that one should "...never live his life for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for him." While there are many political themes in the book that I disagree with (since we unfortunately do not live in a perfect world as this book would advocate for), the idea of ego that Rand presents is compelling and worth striving for. I see it as the true path to happiness.


Michelle Caputo (guitar)

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson
A "must read" for anyone in the business world today.

Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford
Well, that's obvious.


Janis Shen (violin)

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Jim and I were talking about books from childhood, and this one stuck out. It's about a boy who leaves home and goes into the Catskills to live and how he learns to survive on his own in the mountains. I read this many times as a kid.

I also recommend Up in The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. Short stories of non-fiction in very Mew York/New England writing, keen, dry yet sensitive. Read these at night with bourbon. (A more twisted take on non-fiction shorts is Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories by Chuck Palahniuk, also a fave.)

If you read poets...

For insight and poetics: Robert Creeley

For love: Pablo Neruda and The City in Which I Love You by Li Young Lee

For struggle: Bei Dao

For living: Pictures of the Gone World by Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Bob Smolenski (cello)

William Vollmann. I read his book, The Atlas when I returned from Sarajevo in 1996. I was there accompanying my wife, who is a journalist, and helping out a small non-profit agency benefiting war wounded amputees and paralyzed. Needless to say, witnessing war and its aftermath of endless stories from refugees and survivors of the 4-year siege of Sarajevo was a traumatic experience. So I dove into a lot of books about the Balkans and came across Vollman's The Atlas.

That led me to Vollman's other novels:

The Ice-Shirt (Seven Dreams, Vol. 1) (1990)
Fathers and Crows (Seven Dreams, Vol. 2) (1992)
The Rifles (Seven Dreams, Vol. 6) (1994)

All I can say is that the language of those novels, the waterfall of words, is the closest thing to bliss that I could ever ask from a writer. It is very much the same way I hear music reverberating in my head when I play.


Sharp Things links:

the band's website
the band's MySpace page
the band's Wikipedia entry

Sharp Things posts at Largehearted Boy
The Sharp Things tracks at Hype Machine


also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Interviews (authors interview musicians and vice versa)
Book Reviews


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