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July 10, 2009

Book Notes - Kaya Oakes ("Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

In Slanted and Enchanted, Kaya Oakes examines the history of the DIY indie movement in music, publishing, and even crafts, exploring how these groups have evolved and intertwined over the years. Much more than a mere collection of interviews and observations, the book lives up to its subtitle and truly explores the evolution of indie culture in the United States.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the book:

"From postwar avant-garde poets to contemporary hipster crafters, Oakes draws compelling connections among the varied "notes that formed the chord" of independent culture, revealing how they've all grown out of and fed off of one other. She deftly links the seemingly disparate groups that fall within a common cultural community (showing, for example, how the ferocious sounds of '80s Bay Area punk bands were influenced - consciously or not - by the decidedly "outsider" writings of Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg) and highlights the common threads that have tended to prompt indie surges across social and political climates."

In her own words, here is Kaya Oakes's Book Notes music playlist for her book, Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture:

Slanted and Enchanted covers three eras in the history and evolution of indie, but it's not entirely a book about indie rock (the title, of course, is borrowed from the Pavement album, but it was chosen more as an evocative phrase since only a tiny bit of the book is about Pavement itself). Since I come from a background in zine making, indie magazine and small press publishing and selling comics, I knew that indie meant more than just a genre of music. Indie is really an entire subculture with visual, musical, and literary branches. It's also community based in its most exemplary forms, and my own community of friends who make art have always been the source of my musical tastes. A friend took me to my first show at 924 Gilman Street (Berkeley's punk collective), other friends have shoved albums into my hands at record stores and insisted I buy them, people I know still host college radio shows, and of course as a teenager in the 80s mix tapes kept me up all night writing and reading and listening.

Some of the songs on this playlist are by bands I interviewed for the book, others are evocative of moments in my personal history in the indie community, and some are just things I came to rely on to help me out over the years of researching, field work, writing, revising and editing.

Minutemen, "This Ain't No Picnic"

When I started thinking about writing a chapter on the 80s punk scene, I knew I had to talk to Mike Watt. I lucked out, because he was coming to San Francisco to play a show with Dos, his two bass band with Kira Roessler, and I got to meet him in person (Dos put on a great show – you wouldn't think two solo basses was a rockin' thing, but it is). He's a fantastic guy to interview because he can tell a story like nobody's business, and he's funny and smart as hell. "This Ain't No Picnic" summarizes so much of what the Minutemen were about lyrically and musically, and I've been known to play it over and over again on my way to teaching a day of classes.

Mission of Burma, "Forget"

My high school boyfriend was a DJ on KALX, Berkeley's college radio station, at a time when tons of amazing punk music was coming out of the East Bay scene. But he also liked to play stuff like the Velvet Underground, The Stooges and The Sonics, so I got a good education in proto-punk, and he made me tons of mixes. One of them had Mission of Burma's "Forget" on it along with "Academy Fight Song" and "Dirt", and that was the beginning of a lifelong love of Burma, another band I was lucky to interview. "Forget" is such a swooningly romantic tune, so lovely and melodic, qualities that we can take for granted about Burma with all of the genius noise going on.

Operation Ivy, "The Crowd"

I'm actually from Oakland, but Berkeley is close enough that I was able to take the bus and go to Gilman shows before I could drive. Operation Ivy exploded right after they started doing shows, which was no surprise to anyone who saw them play. They were a phenomenal live band and quite good on vinyl too, and the fact that their lyrics spoke directly to people in the local scene and about community in general ("The Crowd" is an example of this), and that their album came out on a local label guaranteed their place in the East Bay firmament even if they split up after only a couple of years together. I loved researching and writing a chapter on Op Ivy, Gilman, and Lookout. It was like looking through the best high school yearbook ever.

Crimpshrine, "Summertime"

Another Berkeley punk band. Lookout put out a compilation of Bay Area punk bands called The Thing That Ate Floyd back in the late 80s, and I used to lift the needle on the album to play this tune over and over. Their drummer was Aaron Cometbus, author of the great Cometbus zine. It's a melodic song, but Jeff Ott has a great sandpaper voice that roughs it up nicely.

Beat Happening, "Indian Summer"

Confession: though I wrote a chapter about Olympia, K Records, and the roots of Riot Grrrl, I was never a Beat Happening fan in the time when I actually lived in Olympia. I worked in a record store that sold K cassettes, but they weren't to my taste at the time. But I've grown to appreciate Beat Happening in the years since, and this is my favorite of their songs. I always imagine this with Supremes style backing vocals because there's something Motown-ish about the melody of the chorus.

Nirvana, "Love Buzz"

Well kids, when I first heard this song, it was clear that things were about to change…

Pavement, "Our Singer"

Slanted and Enchanted has lots of great songs, and any Northern Californian who likes indie rock has at one point in time driven to LA while playing "Two States" at top volume, but I prefer their quieter, smaller songs, like this closing track. There's something mesmerizing about the guitar line here, and when Malkmus shouts "horizon!" like a baked member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, it's a pretty great moment.

Silver Jews, "Random Rules"

David Berman doesn't like doing phone interviews, so I sent him questions via email and his responses came back in the form of a poem, with line breaks and everything. And these weren't typical interview responses in narrative form; they were little koans and nuggets of oddness. This is the first Silver Jews song I ever heard, standing around in a friend's backyard with a plastic beer cup in my hand.

Geto Boys, "Mind Playing Tricks on Me"

When you're writing social science, you spend hours and hours doing research, which can be grindingly tedious work with occasional Eureka! moments. I did a lot of research while sitting in a study carrel in the basement of UC Berkeley's main library, and this song was a great tonic when I'd been trolling Lexis Nexis for hours and started feeling sorry for myself. Hearing Bushwick Bill talk about punching the concrete will rid you of any self pity right quick.

Kaya Oakes and Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the book's page at the publisher

Cleveland Plain Dealer review
The Georgia Straight review
Library Journal review
Mary Magazine review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
SF Weekly review

The Big Takeover interview with the author
Red Room author profile

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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