33 1/3 Pt. 1 - On the Books
As promised, here is a stats-y look at 33 1/3. I obviously have some feelings about these numbers, but truthfully, I conceived of this project as a way to pick the perfect album to pitch. This first post is a look at what they’ve already published (89 titles) and what is upcoming (16 titles). Part 2 will be a look at how their most recent open call of proposals stacks up to their publishing history and an educated guess at what they’ll choose (pretending all proposals were equally well conceived and constructed, though they’re obviously not) based only on what they’ve chosen.
The least controversial stat I looked at was what percentage of albums came from each decade. 33 1/3 have published titles from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. Of the 89 published titles, 16 are albums released in the 60s (18%), 28 are albums released in the 70s (32%), 17 are albums released in the 80s (19%), 26 are albums released in the 90s (29%) and 2 are albums released in the 00s (2%). These numbers pretty much hold true for the scheduled titles, with the exception of a pronounced shift towards the 00s: 2 for 60s (12.5%), 3 for 70s (18.75%), 2 for 80s (12.5%), 4 for 90s (25%) and 4 for 00s (25%). Anecdotally, this makes sense because 33 1/3 published their first title (Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis) in 2003. There is a decade’s worth of music to plumb for this series that didn’t exist at the start. Similarly, it makes sense that the 70s would shrink in response; they are over-represented in the published titles. Despite their snarky ignorance, the 90s remain a solid quarter of what they publish.
My prognostication: I will pretend that out of the 400ish proposals they received, they will choose 10 titles. None will be from the 60s, 2 from the 70s, 2 from the 80s, 3 from the 90s, 3 from the 00s. Your best bet is probably an album released between 1998 and 2002. Though it’s slightly outside this sweet spot, no one proposed the Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which in hindsight seems like the most obvious next title in the series.
Gender of Author
This will be brief since I already addressed it yesterday: of the 89 published, 8 were written by women and 81 were written by men. Cute. This improves somewhat with the scheduled titles: 5 are written by women and 11 are by men. That’s hardly parity, but it’s pretty much in keeping with stats like the VIDA count. 33 1/3 has only provided the albums and artists proposed, so this stat will be eliminated next round.
Publishing History of Author
This is where the gender stat gets even more wamp wamp-y and where I drop the stat game entirely for a minute. These are the women who have published with 33 1/3:
- Elisabeth Vincentelli who wrote on ABBA’s Greatest Hits and followed that title with another book on ABBA
- Daphne Brooks who wrote on Jeff Buckley’s Grace and is the Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at Princeton University and followed up with Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910
- Kim Cooper who wrote on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea who published two previous music writing titles (Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed and Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears) and followed up with two non-music writing titles.
- Gillian G. Garr who wrote on Nirvana’s In Utero and has published 10 total titles, one prior to 33 1/3, all music writing.
- Kate Schatz who wrote P.J. Harvey’s Rid of Me
- Amanda Petrusich who wrote on Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and followed with two other music writing titles
- Geeta Dayal who wrote on Brian Eno’s Another Green World
- Daphne Carr who wrote on on Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine and has edited several (or all?) volumes of DaCapo’s Best Music Writing
This is a seriously accomplished group. Gina Arnold, Susan Fast, Tara Murtha, Anwyn Crawford, and Evie Nagy are also quite accomplished (and represent the women with upcoming titles).
This stat is an admittedly weak one. I used Amazon to source it and absolutely did not look thoroughly for every author. If I have time, I’ll try and update this stat to do it better justice, but take these numbers with a grain of salt. Of the 90 published authors: 46 only published their 33 1/3 title (51%), 8 had written a previous title (9%), 18 published another book(s) after their 33 1/3 title (20%), 9 published a book(s) both before and after their 33 1/3 title (10%), and there were 9 that I wasn’t sure about. I was really only interested to see if there was a higher barrier for women to publish, and I suppose conversationally I would say there is, but the numbers are complicated and I didn’t do a very thorough job generating them. There are other components worth measuring; several of the male authors were musicians (Warren Zanes, Joe Pernice, John Darnielle, Colin Meloy) which would account for their limited publishing history, though Pernice, Darnielle, and Meloy DO have other titles! No women musicians have doubled as 33 1/3 writers. Several writers, both men and women, experimented with form and wrote novellas instead of music journalism. The publishing history looks different there, the men are more well established (including their most recognizable name, Jonathan Lethem) and I’d argue it’s their resume that afforded them the chance to play around with reader expectations.
This was a fraught stat but I included it to throw a spotlight on the women who published with 33 1/3 - an excellent group. I don’t have any prognostication here and this stat will disappear in round two.
Artist’s Country of Origin
Back to the light stuff! Published: 54 American (60%), 32 British (36%), 2 Canadian (2%), 1 Swedish (1%) and 1 French (1%). Scheduled: 11 American (69%), 3 British (18.75%), 1 German (6.25%) and 1 Icelandic (6.25%). 33 1/3 is part of Bloomsbury, based in London. Ally Jane Grossan edits the series and is American. I expected their to be a slight British bias, but there’s instead a pretty pronounced American bias. Woe betide anyone who pitched a European album! The odds are not in your favor. My prognostication is 5 American, 3 British, and 2 Other.
Gender of Artist
Published: 20 of the titles included women performers (23%), 69 were men-only (77%). Scheduled: 3 include women performers (18.75%) and 13 are men-only (81.25). Gah, more bummers! I will err on the side of optimism and prognosticate 3 women performers and 7 men performers.
Solo Artist vs. Groups
Solo artist is defined as one artist or one performer’s moniker (Nine Inch Nails is a solo artist, Richard and Linda Thompson are a group, etc). Published: 29 solo (33%) and 60 group (67%). Scheduled: 7 solo (44%) and 9 group (56%). Pretty big leap! This is unquestionably due to the critical canonization of DJs (Aphex Twin, Danger Mouse, J Dilla) and solo-rappers (Kanye, Jay Z - sort of). I will bravely prognosticate an even split (5/5) between solo artists and groups.
Race of Artist
This is another fraught one. In order to present this stat more straightfowardly, race is attributed based on whatever the dominant presented race is. Joey Santiago of the Pixies is Filipino-American, but their dominant racial make-up is white, so they’re a notch in the white column. I don’t want to suggest that there is no diversity on this list, but there is certainly very little diversity, no matter how you organize your accounting. Published: 78 white (88%), 10 black (11%) 1 Pacific Island American (1%). Scheduled: 12 white (75%) and 4 black (25%). Really dismal. It’s my opinion that this stat is even more fucked up than their bias toward male writers and performers. In the entire history of recorded music, only 14 black performers are worthy of 33 1/3? Shameful. In lieu of prognostication, I’ll close this post with a plea for Ally Jane Grossan’s attention. You have a unique opportunity for intersection with the 33 1/3 series, pursue it.
Unpopular Opinion Alert!
I don’t mind the woman who reviews her husband’s record collection. I don’t think she’s setting me back. I also don’t think what she’s writing is music criticism, much in the same way that the 300 Sandwiches woman wasn’t writing a recipe blog. Sure, she’s posting about the Au Pairs (sort of), but her book cover will be pink and it will be sold to women who want to read about her marriage. I have a problem, but it’s not with this woman and I congratulate her on her savvy idea and clearly conscious decision to present herself as a naive novice. That paid off and she’s tapped into whatever reader base is tired of reading healthy living blogs but still wants to peek in through someone’s living room curtains at night.
My problem is that this is the market for women writers. I have a bigger post on this planned, but 33 1/3 recently announced an open call for proposals (now closed). They did a snarky tweet in reference to the number of proposals for albums released in the 1990s they received and it gave me the idea to track their titles proposed vs. published. Out of 100 published or slated titles, 33 1/3 have only published or scheduled 10 by women. That’s totally awful and I’m not even going to stoop with concessions like “maybe women just aren’t pitching at the same volume” or “maybe women music writers just don’t sell.” Maybe they just didn’t have the right shade of pink for the book cover? I have read so much excellent music writing from women that it’s pretty obvious to me what an expression of bias 33 1/3’s catalog is.
This is not a zero sum game! I am happy whenever a woman who isn’t Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter gets a book deal. I am happy for the record collection wife. But women also write seriously about music and it holds an appeal for everyone (as all good writing does). In the words of Beyoncé, “There is room on this earth for many queens.” It applies to the bookshelf, too.
Usually I would just g-chat this sort of query until my rage stroke subsided or I’d been convinced I was wrong, but the target of my meandering babble is unavailable, enjoy.
Recently, I read an ONTD post about Mindy Kaling kind of popping off at a Marie-Claire panel. I was pretty excited both to hear that she’d finally popped off and to read what I assumed would be 200+ comments along the lines of “yasss!” Kaling was asked, “You guys have a great, diverse set of characters, but was it a conscious decision for Mindy to be the only female doctor, and the only doctor [of color on the show]?” which is only the latest in a long line of really, where is this coming from? questions posed to Kaling (see also: when an E! presenter asked her what “color” she likes to date or also when everyone criticized her Elle cover for being fatshaming and she had to sit down and patiently explain that actually she thought she looked beautiful and that just getting on that cover was an achievement) and she has never once answered with anything less than grace. When she responded to this query with, “I look at shows on TV, and this is going to just seem defensive, but I’m just gonna say it: I’m a fucking Indian woman who has her own fucking network television show, OK?” I immediately flashed back to when Janet Mock and Laverne Cox sat down and were super polite and gracious to a clueless and offensive Katie Couric and everyone responded to congratulate them for their poise and then I read a handful of blog posts that pointed out how the true mark of progress (or something to that effect, I appologize, this is very much a paraphrase) would be them expressing their righteous anger because it would mean we were finally at a place where society would see that response as appropriate.So here was Kaling, expressing her righteous anger! Be real, no one is asking, like, Chuck Lorre about the race dynamics on his show - EVER, much less with the regularity that Kaling’s subjected to. It’s just his fucking show to do with whatever he pleases. Her response indicated she was owed the same courtesy, and she is, so how could anyone disagree? Oh, everyone disagreed. The first comment was, “I’ve said this before, but whoever said The Mindy Project is her excuse to hang out with the white male comedians who ignored her at The Office afterparties was so spot on” and that set the tone immediately. How disappointing. Is this kind of dismissal because she’s a woman? Because she’s an Indian woman? Because even when she answers these questions deferentially the answer amounts to same bottom line: “It’s my show to create as I please”? What prompts responding to Kaling’s totally valid mic drop with some snark about her personal life?
Then, today, came the news that Frank Ocean had wired a check to Chipotle and wrote “FUCK OFF” in the memo line. I understand the circumstances of his having to send this check, that he’d signed a contract to appear in a Chipotle commercial and then did not deliver the song, that he’d accepted a huge paycheck to participate in this ad and that his moneygram was legally owed. And still I was so excited to see that “FUCK OFF” in the memo line! Ocean’s team issued this statement to clarify his break with the project:
“When Frank was asked to participate in this project, Chipotle’s representatives told him that the thrust of the campaign was to promote responsible farming. There was no Chipotle reference or logo in the initial presentation, and Chipotle told Frank that was an intentional element of the campaign,” the letter reads in part. “Frank was also promised that he’d have the right to approve the master and all advertising.”
I’ve made this argument before with regards to Spotify vs. Thom Yorke, et al. and it’s, “why would you ever side with a corporation over a human being?” I don’t care if the human being is worth more than me if all my debt became cash. This is still one individual who refused McDonald’s money. Truthfully, I find it more inspiring that a rich person walked away from this ad because my concept of rich people is that they are free from the scruples that construct my wage-slave existence. Ocean doesn’t have to consider whether or not he needs this money, he can tell Chipotle to fuck off because he doesn’t want their logo branding him.
The response has been to tell Frank Ocean to fuck off, which, I suppose, is par for the course. A very popular post from Gabe Delahaye criticizes Ocean for posting, “AN IMAGE OF A FUCK OFF CHECK FOR $212,500 AS IF IT WAS GARBAGE TO YOU, AS IF IT WAS YOUR TOILET PAPER." That’s his interpretation, and clearly a lot of people more or less agreed with him, but since the image is presented without comment or context, it’s not a fact that Ocean’s intent was to throw money around in a demeaning way. So why assume that? This time I flashed back to the Kaling post. Why does this gesture from Frank Ocean, which, if not as straightforward as Kaling’s anger is still not clearly unwarranted, generate a scathing takedown?
on bossiness and the banning thereof
There are factors of privilege, and there are factors of politics; the deck was stacked wildly in my favor in some regards, in others against. In school I did apply for leadership positions and solos and such, with varying success; what sticks with me the most is one day where I found out I didn’t make it and went to talk to the group’s adviser, a faculty member, for advice, because I thought I could trust her. She brought in the leader of the organization, who told me that they had jointly decided I wouldn’t advance any farther than I already had, and that even if I was running unopposed they would have quietly recruited somebody else to apply. I think about this constantly, usually at the same times I think about the person who told me no one in my high school would get even into Duke (and god knows what she toldother people), or the person who told me I had no distinctive writing voice and wasn’t good enough to get a following on my own. (Either I asked how to improve, or maybe just wanted to ask how to improve, but I didn’t get an answer.) But maybe I just didn’t want it enough.
I had so many of these same, awful experiences. I had a high school guidance counsellor that (despite the fact that my grades, test scores, and extracurriculars were perfectly acceptably collegiate) encouraged me to pick out junior colleges to apply to. That didn’t rile me too much, partly because I assumed everyone was getting that speech and partly because I was still too young and dumb to have ever been set back. In college I met with an instructor (this was not a professor, not even an adjunct professor, just an unqualified hired gun plugging a hole in the creative writing department when needed) that I really liked and maybe credited with some of my decision to pursue writing as a major. I think this was my junior year and after some initial floundering I had gotten my GPA on track and my writing was improving but I had no concept of how people became writers. This guy was my first instructor and he’d always been positive about my work, so I felt like I’d least get an engaged answer from him. Not really. Dude told me that after graduating I should waitress for a few years. This was couched inside the broader advice that no one does an MFA right out of undergrad and that any good program would want to see that I’d lived enough to be a writer. Maybe he was like that guidance counsellor and he told every student to find a non-living-wage job after graduating college, but I expect he really only thought of women as waitresses. I think back on this moment and it still makes me so angry.
Fun times follow up, I don’t remember what prompted this, but I went through a phase where I was offering to write obituaries over Twitter and my mom commissioned one for our other family cat, Moonlight. Here it is:
Moonlight, a black cat with a white locket, was put to sleep January 21, 2012 after suffering a brief, but severe, decline in health. He lived for 13 very happy years.
Moonlight was adopted with his cat friend, Sam, by Laurel Harrington in LaGrange, Illinois on October 29, 1998. Everyone who met Moonlight loved him, but Laurel truly adored him. After she helped him battle back from illness when he was diagnosed with diabetes in 2001, the two were deeply bonded. Moonlight’s favorite pastimes were to watch Laurel cook, to help her thread the bobbin on her sewing machine, and to sit with her on the couch when she read or watched television. In return, Laurel seldom took vacations so that she could always give Moonlight his twice daily shots of insulin.
As Laurel’s children grew up and left the house, and with Sam’s passing in 2011, Moonlight took on an even more special place in Laurel’s heart. He was the cat who loved her. He waited at the bedroom door for her to wake each morning and he waited at the stairs for her return from work each afternoon. Moonlight knew Laurel completely and his companionship brought her such comfort and satisfaction. With pride, she told her daughters how smart and perceptive he was, and how he could still jump on the refrigerator late in life.
Moonlight was undoubtedly the best cat anyone could hope for and it is with great sadness that he departs this life.
I, too, had a very sick and very beloved family pet that I cared for while he died. His name was Sam and his whole life was riddled with what looked like neurotic mental illness except that cats aren’t supposed to have brains highly developed enough to become neurotic. He would rub his face on anything, vigorously, until he’d rubbed off the whiskers and fur above his eyes. He’d get rashes on his stomach that he’d prune until the saggy flesh was scabby and hairless. Eventually he started vomiting. Then he started vomiting daily and my dad objected so Sam came to live with me. I lived in an apartment that faced a busy street full of cars and school kids and Sam had poorly tolerated his former suburban peace; many days passed before he was willing to nudge himself from the far corner under my bed. Once he did, the vomiting resumed - with vigor - usually on my bed. Before work I would lay a deflated air mattress over my bedding and he’d instead vomit on a new purse.
During the summer I left all the windows permanently open though half of them didn’t have screens. Sam was too feeble to jump to a windowsill, much less out and the idea of someone robbing me - of a $250 netbook that barely qualified as a computer? - was comical. Sam suddenly returned to spending most of his time under the bed and initially I’d assumed this was due to the sound of the city growing louder but then I heard the chirping. A pigeon was living under my bed, with Sam. Sam, a declawed and mentally ill cat afraid of everything but me, had made friends with a pigeon. He not only watched, but walked around and sometimes interfered with my elaborate disposal of his new pal. Unlike Sam, I am afraid of birds. I put on all of my winter gear to protect my flesh and then removed all the furniture from my room in order to isolate the bird. He skittered to a corner and Sam skittered with him. I threw a bath towel on the pigeon and dropped his plump body from my bedroom window.That is my fondest memory of Sam, perfect, like a children’s book.
I also took him to the vet, once. The vomiting was intense, sometimes comparable in size to what my human stomach regurgitated on nights of heavy drinking. It wasn’t just his food but his water and his bile - anything inside his body. I took him to Yelp’s best rated vet in Chicago. We took a taxi there and Sam screeched and howled, as every cat in a car does. The doctor drew blood and took x-rays and gave him an IV and charged me $600. We took the bus home. Sam was silent and still for all 45 minutes. When the blood panel came back, nothing was wrong with him. There was no name for whatever he suffered, just a continually growing list of symptoms. He’d started losing weight. Despite having another cat that we realized was diabetic after his dramatic weight loss, Sam’s seemed potentially good. He’d been a massive, nearly 20 lb cat his entire life and then, in the last months of his life he was attractively slim.
Finally, a little before my 25th birthday, I called my mom, crying at work, and told her I needed to put Sam down. I’d looked up the signs of pain in cats - over and over and over again for about a week straight - and determined that despite the vet’s obliviousness, Sam was definitely suffering. I couldn’t watch him perch on my bed, a foot away from me, with all his limbs tucked under, too frail to touch, any longer. I had no idea how pets died naturally or how Sam would. I loved him too much to wait to find out. Tearfully, my mom agreed. The fanciest vet in Chicago did not euthanize, so he had to be taken back to Suburbia where such coarse procedures were performed. In the days leading up to his appointment I fed him raw salmon and bowls of milk - all the gourmet treats he’d begged for and been denied. And then I’d sob when he vomited it all back up. I’d hold him and cry and apologize.
He’s buried in our family backyard.
There are a lot of things I really resent about Emily Gould’s document of her debt for Medium, thoughts and behaviors I recognize and despise in myself, but I think what upset me the most, though not with resentment or self-hatred, was the story of Raffles. The story of Sam.
Until pretty recently there was a window advertisement set up in a Loop apartment building that was visible from the Brown line. It ran across four windows and it read:
Great Duos in History
Randolph Tower Apartments & You
Imagine a bank of windows. This is my advertisement:
True Detective Season 2
Memes & You
Too Long for a Tweet
Drake’s comments are just Drake’s version of the Macklemore instagram filtered round the world. Not that I disagree with anything he says, but drudging this all back up after the dust had settled and condemning Macklemore as insincere in favor of the dude who (maybe) made a point of dogging him all 2013? It just reads like “Please, K, can we be friends again? Signed, two Drake tracks - remix them?” Meanwhile, you’re never going to see either Kanye or Jay Z acknowledge this prize was ever awarded. It’s so much more sophisticated to create a new conversation surrounding the anniversary of your most beloved album complete with a series of uncharacteristically humble and effusive tweets. These PR goofs are an excellent baseline for separating the rookies from the veterans; Drake will be buzzing for a day, but he should probably be taking his own advice and building his legacy instead of issuing ill-timed quotes to keep his name trending.