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Catalogs and Concerts
Wherein we get lost in the minutia and visit the creative expression
Biblioctopus sent out one of their infrequent elists the other day, which always reminds me to go peruse one of their more extensive catalogs. Here’s Catalog 64, in fact. They do, as they say, take their cataloging seriously, but at the same time, they are very aware of the rarified niche of their audience (which is to say literare folk in search of exceptionally fine books). As such, their indiosyncratic voice is on high display with their catalog listings. I don’t think I ever learned so much about the publication history of Dumas’s Three Musketeers as I did from reading their 20,000 word catalog about the man’s works.
I also recently received the 2023 catalog from Capitol Hill Books where a dear friend works in the rare books room. Once upon a time, the boss and I were trying to track down a middle volume of some obscure turn of the 20th century set of books for a customer who wanted the whole thing rebound. We weren’t having any luck finding the specific edition we were looking for, and so I suggested we ping my pal at Capitol for help. I’ve barely finished describing what we were looking for when he comes back with a URL for a copy that’s for sale at some bookstore in the midwest. My understanding is that he didn’t even get off the couch to find the book. Which either says we suck at finding books or he’s got some strong book fu. We’re going with the latter.
Anyway, the Capitol Hill Books catalog is a lovely glimpse into American ephemera, and I always dig all the minutia that is included with the listings. I like wondering about the stories hidden in the minutia.
Darin Bradley took this idea and ran with it in “∞°," a story that originally appeared in the fall 2010 issue of John Klima's Electric Velocipede, one of those hand-assembled chapbook zines that we all secretly wanted to be a part of. When I was assembling Light Both Foreign and Domestic, Darin’s collection for Underland Press, I totally reached out to John for his file of “∞°." I mean, no reason to do all that heavy lifting a second time, right?
Is there an anthology out there of invented texts, or is this one of those ideas that surfaced for a half hour on a text thread somewhen and never got much farther than that? Perhaps I should revisit this idea, though I’m not sure anyone needs a full-blown anthology. Perhaps this is a chapbook series or something.
One of the other thoughts that keeps cycling through my brain is the idea of a Creative Collaborative Retreat, where writers go off for a weekend to make something. We would gather in a space that has the tools to produce an actual product, and after a few days, we gather around a table and do a bunch of collating and stapling. We sell this object—however many we manage to produce—and then we vanish into the night. The intent would be remind ourselves why we make stuff. It’s not so much talking about doing but rather actually doing.
Maybe the thing that gets made is, say, “Notes from the 18th Symposium of the Esoteric Litmusists and Variegated Bibliomancers Society.” I mean, we all know the 18th Symposium was way better than the 16th and 17th.
Also, this just came across my radar: the entirety of the Whole Earth Catalog has been scanned and uploaded. Talk about catalog porn.
We caught Eddie Izzard's The Remix tour the other night. It's been a few years, and the conceit of this tour was to revisit old material with a fresh eye, and since there's quite a bit of Izzard-speak that has worked its way into the household lexicon, we were totally the target demographic. There were a few nods to the classics, but Eddie didn't allow the show to turn into an evening of audience participation of the classic bits. The second half, especially, was a run of great new material, which was, I think, wisely placed after we had all gotten over our need to revisit the hits.
Eddie rambles on stage, though I'm never quite sure how much of it is pre-scripted, you know? But some of it is definitely Eddie working out the material. I suppose all comedians are constantly tweaking their shows, and when they get to a point where the material is recorded, all the rough edges have been smoothed off. That said, some of the asides and meandering "let's see where this thought leads" bits are widely entertaining. There's a special sort of energy that is present when you're making up shit on the fly.
Also, House of Mythology just released Ulver's show at Grieghallen from 2018. They've put the full video of the concert up on YouTube, and you can get the digital release now (via bandcamp) or pre-order physical media for early 2024. This show is the culmination of Ulver's tour supporting The Assassination of Julius Caesar, which was the first of their synthwave period (after the black metal period and the rock opera period and the thunder in your blood period).
The Assassination of Julius Caesar is one of my favorite records, and even though they tried a few times, Ulver couldn't quite figure out the economics of touring the US. I was ready, mind you. I was definitely ready to go. But I'm happy a record of this era exists, and the live recording is really good.
Compare the live versions to the studio recordings of The Assassination of Julius Caesar. The instrumentation is different, for instance, due to the nature of the live show, and Garm’s vocals sit more heavily in the mix. There’s a different energy to the live show. Of course there is; you’re responding to the immediate feedback from the audience.
Eddie’s live material goes through this same process, repetition and revision until it reaches its final state. Along the way, the audience may encounter this material several times, and each time, we open our wallets and show up. So what if we get that early show in the tour when the material is still being finessed. We don’t pay any less for the experience than those who see it at the end of the tour. In some cases, we’ve already paid for the material (in the case of musicians); or, in the case of Eddie, we might pay for the experience of seeing the show again. We don’t mind. This is part of what why we go to shows. Why we want to be part of this experience.
Writers don’t get to create like this, do we? We release a thing once, and then we’re not allowed to revisit it.