33 1/3 is a series of pocket-sized books, each book focusing on a single album. This is the ninth installment of one person’s quest to read all 56 (and counting) of these things, and to scribble some impressions of each. As always, please keep in mind that it’s just one opinion, often skewed, and somewhat ill-informed. Accuracy is ensured as time permits. For the full introduction, check out the first installment and read the others here. On to the demi-tomes!
Part 12 of 56: Rid of Me: A Story by Kate Schatz (#48 in the series)
Twelve volumes into the odyssey, something new: a work of fiction, and one that never mentions the album it’s based on. Joe Pernice’s Meat is Murder was fiction as well, but in memoir form that could easily pass for his own story if he hadn’t fessed up in the introduction. Also, the album itself was prominently (and literally) featured in the story as the soundtrack to his character’s adolescent misadventures.
Kate Schatz’ approach to PJ Harvey‘s second album, 1993′s Rid of Me, is entirely different. Fourteen chapters -- each corresponding to a song on the album, presented in sequence -- follow the trials, tribulations and eventual emancipation of two characters, Kathleen and Mary, from the men controlling their lives. Having both women flee men might strike PJ Harvey fans as a curious plot choice, since Harvey herself has made a point of saying she has no interest in feminism. Then again... so what? This collection of stories isn’t about PJ Harvey and doesn’t make any pretense of speaking for her.
Although lyrical quotes are woven into the dialog, you could easily read this without guessing it referenced an album at all. If you know the Rid of Me album, it’s fascinating to see what an author does after deciding to write a book “not about the album, but because of it.” I’d wager this ends up the most polarizing book in the 33 1/3 series, but regardless of which side you fall on, you gotta admit it’s gutsy. I’d like to think PJ Harvey would give that a thumbs up.
Kate, which came first -- the idea to contribute to the series with a volume on Rid of Me specifically, or the idea to contribute to the series with an “inspired by” work of fiction, with the album to be chosen later?
Excellent question, but I’m not sure if there’s an answer... When I first discovered the series, I was at an auction for a non-profit school in Providence, and several books (the first ten, I believe) had been donated by a 33 1/3 editor, who was there. I immediately fell in love with the books and sought out said editor. We drank champagne in a can together and I told her, “I want to write one of these.” She asked what album I would choose, and Rid of Me was the first thing that came to mind. I didn’t initially know how I’d approach it, but I’m a fiction writer, and though I’ve done a minute amount of non-fiction writing, I had a hard time imagining doing book-length non-fiction; it just didn’t seem interesting or germane.
As I thought more about my approach, I really considered the album; it’s one I’ve loved since I was 15, and as I re-listened I was struck by its literary qualities, by the character sketches, the drama, the language, the references. I knew that I wanted to try to get at the music itself, rather than the process of the album’s production, and I became fascinated by this question of the intimate relationship between a listener and an album. How it becomes your own after a while, how you make it yours.
So I guess there is an answer, technically; first came Rid of Me, and then, not long after, I knew it would be some sort of fiction.
Most people listen to their music collection via CDs and iPods now, and often “shuffle” songs on an album... did you ever give any thought to writing a free-standing piece for each song, rather than something sequential? Or did the way you initially came to the album yourself inform how you approached the book?
Since this project was based so much, in part, on my relationship to the album, it seemed essential to work in a linear way. It was pre-iPod, and I don’t think my crappy teenage stereo even had a shuffle option. So yes, the way I had always listened to it really helped determine the form. It’s funny, because prior to deciding to do the book, it had been some time since I’d listened to Rid of Me. Songs would come on here and there on my iTunes, of course, but I hadn’t put the album on and listened closely for a while. But beyond that, I actually wanted the chapters to work in both ways -- as freestanding pieces well as consecutive parts of a larger narrative. I saw each chapter as a self-contained unit, as each works within the frame of the opening and closing lyrics, and each chapter’s tone is dependent upon the corresponding song; at the same time, each chapter is part of the bigger story. Basically I wanted the chapters to be like songs on an album; simultaneously discrete and interdependent. When I was beginning the writing process, I would listen to one song on repeat over and over, and work on each chapter that way. So at some point, I did stop listening to it straight through, and just focused on one song. I do love the way the album is structured though, and listening to it from start to finish is a total pleasure.
Tell me about the Encyclopedia Project.
The Encyclopedia Project began several years ago when two friends and I began talking about creating a publication project that would focus on fiction and cross-genre, experimental writing and art. We wanted to deviate from the standard lit journal, and wanted the publication’s form to reflect its content; we came up with idea of borrowing the form (layout, cross-referencing, general aesthetic) of ye old encyclopedia, but having all the “entries” be original creative works (short stories, essays, photography, plays, drawings, etc), rather than traditional informative definitive entries. We’re making 4 volumes that will go A-Z, and Vol 1 A-E was published almost two years ago, with entries on everything from Assimilation to Brazil to Celebrity to Drama to Ending. It’s a hardbound book with work by 116 various writers, artists, academics, activists, and all-around fascinating creators. Vol 2 F-K is in the works, and though it’s taking us a long time to publish it, it’s definitely on the way. It’s a crazy, playful, thoughtful project and I love working on it.
Next week: Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality by John Darnielle.