Scribes Sounding Off: Being & Punk-Blackness

Sheila Heti and Misha Glouberman have co-authored a book — him talking, her writing it down — that is the sort of beautiful collaboration of wit, wisdom, and wonder that you might have started a band to express, helped make a film to capture, taken non-college courses to expand your mind to. The Chairs Are Where The People Go is sort of an Advanced Urban Studies, about the aesthetics of the everyday, and how to get along with everyone else while learning to enjoy yourself more creatively. For someone like me who hates the genre (is it a genre?), it does for self-help books what Moby Dick did for the novel. I mean that in a good (evolutionary) way.

Fans of the magazine The Believer, which doesn’t necessarily seek out the arcane or the digressive for content, but seems to have no problem with its articulate contributors expressing topics that could be described as such, should be aware that one of its editors is an amazing author. Heti is interviews editor for the (usually) monthly publication, which doesn’t care much about article length (every size has its idea, as every excitable young writing teacher is keen to quote Carver), and really lets writers they like roil away. It’s the only non-music periodical I collect every issue of (though its current issue is the Music Issue, and anyone reading the KEXP Blog needs to buy that annual extra special edition, um, every year it comes out).

Heti is also a novelist and the author of the extraordinary How Should A Person Be?, a sort of warm up to her collection of essays with Glouberman, who is a charades instructor, city activist, collective sounds maker, and apparently a great guy to have brunch with. How Should A Person Be? makes you want to live; it’s autobiography as inspiration, the spirit and desire of one woman processing the world she wants to live in while she tries to write in it. Apparently, she was having a hard time doing that, but she uses her relationships with friends as fuel for her lean ruminations on fate, Israel, cheating, procrastination, brunch, and relationships with friends.

The Chairs Are Where The People Go is the how-to book Heti now receives as a gift to get things done, co-created by a caring friend who offers some perfectly practical advice, along with some profoundly disturbing revelations about his own anxiety, need to control things, ability to inspire and conflict with others, and everything you need to know about playing games. It’s about ethics, and art, in the way that Cocteau meant, but not quite as mystical. More as pleasuring, and with fairness. I think music fans at least could learn a lot from his stories about teaching how to improvise with others in charades and in classes where people make non-musical sounds together. And his Trampoline Hall series with Heti, which is coming to Seattle on July 18, at Town Hall, at 7:30 p.m. (sharp). Also featured will be Stranger film editor and comedy expert Lindy West, and myself, each lecturing on something we know nothing about (one of the main reasons for the Trampoline Hall shows).

Stephen Duncombe is well known by avant-culture academics and scholarly punks alike for his excellent books on zines (Notes From Underground) and political activism (Cultural Resistance Reader), among other provocative tomes. His work consistently transcends the usual “egghead examines middlebrow culture” tones of many of the University presses, owing probably to his own hardcore and social anarchist past. He has co-edited a new book on race relationships in the rebellious rock underground music scene with Maximumrocknroll scribe and SLEEPiES drummer Maxwell Tremblay, titled White Riot: Punk Rock and The Politics of Race.

Unlike his exhaustively conversational but still individually executed history and analysis of ‘zine culture, the new book is closer to his collaborative political collections, though his days as a performer in White Noise is the obvious sparking point for a dialogue that ropes in Greg Tate (“Hardcore of Darkness: Bad Brains”), James Baldwin (“The Black Boy Looks At The White Boy”), Lester Bangs (“The White Noise Supremacists”), Dick Hebdige (“Bleached Roots: Punks and White Ethnicity”), Steve Waksman (“Kick Out The Jams: The Politics of Noise”), Greil Marcus (“Crimes Against Nature”), interviews with Black Flag, Los Crudos, and Virus 27, and excerpts from Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming, and the crucial low budget Afro-Punk documentary. Among a ton of other “greatest hits” of writing on the topic.

It’s a banging pit of engagement, and is as wonderfully suggestive of a more aggressive music-based EMP Pop Conference as it is a shocking reminder that no entire book has ever been dedicated to this subject before. I wish things could have been analyzed a bit more musically (good Lord, I know it’s a consumer thing to ask for, but a cohesive record guide section would have been excellent, as was recently amended to American Hardcore), but as Jeff Chang describes in his endorsement of it — as a “loud, brilliant collection of rants and critical explosions” — it works well.

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