For publishers, authors, and agents, coming up with the perfect book title causes great consternation. In some cases, hundreds of titles are suggested, batted about, and batted down months before a book’s official publication date. The highly volatile selection process often results in finger-pointing, idle threats, lollygagging, and, in some rare cases, irritable bowl syndrome. Sadly, like many of my colleagues in publishing, I’ve experienced this aggravating process firsthand.

jake shears

The Scissor Sisters couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to sashay onto the scene. It was 2004, and the country was experiencing fits of crazy homophobia thanks to the gay marriage debate and Republicans like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman (who was gay, unbeknownst to himself at the time, uh-huh) and Karl Rove, who ushered their candidate, George W. Bush, into the White House for another four years in part by putting gay marriage on the ballot in 11 states and allowing those citizens to vote their dumb prejudices and then pull the lever for Dubya for good measure.

The day I fell in love with Irma Thomas I drunkenly slow danced with the Abbey bar’s jukebox to one of her songs, waiting for the night to fall out of focus. She had a voice that culled drunkards from their cups, and brought them to their feet. Mostly, her songs made you want to get up and dance, drunk or sober.

I fell in love with her sixties songbook.  I fell in love with her voice. Most of all, I fell in love with the simple elegance of each song.

The next day, hung over at work searching to blot out the Quarterflash record Wes, the store manager, was playing, I realized the stunning eloquence of Irma Thomas. In the midst of Quarterflash’s soulless bleating I managed to reconstruct one of Thomas’s soul gems note by note. Quite a feat. I was really hung over. Usually, when Quarter Flash made their appearance- a regular occurrence- I bounded upstairs to the store room where thousands of New Orleans R&B and Jazz records sat in boxes gathering dust, ostensibly to catalog them, but really just to free my ears from the garbage.

By Matt Salyer

Essay

Most great pop songs leave you wanting to know more about the story taking place within their allotted three minutes. About how things came to be, where things went after the outro, what the singer was doing during the guitar solo, that kind of thing. Did Gary Numan ever get out of his car? Did the Michael Jackson character in “Billie Jean” secretly think that, yeah, the kid probably was his son? Did Cyndi Lauper’s fun-loving party girl in “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” ever calm the fuck down?

The answers to these questions can’t be known, but they are peripheral to our enjoyment of the song anyway, so though they are fun to ponder, they are ultimately not important. But some songs pose questions that are so central to the song’s appeal that ignoring them is not an option. Such is the case in PJ Harvey’s song “You Said Something” from her 2000 album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, in which a teasingly undelivered piece of information ensures that a pivotal moment in the relationship between the two main characters remains frustratingly, wonderfully mysterious.

 

Yesterday, early evening, I went to the Strand Bookstore on 12th Street and Broadway.  The store is just slightly overflowing with used and new books presented on tables and in aisles of shelves that almost reach the ceiling, reminding me of a school library.   “Eighteen Miles of Books” is their current motto.

As I am about to put an end to an 8-year procrastination on recording my second album, I have gathered some thoughts from that stretch of time, that I would like to share.

I write songs; Folk/Pop(ular) songs (I’ll call them folk songs) as opposed to classical (formal) music, to make a simple differentiation which probably leaves many things unaccounted for.
I generally think the following:
A folk song is comprised of three elements.
Chords  –  Vocal melody  –  Lyrics

Many of the songs I love express feelings so universal that I and others feel the urge to sing them in the shower or play them around a campfire.  These three aforementioned elements are all that is needed to transfer a song from one person to another.  Each person who chooses to recreate a folk song brings to it their instrument of choice and style of playing, their unique voice, and the character with which they deliver the lyrics.