Book Review: Phases & Stages

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Phases & Stages

Swordfishtrombones

by David Smay
Continuum Books, 129 pp., $10.95

Pink Moon

by Amanda Petrusich
Continuum Books, 120 pp., $10.95

Rid of Me: A Story

by Kate Schatz
Continuum Books, 112 pp., $10.95

Continuum Books' 331/3 series, writers deconstructing particular albums in just over 100 pages, spins for short attention spans. Take San Francisco music writer David Smay's dissection of Tom Waits' 1983 turning point, Swordfishtrombones. A total 180 for the Bay Area bard, Smay doesn't break it down. Instead, he takes the material and extracts random details so we get a clearer picture of Waits, a man more in love with myth than fact. Meeting wife and collaborator Kathleen Brennan in the early 1980s sparked Waits' creative impulse, reviving his floundering career. Smay's whimsical thought process winds as serpentine as the album, pondering Waits' wordplay, themes, and state of mind. Pitchfork critic Amanda Petrusich's look at Nick Drake's 1972 swan song, Pink Moon, takes a more straight-ahead business-model approach, ruminating on the 2000 Volkswagen commercial that brought the late British singer-songwriter to the ears of a new generation, as well as interspersing snippets from Drake fans. As musician James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, explains of Pink Moon: "It was always hard for me to think of any good reason to dislike it. How can you? You got ice water in your veins?" Myth clearing isn't Petrusich's bag; we never get closer to Drake's troubled persona than his lyrics. Fictionist Kate Schatz takes a different route in examining P.J. Harvey's watershed Rid of Me (1993), approaching it as a story with highly sexualized tension. Sounds good in theory, but, unfortunately, most of it comes off as bad erotic lit. That's the rub here: It's all open for interpretation.

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