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Pavement's Wowee Zowee (33 1/3) Paperback – May 6, 2010
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The Amazon Book Review
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"Charles puts himself in the center of the book—we read about hisaimless college years in Michigan and his discovery of Pavement, whosesongs initially seem half hearted, even bratty, but actually contain anundertow of emotion that's hard to articulate.Charles' writing is the same way. He succinctly captures the flavorof being in one's late teens and early 20s without going intounnecessary detail. Finishing school, he undergoes that arduous,interminable crisis of figuring out what to do with life,discovering that one of the only things that still makes sense isPavement. Charles returns to the band time and again, the music weavinga thread through his life. The book includes unvarnished interviewswith members of the band, providing an honest, first-person account ofthe making of the record. But the heart of the book isn't Pavement;it's Charles, and novelist or no, he has turned in one of the bestpieces of rock journalism in recent memory—a no-bullshit, heartfeltmanifesto of fandom."
-The Portland Mercury
"At the core of every 33 1/3 book is the question of roping in readers who may be unfamiliar with the band or album, but Charles is able to resituate Pavement as the everyman band they were during the 90spayday. From tales of major label flirtations (which the band is quick to dismiss as nothing more than random dalliances with thepowers-that-be) to the band's reputation as slackers (which finds Stephen Malkmus tossing aside by pointing out the band's relentless touring schedule), Charles covers much more than the time period of Wowee Zowee without abandoning the album's specific importance in their catalog.Part history lesson, part fanzine love letter, Bryan Charles has written a book that is as ambitious and yet as untethered as hissubject matter."
-Tiny Mix Tapes
"[Charles has written] an oral history about the genesis and recording of Pavement's Wowee Zowee album that is infused with his own personal fandom of the band. Charles paints a vivid picture of the band as it wrote and recorded the album through interviews with band members and the creatives who surrounded the production of the album, all the while sharing his own experiences with the album and as a Pavement fan.
Mixing the album's history with Charles' own works exceedingly well, and captures not only the essence of Pavement when they recorded Wowee Zowee, but also the indie rock culture of the time.
"At the core of every 33 1/3 book is the question of roping in readers who may be unfamiliar with the band or album, but Charles is able to resituate Pavement as the everyman band they were during the 90spayday. From tales of major label flirtations (which the band is quick to dismiss as nothing more than random dalliances with thepowers-that-be) to the band’s reputation as slackers (which finds Stephen Malkmus tossing aside by pointing out the band’s relentless touring schedule), Charles covers much more than the time period of Wowee Zowee without abandoning the album’s specific importance in their catalog.Part history lesson, part fanzine love letter, Bryan Charles has written a book that is as ambitious and yet as untethered as hissubject matter."
-Tiny Mix Tapes
About the Author
Bryan Charles is the author of the novel Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book works because Bryan Charles very obviously loves the band and album deeply. There is a fair amount of this book that is autobiographical - something I expected would irritate me. But honestly, I dug it and truly felt that that aspect ended up enriching the entire thing. But anyway, the bulk of the material is comprised of interviews with the band members and other relevant personnel. There's plenty of detail about the recording of the songs and so forth. Plenty to keep you happy even if you don't care about Pavement's impact on the writer's teenage years.
I'd say the book is really all about Pavement in general and their effect on the writer. Wowee Zowee is the focus, obviously, but any Pavement fan should still buy this book even if Wowee Zowee isn't their favorite album. Charles even goes over his thought process in choosing which Pavement album to write about, which I thought was pretty cool.
Long story short - this is a very good, informative book. It is a loving, well-written, and worthy tribute to a great band and album. These 33 1/3 books (based on reviews here) seem to be very much hit-or-miss, but I think this one can be firmly placed in the "hit" section.
The last sentence in the Acknowledgements is "BUYING BOOKS IN BOOKSTORES IS COOL." Woops.
As with a lot of the 33 1/3rd series, autobiography plays a part, but Bryan Charles is a keen, level-headed fan with a rich memory for time and place, and he uses his own background to give his reporting a foundation. Since we know how he feels about the group and exactly why, it amplifies his exploration of "Wowee Zowee" as he encounters and interviews the key figures behind it.
Just one thing about Charles' book was distracting, and this is totally my opinion. During a fair amount of the book, his style, phrasing, and sentence structure seem to owe a pretty heavy debt to the "White Jazz"-era prose of crime novelist James Ellroy. Charles doesn't suddenly go ultraviolent, but he does tend toward the short, staccato beats of Ellroy, with some of the hipster vibe. Call me crazy, but if you know the crime author's patter, you might see what I'm talking about in this portion:
"I told him I'd heard about a meeting with Matador and two of the Pavement guys. Gerard was pushing Wowee Zowee. You were checked out. You were on the phone or something, not listening. You said the record was s--t and nothing could be done with it."
"I regressed a little, became a gaping fan ... I nudged my friend Jim. He stared too. Our dinner companions were square. They didn't know who Pavement was or get the big deal. Half a beer later I relaxed and quit staring so much. But seeing Mark Ibold still blew my mind...."
There are about two dozen more instances I could cite, but that'd probably only make me seem more OCD. And I realize this is an elaborate quibble, to be sure. Plus, if Charles actually is aping Ellroy, there are certainly worse or less appropriate writers he could mimic. Style aside, the overall product is a fine dissection of an excellent album.
The writing that Charles displays in this book is overly self-involved, often far from relevant to the band and album being discussed, and occasionally unprofessional. These flaws and weaknesses in the book don't make Charles a bad writer so much as they make for a weak and disappointing entry in '33 1/3'. Pavement is a great and influential band that deserved a better '33 1/3' written about them. There are many other writers in the '33 1/3' series who were able to write about bands and albums without making their book all about the person writing it. All of those writers probably had difficulties in researching their books or trying to set up interviews while dealing with the day to day difficulties of being alive and they were able to have their books published without complaining to the reader about their problems and obstacles they faced in writing for '33 1/3'. Charles could have followed in their footsteps, and would have made a better book in doing so.
Lastly, this book adds nothing to discourse on Pavement. Fans of the band who have already seen the documentary 'Pavement: Slow Century' or read the band biography 'Perfect Sound Forever' will learn nothing from this book that were not already in those two previous texts.