The Bushwick Book Club tasks small armies of songwriters with writing original material about various iconic works of literature; on the first Tuesday of each month, they then gather at Goodbye Blue Monday to spout literary analysis, shambling guitar licks, and piercing slide whistle solos. For April’s edition of this peculiar, perhaps ill-conceived ritual, fifteen songwriters chewed on the rather disturbing plot points of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. Kicking things off, a boy/girl duo sang about the “green wriggling mass” that swelled the otherwise inconspicuous peach into a monsterfruit. A PSP-wielding software hacker was frankly discussing James’s rhinoceros-induced orphaning, wailing, “Your mother is dead/your father isn’t living.” The show was peculiar even before hostess Susan Hwang started riffing between sets: “That was so amazing! Oh my Lord, I can’t feel my brain!”
There’s always some risk involved in putting self-proclaimed singer-songwriters near an open mic: one long-winded tale of James’ adulthood covered alcoholism and the virtues of cussing at children, while another artist performed a song about how he didn’t actually read the book (“There’s a dinosaur! No, there’s no dinosaur…”). But there were moments of insight too: Dahl’s prose plays down the tragedy of James’s life, but a smoky rendition of “Strange Fruit” unraveled that pretense. And a ukulele player reminded us that the book’s original edition was widely banned, and for good reason–James’s whole adventure starts with “talking to strangers who offer to solve all your problems with drugs.” In response to which, earlier, another performer had cheerfully confessed: “I’ve always for unfortunate reasons identified with this book.” Up next on the BBC’s schedule? Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.