Behold the Musical Spoils of the Brooklyn Book Festival


Ah, the Brooklyn Book Festival, a five-year-old, free, all-day blowout of panels, readings, and extraordinary quasi-literary happenings, where you might see, say, Ian MacKaye complaining about people who say, “Just type it in” when they mean “Google it.” (On a panel with Thurston Moore and Lupe Fiasco, no less.) Or who can forget Mary Gaitskill actually rapping a bar or two of “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”? This year’s model, happening Sunday, once again takes over Brooklyn’s Borough Hall and surrounding environs — what sort of music-related nonsense will transpire? Per the BKBF’s own event schedule, here’s a rundown of a discerning music lover’s ideal day:

10 a.m.

It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It). Musically inspired readings by three chart-topping American fiction writers: Steve Almond (Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life), Jennifer Egan (A Visit from the Goon Squad), and Colson Whitehead (Sag Harbor). Followed by Q&A.

“Musically inspired literature” is a dangerous game indeed, but this seems pretty legit: It’s probably worth waking up early if only for the always delightful Whitehead, proprietor of perhaps the best author Twitter page around. But if you can’t make this, apparently he’ll be crying at a nearby Applebee’s this afternoon.


Pop Life: Music, Memory, and America’s Coming of Age. Rob Sheffield (Talking to Girls About Duran Duran), Joshua Clover (1989), and Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Beautiful Struggle) discuss the ways that memory and personal and political meaning inhabit the most ephemeral music and popular culture. Moderated by Julie Burstein, creator of public radio’s Studio 360 and the author of the forthcoming Spark: How Creativity Works.

A fine mixture of the frothy and the cerebral here from three of the expanded rock-critic universe’s deepest thinkers: The conversation will veer wildly from Scritti Politti to actual socialism, Jesus Jones to . . . Jesus. Epic Fluxblog interview with Sheffield starts here and goes on forever, or at least feels like it could.

1 p.m.

The Problem with Music. Does music have the same role in our lives it once did, or has it become mere background noise in our more-now-again age of oversaturation? Do rock, punk, and hip-hop still provide a voice and a sense of community to the alienated and disaffected? And what of technology’s role in these changes? Four music writers discuss the state of the art. With Sara Marcus (Girls to the Front), Greg Milner (Perfecting Sound Forever), Elijah Wald (How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll), and Thomas Chatterton Williams (Losing My Cool).

“Williams is the first of his generation to measure the seductive power of hip-hop against its restrictive worldview, which ultimately leaves those who live it isolated and powerless. LOSING MY COOL portrays the allure and the danger of hip-hop culture like no book has before.” Several portions of this book have been read aloud to me sarcastically in the past 24 hours. You kids have fun.

2 p.m.

Primal Impulses and Prose. Mary Gaitskill (Don’t Cry), Ben Greenman (What He’s Poised to Do), and Simon Van Booy (The Secret Lives of People in Love) each write poignantly about primal impulses–those that are spoken or unspoken, yet felt; and those that are accepted or unaccepted, yet change lives.

Mary! Mary! Do “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” again! C’mon! C’MONNNNN.

Culture vs. Cash. Explore the breach between the role of the musician as artist and the role of the record companies as a business. Oftentimes music rises up out of subcultures that are about much more than profits, but ultimately the industry is a business that must support itself financially. Dan Charnas (The Big Payback), Will Hermes (The Big Bang), Kristin Hersh (Rat Girl), and moderator Greg Tate (James Brown’s Body and the Revolution of the Mind) look at the conflicting interests of artists and executives.

Anything moderated by Greg Tate promises to not be moderate at all.