Lessons from Vinyl Records?

VINYL IS BACK!

c/o Erika Records

The sale of vinyl records has increased greatly over the past fifteen years– 27.5 million vinyl LPs sold in the U.S. last year according to Forbes magazine– which makes them more than mere collectors items.

A plethora of online music sites explain the resurgence. Ted Goslin with Yamaha Music gives four reasons for it: -that vinyl is tangible -the cool factor -the listening experience, and -the sound quality. Another online site says it’s because vinyl is “warmer, fuller, more authentic,” and credits also the artwork of vinyl records.

One of the more thorough analyses of the phenomenon is this essay by an outfit called Way Back When at Medium:

Additionally, the cover art on albums is displayed in a much better fashion on vinyl records. Don’t believe us, just go to a vinyl record shop and compare the art on your phone compared to having it in the physical. There are so many little details missed within the artwork when it’s on your phone than when you hold the album in a physical version.

Vinyl records are also a sign of someone having an exquisite taste in music.

THE QUESTION

The question for us at New Pop Lit is whether these same reasons can apply to literary products– such as the zeens we’re selling at our POP SHOP.

Zeens are about the analog reading experience. They’re designed to be viscerally unique, with emphasis on quality of paper, art, and a lot of color, to create a warmer, more tangible presence than any other print publication. More real than digital.

(Can people truly be satisfied spending most of their waking hours in the fake two-dimensional world of electronic screens, when a 3-D alternative is everywhere around us?)

Will the analog revolt extend to the literary field? We hope to find out.

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Types of Cultural Change

THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF CULTURAL CHANGE

1.) GRADUAL CHANGE

The kind of change which improves a skill or art within-the-field, but doesn’t expand the field or the field’s footprint within the greater culture. Most often the change is incremental, such as modest improvements in technique.

For example, the sport of tennis. In men’s tennis where every top player has a high level of skill and talent, Novak Djokavic has been able to stand out through changes in his training and diet.

The problem with gradual change is that it’s not enough to keep interest in a sport like tennis from dropping in relation to the greater culture, as other sports and other cultural happenings move forward at a faster rate.

This situation applies to literature and especially with the more esteemed “literary” end of the spectrum. MFA programs train students in refining their craft, polishing their short stories, and the sentences within, without changing the basic template. Without rethinking anything about the art. The nature of the writing workshop in fact discourages experimentation, or any writing which might look “bad” or disturbing because it’s trying something new.

The result: an unexciting literary game which presents always the same-old same-old. The predictable and been done.

2.) RADICAL CHANGE

A leap forward. The kind of change which drastically remakes an art and in so doing creates an explosion of interest in it. For instance, the way rock n roll beginning in 1955 exploded onto national then international consciousness and completely remade the music business, expanding interest and multiplying the size of the market many times over.

In sports, an example would be the emergence of Babe Ruth as a star circa 1920. He’d started out as a pitcher. With nothing to lose in his perfunctory at bats– expected to make an out– he began swinging for the fences, taking huge swings at pitches, thereby striking out at an increased rate but when connecting, hitting the ball for a home run. This went 180 degrees against the practice of the time of playing it safe, the goal to just make contact with the ball and get on base.

Ruth’s monster home runs caused massive fan interest. New York Yankee attendance doubled, while many other baseball teams smashed their previous attendance records due to the Ruth effect. Babe Ruth became for ten years the most popular figure in America.

THE QUESTION is whether or not this kind of change could happen to the sleepy literary game?

What it would take is allowing writers to embarrass themselves as they try new ideas– to “make outs”– as they work toward making the art fresh and exciting.

If it can be imagined it can happen.

Wake Up the Tastemakers!

ONE of the reasons literature is in sad shape– its role in the greater culture plummeting– is that staffs of Manhattan magazines, beneath surface differences, are invariably the same. Well-educated upper-middle class climbers from the “best” schools. Usually the same schools. Their ideas on art and culture are the same.

Will they be able to recognize the radically NEW when it lands on the desk in front of them?

Why does it matter? It matters because they have the remaining promotional infrastructure for all things literary in today’s media world– an infrastructure underground publishers lack.

What we offer are ways to engage the larger culture, via more exciting literary products. We’re little different from hip-hop creators and others who’ve come from outside the cultural system and with new ideas were able to reinvigorate that system along with the culture at large. They depended on perceptive outliers among media able to spot an opportunity and jump on it.

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HOW do you revive an art? Another example from pop music history is the early 1990s when groups like The Pixies and Nirvana injected pop elements into punk rock and thereby created a new hybrid. Not dissimilar to what we’re doing at New Pop Lit via our zeen creations. Check us out. Drop into our POP SHOP.

Lessons for Cultural Insurgency?

IS IT TIME TO CHANGE LITERATURE?

c/o Sidiqullah Khan/ AP

We operate under the premise that the current literary system is top-heavy and ready to be taken down.

The Question: What strategy will accomplish that end?

(It’s been revealed by recent world events that all is illusion, power is illusory, that which seems stable can collapse overnight. The trick then is to apply this realization to other realms. Such as: today’s literature-and-publishing empires, where all is hype and bluff, dusty academies or skyscrapers filled with time-servers and ticket-punchers, with an original idea nowhere to be found. Instead, a well-trained herd following blindly a well-trod path.)

The Countdown to Change has begun. We at New Pop Lit are prepared to document it, and whenever possible, to light a spark. The stakes are huge, the prize enormous: a revived more colorful and exciting literary art.

WATCH this blog for steady updates as we report on the ongoing transformation of American and world literature.

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Are Maildrops the Future of New York Publishing?

NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE AS TREND INDICATOR?

I’ve long argued for the vulnerability of the top-heavy conglomerate model of publishing, centered as it is in two hyper-expensive global cities, New York and London. Lease rates, rents, cost-of-living, salaries– everything about doing business in those two towns should make them uncompetitive in comparison to a city like, say, Detroit. The prestige of a swanky address, and the ability to woo clients in Manhattan bars and restaurants, as a value can go only so far.

Newsweek magazine anyway seems to have discovered a way out. Go onto their Contact page, and you see a large logo for something called EnveritasGroup. Enveritas is a digital marketing agency. Presumably they were hired by– or partnered with– Newsweek, to restore the publication to its previous standing. And lo and behold, the new strategy appears to have moved Newsweek headquarters to the most prestigious address in New York City: One World Trade Center. The lofty skyscraper built to replace the twin towers.

But has it? Search online the listed address with suite number included– 8500– and you come up with not Newsweek, but an outfit called Servcorp. Servcorp sells virtual office space– meaning, a prestigious address. They are, in other words, a glorified maildrop, for Newsweek and other companies.

Where is Newsweek magazine’s headquarters actually located, including their editorial office? Elsewhere in New York? Individual editors’ homes and on Zoom? A small town in Arkansas? We don’t know. But it sure looks as if Newsweek is perpetuating the illusion they’re still based in Manhattan, while cutting costs drastically by working elsewhere.

The downside: no more swanky three-martini lunches.

Why Hemingway Was Hemingway

ERNEST HEMINGWAY AS LITERARY ROCK STAR?

In any group, Ernest was the most impressive personality.
-Charles Thompson, quoted in The True Gen.

THE HEMINGWAY PERSONA

First place to start in any examination of Ernest Hemingway is the larger-than-life Hemingway persona, which he spent a lifetime creating and perfecting. In that sense he was not unlike self-created Hollywood stars Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne. Intentional myth, which included his trademark macho bluster and swagger, but also his deliberately pushing himself into dangerous situations which could fuel that persona, that myth.

THE LOST GENERATION

Much of the author’s myth and mystique came from being part of an artistic movement of expatriate writers and artists who congregated in Paris after the First World War. With the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway placed himself at the center of that movement.

HIS WRITING

Hemingway fictionalized his experiences, many of which were traumatic, such as being wounded during the First World War. This is most noteworthy in his first two novels, in which he gave his intense experiences just the right amount of distance, creating powerful effect and universal meaning.He was also a hard-core student of craft. His short story, “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” is the most structurally complex story ever written, with deft switches between time and viewpoint, yet making the complexity unnoticeable. Seamless.

REVOLUTIONIZING THE LITERARY ART

It’s impossible for us to fully realize today the full extent to which Hemingway’s writing style (building on what he learned from Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, and Ezra Pound) hit the world with the shock of the new. His concise, well-crafted, often abrupt fiction was like the introduction of a new technology. It didn’t just add to the art of writing and the world of literature, but transformed them. His writing changed the way people viewed the world.

CULTURAL INFLUENCE

The popularity of the Hemingway style and ethos influenced the way people thought and talked. The very concept of noir fiction, for instance, stemmed from early stories of his like “The Killers” and those included in his collection In Our Time. One could most notice the influence in early sound movies from 1930 on, via tough guy actors like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable (the early version), and Humphrey Bogart. Bogie in particular played a Hemingwayesque character– the scarred existentialist hero– in most of his starring roles, including in one of the best films of all time, Casablanca.

AT THE CENTER OF HISTORY

One of the reasons Ernest Hemingway stood out from other writers during his lifetime was that he put himself at the center of world events, from World War I as an ambulance driver; the war’s aftermath as a correspondent, his public socializing in France and Spain, including his writing about bullfights; participant and war correspondent again during the Spanish Civil War and World War II in Europe, and of course his adventures hunting in Africa and deep sea fishing in the Caribbean.

THE GLOBAL AUTHOR

It was because he placed himself visibly on the world stage– in addition to his compelling writings– that Ernest Hemingway became one of the best-known persons on the planet. Universally read (only Jack London among American authors is comparable). One of America’s chief cultural exports at a time, in the mid-Twentieth Century, when American popular culture was sweeping across the planet.

Ernest Hemingway was a popular writer and at the same time an artistically serious one, that too-rare combination, which raised the standing of the literary art and inspired countless individuals to take up that art as their cause.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

CARE AND HANDLING OF YOUR EXTREME ZEEN

HOW TO TREAT A LANDMARK PUBLISHING MASTERPIECE

Our zeens, especially Extreme Zeen 2, for best use require special handling to retain their unique characteristics which place them above every other literary journal on the planet.

-DON’T smear the cover or pages with grimy or greasy hands. For example, it’s not recommended to read EZ2 directly after a.) frying and eating hamburgers, or b.) working on a car or other machinery. (If your car is an electric vehicle using no gasoline or crankcase oil, an exception may be allowed.)

-DON’T place glasses of cold beer, soda, or other beverages upon your copy of Extreme Zeen 2.

-DON’T toss EZ2 willy-nilly across a room, or at someone.

-DO NOT use EZ2 to strike a person. Or even an animal. Animals have feelings also. Or to kill insects. (It is however allowable to strike an intruder entering through a window with EZ2, if the miscreant interrupts your reading pleasure.)

-KEEP your copy of EZ2 OUT of the bathroom. The toilet paper shortage is over.

-REMEMBER, Extreme Zeen 2 is not a generic book, and must not be treated like one. It is, rather, a rare collectible.

-BEST PRACTICE. Best policy of course is to purchase two copies of Extreme Zeen 2: one for reading and admiring, the other to retain in its sealed sleeve to be placed into a safety deposit box, or a vault.

-FINAL CAUTION. Be wary of loaning your copy of Extreme Zeen 2 to any other person. Not only may they not exercise proper care and handling of it, but you may never get the issue back!

Bought yours yet?

Available exclusively at New Pop Lit’s POP SHOP.

All About EZ2

ANALYZING EXTREME ZEEN 2

ABOUT “AT THE OPERA”


“At the Opera” in EZ2 is a cut-up multidimensional short story inspired by the innovations of avant-garde pioneers William Burroughs and Kathy Acker– but also by the editing techniques of pop music (sampling) and cinema (montage). The presumptuous goal: to create a literary collage, using public domain writing by several of the greatest novelists who ever lived.

ABOUT THE FICTION

The three other main fiction works are subtly dystopian– subliminally speculative– about where our world is now, and where it’s headed.

ABOUT THE POETRY

The poems in EZ2 were chosen specifically either for their ability to comment on an adjacent story (“Common Note” by John Zedolik commenting on “Care” by Sam Paget), OR for their ability to be part of a word-and-design fusion, where the poem is not simply accompanied by an illustration or design, but fuses with it.

THE ANALOG EXPERIENCE

Extreme Zeen 2 is the ultimate in analog literary experience, presenting words and colors which “pop” off the page and cannot be duplicated on any digital electronic screen.

THE NEW POP LIT MISSION

The New Pop Lit mission is to create publications which can engage all segments of the population– with words and presentations that are fun, stimulating, and thought-provoking. Not off-putting text-dense books, but instead, inviting attractive zeens.

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The Story of Extreme Zeen

BIRTH OF A PUBLICATION

THE STORY begins during my zine-making days in the early 2000s, when I lived in Center City in the hectic town of Philadelphia, walking through a labyrinth of narrow streets to a tiny, out-of-the-way copy shop run by an aging hippie-type guy. Tall and thin, with a graying ponytail and a slow vibe to him. Occasionally I’d run off copies of my then-zine, New Philistine, on the self-serve copier near the front window. 

When I finished I’d give the man a roughly accurate count of how many sheets I’d copied, and he’d tell me a price off the top of his head, invariably lower than it should’ve been. Maybe because he had several zinesters as customers and appreciated what we were doing.

On this particular afternoon the proprietor motioned me toward the back room where he did larger print jobs. He showed me one of his art printers. He also revealed a few limited edition zines printed for a friend of his, and a special kind of paper made by a small specialty house in ______. (The name of a state.) I remembered the name of the little company.

“This is the best thickness and weight,” he explained. “Can print on both sides even with jobs that use a lot of ink, yet it’s light enough to use as pages in a zine. Very flexible, not stiff like standard photo paper. And look at those colors! They jump off the page. Synergy between ink, paper, and printer.”

With that comment he shook his head.

“Kids today have started making e-zines. E-zines! Zines on computer screens. Electronic dots. Turn off the screen and they vanish. Putting me out of business. They have their attributes, but they’ll never match this for quality. For artistic experience.”

We walked back to the front. I thanked him for the information and collected the sheets of my modest newsletter. Before I stepped outside I saw the man shuffling again to the back room, holding in his hand the specialty paper.

When I passed by the shop a couple months later, it’d closed.

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The pandemic lockdown hit in March 2020, and as a retail job I’d lined up for myself fell through, I decided to put the extra time I had to use. To create, as I’d long planned to do, an upscale, high-quality version of a zine. A “zeen.”

I already had the right art printer, and with some difficulty located the specialty paper house located in ______. They stocked the perfect-weight paper for my project. I ordered it, as well as yellow paper of a particular weight I’d found to be also effective. 

But what would the new “zeen” look like? What would it be called?

My graphic design skills were yet primitive, but I had two assets to compensate for that: a pair of spectacular images my wife Kathleen Marie Crane had rediscovered when rearranging boxes of memorabilia from her days as a punk model in downriver Detroit. One, an edgy photo of herself with platinum blonde hair. When developed, black dots had appeared around the edges of the large photograph, which gave it a decidedly otherworldly effect. That’d be the cover.

The other image was a watercolor she’d painted called “Lucy in the Sky,” inspired by the famous Beatles song. The painting was of a large blue psychedelic eye. We’d put a copy of that at the center of the zeen, so the pages fell open naturally to a view of the hypnotic image.

Copied on the specialty paper, the painting became truly spectacular.

We both wrote stories for the zeen (the plot for mine provided by KMC), and solicited work from several talented writers we’d worked with in the past– one of them Philadelphian Frank D. Walsh, best undiscovered poet on the planet.

What to name the issue?

We came up with Extreme Zeen, for extreme design.

The zeen, though a bit crude, contained stunning visual effects enabled by the analog artistic synthesis described to me years past. Extreme Zeen was the first of several New Pop Lit print zeens. With each one we learned more about design and art.

NOW we’ve released Extreme Zeen 2— culmination of that knowledge, containing a synthesis not just of image and medium, but of words and art. You need to order a copy to know what I’m talking about. Available at our POP SHOP.

-Karl Wenclas 

Why Piero Scaruffi Is Wrong

A NOTE ON POP MUSIC AND THE BEATLES

Beatles 1964.

The fact that so many books still name the Beatles “the greatest or most significant or most influential” rock band ever only tells you how far rock music still is from becoming a serious art.

This is the opening sentence to Piero Scaruffi’s famous rant about the Beatles– which can be read in its entirety here.

Scaruffi’s article has been endlessly cited, quoted, and referred to. The kicker is we can see from the very first sentence that he’s operating under a misconception of what rock music is, was, and was intended to be– likely because he looked at the phenomenon retrospectively, through layers of rock music criticism built up between the years of 1964 (the time of U.S. Beatlemania) and 1999, the year Scaruffi wrote his essay.

What he misses completely– like a baseball player striking out–

— is that rock n’ roll music from the start was a popular-not-“serious” art. Like its antecedents, rhythm and blues and country music, it was music of and from the lower classes. This includes the low-rent hustlers who recorded it, promoted it and popularized it, from the Chess brothers to Sam Phillips to Alan Freed to Colonel Parker to Dick Clark to Berry Gordy Jr. The only people who took it “seriously” were members of its audience.

One can use numerous examples to illustrate this. Among them are the movies made to capitalize on what nearly all critics and tastemakers believed to be a temporary fad. For instance, “The Girl Can’t Help It,” starring buxom Jayne Mansfield and featuring Little Richard and other rock n’ roll stars.

Or, notice this sequence from the Elvis movie “Jailhouse Rock,” when Presley encounters a group of academics.

The entire point of rock music in its formative stage was that it was not in any way intellectual. It stirred the emotions and senses, was beyond analysis.

This was the situation when Beatlemania broke upon England, the United States, and the world. The Beatles’ appeal was aural and visual, direct and immediate, including their unique look. “Well, but they’re not serious artists!” hopeless reactionaries upset at their enormous popularity cried at the time.

Was rock n’ roll widely heard on college campuses before the Beatles broke big?

NO! College kids listened to jazz, classical, Broadway show tunes, or, increasingly, folk music from the likes of Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and a fledgling songwriter named Bob Dylan.

As Scaruffi mentions, there was nascent activism at colleges in the early 1960s, but it centered musically around folk, not rock. The protest song became a cliche– “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Little Boxes,” “Blowin in the Wind,” “What Did You Learn at School Today?” and so on. They were serious alright– but in no sense were they, or did they, rock.

Pete Seeger in 1964.

A good way to judge the musical environment in the United States into which the Beatles arrived– to see what music was taken “seriously”– is to read the list of Grammy Award nominations for the year 1964. Interesting– or comical.

ROCK GOES MIDDLE CLASS

What changed?

First, the massive popularity of the Beatles, which converted entire social classes and age groups to the rock music cause.

Bob Dylan at Newport, 1965.

Second, on July 25th in 1965, Bob Dylan “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, which outraged a significant portion of the audience as well as fellow performers, including Pete Seeger. Dylan in essence converted from folk to rock– and brought intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals along with him. (To be fair, the prod for this conversion was the April 1965 release of a rock cover version by the Byrds of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which became a monster hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard top singles list.)

It was only after bourgeois acceptance of rock n’ roll that rock criticism came into being– and “rock” displaced “rock and roll” as accepted terminology for the genre.

In sum, rock music was wholly the creation of the lower classes, first in America, then in Britain. The Beatles themselves were working class, from the rough seaport city of Liverpool. “Serious” intellectuals– not unlike Mr. Scaruffi– appropriated the genre, some ten-plus years after its birth in the U.S., and made it their own. In so doing, they made it more pretentious and overblown– rock musicians taking what had been quick entertainment all too seriously. Which in turn led to the creation of punk music in the 1970s to burst that bubble of snobby pomposity.

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Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News