Saturday, February 25, 2006
Shanks For The Tunes
My musical taste is at best, suspect, as I have proved over and over and over. Still, I try to keep up with the cool kids as much as I can. For a middle-aged suburbanite like me, staying up on musical trends is a fool’s game, so I have to rely on the tastes of real hipsters, like Carol with her Friday DrinkPod Download (Pela RAWKS!).
The hippest people I know in real life are Benn Ray and Rachel Whang, the owners of Atomic Books, an independent bookstore in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Hampden in Baltimore. They also have a great blog/e-newsletter called the Mobtown Shank that is crusading to prevent the Starbucks-ification of this great quirky neighborhood that was immortalized in John Waters’ Pecker.
Atomic Books bills itself as “Literary Finds For Mutated Minds” which I think understates the case, particularly on the mutated end of the scale. Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Eggers are the most mainstream type of authors you will find. They run a book club, but they do graphic novels instead of lying memoirists. I don’t think V is For Vendetta or The Watchmen are going to get plugged by Oprah anytime soon.
The best way to characterize their extremely eclectic stock they carry is “a LOT of really weird shit.” They have one whole section of what I would call Ironic Smut, stuff that while not quite adult book store hard-core pr0n, you would never leave on the coffee table during a first date, unless you like giving the impression you are a serial killer. Check out the categories they have on their website if you don’t believe me. I think they do a lot of mail-order business, because you just can’t find these things at your local BigBoxOfBooks™.
A few weeks back when I was in the neighborhood, I picked up Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan and the music issue of Bust, Benn threw in his DIY home-brew CD that he had compiled from various freebie tracks off the internet. It had a bunch of bands that I had heard of like, The Decembrists, Bright Eyes, and Sleater-Kinney. It also had bands I had no clue about like Of Montreal, Deerhoof, and Magnolia Electric Co.
I didn’t think much about it, then the FM antenna went out on my car stereo and for a week all my son and I had to listen to on the way to school was The Shank Best of 2005 CD. And it was good. My son quickly got to like several of the songs. When a dad can impress his jaded teenager with good music, that’s worth everything.
I ended up trekking back to Atomic Books to get the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Franz Ferdinand CDs. Sure I could have used my 10% off bonus points coupon at BigBoxOfMusicAndRefrigerators™, but none of the people working there are hip enough to look out for me the next time. If you want more music links to listen to than I have time to go through, try out Radio Shank.
Thanks Benn and Rachel. For exposing me to new music. For serving a needed niche in the bookselling world. And for making me look cool to my kid.