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Closer You Are: The Story of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices

3 Oct

CloserYouAre

In 2017, Robert Pollard, an indie rock legend from Dayton, Ohio, hit a milestone few musicians could ever dream of reaching: He released his 100th album. After more than three decades of manically recording at a light-speed pace, Pollard has created a discography so expansive that even he cannot remember everything he has written. Although he has flirted with mainstream success, he is followed by an obsessive fan base that rabidly consumes everything he releases. In Closer You Are, the first official biography written about Pollard, Matthew Cutter does an incredible job documenting a working class kid’s upbringing in the Rust Belt who would go on to have one of the most prolific and strangest careers in all of rock music.

I discovered Robert Pollard’s music as a DJ on my college radio station in the small upstate town of Geneseo, NY. The first time I found a CD of the album Bee Thousand by his band Guided by Voices in our station’s archive, I was mesmerized by the poorly recorded but insanely catchy batch of tunes with names like “Gold Star for Robot Boy” and “Kicker of Elves.” They were equally weird and familiar at the same time. I had never heard anything else like it.

Hoboken residents can stream or download songs from several of Guided by Voices albums from Freegal or those who prefer CDs can request their albums including Please be HonestLet’s Go Eat the Factory, and a Best Of.

Cutter does a great job describing Pollard’s creative process. Many of his song titles and lyrics come from nicknames he created for his students while he was an elementary school teacher in Dayton. He was obsessed with certain expressions and the sound of words, as seen in some of his most famous songs like “14 Cheerleader Coldfront” and “The Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory.” He would often wake up and write several songs while drinking his morning coffee and a dozen more before dinner. A dash of mania, a hyper-competitive personality, and a classic Midwestern work ethic made it possible.

The other great joy of reading Pollard’s biography is experiencing the sheer determination he had to become a successful musician. His wife, parents, and the local music scene in Dayton all hated his early attempts at performing and encouraged him constantly to quit. Pollard didn’t even experience any level of fame until he was in his late 30s and had left a 14-year career as an elementary school teacher. By constantly firing his band mates and having the occasional fistfight, Pollard finally was able to put together his “classic” lineup for a band that would become loved by college rock nerds like myself throughout the county. Cutter’s book is an entertaining read for both fans and people who are just curious about the creative process of an artist with a genius level of output.

Written by
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Broadway at the Hoboken Public Library, Part 2: Waitress, The Great Comet, and Hello, Dolly!

11 Feb

It’s been awhile since I wrote about my adventures on the Great White Way! (Click here, here, and here for my past posts about Broadway.) I haven’t been to the theater as much as I would like lately (life has been busy, and the Hamilton tickets I bought last year cost beaucoup bucks and wiped out my theater budget) but these are the shows I have seen recently.

Waitress

waitress

“Sugar, butter, flour” are the simple opening lines of this show as well as the basis of many pie recipes. This musical is based on the movie of the same name, written by Adrienne Shelly, about a waitress named Jenna with a talent for baking pies who finds herself pregnant by her deadbeat husband and longs to escape. The musical stays pretty true to the movie, but definitely stands on its own.

The show was created by a team of women, including Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music and lyrics for this show. She released an album (CD and Freegal) performing some of the show’s tunes herself. My favorite tracks from the Original Broadway Cast Recording (on CD and Hoopla) include “Bad Idea,” “I Didn’t Plan It,” and “You Matter to Me.” Ogie has to be the most memorable romantic hero on all of Broadway, who declares his love via a song called “I Love You Like a Table.”

The scent of fresh baked pie wafts through the theater, which will make you hungry. (Don’t worry, the concessions stands sell warm slices of pie for an intermission snack!) What will stick with you long after the show is over is the strong bond between the three female leads, Jenna, Becky, and Dawn. You may also remember a romantic scene that includes some epic Revolutionary War era cosplay.

The Great Comet

great-comet

The complete title of this show is Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Certainly a mouthful to say, and a lot to type. I had no idea what this show was about going in, except that Josh Groban stars as Pierre, and I was pleasantly surprised by The Great Comet.

This is the sort of show that winks at the audience–the fourth wall is gone. The action takes place all around the theater, with the actors making use of the all the space and engaging with the audience. It was fun to anticipate where the actors will appear next, perhaps near you. If you’re lucky, the actors, along their travels, will give you a little box that contains a pierogi for a mid-show nosh. I didn’t get one, but that lady sitting next to me did.

You can hear the soundtrack on Hoopla, and borrow the CD. “Letters”, a song about email’s predecessor, includes the knowing lyric “In nineteenth century Russia, we write letters / we put down on paper what is happening in our minds.” Another standout track is “Charming.” I also recommend any track featuring Brittain Ashford, who plays Sonya. Her voice is delicate but full of emotion, particularly on “Sonya Alone.”

Hello, Dolly!

hello-dolly-cc

Ok, I haven’t seen this show yet. It isn’t due to officially open on Broadway until Thursday April 20, 2017. But I am planning to see this revival, which will feature Bette Midler as Dolly Gallagher Levi and David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder. I can’t wait to see this show and these talented actors in the iconic roles.

To me, Hello, Dolly! Is one of the most classic Broadway musicals. Barbra Streisand starred in the 1969 film adaptation, but Carol Channing who originated the role on Broadway in 1964 is the best known Dolly. I love so many songs from this show. “Dancing” makes you feel as though you’re spinning with the actors. “Before the Parade Passes By” is wistful. “Elegance” is fun and upbeat. Of course, “Hello, Dolly!” is a showstopper. But my favorite has always been “It Only Takes a Moment,” which is sung in a courthouse of all places. What can I say, I’m a romantic.

Hoopla has several versions of the Hello, Dolly! soundtrack to stream. Borrow the Original Broadway Cast Recording on CD to hear “So Long Dearie”, which features one of the sickest burns to come from Broadway, when Channing as Dolly sneers to Horace Vandergelder, “snuggle up to your cash register”. Shall we adapt that one to the twenty first century, changing “cash register” to “iPhone”? Thoughts?

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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