Hello Stranger from Issue #43
“Singles remind me of kisses,
Albums remind me of plans”
— Squeeze, “If I Didn’t Love You”
We are all, I suspect, still discovering the extent to which we have been shaped by the events and sounds of our youth. This is my among my best excuses for the odd assortment of useless objects that adorn this office, records like the one I had to dig out to make sure my fond memory of the lyric above was exact. (And to prove to Peter that I do like pop music, though it seems just now to have driven him from the room.)
Useless objects…(1) stacks of pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes, though I’ve never owned a player. (2) 5,000 7-inch singles, mostly accumulated during the grunge years, still waiting for me to assemble (hah! and sell to somebody) that book of singles artwork I’ve long longed to do. (3) A newly arrived batch of 78s, saved from my mother’s slow disbursement of her own useless objects. (4) Old books, type catalogues, design annuals, pulp novels. Endless, disordered stacks of thoroughly essential stuff. There is no feng shui to this room, I fear.
But I digress. I mean to write about old letters, for I have spent much of the last month spinning discs and sorting through them. No, not correspondence. Letraset, mostly. See, one of Nashville’s art supply houses was going out of business, and I couldn’t resist investing in their inventory of press type.
You have, probably, no idea what this stuff is. Rub-off letters, they are, 10×15 sheets of all kinds of letters. Of course back when real designers actually used Letraset (and its competitors, but that was the gold standard, where the best typefaces were most likely to be found), I wouldn’t touch the stuff. Couldn’t, really. But the computer is kind to those of us with poor eyesight and worse hand-eye skills, and its declining utility finally made it affordable. Anyway, it is my perverse, enduring pleasure to employ technologies that have fallen from favor and fashion, and so I now use snatches of rub-off letters to brighten these pages.
Well, Letraset was (and, I think, still is; I believe they sell typefaces to the computer world) a British company, with absurd notions of how things ought to be filed. You needn’t know more, save understanding that it took me two or three weeks going through this inventory to sort the whole lot, alphabetize it, and refile it. And that my office is still a mess, but cleaner. Or more organized. Or at least I can find that last, solitary sheet of (Milton) Glaser Stencil Bold.
Like musical styles, typefaces sift in and out of favor, and certain fonts — like drum sounds — conjure very specific memories. It was tedious work, but odd fun. There would be some long-forgotten typeface and suddenly the memory of the typesetting job on which I first came to hate it, or the designer who used it too frequently, or the local band who used it for their logo and swapped me pizza for type.
Needless to say, our colleagues have more profitably spent their time wrestling with more substantive letters, and so three new books sit atop another stack on the floor. Because these folks write regularly for us, it would be inappropriate to review their work. Because they are all exceptional writers — well, and friends — we think you should read their books.
Silas House’s second novel, A Parchment Of Leaves, is a fully imagined, lushly populated memory, bravely written from perspective of a Cherokee woman in Eastern Kentucky in the early 20th century. Volunteer firefighter Mike Perry’s collection of essays, Population 485, is a sensitive, careful portrait of his small, midwestern hometown and its denizens. It is also about life and death and family, and other things that always matter.
The volume that probably will occasion most discussion among our readers, however, is the collaboration between contributing editors David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren: Heartbreaks By The Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, set for a February release. I shan’t spoil the surprise by divulging their curious — if carefully reasoned — choice for #1. It is true, however, that I threatened to fire both if Charlie Rich’s “Life’s Little Ups And Downs” didn’t make their Top 10, but I was joking. Sort of. It’s #25, but they’ve got their reasons, which they explain in essays accompanying their choices.
(Even so, they’re wrong.)