Songwriter Applies His Breathtaking Prose to Fiction

Monday Magazine | August 7, 2004
Though I often cringe when I hear a slash being added to someone’s resume -- actor/musician especially -- the double threat can sometimes be successful . . . but don’t make me remind you of the acting ability of Madonna or the musical ability of Keanu Reeves.

I guess musician/writer isn’t as much of a stretch, however. The songs of Joe Pernice (of Pernice Brothers fame) are already more literate and thoughtful than many works you’d be studying in upper level English classes, so by concentrating solely on prose, he is even more effective.

"Meat Is Murder" is not Pernice’s first foray into the literate world. Three years ago, he issued a small book of wonderful poetry entitled Two Blind Pigeons. But before I go on further praising Pernice, I need to back up slightly.

"Meat Is Murder" is part of Continuum’s 33 1/3 series. The purpose of this series is for musicians -- —such as Pernice and the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy -- as well as critics, editors and music professors, to wax poetic about one particular album that has impacted their lives. (So far the series has featured ruminations on "Love’s Forever Changes," the Kinks’ "The Village Green Preservation Society" and Joy Division’s "Unknown Pleasures." There are also soon-to-be released books about two very different albums entitled "Let It Be," one by the Beatles, the other by the Replacements, as well as a look at Radiohead’s OK Computer. Lots to look forward to, but back to the matter at hand.)

Most of the books so far in the series have been tales of how the particular album has changed the lives of listeners or deconstructions of the music. But Pernice has gone one better. He offers an “Author’s Note” that reads, “If you think of the 33 1/3 series of books as a kind of extended family (please, go with me for a second on this one), then my book is the black sheep: it’s fiction.” Pernice may say that, but I’m guessing it’s at least partly an autobiographical account of a confused, Smiths-loving teenager. What better man to write about the British masters of mope pop than a man whose band t-shirts are emblazoned with a plate of toast under the life-affirming slogan “I Hate My Life.”

Like his writing in "Two Blind Pigeons" or as chief songwriter for the Pernice Brothers or Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice’s words are nothing short of breathtaking. His use of vocabulary is perfect to capture the spirit of high school and certain passages certainly make you think back to locker room exchanges (“I think the Smiths are a much better band than Kansas.” “You better not say that up at the park on Friday night, or you’ll get you fuckin’ ass kicked. What are you, a fag?”) or those moments spent alone in your room with your headphones on (“As ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ began its long fade into ‘Rusholme Ruffians,’ I had a sad hunch I was listening to the album of my unfulfilled, eroding teenage years.”) But Pernice’s prose can speak to anyone, not just music obsessives like yours truly. You’ll be reading along and Pernice will just hit you with a simple turn of phrase that is so effective that you have to go back and read it a few times over and bask in the power of a single sentence such as “Chess club titans who were sadly impotent anywhere outside the jurisdiction of chess club law” or “A lot gets done in the name of no good reason.”

At 102 pages, Meat is a pretty quick read so you can pretty much get through it in the span of two or three listens to its title’s namesake album. And what better way to gain further insight into Pernice’s reminisence than a little old-fashioned “you’ll know it’s time to turn the page when you hear Morrissey intone ‘I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen.’”

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 818 Broughton St., Victoria, BC V8W 1E4
  • Phone: (250) 382-6188