Part of the Bloomsbury Academics 33 1/3 series of books about famous musical recordings, this book analyses my 6th favorite album of all time, They Might Be Giants’ Flood. Pop scholarship at it’s best, the book explores the 20-song album and the themes that carry through them such as childhood, technology, and geek culture. The latter is interesting in that John Flansbergh and John Linnell themselves do not identify as geeks, as a short biographical interlude makes clear, yet their paths lead them to the perfect point in 1990 when their creative output would resonate with geek culture (and with wider audiences as well). The authors also develop a theory of “flooding” as a form of “creative excess” manifest in TMBG’s work. It’s a remarkable little book and makes my want to look into more works in the 33 1/3 series. Favorite Passages:
“What’s going on here is playfulness. Flood embodies the idea that creativity is an open-ended result of asking “what if,” and not the single-minded pursuit of a pre-imagined ideal. The band’s music rejoices in a continual sense of play, altering and subverting the expected order of things, …. Because They Might Be Giants’ music is (almost) never in service of a joke, the silliness of song like “Particle Man” is exploratory, not goal-driven. Musical, lyrical, and visual ideas then exist for their own sake.” – p. xiii
“Central to understanding the appeal of the album is the aesthetic of flooding. We’re coining this term to mean, on its most reductive level, an aesthetic of creative excess. Flooding isn’t merely a case of a lot, but of too much. It hyperstimulation is exuberant, but in a way that goes both beyond delight and overripeness.” – p. 40
Set in Boston in 1868, The Technologists follows the same historical mystery formula as previous works like The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow. This novel centers around the students of the first class of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the fictional protagonists intermingling with historical figures like William Barton Rogers, Ellen Swallow Richards, and Louis Aggasiz (the latter is characterized as a cartoonish villain in the Harvard-MIT rivalry). Boston is threatened by mysterious technological attacks and the populace – already suspicious of the institute – threaten to close it down. It’s up to the young students to use their scientific skills to stop the madman and to save the reputation of their school. The historical details are nice, and the mystery is good enough. I didn’t see some of the twists in the plot coming, at least. The growing technological menace get ludicrous though and the characterization is weak. All in all, an entertaining page-turner of a historical mystery, but no great work of literature.