All You Get Is Me
1. Allie, the enchanting music geek who dubs herself the Vinyl Princess in your new book, has a very impressive vinyl collection, a vast knowledge of music history, and strong opinions about music. How much do her musical preferences overlap with your own? Will you tell us about your own real-life music collection? How long have you been building it, and how much of it is vinyl?
Well, we’re from different eras. My music collection grew organically. As albums were released I went out and bought them. I still have the records I bought when I worked in a record store at Allie’s age. Allie was born too late for that, so by default she’s more of a real collector, a completist. She likes to hunt down every version of every record by the artists she loves. We both lean toward singer/songwriter stuff and the classics like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin and that whole era of artists Allie missed out on the first time around. As for new music, the indies, we pretty much like the same stuff. We’re both fans of The Decemberists, The National, Sondre Lerche, Bright Eyes, The Avett Brothers, Feist, Cat Power, and on and on. We both like old jazz like Miles Davis and John Coltrane and the old crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. My vinyl collection includes a lot of world music that Allie isn’t that keen on (yet). Her vinyl collection is actually bigger than mine. I’ve moved a lot more and had to downsize. I gave a lot of LPs away and I’m replacing them now, one at a time.
2. Allie works at Bob & Bob’s Records in Berkley, on Telegraph Avenue, a place that comes across as very alive, but also somewhat seedy and on the edge of ruin. Why set the story on such a street?
Telegraph Avenue is a unique spot. It has a very interesting history of anarchy and civil disobedience. People’s Park, which sits behind Amoeba Music and also Bob & Bob’s, is the site where much of the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations were held in the late sixties. The Black Panthers were founded near this spot, too. There’s tremendous tolerance there of street life and the eccentric characters that come with it. As a Canadian girl, I feel like it had a hand in raising me. The Telegraph Avenue of today is a different place. Many of the indie stores have disappeared and the vacancy rate is very high. To me it represents a microcosm of what’s gone wrong in America. The street is like a gritty character in the book. I like the way Telegraph constantly figures into Allie’s story. It adds texture.
3. Now that winter is upon us, what is your favorite music to listen to when the weather outside is frightful?
I always move back to the pale artists in winter, the bloodless crew: David Bowie, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Pete Doherty, Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin, The Pogues. I also love bluesy, jazzy girls like Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan when it’s gray out.
4. We know that you are an avid music listener, but it’s clear from your writing that you must also have a serious relationship with books. How did you find your way from the world of music into the world of books to become a writer?
I’ve always been a big reader, but when we opened Amoeba, we were across the street from two fabulous book stores, Moe’s Books (still there) and Cody’s (gone). I spent all my lunch hours in one or the other. The book/record community was very symbiotic. The booksellers lived in our store and we lived in theirs. Jonathan Lethem worked at Moe’s at the time. I started exploring authors like Lorrie Moore, Tobias Wolff, Jane Smiley, Andre Dubus, V.S. Naipaul, and Paul Bowles. Immersing myself in all the books inspired me to write. I’d written a lot of ad copy in Canada working for a TV station and then an advertising agency, but I was itching to write something longer than sixty seconds.
5. As someone with an ear for both music and books, can you pair a reading experience with a listening experience for us: one book and one album that would be better consumed together?
Okay, here’s a crazy one: The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles and Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain. I’m not crazy about listening to music with lyrics when I read. I get too caught up in them and then I can’t focus on what I’m reading. Sketches of Spain has eerie overtones. It’s a very mysterious piece of music. The Sheltering Sky is a tale of innocents abroad in Algeria, and it’s filled with uncertainty and delicious twists.