There aren’t that many books about Power Pop. The ones out there are usually written or compiled with great care and love for the genre. That also applies to Go Further: More Literary Appreciations of Power Pop the logical sequel to Go All the Way: A Literary Appreciation of Power Pop.
Go Further is, like Go All The Way, edited by Paul Myers and S.W. Lauden, both of whom also provided a story. Lauden writes an ode to the band 20/20 and Myers tells about the Power Pop scene in Los Angeles.
Other contributions include John Borack (on the Shivvers), Butch Walker (on Marvelous 3), Rex Broome (Ode on a Rickenbacker), Jordan Oakes (on Power Pop’s first fanzine, Yellow Pills), and Brian Vander Ark who recounts his writing session with Andy Partridge (XTC).
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to both editors.
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After ‘Go All The Way’ did writers start to share their stories or ideas for stories with you?
SWL: Paul and I definitely heard from a few writers after the first book was published. This is such a passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable music community that a lot of writers had opinions they wanted to contribute when/if we did a second book. Unfortunately, space is very limited so we were only able to invite a few of them into Go Further. That part of co-editing a collection like this can be stressful. Time will tell if there’s a third volume in this series.
PM: There were a few notable oversights in the first book, I personally think it was because, at first, we were backing away from people who would typically write strictly journalistically about this music, like Michael Chabon in volume one, but after that was done we thought we’d loosen up the rules a bit to invite a few of our favorite writers to join in.
Ira Robbins writes “(…) putting a pedal to the melody”. That says it all for me. Someday I will have that sentence tattooed on my body. Which phrases would look great on your back?
SWL: I love that line from Ira’s essay, but I honestly hadn’t considered getting it—or any other lines from the book—tattooed onto my back! If I did, it would be my first tattoo ever. If you’re asking what a few of my favorite lines are—there are too many to choose from. I love them all equally!
PM: No ink needed but Chabon had a great line in his Big Star essay, “Power Pop is a prayer offered by atheists to a god who exists but doesn’t hear. Keep an Eye on the Sky is a worthy temple of this bittersweet faith.”
A book in which a group like 20/20 gets such a beautiful article, isn’t that the best possible definition of a parallel world?
SWL: Thanks! I’m glad you liked my 20/20 essay. I really love the band and wanted to do their early origin story justice. I found it fascinating that two of the founding members, Steve Allen and Ron Flynt, have known each other and played together since elementary school. That backstory, coupled with all of the Oklahoma connections, added up to something pretty special in my eyes. But like I said, I’m already a fan.
As the co-editor of the collection, it has been interesting to see how each contributor takes a different approach to writing about power pop. As a writer, I get most excited about leaning into my journalism background. Both my Fountains of Wayne essay from Go All The Way, and the 20/20 essay from Go Further were built from extensive interviews with band members. So, although my opinions are woven throughout, I’m really trying to let them tell the story of the band from an insider’s perspective. Hopefully that comes across.
PM: You know, there’s that old expression “Hindsight is 20/20” so it’s funny that it took us to the second volume to get such great coverage of the band 20/20 but I think we more than made up for it by having not only Steve’s fantastic essay, but one from Jordan Oakes who has been writing about this music as early as I can remember and even named one of the very first power pop fanzines that ever existed, Yellow Pills.
SWL: Jordan’s essay is fantastic.
Humor and writing about Power Pop don’t often go together. Jeff Whalen’s article in ‘Go All The Way’ was a breath of fresh air. This time Brian Vander Ark steals the show with his article about XTC. Are we not taking ourselves too seriously?
SWL: Jeff is, obviously, somebody I have known for a long time (since we’ve played in Tsar and the Brothers Steve together). So, I already knew going in what to expect from his writing and his always interesting perspective. With Brian Vander Ark, he’s somebody I was introduced to (via email) by a mutual friend. I certainly knew some of the Verve Pipe’s music, but I wasn’t sure what kind of writer he would be. So it was a wonderful surprise to see that he’s a total natural. And I agree that both he and Jeff are funny in totally unique ways.
As for taking ourselves too seriously—I think that’s a trap that a lot of music fans run the risk of falling into. From my personal perspective, if you can’t occasional laugh about music, or at yourself, you might be doing it wrong. But, really, that’s just another opinion for somebody else to disagree with. The cycle never ends!
PM: I agree with Steve on this one, since the irony of Don Quixote-like aspiration meeting commercial failure is kind of baked into the fabric of this music, only a fool would take it seriously. That said, a lot of fools have written the best bittersweet anthems.
Jim Lindberg writes “In my opinion, good power pop is ‘Saturday Night’ by the Bay City Rollers, ‘What I Like About You’ by the Romantics, and ‘My Sharona’ by the Knack (definitely all in the Beatles tradition). Great power pop is ‘Hold My Life’ by the Replacements, ‘Bittersweet’ by the Hoodoo Gurus, and ‘Surrender’ by Cheap Trick (in the Rolling Stones tradition).” As a co-editor, how do you view such a sentence?
SWL: That’s an interesting question! I guess my first response would be that this is an essay collection that asks writers and musicians to show their personal appreciation of power pop, however they define it. Paul and I have tried to be clear that neither of these collections are meant to be definitive historical text books. Everything included in both volumes is meant to provide (hopefully) interesting personal perspectives from a variety of different people.
That said, Go Further also includes power pop experts like Jordan Oakes and John Borack, and we have essays about bands like Shoes, 20/20 and Material Issue. So hopefully there’s something for everybody, regardless of their definition of power pop. I’m personally glad Paul and I pushed the boundaries to include essays about Puffy AmiYumi, Michel Pagliaro, the Ramones/the Archies and the Replacements. I love all the essays in this collection.
PM: The emphasis on personal essay and, at times, memoir, frees us up from any pressure for this to be a definitive journalistic textbook. That said, I think our broad survey approach offered us a chance to have so many, often contradictory, takes that, taken as a whole, you get a sense of clearer snapshot. It’s like those half-toned photographs, when you look up close it’s actually comprised of a million tiny dots, but your eye just takes it in as one scene.
What about Gene Simmons showing up more than once?
SWL: Is it even possible to publish a power pop book that doesn’t include Gene Simmons?!
PM: Personally, these books have made me have a whole new respect for Paul Stanley.
Butch Walker was already a renaissance man, and now he turns out to be a gifted essay writer too. Did you know?
SWL: My band Tsar was very lucky to do a couple tours with Butch’s band, Marvelous 3, in the early 2000s. I was constantly blown away by him and his band back then, so I’m never surprised by his many talents and his many successes since then. Which is a long way of saying that I’m not surprised he’s a good writer too.
Butch is a good dude. I love having his Marvelous 3 essay in this collection.
PM: I’m a big fan of Butch Walker but I’ve never met the man. Someday, I hope! And yeah, turns out he’s a genius at everything he touches. The bastard!