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1. Chinese investment in French publishing

       At Paper Republic Bruce Humes points out that Chinese media are reporting that Chinese publisher/media firm ThinKingDom (新经典文化) has apparently invested in (i.e. bought a chunk of) leading French publisher of east Asian literature ("des livres de l'Extrême-Orient", as they put it) in translation Editions Philippe Picquier; see also the (Chinese) reports at The Paper and, a bit more extensively, sina (and note the deafening silence in the European press -- I couldn't find anything in the French papers ...).
       As Humes notes, it's unclear just how much of a stake they've staked themselves, but this is an interesting move, with Philippe Picquier a relatively small boutique independent -- but a leading conduit for east Asian literature into European languages and with a first rate list (and, presumably, contacts). Worth keeping an eye on.

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2. Online writing in ... China

       At Xinhua Lyu Dong and Li Zhengwei report on Leafing through online literature for China's Harry Potter, as:

If China's film market is a flame burning bright, the country's online literature is increasingly its fuel.
       As I've (often, sigh) noted, the Chinese online-publishing industry (and it sure looks like an industry -- "Over 140 million Chinese were regularly reading online literature on their computers and smartphones as of December") is a greatly under-studied and -reported-on phenomenon.
       Maybe now more will take notice, if indeed:
Online novels have amassed hundreds of millions of readers, and now they are being tapped for their potential to reach an even broader audience once adapted into films.

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3. Certain Songs #522: Prince – “Endorphinmachine”

Prince The Gold Experience Album: The Gold Experience
Year: 1995

After Sign o’ the Times, I had another Prince blackout, finally checking back in with 1995’s The Gold Experience.

Of course, I didn’t ignore Prince completely: that was impossible for any lover of music. And from 1988 – 1995, his music was only slightly less omnipresent despite — or because of– his ongoing battles with Warner Bros and antics like changing his name to an emoticon or writing “slave” on his face while performing in public.

And I don’t know why I decided to check back in with The Gold Experience. I guess I was just curious again. Which, in retrospect was good timing: The Gold Experience had a bunch of terrific songs, jams like the funky rap “P Control,” the wistful “Dolphin” and the foot-stomping “Endorphinmachine.”

Opening with a big rock riff that circled back upon itself while being powered by cowbells, “Endorphinmachine” turns out to be one Prince’s most clever fucksongs.

You’ll believe in somethin’ before this night is through
Press one for the money, press two for the dream
And get ready for somethin’ that you’ve never seen
The Endorphinmachine

And when he follows a wah-wah guitar solo with a breakdown rap which slams back into the main riff which stops again so Prince could scream “yeahhhhhhhhh” I suddenly remembered just how much fun Prince can be when he’s jamming a shitload of musical styles together in the service of fucking you all night long.

There’s also a now-chilling spoken word moment at the end of the song where a female voice intones “Prince esta muerto. Prince esta muerto.”

Of course, it had everything to do with the Warner Bros fight, and it’s quickly followed with “Long Live The New Power Generation” in Spanish.

At the time, it didn’t even cross my radar, because in 1995, it was obvious that Prince — no matter what he wanted us to call him — had too much life to ever die.


“Endorphinmachine” performed live on French TV, 1994

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The post Certain Songs #522: Prince – “Endorphinmachine” appeared first on Booksquare.

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4. Little Girls Breathe the Same Air as We Do review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Oulipo-author Paul Fournel's 1978 novel, Little Girls Breathe the Same Air as We Do.

       This actually came out in English very quickly, George Braziller publishing it in 1979, and for example the Kirkus review suggested:

(I)t remains an odd, narrow exercise -- significant only as a minor-key promise of things to come from this young French writer.
       Ah, yes, the promise ! And a lot did come -- only not into English, with the recently published Dear Reader the first of his novels to be translated since then, after well over thirty years ! (though there was also that bicycling book in the meantime).
       Born in 1947, Fournel was indeed a promising young 32-year-old when Little Girls Breathe the Same Air as We Do -- and only now returns to the US/UK scene when he is closing in on 70.

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5. Certain Songs #521: Prince – “The Cross”

prince sign o the times Album: Sign o’ the Times
Year: 1987

I realize that nearly every one of the previous Prince songs I’ve written about were all huge iconic songs, so here’s a (relatively) deep cut for all y’all.

Coming out of nowhere to open side four of Sign o’ the Times, “The Cross” is probably my favorite Prince song, despite (or because!) The fact that it’s one of his most overtly religious from the get-go, as over a whisper-quiet acoustic guitar, Prince sings:

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry, he is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross

As a bare, near-psychedelic guitar starts weaving its way through the song, he continues:

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all of us
If we can just bear the cross

Near the end of the second verse, a kick drum — a live one! — comes in on the 1’s & 3’s, every-so-slightly adding intensity.

We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

And wham! A big crunchy electric guitar comes in, playing a rolling primitive riff over a suddenly full but still incredibly simple drumbeat and it’s like nothing else on any Prince album ever before. Somehow Prince has reconfigured The Velvet Underground’s “Jesus” as a, um, Velvet Underground song.

Worlds! Colliding! Meanwhile, as the rhythm guitar gets ever more full and noisy, the psychedelic guitar lead transmogrifies into what sounds like a sitar, but it couldn’t be a sitar? Though as tablas come in to play over the beat as well, it could actually be a sitar.

“The Cross” totally blew my mind in 1987. Not because Prince was doing a rock song, per se, but because he was doing a gospel song as indie rock. Or an indie rock song as gospel, as near the end, a huge choir of multi-tracked Princes gorgeously sang “The crosssssss” over (and after) all of the cacophony.

Obviously, I have no idea if Prince ever went down this musical path again — I certainly haven’t heard any other songs as rock raw as “The Cross”, but I would have loved a whole album of Prince doing garage rock with gospel harmonies.

For the longest time, I was conflicted about the fact “The Cross” was my favorite Prince song. That was because it was the Prince song that most sounded like a lot of my other favorite songs, and felt like a bit of an anomaly in his catalog.

But now I don’t think that matters: I’ve come to realize that Prince tried so many things that he’s probably written at least one song that crosses paths with pretty much everyone’s taste in music. Hell, I’m guessing that he’s even got a full-out country album somewhere in the vault. A good one!

“The Cross” performed live in 1987

Fan-made video for “The Cross”

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6. Tom Stoppard profile

       In the Evening Standard Katie Law profiles Tom Stoppard.
       A bit gossipy (and hair-obsessed -- he: "still has a mane of thick curly hair" (though that photo sure suggests he's getting a bit ... threadbare); his latest wife is: "girlish and goldilocked at 61"), there's still some decent stuff here, as well as the usual fun-at-his-expense about his (not-quite-)use of e-mail and the like.

"I've very rarely emerged from writing something which I feel deserves an alpha plus." For which of his plays would he award himself an alpha plus ? The Invention of Love, his 1997 play about A E Housman, "presses all my buttons," he replies, and then he pauses. "But I think it's rather bad taste to start proposing your own A-stars."
       (And while The Invention of Love is a great play, it is of course Arcadia that is his masterpiece.)

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7. Russian Library introduction

       At the Columbia University Press blog series editor Christine Dunbar offers An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles (three of them to get things going).
       I've mentioned this project before -- in particular as the first instance, a collaboration with Overlook Press, apparently died a(n exceptionally) quiet death. But it looks like they're actually going through with this -- with publicity pages for the first titles (e.g. Sokolov's Between Dog and Wolf) already up (though note that the 'Series: Russian Library' link doesn't lead anywhere yet ...).
       Looks good and promising; can't wait to see these (and future) titles.

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8. Certain Songs #524: Prince – “The One U You Wanna C”

prince planet earth Album: Planet Earth
Year: 2007

One of the things I loved most about Prince was one of the things that was most frustrating about Prince: his incredible prolificness. So while I really liked both The Gold Experience and it’s Contractual Obligation follow-up, Chaos and Disorder, I somehow lost the plot again, and pretty much missed everything he did until Musicology.

Which means I get to play catch-up — really looking forward to finding and listening to Emancipation and Crystal Ball, among others — but it also means that I’m really only writing about one song to represent the last two decades of his career.

Obviously, I’m not alone in this: most of the obits I’ve read focus on his 1980s, when he was truly groundbreaking, and not the 2000s, when he was running around in the huge construction site he had created.

Had I been playing along at home this whole time — the way I’ve been able to with the equally prolific Neil Young — there would be a few more songs to write about.

And maybe in a couple of years, when I finally get to where I would have naturally written about Prince, I’ll write about those other songs.

So figure “The One U Wanna C” as a stand-in for a bunch of great songs I’ve not yet discovered.

It hails from 2007’s Planet Earth, which is my favorite of his post-millennial albums that I’ve heard. Planet Earth features an awesome album cover. I mean how hilarious is that shot of the god-like Prince looming over the world and clearly finding the rest of us — except for the smart & hot women — lacking.

In any event, “The One U Wanna C” is Prince in pure pop mode, right down to the come-on in the lyrics.

I got a lotta money
I don’t wanna spend it on me
I like pretty thangs
You’re just as pretty as you can be

So if you ain’t busy later
And you want some company
I ain’t tryin’ to be a hater but I’m the one
I’m the one, the one u wanna c, u wanna c

With its twin low-down, slightly psychedelic guitar hooks, disco bassline, call-and-response vocals, and random handclaps, “The One U Wanna C” would have slotted right in with his classic run of singles, and if radio — or anybody — gave a shit back in 2007, it could have been a huge comeback hit.

Either that, or it’s a complete throwaway. Just a dumb pop song by a guy who’d been tossing them off for decades and I honestly can’t even tell anymore.

I’ll let you know later, after I’ve used his death to fully purify myself in the Lake Minnetonka of his music.

“The One U Wanna C”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

The post Certain Songs #524: Prince – “The One U You Wanna C” appeared first on Booksquare.

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9. Sikhs and mistaken identity

American basketball star, Darsh Singh, a turbaned, bearded Sikh, featured this April in a Guardian Weekend piece on cyberbullying. He recalled how his online picture had been circulated with Islamophobic captions. Long before that he’d had to get used to people yelling things like "towelhead”. Since 9/11, Sikhs haven’t just been verbally insulted but have suffered ‘reprisal attacks’.

The post Sikhs and mistaken identity appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. Geoff Dyer Q & A

       In The Hindu Tishani Doshi has a Q & A with author Geoff Dyer.
       Among his responses:

The real issue for me is not whether it's true or untrue in accordance with what actually happened. But it's to do with form and the expectation of what people give to a certain form.

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11. Family of Innovators: The Rays’ quest for modernity

Virtually everybody has heard of the filmmaker, writer, graphic artist, and composer Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) but except for Bengalis, few know much about the exploits of his formidable ancestors and their kinsfolk. And yet, over years of versatile creative engagements, Upendrakishore Ray (1863-1915), his father-in-law Dwarakanath Ganguli (1844-1898), his brother-in-law Hemendramohan Bose (1864-1916), his son Sukumar (1887-1923), and daughter-in-law Suprabha (the parents of Satyajit) charted new paths in literature, art, religious reform, nationalism, business, advertising, and printing technology.

The post Family of Innovators: The Rays’ quest for modernity appeared first on OUPblog.

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12. St. Louis Literary Award

       The St. Louis Literary Award has a decent list of previous winners, and they've now announced that Noted Writer Michael Ondaatje Named Recipient of 2016 St. Louis Literary Award.
       He gets to pick it up on 6 October.

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13. Eka Kurniawan Q & A

       In The Jakarta Post Stevie Emilia has a Q & A with Eka Kurniawan (who recently made a splash in English translation, with Beauty is a Wound and Man Tiger).
       Among Kurniawan's answers: re. his favorite author he singles out:

If I have to mention only one, it's Knut Hamsun ( the Norwegian author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature ). His works convinced me to become a writer.
       And as far as 'social media' (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram) go, he says: "Don't like any of them."

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14. Paul Auster

       Eric Clement had the scoop in La Presse last week but it seems to have (entirely ?) escaped English-language notice so far (or no one cares ?): that we can look forward to Un roman de 925 pages signé Paul Auster, Auster's forthcoming novel a near-thousand-pager he expects to have out in early 2017.
       No word as to the title of the just-finished work, or any of the details beyond its (great) length:

L'écrivain préfère ne pas dévoiler l'histoire de ce nouveau roman. Il souhaite que la surprise soit totale pour ses fidèles lecteurs. Il consent toutefois à dire qu'il s'agit d'une sorte de «saga».
       They follow up this week with a proper Q & A -- no additional clues about the book, but more general odds and ends (including about American politics).

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15. Ladivine review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of (prix Goncourt-winning author) Marie NDiaye's Ladivine, just out in English.
       This is an exceptionally good piece of writing -- that is also exceptionally difficult to like/enjoy. NDiaye's presentation of family-/personal relationships makes Thomas Bernhard look like a softy ..... (And where Bernhard goes all bitter his depictions at least have a comic edge; NDiaye is rarely bitter but heartlessly earnest -- which is, far, far worse.)
       This title/translation was longlisted for this year's Man Booker International Prize, but fell short of the shortlist; I'm very curious how it will do at next year's Best Translated Book Award: on the face of it it is (in its very good translation) an obvious finalist -- and yet ..... Read the rest of this post

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16. Bird in a Cage review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Frédéric Dard's 1961 novel, Bird in a Cage.
       This is only due out -- from Pushkin Press, in their Vertigo imprint -- in June (in the UK) and September (US), but a Frédéric Dard sighting in English ? in a translation by David Bellos ? no way you can hold me back.
       In my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction (just out -- but you already have your copy, right ? if not ... get it at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, etc.), I noted that Dard (especially in his San-Antonio incarnation): "never stood much of a chance in English translation", as they've tried some odds and ends over the decades but nothing ever really took -- but Pushkin Press is having a go with several of his works, and with translators like Bellos (David freaking Bellos ! who is always up for a translation-challenge) maybe he stands a chance after all.
       As a reminder of where translation-into English stands, however, note that this (and quite a few other) Dard titles appeared in ... Iran (yes, that Iran) before they have in English: see e.g. ‘The Elevator’ of Frédéric Dard in Iran (or the more extensive Persian report -- and, yes, that's this title), as well as “Novels of the Night” in Persian Translation (with nice cover-images) at the International Crime Fiction Research Group.

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17. Xorandor review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Christine Brooke-Rose's 1986 novel, Xorandor -- apparently recently re-issued in a two-for-one volume (with Verbivore) by Verbivoracious Press (though I only have the original Carcanet edition (and what I really wanted was the Avon paperback ...)).

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18. Defining resilience

Consider the following scenario: Two women both lost a son in a war. One returns to work immediately and starts volunteering at an organization helping families of fallen soldiers. The other is unable to leave home, spends most of her days crying and sitting in front of her son’s belongings that were left untouched. Who is more resilient? The answer largely depends on how one defines resilience.

The post Defining resilience appeared first on OUPblog.

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19. Thomas-Mann-Preis

       They've announced that this year's Thomas Mann Prize will go to Jenny Erpenbeck (Visitation, etc.) -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked, so see, for example, the Boersenblatt report.
       She gets to pick it up on 17 September.
       The list of previous winners is a bit mixed (as indeed is the prize itself, which combined two previous prizes in 2010, and now alternates between being awarded on Lübeck and in Munich), but last year the (recently deceased) Lars Gustafsson got it, which was certainly also an excellent choice.

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20. Happiness can break your heart too

You may have heard of people suffering from a broken heart, but Takotsubo syndrome (TTS) or “Broken heart syndrome” is a very real condition. However, new research shows that happiness can break your heart too. TTS is characterised by a sudden temporary weakening of the heart muscles that cause the left ventricle of the heart to balloon out at the bottom while the neck remains narrow

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21. Certain Songs #523: Prince – “Shy”

Prince The Gold Experience Album: The Gold Experience
Year: 1995

“Shy” is my favorite Prince song of the 1990s.

Disclaimer: the 1990s is the decade from which I’ve heard the least amount of Prince’s music, so I have huge knowledge gaps from both the beginning and the end of that decade.

Still, it’s an absolute tour de force of restraint and tension-building. Oh, and singing. Always with the singing.

Starting off with footsteps and chicken-scratch guitar that leaves entire universes of space between every phrase, “Shy” is one of Prince’s darker fucksong stories:

After a month of just bein’ alone, he said
“I wonder what L.A.’s thinkin’”
Streets he roamed in search of a poem amongst the wild and drinkin’
When he sees cool dark skin in hot virgin white
The search was over at least for tonight
When she co-signed and then told him she was

Cool dark skin in hot virgin white
Lips say won’t but her body say might
Looks like we’re gonna take the long way home tonight

After it hits that first chorus, the chicken-scratch guitar recedes, it’s place taken by an shimmering guitar that curlicues around the rest of the song, prodding and poking it, never quite ever getting comfortable, echoing the noirish lyrics.

After a look much louder than words she said,
I passed my initiation
A friend of mine, he got killed and in retaliation
I shot the boy, huh, twice in the head
No regrets, no sorrow, I’m goin’ back tomorrow to make sure he’s dead
‘Cuz if I don’t, they’ll call me a chicken, but you can call me

Cool dark skin in hot virgin white
Lips say won’t but her body say might
Looks like we’re gonna take the long way home tonight

That uncomfortableness is echoed by the vocal, because as Prince repeats the somewhat problematic “lips say won’t, but her body say might” over and over again he starts overdubbing himself with various vocal inflections cris-crossing each other.

Shapeshifting and restless, at one point he’s sounding like Sly Stone, at another, Stevie Wonder. And I swear there’s a moment where he’s doing an Axl Rose impersonation.

“Shy” is a deeply unsettling combination of beauty and darkness, and never once does it wink at you or let you have a moment to even breathe.


Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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The post Certain Songs #523: Prince – “Shy” appeared first on Booksquare.

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22. Best Translated Book Awards !

       They've announced the winners of the Best Translated Book Awards, and the fiction award went to Signs Preceding the End of the World (by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman).
       (The poetry prize went to Rilke Shake (by Angélica Freitas, translated by Hilary Kaplan).)

       I was certainly impressed by the Herrera -- and it is also one of the finalists where the translation-achievement is perhaps more obvious than elsewhere, making it an even more obvious choice. It was presumably somewhat of an outsider -- a slim volume, up against heavyweights like Lispector and the concluding Ferrante (I suspect the concluding Knausgaard, two years from now, will make a stronger showing as far as series-finales go) -- but I can't imagine there will be much criticism of the selection: this is a deserving book, and translation.

       (Note, however, that this means we won't see a Best Translated Book Award - Man Booker International Prize double this year, as the Herrera wasn't a finalist for the MBIP. (The winner of the MBIP will be announced 16 May).)

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23. Audin on Oulipo

       Michèle Audin's One Hundred Twenty-One Days is just about out from Deep Vellum, and now the author explains her relationship with the Oulipo-group at Publishers Weekly, in What is the Oulipo ? (Meanwhile, see also all the other Oulipo titles under review at the complete review.)
       (And I remain eager to see Audin's Remembering Sofya Kovalevskaya; see the Springer publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)

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24. Certain Songs #525: Goo Goo Dolls – “Flat Top”

goo goo dolls Album: A Boy Named Goo
Year: 1995

The Goo Goo Dolls followed up the ragged glories of Jed & Hold Me Up with the too-slick-by-half Superstar Car Wash, which featured a few great songs (especially “Girl Right Next To Me” & “String of Lies”), but lacked the sense of bratty humor that suffused the early records.

Gone were the fun covers that had been sung by a local lounge singer named Lance Diamond (including the suddenly sadly relevant “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man”), and in their place, a disappointing collaboration with Paul Westerberg.

Then in 1995, they dropped A Boy Named Goo, their attempt to replicate the pop-punk success that Green Day had with Dookie, and it totally stiffed.

Well, at first. I remember seeing them at Slims in San Francisco shortly after it came out, and I couldn’t for life of me figure out why Green Day had hit it big and these guys couldn’t.

Then “Name” came out, and somehow went to #5, opening the door to a string of huge singles and closing their door from their punk roots once and for all.

And while I liked “Name” as an album cut for six months before it became a huge hit single, I still think that if they were going to break through, it should have been with “Flat Top,” which is as good as punk-pop gets.

Starting off with a slow, anthemic riff, “Flat Top” suddenly takes off into the usual punk speed and featured Johnny Rzeznik’s actually perceptive lyrics about the mid-1990s media landscape, even referencing St. Joe Strummer at one point:

And conscience keeps us quiet while the crooked love to speak
There’s knowledge wrapped in blankets on the street
A visionary coward says that anger can be power
As long as there’s a victim on TV

Then it pulls up short, and with soon-to-be-sacked drummer George Tutuska emphasizing the end of each couplet with a “whack” of his snare, Rzeznik sings a chorus that’s never left my head:

And it’s fallin’ all around us
Is this some kind of joke they’re trying to pull on us?
Fallin’ all around us
I’ll turn my head off for a while

With the guitars crunching and jangling all around him, and the tempo speeding up and slowing down, “Flat Top” hammers its point home with a pair of long guitar solos in its second half. The first one replicates the melody line of the chorus, before speeding off into the stratosphere, and the second one just floats away into the fade at the end.

That said, I disliked “Iris” so much that I didn’t even bother with 1998’s Dizzy Up The Girl, or any of the subsequent releases.

My gut was that once they tasted the sweet nectar of the mainstream, the things I loved about their early 1990s music were pretty much gone forever.

Official Video for “Flat Top”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

The post Certain Songs #525: Goo Goo Dolls – “Flat Top” appeared first on Booksquare.

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25. Queer history happens everywhere

With the summer issue of the Oral History Review just around the corner, we are bringing you a sneak peak of what’s to come. Issue 43.1 is our LGBTQ special issue, featuring oral history projects and stories from around the country.

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