The 33 1/3 Author Q&A: Andy Miller

Last week, we featured The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society 33 1/3 author Andy Miller taking a second look at the album, and his book, on the 45th anniversary of the album’s release. Now we sit Andy down for a more personal chat.

kinkssLadies and gentlemen, meet the author of the fourth ever 33 1/3, Andy Miller, a reader, author and editor of books. He sings and plays guitar with the Gene Clark Five, and his writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Times, the Guardian, Esquire and Mojo. His first book Tilting at Windmills: How I Tried to Stop Worrying and Love Sport was published in 2002, and his new book, The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-so-great Ones) Saved My Life will be published in May 2014.

What, in particular, drew you to writing about this album?
AM: It’s one of my favorite LPs, perhaps my absolute favorite. More importantly, though, I knew I had something to say about it – a story to tell. I also really love Promenade by the Divine Comedy, On the Corner by Miles Davis, and about twenty Bob Dylan albums but I’m not sure I could write a book about any of them.

How did writing this book change your feelings about the album and artist?
AM: When I looked at how and when Ray Davies composed the songs on the album, and created a timeline for the Kinks’ activities from 1966 up until the release – and aftermath – of the LP, I found hard to believe how young they all were: Ray was twenty-three when the song “Village Green” was written, twenty-five by the time the record came out. And that was ancient by the standards of the time! It’s not just a huge achievement for someone of that age to have written those songs about nostalgia, ageing etc., it’s remarkable when you consider how much success the Kinks had had up to that point – all those wonderful singles – and how hard they worked. And this was still the era when, Beatles aside, pop music was thought to be disposable and fundamentally juvenile. So it made me appreciate Ray’s achievement all the more because I could see that it was literally without precedent – a suite of songs linked by something other than narrative: sound, mood, ideas. And it’s so beautiful.

What was the most surprising reaction to your book?
AM: I believe Ray Davies read it when it came out and didn’t hate it! So that was good. I was subsequently asked to write the liner notes for a deluxe edition reissue of the album. And when Ray performed the LP in its entirety at a concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London a couple of years ago, extracts from the book were used as program notes, which was fantastic. Mind you, I still had to buy my own ticket.

“Not bad for a twenty-five year old pop singer: in two lines, an observation as moving and profound as Tolstoy. But much, much shorter. “

What 33 1/3s have you read? Which are your favourites? Why?
AM: I really liked Kim Cooper’s book about Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, because I love the record and I knew very little about how it was made – the perfect combination for one of these books. I also like Bruce Eaton’s Big Star book about Radio City very much. Alex Chilton spoke to him, which says a lot.

What words of wisdom can you offer to aspiring 33 1/3 authors?
AM: 1. Do your research. Even Lester Bangs did research.
2. You aren’t Lester Bangs.

What was your first concert?
AM: Echo & the Bunnymen at Crawley Leisure Centre in 1984 on the Ocean Rain tour. To this day, the loudest rock show I have ever been to. It was ridiculously loud; I still have the tinnitus to prove it. I only really knew which song the group was playing by reading Ian McCulloch’s lips.

How do you listen to your music at home: vinyl, CD, or MP3? Why?
AM: All of them, I’m not precious about the format. The only way I don’t listen to music is by streaming it. There’s no point as I’m pretty sure I have more records than Spotify; I definitely have more cassettes than they do.

Name a lyric from the album you wrote about that encapsulates either a) the album itself, b) your experience in hearing the album for the first time, or c) your experience writing about the album.
AM: Track six, side one, “Big Sky.”

“And when I feel that the world’s too much for me / I stare at the big sky and nothing matters much to me.”

In the book I’ve just finished writing, I talk about the experience of reading fifty classic books in a year: Moby Dick, Don Quixote, One Hundred Years of Solitude and so on. There’s a famous scene in Tolstoy’s War and Peace where Andrew Bolkonsky, lying mortally wounded on the battlefield, stares up at the rolling clouds above him and receives a vision of eternity and his place in relation to it. When I read it, all I could think was: “But that’s Big Sky!” Not bad for a twenty-five year old pop singer: in two lines, an observation as moving and profound as Tolstoy. But much, much shorter.

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society is available on Amazon or wherever 33 1/3s are sold. You can read more about Andy on his website, or follow him on Twitter.

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