As I wrote yesterday
, some months ago 33 1/3 Industries, the mysterious cabal behind the 33 1/3
series (legal note: Continuum Books may also be somehow involved), assigned a crack team of superscientists and unrepentant layabouts to explore the nascent field of fictional cloning. The goal was to reproduce something that never existed before, such as Sam Peckinpah's movie adaptation of Blood Meridian
or a remotely funny episode of Mind of Mencia
. As we demonstrated yesterday with Flannery O'Connor
's 33 1/3 entry on The Fall's Hex Enduction Hour
album, we have succeeded far beneath anyone's tamest expectations. Today we continue this proud heritage of defacing and demeaning the works of authors far more talented than, well, me.
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From Thomas Pynchon's Blueberry Boat:
Oedipa turned the vinyl over in her hands a few times for good measure. It felt like any other LP, but Teddy Pepsi's note had been uncharacteristically specific about how to play the record. Even though that note had been burnt for warmth during her long sojourn with the Inuit, she was surprised that she could still remember the instructions to the letter.
"What did you do then?" asked Dumbarton later. They were drying out at a bar near the docks called the Paw Paw. The bartenders wore chains in place of shirts, and their chests were red with rawness and rust. The thick haze of smoke and seawater left Dumbarton's eyes invisible, and Oedipa had to restrain herself from jabbing him with one of the festive tridents decorating the tables just to see if he was still awake.
"I remembered that I was supposed to play the second song on the first side of the second disc, a track called 'Mason City.' Pepsi's note had said it was of the highest importance that the vinyl never receive a single scratch. He had said this would make it unstable and unsoluble. I had to solve two or three inexplicable paradoxes with the barest hint of absurdity just to calm down enough to set the needle down in the right place. Then the song started with a flourish of synthesizers, and when a girl started singing ? over handclaps, mind you ? about the business efforts of an attorney in early 20th century Iowa, I nearly fell on the floor."
Dumbarton brought over another round. "The girl singing? Was that Eleanor from the boat?"
"Yes," Oedipa said, "but I didn't realize until later." She wasn't sure that she had set the needle down right until the second part of the song started, but then she had known immediately that this was what Pepsi had wanted her to hear. The music changed into a slow drumbeat with minimal piano chords while Eleanor's brother sang about extinct railroad lines. Recognizing one, she'd leafed through Blancheflower's Comprehensive Compendium of Defunct Railways and Unsolved Murders until she found a match. Then she'd lifted the needle and restarted the song. She tracked the lyrics with lines across the map of America following the route in Eleanor's brother's song. They were impossible lines. Some did not connect or even exist concurrently in time, but they described an arrow stretching from Seattle to upstate New York. Would that be the place where she could find the truth about her missing locket? At the end of the section, Eleanor's brother sang, "Wait!" but she always quickly lifted the arm and again restarted the song. Unfortunately, the third time through, she'd bumped the rickety turntable and heard the unmistakeable tear of needle ripping through fragile grooves. The next time she set the needle at the beginning of the song, the album refused to play a note of the second section of the song, skipping to the last section as if the middle had never existed. She explained all of this to Dumbarton, who was growing visibly intoxicated.
"Did you," asked Jim Dumbarton, "ever listen to the rest of the album? I recall Pepsi mentioning a track called '1917' on several occasions."
"I didn't have the chance!" Oedipa protested. "I saw Eleanor and her brother out the window heading for the lake, and I called you right away." By the time that Oedipa and Dumbarton had caught up with the sinister siblings, they were sailing a catamaran far out across the water. Oedipa returned to her room, but she did not discover that her needle had been professionally removed from her turntable until she set the arm down and heard the second heartrending scratch of the afternoon. "Where will I find another copy?" she heard herself wailing.
"Not to worry," mumbled Dumbarton, "we can get the one from the San Ruggles Community College Library. They have the best-preserved copy in the world. It's right down the street from my hotel. Best to go as soon as possible. It's obviously the next step in your search and, let me add, so easily accomplished!"
But the next morning Oedipa drove up to the Berkeley Immaterial Airport and booked a flight to Syria, where she'd heard that a certain cellphone salesman had solved the EPR Paradox with the tenets of Pavlovian conditioning and a whiffle bat.
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I tried to suss out the meaning of The Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat album a few years ago but ultimately decided that the album had no grand unified meaning. The individual narratives in the songs, as fascinating as they were, would not cohere into one larger story. The meaning of the album was all on the surface: Matt and Eleanor Friedberger wrote and performed these vast songs about commerce and communication falling apart all over the globe without feeling like it was necessary to string it all together.
However, unlike me, that Thomas Pynchon guy is utterly brilliant. If anyone could simultaneously embrace and unlock the central mystery of Blueberry Boat, it would be him. So we loaded The Crying of Lot 49 and Blueberry Boat into our fictionator, and out came the above, an excerpt from the 33 1/3 series' first 1400+ page volume, along with a stack of index cards. The one on the top read: go here and listen if you're interested. We investigated, and it seems to be full of songs about confusion and hurry and missed communications and an almost mystical sense of failure. Can you believe it's been 43 years since Oedipa Maas encountered the Para-noids? The next twelve index cards had notes on each song, but unfortunately, one of our technicians accidentally spilled coffee on each at three-minute intervals, rendering them illegible, and then disappeared, cackling, in a pull of smoke. That's the third time we've had an accident like that this week!