I intend for this first installment of my new monthly book feature to reveal the sort of reading that has fed into my practice as an artist and writer, while respecting that this range of books is not necessarily limited to those that specifically address visual art. While visually appealing in its own way, Sound Bites is definitely one of the more tangential books I could have chosen, being Alex Kapranos’ memoir of foods sampled around the world while on tour as the lead singer and guitarist for Franz Ferdinand.
Given that I’ll be flying to the UK this weekend, this selection is also a touch nostalgic at the moment as it was the last book I purchased on British soil while residing on the other side of the pond. After a month-long marathon of packing and shipping the majority of my library back to Canada in the summer of 2007, I journeyed down to London with a small stock of books I had hoped to unload at one of the many used bookstores lining Charing Cross at some point between gallery visits and the opening of a Punk-related show to which I had contributed an essay. I had no luck with the various booksellers I approached and rather pointedly left a too-heavy hardcover edition of The Three Musketeers in a Spanish-themed bar near Leicester Square before hauling the lot off to an Oxfam bookstore near my hotel for charitable disposal. Having been thwarted in my attempt to make some sort of much-needed cash from those books, being rid of them for a good cause seemed the next best thing.
Unfortunately, my bibiophilia kicked back into gear in the short time I spent delivering my books to the two lovely shopkeepers. Despite all good intentions to reduce the number of books in my life at the time, I walked out of that Oxfam with this admittedly slim hardcover filled with the sort of short anecdotes that made perfect reading on the trains and planes that stood between me and home.
Just as I encountered this book in the midst of a journey, Kapranos situates each of his strange dining experiences in the context of the travels that took him there. Each meal, no matter how humble or spectacular, is cast within the setting in which he ate, and for every story in which the band is lavished with delicacies on tour, there’s another dating further back in Kapranos’ early life working in Glasgow’s various restaurant kitchens. The reverence given equally to all the foods he met along the way, from a bowl of marshmallows to a pheasant casserole, is as good a roadmap as any for the way a critic should encounter art in the world – openly, but with the honesty and the fortitude that comes of owning up to one’s subjective experiences.
I could have chosen any excerpt to illustrate Kapranos’ perspective, but for now I’ll settle for this short excerpt on oysters in Seattle:
His face is grey with fear. Anxiety flickers across his eyes. They dart around the table, bouncing off the expectant gazes surrounding him. Resolve hardens the tendons around the jaw. He picks up a shell. It’s tinged with a delicate green at the edge. The little grey creature glistens under the candlelight. He tips it past his lips. He chews. There’s a grimace. He chews some more, rolling it to the molars on the other side. There’s a desperate furrowing of the eyebrows and a swallow. The swallow becomes a gag. A grey gob shoots out. It’s caught on the shell. He stares at it. With a glare of defiance, he tips it into his mouth again. It’s straight back out. Paul, our drummer, has never tried oysters before. (p. 19)
And if that relationship to art is too shaky for your taste, this book is also generously packed with illustrations by Andrew Knowles, the touring drum tech for Franz Ferdinand and a graduate of my alma mater, the Glasgow School of Art. The relationship between his quirky line drawings and the work of David Shrigley is unmistakable, and this trademark Glaswegian style is thoughtfully integrated into Kapranos’ text – perhaps most humourlessly in a two-page spread of an anonymous crowd of spectators following a story of eating cake off the buffet backstage at T in the Park.
Both literally and metaphorically, Sound Bites is a great travelling companion and role model for living, no matter how far or near one ventures from home. And with a dust jacket price of £12.99/$30.00CDN, it was the best £3.99 I ever spent.