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George Pelecanos is somewhat taken aback when asked to talk about his contribution to Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed. “I got an e-mail from my agent a couple years ago,” says the Silver Spring– based writer. Scram, a magazine “dedicated to rooting out the cashews in the bridge mix of unpopular culture,” wanted him to write a piece about underappreciated music. “I just sent it. I never talked to them or anything,” he says. “Then this book shows up.”
Lost in the Grooves compiles essays—sometimes of just a few lines—about perennial critics’ darlings (the Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane), odd faves of odd people (Vivian Stanshall’s Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead), albums you weren’t supposed to like (Alvin and the Chipmunks’ The Alvin Show), and whatever else its writers—including locals Ken Barnes (USA Today, ’70s zines Flash and Fusion), and Vern Stoltz (Cannot Be Obsolete) and Memphis, Tenn.–based Washington City Paper contributor Andrew Earles—favor.
Pelecanos wrote about Curtis Mayfield’s 1973 Curtom release Back to the World. “I just picked a record that I thought was really underappreciated in its category, especially coming after Superfly.”
The overlooked disc “was of a time when people were making records that were sort of thematic,” says Pelecanos, and it’s easy to see why the crime novelist and story editor of HBO’s The Wire would relate to lines like these: “In these city streets—everywhere/You got to be careful/Where you move your feet, and how you part your hair.”
Pelecanos’ review ends with a shot at the dean of rock critics: “Robert Christgau gave this a ‘C.’ Another reason, in my opinion, to check it out.” Pelecanos is quick to point out that he has nothing against Christgau, but, he says, “I object to that kind of criticism….A guy, or a woman, sits in a dark room for a year and writes a book, and then someone blows it off with a D-minus or whatever.”
Pelecanos’ appreciation for music is almost as well-known as his novels, which chronicle a Washington far from filibusters and presidential coronations. The “tour music” section of his Web site offers a playlist much like that in Lost in the Grooves: When he hits the road to promote his new book, Drama City, in March, his CD wallet will be stocked with Slobberbone, Lalo Schifrin, the Isley Brothers, Iron + Wine, War, and Graham Parker. And his previous novel, Hard Revolution, featured a “soundtrack” CD given away at readings.
Next for Pelecanos, besides the book tour, is news on whether The Wire will be picked up for a fourth season. The future of the drama may be grim, given HBO Chair Chris Albrecht’s quip that “I have received a telegram from every viewer of The Wire—all 250 of them.” Perhaps Scram should cover unpopular TV in its next book.
—Pamela Murray Winters