The Seattle branch of the Bushwick Book Club asks performers to ponder a book, then create a song about it for a book-loving crowd. Shows for kids and adults are on tap March 19 and 20, 2011, about the writings of Shel Silverstein.
Take a book — and make it sing.
That’s the philosophy behind the Bushwick Book Club, which has brought Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” and other literary favorites to songwriting life over the past six months.
This weekend, the Bushwick Book Club (BBC) offers both child-appropriate and adult-oriented takes on the writings of Shel Silverstein. For the kids show at Town Hall on Saturday, Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is the source material. For the adult event at the Can Can on Sunday, BBC organizer Geoff Larson is giving his performers carte blanche to go with any Silverstein inspiration they choose.
Participants won’t simply be covering Silverstein songs or setting poems of his to music. The task with every show is to read the book, ponder it, then present a personal song triggered by it. Characters’ names and particular episodes can be referenced. A phrase or two from the text can be quoted, but the idea is to create your own words-and-music take on the book.
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As the name suggests, the Bushwick Book Club originated in Brooklyn. Larson, a Seattle musician whose interests range from jazz to bluegrass to folk, came across it a few years ago while living in Brooklyn. There, on the nightclub circuit, he met BBC founder Susan Hwang, a fellow musician. He went to one of her BBC shows and found it “just awesome. … The whole audience was into it.”
When he moved back here in 2010, he asked for her OK to open a branch of the club in Seattle. Her answer was: “Of course.”
Larson isn’t the only one who’s taken the idea and run with it. Bushwick Book Clubs — not all named that — now exist in Berlin, Italy and Philadelphia.
Before starting the club in Seattle, he checked out venues and asked himself, “Where would you go where there’d be people coming to see music? And people who are really into reading books and talking about them — where would they want to go?”
He needed the right atmosphere: nothing too loud or raucous. And he wanted a venue where everyone could sit down and focus on the music. When he went to a show by his friend Vince Martinez at the Can Can, he realized he’d found his spot.
All he could offer the performers to begin with was $15, a free dinner and a couple of drinks (all out of his own pocket). Martinez helped find musicians for the first show. Once the word got out, artists started coming to Larson, asking if they could be a part of it.
Booking talent is no longer a problem, and he doesn’t have to pay musicians from his own funds anymore. So far, Larson has chosen all the books, trying to keep in mind what makes for good songwriting fodder.
His taste seems on the mark. Judging by the “High Fidelity” show I saw, the songwriting quality is remarkably high, with all the acts proving capable tunesmiths and witty lyricists. Anna Coogan was especially funny on Hornby night, saying of the book’s self-defeatingly insecure hero, “I am Rob — and I’ve dated Rob many times. Luckily I didn’t marry him.”
Throw in the rousing anthem that concluded the show (“Bushwick Book Club is for me / I will read it and not watch it on TV”), and you have a truly heartwarming new form of literary discussion: the singalong.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org