You spin me right ’round, baby

Favorite records are like assholes: everyone has one. But it’s a rare person who knows exactly why a record is his or her favorite. In the case of the four writers who read their work at Powell’s this past Monday, the "why" is everything.

The 33 1/3 series, published by Continuum, features various critics, musicians and writers who pick their favorite albums and write about them any way they want. The novella-length books can be fiction, memoir, criticism, whatever. It’s all up to the writer.

The first to read Monday night was Michaelangelo Matos, the music editor for the Seattle Weekly. Prince’s Sign O’ the Times was Matos’ chosen album and, sure enough, his prose was so packed with musical minutiae that he often stumbled over his words and had to take a few deep breaths between sections. Not only did I learn about Prince’s musical alter ego Camille and how she was created, but in a discussion about Prince’s influence on trip-hop Matos managed to mention that DJ Shadow’s debut album Endtroducing was recorded with only an 8-track and a sampler.

Colin Meloy, better known as the lead singer for the band The Decemberists, and sounding like a punk-literate David Sedaris, read from his memoir inspired by the Replacements’ Let It Be. The section he read concerned his attempts as a middle-schooler to ingratiate himself into his school’s skater/punk crowd.

Next came Douglas Wolk, who read from his book on James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, deftly using a CD player to play-call-and-response with his writing. When Wolk mentioned the chilly weather in Harlem the night of the concert, on cue James Brown screamed, "It’s cold outside!"

Finally, Michael McGonigal read from his forthcoming book on My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, relating his excruciating yet enlightening experience of the band’s notorious freak-out in D, wherein they played the D-chord over and over with amps as high as they could go, until the sound resembled, as McGonigal said, "a jet engine."

During the Q & A session after the reading, all of the writers admitted that while the albums they had chosen were certainly among their favorites, there were certain records they loved that they couldn’t imagine taking apart or critiquing. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was at the top of most of their lists as one record that’s almost impossible to dissect. All of the writers also explained that they couldn’t imagine listening to the albums they wrote about until at least a couple years had passed, teaching us that if a record is your all-time desert island favorite, you might be better off writing about your second favorite album.