At Bushwick Book Club, Musicians Turn Books Into Song

The latest installment has musicians taking on water-themed passages from local books.

The 1936 UW Row team at the center of “The Boys on the Boat.” Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW2234.

Seattle’s edition of the Bushwick Book Club is named after a popular Brooklyn series in which musicians write original music in response to a popular work of literature. Since 2010, local singer/songwriters and bands have been gathering at venues from the Century Ballroom to Town Hall to the Can Can to sing about books, including Slaughterhouse-Five, The Dark Knight Returns, and Silent Spring.

The Club works best if you’re familiar with the selected books, of course, but even without a working knowledge of, say, Pride and Prejudice, you’ll still enjoy a nice little live anthology of Seattle-area musicians. They take turns singing a song or two each, and by the time you leave, you’ll realize you heard an astonishing variety of music: country, folk, rock, hip-hop.

There’s something to be said for live musicians collaborating with dead authors—it’s fun to imagine Hunter S. Thompson’s annoyed response to a song that completely misses the point of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for instance—but Bushwick Book Club also pairs Seattle authors and musicians in a kind of artistic exchange program. This Saturday at Town Hall, the Club collaborates with local writers’ organization Seattle7 to create music in response to water-themed passages from their books.Contributing authors include Daniel James Brown (whose UW rowing team history, The Boys in the Boat, became one of the unlikeliest Seattle-area bestsellers upon its release four years ago), Jennie Shortridge (author of the novels Love Water Memory and When She Flew), and Jim Lynch (author of the excellent giant-squid novel The Highest Tide and the so-so Seattle World’s Fair novel Truth Like the Sun). Musicians include Julia Massey, Joy Mills, Reggie Garrett, and Ben Mish.

Additionally, singer/songwriters Wes Weddell and Annie Jantzer, both of whom have been with the Club since the beginning, will perform. These Bushwick veterans are consistently the most fun performers to watch. These aren’t novelty tunes dashed off on a toy xylophone; the two always provide a thoughtful reading, their songs always heartfelt and well-constructed.

As anyone who’s ever watched a movie version of a beloved book can tell you, the art of adaptation is always, at best, imperfect. But the thing that saves Bushwick Book Club from awkwardness is the inclusion of literary criticism. The songwriters aren’t just relating plots in verse-chorus-verse format; they’re sharing their reading experiences, their understanding of the texts. That little bit of biography, of confession, of review is what elevates Bushwick from adaptation to conversation—and from conversation to art. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., 652-4255, townhallseattle.org. $5. All ages. 8 p.m. Sat, Jan. 21. Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

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