Harvard Square Flaneurie

Walks to my psychotherapist’s office from the Harvard Square train station often yield varied results. If I’m running a couple of minutes late, I’ll charge out of the last train car and storm my way down Massachusetts Ave. in the hopes of reducing the amount of time already lost. Whether I’m barreling through or weaving around my fellow pedestrians in my path, I’m inhabiting a vulgarized version of Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, concerned with my tardiness, cursing under my breath and thoroughly frustrated. If I’m running on time, I walk briskly and confidently, gathering my thoughts in anticipation of the fifty minutes on the white couch.

But last Saturday I was running early, enough to slow down and think about grabbing a bite for breakfast before heading up to the therapist’s office. It was the rare occasion where I could take in my surroundings and unintentionally indulge in a bit of free association in the process.

The station-to-office trek always takes me past the Harvard Book Store. Its windows display a revolving set of enticements and possible treats for book-lovers or people who just want a good read. But what’s so special about the window? It’s just a bunch of books, right? Sure. Point conceded. But the books showing at the windows somehow push the right button, or get me on the path of re-evaluating my wish list- whether new hardcovers or featured remainders. My favorite window, though, has to be the “Featured Press” window, and I needn’t justify reasons as to whether I’m driven by fetishism or brand loyalty. This is where the accidental flaneurie begins.

Last week’s featured press at the window was Continuum, the UK-based publisher whose strongest fare is consists of scholarly books in philosophy, theology, religion and literature, with some the occasional trade titles and series. The press’ books most prominently displayed at the window were from the critically-acclaimed 33 1/3 series, consisting of texts offering extended treatments of somehow important or influential albums. When I gazed upon the pocket-sized copy of the book discussing Tom Waits’s Swordfishtrombones to get a closer look, my mind’s eye didn’t see the imprint’s triangular logo on the book’s cover,

Continuum logo

but that of Mexicana de Aviación, an icon whose impression is the pathway to memories of journeys to Mexico and Guatemala as a boy.

Mexicana Logo

The raw visual similarities in each of logo’s design elements (the ‘m’ at the bottom third of the image and the emphasis on the right hand side of the logos) temporarily scrambled my imagination and thought process. While looking at the covers of these books about ‘great’ records, I got to asking: with the exception of the ‘honoraries’ (aka The Smiths), why aren’t any of pivotal chican@/latin@ crafted pieces tackled in this (arguably indie rockist) canon for rock aficionados? It would not be for lack of available material. Obvious places to start would be Los Lobos’ career-defining opus Kiko or El Vez’s sweeping piece of detourment, Graciasland. These records certainly deserve the 33 1/3 treatment, to say less of a record that, at the time, seemed to have brought mid-90s Mexican rock to the attention of an American listening public. I am referring to Café Tacvba’s searing covers record, Avalancha de Exitos. Indie-philes would also do well to catch a glimpse into the reverse-pochismos of Plastilina Mosh.

Give me a couple of years to listen and research alongside a modest advance, and I’ll think about writing about them all. Or with no advance, I could run a serialized posts on each record and possibly grouse about the cultural and business politics suggested by the selection of titles in the series.

As of this post’s publication, the 33 1/3 series has neither published a piece on a latino-made record, nor do any appear to be planned. While waiting without holding our breaths, here’s a little Cafe Tacvba to keep the home fires burning and the thoughts incubating.