Newtonville Books and “Seeing Songs”

You know how some bookstores are so bright and cozy and wonderful you’d just like to set up a cot and move right in?  Newtonville Books is like that, and I was so happy to have an event for THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. there this past Saturday.  There were even beanbag chairs!

Thanks so much to store owner Mary Cotton, whose hard work just shines in this place, and to everyone who came out to meet Gianna and me.

And just in case they’re reading…thanks to my husband and kids, too.  As always, they helped so much.  My daughter single-handedly ran the leaf identification challenge for kids while I was signing books, and it even included a tree we don’t have at home – the rare and elusive sassafras! (We grabbed a branch from a tree in our hotel parking lot!)

The thing I’ve loved best about this book journey has been the fact that my family has been able to enjoy so much of it with me.  Our book trips always leave some room for non-book fun, too, so Sunday morning after a big diner breakfast, we headed into Boston for Free Community Day at the Museum of Fine Arts.

We wandered through the early American paintings and European masters before finding our way to an exhibit called "Seeing Songs" in the contemporary wing.  It’s a fascinating collection of visual art inspired by music.  This piece, called "Queen (A Portrait of Madonna)" especially caught our attention.

It was a bank of monitors with people performing — and I mean really performing — Madonna songs.  The artist, Candice Breitz from South Africa, put ads in newspapers and online inviting the most devoted Madonna fans to come to a studio in Milan to perform her entire 74-minute Immaculate Collection album.  Hundreds showed up; Breitz chose thirty people who are now captured in this wall of monitors, belting out Madonna songs in unison.  Breitz said she’d wanted the piece to explore the dichotomy between the "somebodies" who create music and experience fame and the "nobodies" who internalize that music and make it their own. 

I’m not sure why, but I had trouble walking away from this one.  Maybe it was watching ordinary people who were so different from one another so united in their passion for an artist’s music.  Maybe it was wondering what kind of person would travel to Milan for this.  While I was wishing I had video to share with you, I found the YouTube video below that shows a clip of the piece, along with video of the big karaoke party the museum had to celebrate its opening this summer.  That celebration, I think, captures the same sort of "putting yourself out there" that I appreciated so much in Breitz’s piece. 

And thinking about it, maybe that "putting yourself out there" feeling is the reason this piece caught my imagination this weekend – the first time I’d seen my book out on its own, in another state. Like a kid who snuck out when no one was looking. (I kept feeling like I should gather up all the copies and take them home.)  After all, as writers, we’re putting ourselves out there every time we let go of a book.  It’s not so very different from having the nerve to just let go…and dance.