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New Video Series: Classic Novels in 60 Seconds or Less

By JK Evanczuk on Tuesday, May 4, 2010 - Comments Off

p>Remember this from a few months back?

For the last few months, we’ve been working hard with the good folks over at Anthology Media to put together a spiffy new web video series for you. The concept is pretty simple: we get writers, musicians, actors, and other creative types to summarize their favorite novels. In 60 seconds or less. With no time to prepare.

One of most the interesting aspects we found about this project was how it reflected the sorts of things people take away from fiction. We had each participant summarize a couple of stories, and everyone seemed to have a theme. Carolina, who you’ll see in a few weeks, managed to end each of her 60-second summaries with the concept of love. Morgan somehow related everything back to prostitutes and redemption. Other themes? Dinosaurs and aliens. This was all the more interesting when the stories in question contained neither dinosaurs nor aliens.

We’re kicking off the project with Matt Mazur, a NYC-based folk and comedy musician. He composed this little diddly about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby off the top of his head. Enjoy and, if you like it, please share:

That Bad Man, That Cruel Stagger Lee

By Morgan von Ancken on Monday, November 2, 2009 - Comments Off
John Hurt recorded the definitive version of Stagger Lee

John Hurt recorded the definitive version of Stagger Lee

It’s pretty rare these days that a song in popular music tells an entire story from start to finish, with defined characters and a decisive resolution. I think the reason for this is partially that story structure is inherently incongruous with writing a conventionally popular song; the backbone of pop music is the chorus, a familiar meme that gets repeated constantly throughout the song and which, by the nature of its repetition, weasels it’s way into your brain (Mmmmm bop, hippity dop bop doo wop…). And while this may be an effective tactic for making catchy music, you can imagine how annoying it would be to have the flow of a story you’re reading constantly interrupted by the same thing every twenty seconds.

This is not to say that story songs don’t exist — you can find them in the seemingly diametrically opposed genres of rap and folk music, both of which are less reliant on strictly defined song structures than pop music. What’s really interesting to me is that in both of these genres, there are certain tales that have endured over the years, becoming classics and even insinuating their way into mainstream culture. What makes certain story songs endure while others fade away? Why do they stay with us? In answering these questions, I think it’s useful to consider the ballad of Stagger Lee.

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