Beer and Pavement

The Oxford Companion to Beer Controversy and What it Means to the Rest of Us

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Six Degrees of Thurston Moore by SM on November 5, 2011

I’ve been watching the debate over the Oxford Companion to Beer from a distance. It seems that the largest single document of beer history and general information is wrought with errors. Some are historical inaccuracies while others are simply internal errors that should have been avoided. The book was heralded as major achievement in beer scholarship before it was released. Now, it’s being ridiculed all over the beer blogosphere.

There are a few places one can look for clarification, if you’re interested. Stan at Appellation Beer has started some interesting conversations on the topic, as usual. The resulting comments to Stan’s posts are always insightful. He has a knack of attracting such discourse. A new favorite of mine is Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile where some of the controversy has originated. (FWIW, Zythophile is an impressive blog documenting beer’s history in great detail by Cornell, a well-respected and accomplished beer historian/expert.)  However, the place to go for OCB controversy headquarters is this wiki. That’s where you’ll find every mistake as it’s revealed in addition to a rebuttal from author/editor Garrett Oliver and links to most of the important criticisms.

Regardless, it’s a hot topic throughout the beer community. (That’s right, I wrote “community.”) I’ve attempted to question the critiques and have been largely shot down as my enjoyment of beer is not nearly as dependant on beer’s history as it is for others. That’s fine. Beer history isn’t for everyone. Still, my main point is to not throw out the baby with the bath water. The OCB is an achievement with or without historical and editorial errors. Apparently, the technical articles (~400 pages worth) are impressive enough to warrant a read. Others disagree.

I’m not nearly as passionate about the history of beer as some seem to be. So, I had to think of something where the history does matter to me. To some degree, that would be indie rock. How would I feel if the Oxford Companion to Indie Rock was filled with historical inaccuracy and lazy editorial work?

Luckily, Michael Azerrad already took a stab at this with his seminal work Our Band Could Be Your Life. Granted, Azerrad only covered the independent years of thirteen bands, but they were probably the most important bands to indie’s history. As far as I can tell, his book contains no significant errors. I’ve read a ton about all of these bands (some of them whole books of their own) and I never noticed a problem. I guess that’s what the beer historian community wants as well. I get that.

Another book I’d add to the OCIR would be John Sellers’ excellent Perfect from Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life. This book’s detailed history of indie rock is told only from the perspective of the author. However, it covers a wider range of bands and sets a timeline for indie’s trajectory, culminating with some fantastic stories about Guided By Voices. Sure, it’s a memoir, but it’s an essential read for understanding indie rock.

Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery fame as well as the author of several great beer books of his own was the editor for OCB. The indie rock equivalent has to be Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. Moore has not only lived most of indie rock’s history, he’s curated it in one way or another, hence the six degrees of Thurston Moore. Accuracy would be assured with Moore at the helm.

When I consider the above books and Moore, I cannot fathom errors such as the ones people are finding in the OCB. If an OCIR revealed as many errors that I could identify, I’d be highly disappointed. I don’t know that I’d be angry, but I could imagine Chuck Klosterman being upset for being left out and not able to help fix rather avoidable problems. So, this helps me see the critics side of things.

All that said, I will wait for the second edition of the Oxford Companion to Beer as long as Oliver and his contributors take each criticism and error seriously. You all should probably do the same as it’s an expensive book. Otherwise, little will change, leaving us with a frustratingly flawed book. In the meantime, I’ll stay out of the debate (aside from this one post) and consider some other books in the meantime. Retromania anyone?


Posted in Intersections, Life, Manifesto by SM on July 18, 2011

I am currently hooked on the show Dexter. I don’t watch a ton of TV and tend to wait for things to come out on DVD or some “free” service online just to see if it has staying power. For those who are not familiar, Dexter is a forensic investigator who specializes in blood splatters by day and a serial killer who only kills proven murders by night. He is consumed with a need to kill and a need to seek justice.

There are also two books in my rotation at the moment. John Sellers’ excellent memoir about his dad’s fixation with snakes lies half-read on my iPhone. Also, I am reading a novel by famed rock manifesto poster Camden Joy called The Last Rock Star Book: Or Liz Phair, a Rant. In Joy’s “fictionalized” piece, his research of a certain nineties indie starlet begins to get crossed with his infatuation with loves and dirty deeds in his past.

What all these pieces have in common is obsession. Dexter obsesses over every kill. Sellers’ dad obsessed over a particular variety of snake found in a Michigan swamp to the detriment of his marriage and relationship with his kids. In Joy’s book, the narrator, also named Camden Joy, begins to blur his obsessions with his current assignment to hunt down Liz Phair, all the while, he writes what has to be the longest record review in history. I mean, it’s an entire book.

Obsession takes over our lives. It does mine. Take the subjects of this blog. I have two obsessions that never seem to leave me alone. All I can think of is which record is coming in the mail this week or how we’ll work out babysitting for tonight’s Fleet Foxes show. The beer obsession is trickier in that it comes off as if I’m an alcoholic. I will admit to having one or two beers too many, but this stems more from wanting to try more beers, not to get drunk. My cellar is nearly busting at the seams and I’m having to make room for more homebrew as well as “shipments” from out of state. My bank account has taken a hit from both, but it may be my attention that takes the biggest hit.

Saturday was not one of my finest moments in beer drinking. It was near 100 degrees and I attended a picnic with my beer club. A few high ABV sips later, I was not in great shape and all due to my obsession to try as many rare beers as possible. The episode made me rethink some of my beer consumption (along with my declining health) and I wondered if I could give up such an obsession. The same would go for the records and the concerts or even this blog.

Luckily, these are just obsessions and not addictions. We obsess over things we enjoy or things that motivate us, but we don’t die from wanting them. If I quit any of my obsessions, I’ll be alright. There was a time I never thought I’d quit buying baseball cards, but I survived that too.

So, the obsession with indie rock and craft beer rages on. These are tough things to give up. And now that I can’t stop watching Dexter or have two books I’m enjoying, you can just add it to the list.

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