Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Please, Alex, Can We Have Some More?"

Title: Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand
Author: Alex Kapranos

“I eat with these guys every day. Their eating habits are as familiar to me as the songs we play at night. Paul always covers his plate with a napkin when he’s had enough. It’s as if he’s laying a sheet over a half-eaten corpse. Nick is oblivious to waiters. They stand at his elbow until somebody nudges him to point them out. He then looks startled, as if waking from a coma; confused to find himself in a restaurant. Whenever Bob takes a drink, he has to push his upper lip back from his teeth with the rim of the glass. He shakes his fork between bites. Eating also involves triangles in some way, but I’ve never quite worked out how. Andy tends to stare at his plate, grey with anxiety, worrying about how the foreign stuff will poison him this time. Apparently, I chew too much and frown when I’m enjoying food.”

Alex Kapranos, lead singer and guitarist for Franz Ferdinand, has written a book. But it’s not about music. It’s about food, and the many weird and unique dishes he ate while on tour. There are descriptions of eating potentially fatal fugu (blowfish) in Osaka, slurping oysters in Seattle, sipping chestnut soup with bacon ice cream in Madrid, and of getting a “bowel-dweller” from eating street food in Mexico City. Ranging from the appetizing to the nauseating, these little vignettes all have one thing in common – they’re funny and non-pretentious, full of the delight and wonder of experiencing new flavors. And they’re all written in a prose style that is lyrical, entertaining, and often quite surprising. Although short, this is a book you’ll have to read slowly and savor. Kapranos is a song-writer, and it shows.

Sound Bites is actually a collection of articles Kapranos originally wrote for a British newspaper, the Guardian, supplemented with new material about his childhood and the years he spent working various jobs in restaurants, waiting to become an internationally acclaimed rock star. I learned about the book when he was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, and was sufficiently impressed that I immediately ventured forth to purchase it. But the two bookstores closest to me didn’t have it, and the nearest in-stock library was in New Jersey (as Kat discovered for me.) I fumed and I raged for two weeks before finally discovering it downtown. It was worth the wait and fuss.

Generally, I’ll like a book if I like its author, and I like Kapranos very much. He’s witty, intelligent, self-deprecating, and at times devilishly evil. While onstage one night, he asks 6,000 fans back to his hotel for a party and tells them to bring fast food with them...just to spite a snooty hotel manager who’d sneered at him earlier for eating in the lobby. “It was a puerile thing to do,” he writes, “but it turned out to be quite fun. … Revenge is a dish best served not cold, but fast.” Kapranos is also allergic to peanuts and faints at the sight of blood. Reading his essays is like having a really fascinating conversation with a long-lost friend over a few beers pints at the local bar pub.

There’s also a lot more in Sound Bites than just food. Kapranos ruminates about the history of the places he visits, the personalities he meets, and the everyday grunge and glamour of touring the world with a rock band. For example, I did not expect to find here a near-perfect description of an afternoon spent reading in a bookshop. But here’s how Kapranos describes it:

“The [other customers] are mild and grey-haired, wearing warm, ramblers’ fleeces. The dichotomy of good bookshops makes them a powerful environment: gentle, dusty places containing the extremes of human thought. I am reading about incestuous cannibals. I wonder what the ramblers are reading. It could be tragedy, violence, passion, or needlecraft. Nothing in their expressions gives it away. They quietly sip their coffee without raising their eyes from the page.”

Incestuous cannibals. How could I not dig something like that?

And finally, it has to be said, this book is…well…sexy. But that shouldn’t really be surprising. Music is sexy. Food is sexy. And lank-haired young men from Scotland who play guitar and write lyrically about hamburgers are definitely sexy.

And I won’t share with you the scene where Kapranos eats bull testes in Buenos Aires. That you’ll just have to read for yourself.

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posted by Elizabeth at 5:11 PM


Blogger Kat said...

Good to know you managed to track down the book you badgered me about. :P

2/02/2007 3:46 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Useless librarian...

2/09/2007 5:34 PM  

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