(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)
Who’s your date today? Boots Riley: Tell Homeland Security — We Are the Bomb, a collection of lyrics and interviews from the Coup frontman. (Riley will be at University Book Store in conversation with Jesse Hagopian on Thursday of this week.)
Where’d you go? Cafe Turko in Fremont.
What’d you eat? The beet hummus ($6) and the village salad with chicken ($10).
How was the food? I’m a big fan of Cafe Turko. It’s always way too busy, and the staff is always way too overworked, but it's a great place to get stuffed on healthy food. The beet hummus, especially, is something that I have to order every time. It’s bright like Play-Doh but it’s absolutely delicious. The salad, too, was lovely, with crisp greens and spiced grilled chicken, doused in a baslamic dressing.
What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:
Provocative and prolific, Boots Riley has written lyrics as the frontman of underground favorites The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, as well as solo artist, for more than two decades. An activist, educator, and emcee, Riley's singular lyrical stylings combine hip-hop poetics, radical politics, and wry humor with Bay Area swag. Boots Riley: Collected Lyrics and Writings brings together his songs, commentary, and backstories with compelling photos and documents.
Is there a representative quote? On the song “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” Riley says: “It’s funny because — many times by my detractors — I get called a little too heavy, or my work gets called dogmatic. But actually, most of my lyrics are pretty tongue in cheek. I would probably not make a song about literally killing a CEO. Not because I don’t have a problem with it per se, but because that wouldn’t be a fun song. The things that I think motivate people into action are not doom and gloom, and not anger and rage, the things that I think actually motivate people into action are optimism and hope.”
Will you two end up in bed together? Yes, but this book annoys the hell out of me and I want to talk about that for a second. Boots Riley is one of those multi-media collections of lyrics and artist interviews — kinda like Jay-Z’s Decoded, only in softcover — that overdoes the graphic design. This book is seriously overproduced. Rather than publishing the lyrics like poetry, the book’s designers often lay the lyrics out diagonally across the stage, superimposed over what is supposed to look like a piece of notebook paper. I guess this is to demonstrate passion, or to highlight that the lyrics are a piece of writing?
But you know what highlights the writing in the lyrics more than cheesy graphic design tricks? The lyrics themselves. Riley’s politics might offend some readers — oh my God, a political rapper! — but nobody can deny the artfulness of his lyrics. Rather than splashing the pages with a bunch of color and photographs and giant pull quotes, Riley’s words would be better served if presented as poetry.
The thing is, i can’t even tell who all this graphic design is supposed to benefit. Is the book’s ADHD layout intended to draw in music fans? But Riley’s fans are already pretty literate — Slavoj Žižek blurbs this book, along with Dave Eggers — and they don’t likely need to be drawn in by pretty pictures. It’s a case of too much design interfering with the message of the lyrics, which are often about finding meaning in a superficial world. I’m reading this book in spite of the design, not because of it.