Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I am in a book about cheese

Quite a while back I was contacted out of the blue by a fellow named Gordon Edgar. Gordon is the cheesemonger at San Francisco’s foodie mecca Rainbow Grocery, as well as a blogger and all around authority on the subject of cheese. It turns out that he was in the process of writing one of those food memoirs that are so popular these days and needed my help. What?

You see, Gordon, a punk rocker since way back, wanted to inform some of his book’s anecdotes and observations with quotes from a couple of old punk songs. One of these was by a still revered and vastly influential early 80s San Francisco band called B Team. What, you’ve never heard of them? Cuh! Okay, maybe less “revered” than “invisible”, and more “almost universally unremembered” than “vastly influential”. But the salient point remains that I was the singer and bass player in B Team, and that Gordon, bless his soul, still not only remembered B Team, but had also somehow managed to maintain a fond place for them in his heart all these years later.

So the long and short of it is that Gordon was contacting me because he was bound to by law; I was the author of the lyric that he wanted to quote, and he needed my permission in order to do so. Hardened by years of fielding endless such requests for the musical treasures that comprise my vast songwriting estate, I played hard to get, and debated the issue for almost a full five seconds before saying yes. Gordon then graciously asked what I might like in return. The idea of a meet-and-greet sprang to mind. My wife is something of a budding cheese aficionado, and a get-together with Gordon would allow her to pick his brain on the topic while he and I shared boozy reminiscences about the SF music scene. Not surprisingly, upon meeting Gordon, I found him to be an all around swell guy.

Gordon’s book Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge finally hit the shelves a few weeks back, and I was antsy to get my hands on it. Of course, anyone who knew me might think that, beyond the fact of its mentioning ME, I would find little of interest in the book. And it’s true, I am anything but a “foodie”; I don’t even really eat cheese all that often. But I am a nerd, and as such harbor a deep appreciation for, and identification with, the consuming enthusiasms of others. I may not know cheese, but I do know the joy that comes from immersion in a subject about which one is passionate, as well as the thrill of sharing that passion with others. It’s for this reason that I can find delight in the way my wife’s face lights up when she describes a particularly exciting cheese she’s sampled, or be fascinated by Keith’s writings about fine single malts, despite my being perfectly happy to curl up with a bottle of Famous Grouse.

And cheese, with the intricacies of its production, and the wide variety of factors, large and small, that come into play in giving each type its distinctive qualities -- in other words, those things that provide each cheese with its own individual “story” -- can make for especially fascinating subject matter in this regard. Gordon’s blog postings had already demonstrated to me that he was a witty and engaging writer, but, as Cheesemonger makes clear, he’s also a very generous one. The man is simply a natural communicator. Add to this a principled lack of pretension -- Gordon’s punk roots have lead to him being much more of a gatecrasher than a gatekeeper -- and you’ve got a rare example of food lit that is at once surprisingly accessible and completely entertaining, regardless of what you bring to the table (um, so to speak).

More important to me, though, is the fact -- referred to again and again throughout Cheesemonger’s pages -- that punk rock changed Gordon’s life, very much as it did my own all those years ago. Gordon relays how it was his adherence to the politics and ideals of punk that in part lead him on the path to becoming a cheesemonger. (And, by the way, the word fetishist in me has totally fallen under the spell of the word “cheesemonger”. I keep meaning to ask Gordon if, upon finding before him an especially fine and worthy cheese, he might see fit to say something like “Man, I am going to mong the shit of that cheese!”) I can’t help but see that as a perfect testament to punk’s transformative power -- the way it opened our minds to seeing connections and possibilities that mainstream culture, with its focus on narrowly defined ideas of success, might have otherwise blinded us to. That the paths opened up by such a way of seeing would eventually lead to places as unpredictable as they were varied only drives the point home that much more.

So, basically, what I’m saying is that, despite being something of an anti-gourmand, I loved this book about cheese. As a result, I’m very proud to have contributed to it, even if in an incredibly tiny, weirdly retroactive and entirely indirect way. (And, by the way, I was quite pleased to see that the B Team lyrics were not only quoted, but also supplied the title for one of the book’s closing chapters.) This is why I’m taking precious time away from reviewing Indonesian cannibal movies and Ismail Yassin comedies to tell you to go buy it. We will return shortly to our regularly scheduled idiocy.


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Well! That's something you don't see every day. Good for you - and your friend! Somewhat related, I went to a "cheese and wine bar" in NYC this weekend that was either hilariously brilliant at not taking itself too seriously via irony OR was just a hollow a parody of itself. I'm not sure which. Please take a look at the adjectives used to describe the cheese http://www.casellula.com/menus.html. One of them that's not on the website was described as "infinite."

Unknown said...

I'm partial to "animally" as an adjective, myself. Yeah, Beth, I don't think that's pastiche. I think that's the real deal. But, that aside, how was the cheese?

memsaab said...

Punk (and, incidentally, cheese which I love above most foods) saved me from the likes of Foreigner and Journey.

Todd said...

The other day I was describing the band Boston as being exactly the type of music that punk was set up in opposition to, but Foreigner or Journey would fit in there just as well.

memsaab said...

Ha ha, I almost added Boston to my comment but thought I had made my point and insulted enough people :D

sunil said...

Aww. May you always allow yourself to be driven by your own passion. :)