In Traveling Sprinkler, Paul Chowder, the poet protagonist of Nicholson Baker's 2009 novel The Anthologist returns and decides he's "had it with poetry."
Instead, he decides to buy himself a guitar at Best Buy and try his hand at songwriting. Like Baker - who kicks off the 215 Festival on Thursday with a reading (with Dara Horn) at the Free Library, followed by an appearance later that night at Underground Arts - Chowder has a very active mind and a background in classical music, as a bassoonist. Playing an instrument that "looked like a strange undersea plant that would live in the darkness of the Marianas Trench, near a toxic fumarole," Baker was once the fourth bassoonist in the Rochester Philharmonic.
Reading Traveling Sprinkler is educational and entertaining on many subjects, from chewing tobacco to U.S. drone attacks to Quaker meetings to Chowder's ex-girlfriend Roz to John Powell's score to The Bourne Identity to Norman Herzberg , "the great studio bassoonist of Los Angeles." That's because Baker, as has been his wont in previous stream-of-consciousness riffs like The Mezzanine and the dirty-minded House of Holes, tends to tell you pretty much everything he's thinking,
And in Traveling Sprinkler, Baker is thinking about music. He's considering pop songs like the Gap Band's "Early In The Morning" and protest songs like Tracy Chapman's "Change." About Fountains of Wayne's wondrous "All Kinds Of Time," Baker / Chowder has this to say, when it comes up on shuffle on his iPod:
"[Singer Chris Collingwood] managed to catch the moment that no one has ever caught, the suspended hopeful moment as the quarterback is looking for a receiver, the most poignant and killing moment in football. There are some great chords, and Collingwood is able to control his falsetto notes and the whole thing is just total genius.... Power pop is the name given to Fountains of Wayne's style of music, it seems - but whatever it's called they are great songwriters and they deserve thanks."
The songs that the fictional Paul Chowder writes in Traveling Sprinkler (Blue Rider Press) have been written and recorded by the actual Nicholson Baker in a recording studio he built in his barn in Maine, and a dozen of them (one with lyrics by Gerard Manley Hopkins) are included in the deluxe e book version. Buy it here.
You can listen to two of Baker's songs below. At the Free Library, they'll be played as the audience takes their seats, and later on at the "Writers Night In America" hosted by TJ Kong and backed up by Kong's The Can Jam Band, Baker will be one of of a host of writers who will read (and maybe sing?), including Bruce Graham, Sarah Rose Etter, Nicolas Esposito and Jacqueline Goldfinger.
Info on both events is here at 215festival.org.