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Singing About Cat's Cradle at the Bushwick Book Club

Would you like some ice-nine? Maybe only the non-lethal kind, served up as the specialty drink at Goodbye Blue Monday, at 1087 Broadway in Bushwick, on Tuesday night, where the Bushwick Book Club kicked off its second year with Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

The Bushwick Book Club was started in January of last year by Susan Hwang, 36, who had been laid off from her secretarial day-job in the banking world in 2008. She took the opportunity to pursue music full-time and work at the Bushwick coffee house and music venue. Inspired by themed music nights and her own zombie movie songwriting, Hwang decided to start the Book Club series, inviting musicians to write new songs about a different book each month.

Tuesday night featured songs in the spirit of Vonnegut—funny, thoughtful, and a little disturbing. Musicians took to the piano, clarinet, ukulele, and guitar to mediate on nuclear war, religion, midgets, and oceans of ice-nine.

The first performer, writer and musician Deenah Vollmer, strayed from music for the night and read a dark and comical short story about a man who had invented his own religion.

“Book clubs are fun. It’s fun to literally be on the same page as somebody in terms of what they’re reading and to make art derived from that,” Vollmer said. “I feel like all artists want assignments, and this really gives a clear assignment and deadline.”

“People get really into it,” she continued. “Susan’s a wonderful host because she really makes it a united evening. There’s always a special drink. Sometimes there are costumes and people dress up. [Goodbye Blue Monday] is the best cultural spot in Brooklyn. Steve [Trimboli], who runs it is amazing. He’s incredibly kind and open to all kinds of programming and events.”

So far, the books have ranged from The Bible to Darwin’s Origin of Species to Watchmen. This year, Hwang is keeping it interesting with selections like Dolly Parton’s biography and encyclopedia entries from the letter Q.

Another musician, who has participated in five Book Clubs, Franz Nicolay, 32, sang “It Is Never a Mistake to Say Goodbye,” about the themes of nuclear destruction in the book.

“The major thing that’s different about the Book Club is that they’re all new songs,” Nicolay said. “So even with people who are seasoned performers, everybody is equally nervous about their song. Maybe they didn’t write it that long ago or maybe they didn’t get to practice it enough or maybe they didn’t memorize the lyrics or they wrote it on an instrument they don’t play so well. The difference between the people who are amateur musicians and the people who are professional musicians is really evened out.”

“The other thing is it really takes people’s songwriting in a different and often more focused direction,” he continued. “It’s a great writing exercise because it gives people topics that they wouldn’t necessarily write songs about, and ways of speaking and characters that they wouldn’t necessarily be writing about or in. Also on a very basic level it forces you to write a song, which is always good exercise.”

Hwang herself played a song on the piano about the “Girl Pool” in the book, comparing the girls who carol and get chocolate bars to her fellow secretaries in her days at Goldman Sachs.

“There were certain phrases that he uses that really stick with me,” Hwang explained. “‘Girl pool’ was one of them. Also ‘paper rectum.’ I hadn’t really thought about my old life that much and then all of a sudden I was writing about it. It was really fun.”

Steve Trimboli, the owner of Goodbye Blue Monday, has always encouraged the Book Club, which is now one of the mainstays at the venue.

“I’m incredibly grateful. We try anything here,” Trimboli said. “We have spoken word events; we have comedy events. This is one of the first mainstays. I’ve been here for five years and this is its first full year. It’s a wonderful feeling. I’m a writer and my writing process is one thing, but to put words and music together is something else. I marvel at it, I think it’s great. I just love the fact that there’s a very communal sense about everything that happens here. That was what I was hoping for when I first opened. I’ve made some really wonderful friends because of it.”

Next month’s book is The History of Love. Hwang is also hoping to release a compilation album of some of last year’s songs. To find out more, visit bushwickbookclub.com

“All of these different musicians getting exposed to each other—that’s definitely one of my favorite things,” Hwang said. “My favorite thing always is just hearing what people have come up with. I don’t hear the songs before and it’s sort of a like a combination of Christmas and getting your photos developed at the same time. The things that people come up with you would never think of. It’s really amazing stuff because people are so talented.”

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