There are some adventurous librarians out there, reports Josh Malerman from his Motor City home; hes the giddy frontman of Detroits The High Strung. The three-piece of storytelling rockers has been leading an unlikely crusade not to expand drinking laws or revise public noise violation guidelines, but to topple the rigid formality of the Dewey Decimal System and to shush Q-tip topped curmudgeons everywhere who are still demanding three inch whispers from library patrons. They are invoking change by taking their shows out of the cave-like bar environment and transplanting them to the fluorescent-lit glow of librarys activity rooms the country over. You might believe that this is a difficult paradigm to shift, but the boys of Strung have been bombarded by progressive librarians hoping to welcome them and their beautiful, billowing noise. The people running these events are usually from the younger generation of librarians who are bored with the old standards, explains Josh. They see a flyer, or theyve heard us on NPR and think Yeah! I want to do this -- I work here everyday, how do I make it more crazy in here?
While using their rowdy live shows as a way to give libraries a little street cred wasnt their original intent, thats exactly whats going on now. It all started when a drunken librarian buddy approached them at a show. His slurred proposition was that they play inside the chillingly silent public spaces; they were enamored of the idea. I didnt understand how it would work at first, laughs Josh. I said, So what? You want us to play really quiet and stand still? But thats the opposite of what their pal had in mind. He said Do stand on your amps. Do jump around get really excited and be loud! So they tried it. And the result? Its the same exact show, but instead of a whole room of drunk people, youre playing for an 80 year-old woman and a two year-old kid, and a bunch of teenagers.
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So in that sense, he adds reflectively, it has to be a little different.
And while you might expect the dissimilarities to be staggering, there are also some surprising parallels: When were getting paid at a library, they have so much bureaucratic red tape. There have been times when Ive had some tiny old lady explain that they have to have a meeting the following week to address their expenses, and then they will write us out a check and mail it, Josh says. Frustratingly adorable? Sure. But over in the rock club sector: I once had a club owner say, Ill give you guys your money in a second, I just have to go sell some stuff on the street first. Josh laughs. We had to wait, sitting in the street for two hours until we got paid. Its in those times I cant help but think of my father watching me, seeing that Im sitting in some terrible part of town and thinking: What are you doing here?! Score one for the libraries.
But will this social experiment really change the worlds perception of those ancient annals of archive? The High Strung isnt sure. What the group is certain of is that libraries are transforming into hipper spaces regardless, and the band can see it happening. When I was growing up, the only thing going on at the library was books, and if you werent into books, you werent into the library. Now the internet sort of equalizes everyone, turning the library into both a nexus and a teen center. All of a sudden youve got book worms and trouble makers hanging out together, and all of a sudden its kinda cool.
The High Strung rock the stacks at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Parkland Library (6600 University Dr., Parkland). The show is free, but register by calling 954-757-4200.