Monday, June 26, 2017

"Vinyl Freak : Love Letters to a Dying Medium" by John Corbett (Duke)

ISBN: 978-0-8223-6366-8 Duke University Press


Perhaps it's due to my mood at the moment, but "Vinyl Freak" is the best book I have read on record collecting, or to be more specific, for the love of vinyl and music discovery. First of all, I read this book due to my friend Amber Noé, who suggested to me at a bookstore. She doesn't (at the moment) share my love for the vinyl world, but still, it was sweet of her to find this book for me. Second, I may only know eight albums here that the author John Corbett writes about. All, are obscure Jazz or experimental music albums. To say that they are obscure is like saying the night is dark. I never heard of these artists or their music. So, what is the purpose of someone like me reading a book on someone's collection that is mostly, if not all, entirely unknown?

Corbett recognizes the importance of sharing one's love of a collection and showing it to someone else. He not only shows this body of work but also explains what and where they came from. It's a geek book of course, but a very generous one, where the reader doesn't feel left out of the information or more importantly, the passion of such a collection.

The book is beautifully designed in that every album he writes about we can see the record cover as well. All entries listed here are not on CD or streaming, as of the publication's date. If you're a music collector, all this will do is make one keep a list to check out later. Corbett also writes an essay on the issues of collecting and his history of his passion. There is also an excellent piece at the end of the book regarding his over-the-top passion: Sun Ra. I sense there will be a separate detailed account of that subject matter in another book by Corbett. Nevertheless, this has been a total fun read for me and made me re-think what I do with my music blog regarding my collection. Learn from the master!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"The Dream Colony: A Life in Art" by Walter Hopps (Bloomsbury USA), 2017

ISBN: 978-1632865298
Since my dad Wallace Berman is in the narrative of Walter Hopps own narrative, I was a little nervous to open up and read his memoir.  The fact is, there is a chapter here focusing on my father, and it is one of the best things I have read on Wallace.  On the other hand, Wallace did a solo show at the Ferus Gallery, where he got busted for pornography (this is the 1950s!), and the exhibition was closed down by the LAPD.   When my dad got some friends to go pick up the artwork from the gallery, the works went missing.  According to Walter in this book, my father destroyed the works.  This is not the case.  Someone at the gallery either caused the works to go missing, or they destroyed the artworks.   Either by accident or design, the whole exhibition disappeared. And without bitterness on my part, I feel Walter and Ed Kienholz are responsible for these works missing, due that they are the Ferus Gallery at the time.   Still, Wallace and Walter were very close friends.  I remember Walter from my childhood with fond memories.

"The Dream Colony" is an excellent memoir.  Although I do disagree with certain things (like above) and making it sound like my dad didn't like Irving Blum, which as far as I know is not the case at all - is a superb look of the Los Angeles art scene as well as an excellent series of narratives from Walter.  Reading the book I can hear his voice, and there is at least one great (and usually) hysterical story per page.  This is not a stuffy art bio or autobiography; this is the world seen through Walter's eyes.  He was a remarkable and very articulate lover of art.  He wasn't schooled in a specific school.  Walter allowed himself to roam through art collections and he pretty much knew art in a very instinct manner.

He was a man of great taste and had the brilliant talent of being in the right place at the right time.   Walter never wrote anything as far as I know.  He mostly dictated his essays and introductions to catalog through another's typing.  Everything here that Walter says about himself is basically true, and his lateness in doing things was legendary.   Still, he had the vision of giving my dad his first (and only, in his lifetime) gallery show, as well as giving Marcel Duchamp his first retrospective in Pasadena.  I was there at the Duchamp opening!

Deborah Treisman and Anne Doran did a fantastic job in editing this book.  Ed Ruscha's introduction is smart, warm, and entirely correct. I know it must be difficult to do a project like this, especially after Walter's passing.  "The Dream Colony," I think is one of the better books regarding the art world of the 20th century.  Walter always struck me as a romantic figure, and I can understand those who are seduced or swayed by his presence and thoughts on art.   He was the real deal.  And yes, I don't agree on certain narratives that run in this book, it is still Walter's story - and that is not a bad thing at all.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Beat Boy" by Tosh Berman & City Lights Publishers


As an author, I'm very happy to be part of the City Lights Publishers' family. It's a great honor to be among Allen Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, Antonin Artaud, Rene Daumel, Neil Cassidy, Jack Kerouac, Paul Bowles, Bill Burroughs, Diane diPrima, Andre Breton, David Meltzer, Huey Newton, Pasolini, Angela Davis, Kevin Killian, Jacques Prévert, Bataille and so many others. And me! My memoir "Beat Boy" is coming shortly. - Tosh Berman.



Monday, May 29, 2017

Marek Hłasko's "Beautiful Twentysomethings"

ISBN: 978-0-87580-477-4 NIU Press

Due to my newly interest in the Polish composer/musician Krzysztof Komeda, I discovered "Beautiful Twentysomethings" by Marek Hłasko. It may be the case Hłasko killed Komeda in a drunken mishap in the woods near Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Hłasko was very guilty what happened to his friend, and eventually, within a week he died in Germany. Both were friends of Roman Polanski - who is a guy that seems to have bad luck as his permanent friend. 

Hłasko is described as the James Dean of Polish literature, and that may be the case, but to me, he really reminds me of the French poet and author Blaise Cendrars. Both are guys-guy and there is a certain amount of charm that runs with Hłasko, even though it sounds like he was a nightmare of a person to actually know or be a friend of. "Beautiful Twentysomethings" is Hłasko's memoir, which sometimes reads like a rant and at times literary criticism on his fellow Polish authors and Russian literature as well. He was very fond of noir films and knows a lot about the cinema. His observations on Humprey Bogart is pretty fantastic. He would have made a great film critical writer/journalist. Alas, I don't think that happened. 

This is a fascinating book on what it's like to live in Poland during the 1950s, and really living the life in the rough with no dough and a heavy drinking lifestyle. He wanders over to Israel and Paris, but he is a man who doesn't really have a home. He is at home in bars, the streets, and reading books. Handsome devil he was, he could have been a world literature figure, but nothing seem to connect for him. Oddly enough this is not a depressing read, due to his character in that he's funny. Hłasko writes and expresses serious issues, but it's in the style of the wise guy in the street, who's whispering devilish things to you that can be dangerous. A fascinating post-war figure, whose insight will be welcome by those who want to study European life during those times, but also a great introduction to a very interesting writer. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"1966: The Year the Decade Exploded" by Jon Savage (Faber & Faber)

ISBN: 978-0571277629

I'll follow Jon Savage anywhere, especially to one of my favorite year: 1966.   I turned 12 that year, and I was very much into buying or receiving music at the time. I also had an intense curiosity about what's happening in England.  I was of course, aware of the Fab Four and the Stones, but I knew there were bands like The Small Faces, The Move and of course, shows as "Shindig" exposed me to other bands/artists of that year.  Oddly enough, there was so much great music from that era - and Savage opens the door to the reader that is 1966.  

According to Savage, '66 is the year where the 60s started to happen.  Acid (LSD) was hitting the teenage market, and politics, due to racial and Vietnam, were impossible to ignore.  Also, 1966 was the year when things got psychedelic, but at the same time, it got darker.  Things were groovy, but there were signs that things will turn to shit around the corner.  In a remarkable feat of excellent writing/reporting, Savage captures these series of moments in what I think was a correct and realistic manner.  There are at least four locations here in the book:  Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, and New York City.   The book has 12 chapters, representing each month in 1966, and the focus to start off the discussion is usually a very obscure 45 rpm single.   Perhaps 1966 was the last year of the single as an artform.   Not saying that were not great 45 rpm work in the future, but as a statement, for example, The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" which took months for them to complete.  

The book covers a lot of ground.  Savage doesn't forget feminism, gay liberation, students, and cinema as well as the music world/scene.  He covers Joe Meek to Country Joe and The Fish.   It's a large book that is over 500 pages, with an incredible discography.   Savage is an obsessed music lunatic, who can write and think objectively but also very pointed in his view of that world.  It's that balancing act and his intelligence that makes him such a great social historian.  

"To Hell With The Ugly" by Boris Vian (Vernon Sullivan) TamTam Books


To Hell with the Ugly

Et on Tuera Tous Les Affreux

By Boris Vian. Translated and Introduction by Paul Knobloch. Drawings by Jessica Minckley.

First published in French in 1948, To Hell with the Ugly saw Boris Vian's noir-novelist pseudonym Vernon Sullivan take on Vian's own burlesque pop sensibilities. An erotic crime novel with science fiction tendencies, Sullivan's third outing is described by its translator as "a pornographic Hardy Boys novel set on the Island of Dr. Moreau to a be-bop soundtrack." To Hell with the Ugly recounts the tale of Rock Bailey, a dashing 19-year-old lad determined to hold onto his virginity amidst the postwar jazz-club nightlife of Los Angeles-a resolution challenged by the machinations of the demented Doctor Markus Schutz, who has decided to breed beautiful human beings and found a colony in which ugliness is a genetic crime. Vian's brutal depictions of American race relations in his previous Sullivan novels here give way to a frenetic fantasy of eugenics and uniformity-a parodic anticipation of the cosmetic surgery that was to rule Hollywood over the coming decades, as well as a comic-book reflection on Nazi Germany's visions of a master race. With the novel's breathless domino tumble of fist fights, car chases, kidnappings, and murders, Vian here set out to out-Hollywood Hollywood, serving up a narrative cocktail of Raymond Chandler, H.G.Wells, Brave New World and Barbarella.

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"The Death Instinct" by Jacques Mesrine (TamTam Books)


The Death Instinct

By Jacques Mesrine. Introduction by Robert Greene. Translation by Robert Greene, Catherine Texier.

France's Public Enemy Number One from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s--when he was killed by police in a sensational traffic shootout--Jacques Mesrine (1936–1979) is the best-known criminal in French history. Mesrine was notorious both for his violent exploits and for the media attention he attracted, and he remains very much a public media figure in France and Europe. In 2008 there were two feature-length films based on his life, one of them starring Vincent Cassel in the lead role. Mesrine wrote The Death Instinct while serving time in the high-security prison La Santé; the manuscript was smuggled out of the prison and was later published by Guy Debord's publisher Gérard Lebovici (who briefly adopted Mesrine's daughter, Sabrina, before being assassinated, a few years after Mesrine). The Death Instinct deals with the early years of Mesrine's criminal life, including a horrifically graphic description of a murder he committed early on in his career and a highly detailed account of the workings of the French criminal underworld--making this book perhaps one of the most intriguing and detailed anthropological studies of a criminal culture ever written.

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"The Dead All Have The Same Skin" by Boris Vian (Vernon Sullivan) TamTam Books


The Dead All Have The Same Skin

By Boris Vian. Introduction by Marc Lapprand. Translated by Paul Knobloch.

Vian’s second noir novel under the Vernon Sullivan pseudonym is a brutal tale of racism in postwar New York City, as protagonist Daniel Parker is blackmailed by a long lost brother. Also included is the short story “Dogs, Desire and Death,” and Vian’s account of the controversies surrounding his previous novel I Spit on your Graves.
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Appropriation and racial confusion themselves become motifs; the book reads like the nightmare of a person having an extreme identity crisis.

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"Red Grass" by Boris Vian (TamTam Books)


Red Grass

By Boris Vian. Introduction by Marc Lapprand. Translation by Paul Knobloch.

Boris Vian (1920–1959) was a magnificent jack-of-all-trades--actor, jazz critic, engineer, musician, playwright, songwriter, translator--not to mention the leading social light of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés scene. His third major novel, Red Grass is a provocative narrative about an engineer, Wolf, who invents a bizarre machine that allows him to revisit his past and erase inhibiting memories. A frothing admixture of Breton, Freud, Carroll, Hammett, Kafka and Wells, Red Grass is one of Vian’s finest and most enduring works, a satire on psychoanalysis--which Vian wholly and vigorously disapproved of--that inflects science fiction with dark absurdity and the author’s great wit. Much in the novel can be regarded as autobiography, as our hero attempts to liberate himself from past traumatic events in the arenas of religion, social life and--of course--sex. Red Grass is translated by Vian scholar Paul Knobloch.

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"Lun*na Menoh" A Ring Around The Collar" (TamTam Books)


Lun*na Menoh: A Ring Around The Collar

Introduction by Leslie Dick.

For 14 years, Los Angeles–based artist, fashion designer and musician Lun*na Menoh has been exploring the many unexpected possibilities of the dirty shirt collar, producing paintings, sculptures, music, DVDs, performance art and fashion shows inspired by this lowly, ubiquitous aspect of clothing. The collar is a fashion boundary--the dividing line between what is hidden by clothing and the body that emerges from the cloth--and the stains commonly found there often confound sartorial panache, a fact which Menoh takes as the mischievous starting point for her work. Lun*na Menoh: A Ring Around the Collar documents the paintings included in this series, as well as Menoh’s performance art and fashion shows. Included with this book is a flexi-disc with two songs by the artist’s band, Les Sewing Sisters, and an introduction by acclaimed author Leslie Dick.

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"In The Words of Sparks... Selected Lyrics" by Ron Mael & Russell Mael (TamTam Books)


In The Words of Sparks...Selected Lyrics

Edited by Ron Mael, Russell Mael. Introduction by Morrissey.

Sparks--the long-running duo of Ron and Russell Mael--are among the most respected songwriters of their generation, their songs ranking alongside those of Ray Davies (The Kinks having been a formative influence), George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim. Formed in Los Angeles in 1971, Sparks have issued over 20 albums and scored chart hits with songs such as “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us,” “Cool Places” and “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.” While their musical style has changed dramatically over the course of 40 years--embracing the British Invasion sound of the 60s, glam rock, disco (they teamed up with Giorgio Moroder for 1979’s “No. 1 in Heaven”) and even techno--their work has consistently stretched the boundaries of pop music and the song form. Sparks continue to break new ground: they are currently working on a project with filmmaker Guy Maddin and are soon to embark on a world tour. Now, for the first time, the Mael brothers have chosen their favorite Sparks lyrics (to some 75 songs), editing and correcting them for presentation in In the Words of Sparks. As James Greer--novelist and former member of Guided by Voices--comments, “Sparks-level wordplay is a gift, and more than that, an inspiration.” This book also includes a substantial introduction by fellow Los Angeles resident and longtime fan, Morrissey.


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"Gainsbourg The Biography" by Gilles Verlant (TamTam Books)


Gainsbourg: The Biography

By Gilles Verlant. Translated by Paul Knobloch.

When Serge Gainsbourg died in 1991, France went into mourning: François Mitterand himself proclaimed him “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire.” Gainsbourg redefined French pop, from his beginnings as cynical chansonnier and mambo-influenced jazz artist to the ironic “yé-yé” beat and lush orchestration of his 1960s work to his launching of French reggae in the 1970s to the electric funk and disco of his last albums. But mourned as much as his music was Gainsbourg the man: the self-proclaimed ugly lover of such beauties as Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, the iconic provocateur whose heavy-breathing “Je t’aime moi non plus” was banned from airwaves throughout Europe and whose reggae version of the “Marseillais” earned him death threats from the right, and the dirty-old-boy wordsmith who could slip double-entendres about oral sex into the lyrics of a teenybopper ditty and make a crude sexual proposition to Whitney Houston on live television. 
Gilles Verlant’s biography of Gainsbourg is the best and most authoritative in any language. Drawing from numerous interviews and their own friendship, Verlant provides a fascinating look at the inner workings of 1950s–1990s French pop culture and the conflicted and driven songwriter, actor, director and author that emerged from it: the young boy wearing a yellow star during the German Occupation; the young art student trying to woo Tolstoy’s granddaughter; the musical collaborator of Petula Clark, Juliette Greco and Sly and Robbie; the seasoned composer of the Lolita of pop albums, Histoire de Melody Nelson; the cultural icon who transformed scandal and song into a new form of delirium.

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"Evguenie Sokolov" by Serge Gainsbourg (TamTam Books)


Evguenie Sokolov

By Serge Gainsbourg. Translated by John Weightman, Doreen Weightman.

Serge Gainsbourg's sole foray into fiction, Evguenie Sokolov describes an artist who uses his intestinal gases as the medium for his scandalous artwork. What once was a smelly and noisy problem in his social and sex life becomes a recipe for success in the early 1980s art world.

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'Autumn in Peking" by Boris Vian (TamTam Books)


Autumn in Peking

By Boris Vian. Introduction by Marc Lapprand. Translated Paul Knobloch.

Autumn in Peking takes place in an imaginary desert called Exopotamie, where a train station and a railway line are under construction. Homes are destroyed to lay the lines, which turn out to lead nowhere. In part a satire on the reconstruction of postwar Paris, Vian’s novel also conjures a darker version of Alice in Wonderland.
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Beauty and ugliness define the two poles of Vian’s outlook. As a literary writer, the man who moved in the same social orbit as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Vian wrote absurdist fantasias filled with eccentrics and romantic dreamers. His novels can get dark, but they are full of puns, slapstick, and comedy. Love and weird beauty figure in Autumn in Peking, where a number of people, obsessive types, build a train station and railway tracks in a desert no one visits.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Matthew Edwards & The Unfortunates - "Folklore" (Gare du Nord Records)




Matthew Edwards & The Unfortunates - "Folklore"  (Gare du Nord Records)

Matthew Edwards, I think, is the son or nephew of David Bowie or/and Howard Devoto.   Just the opening song "Birmingham" alone can bring him to the world of champions.  A beautiful song with a gorgeous lyric.  A narrative of sorts, but more of a mysterious Alain Robbe-Grillet plot.  Devoto's Magazine comes to mind mostly due to that Edwards and his group The Unfortunates know an excellent orchestration.  They work as a unit and serve Edwards' vocals and songs.  My type of band.

"When We Arrived at the Mountain" has a Bowie era "Man Who Sold The World" vibe, but by no means is Edwards digging into another's world.  The music here is very much part of his DNA, and he's a great singer and lyricist.  Weary of the world around him, he's romantic, but one gets the feeling that the singer/narrator will get burned again.  It's an album of reflection, but very pop and there lies the beauty of "Folklore."

The playing on the album is very layered, and hearing the organ on "I can Move the Moon" is very Zombies-like in that it conveys a storm among the aural delights that are this song.  The electric organ on some of the songs drives me wild.  This is a very sophisticated world that Matthews is skipping into, which is a landscape of memories, some regret, but the eyes are going toward the future as well.   "Folklore" is easy to the ears, but the tunes will stick in one's head for a long while.  Ten songs that move from one end to the other with economy and taste as if  Marcel Proust made a rock record.    Noir-pop played excellently, and Edwards is going to take his band and music on another plane.  It's a remarkable album.  This and Perfume Genius are the only new music that I love at the moment.




Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sparks - What The Hell Is It This Time? (Official Video)





Sparks' new video for their new song "What The Hell Is It This Time?"  And yes, we have to be selective in what and when we ask for God's assistance.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Kzradock the Onion Man and the Spring-Fresh Methuselah: From The Notes of Dr. Renard de Monspensier" by Louis Levy (Wakefield Press) Trans. by W. C. Bamberger

ISBN: 978-1-939663-28-3 Wakefield Press
Louis Levy's "Kradock the Onion Man" is a fantastic novel. Reads and written as pulp, but has many layers (like an onion - ha) that at the surface seems to be a crazed thriller, but alas, it's very 20th-century angst. In a nutshell, the plot is regarding a doctor in a mental hospital who is looking over a patient with troublesome patterns that leads to violence and surreal overtures to what is and what isn't reality. Our Dr. Renard de Montpensier chronicles the narration, where in essence do we trust his point-of-view? The novel was written and published in 1910, and I believe the novel was serialized in a newspaper or publication. It reads like a serial, where there is a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter. So it is pulp, but I think this piece of Danish literature is picking up the vibes of 1910 Europe. Like all good art, its ears are picking up things that we the public are not aware of. The book is full of surreal horror scenes that are theatrically set pieces, where one can almost meditate on its meaning or how it conveys within the plotting of the novel. It's interesting that both Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin were fans of "Kzradock," so they must have picked up on the vibrations that are within the story. The afterword by the novel's translator W.C. Bamberger is enlightening and enjoyable. Thanks to him and Wakefield Press bringing Levy's book to the 21st century. A superb book.