Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles" by David L. Ulin

ISBN: 978-0-520-27372-6 University of California Press

"Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles" by David L. Ulin

As a life-long citizen of Los Angeles, I have always loved it here, because here is not here till I'm "here."   This is a place where your imagination can run down the entire Sunset boulevard.  Los Angeles is endlessly fascinating, and never-ending.  For one, whatever mood you're in, one can just hop on a bus, and let it take you to a foreign part of the world.  The beauty of this location is that it has endless possibilities of landscapes that come and go.  There are so many languages spoken throughout this metropolis, one can easily become an outsider, even though you were born and lived here for your entire life.  Not only can I invent a new identity, but everyone here would accept that aspect of my or our lives.  

There are countless books on the culture of Los Angeles, meaning its people as well as its architecture, and a lot of them just go "huh?"    For me, the confusion is the thing, and also makes Los Angeles the most unique city in the world.   David L. Ulin's homage and study of Los Angeles, "Sidewalking" is one version of a New Yorker coming to terms with the city of illusions.  An enjoyable book.   It is very much like sitting down at the top of the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and chatting about why we are here and even more important, what is here, exactly.  

All urban areas change.  Sometimes one cannot notice the change, but believe me, change is happening under your nose.  Los Angeles on the other hand, one can physically see the changes taking place as it happens.  Walking Sunset Boulevard a month ago, is so different now.   New structures are being put up, and even one can notice a different accent or language in the neighborhood.  And make no mistake about the neighborhood.  Los Angeles is a city that for sure has a center and a west coast view of the Pacific ocean.   It expands like a wild weed growing in an industrial park.   Ulin captures the changes that took place in Los Angeles, and meditates on what those changes mean to the Los Angeles citizen and beyond.   He mostly focuses on his neighborhood in the Wilshire Miracle Mile, but also the Grove (outside shopping complex), and Downtown.   As a fellow citizen of this town, I can see his point of view quite clearly.   What he says is perfectly true.  "The Darkroom" structure on Wilshire is for sure a masterpiece storefront.  The theme driven architecture of the early part of the 20th century is very much in the blood of this city.  Sadly, not only that era is gone, but so are the buildings.  Nevertheless there is the idea of parks being built that are actually shopping centers - such as the Americana and the Grove.  They're not fenced in, and gives the illusion that they are public spaces, but in fact very much a private property landscape for the consumer and the retail world. 

So as a fellow who likes to wander around his neighborhood (Silverlake, Echo Park, Hollywood, and parts of Glendale) I can fully understand Ulin's take on his part of the world as well.   Each chapter of the book is very self-contained, so in a sense this book's theme is Los Angeles, but one can separate the chapter from the book.  Very much like the city itself.  Which is its beauty and charm, just like "Sidewalking." 

- Tosh Berman

The Sunday Series: Sunday November 29, 2015

The Sunday Series:
Sunday November 29, 2015

“Twink” is a gay slang meaning a young man who looks younger than he is, and physically usually has no body or facial hair.   Twink is also a British musician, who released a solo album called “Think Pink, ” which was recorded in 1969 and released in 1970.  Listening to it in 2015, one can easily think “oh such a 1969 album.” Loose jams and British hippie abandonment are a wonderful way of spending a Sunday.   On the other hand, I have always regretted that I didn’t look like a “twink.”  

I have a lot of body hair as well as a headful of hair.   The head part is OK, but why do I have such a heavy beard?  It is such a wrong look for me.  Besides my terrible looking teeth, I can see people, when I first meet them, looking at my beard or what is left of it.   I tend to need to shave twice a day.  I even went to the barbers to get a proper and professional shave, and by the end of the day, I still have a shadow on the lower side of my face and the entire neck.   The biggest insult is when I asked for them to shave the back of the neck area, and he asked me how far down did I want to go for the shave?  

The irony is that I’m obsessed with “Twinks,” and at the age of 61, I want to be a “twink.” There is a “twink” code that is in place, especially on the Internet.  For instance, “c” is for the color of hair.  “i” is for length of hair. “h” is regarding hair on the body, and how much of it.   The most important code letters are “k” for how kinky?  And then there is “e” for endowment.   The twisted thing about all of this is that I’m not even gay.  Yet, I’m obsessed with this aspect of homosexual culture. 

I purchased the album by Twink, “Think Pink, ” thinking it was an album by or about the “twink” culture.  Boy, was I wrong!  With lyrics like “watching dawn give birth to the light, ” I knew I was far away from the land of beautiful looking young men.   Not all is lost, because I actually enjoy this album, and it’s worth the price of this priceless vinyl, that I got one Sunday at the Pasadena College swap-meet.    The album expresses a sense of anarchy.  Yet, lyrically it is very cliche, in that it is set in its time and place (UK).  As I play this album over and over again, it takes me away from the world of the “twink” and into a world of free-love, absurdity, and ‘getting-my-head-together. ' What I originally desire was to be among the “Twinks.” I thought the easiest way for me to surround myself in my world of Twinks, was to go to iconic Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.  

I went there, but was shocked that there were no young men, but guys who are big, and have even bigger beards.  In other words, they look like me.  And the same age as yours truly.  I haven’t the foggiest idea what my life should or can be.   All I know that this is a Sunday, I have to face the fact that it’s the first day of the week, and more likely a week of total disappointment.  On the other hand, I do own a great album. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"The Factory of Facts" by Luc Sante (Memoir/Cultural History)

ISBN: 0-679-42410-5 Pantheon Books

The Factory Facts by Luc Sante

One of the most unique memoirs I've ever read, but then again, Luc Sante is one idiosyncratic and special writer.   "The Factory of Facts" deal with Sante's childhood in his native country Belgium as well as New Jersey, his adopted home with his family.  The beauty of the book is that Sante writes about culture as the foreground to his life.  Although our lives are quite different, we are almost the exact age.   Both of us were born in 1954, and I recognize his cultural posts throughout the book.  Whatever it's a candy company that doesn't exist anymore, or a TV show/Film - I understand the importance of items that surround one's life. 

More of a collection of essays than a running narrative, Luc Sante came from a hardcore working class world, where I believe he's the only one who went on to college.  A brilliant observer of things around him, he is also sensitive to the fact that he is one from two cultures - Belgium and the United States.  Both are complex and multi-cultural locations as well.  One chapter he discusses what it is like to live in America and think/talk in French.   A lot of people think of translation as something easy as a Google app, but the fact the thinking is different, which conveys the 'fact' that language is a big part of our make-up.  Signage in a department store can be something obscure and totally odd, because it doesn't really make sense in a French context.  

"The Factory of Facts" is cultural history more than a straight ahead memoir, but the surroundings can tell a great narrative, when it is placed behind an individual.  I have to imagine writers will find this book fascinating.  I, who know very little of Belgium and its culture (only TinTin I'm afraid) I learn a lot through the eyes and mind of Sante.  As a writer myself, I'm consistently reminded how important my surroundings and things are to me.  Especially as a writer, and this is a great book that is suitable for those who want to write and those who do the job. 

- Tosh Berman

Friday, November 27, 2015

"Tosh Foundation" by Tosh Berman

art by Sam Vernon

I'm very happy to have my short story "Tosh Foundation" on the great 3: AM Magazine website.  You can read my story here:

Tosh Foundation

Thursday, November 26, 2015

"DUFFY/BOWIE - Five Sessions" by Kevin Cann and Chris Duffy (ACC Editions)

ISBN: 978-1-85149-765-2 ACC Editions

DUFFY/BOWIE - Five Sessions by Kevin Cann and Chris Duffy

This is a superb book on the David Bowie world, with amazing images by the great British photographer Duffy.   Duffy's son Chris and Bowie historian Kevin Cann have put together a really remarkable book on Duffy's work with Bowie.   Five sessions being early Ziggy portraits, the cover for "Aladdin Sane," photo shoot for "The Man Who Fell To Earth," "Lodger" album cover and the Scary Monster and Super Creeps" album as well. 

Each chapter is devoted to one project, and what we get with that chapter is an oral history from the participants of what and how it happened.  Bowie of course, worked very closely with his graphic artists, and in many ways, all the talent were and treated as equals to present the now iconic Bowie image.  The strongest chapters are on "The Man Who Fell To Earth" film, and which is very insightful in the making of the film, but also gossipy.   Also the making of the "Lodger" album cover is equally fascinating, and oddly enough, not discussed or much written about for some odd reason.  

Duffy, it seemed, was a man of great personality.  Not a push-over by any means.  It seems Bowie had a huge respect for him and his work, and Duffy felt the same way towards Bowie.  The relationship may have hit dark waters during the shoot and design process of "Scary Monsters," but clearly Duffy is one of the main architects of the Bowie icon.  Especially with the "Aladdin Sane" image. 

At first, I thought this would be a good illustrated book on Bowie's specific graphic works, but this goes way beyond that.   This is very much an essential book on the man who fell to earth, as well as a loving tribute to one of Bowie's great photographers.  Truly an essential Bowie volume. 

- Tosh Berman

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Sam Phillips : The Man Who Invented Rock n' Roll" by Peter Guralnick

ISBN: 978-0-316-04274-1 Little Brown and Company

"Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock n' Roll" by Peter Guralnick

I'm a mega-fan of Peter Guralnick's two volume biographies on Elvis Presley.   For sure I thought a biography on Sam Phillips, the brains and sound maker for Sun Records, would be equally fascinating.   But the truth is no.   For one, this biography is way too long.  Without a doubt, Guralnick feels very close to his subject matter, and clearly he loves the music that came out of Sun. Still, I had a hard time keeping my attention to this book.   One also gets the feeling that Phillips was right behind Guralnick's shoulder as he was writing it.  On many levels, it reads like an authorized biography - which can be good or bad.

Sam Phillips was a brilliant record producer.  The Sun Records sound is a very eccentric noise.  Which is not odd, considering that Phillips was an eccentric recording other eccentric artists.  Elvis was the man who fell to Earth.  Probably the closest thing to an alien in the early 1950s.   I feel Phillips captured all the oddness in this young singer's recordings.  One of the reasons why Sun Records era Elvis never sounds like an oldie, because it is still fresh due to the essence of his performance and voice.   In my opinion, there is no such thing as a bad Sun Records release.  My favorite is Carl Mann, and sadly he only gets a page or so out of this 660 page book. 
Sam's life is not really that dramatic compared to Elvis.  The narration of Elvis is a fascinating one, and it has all the trademarks of a tragic Shakespeare play.  Guralnick beautifully played out on the heights and the super lows of Elvis, and Sam Phillips just doesn't have the emotional range four such a biography.   Still, Sam Phillips is an interesting man.  It would have been more interesting to me if there was a book length Q & A format, instead of the biography.  Or even Guralnick's narration on knowing Phillips and what it meant to him.   He writes about that in the second part of the book, which I think could have been a stand alone piece.  

Still, this is a must read for anyone interested in Memphis or its musical history.   The shocking thing to me, especially admiring and reading his Elvis bios, that this book should have been the essential read on that subject matter.  It's up there, but not the best.  

- Tosh Berman

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"The 1960s: Photographed by David Hurn" Introduction by Peter Doggett (Reel Art Press)

ISBN: 978-1-909526-13-6 Reel Art Press

"The 1960s Photographed by David Hurn"  Introduction by Peter Doggett (Real Art Press, 2015)

The 1960s were a perfect landscape for photographers.  Not saying that the era itself was perfect - far from that, but on the other hand the world felt new.   It is interestingly noted in Peter Doggett's opening introduction that the photographer David Hurn wanted to be an anthropologist, but couldn't be due to poor school grades.  On the other hand, I feel his interest in anthropology is very much the focus of his work in this book, "The 1960s."   Whatever he's photographing Sean Connery or people doing their everyday life thing on the streets of Manhattan to a dance that took place at the Hammersmith Palais, he is photographing the everyday of people of various classes and nationalities.

There's the image of the 1960s, that we pretty much have grown into, due to photographic images of that era, as well as its literature, music and films.   Hurn captures another level of that era through his commercial photo work for various magazines.   One gets the feeling that he's not only documenting a place, a moment, an individual, but also how that person, place or moment is placed in the big picture of that entire era.

When a photographer is working, he is just capturing in what is in front of him.  Unless it's a job in a studio where you have complete control of the situation, it is mostly chance of finding something interesting that took place on the street, or a passing incident (he captures a robbery taking place in London) by accident.  This book is put together fifty years later, looking at the past circa the images by Hurn.   The anthropology kicks in, because we are not only seeing The Beatles as themselves, but how they are placed in a world that is perhaps not of their making.   So the subject matter is not really the Fab Four, but the people surrounding the mop-tops.   The same goes for the images of people vacationing on an island off London, Herne Bay, which was the spot for the citizens of London's East End.  Or, the young debutantes about to be presented at the Queen Charlotte's Ball.

in the controlled environment of a photo-studio, we see Jane Fonda (Barbarella) at work, and Hurn comments on her that she was kind to the people who work on the set, as well as Sean Connery's dis-interest in publicity shooting for the early James Bond films.   These are people who are interacting with fellow professionals and I think the inter-subject matter of these images is people working and living within a world of some sort.

This handsome book conveys the 1960s not as an objective view, but clearly through the point-of-view from its photographer.   Each section of the book has commentary by Hurn, that is short and quite profound.   A superb photographer, but also this is a beautifully edited book by Tony Nourmand, who is also the publisher of Reel Art Press.

- Tosh Berman

The Sunday Series: Sunday November 22, 2015

The Sunday Series
Sunday November 22, 2015

52.  52 years ago, on this date, was the first time I saw my teacher cry in front of her students.  In fact, it was the first time she showed emotion besides hatred or approval of her classroom students.  They announced the news over the school PA system, and I can see it startled her, and then the tears flooded her face.  I don’t know if it was the shock of hearing the news over the PA system, or the effect it had on my teacher's behavior that early morning on November 22.   Up to that date, and just 9 years old, I never experienced death, either by a human or animal such as a pet.  Nothing died in my life at that time.   Even cowboys didn’t die on TV.  The worst that can happen is someone would knock the hero’s back of his head with a gun butt, or the hero may shoot the gun out of the criminal's hand, but that was the worst that can happen.   After getting knocked on the head and gaining consciousness, the cowboy hero would rub his painful head up and down, and get back to business, which is to fight crime.

As I got older, I did experience death.  But what is strange is the news of hearing a famous person dying compared to someone you know who died.  The death of a friend or an acquaintance is much more abstract than a famous person’s death.    I don’t think I have ever been shocked by someone’s passing, except my dad, but everyone else it seemed not real to me.  Yet, when it happens to the famous, the death is more prominent for some reason.  When someone dies that is close to you, one can’t really share that feeling.  Yet a famous death is often shared in great detail.  If they are even really famous, one can buy a magazine or book devoted to that person’s life and more likely death.  The key thing in these publications is the last photograph of the deceased.  There is an obsessional need to know that there is such a document in place.  The last living presence of that being, as he waves to an audience in the back seat of the car, is shocking enough.  Many years later, I saw a photograph of him in the morgue, and even then, I couldn't believe I was seeing what I was seeing.   To see a body when there is no life in it, is truly shocking to me.   As for a musicians’ death, one hears music being played on the radio, and there may be various tributes being played out on various media mediums, but the death of someone in the family or friend, there is never a PA system announcing that.  

To this day, when I hear “Walking On Thin Ice, ” I think of it as the last recording by this famous musician.  Of course, his passing, brings a certain intensity to the work.   One can even feel that this was the artist’s intent, to have this song as the final message.  The truth is, the artist didn’t know what would happen that night.  It is not always fate, sometimes shit happens for no reason. And like the other individual who was shot, he looked shocking in the morgue photograph as well.  I looked at it, like the others, but I wished I didn't really see that image.  I rather think of him as being alive, not dead in the morgue.  

On November 22, and over time, it looks like a complex series of incidents happen.  There are many theories, and all of them sound possible.  But then again, it sometimes just takes one individual to aim, and shoot, that changes everything.  How big can that change be, due to one man shooting another dead.  The narration needs to be larger.  At the time of the shooting, it was bigger than life. The violence of it was the star attraction that day.  I knew the victim, but only on black and white images printed in the daily newspaper.  I don’t even remember seeing him on television, and I know he is one of the first figures to use that medium for political as well a communicative purposes.

When he was killed 52 years ago, they played out all the angles.  They talked about what direction the bullets came from, and even hinted that it came from more than one location.  It didn’t seem real.  There were so many narratives running through the act of an assassination.   A family member or friend just dies, and that is the end of the story.  But a star or a public figure, the death process and the action is always complicated for some reason.   It is almost like death is too personal, so we need a famous person to die, so we can examine the why, what, where, and how it was done.  It’s not polite to do that when a person we know dies.  We just quietly accept it.

The second time I experienced death on a personal level was when the accused assassin himself was assassinated in front of live TV.  Now that was a real death, and as they re-played the moment he was shot over and over again, one thought “oh wow he was alive at this point, and then when he’s down, he’s dead.” I felt I was watching a bridge between life and death, but I couldn’t make out the architecture of that bridge or walkway.  With respect to the first assassination, I wanted to see it over and over again, in the hopes, I get a glance of that string, road, or whatever it is from life to the other side.  When he was in his car waving at the crowd, he was so alive, and then a few seconds later he wasn’t. That shocked me.  It really disturbed me.

When my dad told me that a friend of the family died, and even though I really like this person, I didn’t know how to react to his death.   I felt like it didn’t really happen because I didn’t see it on TV.  My father’s words were not enough evidence to me that he died.  Especially since we didn’t go to a memorial or funeral for this person.  The shocking thing is that he was perfectly fine the last time I saw him.   He didn’t give out any death vibes at all.  It was really confusing.

As one gets older, more famous people die.  That is the weirdest aspect of age, is that you make note of all the TV, movie or music stars are dying on a regular basis.   Each death of a TV series actor from the 1960s or 1970s immediately takes you back to that time when you were in front of the TV set.  Due to the fact that their character, which I didn’t know was any different from their actual lives, was projected on your consciousness due to being in front of the set, seems to have more meaning for some reason.   Often on Facebook someone posts a notice a certain actor or singer has passed, and I automatically put a “like” to that post, not due to the fact that I like that they died or they’re dead, but to acknowledge that person’s observation on that star, as well as a tribute on my part by ‘liking’ that post.  It’s a strange thing to acknowledge one’s death by just liking a post.  But there you go, a passing of time is often shocking in itself.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Event: Who Is She?—Terry Braunstein | Long Beach Museum of Art

Event: Who Is She?—Terry Braunstein | Long Beach Museum of Art

i'm proud to contribute an essay/story to the catalog for Terry Braunstein's exhibition that will take place at the Long Beach Museum of Art. See the show and for god's sake, buy the book as well!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Who is She" Terry Braunstein (Thistle & Weed Press)

ISBN: 978-0-9855767-0-7 Limited Edition

"Who is She? Terry Braunstein" 
Essays by Tosh Berman and Claudia Bohn-Spector with an introduction by Ron Nelson
Published by Thistle & Weed Press, South Pasadena, CA

Published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name organized by he Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA

Jean Boullet and Boris Vian

For some years now, I have been trying to locate this special limited edition of "J'irai cracker sur vos Tombes (I Spit on Your Graves) by Boris Vian, and illustrated by Jean Boullet.   Very hard to find. At one time, I wanted to republish "I Spit on Your Graves" with the original illustrations.  At the moment, I can't do this.  Still, I would love to actually see this edition.  

If anyone knows the relationship between Boris Vian and Jean Boullet, do let me know!

- Tosh Berman

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Brigid Berlin Polaroids" (Edited by Dagon James, Vincent Fremont, & Anastasia Rygle. Foreword by John Waters. Introduction by Bob Colacello) Reel Art Press

ISBN: 9781909526242 Reel Art Press

"Brigid Berlin Polaroids" by Brigid Berlin (Edited by Dagon James, Vincent Fremont, & Anastasia Rygle.  Foreword by John Waters.  Introduction by Bob Colacello) Reel Art Press

Brigid Berlin, sometimes known as Brigid Polk, is famous for being associated with Andy Warhol and his Factory world.  The great thing about the Warhol world, generally speaking, is how talented the people that he connected himself with - If not all, most are border-line genius types.  Berlin I think is a member of that club, due to her talents with a Polaroid, but also the ability to live in the right place and time. 

As Bob Colacello pointed out in his introduction to this book, Warhol is very much a blue collar type of character who liked to run with the wealthy.  On the other hand, Berlin is part of an upper-class Republican life, with her parents being associated with Richard Nixon and others of that world.   This, of course, made her into a rebel.  Drug Addict (speed), and a woman who had no trouble eliminating her clothing when a camera came by, is something of a great wit.   The beauty of someone like Berlin is that she's a total open book, and allowing herself to absorb the world around her, without much filter, shame or fear.  Warhol surrounded himself with either very brave people or total psychotics - or perhaps both.   In a sense, Berlin and others would dip their toes into the fire, and then report back to Warhol. 

"Brigid Berlin Polaroids" is a beautiful time-capsule from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.  The height of the third act in Warhol's life and career.  The first being his career as a graphic artist in New York City, second is the early years of the Campbell Soup & Elvis paintings, as well as his avant-approach to film making, with an insane cast of characters.  The third segment is what Brigid captured in these photographs.  "Post-Warhol-getting-shot" life as he shifts direction from crazy dangerous landscape to a somewhat much more organized world.  Berlin was part of both worlds, and I think clearly was made to assist Warhol in the Third Act of his life.

Although one has to presume that Berlin had to take these images quickly, and without much thinking, proves to be a fantastic and skilled photographer or again, has the genius ability to be the right person doing the right thing at that moment.  Her portraits of individuals in the art world as well as people around the Factory environment is superbly framed and are exquisite portraits of these people.  She didn't ask permission to shoot, and it seems no one said anything about either being the subject matter of the shoot, or what will be done with the image afterwards.  Brigid was capturing the moment as it happened, and only thinking of the present at the time.  The beauty of the polaroid is that it was something of that instant, and not meant to be fussed over or over-thinking on the photographer's part.  Almost like an artist's notebook of ideas, but the truth is, Berlin knew how to take a great picture of someone.  Although I think these photographs were done in relaxed moments, they are still classic portraits of the subject matter.   There is not one bad portrait of anyone looking bad.  Including her self-portraits in the nude (at times) and the revealing images of Andy Warhol.

The Alice Neel / Warhol polaroid photo session was taken while Warhol agreed to pose without his shirt on, exposing his horrible scars from the shooting.  Neel painted his portrait, and Berlin captured both the model and the painter at work.   It's a revealing series of photos, due to Warhol's obsessively sense of uniform, meaning his wig, and the sensibility of his body's limitations.  I don't think Warhol is the type of guy who is comfortable being in the nude or in front of a camera.    He accepts it for what it is, but I feel he's more comfortable behind a camera than in front of the lens.   Even in specific photo shoots, such as him in drag (by Chrisatopher Makos) or doing TV commercials - he never looks at ease being the subject matter of someone else's observations or the placement of him in front of attention.   He is truly a living tape and camera recorder, and so is Brigid Berlin in this book.

"Polaroids" is a beautiful production job of a book.   The editing is superb, and Berlin's polaroids are totally suitable for an exhibition as well as for this book.   Not only documenting an important time in the arts, but also herself being an artist and photographer.  She's really good.  

- Tosh Berman

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Up The Junction" by Nell Dunn

"Up the Junction" by Nell Dunn

Reading Nell Dunn's collection of short stories "Up The Junction" is like being buried in a coffin full of 12''' Smiths record covers.  One can taste the lukewarm cream tea or a dark bitter right off the page.  For me, what these stories, published in 1963, do is  tell the tale, because of the rich London language and accents.   I know nothing of Dunn's life or where she came from, but I read that she came from a higher class, and chose to live in Battersea and Clapham Junction, which at the time of these stories was a total working class area of London.  "Up The Junction" is very location orientated, and through Dunn's eyes and writing, one gets the harsh life of its citizens who live in those two areas of London.  

Sex runs through these narrations of women and guys on the make, but it is not exactly 'happy' sex or even 'sexy' sex, but more of a way of passing time between working, and doing a touch of crime.   Without a doubt, a great London book, that is far away from the world of PG Wodehouse as possible.  Some of the images are shocking, for instance an aborted baby flushed down the toilet, but I don't feel it was done for shock purposes, but almost a journalistic touch.  

There is a lot of music in the background as well.  Before the Fab Four made their appearance, here you get snippets of pre-beatle pop lyrics with a mixture of American soul.  There's work, but then there is dancing, which becomes a mating call of sorts.  Without a doubt, "Up The Junction" is the largest and most intense "kitchen sink realism" set of stories ever. 

- Tosh Berman

"Talk" by Linda Rosenkrantz (Introduction by Stephen Koch) NYRB

ISBN: 978-1-59017-844-7 NYRB

"Talk" by Linda Rosenkrantz (Introduction by Stephen Koch) NYRB

New York Review of Books (NYRB) is brilliant in that they re-issue titles that somehow fell between the cracks of memory and acceptance.   "Talk" by Linda Rosenkrantz is a very unusual "novel" in that it is a book that consist only of dialogue, and nothing else but a dialogue.   Rosenkrantz took her tape recorder and taped her friends chatting away about sex, drugs, food, and the slippery subject of happiness.    Originally she had 25 characters, but then edited it down to three characters, who are the voices in "Talk."   Immediately one can think of Andy Warhol' s"novel," "A," but this is actually a book that is edited more than written.  The commentary from all three participants in "Talk" is very pointed and beautifully stated (written).

The book (I'm not sure if this is technically a novel) took place in East Hampton in 1965.  Vincent, a gay painter, Emily, perhaps an alcoholic as well as an actress, and Marsha, who I suspect is our author.  Throughout the book, either on the beach, or in the kitchen, they discuss their sex lives, and the meaning of friendship between the trio.  There are sexual tensions between Vincent and the girls, as well as commentary of fellow friends who not actually appear in the book as conversationists.

Since it is 1965, and Rosenkrantz and Vincent are very much part of the Manhattan art world, there are galleries mentioned as well as Andy Warhol.  They are mostly passing figures, in which the dialogue is totally devoted to how Emily thinks of Vincent and Marsha, how Marsha thinks about Emily and Vincent, and of course, how Vincent feels about Marsha and Emily.   One doesn't get the nitty gritty aspect of Manhattan life, except I feel that these three people are on an island by themselves.  It's a fascinating document as well as a literary document of a time that has passed, yet seems very contemporary.

The author with her tape recorder. Photos: James Dugdale

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"An Invitation for Me to Think" by Alexander Vvedensky (Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky & Matvei Yankelevich)

ISBN: 978-1-59017-630-6  NYRB/Poets

"An Invitation for Me to Think" by Alexander Vvedensky (Selected and translated by Eugene Ostashevsky.  Additional translations by Matvei Yankelevich)  NYRB

For me, poetry is the end result of when thought meets language.  A poem can express many things, but for my taste, I have always attached to poems that express something that is not here, or there, but somewhere in-between.  Avant-garde poetry to me is the ultimate adventure, or a journey without a map.   Like rock n' roll produced in Sun Studios in Memphis in the mid-1950s, I feel like I'm getting the real thing, when I read poetry that was produced in the early part of the 20th century.  The "new" was not only modern, but "now" as well.  It is like the full first kiss or tasting the avocado for the first time. It can never be better that the initial approach.  This is how I feel when I read Alexander Vvedensky's (Алекса́ндр Ива́нович Введе́нский; 1904–1941) poetry for the first time. 

It's fascinating how poetry can be so dangerous in a society such as Russia for instance. I can understand if Stalin felt threatened by someone saying "Down with Stalin," but when a poet like Vvedensky writes "snow lies/earth flies/lights flip/to pigments night has come/on a rug of stars it lies/is it night or a demon?"  Well, it doesn't sound right!   So we might as well as arrest this poet.   

Alexander Vvedensky was a member of OBERIU, an early Russian avant-garde group that was similar to DADA and the Futurists.  The Stalin world craved an art that is easily understood and therefore much more controllable.   Alas, the avant-garde played with literature and the visual art as a motor of sorts, to spurn out desire, humor, and a sense of playfulness that went against the Soviet sense of the aesthetic.  Vvedensky basically died due that he was a poet of great imagination and wit.   As of now, we know he was shipped to Kazan and died of pleuritic on that train trip.  Where he is buried is unknown.   Along with his fellow playmate and poet/writer Daniil Kharms, his work was saved by Yakov Druskin, and though many years later, we now have at least a good example of his writing.  "An Invitation for Me to Think" is a sample of this wonderful poet's work. 

When one reads the poetry, the reader doesn't think of it as a work of political thinking, yet, sometimes the landscape surrounding the poet makes their lives very difficult.   It is interesting that both Kharms and Vvedensky wrote numerous works for children.  While reading this book, I often thought of its rhymes and the way the words are expressed seemed to be in a sing-song style of poetry written for children.  Perhaps the sophistication of the words, and how it is told, is what's dangerous in that world at the time.  It is also interesting that Pussy Riot has commented on the works of OBERIU as an example of freedom of doing one's art.  They quote Vvedensky as saying "It happens that two rhythms will come into your head, a good one and a bad one and I choose the bad one.  It will be the right one."  Which to me is art in a nutshell.   Stalin didn't get it, but then again, he doesn't seem to be a man of great humor and appreciation of the enlightened poet. 

- Tosh Berman

Alexander Vvedensky

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'The "Scandal" of Marxism' by Roland Barthes (edited and translated by Chris Turner) Seagull Books

ISBN: 978-0857422392  Seagull Books
'The "Scandal" of Marxism' by Roland Barthes (Translated by Chris Turner) Seagull Books

I look at the work of Roland Barthes as if he was a driver, and I'm sitting in the back seat.  I tell him "take me somewhere interesting."   That is what it is like reading Barthes essays.  On one level I guess he's a philosopher, but I think he's more of a social critic commenting on History and the world around him.   'The "Scandal" of Marxism' is a collection of articles, interviews and essays regarding the role of politics in contemporary life, as it was written from the 1950s to the 1970s.   Here you get his reflections on Marxism, The Algerian War, and the issues of the left and its role in literature as well as in politics.  There is even a brief description of a trip to China he did with other intellectuals in 1975.   China, a huge subject of course, but it seems he was a tad indifferent to it as a visitor or tourist. 

The one thing that stands out for me as an American reader of this collection, is how the French divide and monopolize political movements and its publications.  In America, we have liberal and conservative press, but it seems France has always had  a right-wing press as well as a left-wing press, including publications from the Communists, the socialists, and so forth.  So one can get a publication that for instance has a "Marxist" angle to the arts and culture.  There is really no such publication produced for the masses here in the United States that conveys that aura of democracy and free thought.   Barthes and others were public intellectuals (The U.S. don't even have intellectuals anymore) who express their experiences and well-thought out (not saying they were right or wrong) views on what is happening in their world. 

Throughout this slim (and very beautiful) volume, Barthes attempts to define the role of Marxists as well as being part of the Left-wing.   Not an easy thing to do, when the world was rapidly changing.  Also there are so many issues that were taking place in the Left.  Not all had the same opinion or thought!  Nevertheless the translator and editor Chris Turner did a remarkable job in writing brief introductions to each essay/piece.   He places the works in its timely culture, and what the issues were at the time.   

Roland Barthes was one-of-a-kind thinker, who was more of a verb than a noun.  Reading him is like watching a man or woman think.  That I know sounds like watching wet paint drying on a wall, but in reality it's more interesting.   The best thing in the world had to be in Barthes company, and just chatting with him - reading his works is that private conversation between reader and Roland Barthes. 

- Tosh Berman

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Stars Seen in Person: Selected Journals" by John Wieners (City Lights Books)

ISBN: 978-0-87286-668-3 City Lights Books

"Stars Seen in Person: Selected Journals" by John Wieners (City Lights Books)

A poet's journal is always interesting, because it's looking into the mind of the poet, and one can trace the thinking pattern in what makes their work or writing happen.   Or in some cases, not happen.   It's very strange to come upon this book, because my dad, Wallace Berman, is mentioned in its pages - both in the introduction as well as in John Wieners' journal.  At the time of writing "Blauuwildebeestefontein" journal, he was staying with us in Beverly Glen.   So like a phantom, my dad does make an appearance, but alas, in the mind of Wieners it becomes a figure of importance, but alas, a faint mist. 

The poetry / writing of John Wieners is very romantic.  When he writes about his surroundings, or instance either Boston or Manhattan, it reads extremely glamourous.  The city I often felt, were not made for citizens to live in, but for poets to comment on.  The urban landscape becomes something else in the hands of a poet.   John was (or is) a fantastic poet.  He had an incredible eye for detail - in the sense that he was a great sketch artist capturing an image, but he would do it with words.   The journals in this book (four of them) are sometimes a diary, in a very loose narrative, or straight ahead poetry.  Sometimes a combination of the two - a narration as poetry.   Nevertheless he captures angst in his words, and some of it is painful read, specifically about his one female lover (John was gay) and the child that didn't happen.   Reading the unhappiness, I almost wanted to skip this part of the journal, but alas, it is either the pain or just his enormous presence on the page keeps the reader going. 

In its simplicity, I love the last part of the journal where he just mentions a celebrity and where he saw that person.  For instance:  

"George Sanders
passing in Cadillac"

"Peter Lorre outside upper
Times Square Theatre" 

The name that captured my attention is this section is Dean Stockwell and Bobby Driscoll, whom were not only actors, but very close friends to my dad and I have to imagine John knew them as well.   It's interesting that he put them in the "Stars Seen in Person" category. 

A beautiful book, with nice editing from Michael Seth Stewart, and a personal preface by Ammiel Allcalay, who met Wieners as a teenager.  On a personal note, John Wieners was also my babysitter.    A poet/babysitter is a very seductive quality for a future writer/publisher. 

- Tosh Berman