Monday, July 16, 2018

"Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney & The London Painters" by Martin Gayford (Thames & Hudson)

Martin Gayford, the author of "Modernists and Mavericks," is a terrific writer on the arts, and this book is the obvious and organic meeting of author and its subject - The London artists of the post-war years.   For one, Gayford knows David Hockney and Lucian Freud, and he also interviewed all the living artists that are in this book.  It's not a book of gossip, but a survey approach to artists who worked in London from the end of World War II to the early 1970s. 

I became familiar with some of these artists through the art collection of the late David Bowie.  When the family auction off his works, I did go see paintings by Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, and others of that world.  What's interesting is that these artists worked in London, a city that was on the surface, destroyed by the ravages of bombings and the war, yet, it became a visual playground for the great post-war painters.  Freud always worked with a model in front of him, in his studio, Auerbach worked in the same format using the same model painting after painting, and Bacon's world was basically Soho London and its citizens.  So, the world of the London painter was a small one, but a very intense series of moments, months, and years working on their art.  As well as having sex, drinking and socializing within their world. 

Gayford captures the London painters in a moment where they did talk about their fields of interest, which was painting, but also I didn't realize that there was a sizable female presence in the painting world as well, regarding Paula  Rego, Bridget Riley, and others.   Gayford brings up a lot of painters working in that era, who are not as famous as Hockney and company.   I have been pretty much drawn to the medium of paint, due to its placement within a frame, and the texture of various colors and brushes. I like the communication between the artist's hand and what appears on their canvas.   The importance is not that these artists all lived and worked in London, but their ability to transform their space, time, and presence in such a location that was limited at the time.   Across the pond was New York City, and beyond that, for Hockney Los Angeles, still the majority of the London Painters stayed at home and reflected on their world with high intensity and feeling.  "Modernists and Mavericks" is a very solid art history book, with some excellent paintings within its pages.  I enjoyed Gayford's book immensely.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"Wine, Women, and Words" by Billy Rose

As a reader and a writer, I'm very much influenced by authors from the golden era of New York Manhattan.  Robert Benchley is my top favorite, but then I like other writers such as James Thurber and Dorothy Parker as well.  It isn't their subject matter, or even their love for Manhattan life, but more to the fact that they had to produce a certain amount of words per month or day, and usually, they have to be funny, or at least amusing.   In 2014, for my blog, I wrote a story a day, and I loved the discipline and the ability to do something like that.   To be honest, I could care less if the story was good, I was just happy I did it.  For the historical record, I do love those pieces.  So, with that in mind, and again, especially Benchley, I use him and others as a role model to study their sentence structures, and how to tell a joke.  The joke part I'm not good at, and only readers and critics can decide if my work is worth merit or not.  Still, I found this fascinating and cheap paperback from the late 1940s by Billy Rose, called "Wine, Women, and Words." 

Rose was a very successful Broadway producer of spectacular shows and musicals.  He was also a songwriter of some note, writing the lyrics to Me and My Shadow," "Great Day" (with Edward Eliscu), "Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight" (with Marty Bloom), "I Found a Million Dollar Baby" (with Mort Dixon) and "It's Only a Paper Moon."  Some observed that he may have been there when these songs were written, and his real talent is selling the song.  Nevertheless, a classic Broadway hustler.   What is not known about him in detail is that he also wrote for a newspaper column, and "Wine, Women, and Words" are a collection of these writings, mostly from the late 1940s.  He was at the time a total success and very wealthy man, so I suspect he didn't need to write for money but did it because he's a very talented prose stylist.  I always believed a true writer has to write, no matter what.  

Not everything he wrote was gold, but sometimes an excellent bronze piece.  He had a genius for capturing a character, which was plenty in Manhattan in those days, and I admire his stance and sense of history about the location (Broadway) and his egotism, which is not off-putting.    Throughout the book, he writes about his wife Eleanor Holm, who seemed to be a character of great wit and interest as well.  Reading about her after reading this book, I was a tad depressed that they had a costly divorce.  Still, I think for a writer who writes a column, and for a showbiz figure, life is lived by the moment.  And usually, they use that moment for their work.  It's a nice payoff. 

"The Detroit News" by Tosh Berman (Detroit)

I’m living in a house that was built in 1899.  It’s huge.  I don’t know what makes a home a mansion, but I feel that I’m living in one.  A house that old always has secrets within its walls, attic, and basement.   I suspect that this house was built by the Ford company for its executives.  It has two staircases.  One for the family/owner of the residence, and the other for the servants.  The servant's staircase is small, steep, and one can easily hit their head on the ceiling as you go down or up.  The other is grand and very inviting, as the other one seems like a pathway to a dark place.   Every old home has a dark path from one questionable area to another.  Or, more likely a path from lightness to dark. 

Upstairs being the lightness.  Perhaps closer to the sky and its stars.  As you wander down the stairs (especially the servant’s entrance), you then turn a slight left, which will lead one to the basement. It’s here that one evening I found torn and frayed copy of “The Detroit News” from June 29, 1947.   It was near an old bottle of bootleg alcohol that for sure, came from the Canada side.   I never removed it, because I felt it was a grave site.  Perhaps not a human one, but a grave for a life spent, and I still think the spirit is in this house.  

The reason why I drink starting at 7pm every evening is that I feel the basement calling on me, to return to a tradition that stuck its tongue out to the old bitches and bastards who tell us what to do.  I don’t want to be told what to do, except by that old magic that is bottled up and sent over in a boat across the river from Canada to my mouth.  I never wanted to remove the newspaper, maybe because I feel if I touch it, it will turn to dust, or feel it’s not respectful to remove such an item placed in one’s (not mine) basement.   But I did remove the paper due that an article caught my eye.

The headline “Home Thugs Get $164,000; Bind, Gag 11”  got my attention, and as I started reading the article, it struck me the address of the robbery is where I’m living now.  It seems the house once belonging to, or at least he was the tenant, a Lewis Weiner, who had a party to raise money for a synagog building fund. It was a quartet of thieves, and they all wore masks and had revolvers.   None were hurt, thank god, but the funny thing is that I notice the date of this newspaper item is June 24, which was the date that I discovered this newspaper in the basement. 

The Purple Gang pretty much controlled Detroit with an iron fist, and wasn’t shy in bashing someone’s head in, if the need was there.  There was a theory that Weiner was part of the Purple Gang, and an off-shoot gang did the robbery to move into the Purple Gang’s territory.  Still, my mood is wearing a blanket of darkness, and the only bright spot in the day is when I start drinking. 

The Purple Gang used to smuggle booze from Canada to Detroit, and then elsewhere if there was any extra juice after the Detroit citizens finished their supply.  The liquor stores here in the Detroit area are called “Party Stores,” but most close by 9:00 PM. I buy cases of booze and place them in the basement, exactly where I found the old bottles.  I feel it’s a tradition of great importance, both for the house and yours truly.   To the Purple Gang, and all those who failed the American dream in their fashion on this day of despair, July 4th.  - Tosh Berman, Detroit. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"The Man Who Was Afraid To Laugh" by Tosh Berman (Detroit)

"The Man Who Was Afraid to Laugh"

Throughout my life, I have this fear of opening my mouth in front of others.  My teeth are both twisted, broken, with much space apart from the other teeth.  My face is OK, but when I expose my mouth, the inner ugliness comes out like sand pouring out of an hourglass.   Everyone notices but they pretend not to notice, which of course even makes me feel more horrible about my mouth existence.  

I now have three dental people I see on a regular basis.  The process is painful, just for the sole reason I loathe to open my mouth to another, even to a professional.  All three have acknowledged my ugliness, and they told me that my appearances would never be perfect, but better.  I have become so comfortable in a sense, with my awkward mouth, that I consistently cover it with my hand while talking. I can’t even stand eating in public because I can feel the prying eyes looking at me as I eat a sandwich or a piece of pasta.   Due to the space between teeth, I often spit or droll as I munch on something.   The worse is always eating in front of children because they have no social skills in such a manner, where they often ask why my teeth are so crooked?   I never can answer due to my shame. 

I often dream of having a tooth fall out while I’m in public, in fact, it has happened a few times. To be fair, it’s just a cap, but the first thing that comes to my mind is the embarrassment of this happening in front of another, and then a few seconds or minutes later, I realize I can’t chew anymore.  To feel so vulnerable in such a manner is unbelievably a horror show.  

I have requested my dentist team to make me a mouth like Conrad Veidt’s character in the 1928 film “The Man Who Laughs.”  He plays Gwynplaine, and as a child, a comprachico, which is someone who can transform growing children, in such a manner like controlling a plant to become a bonsai, which is a practice to mutilate the plant.  So, in that sense, a comprachico can make a small child’s spine straight or even take their memory away, so they don’t recall the operation or practice.   In the film, a comprachico made a permanent smile on Gwynplaine’s face.  

My dental team in Los Angeles suggested that I go to Detroit for my dental operation, and I agreed to do so.   The dental office is at the Fisher Building on Grand Avenue, and it is the Empire State Building in Detroit.  Art Deco designed, and meant to be grand (and being on Grand Avenue), but the vision was never finished due to the Great American Depression.  Still, a remarkable building, and I’m happy to go there to meet my comprachico. 

My dental team suggested the firm ‘Cole Swift and Dentists’ due that they work on patients as if they were a car on an assembly line.   I visited their office on the 7th floor, and I was struck by their office decor, which has images of teeth on its off-yellow walls, but also a photograph of a Ford plant from the 1930s.  When I asked why, it seems that Dr. Swift’s family came from the world of Ford plants, and based his operation here as the role model to follow.   The other thing I notice is that I’m the only customer or patient in this office.  That, and also they had several issues of “Dentistry Today” lying around the waiting room. 

To finance my series of operations, I agreed to have an exclusive relationship with the publication.  Usually, they interview the dentists and lab technicians, but I’m going to be the first patient for a feature in “Dentistry Today.”   It’s unusual that a patient would expose themselves to the media, especially a publication that is focused on dentistry.  The shame of being older, slightly on the ugly side, is an unusual subject matter for such a publication.  Since they were willing to pay me, or at the very least give me a discount, had a big impact on me to ‘come out” and face the facts about my dental care, and the appearance of my teeth and mouth.  

Dr. Cole Swift opened the door, which is the entrance to a hallway.  He takes me to a large room, with a dental chair. I immediately took the seat, after shaking the hand of Dr. Swift.   He told me that the operation would take two hours, and the women here are his assistant as well as a photographer from “Dentistry Today.”  There is also another woman who is a journalist for the magazine.  Perhaps due that I’m a man, and about to have a severe procedure, I felt uncomfortable having women photographer and journalist there, but I made the deal, and at the time I didn’t write in the contract in what gender I wanted to cover my operation.  The truth is, my shame has to be exposed and to be embarrassed with my condition in front of these professional women in their field, is something that I’m going to have to live with.  

My life has been one mishap after another, especially with women.  I know I have lost a lot of love due to my appearance, and now, I’m at the moment in my life, where everything will change.  Dr. Swift told me a few days ago that there is no way I will ever look normal.  The thing is, it’s best to have a mouth that expresses one’s inner being.  I have seen several drawings and plans, and although it’s radical, I do feel that the new look will express my inner needs.   I never laughed in front of anyone, but from now on, I will never be self-concerned about my laughter and who is in the room with me. 

-Tosh Berman, Detroit June 2018

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Reflection on a Past Life" by William N. Copley (Walther König)

ISBN: 978-3-86335-458-9
Never heard of this little book until I went to my local (and excellent) used bookstore Alias East Books, and picked this up.  I had coffee, took the bus home, and within the hour I finished the 80 or so pages.  A remarkably charming account of the gallery year of Artist, art dealer, and American Surrealist William N. Copley AKA CPLY.  According to the book, his book had six exhibitions.  From September 9, 1948, to February 20, 1949, and then it was over. The artists he had one-man shows (none of that group show crap) of were Magritte, Joseph Cornell, Roberto Matta, Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, and Max Ernst.  Financially the gallery was a wash-out.  A total bomb.  And located in the dap of the middle of Beverly Hills, California.  So in a sense, the Copley Gallery was the pre-Ferus Gallery in the  Los Angeles area.  

Copley's charm comes through in his prose writing. He's hysterical, and his observations on his artists are both insightful, gossipy, but respectful in a guy's guy world.  Also included are a series of photos of the original installations that took place in his gallery.  This is an art dealer who loved his artists and their art. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Joe Meek on Tosh Talks

Joe Meek on Tosh Talks

Joe Meek is without a doubt one of the intriguing figures that came out of contemporary music.   A gay man who lived in London when it was illegal to have gay sex or even hinting of having a relationship with another man, very much lived in his working space on Holloway Road in North London.  He didn't leave his flat/recording studio that much, as he was, at the time,  focused on making recordings that to this day is revolutionary and profound, in the sense that he was probably one of the first DIY personalities in the recording world.   On this episode of "Tosh Talks," I focus on three albums by The Meek planet.  Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, Heinz, and the brilliant "I Hear a New World" (1960) billed as Joe Meek and the Blue Men.  I also commented on Brian Eno's "Another Green World" and how that is the little sister or brother to Meek's "I Hear a New World."    A friend commented that Meek is the bridge between Les Paul and Phil Spector, but to me, as he was a non-musician, he used the recording studio as an instrument, similar to what Eno did years later.  A remarkable sonic artist in an extraordinary era. - Tosh Berman

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"City Lights & Streets Ahead" Memoirs of Keith Waterhouse (British Library)

ISBN: 978-0-72123-0964-6
I have this nagging interest in the literature of British writers in the post-war years of London and other cities in the United Kingdom.  Keith Waterhouse is one of the writers that I kept a note of, to investigate, especially his novel "Billy Liar," which of this date, I haven't read yet.  By chance, I picked up this edition published by The British Library of two Waterhouse memoirs in one volume "City Lights" & Streets Ahead."  Both are remarkable books, not due to originality, but the fact that Waterhouse was a remarkable memoirist, who not only captured various characters that came and went in his life but more important to me, places.  I wouldn't think he would call himself a Situationist, but he shares the love of exploration of one's neighborhood, town, and city and with great descriptive powers of his writing, he captures neighborhoods better than a photograph of such a place. 

"City Lights" is about his youth in Leeds during the war years, and also his first approach to becoming a journalist for newspapers.   Waterhouse has a perfect pitch understanding of the importance of location in everything he writes about.  This is something he must have learned as a journalist, or, he has that natural talent in expressing the surroundings in such a vibrant, textural manner of writing.  He's obsessed with the markets, bus & public transportation, libraries, marketplaces, and so forth. How a city is built up and serves its population is very much on Waterhouse's mind.  The beauty of the writing is not just a factual set of information, but his subjectivity due to his writing that puts explicit images in the reader's head.  

"Streets Ahead" deals with his life as a journalist on various London orientated newspapers, as well as his career as a novelist and playwright.  He collaborated with another writer Willis Hall for the theater and film work, and they stayed as a partnership for decades.  This is very much a writer's memoir (both books), and as a fellow wordsmith I'm learning a great deal about craft and putting one's identity in their work, even if it is a collaborative piece of work.  "Streets Ahead" deals with the theater life of Broadway New York as well as London.  His description of Manhattan in the 1950s is merely superb.   Again, his ability to hit the streets to see the sights, smell the scent, and acknowledge the iconic as well as the forgotten structures is remarkable.  There is even a section of him visiting Los Angeles, and that too is an excellent observation of that city.  He also attempted to walk Sunset Blvd from Downtown to the Beach.  He didn't make it, but still...  

Toward the end of the book, he and Hall worked for the Rolling Stones, on a film project that didn't happen.  It's interesting to read commentary by a guy from the theater London world commenting on The Stones world in Los Angeles and a bit of London.   "City Lights & Streets Ahead" is a British must read for those who are fascinated with England in the 1950s -especially regarding its Theater life. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Joe Meek's Bold Techniques" by Barry Cleveland (ElevenEleven Publishing)

ISBN: 978-0-615-73600-6 
To enter the world of Joe Meek is like swimming in a pool of liquid but not sure what is in the mixture.  Still, one needs to dive into the deep pool and keep both ears wide open.  To be an admirer of Joe Meek's recordings always leads one to an obsession.  I know very few people who dipped their toes into Meek's work, and not leave without being obsessed with the sounds and odd narrative of Joe's life.   "Joe Meek's Bold Techniques" is a beautiful obsession but tightly controlled by its author Barry Cleveland.   For one, the book's primary focus is on Meek's recordings and his techniques in getting these strange outer world sounds on his records.   It goes into detail the nature of his home studio in North London, as well as the equipment he had, or made/invented for his singular sound.   A total sound/studio geek book, but Cleveland's writing never loses the human behind the machines, and therefore an excellent biography on Joe Meek.  

The other book on Meek is the essential biography "The Legendary Joe Meek: The Telstar Man" by John Repsch is an extremely well-researched book on its subject matter, but what is missing is the narrative skills of the writer.  I feel Cleveland's book is a better narrative piece, even though it has tons of material on equipment, microphones, tapes, and so forth, it's still an overall amazing document on Joe Meek and his life.   Also includes a track-by-track analysis on Meek's legendary and amazing album "I Hear A New World," which the second edition of this book includes the  CD version of the album.   Also has a pretty fantastic Discography that is much needed.  The Joe Meek world still needs a lot of work with respect to discography and research.  I'm hoping that there will be a full overall biography of Meek and his times, as well as the upcoming documentary A LIFE IN THE DEATH OF JOE MEEK, which promises to be extremely interesting. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

"Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman's World" by Tosh Berman (coming out January 2019)

Anthony Bourdain by Tosh Berman

The passing of Anthony Bourdain out of our (my) world is a depressing thought. I don't know Bourdain, nor have I read any of his books, or care about food shows, or even cooking, yet, one of the few joys I have is watching Bourdain's Television shows. I don't have regular TV, so I tend to see his programs a year later, or even a decade late. Nevertheless, his openness to other cultures and his acceptance of odd and strange food dishes is something to marvel at in the time and age of such hideous figures like Donald Trump, who finds McDonald's the ultimate dining experience. His embracement of Rock n' Roll artists and culture and his excellent taste in politics and social mores was a very nice commentary on the world. As of this week, I was thinking of actually getting regular TV services so I can watch Bourdain's programs on CNN. A glass of wine and I'm transported to a foreign area of the world, and I'm perfectly happy. Even though I'm a vegetarian, I do enjoy another's eating habits, which I thought to myself, "How long can he live after eating so much meat?" I also enjoy his programs when he goes to Japan, a country that I love, and it seems he captures that culture in such a compelling manner. And also note that his commentary on the Israel/Palestine issue is refreshing with respect to the Western World ignoring the open wound that keeps pumping out the poison that is Israel's policies toward Palestine. He was the little strong light in the world that turned entirely into darkness by the dark forces that all of us are facing on a daily basis. 
I followed his Instagram because I'm fascinated by individuals who travel on a consistent basis. He would shoot his various hotel rooms throughout the world, and there was something slightly depressing about that existence. On his TV shows, he never talked or showed off his hotel existence in such a clinical manner. It was the flip side of Bourdain's landscape, compared to the outside world, which he wandered like a hungry Situationist. In the hotel room, there was no sense of life. Like David Bowie, he was an original made up of parts that are known, and I love. The adventurer, the traveler, the writer, and sort of an Errol Flynn attitude toward the world, in that spirit that seems masculine, but not in the straight jacket mode of a Trump or any of that sickening mode of a human. This morning I decided not to get cable or a new streaming series. I'm going to spend more time listening to vinyl and reading books. And writing of course. - Tosh Berman

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley on Tosh Talks

Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley on Tosh Talks

Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley are a British songwriting duo from the 1960s and 1970s. Sometimes they go under one name: Howard Blaikley. They wrote songs for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich as well as Peter Frampton's first band, The Herd. An underrated and almost unknown band these days. They sounded like The Walker Brothers meet The Small Faces. I first heard 'Howad Blaikley' songs through Joe Meek's The Honeycombs. Their first album is one of the great pop recordings and like The Herd, criminally underrated as well. On my show "Tosh Talks" I go deep into the world of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, from The Honeycombs to their odd album with R.D. Laing called "Life Before Death." I'm your host, Tosh Berman, Tosh Talks.

Monday, June 4, 2018

"Peepholism: Into The Art of Morrissey" by Jo Slee (Sedgwick & Jackson) 1994

ISBN: 0-283-06210-X
I remember finding "Peepholism: Into the Art of Morrissey" by the singer's co-designer Jo Slee at a local Virgin music store in Hollywood, and I never bought it, but I always looked through the book on a regular basis whenever I visited that store.  One day I arrived, and the book went missing or got sold, and ever since then I have been thinking about obtaining this book.   Morrissey, in a nutshell, is a fascinating artist.   Of all his talents, and songwriting is one of them, but I also love his sense of design and thought that into his graphics for The Smiths.  Jo Slee worked with Morrissey on the visual side, and it's fascinating how he had brought up a distinctive gay or/and pop culture through his work.  I believe the images he uses or presents is just as important as the music.  His time with the Smiths was the best, visually speaking.  I prefer the solo Morrissey than the Smiths music, which I know is a sin to the average Smiths fan, but on the other hand, his work as a graphic artist/designer is superb during The Smith years.  

His use of actors such as James Dean, Albert Finney, and various British iconic comedians, pop star great Billy Fury and so forth is used as a language to describe an inner world that is very Morrissey specific.  In a manner, his work reminds me of Sgt. Pepper cover, due that one thinks how do these faces in the background connect to the Fab Four.   One feels the same way when approaching a Smiths cover.   Once Morrissey went solo, he pretty much eliminated having another face or person on the cover beside himself.  That, I also found interesting that he made this huge change when he went solo. A difference is good, but, the intensity of The Smiths graphic is exceptional in design and mind. "Peepholism" is not the perfect Morrissey graphic book, or on its subject matter. It would be nice if a cultural critic/historian did a book on just Morrissey's graphics world, nevertheless, "Peepholism" is fascinating in parts, and I'm happy that I eventually found a used copy. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

"Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50" by Agnès Poirier (Henry Holt & Company)

ISBN: 978-1-62779-024-6

I can almost resist everything, except, any books about the Left Bank during the 1940s to the late 1950s.  Generally, readers/culture addicts are seduced by images of Paris and its culture throughout the years.   In a way, it's the conceptual 'Disneyland' for those who don't live there, yet, keep track of its beauty through pictures, movies, and of course, literature.  I'm so much in tune to that world that I pretty much started up a press, TamTam Books, just focusing on the Paris post-war years, due that I love the literature as well as the figures that came out of that time, especially Boris Vian.    

There are many books on Paris that was published throughout the years, as well as memoirs, diaries, and biographies - so it's not an obscure subject matter by any means.  But it wasn't until recently one hears the name Boris Vian in English reading books on the Existentialist period.  Vian was a significant figure in those years, and a lot of books about that period avoided his identity, I think due that none of his books were available in English at the time.  Therefore I have to presume editors for various presses probably decided if editorial cuts are being made, it is perfectly OK to eliminate Vian in its narrative.  That is not the case anymore.  Although he's a side-figure in the recent book "Left Bank" by Agnès Poirier, at least he's given credit as a writer and social figure in Paris.  

Beyond that, this book doesn't have any new information, and if one is a long-term reader of Paris literary and social history, still it's a fun read and Poirier does a  good job in covering all the loose ends of the rambling narrative that is the grand city of romance and ideas.  All the stars are here:  Juliette Gréco, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Camus, as well as the Americans that came to Paris during the post-war years, such as James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, and the old stand-by's such as Picasso and Jean Cocteau.   A colorful group of characters.  One is in good company.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

"Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman's World" by Tosh Berman (City Lights Books)

Ladies and Gentleman, this is a photograph by my father Wallace Berman. This will be the cover for my memoir "Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman's World." Coming out on City Lights Books in January 2019. - Tosh Berman

City Lights Books website for further information:  

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles" a Memoir by Françoise Hardy; Translated by Jon E. Graham (Feral House)

ISBN: 978-1-62731-060-4
Françoise Hardy, along with Serge Gainsbourg, France Gall, and of course her husband, Jacques Dutronc is one of the great architects of the French pop sound, sometimes known as Yé-Yé.   For an American, the French pop/rock world is almost like living in Superman's Bizarro, where everything is slightly different, or just a tad weird.  The French are very formal in the recording well, and there is also a deep respect for poetry, which comes through the lyrics.  Especially someone like a genius such as Gainsbourg.  "The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles" is a fascinating memoir, for one, we don't get that much of an insight into that world if we don't speak in French.  So, a book like this is essential to one who loves French 1960s pop music.  

Hardy's life is not unusual, but still a troubling family background.  Her mother was cold, and her sister was insane.  And her long-term relationship with Jacques Dutronc is both a head-scratcher and kind of awesome, in that they both respect their roles in the relationship - although it took Hardy a long time to accept certain aspects of her husband's mental and physical state.   In a cliché saying, it sounds so French!   In her manner, Hardy is very thorough on her stance in life, which is a mixture of sophistication and a believer of astrology, which she has written books on that subject matter, as well as a column in a publication.   I'm also delighted that she knew Stockhausen and appreciated his music and other modern experimental composers of that era, even at the height of her fame in the 1960s.  

Indeed an iconic beauty, but I'm not surprised of her unease with her physical appearance or her feelings of stage fright.  For me, the way she sings there is a hesitation like she wants to grant the listener an invitation into their lives.  Which I think is one of her big appeals as a singing artist and songwriter.   There's a hesitation in her manner that is very seductive.  Still, she was then, and I suspect still, a major player in French pop music world.  Reading the book, you come upon every significant French star - both on artists she worked or ran around with.   So the reader gets a nice snapshot of the scene at the time.  The French entertainment world was/is a small one, so I suspect it's difficult to avoid anyone of importance.  For example, even my beloved Louis Furey is mention here and there in the book, and he's obscure like a ghost in the English speaking world. 

If there is a weakness in the book, it may be within the English translation of Hardy's prose in French.  Reading the book, I feel like I'm reading a translation which usually means there is something wrong with the style of the translator.  Or it may be just Hardy's writing itself.  Still, if you are a fan of Hardy's music, this book is a must-read.  A few years ago I published Serge Gainsbourg's biography by Gilles Verlant, and this book is an excellent companion piece, due to the coverage of the French pop music world, which is a mystery to most French non-speaking people. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Joker on Tosh Talks

The Joker on Tosh Talks

My obsession with the great American fictional character The Joker.  The main villain for Batman/Bruce Wayne.  Visually based on "The Man Who Laughs," starring Conrad Veidt.   Here I riff through the idea of The Joker.  Both in my life and in the White House.  Tosh Berman, the host of Tosh Talks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Adam Parfrey 1957 2018 on Tosh Talks

My thoughts and commentary on Adam Parfrey's Feral House and his importance as a publisher.  Also some personal observations on the issues of publishing and fathers. - Tosh Berman

To read my article I wrote on Adam for the L.A. Weekly go here:

Monday, May 7, 2018

"Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond" by Michael Nyman (Cambridge University Press)

ISBN: 0-521-65383-5
Even though it is only an illusion, but it seems that when John Cage walked into our room, the world has re-started in some fashion.  Cage is the stone that was thrown into the pond, and future experimental music came from those little ripples from that rock.   Michael Nyman, a great composer, by the way, wrote this book in 1974 at the height of Brian Eno's Obscure Records label, where he focused on the British wing of the musical avant-garde.   Before Nyman's work with filmmaker Peter Greenaway, he was acutely aware of the tradition of contemporary classical music and all its strange and beautiful routes it took through the later years of the 1940s to the publication date of this book.   In such a fashion the book appears to be a classic textbook on its subject matter, and Nyman is very much the instructor in taking the reader from point A to point B, and so forth.  Not one only gets the foundation of Cage, but also the works of Fluxus era composers up to the British talent such as Gavin Bryars, Christopher Hobbs, and the Scratch Orchestra, as well as the world of Terry Riley, LaMonte Young, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich.  Illustrated with music scores and rare photos, this is a remarkable and essential piece of work regarding the world of the avant-garde sounds and its artists.

Friday, May 4, 2018

"Francis Picabia: Littérature" (Small Press Books)

ISBN: 978-1-942884-24-8
There are individuals from cultural or the visual art world that seems so romantic, that they can't possibly exist.  Francis Picabia was undoubtedly on the planet Earth and was a fantastic artist and poet.  "Francis Picabia: Litterature" is a collection of black ink drawings that were used for the DADA journal "Litterature."  This slim book is as elegant as the drawings.  Picabia's work is very sexy, and it flirts with the island of Eros, in that it's provocative, witty, and incredibly seductive.  The book also has excerpts from Picabia's literary work "Caravansérail" which regards Andre Breton and his world.   But with of course a touch of erotica.   This book is in a limited edition of 500 copies.  I strongly suggest if you are either a fan of the DADA world or love Picabia's work - either with words or ink, do get it.

"Coal Black Mornings" by Brett Anderson (Little Brown, UK)

ISBN: 9781408710500
It is my interest to read memoirs that focus on the early years of its subject matter, due that I wrote a memoir "Tosh" (City Lights Books) that does the same thing.  Brett Anderson is the lyricist/songwriter and vocalist for the British band Suede.  A band that I had mixed feelings for, but since I read this book by Anderson, I re-listened to his work with Suede, and now I appreciate their music and stance in British pop music of the 1990s.  And they are still around, making interesting music.  Still, I didn't know what "Coal Black Mornings" will bring to the literary memoir table.  It's delicious. 

Like a Suede song, Anderson captures the English landscape of poverty and struggling with a family that is partly eccentric - (especially the dad) and the rush of growing up with nothing, yet there is a future if one takes it by the ears and shake it a bit here and there.  Born in a situation where Anderson felt trapped, it is art -both literature and music, which saved his hide. This book in a sense is a tribute to being focused on what you want to do, and not to lose sight of that goal or the world you want to obtain.   The book ends as Suede signs the recording contract with Nude Records, but the build-up to that point is a delightful read, from a superb prose writer.  He does get 'flowery' time-to-time, but it also serves him personality or character-wise, as well.  

My main problem with Suede is not the aesthetics, but that their references to their culture are apparent.  Saying that, and especially after reading this book, I think I'm a tad of a snob to criticize them for that alone.  The fact is that they can write songs like "Trash," while not totally original, is nevertheless a beautiful pop record with an excellent (catchy) chorus.  And "Coal Black Mornings" deals with that subject matter, with Anderson's approach to the songwriting craft, and his ability to stand alone, along with his bandmates, to work on the final product until they find it suitable.  

I'm not sure what Anderson is like in person, but in this book, he's very nice to his fellow musicians and seems to be very fair-minded chap.  So, this is not a gossipy book or one where he settles old scores, but more of an upbeat tale of his youth and hard work to obtain his vision.   In theory, these type of books are a bore, but due to his writing skills and insightful way he can describe London in such poetic but realistic terms, this book is a real winner.