Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through The Films of Buster Keaton

Probably one of the most obsessive books ever. John Bengtson located every location Buster Keaton shot his films on, and re-photographed it, usually at the same angle or shot of the original film. So what we have is a book that is about Keaton and how he used real locations for his classic films, plus a visual history of Los Angeles, and what that location looks like now.

It's a stunning way of looking at space and what happens to that space. Strange enough a lot of the locations haven't changed, and some of course one would never recognize it in the film. This book is an extreme tour of a region via the eyes of Keaton and much later Mr. Bengston. The amount of work he did for this book is pretty much jaw-dropping 'wow.'

Saturday, March 30, 2013

David Bowie's "The Next Day" Vinyl

think most of us by now has had heard David Bowie's "The Next Day."  What strikes me, after the hype and firework like surprise of its existence, is that it's a classic Bowie album.  It tends to look back, look at the present, and then into the future. There are no surprises, except the fact that Bowie is 66 years old and still has things to say.  And he says it well.

Lyric-wise, this is Bowie's  strongest work.  It has the classic elements of the Bowie of old, but here he adds a certain weight to the songs. There's the obvious 'older' retrospective of one's past in "Where Are We Now."  But the album speaks of a historical past as well.  Here is one is reminded of Scott Walker's later work with respect in dealing with history in a song setting.  I would think "The Next Day" wouldn't exist if not for Scott's current music.  Not a copy mind you, but more of riffing on another artist's work.  Some might say that this is Bowie the vampire sucking out the blood of another artist, but that's stupid.  Bowie is like a jazz musician covering a standard.  He adds to the mix and makes the work his own, even though one can clearly see the influences.

"The Next Day" is slightly over-produced in parts but repeated hearings, it adds a pop sheen that I think makes up a tension with repeated listening.  And this is an album where one should hear over and over again.  It reminds me of "Station to Station" with respect to the many layers of guitars.  I hear traces of the 50s in its melodies which gives it that outer existence. And choruses come out of the stars all of sudden.  You think one is following a pattern from A to B, but he goes to A minor or a different song altogether.  The juxtaposition of images and melody are quite startling.  

In the nutshell "The Next Day" plays up to Bowie's strength as a songwriter and his voice is still magnificent.  The beauty of the record is that he very much sounds like he's 66, but still full of energy or using his current powers in a focused manner.  There is no waste on this album, nor is it very long. "Dirty Boys" is Anthony Newley, right?   Its very much of a classic double vinyl album, including the so-called three extra songs.

Which by the way, are excellent.  "So She" is one to put in the box of Bowie greats.  A beautiful melody with matching words.  It starts off with an Eddie Cochran like riff (there goes the 50's thing) and turns into a Bowie West End musical.  Its brilliant!  "The Plan" is Bowie making noise.  So b-side sounding that of course its totally fab.  "And I Will Take You There" is the ultra-glam song that is so Bowie that it is almost iconically...wrong. But he makes it right.
The visual aspect of the album is another layer of its greatness.  Ever since Bowie turned 50 he seemed to be obsessed with aging or the nature of physically turning older.  Bowie has no problem with age issues, or does he?  His album images and videos have focused on the subject matter of his younger identity with the older Bowie looking on.  Thinking specifically of the video for "Thursdays Child" and his current videos for "The Next Day."  And not forgetting the album cover of "Hours" where he's a cradling what looks like a dying Bowie of another identity.  But then again this maybe the obsession of a dandy or Mod.  The decaying of one's body is an obsessive dandy theme since Oscar Wilde.    And with the current retrospective of Bowie's costumes/clothing at the V&A this is very much the case.

Long live the Dandy.  Bowie is back, but of course he never really left us.

Morrissey Hollywood High School March 2, 2013 (one song)

I was near the front at this particular show.  When in the end he threw his shirt into the audience, it seemed like the shirt was floating above me or over my head in slow motion.  And then I look ahead of me and I saw a wall of good looking guys looking at the shirt (again in slow motion) and charging towards that shirt.  Sadly, with a shoulder problem, for these youth to get to the shirt as it gently floated to the ground, they had to smash through me.  It was painful.  But a great show nevertheless.

Billy Fury Documentary

A documentary on Billy Fury.  Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows I have a thing for Fury and his music.  A good documentary for those who don't know him or his songs.

Thanks to Jane Danielle Garica for bringing this documentary to my attention.

Friday, March 29, 2013

P.G. Wodehouse's "The Crime Wave at Blandings"

PG Wodehouse's first crime novel or short story?  Well, not exactly.  But what it is (again and again) is Wodehouse's genius in conveying a small world and expanding that world to the reader in such a hysterical manner.  I started reading this book on the plane trip to Los Angeles, and now just finished reading it.  Even in my jet-lag position, I can see his world makes some sort of sense.  But Wodehouse is such a brilliant writer.  His sentence structures are incredible, and the way he just piles one narrative after another - really he must be the original figure for the screw-ball comedy.  Boris Vian loved his work, and so do I!

"Maki 2" by Maki Asakawa

The first time I read the name "Maki" was at a record store in Shibuya Tokyo.  The cover of her album "Maki 2" drew me in.  I knew by the graphics that the album was either folk, jazz, or somewhere in between.  The third category is it.

Beautifully almost baroque/jazz like arrangements surround her earthy vocals.  She sort of reminds me of Joni Mitchell, if she was more of a jazz singer, but I actually like Maki's take on that type of jazz much better than Mitchell's.  Plus the fact that she is associated with the great playwright/filmmaker Shuji Terayama is a big plus for me as well.  Without a doubt I am going to track down her other albums.  This one I believe was recorded in the early 1970's.  Hardcore Shinjuku pop culture!

The Outlaws/Joe Meek's "Dream of the West" Vinyl album

One of the great joys of going to Tokyo is to go on the vinyl hunt, which for me is almost a Situationist walk around the city.   The maps I bring with me to Tokyo is usually useless, because a lot of the streets don't have names.  Also Tokyo is very much like a maze.  It makes sense the longer you are there, but when you first get to town, it like "oh god, where, what, and why?"

I went to Reco Fan in Shibuya and found some great records. For whatever reason it seems (at least this trip to the store) an outlet for Joe Meek recordings on vinyl.  It is here where I found my beloved vinyl copy of the Outlaws "Dream of the West" album.  

Islington bound Meek takes his imagination out to the wild west and came up with this beauty of an album.  His usual back-up band for Mike Berry recordings, Meek wrote all the songs on this album under the name of "Robert Duke."  And on top of that he wrote the liner notes as well.  Giving almost pulpy narratives on each track.  I think the beauty of "Dream of the West" is that its not real, but comes from movie Westerns that Meek absorbed from his childhood and beyond.  All the classic iconic images and sounds are on this album, but re-imagined by Joe Meek. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sparks-Tastic by Tosh Berman.... Soon!


by Tosh Berman
In 2008, Tosh Berman—author and publisher of TamTam Books—got on a plane with a single motive: "Sparks Spectacular." It had been announced that the band Sparks would perform all twenty-one of their albums in a succession of twenty-one nights in London...a monumental experience for any Sparks fanatic. Part travel journal, part personal memoir, Berman takes us through the streets of London and Paris, observing both cities' history and culture through the eye of an obsessive Sparks fan's lens. Including album-by-album reviews of all twenty-one albums and beyond, Sparks-Tastic defines a place and time in music history that's too defining to be ignored.
(A Barnacle Book)

Images of Mt Fuji (Homage to Osamu Dazai and his short story "One Hundred Views Of Mount Fuji")

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Strange Tale of Pamorama Island" by Edogawa Rampo

A pulpy version of Raymond Roussel's "Impressions of Africa." Rampo is the Japanese link between a boy's adventure narrative and kinky sex takes. Rampo's take on the benefits of the Panaorama and the Utopian narrative. Also a crime novel of sorts.  A man takes on the identity of his rich dead brother and builds his perfect world on an island.  Including nude mermaids/women, scented air, beautiful plants, and stunning landscapes.  Probably the most anti-natural nature novel of all time.  It's up there with Huysman's "Against Nature."  The book makes interesting commentary on the nature of one's artistic vision over a specific landscape.  But with Rampo (as usual) its a twisted and dark vision of what life can be made -  and the sexual undertones are never far from the surface.    A brilliant book.  And for some reason, the translation of Rampo's name is spelled Ranpo.   So, if you are in a bookstore, look up both spellings.

"The Fiend With Twenty Faces" by Edogawa Rampo

Rampo's semi-insane boy's adventure novel. A master villain matches wit and skills with the greatest detective and his young assistant who is 10 years old.  Tokyo of the 30's is the landscape which can be compared to Fantomas' Paris.  The world is about to end or be changed, and Rampo dances on the grave of Tokyo.  Essential young adult literature.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tokyo March 15, 2013

What seemed to be random images of Tokyo on a day's walk.   Mostly in Shibuya.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Edogawa Rampo's "Moju: The Blind Beast" plus Film by Yasuzo Masumura

Ah, such a perfect read while I am in Japan.  I first heard the name "Edogawa Rampo" from my wife who told me that his writings would give me a certain amount of pleasure.  And as usual (the wife is always right) she is correct.    Rampo is a pen-name, and if you say it really quickly, you will see that the name is based on Edgar Allen Poe.  Rampo's favorite writer, and truly his work is up there with the master.  Except he's more pulpy, more lurid, more...out there.

Rampo is the master of the field that is called "Erotic-Grotesque" in Japan.  A mixture of horror with sex.  And his short novel "Moju" is a perfect example of that genre.  The narrative is about a blind man who is obsessed with the gesture of touching woman with his 'skilled' hands, and then eventually killing them, and cutting them up in pieces.  He also has a genius in displaying his 'work' either by making sculptures made by human parts, or displaying the corpse or part of the corpse in rather imaginative ways.

Rampo goes for the throat, and what makes him so unique is that he has these amazing set-pieces, that is a combination of creepy, funny, but always filtered through the eyes of an aesthetic soul.  I can imagine his stories are not for everyone, but strange enough he has even written (god forbid!) 'young adult' adventures.  A low-rent Tanizaki, but with the brilliance of a B-film genius.   Rampo needs to be exposed to a larger readership in the West.  Hopefully we'll see more of his titles translated into English.

Down below is the film version of the novel, directed by Yasuzo Masumura.  Its a classic piece of Japanese cinema and I strongly recommend watching this film:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Images of My Tokyo Life

All images from the Blue On Velvet bar in Shibuya, Tokyo.  Wonderful bar that specializes in very rare  vinyl from the 60's and 70's.  One can make a request, but make sure you make the right choice.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Choukitsu Kurumatani's "The Paradise Bird Tattoo (or, attempted double-suicide)"

I never heard of Kurumatani before I picked this book up at the Downtown Kinokuniya Bookstore here in Los Angeles (excellent bookstore by the way).  I wanted to read something new by a Japanese writer, and I didn't want to go down the thriller or horror route - which now seems to be new trend in contemporary translated-into-English Japanese literature.

"The Paradise Bird Tattoo" is very much of a quiet modern noir novel that deals with an individual who is slowly losing it in contemporary Japan.   He's an office bee worker, where he gets no pleasure, and decides to go on to a world that has no beginning or ending.  A vagrant of sorts. Most of the narrative takes place in a low-rent apartment building where the leading character gets involved with the neighbors.  All either a little bit off or criminal minded.

Kurumatani captures the quiet despair of the little guy who is sort of floating on the tide of human waste and disappointment.  While reading the book I thought of the films by Jim Jarmusch, because the characters float in and out of the narrative, while having one main figure staying there for the whole ride (narrative).  There is also a touch of Kafka, but without the humor.  Interesting writer, and I will keep him in mind for the future.

David Bowie's "The Next Day"

Second listening now, and I think its a superb album. The secret ingredient is the sax that sneaks up to you on various songs as well as the back-up vocals (Tony Visconti?). Also I love the textures of the different guitars weaving in and out. And then on top of all of that, you have Bowie's voice - which is still a remarkable instrument. This is iconic classic Bowie work. And the opening cuts "The Next Day" and "Dirty Boys" is sort of hold on to your hat, its going to be a wild ride. This is a very rich 'pop' record. Nothing new, but he's playing to all his strengths. And for that, he's incredible.

The Next Day tracklisting
01. The Next Day 3:51
02. Dirty Boys 2:58
03. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) 3:56
04. Love Is Lost 3:57
05. Where Are We Now? 4:08
06. Valentine's Day 3:01
07. If You Can See Me 3:16
08. I'd Rather Be High 3:53
09. Boss Of Me 4:09
10. Dancing Out In Space 3:24
11. How Does The Grass Grow 4:33
12. (You Will) Set The World On Fire 3:30
13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die 4:41
14. Heat 4:25