Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tosh Berman's Music Collection

For the past few months I have been obsessively going over my music collection and documenting it.  Both vinyl and CD's.  At the moment I am concentrating on actual music that is in my collection, both the good and the bad.

What I do is write a brief commentary on each album.  I go by each artist in alphabetical order, and strange enough another version of a memoir comes up.  As I write, I know I'll change things as I get to the finish.  I have 1,250 albums, so it will take me awhile to finish up this little side project.

I made a special blog for this project.  Do visit it time-to-time.  I try to add something everyday.  You can find it here:

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Mumbai New York Scranton" by Tamara Shopsin

A combination of travel journal and tales from the hospital bed, and it's superb.  It is not only the adventure, but the way Tamara Shopsin's tells the tale.  She writes with minimal sentences, but with maximum meaning.   Her travels through out India captures not only the country, but also her personality and how she perceives that experience in such an enlightened manner.  Tamara and her husband the noted (and fantastic) photographer Jason Fulford go to India with a pair of fresh eyes (her's) and a desire to return to an area or memory (his).  Fulford noticed the changes, and Shopsin sees India on a first time basis.  I really identify with this because I have taken friends to places that i greatly admired, but either the place has changed or I have changed, and I wasn't aware of it.

There is physical traveling and then there is mental travel, and both are conveyed quite well in this book.  Shopsin noticed that she was feeling ill in India but thought it was due to the traveling, but it was something serious.  But this is not a woe me story, but an adventure narrative of sorts, and I started reading it this morning and i couldn't put it down till I finished.  The book also has images by Fulford, which if you know his work, is quite mysterious as well as witty.  He is the perfect traveling companion and his documentation of the trip is wonderful.  But we also get Shopsin's illustration through out the book, and she is known for her drawings for publications such as the New York Times.  Her imagery is great as drawings, but also in words.  A great upbeat book.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Georges Perec and the OULIPO "Winter Journeys" Atlas Press

Atlas Press, distributed by D.A.P. ISBN 9781900565646
There is nothing more fun than reading a literary work that is about books. Or the idea of books, and how it can lead to an adventure. The OULIPO group that was originally formed by Raymond Queneau is such a group that reads and writes book that becomes a game or even an quasi-science project. Georges Perec is considered the Shakespeare of the group, and therefore he leads the race with this specific book "Winter Journeys." Which, in return has caused a series of little books by writers in the OULIPO group that either continue or expand or just comments on Perec's original piece.

Perec writes of a writer named Hugo Vernier who wrote a book called "The Winter Journey" which book is before everyone else's great book. in fact his writing is the key book of avant-garde literature. Except no one has really seen it, but they have heard of it. Like a chain-letter, the various writers in Perec's world, continue the adventure of this book and what became of it or if even found.  So what we have here is really a book about literature and how powerful it is as an object, or a collection of ideas. Bibliophile galore!

For those who either tipped their toes in the OULIPO world or are full-time addicts to its games and fun, this is the book to get. Also, strange enough the key graphic aspect of the book is done by the guy who originally illustrated Raymond Roussel's great "Impression of Africa." You see everything links up. Not a paranoid conspiracy but fact!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tosh Talks..."In The Words Of Sparks...Selected Lyrics"

An informal chit-chat with you about the new TamTam Books' title "In The Words Of Sparks... Selected Lyrics."  Edited by Ron Mael and Russell Mael.  Introduction by Morrissey

With respect to my show "Tosh Talks" ... I'm back.  Hopefully a show a week.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"In The Words Of Sparks... Selected Lyrics by Ron Mael & Russell Mael (Sparks) Introduction by Morrissey

Design by Mark Holley

"In The Words Of Sparks... Selected Lyrics" is the dream book for me and my press TamTam Books.   People can gather that I am a huge fan of Sparks (hopefully through my book "Sparks-Tastic") but to think that I would ever work with them on a book - the impossible dream!   And yet, I did with the help of Morrissey writing a brilliant but funny, heartwarming introduction to the book as well.

Ron Mael and Russell Mael (Sparks) selected 76 songs to be represented in this volume that just focuses on their lyrics.  As a publisher i wanted to do a classic lyric book because Ron and Russell's writing is top notch writing on the scale of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and may be a touch of Bertolt Brecht here and there.   The visuals that come with the reading of the songs is Ron's handwritten lyrics which serves as an illustration  through out the book.  So it serves as a look behind the curtain by watching over Ron's shoulders as he jogs down these lyrics for the first time.

"In The Words of Sparks..." is a major literary approach to the wonderful world that is Sparks.  The 76 pieces here is for the fan, who will know the melodies, but reading the text cold is an additional pleasure,  because the imagery, the narrative of some of the songs, and the incredible genius-like wit runs through the book as if a storm is approaching its pages.   I am super happy with the book.

"In The Words Of Sparks... Selected Lyrics" will be in Bookstores in September.
Isbn: 978-0-9852724-0-1   $24.95

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Rhubarb" by H. Allen Smith

Like the other great American genius writer Throne Smith, his spiritual brother H. Allen Smith is many ways the PG Wodehouse of the Screwball era. A rich eccentric millionaire dies and leaves all his wealth and real estate to his pet cat Rhubarb, who like his owner is fussy, and kind of mean. And he also owns a baseball team. So in this book you get zany, zany characters - everyone from a muscle bound daughter to crooked lawyers, to dopey baseball players, to an occasional bad dog or two (sorry dog lovers). If you mixed Howard Hawks comedy with a side dish of Throne Smith, and a touch of small-town Manhattan you got "Rhubarb." The fact that this book is out-of-print is truly a criminal ac

Monday, August 19, 2013

"A Handbook For The Perfect Adventurer" by Pierre Mac Orlan (Translated by and with an Introduction by Napoleon Jeffries)

A little superb book by the great French 'unknown' writer Pierre Mac Orlan.  "Unknown' to English reading citizens because this may be the only book of his that is translated into English.  Mac Orlan is the ultimate figure in French literature that captures the lifestyle of a romantic writer who lived a great adventuresome life.   Or that is what one is lead to believe.  Nevertheless he was commissioned by the great Blaise Cendrars in 1920 to write a handbook for writers who want to either have adventure or more likely write an adventure narrative.

In this short book he recommends cities that are good for an adventure narrative as well as taverns and bars.  I suspect that his nature is very much in tuned to this type of location.   He puts the adventurer in two categories:  the active adventurer and the passive adventurer.   The passive fellow or gal are more likely the readers, who want to read the exploits of the active adventurer.  He gives plenty of advice for both class of adventurer.

For one hopes that there will be further books that will be translated into English by this wonderful wit,  for whom writers such as Boris Vian, Guy Debord and of course Cendrars are huge fans of the man as well as his work.   Another excellent book from Wakefield Press.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Low Man On A Totem Pole" by H. Allen Smith

What a discovery!  As I mentioned in another review of a H. Allen Smith title, I was at Powell's in Portland and I came across his books.  Used of course and i have to presume that all seven titles there was from a person who gave it up.  Not for money, but more likely for space, or a mad Uncle left it to a family member or something totally undramatic.  Nevertheless I have become a mega-fan of H. Allen Smith.

"Low Man on a Totem Pole is a collection of articles he wrote for the New York World - Telegram sometime in the 1940's.  What i have is the first edition hard cover copy, and as far as I know this book is now out-of-print, which I find deeply disturbing.  One, because Smith is an excellent writer and for sure one of the best of the old-school Manhattanites of the 30's and 40's.  in the same game park of James Thurber or even Dorothy Parker.  Extremely witty, and here is a writer at work because he had to turn in a column for his paper probably on a daily or weekly schedule.

My favorite pieces in this book deals with "Hollywood."  And it seems at the time a lot of NYC journalists treated Hollywood as the capital of weirdoland.  Which may or may not be the case, but one gets the impression that Smith had to cover the Hollywood beat with respect to interviewing the stars, but his heart wasn't really into it.  But that didn't stop this talented writer in making hysterical commentary regarding a journalist interviewing a movie star placed in NYC to promote a picture.  But saying that he is never mean to his subject matter, he makes fun of himself making fun of his subject matter.  But what is interesting is how a New Yorker or someone from that culture looks at Hollywood.

But his observations are spot-on and he lived in an interesting world.  It's sad to think that the type of world he wrote about (1940's Manhattan and Hollywood) is now totally gone.  Like this book, that is not in print.  But mark my words, H. Allen Smith is a brilliant stylist and a very very funny man.

"Sparks-Tastic" interview in the Sunday Los Angeles Times

I want to thank David Ulin and the Los Angeles Times for printing my interview in today's (Sunday) edition.  

Also to remind everyone that one can purchase "Sparks-Tastic" at any bookstore or online shop that carries books.  But it is extra cool if one buys my book at an indie neighborhood bookstore.  if your store doesn't have it, they can easily order it for their stock or as a special order for you.  I'm very proud of the book and now its up to you.    

- Tosh Berman

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Hotel Oracle" by Jason Fulford

Hotel Oracle by Jason Fulford, D.A.P. Press/The Soon Institue

A series of photographs of the world of some sense or order by Jason Fulford.  "Hotel Oracle" is a witty one-person's viewpoint of how the everyday can be so specifically wonderful, or mysterious.  As a reader or looker, one allows Fulford take you on a tour of sorts.  You don't know the locations and sometimes you presume it is at the same location.  But then you noticed that some of the towns here look Asian, and one for instance has Japanese writing - but really we live on one world.  At least visually, and to explore without a map is a wonderful thing, but here Fulford takes one on a 'drunken' tour of the dream world.   "Hotel Oracle" reminds me of Jean Cocteau's "Orpheus" not because of the style, but just the thought of 'Death' leading a living one into the underworld.  It makes sense, but then it also doesn't make sense.  "Hotel Oracle" may or may not be a hotel, but i like to think of it as a hotel that is in the head, and somehow Fulford got into my head and is actually having a conversation with me.  Am I going mad, or is that what's art all about?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Land Line" by Michael Schmelling (J&L Books)

There are two types of photo books for me personally.  One that is obvious and one's that are not obvious.  Michael Schmelling's "Land Line" is not obvious.  For that reason as well as the brilliant (simple) design of the book makes me go back to it again and again.   At first I picked it up and then put it down again, but I was drawn to this book like Sherlock Holmes looking a the scene of a crime and picking up the clues that is obviously still set in place.

The term land mine comes to mind an object (usually telephone) that is connected to another party through cable or fixed locations.  There is no text in the book except on the credit page where they listed the locations of the photographs, and most of them, as well as beginning and the end of the book takes place at the USA Memory Championships in New York.  One tries to read a narrative here, but then I noticed that the first series of images were taken in 2008, and the others (which are placed at the end of the book) were taken in 2007.  So it is not following a regular time-line, but even that is intriguing to me.   Most of these images are men and some women (here and there) with great concentration on their faces, or giving that long stare to space.  At times it looks like they're at a conference, it is only at the end where one sees a winner holding his award for U.S. Memory Champion, but even that the winner looks stressed and there is something slightly sinister about the image.  Perhaps he is being interviewed by the judges?  In between those two segments are images from a barber shop, inside a federal prisoner transport plane which one has to presume they're police or prisoners, kids dressed up in costumes, and then the oddest image of all is Kevin Bacon, taken in Brooklyn in the year 2011.  When you add these images up, what does it mean or what story is being told?

The book resembles a dream where you wake up and the images are still fresh in your head.  But you can't really make a full narrative.  A doesn't go to B, but A goes straight to D and so forth.   The collection of images have a certain amount of tension, which adds to the appeal of the book itself.  "Land Mine" like I mentioned above, are set locations, but its the viewer that has to make the connections between the images, and that is the fun part of the book.   A highly sophisticated inner-adventure type of work.  Highly recommended for the images as well as what we think they may represent to us. A classic photo book that is artful not only for the photographs by Schmelling, but also for its (mysterious) concept as well as the beauty of the book itself.  Must see it in person.  Please do.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"In This Dark Wood" by Elisabeth Tonnard (J&L Books)

"In The Dark Wood" has become an obsession of sorts, due to the combination of found images and in a funny way, found text. "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/mi ritrovai per una selva oscura/ché la via diritta era smarrita" this being the opening line to Dante's "Inferno," here translated from Italian to English 91 times. Elisabeth Tonnard had gathered photographs from a street vendor Joseph Selle and his 'Fox Movie Flash' that was placed very close to a movie theater where he or they took pictures of people as they walk down the boulevard. The chosen images are all shot in the nighttime, and they share a quality of singular people either lost in thought, strolling down the street, or a determination to go from one destination to another. Most of the images of the women seem to be carrying packages of all sorts, which suggests that they went shopping, and there is only one photograph of a mother holding her child's hand. The men on the other hand, with some exceptions, are not carrying any items, and seemed to be wandering perhaps from their work place, or even leaving the movie theater.

For example one of the text's translations, "Midway along the journey of our life/I woke to find myself in a dark wood,/for I had wandered off from the straight path" brings a sense of the spirit of the Flâneur, but with a darker connotation. Suggesting that these people are walking in darkness (nighttime as well as spiritually) is a reading or more of a 'replacement' by Tonnard. In that manner the book is very Situationist like in that it deals with the juxtaposition of image with the text that gives it a new meaning.

Also reading the text over and over again (with separate images) is fascinating as well. Similar to Raymond Queneau's “Exercises in Style” one reads the same phrase, but the difference between the translations gives it a separate reading of the text or at the very least, a slight change of Dante's intention with the lines, which can be very slight. I suspect Tonnard was not concerned about the quality of the translation but just the beauty of the language as well as the pictorial image of the text, and what it conveys with respect to the path that is not perfectly good.

If the book had a volume, this work would be on mute, but you can clearly feel the vibrations, and part of the joy is thinking about the specific text with that image. Dante wrote a beautiful piece of poetry of sorts, and the images convey the thought and the haunting of Dante's words, but through 91 translations of the same phrase. Also one can make out the words on the movie theater marquee “Petrified World.” Which is perfect of course.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"ATTA" By Jarett Kobek

Semiotext(e) 978-1-58435-106-1

In the end I think Jarett Kobek's "Atta" is the only book one really needs to read regarding September 11.  It's a tragic and sad tale.   Atta was one of the key figures who was the "soldier" or "Terrorist" who flew the plane into one of the towers on that clear September day.  Which I hope by the way, over time, that date becomes just a date and not a memory of the incident, that opened up Pandora's Box of 21st Century tragedies - Iraq War, etc and etc.

Atta, by all means a close-minded fellow, is repulsed and fascinated by American culture.  For me, the most interesting part of this narrative is his thoughts on Walt Disney and one of his films.  He saw it with his fellow thugs, and was totally repulsed by what he saw on the screen.  When they started to have articles in the media about Atta, I remember the Disney fixation and how that sort of became a focus of sorts.  Kobek did an excellent job in getting into Atta's head, especially his thoughts on architecture as well as popular media and the Urban Landscape, both his home in Egypt as well as in the U.S./Europe.     It's amazing how suspenseful the book is, especially we know the narrative already.  This handsomely designed little book is an important work, yet depressing.  But one has to go through the pain (at times) to get to a truth of some sort.   Essential book!