Friday, December 22, 2017

Tosh Berman's Favorite Reading for 2017


I'm not sure if it's a positive or negative to look back what one has read or saw or heard the past 12 months, but since I love journals and journal writing, I'm a fan of this addiction.  2017 on one level is the worse, with respect to the world outside my world.  On the other hand, I'm doing fantastic.  Usually, I read 100 books a year, but in 2017 I have been busy writing and putting together my memoir (to be published by City Lights in 2018).  The list of books down below is my top of the top list, but in no special order:  

New Directions
"Voyage Around My Room" is the perfect book to read when in bed with a cold. In another life, I would like to list my favorite books to read in bed while sick. This would be in the top ten for sure. The author, Xavier de Maistre, was busted for dueling and sentenced to house arrest for 42 days. What came out of that self-imprisonment is this book. It borders on a Georges Perec or Alain Robbe-Grillet type of fiction, but it was written in 1790. Xavier comments on the paintings and furniture in his room. In essence, time has stopped. It can even be a critique of at then modern living. The sensibility behind this book is timeless. It's work from the past but seems very present. 

The author reflects on his life through his landscape, which is the room. I would recommend writers to read this book, in the same sense one can read Raymond Queneau's "Exercises in Writing" or Joe Brainard's "I Remember." It reminds me that one is never truly shut off from the world when they have pen and paper.


University of California Press

As someone who writes, in other words, tries to put the images that are in my mind as words on a page - I, of course, have a profound respect for the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Not the easiest philosopher to follow or understand, but personally speaking, he's the most rewarding with respect to my writing. The beauty of his thought is not the end of the process, but the journey itself. I often think that Wittgenstein is struggling to make himself understandable to his readers and students.

"Lectures & Conversations" is an absorbing book. It's ironic that it's a book about communicating what you think, but here, it is being filtered and written down as notes by his students in Cambridge in the 1930s. The primary focus of this small book is aesthetics. In how one sees something and how they describe that experience. In this part of the book alone, there are two students' notes of the lecture, which is interesting because you're getting the same information (we think), but the fact that it is two separate people, how they process that information. So overall the book is about what Wittgenstein is stating, bu then how that information or his thoughts are being dealt with in a lecture format. 

The other subject matters in this book are psychology and religious belief. Wittgenstein reading Freud is a mind-bending experience. The landscape is so huge, and Wittgenstein I feel works best in a smaller context. For instance, what is on the table, and what does that mean to you? He didn't comment on that, but I'm just using that as an example, compared to the meaning of dreams. 

Since I have been reading off and on, Wittgenstein, for the past five years or so, I can see his presence in my work. I don't fully grasp everything he writes or lectures about, but I get the 'drift.' In his nature, he writes like a poet, who thinks logically. I'm a fan of Wittgenstein.

Dey Street Books

Simon Reynold's "Shock and Awe is probably the 'over-all' best glam history book. Although he does leave out Perfume Genius who I think is the 'new' glam. And the other thing that struck me while reading the book is that he's not that crazy about the New York Dolls first album. But that is all in a manner of taste and subjective point of view, which makes this book a very enjoyable read. Reynolds has a critical ear and eye, which is good. The book is way over 600 pages which is a lot for a few moments in rock history. Still, the importance of glam rock cannot be understated in my world, and I presume for the rest of the planet as well. The major artists are covered here (except Perfume Genius, grrr) as well as the minor or cult musicians as well. 

Glam is the warped circus sideshow mirror of what was happening in the mainstream music world. The singer-songwriter from Laurel Canyon was still upon us during the glam era, and it's an interesting contrast looking back and see how both worlds dealt with each other. In fact, they didn't. The Eagles had a hatred for the show-biz aspect of rock (I.E. Alice Cooper, etc.) and I suspect the glam gang hated The Eagles. I hated The Eagles as well. So my loyalty is strong for the men who wore lipstick. 

For me, there is nothing new, but that is only because I'm an obsessed fan of the glam era. What I do suspect is that readers who are not familiar with this world will find Reynolds book a very inviting entrance to that planet. The bibliography in the back of the book is brilliant, but I'm surprised that there isn't a discography as well. Perhaps budget/printing issues, and this is a mega huge book.

As a historian, I feel Reynolds captures Rodney's English Disco (pub) years accurately as I remembered it. He has a good sense of narrative drive for the reader to keep on reading this book. And his last chapter on Bowie's "Blackstar" album is a sad ending. Glam is very much part of the rock DNA, and I suspect that it will never go away - quietly.

Spurl Editions

"I Am Not Ashamed" is superb. Movie siren, Barbara Payton's memoir, is incredible on many levels. It's the iconic rise and fall of a Hollywood actress who slept to the top and back to the bottom. A remarkable story in itself, but what makes this book fantastic is Payton's character. I find her utterly likable. This is a classic told to a reporter narrative, and what is unique is her ability to tell her tale without regret or moralistic touches. She's very much a woman of her time and place, Hollywood. Never bitter, Payton has a knack for understanding herself under troublesome circumstances. Fans of Dark or Hollywood Noir will love this book. I know it was written as a 'shocking' warning to young actress everywhere but in truth, there is something more to it than a finger wagging towards the reader. I find it to be very pro-life, pro-living, and pro-sexual. Her death is tragic and so's her life, yet, the heroic aspect is that Payton's clear-eyed view of the games people play and understanding the game being played. I have never seen her films, but by reading this book, I consider myself a fan of Barbara Payton.

The University of Chicago Press
In my youth, I subscribed to the October journal. I feel my main attraction to the journal was due to its design. Which is, to this day, the exact same thing. I like a magazine or journal that doesn't change. Saying that I haven't read it for 20 years or so, even though, it's an excellent publication of writers writing about things I'm interested in. One of those writers is Douglas Crimp. If his name was attached to an essay I would read it. 

"Before Pictures" is a book that I wouldn't expect from Crimp. It's very personal, and perhaps one of the best books from a gay perspective on New York City and its haunts. The book is centered on the fact that he curated a show called "Pictures" which was influential due it had Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, and others. He was a critic who was/is interested in how the arts merge into pop culture. What I like about this book is that it's a very focused memoir on the place, time, and the nature of one's sexuality and love of the arts can all meet on a specific landscape. When he writes about the disco era it's fascinating, maybe because I just think of him as an art critic and not a guy who actually had a public life in such a wonderful environment. Or his interest in the Ballet, which is quite deep, and of course, like everything else in this book, deals with a relationship. A superb memoir that touches on a lot of issues. His love (I think) for Manhattan and some other locations. The Fire Island part of the book was equally fascinating to me. Essential gay culture literature, and of course, a very insider's view of the arts during the 1970s through the 1980s. Wonderful.


Notting Hill Editions

As a writer, W.G. Sebald is a guy with a bow and arrow and can take on a difficult subject, and hit a bullseye every time. He had the talent to look at his subject matter apparently, like a surgeon going into the operation room to do a complicated procedure, but he always comes through in the end. Normally Sebald is a fictional writer but through the eyes of a subjective journalist. It's his skill in laying out the landscape in his novels, and especially in these two essays, one on the bombings of various German cities, and the other on a controversial German writer, Alfred Andersch.

The brilliance of his essay (speech) on the bombings in different German cities is that he doesn't play the victim's card. He looks at them for what they are. A destruction that killed and disrupted many lives, but in the shadow of Hitler's horrible vision of the world. Through Sebald's descriptive writing, one can almost taste the misery and the essence of the hopelessness of it all. Hitler's goal was to bomb London. He would go into detail about how the flames would eat up the English capital in horror overtures. The irony is that it happened to his own country. The vision he brought to the world, didn't exactly worked out for him (or Germany). 

The Alfred Andersch essay is fascinating, due to how Sebald, a fellow German, see this individual within the Nazi/World War II environment. Andersch is a writer I know nothing of, till I read Sebald's piece. It seems in certain circles and through his writing, he was the good moral German during the Nazi years. Sebald feels differently. In a critical and almost cold-like manner, he cuts into the Andersch myth of the good Nazi. Reading it, I'm struck by how the individual deals with the issue of morality and identity in a landscape that is both dangerous and quite evil. I think we at this moment and time, feel the same regarding a certain individual in the White House. It's hard not to read this book and not think of the destruction in Palestine, Libya, and other parts of the world. 

The Notting Hill Edition of "On The Natural History of Destruction" is a beautifully designed and elegant book. Which makes the book even more compelling in how this devastating text is placed in such a seductive packaging. 


Semitext

I'm a huge fan of William E. Jones' books, especially the one's that focus on underground homosexual culture. His current biography of Boyd McDonald is incredible. I never heard of Fred Halsted till I picked up on this book. I know nothing of gay porn film or its world. So Jones is very much the driver taking one on a tour of the underworld, and it's a fascinating landscape - especially when one lives walking distance to one of Halsted's sex clubs, which sadly, doesn't exist anymore. "Halsted Plays Himself" focuses on Fred Halsted's porn films, his life running a sex club, his literature, which by the way is great, especially his essay on all the Los Angeles gay bars, and what to expect from each one. And it also includes tons of film stills, photo shoots, and porn ads from that era of the 1970s. Jones knows how to expose and educate a subculture that is extremely important now that things have (slightly) changed or moved to the social right. Obviously, an important book on gay history, but it is also a must for anyone who is interested in Los Angeles social history as well the culture that was produced in this fine city. Great book.

Sensitive Skin

I have a deep interest in Paris. Not only what I imagine is Paris, but other people's Paris as well. It's a city that demands one's attention, especially in the field of the arts. It has a lot to do with its citizens, but it is also a city that is reflected quite often by various foreigners. For me, it is something in the way the city is laid out. I think architecturally first, then how that space is filled by what I think are interesting people. Charles Baudelaire, Boris Vian, the songs of Juliette Greco, the imagery of Serge Gainsbourg - all of this makes intriguing pictures and sounds in one's head. I would also like to add bart plantenga's "Paris Scratch" to that cultural pile as well. 

First of all, I don't know if one can look at this book as fiction, non-fiction, a journal - it can be a combination of all three. The way I read it, "Paris Scratch is between a memoir and a travel journal. It is similar to taking a photo by or sketching on paper a scene in front of the author. The book consists of 365 chapters/sections, which in theory can be an actual year. "Paris Scratch" is not a book of lists, but deeply investigations of feelings, places, and people, as conveyed by the author. Various French artists and authors, as well as pop singers, run through the pages, but also foreign writers such as Henry Miller commenting on Paris. It's a city that has a lot of cultural baggage, and there is no way getting around the awesomeness of the place - and plantenga clearly conveys the magic that is or was Paris. 

Entirely personal, and one-of-a-kind approach to Paris, plantenga successfully writes about a place that most readers of this book will be familiar with - yet, will discover new sensibilities and sensual aspects of a city well-lived, and reported by exquisite writers, for instance, bart plantenga.


Semiotext

I pretty much purchase anything that has the name "Raymond Roussel" on its cover. Which means, I read everything that is possible on this fantastic French writer. For me, Roussel is very much the ground zero of avant-garde culture, which is ironic, because Roussel pretty much wanted the mass audience, and by no means did he see his work as being a difficult read. The fact that he didn't have the masses, but instead had every significant avant-garde artist, poet, and writer as fans, well, at least he had emotional backing. 

If you dig deep enough in one's favorite literary bookstore or library, you can find books on Roussel in English. What is there not to like about him? He was rich, and he spent his fortune in producing his books as well as doing a big budget theater piece based on his masterpiece "Impressions of Africa." He had a limo/automobile in the 1900s that was probably the first limo, or at least a car where he didn't have to leave to go to the bathroom. He wore his suits once, and then never again. The ultimate dandy in a country (France) full of dandies. But his real brilliance is his writings. Word-play, amazing non-plotting, yet spectacular images of new machines, and even newer locations. One can think of him as an early pioneer of science fiction narrative. Mark von Schlegell wrote a beautiful and fascinating essay on Roussel, where he states the importance of Roussel's work in line with Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe. The thing with Roussel, in many ways, he predicted the Internet, and the method of artists who had their fortune, produce work for the consumer. 

Schlegell makes interesting sight into the world of Roussel, and how one shouldn't only look at him as a man of wealth (which he was of course) but also as a worker, who could work anywhere in the world. He built his car which is a combination of a mobile home as well as a workspace where he can do his writing anywhere in the world, with the help of a large ship as well. Him being mobile gave him the ability to see the world, but the real travel was always in his head and within the boundaries of his imagination. 


Da Capo

"Fug You' is a great snapshot of New York City Political/Hippie/culture circa the 1960s. The book reads like a journal more than a memoir, but that is perfectly fine. Full of documents, posters, and stuff like that gives the book a great flavor of its time and place. Ed Sanders was right in the middle of the 60s storm, and at the time, it seems anything could be possible. The sense of community is strong in Sanders' world, and it's interesting to note that as we read along the book, and it heads toward the 70s things turn darker, as well as the nature of New York City itself. Sanders is a terrific narrator/witness and lots of insight into the music business as well as the politic business. The Fugs were an important part of the scene, and this book covers that as well as the book business. I particularly enjoy his adventure as a bookstore owner/manager and dealing with the Yippie/Hippie/NYC life at the time. One can't go back in time, but this book in a very witty nature allows that adventure for the reader. The minus part is that it could have been edited better, but at the end of the day, it's a charming yet threatening cloud as darkness (Kennedy/King assassinations, Manson & Nixon) lurks around the scene.


Karma

"Like Art" is a journey through the advertising world through the late and much missed Glenn O'Brien. This book is a compilation of a column that O'Brien worked on for Artforum Magazine during the late 1980s. It's very witty and smart. O'Brien has an understanding of the advertising world, and he's not afraid of it. In fact, he embraces that world as one embraces art. He knows the difference between the two mediums of art and advertising, but the way he ties it in all together is an enjoyable read. There are not that many witty writers in the art world and O'Brien was a special presence in that world as well as in the world of fashion and pop culture. A wonderful prose stylist who will be missed by many of his readers.


Faber & Faber

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

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

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


New Directions
Sadly Julio Cortázar is dead, which makes it unlikely for one to either have a conversation with him or being in a classroom where he's giving a talk or lecture on literature. This new publication by New Directions will give us fans of his writing a chance to swim in his many seas of knowledge regarding Latin American literature as well as world literature. These series of talks he gave at Berkeley in 1980 is fascinating. Here you get his views on literature that took place by writers in various Latin Countries, but also, and more important to me, is thoughts on all of his published works. Not all authors can talk about their work, but Cortázar is very open to sharing his observations with this students, and the book is an excellent guide of sorts for both writers and readers. 

And since I'm Boris Vian's English language publisher, it's great to know that he appreciated and loved Vian's work.


Bloomsbury

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

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

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

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


Melville House
Mina Loy, a poet, and very much a major figure in European/American arts during the DADA/Surrealist era, wrote one novel regarding the relationship between a female and a male painter, who is a pain-in-the-ass. The book in parts is very funny, especially with Loy's character putting down the painter as sort of a drama queen. It is also very much a book of its time and place - Paris in the early 1930s, when Andre Breton ruled the landscape. This book is very much a poet's narrative. The language is deep and rich which jumps around narrative wise, yet, the strong leading characters keeps one turning the pages. A fascinating document but essentially it works on a fictional level. Most would read this as an insider's look into the world of Surrealists - but in the end of the read/day, it's really a relationship novel between these two characters. A wonderful writer. 


Duke University

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

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

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


FSG

A hard book to put down. Each page is a bite size narrative that is so well written and often profound, that you just want to take another page in, and then after that, another, and so forth. Tamara Shopsin, besides being a wonderful prose artist, is also an illustrator and designer. Some of the text is only a few paragraphs long on a page, to full page - but this is an epic history of her family, their friends, and the main star of the book, New York City, specifically Greenwich Village. 

Every page is a reflection of the classic New York landscape. One that I often imagined in fiction, films, and music. Reading this memoir, I have The Lovin' Spoonful as a soundtrack in my brain. No mention of the band within its pages, but that is what I bring to the text as a reader. The Shopsin family are well-known in the Village and beyond, due that they had a food market, which turned into a legendary diner. I've been there twice, and the food was incredible, but beyond that one goes there for the spectacle; the theater that comes with the restaurant. I can't think of another diner that is so enjoyable, as well as entertaining. The chances of being insulted by the owner (the author's father) are in the 70% bracket. Of course, it's worth taking a chance, because it's an amazing show. And again the food is great.

Tamara Shopsin's book captures the flavor of her family which in turn means classic New York City. Every page has a wisdom or philosophy either made by Tamara, or by the mom Eve, or dad Kenny. This is the book to have when one is feeling down or depressed. The life that comes off these pages is rich, brilliant, and hysterical. The sad thing is Manhattan has changed into a huge shopping mall mentality. Shopsin captures the moments why one would want to visit NYC in the first place, as well as a focused snapshot of life being lived at its intense pleasure.


New Directions

I'm fascinated with a writer's residence. Especially a writer like Marcel Proust, who lived in Paris, yet, couldn't stand outside noise. He had lined up cork in his room to keep sounds out, but alas, where does one stop, when it becomes an obsession. Ironically enough, or perhaps cruelty playing at fate, his upstairs neighbor was a dentist with his office right over his bedroom. Proust deal with this problem by addressing various correspondence to the upstairs neighbor's wife, Mme Williams. Often sent with flowers, compliments, or books. Proust, even at his wit's end, was a charmer. Any other temperament, it could have been war. Alas, it was more of a problem for the whole building to solve. The upside of this situation is that Proust and Mme Williams became close friends. She made music in her and husband's apartment, and often Proust complimented the sounds above. 

"Letters to His Neighbor" is a very brief small book. All the correspondence is from Proust, so you don't get Mme Williams commentary in the above narrative. Still, and not surprisingly, the letters by Proust are written so beautifully. One wonders if the world would be a better place on Social platforms like Facebook if writers of Proust's talents were on it? The book is beautifully translated from the French to English by the great Lydia Davis. Her afterword puts a focus on the relationship between the two neighbors but also comments on the Proust apartment which I found fascinating. There is even a floor plan of Proust's apartment. Also, we get what living inside Proust's headquarters was like. According to Davis, the apartment was stuffed with his family's furniture, and it must have been like the world within a world. 

"Letters to His Neighbors" is slight, but its the devil in the details, and gives some light to "Swann's Way" as well to his other volumes of the same series. Proust fanatics will want this, but again, it's the writer's lifestyle that I find of great interest. As a guy who sits behind his computer, I can imagine what Proust had to go through for his work. After all noise or quiet is a subjective view of the world.


The Visible Press

In the 1960s there were a lot of great 'film' related books that speak to the fan of the medium, but also express a viewpoint of the world as well. Thom Andersen's "Slow Writing" reflects that series of perfect moments when I used to haunt the bookshelves at Samuel French and Larry Edmunds bookstore in Hollywood. 

Cinema was not separated from 'real' life - even Hollywood had to reflect on the outside world once in awhile. For me, and this is entirely a subjective view there is two type of fans of cinema. The one that gets into the merchandising and the inner world of that medium - mostly the comic.com generation, that offers a peculiar view of the world that is half-made up and almost have a will of steel in bringing that world up in their everyday lives. And then there is the cinema that reflects on the politics, the concerns, and the nature of being human in a world that's often unsettling. These two sometimes go hand-in-hand, or more likely take two separate highways to get to their destination. "Slow Writing" is a book that reflects on the 'outside' world but through the medium of the cinema. It's a fantastic series of essays focusing on Ozu to Christian Marclay, Warhol, and for me an obscure filmmaker Pedro Costa. 

Thom Andersen writes clearly and doesn't have the slightest whiff of academia confusion or stance. He's a guy who goes to the movies and thinks about them afterward. His interest in politics, film noir, and the Hollywood Red scare era is a toxic seduction to get the reader involved with 20th-century pop cultural history. It is also a world that bites very hard and doesn't let go of its fans or those who dwell in the history of the urban landscape - especially Los Angeles in this case. "Slow Writing" is a perfectly paced book. The essays blend into the others as if one is bathing in its water. Over the years I have read great books on film, and "Slow Writing" is without a doubt a classic volume on the subject matter, as well as commentary on Los Angeles seen through the medium of film, and how that reflects on the actual world, that most of us dwell in. 


Wakefield Press
Jonathan Swift comes to mind while reading Tony Deuvert's "Odd Jobs." The set of stories takes place in a village, and all focus on particular occupations that are held in this village. Or is it even the same village? Nevertheless, there are occupations such as 'the snot-remover,' 'the wiper' (he cleans your ass and collects your poop) and 'the fondler' who skillfully jerks off boys, and so forth. I imagine if you try to locate this specific village it may be difficult. Therefore we're lucky that we have Tony Duvert to lead us to a world, of his own making, and beyond that, a savage satire on family culture and practices. Duvert is a writer who is very sensitive to the concept of family, and how cruel that system can be on individuals and more likely children. A controversial writer in France, the late Duvert reminds me of Fassbinder the filmmaker, in that he too attacked systems that eventually oppressed a class or the public. A social commentator, as well as a very dark humorist, "Odd Jobs" is a remarkable piece of work. Like his "District" (also published by Wakefield Press) this book is a fantastic (although not necessarily) companion to "Odd Jobs."



The band Television means a lot to me. Even before I heard a note of their music, they had great importance to me. I saw a photo of the band when Richard Hell was in it, and I was intrigued by their visuals. I liked the haircuts and their clothing. It was no frills and all attitude. I must have been around 18 or 19 when Television hit my consciousness. Not long after, but for sure after Hell left the band, I purchased their single on Ork Records, Little Johnny Jewel" at my local punk rock record store, Bomp Records in the Valley. I heard a sound that matched their vision. To this day, and we're talking 40 years later, Television is still a mystery to me. 

I have read a lot of books regarding the New York music explosion of the 1970s, including "Please Kill Me" (an excellent book) and various memoirs by musicians of that period (all of them are pretty good). Still, what is Television? And on top of that, who is Tom Verlaine" Richard Lloyd who was one of the remarkable and fascinating characters that came out of the "Please Kill Me" book and even more important, a brilliant guitarist in Television. Verlaine and Lloyd were the bookends, and Billy Ficca (drums) and Fred Smith roamed between those two. Verlaine was and is the primary composer for Television (Hell, when he was in the band, shared songwriting duties, and is brilliant), but that group is constructed like a piece of architecture. Lloyd was part of the building blocks to build this magnificent sound that is Television. 

"Everything Is Combustible" is a remarkable memoir, due that Lloyd is a good prose writer and a fascinating guy. Very straightforward, yet metaphysical in his approach to his life, and even with his addictions. He has a mind like a scientist, who wants to analyze the things and people in front of him or in his sights. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Lloyd tries to look at his drug addiction clearly and showed frustration when a medical doctor tries to get him to a 12 step program. At the time, Lloyd wasn't interested in quitting drugs; he just wanted to know in detail the nature of addiction and how it affects the brain/body. In such fashion, he reminds me of William S. Burroughs. To investigate the 'unknown' and somehow try to make it more 'known.' 

Lloyd writes his memoir as if it's an original science paper. When he attaches to something, he doesn't let go, until Lloyd masters whatever he desires. His guitar obsession is singular and it's his devotion to the instrument that made him such a remarkable musician. He's egotistical in a sense he knows what he can do, yet his appreciation of other artists are quite open and in its way, a strong focus on him as well. He casually knew Jimi Hendrix as a teenager. I gather he wanted to know what made him such an iconic and fantastic musician. He doesn't look at Hendrix as a fanboy but like a scientist studying in a laboratory. For the mystery part, that is still a mystery to me. The reader gets facts regarding the inner-workings of Television, but what made Tom Verlaine be such an odd fellow? Richard Hell in his memoir wrote about Verlaine, and they were great friends, yet, I didn't feel Hell could penetrate the mystery that's Tom Verlaine. Lloyd doesn't get any closer to Verlaine's character, but you do get great stories about him not using luggage, but laundry or store bags to keep his clothing. The fact is Verlaine is a very strange being and somewhat guarded. One gathers he is a control freak and wants to be in control of Television, but what was it in his background that turn him out that way? Lloyd doesn't answer that question, nor do other memoirists/music historians. 

"Everything Is Combustible" is a must-read for those who are fascinated with the CBGB's New York rock world. For whatever reason, or what was breathed in that Manhattan air, concerning that generation of musicians, they left a lot of great literature for us to read (and music too) and for us fans to comment on. Lloyd's book is pretty wonderful in that sense. Superb read.


University of California Press

Paul Bowles, the writer, meets Bowles the composer, who wrote music criticism in the 1940s. The critiques he wrote in themselves are not that fascinating, but what's interesting is the culture that was presented in New York City during that era, and the coverage of the mainstream media at the time, with someone smart and brilliant as Bowles covering the "Waterfront." 

Bowles as most of us knows as readers is a writer of great skill but also wrote from a great distance. His work, especially his short stories, is reporting another culture, which is odd, strange, and unknown to the westerner. In a sense, Bowles was the head ant investigating the other culture for food and music and reported back to the American culture of that and future time. What you see here is Bowles, primarily a composer at the time, writing about various music recitals/concerts that took place in Manhattan. The majority of the events are classical recitals, but there are some side trips to see jazz (at mostly big venues) and folk (again, in major concert halls of the time). He doesn't go to jazz or folk nightclubs to do his reporting, but mostly to places like Carnegie Hall and so forth. So, in a sense, he's reporting on music culture, not for the specialist, but in most cases for the casual reader who looks through the newspaper for local news or events. Some articles he did write for special interest publications, but even these pieces are geared for a broad readership.

As a writer and a publisher, as well as someone who loves music and music criticism, I find Bowles extremely important. For one, I love his music, what I have heard so far, and two, it's fascinating to notice his 'place' in that society that was New York. He was very interested in other cultures even in the 1940s, and often it seems like he went to South and Central America to discover new music, but was disappointed to realize that even then, countries were officially hindering certain type of music for a more commercial take on that world. Bowles also covered film movie music for a specialist magazine in that field. As far as I can gather, he would go to see the film, and just report on the music how it was used in the film. That's interesting! Also, he reviewed books on music (again, mostly classical, but some books on jazz) as well as recordings. So he was probably one of the earliest critics to talk about records, for a well-read journal/newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune. Also, there is an interview with Bowles, one of his last conversations with an interviewer about him working as a critic. That alone is a fascinating document. 


Faber & Faber

Music artist Billy Bragg's history of Skiffle is a remarkable book. For those who don't know, Skiffle is music made in the United Kingdom by people (not all trained musicians) who used homemade instruments, including guitars, to perform blues and folk music, mostly that came from the United States. Lead Belly was the leading performer and songwriter that these young British musicians admired the most, and generally, it is their version of his songs which became popular and in turn, inspired rock 'n' roll in England. Nothing is by itself, and this narrative has the cold war politics as well as how the recording industry operated and tried to control their airways. The power of the teenager, both as a creative force as well as an economic strength is part of this story as well. Bragg did a magnificent job in capturing this large movement on these pages. The book is full of fascinating characters such as Ken Colyer, Lonnie Donegan (Skiffle's Elvis in one sense), Joe Meek and the whole traditional jazz scene, especially in Soho London. 

I have always been fascinated with the post-war years in London, and "Roots, Radicals and Rockers" is a wonderful journey into the world of contemporary music of that time. Also, fascinating to me is how another culture borrows from another to make something new. I would also recommend this book to anyone who is interested in British Punk rock because they share a similar DIY practice.


Kiddiepunk

I read "Novi Sad" on the bus where my destination was at the barber for my haircut, and I didn't want to go home till I finished the book - so I ended up in a local bar to read the entire novella. It's a very moving book regarding the subject matter of imminent death, the loss of an important person in one's community, and the presence of the world that is not going to get better. A gang of young people, who are barely existing, are located in an abandoned hotel waiting for their 'leader' of sorts. They go through an abandoned and destroyed city to find the lost one. Not to give away the details of the plot, but it is very much a haunted work I think dealing with sadness and the acknowledgment of one who has passed on to the other side. 

One of the characters in this short narrative is named "Blue," and the pages in this book are on light blue paper. I was reading it in a dark bar, and the blue is a nice bath for the eyes, but also in tuned with the character "Blue," as well as the story being sort of a version of the blues. It's a beautifully designed artbook by Michael Salerno and published with great love by Kiddiepunk, who works by the way, with Dennis Cooper. The images or artwork fits in greatly with the narrative. A really nice package. A great read. Now, it must be yours.

- Tosh Berman, December 22, 2017



























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