Monday, March 19, 2018

"How To Be A Brit" by George Mikes (illustrations by Nicolas Bentley) - (Penguin)

ISBN: 978-0-241-97500-8 Penguin

I'm attracted to the Penguin classic design book and when I saw "How To Be a Brit" at the Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles, it brought back memories of me going to used bookstores in London and finding old Penguin paperbacks from the 1940s.  That it has illustrations going through the entire book is an additional plus.  I didn't buy it.  Two weeks later I saw it at a Tokyo bookstore that has an English language section, and they had a stack of this title.  For sure, the perfect book for the foreigner visiting another country.  Still, I didn't buy it.  It wasn't until I got back from Japan that I went back to The Last Bookstore, to locate this damn book. I did and went to the library to get other titles by George Mikes.

I have a fascination with books by foreigners writing about another culture. Mikes originally came from Hungary and lived in London for most of his life.   In a sense, he became more British than the British, and on top of that, he knew there is a cultural difference between the British and everyone else.   Some of the commentaries are out-of-fashion, but for me, that's not a problem.  Even the subject matter is not that important to me.  What's important is Mikes' language and his funny observations that border on being stereotyping, but that's OK. 

"How To be a Brit" is actually three short books put together.  "How to be an Alien," How to be Inimitable, and "How to be Decadent," which sadly has no Sadian touches, but more with how the every day British treat themselves. Nicolas Bentley's illustrations throughout the book are charming, funny, and a reminder of Robert Benchley's world.  In fact, there are traces of Benchley in Mikes' work.  Both are the absurd humorists commenting on the everyday life of... well, people. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Jun Togawa Japanese Singer on Tosh Talks

Jun Togawa Japanese Singer on Tosh Talks

Togawa Jun (aka Jun Togawa) is an amazing and important music figure in underground Japanese Pop Music. An associate of Yellow Magic Orchestra's (YMO) Haroumi Hosono, and mostly releasing her albums on his label, Yen Records. Togawa was in a band called Guernica, with Composer Koji Ueno and artist/lyricist Keiichi Ohta, that brought up images of Pre-war Japan, a time that flirted with Western decadence. Togawa released a series of solo albums in the 1980s that to a Westerner sounds like a crazed combination of Sparks, French Yé-Yé, with a touch of Kate Bush. Most of her musical roots are in Japanese or Asian folk music, but she does acknowledge Serge Gainsbourg and even Rosie & The Originals' "Angel Baby." John Zorn and Jim O'Rourke are both fans, and you should be as well! - Tosh Berman, your host of "Tosh Talks"

To read my review of Jun Togawa's "Suki Suki Daisuki" go here:

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Amore Hirosuke Swing Dancing and Music on Tosh Talks

Amore Hirosuke Swing Dancing and Music on Tosh Talks

I have known Amore Hirosuke for over 25 years.  Amore is a graphic artist/fine artist as well as a master on the subject matter of Swing Dancing (Lindy Hop) as well as Swing Music. I interviewed the King of Swing in Tokyo, and we discussed Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Cab Calloway, Louis Prima,  Fats Waller, Slim & Slam, Gentle Forest Jazz Band (from Japan) and Duke Ellington.  Amore and his partner-in-crime Lulu Yoshida are magnificent dancers.   Tosh Berman, your host for "Tosh Talks."

Monday, March 5, 2018

March 6, 2018 (Tokyo) by Tosh Berman

March 6, 2018
I've been going back and forth to Tokyo for the past 29 years. What's odd is that I still don't know the city that well. Tokyo is not a noun but a verb. It's consistently moving and changing, with some practices and places not changing much at all, while other areas change drastically. The best way to learn to maneuver the Tokyo landscape is going by yourself. Having someone show you places is a must as well, but after that, I think one will learn more about this metropolis if you go and just wander without a thought in your head where you're going to or heading towards. 

One can literally spend all your time in one neighborhood and never get tired of it. If you are bored in Tokyo, then there is nothing that will save you. The entertainment, the shops, and the walking pleasures never stop. It is probably best for a sane mind is to be very focused on what you want to do in Tokyo. One can choose almost any subject of interest, and find it here in this city. I do go to the bookshops and record stores because that's a major interest in my life. On the other hand, if you're into food, the aesthetic taste never disappoints. People-watching is an art form as well. 

In a fashion, Tokyo reminds me of Los Angeles, not in its physical space but dealing with the city within a city. Each neighborhood or ward has a specific feel or aesthetic. Sometimes it's very age orientated - there are teenage places as well as locations for adults, and one can see that while walking down the street. Most of the streets don't have names, so finding places is a total mystery to me. One is consistently going back and forth on a small road to find that specific spot. It's very much part of the process. 

Yesterday I headed toward my home here, and at 7PM the subway and trains were packed. One should never go against the crowd but go with the flow of the people. I was pushed into the train and my body was physically connected to at least three people. I feel like I have taken over their bodies, and one feels like they're sharing the same breath as the other. It's neither bad or good, just a daily occurrence at a specific time when on the public transportation. I have a genius in locating areas that no one goes to, and therefore I get that privacy I adore so much. - Tosh Berman

Saturday, March 3, 2018

March 4, 2018 (Tokyo) by Tosh Berman

Jun Togawa
March 4, 2018 (Tokyo) by Tosh Berman

I spent a great deal of my time today at RECOfan in Shibuya.  Those who know me are quite aware that I’m addicted to vinyl record buying.  It’s an obsession that borders on a sexual disorder.   Before I left for Tokyo, I made a pledge that I wrote in my notebook that I would not purchase one album on this trip.  In fact, I will not even go to a record store.   After making this promise to myself, I felt right about it.   To eliminate an obsession or a passion cleans the soul.  I decided that what’s important to me is to make new friends here and be entirely devoted to listening and understanding my fellow human beings.   Everything went well until I arrived to meet a friend in Shibuya. 

I arranged a meeting at a location that is a distance, or at the very least; I thought it was,  from any record store, and it was at the Shibuya Beam that our get together was arranged.  I was supposed to meet him at the anime shop on the fifth floor, but another person in the elevator was going to the fourth floor.  As he left the elevator, I notice it was RECOfan, one of the more exceptional music stores in Shibuya.   Without thinking or even remembering my pledge, I got out of the lift. 

My friend is ordinarily late, so I thought there is no harm in just to look around.  As I searched in their new arrival section of used records, I found a copy of a Jun Togawa album that I have wanted for years.   The album is called 好き好き大好き, and it has been since the 1980s that I wanted this masterpiece, yet could never find it on vinyl.   I then remembered the pledge, but then thought ‘how can I possibly pass this up, and it’s only 1,900 yen 

As I held it in my hand, I started to feel guilty.  I was thinking of the luggage issue, as well as adding another item in my household, which apparently I have no room for.  Perhaps it’s best that I give the 1,900 yen to charity?  Then again, I thought that I could write a story about this album, and therefore it can be a tax write-off.   At that point, I have decided I was working, and then with my grip on the record, I went onward to my next purpose in life.  To find more albums.  

Around two hours later, I found a rare copy of Japan’s “Quiet Life” album.   What’s unique about this record is that Japan is a British band, and to buy a Japan album in Tokyo struck me as ironic, which will be put to good use in my story.   Overall I spent four hours in RECOfan, and I only purchased two albums, which I was proud of.  It meant that I’m not an addict, but a careful buyer or consumer.  Oddly enough I forgot about the meeting with my friend, and it was important because it was a job.  Nevertheless, life goes on, and as darkness approached the sky, I whistled a tune off 好き好き大好き and went back to my room in Meguro. 
- Tosh Berman

Friday, March 2, 2018

March 3, 2018 (Tokyo) by Tosh Berman

March 3, 2018, Tokyo

A dear friend of mine claims that jet-lag doesn’t exist.  Therefore I don’t have a reason for falling asleep in front of a bowl of miso soup.  What woke me up was the sound of the bowl breaking, and finding a piece of tofu on my eyebrow.   As I raised my head, I noticed other customers at this elegant restaurant was looking at me in such a manner as looking at a public drunk.  Speaking which, the sake glass remained unharmed to this mishap.   I do what I normally do in such situations by pretending nothing happened.  If one can do this with great conviction, you can get away with murder.  For example, President Trump uses this technique over and over again.   The idiots of the world stand significantly against embarrassment. 

I’m here in Tokyo to specifically write for a publication I work for which is Facebook.   They recently made changes in their format, due to Russian activity on their site.  From now on they will only hire professional writers to do the posts.  Which means they send me to foreign lands, as well as time-to-time write for individuals who use Facebook as a social platform.  There are countless people who are real, but they hire me to handle their posts.  So, I ask them if there are significant changes in their lives, which can mean a death in the family, moving from one location to another, or a new job, stuff like that.   It keeps me busy but the beauty of it with the power of the laptop I can pretty much do my occupation anywhere in the world unless someone pulls the plug out of this Internet thing. 

Tokyo is an exciting city due that they have buildings.  They have lots of buildings. Some even have windows where one can look at other buildings in their space.  As one can gather, some streets lead to these buildings, and some have front entrances.  Sometime today I’m going to enter one of these buildings to see what’s up. 

Meanwhile here are photos of me on Singapore airlines.  No seats were available, so I pretty much had to stand up in their small bathroom for 11 and a half hours.  The coach section is tight space wise, but if you occupy a bathroom, there is leg room and tiny room for a small hand-luggage.   The consistent knocking of the bathroom door gets annoying, but again, and like above, I just pretend nothing is happening.

Not able to speak a word of Japanese, except “ah-so,” which I understand can be even Chinese, but I’m not sure about that, is a stumbling block in business meetings as well as trying to find something to eat.  I have always read about how great their vending machines are, and I found a machine in an arcade. It is one of those claw things, where if you put a few hundred yen in the thingy-twiggy you can with some skill, grab food out of the closed-off section, which my understanding is to protect the food from outside germs.   I managed to get a piece of bread, and apparently, it doesn’t taste like any bread I have eaten before.  Still, when hungry, you have to keep your chin up and just pretend nothing happened. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Rod McKuen on Tosh Talks

Rod McKuen on Tosh Talks

The first show where I focus on an artist that I really don't care about, or do I?  Rod McKuen on the surface is the sort of figure that I never cared for, yet, as I dig deep into some aspects of his work, I'm interested in the connections he has between himself and Jacques Brel, David Bowie, the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, and the whole fake "Beatnik"world, with respect to an early album by McKuen, "Beatsville."  The number one selling poet in the 1960s and 1970s, who wrote terrible poetry, is still, as one scratches on the surface, I find something of greatly interesting about his life.  Which shows, that all artists have some sort of spark that one may miss or not be aware of.  "Tosh Talks" Tosh Berman.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Les Rita Mitsouko and Catherine Ringer on Tosh Talks

Les Rita Mitsouko and their vocalist Catherine Ringer is magnificent. For me, probably the essential French pop music artists, along with Serge Gainsbourg and Edith Piaf.  The band is actually a duo consisting of Ringer and her late husband Fred Chichin.  Tony Visconti produced two of their albums "The No Comprendo" and "Marc & Robert," which also features Sparks (Ron Mael & Russell Mael).  Their first album was co-produced by the great German producer Conny Plank.   After Fred's tragic passing, Catherine made two solo albums "Ring n Roll" and the very recent "Chroniques et Fantaisies."   For me, Les Rita Mitsouko reminds me very much of Iggy Pop's "The Idiot."  There are traces of Sparks (of course) and T Rex in their sound, but still, Fred and Catherine were (are) a unique music force.  On "Tosh Talks" I chat about their brilliance and the French Rock world.  - Tosh Berman

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Andy Warhol Screen Tests on Tosh Talks

Andy Warhol Screen Tests on Tosh Talks

Andy Warhol is too huge of a subject matter for one show. So, on "Tosh Talks" I focus on the Andy Warhol Screen Tests, as well as the film "Empire," which is his portrait of the Empire State Building. Warhol did a series of portraits of people he worked with at his Factory, as well as those who just stopped by like Dennis Hopper, Ann Buchanan, and Edie Sedgwick. "13 Most Beautiful..." is a superb DVD released by Plexifilm. "Andy Warhol Screen Tests" edited by Callie Angell is a must-have book for anyone who is interested in Andy Warhol as well as his cinema. This is one of my favorite episodes. - Tosh Berman.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Phil Spector on Tosh Talks

Phil Spector on Tosh Talks

At times I feel like I made up Phil Spector in my imagination, perhaps due that he's a figure that seems cinematic more than human to me.  I love everything he has done from his first 'band' The Teddy Bears to The Righteous Brothers to The Crystals/The Ronettes, and the entire 'Wrecking Crew" world.   Here on "Tosh Talks," I explore the darkness in his work, which at times reminds me of Martin Scorsese and David Lynch's exploration of evil.   Gerry Goffin and Carole King's incredible song "He Hit Me, and it Felt Like a Kiss" as well as the nature of the girl groups all play in the cinematic world of Phil Spector.   To Know him is to love him.  Still, that's troublesome.  - Tosh Berman

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Mademoiselle Bambù" by Pierre Mac Orlan and Illustrations by Gus Bofa (Wakefield Press)

ISBN: 978-1-939663-25-2 Wakefield Press
Pierre Mac Orlan is a combination of mystery and a total delight. In such fashion, he reminds me a bit of Blaise Cendrars, but more of a figure that is abstract to me. "Mademoiselle Bambu" is a combination of detective/crime fiction mixed in with avant-garde touches of the time. It's a book that is dreamed more than written, but that's a sign that Mac Orlan is a fantastic writer and a literary adventurer. Wakefield Press outdid themselves in putting this book (text) together with the original illustrations by Gus Bofa, whose work is pretty magnificent throughout the book. Also a salute to the translator Chris Clarke for his work on this book.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

David Trinidad Swinging on a Star on Tosh Talks

I have a great love for David Trinidad's book of poems "Swinging on a Star on Tosh Talks"  Here I gush about his book especially "Ode To Buddy Holly."

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Scott Walker Sundog Selected Lyrics on Tosh Talks

Tosh Talks special!  I give a lecture (Tosh Style) on Scott Walker's music, image, and his new book of selected Lyrics: "Sundog."  (Faber & Faber).  I even do a bit of Scott, of course, in my own style. - Tosh Berman

Saturday, February 3, 2018

"Sundog: Selected Lyrics" by Scott Walker (Faber & Faber)

ISBN: 978-0-571-32857-4

The great beauty or sadness of Scott Walker is how slow he moves in the 20th century.  From the very beginning as a teenage singer to now is a magnificent journey.   There are many who have long careers either in writing or music, but Scott Walker has always been a consistent quality-artist, who took his time, and not waste our time.   "Sundog: Selected Lyrics" is a remarkable book just focusing on Walker's lyrics.  As I read them, I can hear the music, but also I try not to listen to the melody that comes to the words (due to memory) and take the text away from the song.  It's very clear to Walker and to Eimear McBride, who wrote the introduction, that these are lyrics and not poems, but to me, there is a fine thread standing between poetry and lyrics -especially in the mind of Scott Walker.  

"Sundog" is part of a series that Faber and Faber have been publishing over the years. For instance, there is a Jarvis Cocker book of lyrics as well as Billy Bragg.    I suspect that Cocker may have something to do with the series, because he was (or still is) the editor at F&F.   They all have the same elegant design and reading the Jarvis book as well as Scott's, they stand alone as literature.  Walker is a genius in what he does.  Reading the lyrics without the music in the background is like watching sculpture made out of words.  In this sense, to me, he's very much a poet.  He's not a lyricist in the sense of Cole Porter or Elvis Costello, but more of a sound artist who uses words.  The brilliant aspect of his lyrics is that Walker can write about terrible violence or emotional distress but be funny at the same time.  He has this incredible talent for throwing in one or two words or phrases that cut the violence of the piece and make it almost like a music hall entertainment.  It's the contrast between his words, which are carefully written and thought out.  When you hear his music, the words sometimes matches with the intensity of the sound, but a lot of times he throws in something ridiculous and it's really funny.  The intensity of the work lightens up, but never loses its seriousness or purpose.  It's a balancing act.  In a way, it is like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" yelling out "Here's Johnny." 

"Sundog" is superb poetry, or if you wish, song lyrics.   I read the book in one sitting, but I'm going to go back to it again and again.  The textures and how the word (or wordings) are placed on the page is equally important to the spaces in his music - where you reflect on what's happening aurally, as well as the sound mixing in with his magnificent voice.  Great book.

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Swinging on a Star" by David Trinidad (Turtle Point Press)

ISBN: 978-1-933527-97-0 Turtle Point Press

A small book that's gives out big awards. David Trinidad's book of poems "Swinging on a Star" is perfection at work. A poet who always keeps his vision and language in an exceptional form. I think I'm around the same age as Trinidad, and the pop cultural references that are in his poetry fits my or our generation greatly. For anyone outside that world, the poems are inviting and will bring new discoveries to the new reader. For me, it's like dipping into a pool of great pleasure. Some of the poems are simple imagery, and others are like biting into a ripe fruit and enjoying its freshness and the different textures that come with the taste of that first bite. 

It's always dangerous to compare one poet to another, but I think anyone who enjoys the work of the so-called New York School of Poetry such as Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, James Schulyer, Kenneth Koch, and Barbara Guest would appreciate David Trinidad's poetry. I mention the above poets because they too filter pop culture within their work, which brings their world a larger landscape for the reader. The longest piece here is one of Trinidad's greatest poems: "Ode to Buddy Holly." Here he writes about the visit to Holly's hometown, and where is he is buried, Lubbock Texas. For me, who loves Holly's music, this is an incredible impression of the man, his burial grounds, home, and the nature of his death through the means of a plane accident. It's a moving poem that works on various levels. For one, Trinidad is a good reporter (through poetry) and how he recounts his time at the location, and how poetry brought him there, is him coming to a meeting with Buddy Holly as a fellow artist. The greatest gift from one artist to another is an appreciation and how that person's work sinks into the other's

"Swinging on a Star" is another fantastic book by one of the great American living poets. Also a nod of my hat to Turtle Point Press who has a history of publishing great books.

* I intereviewed David Trinidad on my cable TV show from the 1980s "Tea With Tosh"  You can see it here:

John Cale New York in the 1960s on Tosh Talks

John Cale is without a doubt, a major figure in music. Along with Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Moe Tucker, Cale played a huge role in The Velvet Underground.  Cale brought in the influence of experimental and drone music.  About ten years ago, the record label Table of Elements put out a five-disc box set (a real wooden box by the way)called "John Cale New York in the 1960s."  A brilliant packaging of early experimental music by Cale with the assistance of Tony Conrad, Angus MacLise, and the great artist/performance artist and filmmaker Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures).  Here on "Tosh Talks" I focus on this particular box set and the way he used a portable reel-to-reel tape machine manufactured and designed by Wollensak, as well as the Hungarian instrument Cimbalon. - Tosh Berman

Sunday, January 28, 2018

"The Garden of Eros: The Story of the Paris Expatriates and the Post-War Literary Scene" by John Calder (ALMA)

ISBN: 9780957452213

Along with Grove Press's Barney Rosset and the legendary Olympia publisher Maurice Girodias, John Calder is part of the powerful trio of visionaries who presented and published remarkable literature in the 20th century.   "The Garden of Eros" is both a literary history of publishing as well as a memoir of those years.  Calder also wrote "Pursuit" which is interesting, but also in the need of some editing.  "The Garden of Eros" is a better book that focuses on a huge subject matter - publishing in the 20th century.  The subtitle is correct, but rather limiting when one reads the book.  Paris is pretty much the focus with respect to the publishing history, but it also deals with the Paris Review crowd to Terry Southern to Alexander Trocchi, who is without the doubt, one of the great characters of the 20th century - both in a good, but a mostly bad way.  In fact, Calder's book may be the best with respect to writing about Trocchi's sordid history as writer and junkie.  The book is gossipy, as well as information regarding Trocchi, but also Girodias, who is an important figure in not only publishing but in his troubled relationships with his writers.  Henry Miller, Beckett, Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles, Alain Robbe-Grillet and so many other writers/ personalities are in this volume of delight.  As a publisher myself, I can easily identify myself with the Maurice Girodias and John Calder passion for making books and presenting authors - even those who wrote DB (dirty books).  An important document on publishing and its incredible personalities that ran into that world. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lou Reed on Tosh Talks

Lou Reed is a huge subject matter that one can't or shouldn't put in one package.  He represents not only himself but an entire pop culture of his lifetime.  The Velvet Underground was the flip and darker side of The Beatles and the Summer of Love.  Like many, The Velvet Underground and Nico (with the Andy Warhol cover) was my gateway to an adult version of rock n' roll.

Anthony DeCurtis' biography of Lou Reed is a fun and informative read on this iconic figure. More important, "Lou Reed: A Life" introduced or reminded me of Lou's later work.  For instance the album he did with Metallica, "Lulu."  A masterpiece that is just as great as "Berlin," "Transformer," and "Street Hassle."  David Bowie commented to Laurie Anderson that he felt "Lulu" will be considered to be a masterpiece in the future, and in fact, is his best album/work.  I agree. Painting in the background is a portrait of The Velvet Underground and Nico by Lun*na Menoh - Tosh Berman, Tosh Talks.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Paul Knobloch Translator Writer on Tosh Talks

Literary translations to me are extremely interesting.  My press TamTam Books mostly focuses on translations of novels by Boris Vian, Serge Gainsbourg, as well as the biography on Gainsbourg written by Gilles Verlant. Translator and writer Paul Knobloch discusses his work and the issues one has to deal with when publishing Boris Vian.  Also a detailed look in how one chooses the right phrase or sentence while doing a translation.  A very informative interview on this subject matter as well as on TamTam Books.  Tosh Berman, Tosh Talks.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Philip Glass Composer on Tea With Tosh Part 2

This episode of "Tea With Tosh"  is part two of a two-part interview with the great American Composer Philip Glass.  We discuss the nature and difference between the Opera/Theater and film soundtrack composing. At the time of this interview (1987), Glass finished his soundtrack work for the Paul Schrader film "Mishima," based on the works and life of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.  Glass was very easy to interview.  He had a professional attitude about doing interviews.  He told me that every Wednesday (at that time) he set aside the time to talk to the press/media.  He's an engaging person, and also talked about his opera "Einstein on the Beach" and other operatic works such as "Satyagraha, "Akhnaten," the film "Koyaanisqatsi," and his 'pop' album "Songs from Liquid Days." One of the great 20th century composers. - Tosh Berman, Tea With Tosh