Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Singin' In The Rain" by Peter Wollen

A BFI Book published by Palgrave Macmillian ISBN 9781844575145

My first introduction to "Singin' In The Rain" was when Alex was raping a woman in "A Clockwork Orange."   My second visit to "Singin'..." is  Peter Wollen's small book length study of the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen film.   Strange enough, for a hardcore cinema fan like myself I have never ever seen this film.   Yes, I have seen every Fred Astaire movie at least twice, but "Singin' In The Rain" never!  Yet, that didn't stop me from enjoying this critical adventure into the world of Gene Kelly.

I read this book today, in one gulp on my couch, in a temperture that is around 90.  Therefore by an open window with a slight breeze I was taken into an artificial world that Gene Kelly made - a world that was beautiful.   At least conveyed in the text.   This book works on many levels.  One Wollen argues the importance of dance as an art, but also as an equal companion to the cinema art.   Griffith to Chaplin and of course the Kelly/Astaire world had made a language for the film world that was and is totally open to dance.   Wollen writes about the beauty of this combination, but with a strong critical eye.  Also his in depth almost frame-by-frame look at the famous Kelly dance of the leading song here, is playful and informative.  On top of that the reader also gets the political world of the early 1950's and how that played out in the Gene Kelly world.  The book is an enlarged 70mm snapshot of a specific time with a very specific film with an iconic artist.  Strange enough there isn't that many critical studies on Gene Kelly's work, which is a shame.  But with this back in print....

And Wollen adds a kick-ass annotated bibliography that's extremely informative.  It is sort of like him taking you by the hand and showing you the book titles that are important.  For Dancers who need information regarding the dance history, this is a good book to pick up.  For everyone else... well I am going to see the film!  Peter Wollen wrote a beautiful tribute, analysis, and dance/film history in one slim 87 page book that has no wasted space.  Essential!

"Lucy In The Mind Of Lennon" by Tim Kasser

Oxford University Press, 9780199747603

A very odd book by Tim Kasser who is a Professor of Psychology, on the subject matter of John Lennon and his wonderful song "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds."  First of all, a Psychologist looking into Lennon's mind seems so un-rock n' roll like.  Two, it sort of creeps me out that someone can do this without actually meeting or talking to the patient of sorts - Mr. Lennon.

So basically Kasser is getting his information second and third hand, and I think he's reading too literally into a work that's art - which in mind comes from numerous places in the Lennon brain and out there in the world.  There is nothing wrong in writing a book like this, but it is also not that interesting.  I think Kasser states the obvious, and it would have been more interesting if he focused on the culture or the roots of this song.  And maybe in his eyes he did that, but I feel "Lucy..." is about the '60's, London life, as well as the world of Carroll (Alice) and Lennon's insecurity.  I think Lennon was a genius in getting something raw and polishing the work till it becomes something else.  And I would say he did that for his brilliant debut solo album as well.  It is personal, but on a bigger plane it is about feelings, and pop songs are basically the graveyard and platform for 'feelings.'   Lennon knew that, and that is what made him the artist that he is.

"Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band" by Rob Jovanovic

In one word to describe the band Big Star: Iconic.   Like the Velvet Underground, Ziggy Stardust, and the early to mid Kinks, the work is faultless.  Big Star is part of that grouping due that they made music at a specific time in a special city that's Memphis.   To make such perfect noise in the Memphis landscape is quite remarkable.  Does that genius come through the Memphis tap water?  Sun Records, Stax, and then Big Star.

Rob Jovanovic did a great job with respect to research and capturing what makes Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens' music so special.   The one sour note, and it is not the author's fault, that he didn't get to speak directly to Chilton, who without a doubt, is probably one of the most interesting figures in contemporary pop music.  Bruce Eaton's  book on Big Star's "Radio City" (part of the 33 1/3 series) is a much better book, due that he had actually had a relationship with Chilton, and Alex was willing to talk to him.  Through that book one finds out he was devoted to Civil War history,and was quite knowledgeable about Memphis and New Orleans history.  Plus he was totally devoted to the world of Zodiac signs - and had a long interesting relationship with the great photographer William Eggleston.

But by no means does that mean one should ignore Jovanovic's book.  Its a very good (and detailed book, especially the early years of The Box Tops) bio on a band that is endlessly fascinating.  So do get this beautifully produced edition (by the great Jaw Bone), as well as Eaton's book on "Radio City" and the masterpiece by Robert Gordon "It Came From Memphis."  The beauty of the Alex Chilton narrative is one gets a bigger picture of Memphis as well as American music.

Also Read:


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Let There Be Drums... Tribute To Alan Myers Part 3

Alan Myers remarkable musician.  Amazing (one-of-a-kind) drummer, and an incredible human being. whenever I look at my lighting at home, I think of him.  The lights are bright.

Jean Paul Yamamoto "Candy In The Dark" with Alan Myers

Jean Paul Yamamoto "Sex Never Looks Good" with Alan Myers

Jean Paul Yamamoto "Man Automated" with Alan Myers & Shin Kawasaki

Swahili Blonde

Alan Myers remarkable musician.  Amazing (one-of-a-kind) drummer, and an incredible human being. whenever I look at my lighting at home, I think of him.  The lights are bright.

Let There Be Drums.... Tribute to Alan Myers Part 2

Alan was not only kind enough to play with my wife Lun*na Menoh's band 'Jean Paul Yamamoto' but also added brilliant touches to the arrangements/songs.  For whatever reason YouTube doesn't allow me to Embed the video - so I'll do separate videos here.  This is "Starbuck's Hyper Bitch."  With Moeko as well!

Let There Be Drums... Tribute to Alan Myers

DEVO "Gut Feeling" / Slap Your Mammy" France, 1978

DEVO "Mongoloid" / "Gut Feeling"  1977, New York?

DEVO "Smart Patrol"/ "Mr. DNA"  1977, NYC

DEVO live in their early years as they were making the noise. Alan's drumming is the engine that made these live shows so intense and powerful.   During this time I went to every show when they played in Los Angeles, and it was like someone smacking you in the head.  The beat and rhythm was relentless.  Often I wanted to stand right behind Alan to see if it was a magic trick of some sort.  It wasn't.  He was the greatest drummer of his generation.  No doubt about that.

DEVO "Satisfaction" (Official Video)

DEVO "Satisfaction" France, TV

DEVO's total re-worked version of the Stones classic.  Alan at (one of his) best.

Skyline Electric @ Unknown Theater

Skyline Electric, July 7, 2007

Another side of Alan's interest is improvisational music.  Skyline Electric served the purpose of making music in unusual settings and locations.  I have seen one or two performances through out the years, and both were exceptional events.
Swahili Blonde (With Alan on drums)

Will continue with the subject matter in another blog.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Nice Guys Don't Work In Hollywood" by Curtis Harrington

A wonderful memoir by a man of great taste and sort of the bridge between American avant-garde filmmaking and Hollywood.  It's strange one doesn't get the sense that Curtis Harrington passed away a couple of years ago by reading "Nice Guys Don't Work In Hollywood."   It sounds like he is very much with us, and alas, at least in this book, he is.

For those who are not in the know, Harrington was very much into the underground and overground of American cinema.  He knew and worked with everyone from Kenneth Anger to Bette Davis.   My favorite film of his is "Night Tide" starring Dennis Hopper as a sailor who comes upon a mermaid in Venice, California.  Or is it a mermaid?   Nevertheless it is one of the great Los Angeles films, that is both haunting and beautiful at the same time.  One of the great extras you get with this book is his short story that became "Night Tide."  Its a great little narrative, and its nice that its included with this book, as well as his essay on the films of Josef von Sternberg, which is compact and full of information regarding the slightly decadent work of this fillmmaker.  As I mentioned Harrington had taste.

My only complaint is that he didn't write more about working with Kenneth Anger or the artist Cameron.  I imagine there are readers who will go to this book for more information regarding these two remarkable artists - but still, this is an enjoyable read on a figure that's important to the Los Angeles landscape.

"Night Tide" (Complete film)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wallace Berman's Poster for The Cinema Theater in Los Angeles 1963

 I just found this on an E-bay site.  Its a poster my Dad Wallace Berman made for The Cinema Theater in Los Angeles.  I believe the year is 1963.  The poster itself is on newsprint, so its very rare to find a good copy of it.  Nevertheless I think it's a remarkable piece of art.  Above is the poster, and down below are detailed images of the poster.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Mandy, Charlie & Mary-Jane" by Stewart Home

For reasons I don't fully understand, since I live in Los Angeles, I love novels by Londoners when it has London in its narrative.  Stewart Home maybe my favorite London novelist in the 21st Century, and I am saying 'maybe' because i haven't read every novel by him.... yet.  But nevertheless his new novel "Mandy, Charlie, and Mary-Jane" is a superb piece of work.

Like his other writings, this novel runs on different pistons of the engine.  Its a commentary on culture, its politics and the by-products of that culture - for instance film.   The slasher film to be more specific, and at times the novel is a consumer's (in a hysterical way) guide to the films that are out there.  Someone (not me right now) should list all the albums, bands, music artists, as well as the filmmakers and their films that are listed in this novel -  which comes to mind that one day there will be an annotated edition of all his works.  But till then the reader can pick and choose the references that are posted in Home's work, and just go off into another adventure.   And in some cases the author goes into detail about those references, which I always finds fascinating.

The one of many aspects of Home's aesthetic that I love is his take on cultural history set in a narrative.  One is reminded of other books, for instance, "American Psycho" but i think Stewart is much more entertaining and in-tuned into London culture and all its by-products that I love so dearly.  Future historians will look back on Stewart Home's novels as set pieces of their time.  A cultural historian who writes fiction; that's Stewart Home in a nutshell.

"1,274" by Tosh Berman (Part 9) Associates

Les Inrockuptibles article on Tosh Berman and his book "Sparks-Tastic"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"1,274" by Tosh Berman (Part 8)

"la boutique obscure: 124 Dreams" by Georges Perec (translated by Daniel Levin Becker)

Dream diaries are usually only interesting between the person who is having that dream and their doctor.  Beyond that when someone comes up to you and says "I have a dream and its..."  Well, your first thought is to run away.   But alas what we have here is a dream book by the great Georges Perec, and even though it is his dreams... it's still not that interesting.

The best and greatest dream book is Michel Leiris' "Nights as Day Days as Night."  Actually one of my favorite all-time books and for god's sake it's a dream journal.  But Leiris maybe a more twisted character than Perec, and not as conceptual.   So "la boutique obscure: 124 Dreams" starts in 1968 and ends in 1972,  probably the most fruitful of his writing years.  I imagine that he started this project with a beginning and an ending -perhaps taking over the role of an actual everyday journal.  But i am just guessing here; what we do have is little narratives by Perec, which shows his dream world is very straight forward in a sense.  At least one gets the sense that there is a beginning, middle part and then end.  Like Godard, not always in that order, but there is a sense of some sort of organization within the Perec dream world.    Leiris on the other hand is more sexual (and there is sex in the Perec dream world) and a tad wilder.  Also his imagery is more poetic and seductive of sorts.  Perec is sort of listing his dreams for maybe a future analysis.

But the best part of the book for me is the end index, where he list categories like "Staircases" and the color "Red" for instance - and he mentions how many times he had a dream with the color red in it and so forth.  Which comes to mind on my own writing project, which is not about dreams, but I am writing something that is very systematic, and I realize that some of that came from Perec and his work.  So, yeah its interesting but mostly for the writing process than anything else.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Revolt Into Style: The Pop Arts" by George Melly

It took me forever to locate "Revolt Into Style" and finally I found a copy at my neighborhood record store.  I couldn't even find it via the Internet - so hooray for the neighborhood store (Rockaway Records by the way.)

But now that I have located the book by the legendary blues singing Surrealist bi-sexual dandy George Melly - I find it slightly boring. The hint for it was more exciting than reading the book.  But saying that it is still an unique look by a crazed Soho figure on the British pop world of the '60s.  So it's very much a period piece of that decade.  He write most of the book in 1969, and therefore the subject matter was still happening while he wrote this book.

For a gent that was born during the '20s his attitude to the '60s generation is pretty hip, but you still get traces of his jazz past.  The book is divided by music, films/theater, fashion, and literature.  The problem with the book is that Melly didn't go far enough with his personality regarding his subject matter.  I suspect he was paid by a paper for most of these observations. But still a collectible and a must for a Mod obsessive reader.

Monday, June 10, 2013

"Jeff Koons" by Hans Ulrich Obrist (The Conversation Series No 22)

Part of a fascinating series of books of interviews by Hans Ulrich Obrist, where this is number 22 and its subject is the artist Jeff Koons.  An artist i never think about.  In fact in a darker mood I can actually hate his work.  But about six months ago I saw a documentary of him working in his studio with his assistants and it was fascinating.  And he himself came off extremely charming and smart.

This book continues the charming aspect of this artist's personality but i still have difficulty with his work for some reason.  Maybe because it's too obvious to me, or I just don't like the way he plays with kitsch subject matter.  But I truly believe he is beyond the kitsch level, but also it is interesting that one of his favorite artists or one that is important to him is Dali, which makes perfect sense, looking at Koon's work.  They both love the surface, and both have a mythology of sorts that they deal with.  Obrist and his partner-in-crime the architect Rem Koolhaas asks the right questions, as well as being very straight forward as well. 

Jeff Koons is a man of taste, and he's super aware of all the aesthetic aspects of art, and I think he's more into art than say art economics.  So if one likes his work, I can totally understand that.  

"Imaginary Paris Vol. 1" in Le Bathyscaphe

Not exactly a great photo reproduction of my article in the latest issue of Le Barthyscaphe but nevertheless a remarkable publication out of Montreal.  The newspaper journal is bi-lingual, but this issue features my first column for the paper:  "Imaginary Paris."  The subject matter is Michel Legrand.

Read more about Le Bathyscaphe here:

Benefit reading for Le Bathyscaphe with poet Charles Plymell.

Charles Plymell with Pam Plymell

Interview with Tosh Berman

Friday, June 7, 2013

"The Trouble With Being Born" by E.M. Cioran

The king of despair?  No, actually he's very funny and witty in his own way.   This collection of aphorisms are single bite-fulls of wit, smartness, and for me a sense of beauty or understanding of the world out there.  In his point of view it is not facing death that's the problem, but the fact one is born in this world -well, that's the problem. 

For me this is the ultimate book to read before a nap or outside on the patio - watching trees sway or traffic go by and then reading bits and pieces of "The Trouble with Being Born," well, its paradise of sorts.