Friday, December 27, 2013

"My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles" Edited by Peter Biskind

Totally a readable can't put it down book, but in the end, it is also a very depressing book. Over a period of time, the independent filmmaker Henry Jaglom had a series of lunches with Orson Welles at his favorite restaurant, and taped all their conversations. The first question that comes to mind is why would Welles want to have his conversations taped, especially when it deals with nitty gritty business issues? The second horrible thing is that Welles comes off as a bitter broken down guy who is basically full of anger and seems not to be able to really comprehend why he is not part of - then circa 1984- film industry. 

I think what it comes down to it is old-fashioned insecurity. There is no doubt in my mind that Welles is a fantastic filmmaker, and even personality - but there does seem to be a problem with focus in his life. Also I wonder why Jaglom never funded or actually produce a Welles film? Yet he is with him complaining and bellyaching about this and that. In a funny way he comes off as Iago to Welles Othello. 

Welles is also has harsh opinions on individuals which I think are totally unfair, and worst, makes him an over-sized cry baby. The book he did with Peter Bogdanovich is pretty great because one, it exposes Welles' strength as a filmmaker and figure, and two, it also showed his catty-side. This book, only shows his catty-side, and it is not a nice portrait of a man, who like Nixon, shouldn't have his conversations taped.

"Jane & Serge" by Andrew Birkin (Taschen Books)

The book unfolds in front of a reader/looker slowly like water pouring into sand.  At first the photographs by Jane Birkin's brother Andrew, who by the way is a Peter Pan expert and an interesting scriptwriter on top of that, are extremely intimate.  It is sort of like going to a stranger's house and looking at their photo album, and then all of sudden you recognize a famous face in the background.   There is something lovely and sincere about these images, but it becomes more clearer when you read the little booklet that comes with the photo album. 

 Andrew Birkin writes a very moving narrative that goes with the images in the book.  Each photograph is annotated with a commentary of some sort that is separate from the actual book of photos.  But what makes this a really special deal is Andrew's essay about his feelings for his sister and Serge Gainsbourg himself.  He loved him.  And he loves his sister and the children as well.  But the little booklet adds a context to the picturesque narrative - and like all family albums there is sense of sadness or that life won't be like this forever.   Some of the most beautiful images are of Kate, the daughter of Jane and her first husband John Barry.   The sad irony is that Kate passed away after the completion of this book.  Nevertheless, along with my production through TamTam Books (Gilles Verlant's fantastic bio on Serge "Gainsbourg") and the recent 33 1/3 study on "Melody Nelson" one gets a fantastic picture of life as lived by Jane and Serge. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"The Boy Detective" by Roger Rosenblatt

Ecco ISBN:  9780062241344

I picked this book up at the Strand, mostly because I was interested in how the author wrote about his childhood and especially it's location, New York City. A wonderful read especially on the L train from Bushwick to 14th Street.

What's impressive is that the book is both a memoir as well as a study on the nature and beauty of detective fiction. The mixture of his love for that type of literature and location is really great. If you want a narrative that goes from A to B forget about it. This is a haunted look back to childhood and New York itself. Very reflective with a side of noir.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

E IL TOPO Red Letter Edition No 1 stories by Steve Piccolo with Special guest John Lurie

The beauty of bookstores is going in and not expecting anything.   Just let the moment rule your heart and the head will follow.  It was that in spirit that I entered Printed Matter in New York City and found this charming publication.  E IL TOPO is an oversize journal with oversize Red letters and no visuals, just text.  That alone made this magazine or zine a pleasure.  The additional and even greater pleasure is reading the text by Steve Piccolo with a piece by John Lurie.  Both writers were in a great jazz band called Lounge Lizards.  The beauty of their music is not only in that medium but also in their prose as well.  

Although it reads as memoir, the cover clearly states the works as stories, but nevertheless Piccolo's work is really good.  Slices of childhood memories as well as Lower East Side New York & Italy life fits in the landscape and his observations on the everyday in front of him is both grand and in smallish details, which makes the work very human and beautiful.   There is also a great wit in his writing.  To me it is the ideal literature from New York City.  Like the town itself, it has nine million stories and this is only one narrative.   Piccolo captures the moment perfectly.

The Lurie piece is equally great and fits in perfectly with Piccolo's writings.  Lurie writes about a moment which was a turning point for his music and also his observations on a funeral or two, and his part in the proceedings.  Very funny.  If you are a fan either of his music, paintings, or his acting - this is another medium where he spreads that Lurie magic on the page and makes it shine.  I'm hoping both writers will eventually turn out larger works - maybe a memoir each?  Now that would be fantastic. 

For those who would want a copy (and you really should) contact Printed Matter in New York City.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Honored Twice on Dennis Cooper's The Weaklings Blog

"Sparks-Tastic" by Tosh Berman.  Painting by Lun*na Menoh (Rare Bird Books)
A very good day for me, because on Dennis Cooper's great blog I was honored twice (2 times).  One for my book "Sparks-Tastic" which was chosen as one of the top reads in his non-fiction category and this blog as one of the best blogs of 2013.

What is fantastic is not only being noticed by Mr. Cooper, but to be in such great company of writers, bloggers, filmmakers, and music-makers.  Truly a great honor.  Thank you sir!

Read it here!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"A Brief History of Curating" by Hans Ulrich Obrist

One time in my life I thought it was only the artist that matters.  But alas, it is very much like the music world.  There is the singer/artist, then there are the arrangers/producers.   If you map it out there is the artist,  the curator, and then the audience for that art.   Or perhaps the curator is a translator?   Nevertheless this is a fascinating collection of interviews done by curator/writer Hans Ulrich Obrist on really cutting edge curators from the 60's, 70's era and upwards.

It is good he started with Walter Hopps, because I think he's the curator with the most strongest identity of sorts, in that he's a legend (rightfully so) and in many ways an artist himself.  The way he looks at exhibitions is more of an aesthetic thing than a business decision.  So with that as the foundation, Obrist goes on with numerous interesting individuals regarding the art of the exhibition and the politics of museums.  But mostly this is a very up-beat look at the inner-world of a curator and what they do.  Obrist asks very pointed and clear questions to his subjects, and they themselves come up with an answer that exposes not only their thoughts but also there love for the artist and their medium.   But beyond that it is also a book about 'Taste' and what that means to the world, especially when you use taste to promote a specific vision to the world.  A very specific world I might add.

By nature i think a curator is very much a show-and-tell type of character.  It is someone who is totally turned on by an idea or a work and needs to expose it.  That is it.  Also the skill of the curator is also social skills, because you need to communicate that idea to others who may not be in your particular world.   Not that far from the book editor or publisher in that sense. Nevertheless there is not that many books on the subject of curating, so this makes it important, as well as an enjoyable read.   In the book he interviews Lucy Lippard, Hopps (as mentioned), Pontus Hultén, and Anne d'Harnoncourt among others.   Dip into this book, because you are going to pay a lot of money for it once it goes out of print.

"In The Words Of Sparks... Selected Lyrics" now sold at the Official Sparks Mart

Go here to purchase "In The Words Of Sparks... Selected Lyrics" edited by Ron Mael and Russell Mael, with an introduction by Morrissey.  Published by TamTam Books

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Favorite Listening Experiences for 2013 (in no special order of course)

The Jazz Age by The Bryan Ferry Orchestra

When I first heard about this album, my first thought was two simple words "oh no."  But alas one must never underestimate the talent and genius of Bryan Ferry.  This is probably the most played album this year for me.  I like to listen to music while writing or thinking and this record hits that sport for me like if I am wearing a bullseye on the back of my shirt.

Everything he did here sounds terrible on paper, but when you put the vinyl (and this album must be heard on vinyl) it becomes magic.  Basically Ferry went through his songbook from mostly the Roxy Music years and had his songs arranged in a 1920's jazz style - with that added touch of the 78rpm sound level.  Being Ferry of course it nostalgic, but he treats  nostalgia as an art form.  Just when you think you got Ferry figured out, there is always a touch or a brief act of pure genius on his part.  Overall I think Ferry is strange enough, one of the great underrated artists in the pop music world.  Eno gets a lot of credit, but Ferry really did make wallpaper music (ambient) with some of the later Roxy recordings as well as the solo material.   

The Next Day - David Bowie

Just the fact, in this Internet NSA age, Bowie was able to keep the recording of this album a secret till his announcement on his birthday is amazingly amazing.  But then against all reason, it is a Bowie masterpiece.  In my opinion this albums flows from the first cut to the last song, and without a doubt it is an album by a man who is 66 years old (although smashingly handsome) and coveys interesting enough about the world around him.  Still glam, and always will be glam.  There is nothing about this album I don't love.  From the graphics to the baritone sax, a brilliant piece of work. 

Where Are We Now? - Momus

Within hours of the release of the first David Bowie video off "The Next Day," Momus made his own version of the already classic "Where Are We Now?"   When I heard this version I cried.  You can only get this song through YouTube, with an incredible video attached to it.  The Momus version is much more sinister, but it is also sadder to me as well.  When I hear this, it is obvious that Momus understands the Bowie thing and it is clearly a tribute to the artist.  But alas if I have to choose between the two recordings, it would be the Momus version.  Even Bowie, through his website and Facebook page acknowledged Momus' tribute/recording.  It is truly an amazing recording.

Turn On The Music Machine - The Music Machine

Normally I don't listen to new music.  I am still hearing stuff from the past which is almost totally new to my ears.  Of course I knew the song "Talk Talk" and loved it.   It wasn't till this Fall that I picked up on a vinyl mono copy of "Turn On The Music Machine" and got my head totally turned-around.  I didn't expect it to be this great.  The covers on the album ("96 Tears," "Taxman") are good, but the original material on this album are superb.  "Come On In" I think is one of the great songs I have ever heard.  That and "Masculine Intuition" makes this record a work of genius.  Also the slow burning sensuality of their version of "Hey Joe" maybe the best version  yet of that song.  The thing is I knew The Music Machine was good, but I didn't know they were great.  Sean Bonniwell the Machine here was a fantastic songwriter. 

The Beatles White Album - Rutherford Chang

About six months ago a friend of mine sent me a link regarding the artist Rutherford Chang and his project of documenting and collecting versions of the album “The Beatles” better known to the world as the “White Album.”   Chang has around 900 copies of the album, and as an exhibition he had a pop-up store of sorts in Soho New York, where he had a record store that only exhibited the “White Album.”   Some may find the concept humorous but I was almost moved to tears when I saw the images of this exhibition.  It made me think of the importance of the record store, and of course The Beatles themselves.  Specifically the importance of the “White Album.”

Chang took the next step and made a vinyl release of “The Beatles” which is the album overlaid 100 times.   Even the famous iconic album cover and packaging is overlaid many times over from previous covers over the years.   But how does this work as a listening experience.  Well, I have the album, and it’s a masterpiece.

First of all the album itself is beautiful.  The cover at first looks like the White Album, but re-done by some lunatic with an ink pen.  But then you realize the overlaid aspect of the cover and this is sort of a Frankenstein monster, where all the parts become something new yet familiar.  The album comes with a glossy poster of 100 White Album covers, which is worth the price alone for this incredible package.

One would think that the sound would be totally chaos, but alas, it is actually a meditative work of superb beauty.   The album works on so many levels.  There is the layer physical aspect of having this album in your hands and admiring the artwork.  It is both a tribute to the original source as well as seeing how art can move on from its source intro something else. That is part one of the enjoyment, the other big part is the sounds itself.

The layering of 100 recordings being roughly played at the same time makes this a dreamy utopia.  The vinyl sound of the needle and the clicks itself are so human and beautiful, then you hear something like Eric Clapton’s solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and it takes one into a blissful state.  Due to the delay there are no tracks between the songs, it is all one piece and the sheets of sound that comes up time-to-time is amazing.  “Helter Skelter” instead of being this harsh rocker, becomes a sonic wave hitting the beach and returning back to the ocean.  “Bluebird” which has a beautiful melody keeps that intact, but the textural aspect of the song comes out like you are underwater listening to music. 

Right now I have to imagine that this album won’t be around forever, but surely the remaining members of The Beatles as well as the estate surrounding the fab four (especially Yoko) will realize that Chang made an incredible tribute to their music, yet it goes beyond that.   This is the most impressive album I have seen or heard this year — or decade so far.  You can hear side one  on Sound-cloud, but even that, it doesn’t capture the beauty of this vinyl on your turntable producing these incredible sounds for your ears and yes, eyes as well.

For almost like all my entire life I have had troubles regarding Van Dyke Parks' first solo album "Song Cycles."   It took me a long time to appreciate this man's genius, due to the fact that I found that album impossible to get into. I never (to this day) heard such an original piece of work.   And then as soon as I got it, he released a sequel to that work (at least in theory).  It's a great album.  From the packaging and the idea of having the double album as 45 rpm, well it is sort of the nerd vinyl release.  Nevertheless it follows through the sounds of "Song Cycles" but updated to 2013.  Lyrically, not musically.  It is still a hard-to-define piece of music, but it is sort of demented Americana which makes it charming and challenging at the same time.  "Song Cycled" is simply a great album.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wallace Berman's SEMINA 1955-1964 ART IS LOVE IS GOD published by Boo-Hooray

Just now I received a copy in he mail of my Dad's (Wallace Berman) book "Semina 1955-1964 Art Is Love Is God" published by Boo-Hooray and I have to say it's a brilliant production of a book.  Simple design (not easy to do) exposing each segment of Wallace's Semina project.   Every issue layed out, includes a booklet of text as well.  A fantastic job from Johan Kugelberg, Bryan Cipolla and the fine folks at Boo-Hooray. 

Also keep in mind that there will be an opening this Sunday December 8 at the Boo-Hooray, with a special live appearance from John Zorn.   For further information and pre-ordering this book go to the website here:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Boris Vian's RED GRASS Write-UP in Three Percent

A beautiful little write-up from the Three Percent blog.  From Sarah Gerard.

Also it is wonderful to have this book in such great company.  Read the blog here:
Here's the write-up:
Red Grass by Boris Vian (trans. Paul Knobloch)
I’m currently reading this book and am already completely blown away by it. While I’m not sure I can do it justice here, being that I’m still in the middle of it, I can already say that Vian’s (and Knobloch’s) sentences are some of the most lively I’ve ever read, and that the allegorical nature of the story rivals Kafka and Wells in its grace and complexity. It’s not exactly science fiction, but neither is it exactly Surreal. It’s something entirely its own – no other writer has done what Vian’s done here