Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Francis Bacon In Your Blood" by Michael Peppiatt

978-1-63286-344-7 Bloomsbury Publishing

Michael Peppiatt's memoir of life with the great painter Francis Bacon is rich in alcohol and every expensive meal they ate.  If Peppiatt added recipes to this book, it would have been one of the great cookbooks of all time.  On the other hand, we have lives here that spent the greatest of all possible times.   Depression is around the corner, but when you're drinking the finest alcoholic drinks and eating food like today will be your last, it is hard to feel sorry for the participants in Bacon's life.  The one thing I love about Francis Bacon is his mystique.  On one level, he's very obvious and seems to be easy to read, but the truth is that he's' quite a complex character.  

Peppiatt's memoir or narrative mainly takes place in Soho London and Paris.  One can't imagine Bacon existing in another city than those two.   Bacon, is without a doubt, one of the great citizens of London.   Who wouldn't want to spend time under his expertise as a guide to the underworld of various expensive restaurants, nightclubs and numerous (often seedy) bars.   In his world, painters as well as East-End gangsters show up, and is a heady mix of a sense of danger and having a great meal at the same time.  

"Francis Bacon In Your Blood" is just as complex as its subject matter.  Peppiatt is known for his excellent Bacon biography "Anatomy Of An Enigma."   Of the two, the biography is the better book.  The memoir here is almost like a sketch book of notes regarding the author's time with Bacon, which overall, was pretty intense.   Bacon, I suspected, that once he liked you, one is forever in his circle till he either destroys you or fatten you up - and in no way or fashion could I have existed in his world - just on the drinking and eating of extremely rich foods.  The fact that he lived to the of 80-something is remarkable, considering his drinking and eating habits.   The excess of his life is fully exposed in Peppiatt's memoir, and what is interesting is how one can survive such a pleasurable nightmare.  

Peppiatt does all the right things in his book, but I feel it needs a stronger editorial help.  A lot of the stories are repeated by Bacon (as they were in real life), but not necessary in a book form.   This is a huge book, and I think it would have been a better read if it was half its size.  The only thing that I found interesting in Peppiatt, besides his closeness to his subject matter, is when he became an editor of "Art International."  Mostly due to my interest in publishing.  If he was going to write on anything else besides Bacon, I would have liked to read actually more about his publishing a magazine.   The fact that Peppiatt is straight and compared to Bacon's other colorful friends, he doesn't come off that interesting.   I'm not clear why Bacon found him so interesting enough to put him squarely in his world.  Perhaps he needed someone that was sort of neutral in his life, so he can talk.  Perhaps like one who confesses to a priest, he needed a listener who wouldn't have an attitude towards him.  And in most cases, Peppiatt was a very good friend and listener to Bacon's rants, complaints, and his love for the 'dirty' life of Soho London and elsewhere. 

Book is released in December, 2015.

- Tosh Berman

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Mallarmé on Fashion" by Stéphane Mallarmé (Edited and translated by P.N. Burbank & A.M. Cain)

ISBN: 9781859737231 Berg

The only reason I would be reading a book about a French fashion magazine that existed in 1874, is if there is something odd about the magazine and its editor.   In two words: Stéphane Mallarmé.    Whatever mysterious reason, Mallarmé, who is without a doubt one of the great poets that came from France, had a job where he not only edited, but also wrote the entire magazine, using various alias.    He managed to produce eight copies of "La Dernière Mode."   "Mallarmé on Fashion" is a pretty interesting book on multi-levels.  One, is the thought of such an avant-garde poet of his time and place, working on a fashion magazine in such complete control, as well as a bit of fashion history, but also the importance of fashion in French culture.   Especially in the 19th century.

Mallarmé writes as a woman as well as a man in this magazine.   The magazine is very formalized in its format.     As "Madame de Ponty" she writes about contemporary fashion trends in Paris, and elsewhere.   As "Ix" (now that is a mysterious name) he's a stuffy theater and book critic, and mostly has a certain amount of anger about music taking over text on the Parisian stage, and then there a food section, where they have elaborated menus and recipes.   There is also a correspondence section, whereas the editor, he gives fashion advice, and also a travel section as well, recommending travel points and where to stay on vacation.   At the end of the issue, Mallarmé offerer what is best in Parisian entertainment for that month or season.   He covers everything from music hall entertainment, opera to city parks.   It is very much like Time Out or Los Angeles Weekly directory.

Stéphane Mallarmé

Mallarmé was known to be interested in the decorative arts, so it's not a huge surprise that he would write about interior design of rooms, but his intense knowledge of fashion is totally new to me.   In an odd way, Mallarmé is actually critiquing the fashion world, but even more so, the fashion magazine.   I think he sees it as a window to what is happening culture wise - so readers now, get a unique portrait of Paris 1874, through the eyes of Mallarmé, but him using various identities to convey that world.  Again, it is clearly not known why he did this. It could have been for a paycheck, but it is interesting that he did so, by not just writing one column, or as editor - but doing it all!   In many ways, it was an upscale zine of its time.  He wanted to do more than eight issues, but the publisher (not him) pulled the plug on the project.

La Dernière Mode, 1874 (Edited and written by Mallarmé

"Mallarmé on Fashion" is very much a scholarly text book, and is geared for the lit-crit lunatic, but it is also an essential book on anyone studying Parisian culture of the 19th century as well as what 'pop culture' was like in those days.  Editors and translators P.N. Burbank and A.M. Cain do a great job in presenting Mallarmé in the hard (not delicate) world of high and low fashion.   Fascinating book.

- Tosh Berman

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Autoportrait" by Edouard Levé (Translated from the French to English by Lorin Stein)

ISBN 9781564787071 Dalkey Archive  

Without a thought in my head, I went to Stories Bookstore and Cafe in Echo Park, and decided to purchase a copy of Edouard Levé's "Autoportrait."   I have heard of this book through Dennis Cooper's blog, and reading about "Autoportrait" made me curious to go get the book itself.  After purchasing it, I went directly to the Echo Park Library, or Edendale Libray as it is officially known, to start reading the book.   I didn't leave the library till I finished the entire book. 

Once you start it, the writing of this short work of literature (not sure if it's officially fiction or memoir) is hard to stop reading.  Rarely have I ever read a book where I was compelled to read the whole thing in one sitting.  I'm glad that I did, because I think if one stops reading "Autoportrait," you would lose the rhythm of the language and sentences.   Basically "Autoportrait" is a collection of facts regarding the writer's life and thoughts.   There are sentences like "I get excited by the idea of reading the biography of an author I love, then when I actually do it I lose steam."   Which is perfectly factual in a sense, but I'm not sure if he really means all biographies he feels that way, or just some.  Perhaps the one's that are 'only' about his favorite writers.   The book is actually full of sentences that can be either meaningful and quite textural, or just the facts sir, in the style of Jack Webb's narration in the TV show "Dragnet."

For me as a reader, the textures and pacing of the language he uses is quite hypnotic.   As I mentioned it was hard for me to put down this book, not because I wanted to know what will happen in the end, but just where he is going with this style of writing and format.    The book is very similar to the writings of George Perec and Joe Brainard - two writers he mentions in passing in "Autoportrait."     Joe Brainard's "I Remember" is very subjective, because it is how he remembers a certain time in his life, yet Levé is working in the same format, but the results are different.   Perec likes to play literary games, and I think Levé was a fan of both writers (just what I read out of this book - by his style alone) that in many ways, reads like a tribute to Brainard and Perec.    "Autoportrait" doesn't have a lot of psychology, in fact, it is almost reading the surface of someone.  Yet, one picks up little clues here and there.  Towards the end of the book, he mentions a friend who before going out to play tennis he went back to the house to shoot himself.   Which describes a person who thought out his suicide, but then I started to think why did he make arrangements to play tennis with his wife.  There is a coldness in the text that is disconcerting.   I did know that Levé committed suicide, so perhaps he was thinking about the nature of taking one's life.  On the other hand, Levé seems to have a full-life before his end.  He traveled well, and it seems he loved and had relationships, so the mystery of why one would do something like that, is still a mystery in this book as well.  

When I read "I Remember" I get a full portrait of its author Joe Brainard.   I don't feel that way after reading "Autoportrait."   It is not a work of full exposure of a human being, but maybe just the facts of how one lives in their lives.    Brainard is like Proust, and Levé is a minimalist by design.   It is obvious he's a man who likes structures, or has a belief in the world of the system.   Yet, that specific structure doesn't tell much.  But then again, what is there to tell?  "Autoportrait" is a remarkable piece of literature, but it is also I think a good book about the art or the artlessness of 'good writing.   Those who write, should be for sure, read this book. 

Edouard Levé
 - Tosh Berman

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Sunday Series: Sunday October 25, 2015

The Sunday Series:
Sunday October 25, 2015

The eyes show your soul and the mouth shows what you’re really are.   I have a mouth of broken teeth.  Some are from decay, mostly due to fighting.   I have a face that people want to punch.  It’s odd, because I’m by my nature a very quiet man.  I never want to cause trouble onto anyone, yet, people seem to have great pleasure in hitting me in the mouth.   After getting hit, I never feel the pain, just a numb sensation that something has changed within me.   The first awareness is having your tongue go over the wound and the jagged surface of once where a tooth was in place.

Losing a fight is not a problem with me, but the vanity aspect of having my appearance changed, and therefore exposing a side of me that I wish was hidden from the public - especially from the females.   The first thing one looks at is the mouth, and you can see people judge one by how that area of the face looks.   I do it all the time, especially with strangers.  If they have a strange set of teeth, I wonder why.  I then imagine them if they had proper choppers, instead of the mess that’s in their mouth.   So why would anyone think of me differently.  A scar sometimes shows character, but a broken tooth is just what it is - a sign of failure of some sort.

I have to imagine what it must be like for a woman to kiss me with her tongue.  I have a chipped tooth that is sharp as a blade.  I often cause my lip to bleed when I’m deep in thought while reading a book, and all of sudden a sharp pain comes up, and I can taste the blood from my lip.   I have a fear of causing a puncture of a woman’s lips because of the teeth.  In fact, there is usually not a moment when I’m not thinking of my teeth.

I have often had dreams of losing a tooth, and it’s odd to lose that specific tooth in real life.  Due to the nature of my mouth, if one tooth is gone, it changes the entire landscape that is in my mouth.   In my dreams, I have noticed that there is a tooth missing, but I’m with a beautiful woman, and I’m hoping that she won’t notice the missing tooth in my mouth.   Then there is a feeling that she is aware, but not saying anything.  In fact, she is making some sort of judgement against you, or wondering why you don’t get your teeth fixed.   I feel the anxiety of poor dental care, not due to pain, but what others think of me.

Since I can’t afford a dentist, and on top of that, all of them are suspicious to me.  They all resemble that doctor I have seen in countless noir films, where the criminal is on the run, and he gets wounded - and someone calls a doctor at 3 AM in the morning, and they show up in some abandoned warehouse.  Well, that is what a dentist looks like to me.  For some reason or another, they don’t seem to be the same as an official or licenced medical doctor.  I don’t fully understand why they are different, or one needs a separate insurance policy for dental services.

Nevertheless, I neither have dental insurance or the money to pay for such service.   Therefore I decided the best thing to do is actually painted my teeth black.  I’m fascinated with Japanese women who blacked out their teeth.  They call it “ohaguro.” In the Meji period, aristocrats would have blackened teeth.   It seems my major problem is not the teeth, but I was born in the wrong culture, class structure, and of course, time.   But here, in Los Angeles, and on a Sunday, it is a dental problem.

I have read that Japanese military commanders who were hit in the face or head, would wear women’s make-up to disguise the scarring of the face.  On top of that, they would dye their teeth black.   Since I now feel disfigured by the gap in my mouth, I decided to dye my teeth as well.  My visual representation was a picture of a Noh mask.   On top of that, I also shaved my eyebrows, due to the fact that they are bushy and grew like a wild weed above my eyes.   If I can’t get rid of the ugliness of my face, at least I can have some power over the results of the violence, I have encountered.  If choice of being disfigured by nature or human violence, I rather do the scarring by my own hand.

There is the feeling that one would want to do a little bit at a time, but the anxiety that is within me will always make it feel like that it’s the main entry-way to my personality and very being.  To do things extreme, will show a sense of character on my part.  To destroy such a beautiful face, will free me in the long time.

- Tosh Berman

"The History of Rock" 1965 (UNCUT Magazine)

The History of Rock: 1965  (Uncut Magazine)

One of the great joys in my life, if sometimes not the only joy, is my introduction to the world of pop music.  My parents were consistently into music, and they have brought many recordings into the household that I eventually adopted as my own.   Early Beatle and Stones albums were for sure introduced by my parents, but in 1965,  at the age of 10 or 11, I became a consumer, by buying a 45 rpm single of the Yardbirds' "I'm a Man"/"Still I'm Sad."   How I got the money is something that is lost in history, but the memory of going to a record store in Westwood Village to purchase that single stayed glued to my brain or DNA to this very day.  By my nature I'm not a nostalgic person, but I would be lying to myself if I didn't admit that the year 1965 was an important one on many levels.   That December, we lost our home to a mudslide in Beverly Glen, and that included every possession I had at that time.   For sure, it did a number on my head, that even 50 years later, continues to exist in my DNA.

It pains me that I'm not into the current music world.  I would like to think of myself as being totally devoted to whatever is happening outside my home at this time and age.  But the truth is I kind of hate the world as it is right now.    The sounds I hear at the moment always reminds me of the past, and not in a good way.   On the other hand, the year 1965 was both rich in variety as well as being "new."   Oddly enough when I re-visit the recordings of that year, I'm still hearing new things.   There is a textural aspect of the records at that time, and when you pull back and look at 1965, one is struck how fast everything is.   What the Beatles were doing in January of that year is so different from what they recorded in December.  The same goes for the Stones and the Kinks.

Which brings up the fact that I was totally devoted to the sounds that were coming from the United Kingdom.   For one, I could understand the language, but still, it was from another world.   A fantasy world for me, due to the Beatles "Hard Days' Night" as well as the fashions that was coming out of that culture.   Pure teenage pop music, but for sure, with a tough jagged edge attached to the images.    For inspiration, I often go back to the 1960s to re-discover who I'm through my childhood years, but also for the unreal look of that era through its literature and especially the press at that time.  Which comes to UNCUT's special series of publications called "The History of Rock."

The first issue magazine is "1965," with others are being released on a monthly basis.  So far it is up to 1968.  I will get back to those as soon as I read them.   But now, I want to focus on the 1965 issue.    What it is exactly is re-prints of articles that were published in Melody Maker and New Musical Express in 1965.   Uncut Magazine editors did a beautiful job in making this glossy magazine into a visual treat, by selecting wonderful photographs of that era as well as choosing the right or correct articles of the time.   Besides the original interviews and articles, one also gets letters to the editor, the original advertisements that ran through the publication, and people like Dylan, Lennon and Harrison commenting on the newly released singles at the time.   So, one is getting a great snapshot of England's take on the new music that was being produced and distributed in 1965.

It's interesting to read articles and reviews as it happened, instead of people commenting on these records now in 2015.   Also you pick up trends such as bands making films.   The Beatles of course at this time did "Help" and "Hard Days Night," so it seems to be some pressure for groups such as The Stones making their feature-length film.    As well as others, but none of these films ever got made.   Most I think came from the Public Relations department of the management offices of both publications as well as the band's management.   The other is the "Dylan vs. Donovan" thread that went on in the press for that whole year.  One wonder if the Dylan and Donovan camp decided to promote this aspect of their careers at the time.  The beauty of reading these articles is seeing the genius at work with respect to Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham.   Both orchestrated the media to their liking, as if they had their own orchestras.

One has to presume that NME and Melody Maker had large teenage readership, yet the articles are not dumb down, and very intelligent in its own right.   Oddly enough, when I read celebrity news or magazines like People, it's really dumb.  NME or Melody Maker never took that route.  In fact, it's a world that is in love with the pop music world.  The charts, releases, the bands, the artists, and the managers are all authors in this particular era in England.   There is even a thoughtful interview with Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, so the magazine was willing to branch out to other forms or types of music, besides the teenager's world of music.

This is truly a superb piece of history as it happened, but edited and produced for today.   I recommend it highly.

- Tosh Berman

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Mandrake the Magician: Mandrake in Hollywood" by Lee Falk

"Mandrake the Magician: Mandrake in Hollywood"

Throughout my childhood, I was dedicated to one cartoon strip in the newspaper.   Mandrake the Magician had a natural pull for me, because I think I always was attracted to men who wore tuxedos and a top hat.  The fact that he was a master of illusional tricks as well as having a servant from Africa, appealed to my sense of exotica.   It seems like Fellini was a fan as well.  Nevertheless, I found "Mandrake in Hollywood" at my local library, and one sitting read the book.   It is composed of three separate stories that deals with Madrake's time in Hollywood as a struggling actor of sorts.   Even in 1938, the widespread media at the time looked at Hollywood as a cynical landscape.   The narratives are silly and actually not that important.  What gets my attention, besides re-visiting my childhood, is the character of Mandrake and his man-servant, and a good friend, Lothar.   Day in-and-out, he consistently wears his suit and top hat as he would wear on stage.  The sense of the stage and 'real life' is totally erased - and since it's a comic strip, we are allowed to accept that the wall between reality and fantasy doesn't exist.  To me, there is something beautiful about a personality like Mandrake, who commits illusions, not only for the purpose of entertaining, but also to fight criminal activity.  Mixture of showbiz with crime-fighting.    What more can one want?

- Tosh Berman

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Simply a Particular Contemporary" by Roland Barthes (Translated by Chris Turner)

ISBN: 978-0857422408  Seagull Books

It seems like throughout my life I have been reading Roland Barthes.  As a writer and a reader, I think of him often.  Mostly due to his thoughts on the nature of one's writing and how it "reads" out to a reader, but also his intensity in writing about things that he is clearly not an expert on - but what you get is Barthes point-of-view, and how he reads a certain object or place.   For instance, besides the various books by Donald Richie on Japan, which was essential readings for me, because one, I'm something of a Japan-olic and I have been going back and forth to that country for the last 25 years.  The one book that prepared me for Japan, before I touched the concrete of Tokyo was Barthes book on Japan: "Empire of Signs."  Along with Richie, probably the most essential book on Japan by a white European.

"Simply a Particular Contemporary" is a collection of interviews with Barthes, from 1970 to 1979, focusing on his writing, books and his interest in writers such as Bertolt Brecht and Marcel Proust.   With respect to writing, the one thing that impressed me, is his acknowledgment of the pleasure of writing.   This is a man who likes to put pen onto the paper and see what happens.  His brilliance is that he doesn't look at things in a factual manner, but more always as an open question.  What I get out of him is the adventure of knowing or writing, but not the conclusion of such a journey.    For instance, when I write, it is all for the glory of the moment, as I look back on something.  I think I got that from Barthes.  The four interviews within this volume are enjoyable, and it doesn't tell all (which I think is impossible with someone like Barthes), but for sure, a good time is spent with this man - and this book nicely reflects of a time well -spent.

- Tosh Berman

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Sam Dunn is Dead" by Bruno Corra (Atlas Press)

This totally obscure "Futurist Novel" by Bruno Corra, himself a very obscure Italian author, is a beautiful entrance from the 19th century sensibilities and into the 20th century wonder.   Written in 1914, and published by the Italian Futurist Filippo Marinetti, in 1915.  This brief 'novel' captures the moment where everything is possible, and the imagination is limitless.   There is a magnificent chapter "Paris Driven Crazy" where the beloved capital of taste, becomes a loony toon cartoon.   Objects rise up and march off in the streets, and things re-form into other forms.  Pre DADA, pre-Surrealist, and even more out there than Futurist text, Corra captures the essence of creation in a world that he knows.  Essential avant-garde literature of the 20th century.  A must for dandies and those who taste the fruits of nihilism.

I also want to add that this book, published by the excellent Atlas Press, is beautifully designed with original illustrations by Rosa Rosà, an artist who illustrated a lot of Futurist text in her time and age.  John Walker's (also the translator) introduction is informative, interesting, and well-documented.  Praise to those like Atlas, who continues to bring out European avant-greatness.

- Tosh Berman

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to Oldies on TV" BY Boyd McDonald (Introduction by William E. Jones)

ISBN: 978-1584351719  Semiotext(e) Active Agents

Without a doubt, Boyd McDonald was the best film reviewer ever. The thing is he wrote for a gay mag, and mostly on films he watched on TV late at night. He also had a zine in the 1980s that focused on homosexual sex "Straight to Hell." The brilliance of McDonald is that on a physical level he's very much part of an underground "gay" world, when there used to be one. Now, everyone is getting married and becoming taxpayers - but alas, there was a life that was lived in the shadows, and McDonald, a superb writer, captures that series of shadows that were shown on TV - mostly films from the 1930s to the 50s. The beauty of his work is that he mostly focuses on the actor's cock size or butt. But that is just the platform or foundation of his serious observations - here he marks the queer world where females act out certain passions, while men react to them. Or is it the other way around? "Cruising the Movies" touches on a lot of fascinating subjects - the nature of old films being shown on TV, before the world of VHS recording - in a way it is almost a coded, often secret, transmission from Hollywood to a gay man's sensibility. William E. Jones wrote a beautiful and insightful introduction.

- Tosh Berman

The Sunday Series: Sunday October 18, 2015

The Sunday Series:
Sunday October 18, 2015

Sunday? I really don’t get it.   Why is it everyone taking the day off on Sunday? Yet that is the busiest day for me.  I made a pact with myself to write a piece every Sunday, and then posting it on Facebook and on my blog that day.  To be honest, I haven’t the foggiest idea why I even do a “Sunday” post or piece.  It is not like people are waiting for me to write a Sunday piece.  I don’t think my 2,000 Facebook friends are getting excited when Saturday approaches, knowing that there will be a Sunday post by yours truly.    The truth is, 1,500 of those friends don’t even know me.  They could care less if I live or die, or even if I commit a horrific shooting in some part of the world.   But the 500 people out of that 2000 friends, are close friends of mine.

There have been times when I organized a party at my house for the 500 (that is what I like to call the group), and we do things I like to do, like “spin the bottle,”  “bobbing for apples,” and stuff like that.  I also make sure that within the 500, there are absolute beauties in that grouping.   If one spends time going over Tosh’s “friends,” your eyes would pop out.   I can’t tell you the many hours I have spent just going over each Facebook profile, to look at these girls.   The beauty of it is that they know me, and I know them, if you get my “drift.”

The “500," on a regular basis, meets up in a location of my choice. I even made a card up with a thumb up and underneath it says "500 Likes."  Each card also has the profile photograph as well as their name.    We were meeting at my house on a regular basis, but then we decided to rent out a whole restaurant, or even a small theater, where we do our own theatrical productions.  We don’t make plans, because the “500” is not into plans.  Boring people make plans, the “1,500” make plans, we make chaos.  500 beautiful bodies, souls, all moving into the inner melody that is among ourselves.   All I have to do, to have a good time is basically stuck my tongue out, and for sure, a beauty will capture my tongue and give it a proper message with their tongue.  It never fails, in fact, I usually enter the premise of the party with me sticking my tongue out.

I think our masterpiece is when I staged a version of Hugh Hefner's “Playboy After Hours” TV show.  The beauty of it, is that we based the live setting on a specific show - the one with Soupy Sales as guest.   I had each member of the 500 club memorize the dialogue that took place on the program.   We also did it in real time.  So if the show lasts an hour, then that is how long the live production plays out.   I spent a private and extremely intense time counting the bodies or people that were in that episode, and counted 50.  So 450 of us would watch the show.  I, on the other hand, took the role of Hugh, and I chose one of the beauties in the group, Kim, as my date and sort-of co-host.  It was pretty awesome.

In the summer, the “500” had a party, where all of us were naked.  It was great.  Seeing the images on Facebook, and then seeing these people in person, and better yet, in the nude - oh my gawd, it’s fantastic.  I arranged a game, where one walks into a big room, and all you can see were naked asses.  Their heads and torsos were covered up by a black cloth.  There are seven asses, and we had to match the ass to the correct face that is used in that person’s Facebook profile.  Who would have known?  I totally lost in this game.

The very name “Facebook” is interesting.   We have a need to put our face on a social media platform.  Most of us do so, because we want to connect with another human, or who we think is human.  It wouldn't work if we just showed our sexual gender parts as the profile, or would it?   If I ever fall down in my manor, better known as “The Dumps, ” all I need to do is post my face - and bingo!   At least 500 likes.    And then if that is not enough, you get comments from these people telling how nice you look, and saying they miss you, and so forth.   For me, Facebook is win-win.

- Tosh Berman

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"The Trip: Andy Warhol's Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure" by Deborah Davis

ISBN: 976-1-4767-0351-0 Atria Books

Andy Warhol, is blessed with having a lot of good books on him.  In many ways, I think he's the people's artist.  I like his artwork, but I'm not a huge fan.  On the other hand, he is really an artist that is not about taste, but more about production, vision, and how an outcast can influence a culture.  And no doubt, he is probably one of the most influential Americans ever.  Deborah Davis wrote a fascinating book on a specific car trip, Warhol took in 1963, with Taylor Mead and Wynn Chamberlain as co-drivers and Gerard riding in the back with Andy.  From NYC to Los Angeles (Santa Monica to be specific).   Or as Warhol says about Los Angeles, it's all Hollywood to him.

Warhol came at the right time, and of course, at the right place.  He had his second one-man show at the Ferus Gallery, and also started working on a film "Tarzan and Jane Regained... Sort Of.  Which featured Dennis Hopper, Taylor Mead (as Tarzan, of course), Wallace Berman, Naomi Levine as Jane, and Tosh Berman (me) as Boy.  Assisted by the incredibly talented Gerard Malanga, Warhol out of the blue decided to do a feature length film then and there.  Inspired by a freeway ride in the valley, they saw an exit saying "Tarzana," therefore why not do a Tarzan film.  There are many opinions about this film, and most people told me that they hated it - but alas, it is the ultimate portrait of Los Angeles art scene in 1963.  To me, it's a home movie.  Whatever it's art or a great film, that is not so important to me.   Warhol also went to the Marcel Duchamp retrospective at Pasadena as well.    1963 was a fab year, till Kennedy was killed in November.  Then things turned to shit.  But, this book is about things before the shit.

Although the foundation of the book is about the car trip from New York to "Hollywood," it is really an introduction to Andy Warhol's aesthetic and his social world at the time.  This is not a detailed critique of Warhol's work, but more of an appreciation of him but also the world of New York and Los Angeles art world of that time and place.  One also gets information about the Ford Falcon, and how it was designed to be the people's car.   Davis is a very good writer, and she has a grasp or a hold on the nature of Pop Art, and its by-products such as graphic design, billboards, and even commercial labels.  In my opinion, Warhol wasn't the first 20th century artist to understand the nature of the 'visual' world of advertising and the importance of public images seen privately or in the cushioned world of "fine art."   But he was clearly the figure that people attached themselves to - due to a mixture of his personality, visual appearance, and on many levels - his straight ahead approach to the world around him as an artist -which I think, people picked up on as well.  Warhol speaks to the masses.  And he did so without dumbing the issues or his vision down.

- Tosh Berman

Monday, October 12, 2015

"Boris Vian Invents Boris Vian" by Boris Vian (Translated by Julia Older)

ISBN: 9780985612290 Black Widow Press

I have thought of Boris Vian and his work everyday for the last 25 years.  I published all his major works in English, and spent a personal fortune in getting his books out to the world.  I did it, because I love him.  I love him and I love his work.  So, it's very odd for me to see "Boris Vian Invents Boris Vian," because I had nothing to do with its production.  Still, what a pleasure to read these series of short stories, poems, and the occasional essay or two. Julia Older did a fantastic job in editing and translating the book, and I like it that "her" Vian is different from my world of Boris Vian.   Or is it?

I love many in literature, but there are only a few that really inspire my own writing.  Osamu Dazai, Robert Benchley, and of course Vian.  I look upon Vian, not only for his writing talent, but also his placement in post-war Paris life.   In many ways, it is so close to the American Beat culture that was taking place in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.   The only thing that separates the two cultures is the language itself.  Both loved jazz, movies, and pretty girls and boys.   So my appreciation of Vian is very much part of my family and upbringing.

To be picky about "Boris Vian Invents Boris Vian" is mostly editorial/design stuff.  The book is very much bi-lingual, meaning there is French on the left side and the English translation on the right side.   For poetry, I think this is a must, but I feel for the prose pieces it is not needed.  I think there should have been more fiction narratives, and maybe more essays by Vian in this package.  Boris' son Patrick (French prog rock 70s figure) introduction is charming, and the same for Julia's commentary on Vian's work.  But I also feel it need someone in the academic or literature world comment on the works as well.  There is very little commentary in English on Vian's work, and having another voice in the package I think would make this book stronger.  Also it would have been great if they had a Vernon Sullivan short story in the collection as well.  But it may have been issues of getting permission, rights, etc.

The good news is that the Black Widow Press (who published this book) normally do excellent poetry books - mostly by the French avant-garde (I'm a huge fan) poets and focusing on the greats such as Tristian Tzara, Andre Breton, and other Surrealist/DADA poets.  I think this may be the first time that they actually published some prose pieces.   So in their editorial thinking, it is clearly seems normal for them to do a French/English edition of their titles, besides this Vian collection.

The truth is, it's impossible for one volume to capture the entire genius of Boris Vian.  He was a man who was all over the map.  Translator, singer, trumpet player, essayist, jazz fanatic, songwriter, A&R for record label, and also a trained engineer.   To love Vian, you need to own the recordings he made, the music he loved, (from Duke Ellington to Serge Gainsbourg), his plays, science fiction works, Vernon Sullivan novels and short stories and so forth.   He's a major talent!  Just buy all of it!

I also love the Situationist-like take of Paris at the end of this book.  Where he makes plans for his "own" version of Paris.  Perfect.  I'm happy that this book is out, made, and it is ready for you guys to read. Just remember to buy my TamTam Books' Vian editions as well.

- Tosh Berman

"Massive Pissed Love: Nonfiction 2001-2014" by Richard Hell

ISBN: 978-1-59376-627-6  Soft Skull Press

Richard Hell can't do no wrong in my world.  He's a man of great taste (even though I do not agree with some of it), and one of the few who can mix making music and writing very well.   This is his first collection of essays, reviews, and nonfiction writing.  It's a wonderful way to spend time with someone, without actually sitting across from Mr. Hell.   He's a superb prose writer, who reads the world of cinema, literature, the visual arts and music quite well.  His observations of life in New York City right after 9/11 is even unique, in the way he talks about how the city smelled during that time.  His writing actually affects all my senses.  If he ever wanted to be a food/restaurant critic, I'm sure he would be great for that as well.

I think a lot of people when they hear the name "Richard Hell" - explicit images come up.  The thing is, Richard can articulate who he is, and why he likes a certain work of art, or why he does not like it.   I can imagine him being a distinguished humanities professor.  He understands why people create, and he's sensitive to the process of doing art.   I recommend "Massive Pissed Love" to those who know Richard through his music and his role in the New York punk world.  But beyond that, Hell is just naturally a very skilled writer.  On one level, he's the other side of the coin when it comes to Patti Smith.  It's interesting to read both of their memoirs right after the other - because in a way it deals with the same subject matter - and both are very unique and clear-headed prose stylists.  Essential book for your collection.

- Tosh Berman

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Sunday Series; Sunday October 11, 2015

The Sunday Series
Sunday October  11, 2015

Nothing moves forward unless you yourself become extreme.  Otherwise it is what it always is, and that, is not going to happen.   I started a vegetarian society called “The Friends of Shelley” - named after the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was a life-long vegetarian.   He wrote an essay, “A Vindication of Natural Diet, ” where he pisses on the human that eats animal flesh.   To quote him in this piece: “And man … no longer now/ He slays the lamb that looks him in the face, / And horribly devours his mangled flesh.”  

I went to my local vegetarian restaurant that will remain nameless right now, to protect them from the meat-eaters from that neighborhood, who often shows disrespect to those who choose to befriend the animal than killing them.  I left a notice for those who want to go the extra-step in preserving the animal population, that they should meet me at Echo Park Lake near the closed entrance of the bridge going over the water.   9 people showed up - five of them were women, and the other four were male.   I read them poetry by Shelley, and told them that I wanted to start a secret society where we devote ourselves to the vegetarian lifestyle and to acknowledge the struggle against the meat-eater, who has nothing but hatred towards us.  

Los Angeles is not so bad. There are various vegetarian restaurants as well as a lot of dining places that have a veggie section on their menu.   What we want to do is eliminate all meat dishes everywhere.  If you allow such a dish to hit the dining table, then that means others will follow.   Also it’s getting harder to have a meal with a meat-eating friend.  To sit across the table and watch someone fill their gaping hole under their nose with the flesh of an animal is perhaps the most obscene thing ever presented to me.   Chewing food seems cruel enough, but to think teeth grinding into something that was once alive, well…

We met at the Echo Park Lake again, but this time at 2 in the morning.  We met in the darkest part of the park where the traffic going by would not notice us.  I had one lit candle, and as usual read Shelley’s poetry to the gang.  It was decided that we will attack all the brand name chain restaurants that feature meat as the main subject matter of their business.   With the help of the Google map, we found at least five fast-food restaurants within a ten mile radius.   We decided to use as a costume for the gang, a clown outfit, and we plan to attack each restaurant by robbing the place and then handing the dough to the customers, and tell them to spend their money on food that doesn’t rely on once living creatures. 

I set up camp in my backyard, where we practiced military maneuvers and sleep on the bushes in the hopes of attracting wild animals.  We feel, or I should say I, believe that if you lay yourself down with an animal, one becomes closer to the beast.  One night I slept on the hill when I felt a breath above my face.  I didn’t respond nor showed fear, but I gently and slowly opened my eye to see a coyote looking straight at me and only inches from my face.  Once we saw that I was alive, he or she was scared.  But I didn’t move, nor changed my breathing. Once he saw that I was alive, and I wasn’t going to attack him or her, he kindly licked my hand.  The tongue was rough, and I gently rubbed my fingers against their paw.  He licked my face, and I licked back.  I gently took the head and placed its mouth on my mouth.  I put my tongue in its mouth and kissed the coyote.  

The next morning, I felt my purpose on this planet became crystal clear.  Me and the rest of “The Friends of Shelley” gang will be committed for the right change, and won’t back down.  One of the texts that we are drawn to is worth quoting fully.  It’s by Voltaire and here it is:

“How pitiful, and what poverty of mind, to have said that the animals are machines deprived of understanding and feeling . . . 
Judge (in the same way as you would judge your own) the behaviour of a dog who has lost his master, who has searched for him in the road barking miserably, who has come back to the house restless and anxious, who has run upstairs and down, from room to room, and who has found the beloved master at last in his study, and then shown his joy by barks, bounds and caresses. There are some barbarians who will take this dog, that so greatly excels man in capacity for friendship, who will nail him to a table, and dissect him alive, in order to show you his veins and nerves. And what you then discover in him are all the same organs of sensation that you have in yourself. Answer me, mechanist, has Nature arranged all the springs of feeling in this animal to the end that he might not feel? Has he nerves that he may he incapable of suffering?” - Voltaire

I have a large estate in Silver Lake, and I decided, with the great assistance of “The Friends of Shelley” to start a colony called “Monte Verità.” As a group we “abhorred private property, practiced a rigid code of morality, strict vegetarianism and nudism.” We are also against the institution of marriage, party politics and dogmas.   Due that it is my property, I decided to take the fence down, so wild animals can come in and mingle with the humans.   We, as a group refuse to own pets, because that is slavery in our opinion.  At this time, I have a dog, two cats, and a parakeet.  I released all my animals to the world, and they are free to stay or wander the earth.   And one must remember, “The Friends of Shelley” will not take any prisoners, but on the other hand, we will love you as a brother, sister, or more likely, as an animal. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

"M Train" by Patti Smith

ISBN: 9781408867693
"M Train" is perhaps one of the most romantic books of being a writer, and those who likes to read.  What can be better than reading and writing in a small hip cafe, and watching the world go by.  And on top of that, visit every cool writer's grave site - from Europe to Japan.  Patti Smith is not a hard person to figure out.   She conveys the spirit of being a book nerd as well as a rock n' roll lunatic.   In many ways, it's a very simple image of a writer/artist. Yet it is the simple aspect of it that many are driven towards that world.   Millions feel like Patti, but she has the ability to write in a very clear manner her love for icons such as the Beats, Genet, Rimbaud - and to my utter delight - Osamu Dazai.    And speaking of Japan, I'm happy that she gives a call-out to my favorite cafe - "The Lion" in Shibuya, Tokyo.

For those who fell in love with Patti Smith due to her previous book "Just Kids," will not find the same type of narrative.  This is very much a writer's book, about writing and thinking.  Also it's a book about nothing, which for many of us (including me) is very much an aesthetic that one follows.  In other words, this is a book that is hard to dislike, and one can only dislike this book, if you don't have the romantic impulse of reading and worshiping your favorite artists.  For me, I don't see art or artists in that light.  They are not gods, but humans, and that is what strikes my fancy regarding the artist and their role in our world.

If I were you (readers), I would treat "M Train" as a classic.  I would recommend this book to romantic girls and boys, as well as a bit of social history through the eyes of Patti Smith.  May you sit in that cafe, for a long time.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Semina Culture Wallace Berman & His Circle ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2015 Catalog Books Exhibition Catalogues 9781938922725

Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle

Published by D.A.P./Santa Monica Museum of Art
Edited with text by Michael Duncan, Kristine McKenna. Text by Stephen Fredman.

Featured image, Wallace Berman's "Untitled" verifax collage, 1961–62, is reproduced from <I>Semina Culture</I>.This reprint of the now classic and much sought-after 2005 volume celebrates the circle of the quintessential visual artist of the Beat era, Wallace Berman (1926–76), who remains one of the best-kept secrets of the postwar era. A crucial figure in California's underground culture, Berman was a catalyst who traversed many different worlds, transferring ideas and dreams from one circle to the next. His larger community is the subject of Semina Culture, which includes previously unseen works by 52 artists. Anchoring this publication is Semina, a loose-leaf art and poetry journal that Berman published in nine issues between 1955 and 1964. Although printed in extremely short runs and distributed to only a handful of friends and sympathizers, Semina is a brilliant and beautifully made compendium of the most interesting artists and poets of its time, and is today a very rare collector's item. Showcasing the individuals that defined a still-potent strand of postwar counterculture, Semina Culture outlines the energies and values of this fascinating circle. Also reproduced here are works by those who appear in Berman's own photographs, approximately 100 of which were recently developed from vintage negatives, and which are seen here for the first time. These artists, actors, poets, curators, musicians and filmmakers include Robert Alexander, John Altoon, Toni Basil, Wallace Berman, Ray Bremser, Bonnie Bremser, Charles Britten, Joan Brown, Cameron, Bruce Conner, Jean Conner, Jay DeFeo, Diane DiPrima, Kirby Doyle, Bobby Driscoll, Robert Duncan, Joe Dunn, Llyn Foulkes, Ralph Gibson, Allen Ginsberg, George Herms, Jack Hirschman, Walter Hopps, Dennis Hopper, Billy Jahrmarkt, Jess, Lawrence Jordan, Patricia Jordan, Bob Kaufman, Philip Lamantia, William Margolis, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Taylor Mead, Henry Miller, Stuart Perkoff, Jack Smith, Dean Stockwell, Ben Talbert, Russ Tamblyn, Aya (Tarlow), Alexander Trocchi, Edmund Teske, Zack Walsh, Lew Welch and John Wieners.

Featured image, Wallace Berman's "Untitled" verifax collage, 1961–62, is reproduced from Semina Culture.

Semina Culture Wallace Berman & His Circle ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2015 Catalog Books Exhibition Catalogues 9781938922725

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Bowie" by Simon Critchley (Or Books)

9781939293541 Or Books
Philosopher Simon Critchley on a very important subject matter: David Bowie.   As a hardcore Bowie fan, who has read many books on the artist, this one is not exactly essential, but still interesting.  To be honest, I feel that the Facebook page I put up for Bowie's albums, are much more interesting and insightful in the making of these albums.   The Critchley book is charming, but it really doesn't go into the depth of Bowie's work.  In other words, it is not obsessive!

He does write about religion in Bowie's songs as well as other spiritual issues that comes up a lot in his work, and also the subject matter of identity as well.  This book is not meant to be the end-all of all Bowie text - but just something to pile on the top of the Bowie library or in other words, throw it in with the other Bowie titles.

Velaslavasay Panorama presents "Dog, Lights and Sewing Machine - Our Sound of Beyond

 Saturday, October 17th, 2015  7:00PM
$12 General / $10 Members

Curated by Lun*na Menoh and presented in conjunction with The Velaslavasay Panorama, Dogs, Lights and Sewing Machine is a psychedelic phenomenon that occurs once every 100 years.

Koji Lijima - The Wagging Dog
A compact iron dog comes from Japan to jam with local drummer Martin Silva.

Sam Rowell - Color Objectivism, Harmonic Distortion, and the Illusion of the Noise-free System
Light and sound create site-specific happenings that meld analog tones and subtle color induction to affect audiences in a way that is both subliminal and corporeal.

Lun*na Menoh and Atuko Yoo - We as the Sewing Machine 
The vocal and sampling of sewing machine sounds to create experimental sewing music.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"Different Every Time: The Authorized Biography of Robert Wyatt" by Marcus O'Dair

ISBN: 9781593766160 Soft Skull Press

This is not really a biography on Robert Wyatt, but more like an intense love-fest for the artist.  And really, who would want less than that?  Wyatt is one of the great music figures of the 20th century.  A great singer in that Chet Baker mode of intimacy, with a mind like Alfred Jarry and the politics of a hard-left fellow.  The book is very strong with respect to the early world of The Soft Machine and Kevin Ayers - another iconic wayward genius.  One gets detailed information about the making of all of Wyatt's recordings as well as interviews with the musicians who worked with him.  Wyatt comes off as a modest man with elements of genius. One thing that makes clear is that Wyatt's wife and muse, of sorts, Alfreda Bengie is a major force in his life.  In many ways, she is George to his Gilbert.   Plus her best friend is Julie Christie.  

Wyatt sees his life (so far) in two sections. Before and after his accident which made him wheel-chair orientated for the rest of his life.  Nevertheless the accident (fall from a window) seemed to give him focus, which leads to works like the classic "Rock Bottom."   A perfectionist who sometimes takes great time between albums, is also a musician who likes to work with others on their projects.  But whenever Wyatt opens his mouth and sings, it becomes very much a Robert Wyatt recording.   The book is essential for Wyatt fans and for those who want to research the early 60s life of bands like Soft Machine, Pink Floyd and a touch of Jimi Hendrix.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

"My Face For The World To See" by Alfred Hayes (NYRB)

Another obscure title in the Hollywood novel category! Beyond that this is an excellent novel. I can tell you the plot or narrative, but that is not that interesting. What is interesting is how the characters see themselves in this narrative. The inner-dialogue parts are fantastic, and although the novel was written in the late 1950s - it reads very contemporary. Alfred Hayes himself, sounds like a very interesting fellow. He wrote or co-wrote neb-italian film classics as well as being one of those guys who is in the right place at the right time - yet, I never heard of him! Till now. He captures the beginning of a causal affair turning into a nightmare very well.  

The edition i read is from the library and it's the original release - NYRB just recently put out their edition - and I strongly recommend those who have a fascination with the Hollywood film world - as well as reading a great psychological narrative on a group of disturbed individuals, to get and read this novel.

"List of the Lost" by Morrissey

978-0-141-98296-0 Penguin Books (British Import)

Without a doubt, and clearly, one of the oddest literary works by a pop singer ever.   It is really beyond the category of good or bad.  On one level, it's brilliant.  The truth is if this book was or is simply OK, then that would be a crime against both artificial and real nature.   While reading this, the name Ed Wood Junior comes to mind.  In that, it's a work by an artist who follows no rules except their own.   On one level, it's brilliant that he's working with Penguin, and knows its history quite well.   The cover and design of this book are genius-like.   But how does he arrange to get a book like this released to the world - and within the Penguin empire?

"List of the Lost" is like no other book.   It truly goes beyond even taste.   For me, it is probably the most Morrissey-like work, in that he has a platform where Morrissey discusses all his obsessions such as vintage AmericanTV shows, and politics.  Since the narrative takes place in the 70s there are American politics, but it reads from the point-of-view of a foreigner.  Although the narrative takes place in Boston, it is really that country called "Morrisseyland."   It's not the United Kingdom, Europe, and for sure, not really America.  Yet, it's interesting how Morrissey looks at American culture.  In his style, he re-invents the U.S. culture to suit his own aesthetic.  And this is what makes him a real genius.   I know he's annoying at times, but like the boy with the thorn in his side, he's endlessly fascinating.    And although this book is beyond pain or pleasure, it is truly a work of this man.  The truth is I love Morrissey.

Friday, October 2, 2015

ELIZABETH YOO PAINTING EXHIBITION: Paintings based on Alain Robbe-Grillet's films

Holyrad Studio Presents

Eros and After: Pleasure and Pain in the Early Films of Alain Robbe-Grillet

12 PM-9 PM

We will be hosting a full day of cultural mischief. Artist Elizabeth Yoo’s paintings are interpretations of scenes from the first four films of French filmmaker and writer Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose experimental, dreamlike work remains as unique, groundbreaking, and controversial today as it was in the 1960s. His movies introduced audiences to a world of sadomasochistic eroticism and disjointed narratives in which the most decadent of fantasies are indulged.

Join us on October 3rd for some light refreshments. Watch scenes from Robbe-Grillet’s films, make new friends, and meet the artist. At 7pm we will be showing Robbe-Grillet's film "Trans-Europ-Express."

Paintings are available for purchase!

Elizabeth is a friend of mine, and this is her first painting exhibition.   I love the series that she is working on, and I just want  to let people / citizens of New York City know that she has an one day opening of her work.  All paintings are based on the cinema of the great French writer/thinker Alain Robbe-Grillet.   If you can make it to the exhibition, please do go.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Dirty Eddie" by Ludwig Bemelmans BOOK REVIEW

Five Stars. I would give five stars to every page of this book. 240 pages, so that makes it 1,200 stars. I have always liked Ludwig Bemelmans work - especially his travel writing as well as his book about hotel life and running a restaurant in the hotel. But here we have the ultimate 1940s Hollywood era novel, with a cast of hundreds - well at least six or seven, and of course a pig by the name of Dirty Eddie. But Dirty Eddie doesn't even make an appearance till page one hundred-and-something. The beauty of this book is the writing. The words flow out of Bemelmans like the expert that he truly was. He reminds me of P.G. Wodehouse in that he shares the sense of absurdity, with the right sentence at the perfect time. On the surface "Dirty Eddie" may seem light, but I think it's an incredible novel of its time and place (Hollywood, California). 

I don't know the origins of the novel, but I am betting that the characters are based on real people, and perhaps this novel was serialized in a magazine - but that is all an educated guess. Nevertheless: Superb!  I also got this book out of the Los Angeles Downtown Library.