Sunday, January 24, 2016

"The Final Programme" by Michael Moorcock

Published by Allison & Busby, 1965

"The Final Programme"  by Michael Moorcock (Allison & Busby)

A Jerry Cornelius novel!   The first in the series.  Perhaps even a British comic strip as well as a film.  No, I never heard of the series, or of Jerry Cornelius, till very recently.  Written by the noted science fiction author Michael Moorcock, this novel reminds me very much of the works by Terry Southern.  They both share an anti-everything approach to life, as well as being very much part of the 1960s culture.   In fact, "The Final Programme" could have 'only' have been written in the 60s.   This 1965 novel is very much a snapshot of its time and has a strong sense of placement, which is London.  

Cornelius is an assassin, that resembles a secret agent, and if he lived in a real life or of course in a fantasy world, he would have known about Barbarella.   He lives in Notting Hill London, and has various transportation machines - boats, cars, etc. In this novel, he battles his brother Frank, and eventually, and of course, things happen.  The main villain is a certain Miss Brunner, and ....  Well, you have to read the novel. 

The book is very dated. Yet that is part of the charm of reading it in 2016.   Here, you get a perspective of Swinging London circa 1965, as well as perhaps an early image of a David Bowie - a character that perhaps Moorcock had a hand in.   For those who love Emma Peel, John Steed, The Prisoner, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E. - this is the novel for you.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lush Head Woman (co-written by Wallace Berman)

My dad co-wrote this song, "Lush Head Woman," with his friend Jimmy Witherspoon.   I think sometime in 1948?  Nevertheless, here it is.  I love it.

"Never Love a Gambler" by Keith Ridgway (New Directions)

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2294-5 New Directions

"Never Love a Gambler" by Keith Ridgway (New Directions)

 I'm a fan of the English and French speaking gangster world - and the short story by Keith Ridgeway "Never Love a Gambler" fits the mood as one wears a tight leather glove.   The son, mom, and most of all, Mossie Russell, the cruel and almost refined gangster.   The plotting of the story is not that important to me, but the setting and how the characters interact in that landscape is the real joy of reading this short story.  There is a surrealist touch with the dog carrying something that was once alive in his or hers mouth, that adds a certain angst in the picture.   "Never Love a Gambler" is three stories long, and all has a wisp of crime or murder involved.  The king kink tale is "Ross and Kinnder."   A little narration of obsession and violence.   I have never read or even heard of Ridgeway till now.  Due to this "sample" of short stories, I m very curious to read on to his other works.  

- Tosh Berman

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Letters to Emma Bowlcut" by Bill Callahan (Drag City)

ISBN: 978-098204802-3 Drag City
"Letters to Emma Bowlcut" by Bill Callahan (Drag City)

An odd but, an effective book by Bill Callahan, who is known as Smog as well as making music under his real name.   "Letters to Emma Bowlcut" are a series of correspondence to a girl that we know very little about, and not too much about the letter writer as well.  We know he goes to the vortex, which is by no means clear if this is a real place or not, as well as watching boxing matches in a gym.   The letters are only one-sided and from the author, but we do know that the woman that he writes to also sends him letters.  The beauty of this book is Callahan's sardonic sense of humor.   He's a very talented writer and he can convey the strangeness of a specific situation and comment on it.  Whatever it's a boxing match or visiting his grandmother in a rest home, it is totally unique due to Callahan's point-of-view.  If one is a fan of his music & lyrics (and what I have heard, is excellent) you, the reader, will love this book. 

- Tosh Berman

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"In Love" by Alfred Hayes (Introduction by Frederic Raphael) NYRB

ISBN: 978-1-59017-666-5 NYRB
"In Love" by Alfred Hayes (Introduction by Frederic Raphael) NYRB

By the title "In Love," one would think this is a hallmark card sentiment.  Very far from that, in fact, author Alfred Hayes cuts into the idea of a relationship if he was a surgeon in the middle of an open heart surgery.   The book is almost a stream of consciousness, with respect to the writing style of Hayes, who tends to expose the most "inner" thoughts on the narrative of a relationship being torn apart by another man who wants to pay $1,000 to sleep with "his" woman.   No one here is a bad guy or girl, but more of a study in what people want in a relationship.  

The book is set in Post-war Manhattan, and one can get a scent of the "Mad Men" era through its pages.   It also reminds me of that series, due to the psychological profiles of the major characters in that series.   This anti-valentines day novella is very sharp, and very much like Hayes novel "My Face for the World to See."   What is similar is Hayes talent to uncover the characters and show them as what they are.   He has incredible insight, and ways he reminds me of Patricia Highsmith, in his ability to strip away the excess and show the meat in the narrative. 

Alfred Hayes is one of those writers who somehow fell into the cracks of literary history.  He worked in Hollywood as a film writer as well as working for Television.  But the other interesting aspect of him, is his work on Italian neo-realist films such as "Bicycle Thieves."  And he had a hand in writing the script to the great Fritz Lang film "Clash by Night.   

We're lucky that there are presses like New York Review of Books (NYRB) that re-issues these "lost" classics.   Read and learn about the human heart and how it works with the "head." 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Francis Carco: The Career of a Literary Bohemian" by Seymour S. Weiner (Columbia University Press, 1952, O.P.)

"Francis Carco: The Career of a Literary Bohemian" by Seymour S. Weiner (Columbia University Press, 1952, O.P.)

I have only read two books by Francis Carco.  "Perversity" and "Streetcorners."   He's the poet of the criminal underground - which means the world of sleazy Parisian bars, the home of whores and their pimps, and a landscape full of alcohol and drugs.   A remarkable world, of course!    Compared to what he wrote in his native language and published in France, there is very little of his works translated into English, and all, I believe is out of print.  Which is a horrible shame, because he is clearly an important and major voice in French literature.

Through the Los Angeles library system, I found a copy of the Seymour S. Weiner's book of Carco, which is both a biography and a literary study on the writer.   It's a wonderful book, but on the other hand, it's a weird way to be introduced to Carco, considering there is literary analysis on books I have never read or even heard of.  It is very much like reading on a phantom writer that doesn't exist.

Carco clearly knew what he was writing about.  He understood the world of criminals and their needs and wants.   He is sort of a combination of Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski - in the fact that both writers cover their territory to the fullest.   Weiner, who wrote this book in 1952 or therefore, and published that year, is not meant to be a public general reading matter, but as an academic study on a man and his writing.   The best part of the book for me, since I haven't read that much of Carco's work, is the chapter devoted to authors who influenced Carco.  Especially François Villon, the criminal poet.  Worth tracking down, but a must to read Carco's works.   I recommend the two books I have read, both "Perversity" and "Streetcorners" (published by the great Los Angeles located press, Green Integer).  

- Tosh Berman

David Bowie - Live at Rockpalast (Full Concert)

Friday, January 15, 2016

"The Other Paris" by Luc Sante (FSG)

ISBN: 978-0-374-29932-3 FSG

The Other Paris" by Luc Sante (FSG)

Of all the cities in the world, Paris has a mythical hold on me. I don't know why? Los Angeles and Tokyo are my two other favorite cities, but somehow Paris has captured my imagination, and this book by Luc Sante, pretty much describes my imaginary Paris as a factual place. I have been there at least six times in my life, and yet, it never disappoints, just gives me a thrill whenever I'm confined in Paris. Sante's "The Other Paris" pretty much describes my fascination, as there is only my imagination that is the French city, and then there is "real" Paris.

Sante uncovers a Paris that is exposed in certain works of literature, such as "Fantomas" and the film works by Louis Feuillade. This is Paris history as if it was written by The Situationists International and the Surrealists. Crime, vice, a little bit of decadence here and there - it is what I imagine being in Paris, and therefore, clearly is. 

The book often reads and looks like a school textbook, and one wonder if "The Other Paris" will serve that role in a classroom. It should be. As well as being, without a doubt, one of the great books in English on the great city of my imagination and therefore known as Paris. I also realize by reading this book that Paris always had a great deal of street violence with respect to murders and bombs. What happened a few months ago in the city of light, is common, when compared to the Paris of the 19th century.

Beautifully illustrated throughout the book with images collected by Sante, so unlike other "history" or "travel" books, this seems to be a very personal work.  And that I think is one of the key aspects of this work, is making a public space or city into a personal landscape.    Luc Sante did this and he did it remarkably well.   A classic book.  

- Tosh Berman

Friday, January 8, 2016

"The History of Rock: 1966" by the Editors of UNCUT Magazine

"The History Of Rock: 1966" by the Editors of Uncut Magazine

For sure something happened in 1964, and maybe it was the year when I turned 10, and really became aware of music pop culture around me.  To my ears, '64 was full of bouncy music made by people with odd accents.  It was the first time in my life that I realized that there was music being made that appealed to me, and not only that, and perhaps even more important, it came from another culture.  By 1966, I was introduced to the word and aesthetic of "sophistication." 

"The History of Rock" is a monthly publication published and edited by Uncut Magazine, where they use the archives of New Musical Express and Melody Maker regarding contemporary music at that time.   It started off with "1965," and now I just finished reading the entire issue of "1966."   I have read so many books and articles dealing with the British invasion, that in this late stage of my life, it is totally refreshing to read archival material as when things were happening or in proper english, as it happened. 

The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were at their dizzy heights of making incredible recordings as well as being the prince (Stones) and King (Beatles) of the pop world at the time.  The beauty of this magazine is obtaining the role of the journalist at this time.  Most I think were mostly press relations, and not only worked for the music papers, but also for the artists as well.  So, one does not get critical attacks, but mostly acknowledgment and of course, praises.   It is ironic that at this moment in time in the U.K. great music was being produced by all sorts of bands and artists:  Donovan was making great recordings with Mickie Most, The Small Faces were getting more sophisticated as they entered the Andrew Loog Oldham world, and the Fab Four was spending more time in the recording studio, where one gets the amazing "Revolver" album.   Due to the times, Brian Jones was adding more exotic instrumentation to the Stones recordings, which made their masterpiece "Aftermath" such a classic and brilliant album.   Even shit records produced in England were at the very least, good constructed pop.  

Also UK readers and listeners were fully accepting the genius of Roy Orbison, early Simon & Garfunkel, and the beautiful Beach Boys.  It seemed for once, that the UK and the U.S. were in-tuned at the same time and place.   A pop utopia taking place, and ears was stretched out to the West Coast to India.    "The History of Rock" 1966" captures that series of moments as it happened.   Also great photographs and this is a perfectly designed magazine. 

- Tosh Berman