Friday, June 30, 2017

"How To Be A Man: A Guide to Style and Behavior for the Modern Gentleman" by Glenn O'Brien (Rizzoli)

I'll read anything by the late and great Glenn O'Brien.  He wasn't the easiest writer to follow, since he moved around a lot from one publication to another, and had various positions in the commercial world for the fashion and magazine industry.  I discovered him when he wrote his music column in Interview Magazine sometime in the 1970s.  His wit and style came out when he wrote brief pieces on the bands that were performing in NYC during the height of the punk era.  "How To Be a Man: A Guide To Style and Behavior for The Modern Gentleman" is his masterpiece.

On the surface, this is a guidebook for the guy who is trying to improve himself, but there is something textural in this book that goes very deep into one's consciousness.  O'Brien wrote a column for GQ, and I suspect that this book is a collection of his writings from that publication.  The interesting thing is that it starts off with the subject matter of what it is like to a male in the 21st century, but then goes off on different tangents regarding class, politics, and how one carries himself in a world that seems pointless at times.  O'Brien makes sense of the chaos and gives advice in how one can handle themselves in this world of uncertainty.

O'Brien quotes Oscar Wilde (duh), Boris Vian, and various European and American authors, as well as dipping into the contemporary arts and music.  His range of interest is endless, and his love for culture is like a bottomless well. It never ends.  The book's format is tight chapters on specific subject matters.  "Socks," "Underwear," Shirts, and so forth.   It eventually springs to the topic of aging and death.   Since O'Brien passed away recently, it is quite moving (and hysterical) to read these later chapters in this book.  If one likes the essay writings of John Waters, then for sure, you will love Glenn O'Brien, and especially this book.   Lots of good advice, but it is also a great way of spending time with a unique character.  

Monday, June 26, 2017

"Vinyl Freak : Love Letters to a Dying Medium" by John Corbett (Duke)

ISBN: 978-0-8223-6366-8 Duke University Press

Perhaps it's due to my mood at the moment, but "Vinyl Freak" is the best book I have read on record collecting, or to be more specific, for the love of vinyl and music discovery. First of all, I read this book due to my friend Amber Noé, who suggested to me at a bookstore. She doesn't (at the moment) share my love for the vinyl world, but still, it was sweet of her to find this book for me. Second, I may only know eight albums here that the author John Corbett writes about. All, are obscure Jazz or experimental music albums. To say that they are obscure is like saying the night is dark. I never heard of these artists or their music. So, what is the purpose of someone like me reading a book on someone's collection that is mostly, if not all, entirely unknown?

Corbett recognizes the importance of sharing one's love of a collection and showing it to someone else. He not only shows this body of work but also explains what and where they came from. It's a geek book of course, but a very generous one, where the reader doesn't feel left out of the information or more importantly, the passion of such a collection.

The book is beautifully designed in that every album he writes about we can see the record cover as well. All entries listed here are not on CD or streaming, as of the publication's date. If you're a music collector, all this will do is make one keep a list to check out later. Corbett also writes an essay on the issues of collecting and his history of his passion. There is also an excellent piece at the end of the book regarding his over-the-top passion: Sun Ra. I sense there will be a separate detailed account of that subject matter in another book by Corbett. Nevertheless, this has been a total fun read for me and made me re-think what I do with my music blog regarding my collection. Learn from the master!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"The Dream Colony: A Life in Art" by Walter Hopps (Bloomsbury USA), 2017

ISBN: 978-1632865298
Since my dad Wallace Berman is in the narrative of Walter Hopps own narrative, I was a little nervous to open up and read his memoir.  The fact is, there is a chapter here focusing on my father, and it is one of the best things I have read on Wallace.  On the other hand, Wallace did a solo show at the Ferus Gallery, where he got busted for pornography (this is the 1950s!), and the exhibition was closed down by the LAPD.   When my dad got some friends to go pick up the artwork from the gallery, the works went missing.  According to Walter in this book, my father destroyed the works.  This is not the case.  Someone at the gallery either caused the works to go missing, or they destroyed the artworks.   Either by accident or design, the whole exhibition disappeared. And without bitterness on my part, I feel Walter and Ed Kienholz are responsible for these works missing, due that they are the Ferus Gallery at the time.   Still, Wallace and Walter were very close friends.  I remember Walter from my childhood with fond memories.

"The Dream Colony" is an excellent memoir.  Although I do disagree with certain things (like above) and making it sound like my dad didn't like Irving Blum, which as far as I know is not the case at all - is a superb look of the Los Angeles art scene as well as an excellent series of narratives from Walter.  Reading the book I can hear his voice, and there is at least one great (and usually) hysterical story per page.  This is not a stuffy art bio or autobiography; this is the world seen through Walter's eyes.  He was a remarkable and very articulate lover of art.  He wasn't schooled in a specific school.  Walter allowed himself to roam through art collections and he pretty much knew art in a very instinct manner.

He was a man of great taste and had the brilliant talent of being in the right place at the right time.   Walter never wrote anything as far as I know.  He mostly dictated his essays and introductions to catalog through another's typing.  Everything here that Walter says about himself is basically true, and his lateness in doing things was legendary.   Still, he had the vision of giving my dad his first (and only, in his lifetime) gallery show, as well as giving Marcel Duchamp his first retrospective in Pasadena.  I was there at the Duchamp opening!

Deborah Treisman and Anne Doran did a fantastic job in editing this book.  Ed Ruscha's introduction is smart, warm, and entirely correct. I know it must be difficult to do a project like this, especially after Walter's passing.  "The Dream Colony," I think is one of the better books regarding the art world of the 20th century.  Walter always struck me as a romantic figure, and I can understand those who are seduced or swayed by his presence and thoughts on art.   He was the real deal.  And yes, I don't agree on certain narratives that run in this book, it is still Walter's story - and that is not a bad thing at all.