Saturday, December 28, 2019

Tosh's Favorite Reads (Books) for 2019

Tosh’s top Books in 2019:

“Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays” by Tom McCarthy (NYRB)

“Rebel Rebel” & “Ashes to Ashes” by Chris O’Leary

“Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne” by Roland Topor (Atlas Press)

“Death Valley Superstars: Occasionally Fatal Adventures in Filmland” by Duke Haney

“The Alley of Fireflies and Other Stories” by Raymond Roussel (Song Cave)

“The Orchid Stories” by Kenward Elmslie (Song Cave)

“Curl” by T.O.Bobe (Wakefield Press)

“Mac’s Problem” by Enrique Vila-Matas (New Directions)

“Another Ventriloquist” by Adam Penn Gilders (J &L Books)

“When I Was a Wolf: Outlaw Takes on Fables and Fairy Tales” by Shuji Terayama (Kurodahan Press)

“The Artificial Silk Girl” by Irmgard Deun (Penguin Classics)

“The Sundays of Jean Dézert” by Jean de La Ville de Mirmont (Wakefield Press)

“In Black and White” by Junichiro Tanizaki (Columbia University Press)

“Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words” by Morricone and Alessandro De Rosa (Oxford University Press)

“Year of the Monkey” by Patti Smith (Knopf)

“Nada” by Jean-Patrick Manchette (NYRB)

“I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going: The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s” by Peter McGough (Pantheon Books)

“Intelligence for Dummies: Essays and Other Collected Writings” by Glenn O’Brien (ZE Books)

“Life for Sale” by Yukio Mishima (Penguin Classics) 

“The Man Without Talent” by Yoshiharu Tsuge (NYRB)

“Punk Rock is Cool for the End of the World” by Ed Smith (Turtlepoint Press)

“Essays:One” by Lydia Davis

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

"Tony Conrad: Writings" with Andrew Lampert in Conversation with Tyler Hubby and Tosh Berman

Save the date for Saturday | January 4th | 3 PM for the Los Angeles book launch of 'Tony Conrad: Writings' with editor Andrew Lampert in conversation with Tyler Hubby and Tosh Berman. This should be a super fun event... don't miss this!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

"Reggenza Italiana del Carnaro (Italian Regency of Carnaro)" by Tosh Berman

Some actions take place that one can regret and move on, or let the fate of history handle it from now on. Gabriele D'Annunzio was a man who wouldn’t let fate decide his sense of order and passion. The city of Flume was part of the Austrian Littoral. Due to the Treaty of London (1915) was placed in the hands of the Croatian territories into the Kingdom of Serbs. D'Annunzio felt that Flume belonged to Italy. He and 2,600 troops, reportedly shell-shocked from the Battles of the Isonzo, marched into Flume and staged a seizure of the city.

Gabriele D'Annunzio was an Italian poet, essayist, playwright, and equally important, a soldier. Think of Yukio Mishima, but Italian. There is no doubt that d’Annunzio was a Fascist, but one who mapped out his world in such a fashion that relayed a perfect sense of space, and that landscape was Flume. In his own hands, and without the permission of Italy, he and his soldiers annexed the territory to the Kingdom of Italy. Italy, in return, put a blockade of Flume, demanding that d’Annunzio and others surrender.

What’s interesting to me is not the politics or even history, but the fact that a poet/writer led such a campaign. One can argue if d’Annunzio is a great poet/writer, but without a doubt, he was in the avant-garde of the literature of the time. In honesty, he’s more 19th-century than say someone like his peers at the time - specifically Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and the Futurists. Marinetti called d’Annunzio and the leaders of the ‘Exploit’ “advance-guard deserters” So, The Futurists were very much supporters of Italy and its empire. The Italian government, in a compromise, offered Flume’s citizens a modus vivendi, which in Latin means ‘mode of living,’ to co-exist in peace. d’Annunzio was against the modus vivendi and put it to vote in the Italian National Council of Flume. They accepted the proposal from Italy, and then d’Annunzio insisted on being put to the vote with the citizens of Flume. They, too, voted for the modus vivendi.

D'Annunzio distrusted the Italian government that he decided to make the final decision. On September 8, 1920, D'Annunzio became the Comandante; in other words, the Dictator of the Italian Regency of Camaro. The only other country to recognize the Italian Regency of Camaro was the Soviet Union. The constitution, or known as ‘The Charter of Carnaro’, was a combination of Fascist, Democratic-Republican theories, and Anarchist touches. This vibrant cocktail that became a country had, for sure, the touches of a creative poet. The Charter made “Music” a religious and social institution. Besides setting up the standard platform for governance (law, defense, education, etc.), d’Annunzio also set up a platform to support the “superior individuals” such as poets, heroes, and supermen.

Benito Mussolini found d’Annunzio inspiring and loved his style of leadership. The truth is d’Annunzio invented Italian Fascism with his balcony speeches, the roman salute, and his charismatic relationship with the audience or crowds. He even had black-shirted followers. The whole fascistic aesthetic came from this poet.

So like Yukio Mishima, who had his well-dressed army, the influence of those on the right, and their sense of style, elegance, also matched with a great deal of brutality. In America, we are not attached to those who dressed-well. Most Americans find it suspicious and are looking for others who fit in their style or aesthetic.

 Like all things, it had to end. D’Annunzio declared war on Italy, and of course, even though well-dressed, lost that battle. Eventually, it became part of the Empire of Italy.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

"The Criminal Child:Selected Essays" by Jean Genet (NYRB)iI

ISBN: 978-68137-361-4

Those who write and look up to other writers (as a writer should, by the way), I have to imagine Jean Genet is very much 'it.'  As a teenager and a young man in his twenties, I greatly admired Yukio Mishima and Genet.  In no fashion was I going to idolize Robert Benchley (that happened in my 50s) or any writer that appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List.   Genet is a criminal.  And a proud criminal on top of that.   In our world now, criminal writers are looked down upon.  As you gather, a writer has to be, at the very least, a morally upstanding citizen.  Genet is bad-ass.  But a bad-ass that can write about his world in such delicious language.  One of the great presses in the English language is the New York Review of Books (NYRB), and their edition of Genet's "The Criminal Child: Selected Essays is a small and remarkable book.  The title piece is regarding the nature of the French reform-school system, and how much Genet preferred the kiddie-prison of his youth.  Also, his essays/commentary on the visual art of Alberto Giacometti and Leonor Fini is superb. Genet can connect to an artist like a hand attached to an arm.  

Sunday, December 15, 2019

BOOK MUSIK, No. 13 "Scott Walker and the Song of the One-Alone" by Scott Wilson

Tosh and Kimley discuss Scott Walker and the Song of the One-All-Alone by Scott Wilson. This will most likely be the smartest book you’ll ever read about a singer-songwriter/musician. But Scott Walker is probably also the smartest singer-songwriter/musician you’re ever likely to encounter. From his early pop idol days as a member of The Walker Brothers in the 1960s to his highly experimental solo albums, Scott Walker is someone who will always challenge and intrigue. Never one to hide his intellectual inclinations, his music has always had strong political and philosophical leanings. Scott Wilson doesn’t hesitate to dig deep into this genius’s work and the well never runs dry.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

"TOSH" One of the Best of 2019 on Dennis Cooper's Blog DC's

Dennis Cooper's Blog

Very happy, and even proud to be one of the titles as best of 2019 in Dennis Cooper's Blog.  It's not only that but to be in such incredible company is amazing to me.  Check the blog out, and notice the other books, films, music as well.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Tosh's Journal : December 8 (Tribute to the Bathtub and Izu Oshima Islan...

My job is to reflect on life, and unfortunately, it doesn’t pay. I have a deep interest in the world around me or how I see that world. To be perfectly honest, the world can easily exist without any input by yours truly. Yet, I have known people who wait to hear from me before they enter such a world. My problem (and it is mine alone) is that I can’t get a regular paycheck for my writings on such an interesting landscape as what is out there. “There” being whatever is not within my world.

My ‘world’ is one where I take long baths and focus my thoughts on the bathroom wall. I notice the cracks in the wall, and I immediately think of them as examples of deep distress that is around me, but quite honestly, not in the bath with me. The tub is a no-zone. My sense of being is how hot the water is, and is there enough shampoo in the bottle? Other than that, the crack on the tiled wall is my total concentration on what that scar means to me.

Due to my poor eyesight, the crack has many dimensions attached to it. I often think of it as an island among the blue sea, since my bathroom tiles are in that color. What is the consistency that makes such an image to be so profound? I imagined Commander Perry as he approached Japan’s little island, Izu Ōshima, in 1854, that is two hours away from Tokyo on a jet boat, but still, such a remote island. It has an active volcano and five restaurants on that island that is full of abandoned cats. What one would think of as a stalled car engine is a wave of the sound of cats’ purring in unison. Feline’s urine can be smelled in the exotic landscape on the island. Houses left abandoned, and the numerous monuments for people who had either died due to plane failure or landslides are scattered in the most remote and public areas on Ōshima. I loved the island because the heavy rains served my mood perfectly. Almost as good as being in my bathtub looking at the island of Izu Ōshima on my blue tile.

The words I write are as useless as the soap bubbles from my shampoo as it mixes in with the bathwater. They, too, become islands in the sea of Tosh’s bathwater. Real depression hits me when I undo the drain and watch the water empty into a pipe that leads to a filthy sewer. Whatever happens, there is always the sewer. No one can lie to that space, because I think the stink and filth is very much part of our DNA.

I dry myself, put some cream on my face (to even out the worry lines on my forehead and mouth area), and then I dress very carefully.  First the underwear, then the socks, a striped t-shirt (since it’s Sunday, I choose a navy blue strip against white) and a sensible pair of walking shoes. I then approach my MacBook Air and try to enter into the adventure.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Tosh's Journal: December 6

I always hate the moment when she leaves the house for the airport. I go outside to help with her baggage and put it in the car for her, and then she is off. I stand in the middle of the road and watch the car disappear into the vanishing point. I go back into the house, and there is nothing louder than silence. I play music on the turntable, but that seems to remind me that she’s not there, and therefore, what do I do?

I go check out her CDs in her studio and found some cool Japanese enka music from the Showa Era. I put them on, and I can feel her presence through the music. I don’t want the music to stop, but each CD is 80 minutes long, and there is a sense of panic in me when the CD becomes silent. Since I don’t read Japanese, I still pretend to understand the liner notes on the packaging. I have been toying with the idea of taking one of her Japanese books and taking a bus ride to Little Tokyo. There is a patio outside the Kinokuniya bookstore at Astronaut E Onizuka Street, where one can sit, and I guess read. I take the bus line 92, and get off Spring and first, and walk to the store. I sit outside and start reading the Japanese book. It appears to be a biography of the actor Otojirō Kawakami. I never heard of him, but my wife talks about him consistently. Now that she is gone, and to stay close to her presence, I start focusing on Otojirō’s life and work.

As my wife called him, Oto was born in Hakata-Ku, which is not far away from my family in Japan. He was an actor, comedian and had his theater group that toured the world. He was “the second son of a second son” of a merchant family, and when he was young, he ran off to Osaka. At 18, he became a cop in Kyoto, which in turn he left to join the “Freedom and People’s Rights Movement,” which was a left-leaning organization devoted to democracy in the Meiji era Japan. Within that group, he became a radical and was quite outspoken in his views. He was arrested about a hundred and eighty times, which was a badge of pride for him. When he was nineteen, he was prohibited from speaking in public in Kyoto for a year, and it was at this time he earned the nickname: “Liberty Kid. ”

Oto was inspired by Rakugo, which is an art form in Japan, where a narrator tells a tale on a stage. Oto decides to start his theater group, inspired by the politics of the West, as well as the ability to stage theater productions as an outlet for his political views. It was near this time that he met his future wife, the actress, and geisha, Sada Yacco. Both became quite successful in staging performances in Japan as well as touring outside the country. Even with that, Oto had money problems that seemed never to go away. To have a foundation to promote himself and theater troupe, he built his theater, the Kamakami-za. It was the first European style theater in Japan, with at that time, had electric lighting throughout the theater. It took him three years to build and raise the money for the venue, and they had their grand opening on June 6, 1896.

While the couple was in Kobe, they met a businessman who wanted to improve his business in the West and decided to sponsor Oto and his troupe for a lengthy American tour. For the next two years, Oto toured throughout the United States as well as Europe. His Japanese troupe was the first to travel in the West. What he did was do a bastardization of the Kabuki for Western audiences. He cut the dialogue out and put in more dancing and slapstick. This was a huge success. When they got back to Japan, he decided to do a tour. Still, instead of doing Kabuki theater, he would present to the Japanese audience, a palatable version of Western theater plays. Mostly his version of Shakespeare.

The beauty of Oto was that he went out of his territory to learn and bring back culture to Japan. His fascination with Western theater from both the United States and Europe (specifically France) was a new phenomenon in cultural Japan. Oto makes me think of my wife because she, too, is an adventurer at heart. I feel bad sitting here in front of the bookstore in Little Tokyo when I should be by her side in Japan. Nevertheless, the distance between us is almost like appreciating a beautiful bottle of wine, but not yet ready to become consumed. I can presume right now she is somewhere in Kyushu, and she is thinking of Oto, and I’m thinking about him as well. At the same time, of course.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Tosh's Journal: December 4

Come on, world, inspire me! There are occasions in my life when I have to check the mirror by putting my nose close to it, to see if I’m still breathing. The room I’m in right now was built for consistent inspiration. There is a turntable on one corner with two gigantic speakers, and a window looking over Astro’s Diner on Fletcher and Glendale Boulevard. The bookcase is filled with books that I haven’t looked at in years.  Yet, the spines of these books are laid out to inspire my writing sessions. But now, a sense of failure is creeping up on me, like a weed in an outside potted plant - it comes alive when you try to ignore it. The traffic noise outside is an unfluctuating reminder of a life that is spent indoors. What do I know of the world, except whatever is through my window, and what record is on my turntable? Other than that, I’m clueless.

“I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom.” The fear of time passing, and just thinking of time as this abstract body of matter makes me fearful. I feel that “body” looking over my shoulder as I write, and the solitude I crave is not from the people in general, but time itself. I somehow woke up as a teenager, and somehow went to bed that same day as a senior. I don’t even want to think about tomorrow.

Gérard Philipe, the eminent French actor, was 37 when he died from liver cancer. His doctor never informed him that he was that ill, so he worked on, except one can notice fatigue in his facial expressions. He shared that fatigue with another actor in his last film, “Les Liaisons dangerousness” –Boris Vian, who that same year also died, but from a lifetime heart problem. Both had the same look as they were prepared to leave the room, and they couldn’t go fast enough. Time is fundamentally essential, and you have to either trick it or not let it take possession of your life. The sensibility of time is very much being stuck in a narrative, perhaps not of your own choice. Concerning time there is an end, but when? That is the essence of time itself. Otherwise, “life is one long process of getting tired.’

The mental journey from one end of my living room to the other side is a lifetime to me. I go through emotions like one changes pj’s during night sweats. “Extreme joy and extreme sorrow are indistinguishable beyond a certain point.” All I know is that I have to finish my writing and not let time take it away from me. I will take it, not time. “Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.” - Tosh Berman

Monday, December 2, 2019

Tosh's Journal - December 2 (“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Gra...

Tosh's Journal - December 2

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande (Un dominate après-midi à I’île de la Granda Jatte) is a painting that I have always found fascinating. I have never seen it in person, so my observations are like watching a movie on an airplane, and I’m watching someone else’s screen a row in front of me. I get the ‘drift’ of the film, and it’s the same way as seeing a painting in an art book or magazine. Then you have to think about what is the best representation of this painting? An expensive art book, a postcard, online? Some years back, I wrote a poem about this painting, or to be honest, inspired by the picture that was published in a book of paintings by Georges Seurat:

You, boats, dog

& a  A monkey


All under an umbrella or two

Each point

Is sharp

Yet, you don’t look at me

Except for the little girl

She can see the ghost

… Of a chance

When I look at this painting, I think of death. Because surely all these people, real or imagined, would be dead by now. I go through a time tunnel where I’m transformed into that place and time. When I was in Paris, I went to the Île de la Jatte, so that I can imagine what that landscape looked like in Seurat’s painting. Of course, everything has changed, but I still wandered around the area to figure out where the painter viewed his’ scene. ‘I did bring a postcard image of the painting with me, but I decided to look at the landscape without the picture. I wanted to do it through memory, which I find is more accurate in the sense that the thoughts of a place are eventually more important than the facts.

It took Seurat two years to do this painting. He did many sketches and drawings before completing “A Sunday Afternoon.” What I find interesting is that he did a similar painting called “Bathers at Asnières,” which is the flip-side of “A Sunday Afternoon.” Same place (different location), but the bathers are in the sunshine, wherein the other painting all the figures are under the shade, either from the umbrellas or trees.

I’m also intrigued by the woman who has a monkey with her. Was that a regular everyday occurrence in Paris 1884? The more you look at the picture, the more interesting and borderline eccentric imagery comes out towards the viewer. Seurat was very much a theorist as well as a painter. He was genuinely interested in optical and color theory. The whole painting consists of tiny dots or minimal brushstrokes, and what I find fascinating is that he enclosed the canvas with a simple white wooden frame. Again, I have never seen this painting in person. Still, seeing a photograph of the work being displayed in its current home (Art Institute of Chicago), the white frame sets the painting from the world today. When one looks at “La Grande Jatte,” you’re looking at the painter, not the art itself.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Tosh's Journal : December 1 (Nero Wolfe)

Tosh's Journal - December 1

Isolation is the perfect form of a landscape when you have to think for a living. I’m the sort of chap who people feel comfortable with when they are in trouble or need of any advice. I’m no fool, so I charge people for my services. The catch is, if my information doesn’t work, they don’t have to pay me anything. In today’s commerce, you must have the edge over the competition. Not only that, I’m 100% sure my advice will work. From romantic problems to financial troubles - I master all. Also, if you come to me with a problem, and I can’t solve it, I will tell you directly to your face or through e-mail. I will say, “you’re fucked.”

If you come to me for advice, and I accept you as a client, I pretty much study your financial situation.  For instance, if the information I give you brings great monetary awards, I expect 40% of the amount you will get due to my expertise. If it is something easy for me and not time-consuming, I could charge a small fee for my troubles. If it is a question of romance or relationship, I may insist on having detailed information on the other party. If you, as a client, withhold information, either regarding your finances or an essential piece of information, I will walk away from your problem and will charge you a fee for my time.

Now hopefully, that is clear. I will not leave my home to help you. I have an assistant, Archie, who does all my leg work. If you can’t reach me for some reason, you can trust Archie is my voice as well as my stand-in appearance. Usually, the procedure means you come to my home, which is my office. You must make an appointment, and once you do, Archie or I will contact you. If you don’t hear from me, that means I ‘m either too busy or don’t care about your problem. If I do see you, I insist on a strict dress code. If you’re a male, you must wear a tie or a jacket/v-neck sweater. If you’re a female, I insist that you wear a skirt, blouse, and sensible shoes. Think of it as working in a bank office. I don’t want to hear an emotional outbreak, just the facts and a background narrative of the characters that are associated with your problem. You may want to bring your own bottled water because I will not be serving any drinks or food to you during our meeting. These are the rules. Obey them or don’t use my services.

Also, I’m not fond of small talk. So once you’re in my office, and you sit down, immediately tell me what your problem is. I will ask specific questions, and once I decide to take your case, I’ll ask specific questions about your finances. I will insist on seeing all your bank accounts. So bring in your latest bank statements as well as a receipt of your last paycheck. Once you give me all the information I need, I insist that you leave my office and home immediately. The real activity is for me to isolate myself and think about your problem. I tend to my orchids as well as experimenting in my kitchen.   Usually, I’m lost in thought for a few days. I never (unless I’m busy) take more than three to five days to give a customer his or her advice. The thing is if you choose not to take my advice, you will still have to pay for my services. You don’t have to pay anything if my information doesn’t work out, but you must take my advice and use it accordingly. I will give you precise instructions on how to solve your problem. If you fail to follow these directions, then you will be still required to pay me. Now, if that is understood, what is your problem? - Tosh Berman

BOOK MUSIK 12 - "Face It" by Debbie Harry

Tosh and Kimley discuss Face It by Debbie Harry of Blondie fame, probably the most well-known band from the famed 70s CBGB music scene in New York. Harry was hugely influential as one of the first women to lead a rock band and has spent most of her life hanging out with the denizens of the creative worlds of NYC. Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and Jean-Michel Basquiat are just a few of the intriguing people who show up in this memoir. She has some tales to tell but we were left with the nagging feeling that there’s more to the story than meets the eye.