there is so much to be impressed by with the life and career trajectory of legendary screenwriter / director BILLY WILDER whose singular filmography includes the likes of SOME LIKE IT HOT (UNITED ARTISTS, 1959), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (PARAMOUNT, 1944), THE APARTMENT (UNITED ARTISTS, 1960), STALAG 17 (PARAMOUNT, 1953), SABRINA (PARAMOUNT, 1954), ACE IN THE HOLE (PARAMOUNT, 1951), THE LOST WEEKEND (PARAMOUNT, 1945), THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (20TH CENTURY FOX, 1955) and SUNSET BOULEVARD (PARAMOUNT, 1950). towering of his achievements in my opinion was his preternatural capacity as an GERMAN-speaking AUSTRIAN emigre to pick up on the cultural nuances and subtle inflections of the AMERICAN DIALECT and seamlessly spit them back out at us, all within a decade of arriving on stateside shores in the early 1930s.
in his definitive biography ON SUNSET BOULEVARD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BILLY WILDER (HYPERION, 1998), film scholar ED SIKOV very much digs into the creative and linguistic marvel that was WILDER, especially with his early run of hard-nosed films that take together made a sober, unblinking assessment of AMERICAN culture and society in the post-WWII period. it really is quite the achievement considering he was essentially passing judgement on his new home when he was still very much an OUTSIDER. and it is that unique mix of unmatched talent (of which he put to use beforehand when collaborating with the likes of GERMAN directors ERNST LUBITSCH and ROBERT WIENE) which allowed him write and direct with authority, as well as his status as an IMMIGRANT that makes his films so unique. he is in essence able to assess our culture so accurately in part because of his OUTSIDER status.
i read ON SUNSET BOULEVARD and several other books on WILDER (and FILM NOIR in general) back in my undergraduate years as part of a senior thesis on his early cycle of noir films which included DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE LOST WEEKEND, SUNSET BOULEVARD and ACE IN THE HOLE. in my opinion, ACE IN THE HOLE is his masterpiece as it caustically and unflinchingly calls out a then-nascent media culture that sought to exploit human suffering by creating media events that would garner media exposure and thus profits. it is a prescient film that is beyond relevant to today and has not lost its edge in the last 70s years. it was also a commercial flop and the last film he made with any sort of imbedded conceit or claim about AMERICAN culture and society writ large. it was the last film he made that had any real stakes.
as someone who after completing this undergrad project went on to teach overseas for several years, experiencing cultures as an outsider, it was the example of WILDER that i largely took to heart. i believe that when AMERICANS move overseas they feel an understandable need to impart judgement on their new unfamiliar surroundings. my thought was always to gather as much information as possible and engage with the local community. only after gaining their trust and understanding would i ever voice an opinion on states of affairs. i choose to believe that WILDER did not assimilate like he did without a genuine sense of innate curiosity and wonder about his new home. its very much an expanding of one's consciousness as anything else.
the example of WILDER showed that such a seamless ASSIMILATION could be done and at the very least, my experience as a newcomer is valid and gives me a unique PERSPECTIVE. not the only perspective, but a unique one.
memoirs written by musicians are funny things. there is always the question of motive for presenting such a personal narrative to the world and what agenda is being bolstered or spurred by such an effort. oftentimes it is a rehashing of the salad days of an artist or worse, "correcting" musical history. the better memoirs, and what comes immediately to mind is THE DIRT (review linked HERE) by NEIL STRAUSS / MOTLEY CRUE and LIFE (review linked HERE) by KEITH RICHARDS, often tend to celebrate a bygone era. the movers and shakers of the past contextualize the decisions of the artist and are very much on equal footing structurally and emotionally in the narrative. the artist themselves serves almost as a conduit or representative of a larger whole or particular scene.
i'd put PORCELAIN: A MEMOIR (PENGUIN, 2016) by noted DJ / PRODUCER / MUSICIAN and animal rights activist MOBY in that later category. his memoir is very much a celebration of the downtown MANHATTAN club scene of the late 80s and early 90s from the perspective of an economically-depressed HARDCORE kid from CONNECTICUT who was conflicted with his talent, ambition, self-doubt, social awkwardness and immense intelligence. in that 80s club scene he found a inclusive community that was very much about living in the moment and celebrating and supporting on another, and the upbeat music and drugs of that period reflected such. what i found particularly interesting about this memoir was how MOBY's career tracked with the evolution in ELECTRONIC MUSIC in the early to mid 90s when harder drugs like heroin and ketamine took over and darker down-tempo music became more prevalent. it was as if the carefree atmosphere of the scene had sobered into a walking nightmare.
now i am going to completely out myself here. i am familiar with AMBIENT groups like APHEX TWIN, ORBITAL, THE BLACK DOG, BOARDS OF CANADA, AUTHECHRE and SEEFEEL, ELECTROCLASH groups like LADYTRON, FISCHERSPOONER and LE TIGRE and POST PUNK groups like DEPECHE MODE and NEW ORDER, but for the most part i am a neophyte when it comes to the HOUSE MUSIC that this book gets into. such is why i decided to read this book. i am mostly familiar with MOBY's later more subdued string of records such as PLAY (MUTE, 1999), 18 (MUTE, 2002), HOTEL (MUTE, 2005) and LAST NIGHT (MUTE, 2008) that came out after the time period covered in PORCELAIN. which is basically saying i only knew him after he gained worldwide success with his PLAY album and his genre-crossing hits like "BODYROCK," "NATURAL BLUES," "WHY DOES MY HEART FEEL SO BAD?" and, of course, "PORCELAIN." i say all this because its very interesting to learn at the close of the book that it was this sense of being resigned to failure that led to his biggest success as cliche as that sounds. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR in one of his memoirs talks about the fact that athletes die twice, once when they pass their athletic peak and the other when they pass on like the rest of us. during the making of PLAY, MOBY has lost his mother to cancer and had begrudgingly come to terms with his own irrelevance in a scene that had moved beyond hm. those songs from that breakthrough record, came from that mindset which to me is endlessly fascinating.
this book covers a lot of other subjects such as MOBY's relationship with FAITH and CHRISTIANITY, as well as SEX and ALCOHOL. seems fitting that those two sets of obsessions are continuous throughout and are never resolved. makes sense to me.
i shouldnt be surprised that a musician so well composed and thoughtful in his interviews would not be capable of writing such a well-considered memoir, but there you have it. i highly recommend this memoir whether or not you are a fan of his music, which is probably the highest complicated i can make. enjoy.
i grew up on GENE WILDER films.
his MEL BROOKS collaborations on iconic films like THE PRODUCERS (EMBASSY, 1967), BLAZING SADDLES (WARNER BROS, 1974) and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (20TH CENTURY FOX, 1974) have transcended entertainment and have become touchstone moments of family lore that my brother and i share with our father. when i think of the cultural impact of WILDER (not only in relation to BROOKS but also his buddy films with RICHARD PRYOR and, of course, his seminal role as WILLY WONKA) i think of an idea of a MASCULINITY defined by EMPATHY and COMPASSION. even when his characters are in manic or morally corruptible mind-states, there is still that sense that this is a character acting out of LOVE.
KISS ME LIKE A STRANGER: MY SEARCH FOR LOVE AND ART (ST. MARTIN'S GRIFFIN, 2005) was a tender memoir that WILDER wrote about his life journey late into his career around the time he stopped making films. it cleverly utilizes his counseling session dialogue with his long therapist as a means of structuring his life into various vignettes showcasing key moments in his personal life and professional career. you learn about his need to please his mother and his compulsion towards over-thinking situations and meaning of his relationships with classmates, family and potential romantic interests. this compulsion leads him to acting as a means of expression, as well as recognition, and he is taken by theatre from an early age that he shares with his older sister CORINNE.
the memoir gets into the technical aspects of METHOD ACTING per the teachings of KONSTANTIN STANISLAVSKI which he studied in NEW YORK CITY at the HB STUDIO under HERBERT BERGHOF and UTA HAGEN, and later the pretigious ACTORS STUDIO under LEE STRASBERG. METHOD ACTING utilizes SENSE MEMORY to enhance ones performance by looking to one's one experiences for analogue touchstone moments to relive and bring and emotional depth to a performance. its interesting to know this background given WILDER's legendary penchant for comedic roles, but there is a sense of real PATHOS in his characters. a real drive and emotional core that makes them so endearing as they feel like genuine people making absurd decisions.
the memoir also touches on each of his four marriages, including his time with legendary comedian GILDA RADNER, who sadly passed from OVARIAN CANCER in 1989. there is a real INTIMACY in how he speaks of their relationship, with him often beckoning her to treat him with the same respect she does complete strangers. from her perspective, that neediness and selfishness she displays towards him is a form of INTIMACY, as he is the only one she can treat in that manner. she doesnt have to put her guard up with him. its a totally neurotic yet deeply touching dynamic and just shows how complicated and IDIOSYNCRATIC human relationships really are.
again, i am such a admirer of GENE WILDER (since childhood) that i would have loved anything written by him even if it wasnt cleverly constructed, heartfelt and genuinely bittersweet concerning a life well-lived and well-loved. that it was a touching story that really shows the depth of his love and appreciation for past collaborators and relationships only makes me want to go back and rewatch his catalogue again. KISS ME LIKE A STRANGER is well worth seeking out and reading and if you havent seen his work in THE PRODUCERS, BLAZING SADDLES or YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, then stop what you are doing this weekend just take it all in.
and youre welcome.
THE DIRT (review linked HERE) this is not. in my opinion, that book is the greatest memoir ever conceived. period.
what TOMMYLAND (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2005) attempts to do is present MOTLEY CRUE drummer TOMMY LEE as he enters his 40s. whereas THE DIRT is all about the many conflicting narratives of MOTLEY CRUE, this memoir deals with what you would expect in a straightforward memoir. that being his childhood, career, marriage, divorce and incarceration. there was nothing particularly revelatory revealed regarding any of those topics. LEE is a supremely gifted and respected drummer that has recorded with everyone from NINE INCH NAILS and ROB ZOMBIE to THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, POST MALONE, JACK'S MANNEQUIN and PERRY FARRELL. he is equally known for his infectious personality and legendary lack of impulse control. it seems that the same focused mentality that garnered him success in his 20s is the same that brought him trouble when dealing with adult issues and situations in his 30s.
and to his credit he recognizes this. you really get the feeling that at 40 he is in a good spot where he feels fortunate for being on good terms with his ex-wife and has access to his two sons. its unfortunate that 15 years later after publication that his relationship with both has devolved in the manner that it has publicly, but i wont comment on such beyond that.
structurally, i do appreciate that he allows several people to participate in this book, namely his ex-wife PAMELA ANDERSON and his PENIS. yes, his PENIS. there is a whole section on their relationship where there are several interjections between the three of them that on paper is totally ridiculous but seems quintessentially TOMMY LEE. i also appreciated that his cowriter ANTHONY BOZZA provides annotations throughout that provide context and legal qualifications to the more incendiary comments made by LEE. his commentary actually frees up LEE to be honest and uninhibited, no that he needed that extra push. as i said before, i think LEE is a pretty uninhibited dude most of his waking life.
regarding his incarceration, he didn't really get too deep into the experience other than what it deprived him of. i think if you want to get a better understanding of that experience than RANDY BLYTHE's DARKEST DAYS memoir (review linked HERE) is probably a better bet.
overall this memoir is pretty entertaining. i appreciated how he left a PHARRELL quote in where the famous HIP HOP producer obviously has no clue who he is. the debauchery recorded here was mildly interesting but became pretty boring and vaguely misogynistic after a while. and i think LEE recognized that as i'm almost certain those stories were pulled way back. as a closet MOTLEY CRUE fan, i thought this memoir was a fair effort by LEE. i just wished he'd focus more on the music and his connections to other artists than his personal life. i understand most people are interested in his ex-wife and live vicariously through LEE, but the dude is the second coming of JOHN BONHAM. a little more focus on the 80s METAL scene or his feelings on the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene would have been more interesting. unlike most of his contemporaries, LEE is still a name that has resonance and has essentially transcended his era.
i also wonder what he would write about now more than 15 years later.
growing up through the mid-90s in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, specifically the then-conservative enclave of ORANGE COUNTY, i was made more than well-aware of BRAND-conscious peers that went past brands like NIKE and sported surf and skate related labels like BILLABONG, O'NEILL, VANS, QUICKSILVER, RUSTY and OCEAN PACIFIC as well as other lifestyle firms like STUSSY, MOSSIMO, CROSS COLOURS, NO FEAR among countless others.
it is one of those interesting things about my upbringing that my family left SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA for NIGERIA in 1996, right when clothes was becoming a thing. a demarcator of identity. living in AFRICA killed that instinct (outside of basketball shoes!) where you were witness to those who had very little. it made this all feel very... small and insignificant.
in reading THIS IS NOT A T-SHIRT: A BRAND, A CULTURE, A COMMUNITY - A LIFE IN STREETWEAR (MCD, 2019) by BOBBY KIM, a.k.a. BOBBY HUNDREDS, of THE HUNDREDS fame, it became apparent that streetwear and fashion for him as a creator was less about exclusivity and more about expression. i didn't realize it beforehand, but all those labels i grew up on were run and started almost exclusively by white men. streetwear from THE HUNDREDS and its competitors was very much about penetrating the fashion and garment industry and gaining marketshare for a more diverse and inclusive set of designers. KIM is a lifelong CALIFORNIAN, HARDCORE PUNK kid, former LAW student and the son of KOREAN immigrants, which makes the rise of the label he co-created that much more interesting as it exemplifies a progression of AMERICAN culture writ large. the segment THE HUNDREDS brand satiates is as diverse as KIM himself.
which is kinda the point.
the label in many ways is an outgrowth of his personality and more specifically his blog. THE HUNDREDS was early to blogging and utilized such to contextualize their collections and transform the product being marketed as a psychic extension of their obsessions, hobbies and COMMUNITY. the blog essentially founded a community and it is that relationship with this COMMUNITY which is at the heart of this memoir.
what is KIM's relationship to his audience? what does he own them? does he allow them, or the idea of them, to lead his decision-making on future collections? or is his task to lead them deeper down an explored and deeply-shared sense of COMMUNITY based on similar obsessions, perspectives and viewpoints.
its an interesting dynamic that ive become interested in since starting my MBA recently, that of how one runs a business while leading an authentic existence. not exploiting either labor or your customers when all incentive and reward structures suggest otherwise. what ive taken from KIM's example is keeping ownership and financial control close and being realistic about potential risks and opportunities and how those will affect the standing of your brand. it may be that KIM has a unique perspective given his label's longstanding brand equity based on the transparency and interplay of his blog and social media with his COMMUNITY. as long as that relationship is intact and relevant to his consumers, it would seem the brand has a shot at continued viability.
but in the end it is not about a t-shirt, a brand or even KIM himself, it is about the COMMUNITY being fostered. and that is pretty cool. i never felt that from wearing a BILLABONG shirt back as a 12 year old. if anything SKATE and SURF culture came of as exclusive rather than inclusive.
very interesting BUSINESS memoir i'll be thinking of for quite some time. well worth checking out.
i should start by stating that BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH (DA CAPO, 2014) by PAUL BRANNIGAN and IAN WINWOOD is far from a perfect book. its BRITISH authors have an unfortunate GEOGRAPHIC BIAS towards the supposed importance of their native island in the role of METALLICA's career trajectory and an even more misplaced PROXIMITY BIAS to the role of KERRANG! magazine, of which the both have written for in the past. the authors also tend to be a bit verbose to the point of obfuscation, almost as if this book was written with a word limit in mind. there are also numerous grammatical mistakes (which is hard for me, a former ENGLISH teacher, to forgive).
all that being said, BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH does an alright job of relating the narrative of METALLICA and their massive cultural impact on the world of METAL and beyond. being familiar with their many documentaries (CLIFF 'EM ALL, A YEAR AND A HALF IN THE LIFE OF METALLICA I and II, SOME KIND OF MONSTER, etc.), most of this information i was already familiar with. i assume that fans much more... well, fanatic, than me would probably concede that much of this book is rather basic boilerplate knowledge of the band.
i think where this book succeeds is in how the authors reveal the interpersonal relationships between band members and those close to the bands orbit including family, managers and, of course, fans. JAMES HETFIELD and KIRK HAMMETT in particular grew up in broken households where music was a respite from conflict and the unfair and undue hardship of being a child dealing with adult problems. in LARS ULRICH you have an only son with a unique upbringing in that he was raised in a progressive, loving family with a wealthy, sophisticated father figure whose profession as a DANISH tennis pro allowed his son access to world travel and an education in the arts that was second to none. original bassist CLIFF BURTON likewise came from a loving family, albeit one that was working-class with no inclination for musicianship. this triumvirate (of HETFIELD, ULRICH and BURTON) after the ouster of original lead guitarist DAVE MUSTAINE, was fairly stable and artistically cohesive. its only after BURTON's untimely passing while on tour in EUROPE that these the new power struggle between HETFIELD and ULRICH is on full display and the victim of such is JASON NEWSTED.
its very interesting that the book makes clear that despite lyrics dealing with rebellion and standing up to the man, that when confronted with issues surrounding any semblance of EMPATHY, COMPASSION and basic DECENCY the leadership of the band failed miserably. HETFIELD, ULRICH and HAMMETT come across as victims of a deep trauma that is sublimated onto NEWSTED. they come off very much like small men indeed. and for all the flowery, sentimentalization carried throughout BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH, i thought such was quite a statement of fact. no doubt in the wake of his eventual departure in the early 2000s, which is beyond the scope of this book (which ends after their fifth album at the beginning of the 1990s), there very much is an emotional awakening that traces its painful roots back to the chronology of events examined in this book.
the book also makes clear that the band in all its lineup variations was in control of its destiny for better or worse. this goes with major decisions regarding personnel, management, booking agents, record labels, touring packages and so on. the notion that somehow the band was pushed to work with BOB ROCK and construct a more streamlined commercial record at the dawn of the 1990s is absolute garbage. the band (and by that i mean HETFIELD and ULRICH) were already there. despite their internal frailties and inherent weakness in acknowledging their own pain to each other in the face of a major trauma, in terms of creative decision-making, METALLICA was their own general.
no doubt the METALLICA of today is a very different animal than this period. and kudos to them for having the courage to progress as humans by admitting and vulnerability, and doing so very publicly. its the less celebrated late-career METALLICA that i feel are truly COURAGEOUS and undeniably AUTHENTIC in a genre filled to the brim with pretenders and charlatans. this book only makes that trajectory come into sharp focus and for that i appreciate it despite its many flaws.
i recently sought out this book in the aftermath of recent major internal changes at SHELL, CHEVRON and EXXON-MOBIL. in many ways BLOWOUT: CORRUPTED DEMOCRACY, ROGUE STATE RUSSIA AND THE RICHEST, MOST DESTRUCTIVE INDUSTRY ON EARTH(CROWN, 2019) by RACHEL MADDOW is a bit of a primer to understanding the current geopolitical climate surrounding the pernicious global effect of the oil and gas industry. in essence, the industry represents the worst aspects of capitalism run amuck, where the only true loyalty is not to country or set of common governing ethics, but the search for PROFIT and VALUE to shareholders. worse than that, there is an implicit economic incentive structure for major players to seek out countries with weak political structures and exploit them for their natural resources. this perpetuates dictatorships and weakens struggling democracies on a global scale.
in essence the petroleum industry is a corrosive and corrupting force both domestically and internationally. case studies presented of exemplars this adverse influence included that of EQUATORIAL GUINEA, OKLAHOMA and RUSSIA. in essence they all suffer from what is referred to as THE RESOURCE CURSE, by which a country or territory is economically dependent on a single resource that is subject to the greater whims of a global market, leaving them highly vulnerable should such bottom-out. inhabitants of these regions are often worse off economically with fewer legal rights and a lower quality of life. what MADDOW exposes is the multiple layers of corrupting influence in which major petroleum corporations through quasi-legal pay-outs, lobbying efforts and lawyering around sanctions seek to maximize profit to the detriment of ordinary citizens worldwide. in OKLAHOMA there were local natural gas operations in the fracking industry that fought tooth-and-nail for longterm tax breaks that essentially pilfered the state's largesse and strangled its ability to provide basic services like education for their constituency. it really begs the question of whose interests are they serving, because it obviously is not their community. in essence that is the point of this book: that the petroleum industry as currently defined culturally and legally is not bound by a set of common ethics or loyalty to country that interferes with its singular focus on producing profit and longterm value for its shareholders.
and that is a problem. a big one.
as an oil brat i grew up in this world and saw firsthand its pernicious influence of enabling foreign dictators and corrupt draconian regimes. it was perfectly obvious when witnessed in person yet conflictingly it is also true that our whole economy as AMERICANS is powered by this racket. this EXPLOITATION. forget about the CLIMATE CRISIS, i want widespread renewable energy just to enable some checks on these petroleum companies and the dirty work they do on our behalf and the fledging democratic governments they corrupt in our name.
this is a deeply moving book that i am not doing justice but will no doubt reference in the future. definitely worth reading and investigating if interested in the coercive effects of unfettered AMERICAN CAPITALISM on POLITICAL CORRUPTION both home and abroad.
i have a funny history with this classic of RUSSIAN literature. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (RUSSKIY VESTNIK, 1867) by FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY was the first book i taught as an ENGLISH teacher and it was not by choice. but first i have to back up a bit.
in 2008 i graduated from TEACHERS COLLEGE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY with a masters in the ENGLISH EDUCATION (and yes, i am aware my blog entries are often suspect in terms of grammar and syntax). at that point there was a hiring freeze across NYC and pretty much nationwide as old teaches were not retiring due to the downturn in the economy. effectively i was not able to find work despite having an IVY LEAGUE degree (not bragging, just stating the obvious) and administrative and peer recommendations from BROOKYLN TECH, a specialized "magnet" high school i student taught at as part of my degree. needless to say it was beyond frustrating and effectively was a good primer for my (brief) teaching degree in general. out of the blue i ended up taking a position at my alma mater in KUWAIT of all places. it didn't go well. maybe at some point i'll write about that experience, but effectively i returned stateside let down and pretty demoralized.
i had interviewed with dozens of NYC schools before taking the KUWAIT gig out of desperation. this included STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL, which is essentially the premier public secondary institution in the country. look up their alumni list, its more impressive than most colleges. they called and asked if i was available to cover for a teacher soon to be on maternity leave. of course i was. i came in a few weeks in advance just to meet the other teachers and get a lay of the landscape, when the unthinkable happened. the teacher i was going to cover for had her water break on site. she was on her way to the hospital when i learned i was starting that day. period.
the head of the english department walked me into his office where the class sets of books were to see what was available. i was handed the classic existentialist noveL CRIME AND PUNISHMENT to teach to my SOPHOMORES. easily one of the scariest moments of my life. i read the novel in college and was somewhat familiar with it, but i was walking into a lion's den not fully prepared by definition. teachers have been replaced because they couldn't handle the pressure of teaching to the brightest kids in the city. i will fully admit, some of those kids at 15 had me intellectually at 27. all i could do to compete was be better prepared.
the other teachers told me this was the worst set of circumstances they had ever seen a new teacher come in under with the exception of one teacher. upon hearing this, that teacher interjected saying "nope, CROWE has it worse." her first day of teaching at STUYVESANT? SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. the school is a black from ground zero.
so that is my history with the book. i do enjoy it because in essence it is a morality play the intensely religious DOSTOYEVSKY constructed as a way of reassuring himself that religious ideals like purity and devotion could still be viable in a rapidly changing cultural and economic RUSSIAN landscape. he utilizes quite a few inversions whereby characters that should hold a certain level of respect and grace fall way short while those at the bottom of the social ladder are almost saintlike.
probably my biggest takeaway from the novel was its question about the NATURE OF PUNISHMENT, whether being judged by the community via a legal system was worse than how we judge ourselves individually. the legal system in essence stands in for the kingdom of heaven and our own potential absolution from fear, guilt and punishment. to what extent is that absolution a matter of personal choice or circumstance?
because of the deep, introspective nature of this line of questioning which seemingly questioned religious authority by seeking a more personal relationship with the almighty (as opposed to just passive participation in religious ritual), DOSTOYEVSKY and this novel in particular get labeled as early examples of proto-EXISTENTIALISM. but he wasn't rejecting GOD. he was searching for a deeper connection and the questioning of the RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH was implicit in that search.
funny how they like him now that his ideas along with other 19th century writers like TOLSTOY, GOGOL, and PUSHKIN have lifted RUSSIAN LITERATURE to global recognition. at the time of its inception this novel was effectively heresy.
you don't need me to tell you to check out this novel, but you should. deep down you knew that already.
being abroad is an inherently risky proposition given that by definition you are not intimately familiar with the local culture, geography and general mentality of the inhabitants. being involved within the context of a foreign legal system is yet another more disorienting level of bewilderment, one that i unfortunately know from personal experience. as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA i was the victim of an assault walking home from local college that i had just given a lesson as part of my assigned service as a lecturer. obeying guidance from my superiors at PEACE CORPS, i went to the police shortly thereafter and witnessed what only can be described as corrupt maneuvering to save face on the part of the authorities, who paraded various innocent local men (most i assume who were beaten) in front of me for identification. i was made out and walking the streets became unsafe as nearly everyone thought i ratted them out to the police. it was bad. it got worse when my name hit the news and i became a national headline.
i can only imagine if i was the other way around and i was accused of something truly heinous within this dodgy legal morass.
that is pretty much the premise of the DARK DAYS (HACHETTE, 2015) memoir by LAMB OF GOD frontman RANDY BLYTHE, who recounts his monthlong incarceration in the notorious PANKRAC PRISON and trial on manslaughter charges related to the death of a fan who sustained injuries at a PRAGUE concert a few years prior. it should be stated up front that ultimately BLYTHE was ultimately exonerated of the charge.
it is a hell of a story that is told with humor, wit and empathy for not only his former fellow incarcerated peers, but also the guards. you very much get a first hand perspective on the survival mindset of a prisoner and how one maintain's hope and a sense of AGENCY within a context designed to eviscerate your sense of PURPOSE and IDENTITY. but ultimately DARK DAYS is less about specifics of his legal absolution and more about the singular experience of being imprisoned abroad and how to meet those acute personal hardships (which are PSYCHOLOGICAL, CULTURAL and SPIRITUAL in nature) with DIGNITY, GRACE and HONOR.
anyone familiar with LAMB OF GOD would not be surprised that BLYTHE produced a well-written accounting of his experience. as a writer i found him to be incredibly well-considered and deeply reflective. he speaks a lot about maintaining mental discipline and positive habits of mind (PMA) that allow him to not be victim to the traps of XENOPHOBIA or thinking in cliches and platitudes about his situation. with all his free time he develops a routine of reading, writing, meditation (zazen) and exercise that allow him to be present in the moment, as painful and isolating as that could be.
this discipline provided a core for which he could be aware and better able to assess his situation, which included his deep sorrow for the loss of life of one of his fan, even comparing it to the previous tragic loss of his newborn daughter. life for him is about dealing with life head on and accepting responsibility. and how can you not respect that?
this discipline also allowed him to not make broader judgements on CZECH society writ large, which i have witnessed AMERICANS do most of my life for far smaller grievances than incarceration while awaiting a murder trial. the fact that this book is not a tome against the notorious CORRUPTION present in EASTERN EUROPE (there is a reason the term balkanization exists) is quite an accomplishment in and of itself.
my only critiques are pretty minor.
stylistically, BLYTHE is a bit on the verbose side, something he fully admits. i believe this book could have used another edit as there is a tendency towards repeated tangents of key points that appear and then laboriously reappear in multiple passages throughout this 500-page book.
based on his prison experience, BLYTHE vigorously defends the ROMA people. my own experience finds me less than sympathetic to that population, as i saw them beat their infant children constantly in the street as to make them more convincing agents of pity for foreign tourists. its hard for me to unsee that sort of thing, but i understand he is informed by his experience, as am i.
there is a tendency for BLYTHE to ascribe his attitude, resolve, discipline and resolute sense of identity to his upbringing in VIRGINIA and cultural aspects of SOUTHERN GENTILITY. having lived around TEXANS and LOUISIANANS when i lived in NIGERIA growing up, who espoused endlessly about this supposed sense of moral clarity and refinement that came from their CHRISTIAN upbringing in the SOUTH always made my eyes roll. especially when these same people said unspeakably racist things about the local population and their children performed acts of cruelty on such. i understand that for BLYTHE this intimate sense of being grounded on your soil and within your community was a key element that provided him the resolve to transcend what can only be described as a harrowing experience. i get it. i just never bought into SOUTHERN GENTILITY as a concept. it probably says more about me that i take issue with this, but then again i am not from the SOUTH. so what do i know?
this all being said, i found DARK DAYS to be one of the more enjoyable and thoroughly readable self-written memoirs by a musician in recent memory. despite whatever deficiencies or squabbles i may find in various aspects of his story , in the end i have to admit his memoir is brutally honest and he takes responsibility for his participation in this most unfortunate tragedy with DIGNITY and GRACE and with his HONOR fully intact.
well worth reading whether or not you are a fan of LAMB OF GOD or METAL in general.
i first read THOMAS MANN's novella DEATH IN VENICE (VERLAG, 1912) for a comparative literature class in college and i was immediately taken with how it portrayed the PERFORMATIVE NATURE OF GENDER. the class itself was titled "Literature of Masculinity" and was very much about viewing male characters with an eye towards the prescriptions of NORMATIVE CULTURE they were inhabiting. probably the most interesting class i took in undergrad.
DEATH IN VENICE concerns itself with an author named GUSTAV VON ASCHENBACH, reportedly a nod to GUSTAV MAHLER, who has writer's block on a trip to VENICE and becomes obsessed with a young boy he sees at a beachside resort at a distance. what makes the story interesting, which on itself is more than creepy (and apparently an extrapolation of a similar holiday obsession of MANN himself), is how MANN portrays ASCHENBACH's behavior.
much like other beach goers, the past-his-prime writer has gone through a series of rituals with regard to makeup to present himself (in his mind) as being more youthful. the reality is that he is a grotesque caricature of such and the makeup administered fails to cover up the ill effects of cholera that will eventually take his life.
in essence we are all guilty of wearing a mask to better fit in with society and placate a false image of ourselves. usually this type of behavior is projected onto woman, but MANN shows how men are just as susceptible to such pressures. we all unyieldingly perform a MASCULINITY that is sanctioned by the precepts of our surrounding NORMATIVE CULTURE. and it is a PERFORMANCE.
there is also a strong sense of VOYEURISM throughout this narrative. it is never clear if the young aristocratic POLISH boy named TADZIO ever actually notices ASCHENBACH, or if the doomed author is just projecting momentarily glances as being more than such. as an audience we will never know, as we are too voyeurs into this charade. much like the ALFRED HITCHCOCK film REAR WINDOW (PARAMOUNT, 1954) showcases an ongoing melodrama interpreted by paraplegic sitting in wheelchair watching his neighbors from a fixed perspective, which mirrors that of the movie audience, we as readers are similarly both engaged and held at a distance from the action in DEATH IN VENICE. much like the TRANSFORMATIVE NATURE OF MAKEUP, there is also a TRANSFORMATIVE NATURE IN THE WRITTEN WORD. language both engages and holds us at bay from reality.
living abroad for so many years, i was always aware of how men carried themselves and how they attempted to project a sense of MASCULINITY through their appearance, dress and demeanor. its all culturally prescribed and reading DEATH IN VENICE in college made me aware of such. it has been immensely useful in that sense.
it also made witnessing hyper-aggressive forms (like in KUWAIT, ALBANIA or even STATEN ISLAND) seem that much more like EMASCULATED reactions to a deeply felt sense of MASCULINE FRAILTY. their MASCULINITY is caught up in warped projections of DOMINANCE and CONTROL, which in today's complicated world has left them with just FEAR and VIOLENCE. MANN made such transparent for me, which is the real gift of this narrative for me.
there was a brief few-month period in-between teaching gigs more than a decade ago when i was temping as a paralegal for a law firm two blocks north of the NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE. i remember at the time there was a BORDERS bookstore (remember those?) around the corner that i would take my lunch break at, usually reading and drinking coffee. because this was the WALL STREET location, there were usually book signings fairly regularly and one day i remember the line stretching around two corners. which was absurd. the line was filled with men and women, young and old. it was for TERA PATRICK, the porn star. i just remember being amazed by it all. how mainstream and just out in the daylight that whole industry was becoming.
probably the woman to thank/blame for that mainstreaming of adult films is JENNA MASSOLI, a.k.a. JENNA JAMESON who in her autobiography HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR: A CAUTIONARY TALE (HARPERCOLLINS, 2004), co-written with NEIL STRAUSS (co-author of other books by MÖTLEY CRÜE, DAVE NAVARRO, MARILYN MANSON, etc.) recalls her life trajectory from a LAS VEGAS misfit to taboo mainstream SEX SYMBOL.
JAMESON really goes out of her way to educate the reader about the ins and outs of the industry, often dispelling misinformation regarding safety and abuse while not shying away from the permanent consequences of being filmed having sex for money. she must know that her book, much like her career, is providing access to a taboo subject and mainstreaming information. i really give her credit for not glamorizing the industry but rather being clear-headed and transparent about its perks and pitfalls.
all that being said, this idea of self-exploiting one's SEXUALITY for financial gain is hard to stomach and you get the feeling that the subplot of this book, her drive to find connection (both EMOTIONAL and PHYSICAL), made her vulnerable for this career path. having no nurturing, maternal force growing up (her mother passing away when she was an infant) and a father that was largely distant and unavailable found her searching for a community that saw her making poor choices (by her own judgement) again and again as her family continually moved during her formative years. having dealt with other traumas (both of CHEMICAL and SEXUAL in nature) you really get the sense that JAMESON is at her core a survivor who does't look back to make and most definitely does not make excuse for her actions. she makes us aware of her past as a means of transparency, but you definitely get the sense that she doesn't want to be defined by such. she owns her choices.
i was taken aback by how familiar this narrative is to other books i've read over the years related to musicians and actors. this need to connect and affect others. it just so happens that her vehicle was PORNOGRAPHY and that she was the avatar that brought such to bear during the beginnings of the digital age, which we are currently in and dealing with the consequences of. i can't imagine the hardships she went through, just on a societal level where women's SEXUALITY is something to be tamed and compartmentalized. given that she started her own production company, hers is a story about power and her ability to grab it in the most male-dominated of industries.
i'm not passing judgement on her choices or the industry itself. i just think its a fascinating subject and i'm glad she decided to speak her truth. definitely a book worth reading if you are interested in sexual politics and representation(s) of femininity in the media.
this book was published in 2004 in the ensuing decade-and-a-half JAMESON has transformed into a twice divorced mother of three who has adopted staunchly ultra far-right conservative views. she is a stridently vocal supporter of former POTUS DONALD TRUMP and his regressive agenda regarding immigration, guns, abortion, etc. in my opinion, THAT TRANSFORMATION is far more interesting than anything found in her autobiography, arguably released at the height of her fame. what would make someone who arguably broadened the parameters of free speech and mainstream discussions surrounding sex, and even profited off it handsomely, choose to dive deep into reactionary rightwing politics. seems to be a trend of that with the similar likes TILA TEQUILA (alt-right nazism) & JENNY MCCARTHY (vaccine denial) utilizing their public personas to misguide the public. again, i am not passing judgement here, but THAT is the book i'd like to read from JAMESON.
at this point there is a whole cottage industry of DAVE GROHL-directed media products, from documentaries (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US) to tv shows (SONIC HIGHWAYS, FROM CRADLE TO STAGE) to his recent memoir THE STORYTELLER: TALES OF LIFE AND MUSIC (DEY STREET, 2021). oh yeah, and he makes music.
GROHL obviously has one of the most storied careers of any modern musician, having cut his teeth as a teen with the 1980s DC HARDCORE stalwarts SCREAM before serendipitously joining the legendary 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK group NIRVANA and then forming his own band, FOO FIGHTERS, after their demise. he's collaborated with everyone from LEMMY KILMISTER and TRENT REZNOR to CAT POWER and JOHN PAUL JONES. his side projects include PROBOT, THEM CROOKED VULTURES and a brief stint in QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE. but most music fans are familiar with his biography.
and i believe he knows that, which is why his memoir is not a straight chronological telling of his personal narrative, but rather notable moments or vignettes told in sequential order. structurally it was very reminiscent of A HOUSE ON MANGO STREET. and i think such was a smart idea because it freed him to really dive into the meaning of certain rights of passage of his youth and that of his family without having to worry about how they fit into a broader context. again, most of these stories are familiar to anyone who has watched or read his interviews over the years or even read former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN's laboriously compiled biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (review linked HERE). what THE STORYTELLER provides is a perspective of a ROCK AND ROLL life rooted in family. GROHL goes to great lengths to show that his love of music was almost a manifestation of his unconditional love for his mother, who supported and sacrificed tirelessly on his behalf (a contrast to that of his father). but beyond his mother, his love of music connected him to an ever widening mandala of similarly minded friends that includes both the famous and the obscure; and they are both written about with equal wit and empathy. his childhood friend JIMMY SWANSON is as much a part of his personal narrative (perhaps more so) as that of KURT COBAIN, which is very endearing. given his public profile and immense cultural influence, it was likewise heartwarming to see GROHL give respect to his predecessors and influences: from NEIL PEART, PAUL MCCARTNEY and JOHN BONHAM, to LITTLE RICHARD, JOHN FOGERTY, AC/DC and JOAN JETT. even numerous obscure HARDCORE bands from his youth. THE STORYTELLER is in essence a vehicle for shining a light on the connective, reinvigorating force that is music, which is a common returning theme in all of his film and tv projects. by extension music makes everyone kin. everyone is connected on the same wavelength.
aside from its focus on musicians, the core of what i found engaging about THE STORYTELLER is how music connects him with his children. how he takes inspiration from their courage to perform publicly in front of their school peers during their elementary years or how they relate to it on the same emotional wavelength that he does. this made me think about how i have that same musical relationship with my dad and how for GROHL and his children THE BEATLES are that connection point, THE STRANGLERS and THE SMITHS are the same with my father. i havent read about that intergenerational connection in any previous rock memoir, maybe with the exception of KEITH RICHARDS and his mother in LIFE (review linked HERE). i should point out that i found it odd that GROHL mentions his wife in passing (unlike his mother and daughters). it was an interesting omission.
i thoroughly enjoyed this book and its focus on family and the nature of human connection through music or more elementally, love. i know most readers just want to hear COBAIN stories, but i thought he walked that line of audience expectation adroitly and with much care and empathy. THE STORYTELLER is well worth reading and i look forward to future non-musical efforts by GROHL and his ever expanding army of collaborators.
much like the previously reviewed UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (linked HERE) KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE: PUNK ROCK IN POSTSUBURBAN CALIFORNIA (UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS, 2011) by DEWAR MACLEOD deals with the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that began primarily around HOLLYWOOD in the late 70s and then quickly proliferated to the surrounding suburbs and statewide thereafter in quick succession.
whereas UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN is by design an oral history by participants of the original scene with some HARDCORE musicians sprinkled in, MACLEOD's take on the subject is of a more academic, anthropological variety including economic, media criticism and social historical insights. unlike UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN, he analyzes both scenes, those being the original LOS ANGELES scene and the fragmented suburban scenes it spawned, with equal critical attention and weight.
in UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN there is the presentation of HARDCORE as the bastardization of the original scene which was described as diverse and inclusive of various art and minority communities. the almost exclusively WHITE MALE kids that made up the HARDCORE scene in the suburbs where abrasive, boorish and exceedingly violent and their music was a sped-up, dumbed down, sonically conservative variant. that was general criticism of such from that book.
MACLEOD here presents HARDCORE instead as a progression of an art form by kids who grew up within communities that by definition had no center, no core, no essence as they were part of the seemingly infinite suburban sprawl. their communities were defined by shopping centers and shallow consumerism. HARDCORE and its community was both a rejection of that complacency and a brutal, primal return to a cultural of year zero, L.A PUNK that preceded it included. these were not sophisticated art kids that jumped on PUNK as a means of expression as the original scene originated in the wake of the example of the SEX PISTOLS and the BRITISH variant's social and stylistic concerns, which were mimicked. HARDCORE, as MACLEOD argues, was the manifestation of a generation of kids raised in the suburbs with seemingly no locust of control over their surroundings, it was this dislocation, this imbalance that led them collectively to seek out HARDCORE in its extremities as a public sublimating ritual for control. that was what i gathered from this book regarding the violence that grew out of HARDCORE with the transition from BRITISH inspired "pogoing" to "slam dancing" behavior.
with HARDCORE in a SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA context you also have to be aware of the sensationalism behind its portrayal at the time by the media. cops at shows became a regular occurrence after the inexplicable 1979 ELKS LODGE MASSACRE, a show played by first-wave L.A PUNK bands like THE PLUGZ, THE WEIRDOS, THE SKULLS and THE DICKIES among others that was famous infiltrated by plainclothes police and resulted in a mini-riot and the public beatings of PUNK kids. after that event and the media attention that followed, the scene in LOS ANGELES was viewed as volatile and senselessly violent, which only drove those types of people to future shows, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. thereafter the scene ceded control to the masses.
one other thing that interested me about this book was MACLEOD's sociological read of the early scene which included various participants, cliques and independent zine writers/editors all attempting to define the scene to no avail. when i think of NYC where PUNK originated i think of closed, defined, claustrophobic spaces, both physical and spiritual. PUNK was a burst of energy and a claim to identity rooted in this perceived hostile environment. with LOS ANGELES, you dont have that sense of enclosing space like in NYC. but what you do have is the sense of the painful vacuous, vapid nature of the middle AMERICAN mindset, which i would argue is just as reductive and spiritually exhaustive.
interesting book that presents lots of interesting reads on a scene that no-doubt has had ripple effects on modern AMERICAN culture beyond the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. definitely worth seeking out.
in VACATIONLAND (PENGUIN, 2017), writer/actor/humorist JOHN HODGMAN presents a bittersweet memoir concerned with the inevitable struggles of growing older while simultaneously surviving summers on vacation at his second home in MAINE. he full admits how at length how WHITE PRIVILEGE that all sounds. and he's right. it is.
HODGMAN, of course, is primarily known for his work as a contributor to THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART as well as his famous stint in APPLE commercials, playing the role of a PC. his humor is dry, eccentric and bitingly clever. but this book in tone veers clear of what i would consider his persona. instead he focuses on what MAINE means to him, which is an extended metaphor for coming to terms with yourself and your own DEFICIENCIES.
you see, HODGMAN is a NEW ENGLANDER and only child from a comfortable suburban town outside BOSTON. after the death of his mother he inherits her house in WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, which is really his introduction to home ownership and by extension ADULT RESPONSIBILITY. he adroitly mentions that apartment living in BROOKLYN is an extended adolescence free of the headaches of homeownership, as any and all problems are taken care of by the property superintendent. being a home owner by contrast requires some semblance of AUTONOMY, PREPAREDNESS and SELF-RELIANCE.
eventually he and his wife purchase a second home in MAINE. he presents a vision of MAINE as a serene, beautiful and thoroughly harsh place that creates a certain breed of individual. privacy is so widely respected that help is only given upon request. HODGMAN provides examples of help rendered by the local community with little regard for niceties such as etiquette or even extended conversation.
its difficult to read about this mode of existence without thinking that this "LIVE AND LET LIVE" mentality reverberates in HODGMAN's own SELF-IMAGE. growing older means effectively coming to terms with who you are and not what you think you are. its a painful realization that comes with the finality of being near death, as he experienced vicariously through his mother's passing. endings somehow bookend a sense of MEANING or mission in your life.
i remember years ago in NIGERIA attending a wedding for one of our gardeners. there was an elevated stage with the bride and groom, each on their own side. and both were facing the family of the other. before they wed there was a roast of sorts whereby each family member basically stated for all to hear everything that was wrong with them PHYSICALLY, INTELLECTUALLY, EMOTIONALLY, PSYCHOLOGICALLY, etc. i remember hearing someone say that the bride's hips were too narrow, that she'd only be able to birth no more than four children. it was BRUTAL yet in a ABSURD sense very POIGNANT, because what they were doing was publicly accepting them into the family as they actually were. warts and all.
i hear echos of that line of SELF-REALIZATION in this memoir. of realizing that you are not as clever, cool or knowledgable as you thought you were and being fine with that. i'm not gonna lie, i used to live in WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, so its always interesting for me to read someone's thoughts on the area, especially NORTHAMPTON, GREENFIELD, AMHERST and the like.
this is a unique and eccentric book but ultimately rewarding because of its focus on SELF-ACCEPTANCE and BUILDING COMMUNITY. a compelling read.
i always found it interesting when watching films related to warfare that seemingly 99% of them portray such as a glamorous activity. dont get me wrong, i understand the necessity for armed conflict and i am fully aware that there is a sense of camaraderie that comes from it. i also understand the potential for honor and valor in safeguarding your fellow soldier and the importance of securing specific mission objectives. i get all that. but on a fundamental level, the act of organized destruction by state actors is something to be avoided, not celebrated. if only for the suffering and death that follows, most often for those to whom only unfortunate circumstance has rendered them culpable. i've seen the repercussions of such in locales such as KOSOVO, CAMBODIA, NIGERIA, BOSNIA, CYPRUS, VIETNAM and elsewhere and the consequences are the same. nothing good comes from wanton suffering.
and that is why on some foundational level, famed 20th century REALIST writer ERNEST HEMINGWAY understood such and incorporated it into his famed WWI novel A FAREWELL TO ARMS (SCRIBNER, 1929). this novel is centered around the love affair between an ambulance driver and a nurse who meet and ultimately fall in love during his recuperation. in typical biographical fashion, this scenario plays on a similar experience HEMINGWAY himself experience during WWI in ITALY. spoiler alert: the nurse and her child pass away at the close of the book and the driver is isolated, both in terms of the physical loss of his potential family, but also emotionally and spiritually depleted. its a great metaphor for the real consequences of war, as there are never real winners. war is inherently pyrrhic by nature as it leaves everyone morally and spiritually barren.
and i cant think of an exception. i cant come up with an armed conflict that has not extracted a severe cost in capital and the more precious commodity of human suffering. maybe someone out there can? for me A FAREWELL TO ARMS is a seminal expression of that primal understanding that armed conflict is a necessary yet consequential activity that deserves a respect not paid when seen through the rose-colored lenses of warmongers and profiteers who perpetuate propaganda in the films we watch and news we consume. deciding on conflict as a course of corrective action is a sacred decision that leaves no one unblemished and ennobled. by falling into it we descend into its own deceptive logic and nobody is the better for it.
stating anything else would be a deception. a lie and a big one at that. and us AMERICANS, we love our big lies.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i knew going into this book that renowned drummer STEWART COPELAND of THE POLICE fame was a bit of pretentious asshole, but man, his book STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN: A LIFE WITH THE POLICE, POLO, AND PYGMIES (IT BOOKS, 2010) really only confirms it. what drew me to his story in part was his upbringing abroad in LEBANON as a state department brat (actually his father worked for the C.I.A.). when youve grown up abroad as a THIRD CULTURE KID, as i have, you kind of seek out others as well. i was curious what effect being an AMERICAN abroad had on his cultural education and to what extent it informed his (admittedly phenomenal) drum skills.
sadly the structure of this book is rather jagged and arbitrary, small awkwardly worded vignettes about different experiences in his life that don't follow a specific timeline or present coherent a coherent narrative. this unfortunate structuring also makes it seem that things just happened around him, that he had no sway in his life's trajectory. what's worse, none of these stories are particularly "strange" in the least. moreover they just showcase his inflated sense of importance and privilege.
for instance he goes to KENYA to the touristy MASAI MARAI region cavorting with giraffes and lions to film some shitty movie. he hangs out with pygmies and is involved with a group ritual that he fails to explain the significance of, outside of his own awkwardness in the procession. like i care about how he felt. what's worse is that he waxes poetic about his journey to AFRICA to discover roots of AMERICAN music. this really annoys me because, with all due respect, that tradition is rooted sub-Saharan WEST AFRICA, places like GHANA, NIGERIA, TOGO and CAMEROON were the slave trade was rooted for centuries. going to the most tourist-friendly part of AFRICA and then talking about roots is just pathetic.
this book is a hard pass and i wouldn't recommend it to anyone, even if they are a fan of THE POLICE. im looking forward to ANDY SUMMERS memoir. hopefully he doesn't have his head nearly as far up his own ass as COPELAND. good grief.
inspired by the political repercussions (and widespread FRANCOPHOBIA) that followed FRANCE's refusal to participate in AMERICA's fraudulent military misadventures in IRAQ in the wake of 9/11 (and the all-too predictable moronic backlash by AMURRICANS thereafter), LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES (RIVERHEAD, 2015) by SARAH VOWELL is a compelling examination of the FRANCO-AMERICAN relationship during the REVOLUTIONARY WAR through the journey of noted patriot, GILBERT DU MOTIER, the MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
what i love about VOWELL's writing style is her way of balancing the charm of an attentive first-person TRAVELOGUE with the well-researched heft of an almost academic piece of NONFICTION and HISTORY writing. her narrative voice is nuanced, commanding and (quite often) sardonic which allows her to tackle something as seemingly dry and quotidian as the REVOLUTIONARY WAR period and make it intriguing.
as ive mentioned before, i took AP UNITED STATES HISTORY in high school and i was wholly unaware of how mistaken i was about the facts of that war. for instance, i never realized how malnourished, undertrained, unarmed and unsupported that CONTINENTAL ARMY actually was. essentially the individual colonies didnt see the need to adequately raise a decent military, which is maddening and counter to the narrative i was familiar with. case in point was the debacle of VALLEY FORGE which saw thousands of AMERICAN soldiers perish from exposure to the elements during a harsh PENNSYLVANIA winter.
another example was the lengths to which the FRENCH NAVY essentially secured our victory at YORKTOWN after an offshore entanglement with the BRITISH NAVY. yes, the most crucial battle of the AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR had, you guessed it, zero AMERICANS involved. just incredible. this providing of FRENCH capital in terms of its LABOR, ARMS, GOLD and BLOOD is best personified in that of LAFAYETTE, a FRENCH teenage aristocrat who volunteered by his own expense because of his love of freedom (and hatred of the BRITISH), who proved himself a capable leader and essential partner in the war effort that birth this new nation. he risked life, limb and status in pursuit of the idea of this yet-to-be-realized nation. some (like me) would argue that the dude was an overzealous, bloodthirsty fanatic, but hey, he's arguably one of the greatest AMERICANS ever, and he's not even AMERICAN!
so in essence i am thankful to VOWELL for writing this book so that i can sigh and cringe in an ever-more-annoyed state the next time i hear mention FREEDOM FRIES or the questioning of foreign allies. its so laughable it is quite depressing.
and that is where im at. thats where ive been since the BUSH JR era.
LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES is a great book on an oddly important subject that every AMERICAN should be better versed in (but wont, you know, because we dont read - or think critically).
i first read the novella VENUS IN FURS (PENGUIN CLASSICS, 1870) by LEOPOLD VON SACER-MASCOCH back during my senior year of high school. at the time i had recently moved to SACRAMENTO after departing KUWAIT and was living with a relative away from my family. it was intense in part because i left one claustrophobic situation for another. living in KUWAIT was a closed system where there were explicit limits on expression and personal freedom in general. SACRAMENTO felt much the same, a variation on a theme. 9/11 had just happened and i was unfortunately in a conservative backwater so BUSH-era jingoism and false patriotism was in full flight. i felt thoroughly trapped.
which is probably why i felt compelled to seek out this transgressive novella at the time. i knew of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND song so that was the initial impetus. the narrative mainly concerns the obsessive efforts of a man named SEVERIN VON KUSIEMSKI who increasingly degrades himself at the behest of WANDA VON DUNAJEW, a woman he is infatuated and obsessed with in the extreme. over the development of their unusual contract, the more she mistreats him (which she grows to sadistically enjoy), the more he overwhelmed with passion. it is from the reputation of this late 19th century story that term MASOCHISM came about in reference to the author.
obviously this book deals with SEXUAL DEVIANCY, whatever that is. what got me interested, however, was its exploration of the PSYCHOLOGY OF OBEDIANCE of obedience. the idea of submission and why people voluntarily acquiesce their sense of identity, whether that be out of passion or even political or religious fervor. all around me in SACRAMENTO i was witness to a mass of adults that were unquestioning and uncritical of the buildup to war. what made things more confusing was that the culture i witnessed in KUWAIT was just as prone to group think and the SUBLIMATION of their individual identity in the states as those morons in CALIFORNIA. again, i felt thoroughly trapped.
whenever i consider widespread social movements or cults or soccer hooligans or TRUMP supporters it always brings me back to this book. there is a PLEASURE in surrendering your ego and personal responsibility to a perceived higher power, POLITICAL or RELIGIOUS. it is by definition HUMAN NATURE.
what gets me is the flip-side of that coin, the power of the SADIST that enjoys that unbridled and unquestioning pure adulation. that manipulates and takes pleasure from such power. one encourages the other and it is a corrosive dynamic that is far too applicable in modern society with so much chaos and uncertainty. be careful of who you follow.
SEXUAL POLITICS is probably the most brutal aspect of being human. the ability or inability to attract a mate or companion and navigate the EMOTIONS, EXPECTATIONS and CULTURAL BAGGAGE that comes with the territory. as awkward as the subject matter can be, cartoonist JOE MATT practically revels in it with unflinching gusto in his autobiographical graphic novel THE POOR BASTARD (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 1997), a repackaging of parts of his highly idiosyncratic PEEPSHOW series.
in essence this graphic novel proves the point that sometimes there really is such a thing as too much information.
MATT presents himself as a shallow, sex-crazed egotist who is constantly seeking his embodiment of "perfect" woman that is obviously a figment of imagination. for all of his SELF-OBSESSION, STUNTED ADOLESCENCE and rampant IMMATURITY, there is a real pathos to all the insecurity he projects on womankind. this expectation of his of their physical perfection doesnt mirror in his own appearance or SELF-IMAGE, even in a comic that he controls. it is as if he wants us to know how pathetic his life is.
reading his comics is highly uncomfortable yet instructive in that it makes the reader question his/her own motivations in the relationships her/he pursues. is MATT really that bad or are well all like him, seeking in others what is not in ourselves. is ROMANTIC LOVE inherently selfish? maybe.
i cant say id recommend THE POOR BASTARD but if anything it is highly interesting. makes me want to red the comic from the perspective of his attempted conquests. itd be interesting to see these women see him. itd be interesting to see what EMOTIONS, EXPECTATIONS and CULTURAL BAGGAGE they project onto other potential love interests and what that says about them.
maybe we are all similar? or maybe MATT is a true degenerate.
in the past few years there have been a number of books published to address the critical void in PUNK ROCK history surrounding the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that emerged in the late 1970s and transitioned into the more aggressive, militant and arguably influential 1980s HARDCORE scene made up of bands from the SOUTH BAY and nearby outlying counties (ORANGE, VENTURA, SANTA BARBARA and SAN DIEGO). this includes X guitarist JOHN DOE'S UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (DA CAPO, 2016), MASQUE venue owner BRENDAN MULLEN's WE GOT THE NEUTRON BOMB: THE UNTOLD STORY OF L.A. PUNK (THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2001) and LEXICON DEVIL: THE FAST TIMES AND SHORT LIFE OF DARBY CRASH AND THE GERMS (FERAL HOUSE, 2002) and STEVEN BLUSHES's AMERICAN HARDCORE: A TRIBAL HISTORY (FERAL HOUSE, 2001) among many other notable titles.
what makes VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY (FERAL HOUSE, 2011) by ALICE BAG of THE BAGS a compelling memoir is not only her unique perspective on the initial scene, which she was an active participant in, and its notable participants (THE GERMS, THE WIERDOS, X, THE MIDDLE CLASS etc.), but also how her upbringing as a LATINA in EAST L.A. affected her worldview. in my estimation, that distinct perspective is what is missing in other recent books on the subject and makes this autobiography a particularly noteworthy and vital addition.
regarding that perspective, BAG presents a scene made up of misfits and artistically-inclined eccentrics with varied interests and backgrounds who created an anarchic, underground and ultimately inclusive community of like-minded individuals. in her description of this early scene there is very much a sense of FREEDOM at play, where PUNK ROCK had opened the doors to personal expression with no expectations. and the initial community, which was quite INTIMATE and SELF-SUSTAINING, supported such. much like other scenes that blew up, its success was its downfall as it transitioned into the HARDCORE scene. audiences from the suburbs flooded in and transformed the scene into something quite different entirely, arguably a more REGIMENTED, VIOLENT and ultimately CONSERVATIVE affair.
much of this book is focused on that of her family and the aggression and rage inherited from her father, who on occasion mercilessly beat her mother in public view of her neighbors. you really get the sense of the generational TRAUMA of such TOXIC MASCULINITY and how it affects and inhibits your ability to interact and navigate relationships and the wold in general. lucky for BAG, her music and the support of her community allowed her a unique avenue for sublimating such for position change, but it is interesting how she feels somewhat culpable for the transition the scene ultimately took towards a more orthodox and less inclusive community that seemed NIHILISTIC in its almost ritual celebration and fetishization of VIOLENCE. her music was violence and aggression as a catharsis and means of deeper communicating and engagement with her audience. what later emerged was music as a background soundtrack to sanctioned random AGGRESSION.
an aspect i really appreciated about this memoir was how it was written and structured. BAG has a real gift for being direct and concise while providing intimate details of what it was like being an adorable music-obsessed dork growing up in the 1970s complete with loving descriptions of her clothing, hair and that of her peers, especially with regards to her fandom and emulation of ELTON JOHN. the book is structured as a series of short chapters that almost serve as small vignettes, each one providing a glimpse into a wide narrative without making it to fragmented in the process. it is a remarkable narrative strategy that more than mirrors the ethos of her music, which likewise is VISCERAL, MEMORABLE, CONCISE and ultimately quite IMPACTFUL.
i feel that VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY is an effective introduction to the story of the LOS ANGELES PUNK scene and its transformation. given her perspective as a minority and a woman it is really interest a treat to explore her experience in the scene. it makes me wonder why more of these books do not exist regarding PUNK ROCK in general as the community is far more diverse than the literature would suggest. after this i am definitely primed to seek out THE SPITBOY RULE: TALES OF A XICANA IN A FEMALE PUNK BAND (PM PRESS, 2016) by SPITBOY drummer MICHELLE CRUZ GONZALEZ.
if anyone is aware of other titles hitherto not reviewed in this forum, please let me know.