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.
i know people get caught up in the drugs culture immaculately encapsulated in HUNTER S. THOMPSON's epic FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (RANDOM HOUSE, 1971). and for good reason, its a legendary book that practically celebrates the liberating aspects of "expert" drug use in a pre-crack world before gangs and professionalized cartels, foreign and domestic, trafficked in and ravaged the urban landscape ablaze with SENSELESS VIOLENCE and PROFITEERING. for me the real freedom in this modern day ODYSSEUS epic series of travels, both external and internal, real and manufactured, as experienced in the character of RAOUL DUKE is in the writing.
HUNTER S. THOMPSON is a singular writer along the lines of his heroes ERNEST HEMINGWAY and F. SCOTT FITZGERALD. in this narrative he channels the naivety and abandon of the 60s counterculture while simultaneously critiquing the straight world for its procedures, deadlines and responsibility and the PSYCHIC DEATH therein. i appreciate the fact that THOMPSON abandoned a discernible character arc with a no lessons really learned, more a series of experiences and situations with no goals or sense of resolution or knowledge gained.
in lieu of no discernible character arc or traditional plot resolution it would not be correct to state that there is no action, my understanding is that it is all internal. as a reader we are led into the mind of a character that is on the verge of psychosis, the string linking his INTERNAL and EXTERNAL REALITIES being breached and reconfigured. we are led to question our understanding of this world through the eyes of a classic unreliable narrator, except maybe in this warped world the perception of drug fiend is how we can see things clearly for what they are. DUKE's hallucinations of bats and casino lounge lizards mating on full display are maybe harbingers of true existential threats where our fellow sentient beings are out to club and devour each other as the natural order has ad infinitum.
for me these hallucinations dovetail with my understand of the nature of literature, wherein an author's writings are cosmically transmogrified in our mind to create visions and understandings that are palatable yet wholly ephemeral. in essence the written word creates hallucinations and our interpretations of such create meaning. this is very much on display when THOMPSON at the conclusion of FEAR AND LOATHING muses about where the trajectory of his beloved generation went and how its psychic energy crested and receded, only to leave its memory imprinted on those who were there. much like our experience reading this novel.
one of my favorite books of all time. its depth, tone and inventive use of language has had me revisit it several times since engulfing it the summer before my freshman year of high school. highly recommended.
generally whenever the topic of MANIFEST DESTINY is broached in history classes or public discourse, there always seems to be this subtext that everything worked out for the better. that the AMERICAN way of life is good and therefore the relocated native inhabitants benefited in the long run. for a country that broadly boasts and self-identifies with ideals such as LIBERTY and FREEDOM, the question always comes back to exactly whose LIBERTY and whose FREEDOM is being forwarded. definitely not members of the CHEROKEE, WEST AFRICAN or PUERTO RICAN nations among many many others.
UNFAMILIAR FISHES (RIVERHEAD, 2012) by SARAH VOWELL focuses its attention on the annexation of HAWAI'I and the gradual integration of outside RELIGIOUS, COMMERCIAL and MILITARY interests over generations that ultimately supplanted economic and power structures and effectively desecrated their culture and eviscerated their way of life. this is a case study in AMERICAN EXPANSIONISM and how our unchecked IMPERIALIST IMPULSE to satiate our domestic economy is paid in the loss of LIBERTY and FREEDOM of nameless, forgotten others from far reaches of the globe. a legacy that continues to this day in the exploitation of resources and labor by weak foreign governments, who effectively act as complicit lackeys in our global supply chain. the title comes from scholar DAVID MALO who warned that after a big wave, foreign unfamiliar fish come and effect the ecosystem by eating the domestic population. this being a metaphor for allowing foreign influence on the island. unfortunately that prophecy materialized.
before we sold unadulterated CAPITALISM to the natives of HAWAII, we sold them CHRISTIANITY. VOWELL goes to great lengths to showcase how NEW ENGLAND RELIGIOUS and COMMERCIAL (initially WHALING) interests first brought people from the UNITED STATES over to HAWAI'I. it is easy to knock these early PURITAN missionaries. i want to be upfront. i despise missionaries. i loathed them as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA, where they often deliberately conflated being CHRISTIAN with being AMERICAN to the locals. i found myself constantly confronting their ideas in my students at the university as well as locals i tutored. in my mind, all missionaries in general are the height of EGOTISM and XENOPHOBIA since their charter is to change foreign belief structures, not learn from them. i could go on but i wont. just suffice to say that despite all these qualities, the missionaries in HAWAI'I were successful in spreading literacy among all classes of native society and even codified their language with a modified latin alphabet. so i will give them that.
but with those early RELIGIOUS communities came close behind with commercial BUSINESS interests that over time saw the un-utilized land as perfect for the development and exploitation of sugar. with those interests came the imported notion of PROPERTY RIGHTS and a likewise transplanted JUDICIAL SYSTEM to oversee them with foreign lawyers and the like. basically a CIVIL SOCIETY sprung up and within a few generations ultimately outmaneuvered the existing monarchy. as is the case with AMERICAN history, issues regarding COMMERCE and PROPERTY RIGHTS supersede that of HUMAN RIGHTS, or at worse the latter is always contextualized by the former.
it is ever maddening and deeply troubling.
but that is the gift this book provides about a forgotten segment of our history. it seems even more tragic that the annexation was an afterthought during the manufactured SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR. it was a land grab that didnt even need a formal treaty of annexation. within the new context of the UNITED STATES as an imperial power that stretched as far as the PHILIPPINES, for the powers in WASHINGTON DC it was a forgone conclusion. at the expense of the natives, much like those that came before.
this book is thoroughly researched and well-written. it is worthy of investigation of anyone interested in the annexation of HAWAI'I and the distinctly AMERICAN theology of MANIFEST DESTINY that continues unabated to this day.
sometimes the less you know the better.
that was definitely the case with COMMANDO (ABRAMS BOOKS, 2012), a posthumous autobiography by PUNK ROCK icon JOHNNY RAMONE written during his final years while battling prostate cancer. its not that i dont appreciate or love his music. shit THE RAMONES are one of the bedrock bands of my entire music listening life, its practically them and THE BEATLES in my mind for most consequential bands in ROCK N ROLL history. its just the dude on paper comes off as a real DICK. and not even a likable one.
i understand that there is a bit of hagiography going on when writing one's memoir, that makes sense. it is after all a book where the author and subject are one in the same so there should be some blurring of that line of credibility. but COMMANDO seems intent on making JOHNNY RAMONE the center of the narrative at all times. it makes sense that TOMMY wrote the preface forward because he is the only other band member that is not characterized as an adult juvenile delinquent. that was unfortunate, given that by the time of its being written, JOEY RAMONE had been dead for more than half a decade. and that is the flaw of this book: its remarkable pettiness.
JOHNNY loves presenting himself as a working-class AMERICAN to point of caricature. he really digs into the concept of an ugly AMERICAN, criticizing EUROPEAN countries for being lackluster because their television was horrible and not in ENGLISH and he didnt like the food (he wanted BURGER KING). its laughable until i realize the unique opportunity this guy had traveling the world only to have his own EGOTISM and MYOPIA step in. for him to think, even in retrospect, that such was cool or to be celebrated is just SAD and PATHETIC. he comes off like a real small person and for him to think that such was him being a REAL AMERICAN makes me cringe. and it appears he wholesale believed such. i really feel for JOEY. JOHNNY RAMONE seems like the quintessential UGLY AMERICAN.
this and his repeated use throughout the book of MISOGYNISTIC and HOMOPHOBIC slurs leads one to believe that he was in fact the emotionally, intellectually and psychologically stunted member of the group. or just another cretin, pinhead or (ENTER YOUR PREFERRED RAMONES REFERENCE HERE). his criticisms of JOEY or anyone that disagrees with him seem to be simple projection. even his assessment of his peers and the early PUNK ROCK bands out of ENGLAND was their similarities to THE RAMONES. its not like he couldnt understand how PUNK ROCK as a template could be expanded by THE CLASH or others with different sounds. its as if he could understand how they wouldnt want to purely emulate THE RAMONES. its total egomania. furthermore, he cant seem to handle the world as it is with any complexity and relied heavily on easy, and unreliable, signifiers of value.
which bring me to his bizarre recurring preoccupation and fascination with MONEY. i understand that all of THE RAMONES felt that they were never paid what they deserved over the arc of their career, especially given rise of 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK and PUNK-inspired bands of that era who made a killing. i get that. but no fan really cares about their finances. to the fanbase, their music has a non-pecuniary value. so hearing him relate value with money is just off-putting and makes him come across again, as selfish and self-interested.
interestingly, the closest i have come to this level of NARCISSISM in a memoir is PAUL STANLEY's FACE THE MUSIC (review linked HERE) and GENE SIMMONS' KISS AND MAKE-UP (review linked HERE). in both cases, the KISS frontmen, who came from the same era as JOHNNY RAMONE, were upfront and transparent about their ambitions from the outset of attaining fame and wealth. all aspects of KISS (from the songs, artwork, stage presentation, personnel decisions, marketing, etc.) where made from that perspective. they werent necessarily concerned with personal expression, artistic integrity or even any notion of authenticity. it was really odd hearing this same line from one of the key members of THE RAMONES. it was actually pretty sad to hear. like KISS, JOHNNY RAMONE speaks about how the band would film themselves (even at the outset) and basically choreograph their stage show. i couldve lived without knowing that.
i will admit that at least JOHNNY RAMONE was honest. ill give him that. with regards to his apparent NARCISSISM, MISOGYNY, HOMOPHOBIA, AVARICIOUSNESS and even his REGRESSIVE RIGHTWING POLITICS (the dude was a DITTOHEAD, after all), i could have done without knowing how small his world actually was.
i cant advocate COMMANDO because i wish i didnt read it. i dont know whether to blame his publisher, his editor, his estate or even JOHNNY RAMONE himself. in my opinion this publication should never have been made available to the public as it tarnishes his reputation. makes me want to search out films and books that focus on other members now. specifically JOEY, who seems a more fitting PUNK ROCK icon for the ages than this sad man.
i dont question his influence or greatness, but he is now a part of another subset of notable artists with terrible flaws. like RICHARD WAGNER, R. KELLY, PHIL SPECTOR or even MICHAEL JACKSON.
PERRY FARRELL once opined in the PORNO FOR PYROS song "CURSED FEMALE" the lyrics "cursed to be born / beautiful, poor and female / there's none that suffer more." this could certainly be said about the life of 1950s glamour model BETTIE PAGE as expressed in the unauthorized biography THE REAL BETTIE PAGE (CITADEL, 1997) by RICHARD FOSTER.
her life was one of NEGLECT and SEXUAL ABUSE, both as a child and young adult. it ironic, but it seems the only people that did not exploit her were the photographers that took and later published her legendary PIN-UP photos. these shoots were largely run by families with both the models and the studio owners looking out for their financial and security interests. outside of that space, its a whole different story with opportunistic state government officials, federal agencies and men looking to use her for their own ends.
starting with her stepfather. her childhood was tragic to say the least. born poor and given up by an abusive mother to an orphanage by her teens, she understandably had ABANDONMENT ISSUES from an early age. this deficiency was compounded when she regrouped with her mother later only to find her stepfather abusing her, and her mother jealously taking her new spouses side. i'll say it a different way, her mother was jealous of her looks and didn't defend her against child SEXUAL ABUSE.
a voracious reader, PAGE was salutatorian of her high school class and gained a scholarship to a nearby teachers college where she trained to be an english teacher. this in turn would be used against her by her then-boyfriend who didn't think it was fitting that she went to college while he was an auto-mechanic.
in reading this book you really get the sense of an indomitable spirit that was attempting to transcend her squalid, meager beginnings anyway she could. throughout her life she traveled around the country and lived in FLORIDA, NEW YORK CITY, LOS ANGELES, CHICAGO, OREGON, INDIANA and even HAITI as she sought work, education and adventure. her modeling was a total lark, as it was really just an excuse not to do secretarial work during her time in MANHATTAN and provide more time to pursue acting through various schools and academies. modeling wasnt her passion, it was purely a means to a financial end and she took it seriously as a job but had fun doing it, which shows in her legendary photographs. but her intellect was beyond such and, like MARILYN MONROE, she is never credited for her pursuits outside modeling.
what really got me about this book is the inverse relationship between what she represented and what she ultimately became. she represents unbridled female sexuality and control in an era that preceded the SEXUAL REVOLUTION of the next decade, the 1960s. her being investigated by the FBI and effectively shamed by local NYC public officials only cemented that reputation. what she became was a psychotic victim to her own delusions in her later years that saw her attempt murder twice on innocent elderly bystanders which resulted in her spending over a decade in and out of mental hospitals. the book really does a good job in identifying key moments in her DOWNWARD TRAJECTORY after she left modeling at 34.
its funny, she went through a period where she became deeply involved in EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY and studied at multiple institutions around the country, but ultimately was rejected for overseas missionary work due to her past divorces. evangelical fervor gave her a tool to regain a sense of power but ultimately this surrogate family never fully embraced her either.
i dont want to oversimplify things and relate that her problems are rooted in her abuse and dismal NEGLECT as a child. but it is compelling to consider what causes a person to deteriorate and loose their grip on reality. her life was intense, complicated and beyond her control, which to me is the greatest irony since her PIN-UP photos find a woman comfortable in her surroundings and secure, confident and in complete control of her SEXUALITY.
compelling book. recommended if the subject matter is of interest to you.
i remember years ago watching an early season of THE WIRE with my father, who was born and raised in BROOKLYN, when in frustration he emphatically stated "why am i even watching this? i KNOW these people!" with the exception of the first part of that sentiment, such was also my experience reading MEGAHEX (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2014) by TASMANIAN cartoonist SIMON HANSELMANN.
dealing with characters MEGG and MOGG, a stoner witch and her feline companion, and their many anthropomorphized animal companions; this series has more to do with SUBURBAN MALAISE and the entertainment gained from individual degradation than anything else. its nearest analogue i could think of were REALITY TV shows like KENNY VS SPENNY, JACKASS or maybe even the scripted TV comedy IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA. i couldnt help but come to the conclusion that these characters were the type of parasitic people i avoided in high school and beyond. they are all vampires that seek to suck out your life force and cannibalize each other emotionally.
thats not to say MEGAHEX isnt astoundingly inventive and entertaining. and shocking, with all the PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE that comes with the constant PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL and SUBSTANCE ABUSE found in these panels. HANSELMANN has a colorful, almost cartoon-like style that when coupled with sparse dialogue really makes the MALICE and sheer DEPRAVITY of his character's ugly actions shine through that much more profoundly. its an interesting juxtaposition that doesn't led up throughout this collection of the series first three seasons.
if you are a fan of all things transgressive, then this is the comic for you. it is not for the faint of heart and im very much looking forward to reading further collections by HANSELMANN.
released nine days before his passing, AUTHENTIC (VERTEL, 2021) by VANS founder PAUL VAN DOREN is another addition to the growing catalogue of stellar recent retail business memoirs alongside the likes of SHOE DOG (review linked HERE) and LET MY PEOPLE GO SURFING (review linked HERE), which were authored by the founders of NIKE and PATAGONIA respectively.
AUTHENTIC is less the story about the VANS shoe company and more about the philosophy behind the brand. VAN DOREN himself often restates throuhghout that VANS was not a shoe company, but rather "a people company that makes shoes." that emphasis on both the consumer and the people that worked for him is what he credits for his success. and it was that ethos that led him to listen to his customers and the burgeoning SURF / SKATE scene of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA of the 1970s.
VAN DOREN was not a RUNNER like PHIL KNIGHT or a CLIMBER / OUTDOORSMAN like YVON CHOUHINARD. it may surprise some that the founder of the foremost ACTION SPORT brand in the world, as well as his family, was not a personal participant in those activities at any point in his life. what VAN DOREN did excel at, however, was the ability to solve problems dealing with business applications in supply chain, production, warehousing, marketing and sales on a systematic level. this memoir goes into great detail about how he solved said issues during his time at the RANDOLPH RUBBER MANUFACTURING COMPANY and later at the VAN DOREN RUBBER COMPANY.
VANS had been in business almost a decade when SKATEBOARDING fell into its lap, as the nexus of that world was in the LOS ANGELES / ORANGE COUNTY region that surrounded their main original factory in ANAHEIM. up until that inflection point, they were a local company that made custom shoes for local schools and businesses. SKATERS were drawn to the thick, sticky rubber outsoles that held up better. seeing this market, VANS adroitly decided to sell by the shoe (not in pairs) and allowed for extensive customization options. they also sponsored legendary skaters TONY ALVA and STACY PERALTA early on and collaborated with them on future models. in essence, when the mid-70s SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SKATE CULTURE embraced VANS, they returned it wholeheartedly. in essence SKATEBOARDING provided them an identity, which is interesting relative to the examples of KNIGHT and CHOUHINARD.
where this book slightly comes off a bit cumbersome is VAN DOREN's emphasis on being an inclusive and community-driven project, yet he rolls over clear information to the contrary. he is decidedly anti-UNION and makes a real haphazard job of foreseeing issues in finding a competent successor, which effected the livelihood of real people. both make his claims of business prowess and community-driven motivations come off a bit suspect. a cursory mention of his DIVORCE and its impact on his family is not even a page long, before rolling on about corporate ethics. its an odd juxtaposition, which makes his professional pronouncements come off a bit hollow. maybe that was an editing mistake, but glossing over such was an unfortunate choice.
in my estimation, most of this book describes an operation that is fairly garden variety. the only thing they having going for them is the cult loyalty of a creative and massively influential following that they basically lucked into early on in there formative years as a company. even at the close of the memoir you dont get the sense of whether the company even maintains any semblance of the ethos of the original, family-owned enterprise.
in summation, i thought this book was interesting but nothing revelatory. having attended catholic school in ORANGE COUNTY during my early elementary school years in the early 1990s, my introduction o the brand were custom sneakers the school made my parents purchase as part of our uniform. reading that such was a key early business strategy was pretty cool to learn. VANS along with FENDER and DISNEY, are the three local businesses that had a global impact and defined huge swaths of AMERICAN CULTURE. so anything related to such i will always be interested in investigating.
do i recommend this book? yes, only if you are interested in the business aspect of manufacturing. the fact that they made innovative products for SKATEBOARDING and other ACTION SPORTS almost seems like an ancillary detail here. no cool stories to uncover here. which was a bit of a disappointment no doubt.
rest in peace PAUL.
given DAVE GROHL's reputation for being an affable, righteous dude i had some initial misgivings about reading the biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (DA CAPO, 2011) by former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN. i was worried it would veer towards hagiography, especially given author's decades-long relationship interviewing and covering the towering ALTERNATIVE ROCK musician. but i am glad to report that THIS IS A CALL is a pretty even-handed accounting of GROHL's sprawling career up to the point of the FOO FIGHTERS' WASTING LIGHT (ROSWELL RECORDS, 2011) record a decade ago. this book is unauthorized but includes interviews with past band members and the man himself, many culled from past publications and documentaries, but also from BRANNIGAN himself.
i should state that i have read numerous NIRVANA books at this point, but what makes this book interesting is obviously seeing it from GROHL's perspective. at this point in 2021 GROHL is effectively the flag-waving elder-statesman of ROCK AND ROLL writ large. this has only been further cemented given his actions over the past decade (since this book's publication) in connecting more and more musicians and their stories to a wider audience with his personal television (SONIC HIGHWAYS) and documentary projects (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US).
so it is interesting being taken along for the ride with GROHL, as his story in popular culture is so unavoidably intertwined with his time in NIRVANA and its doomed frontman KURT COBAIN. and that is unfortunate, because the sense you get from THIS IS A CALL is that for GROHL the defining relationship of his life is with music itself. time and time again you sense that for him music was a means of community, escape, passion and above all else, fun. like COBAIN, GROHL lived a childhood marked by divorce. unlike COBAIN, GROHL grew up in a nurturing, supportive environment. my sense is that PUNK ROCK to GROHL represented an extended family/community of like-minded individuals with a similar pragmatic DIY ethos towards life and art. i am not sure that was the case for COBAIN, who seemed to have boundless ambition maybe in hopes of proving his value. im playing armchair psychiatrist here, and i probably shouldnt, but it seems obvious from the get-go that GROHL never had the same hangups or guilt in following his musical ambitions, especially post-NIRVANA.
again, from the beginning GROHL's enthusiasm was all about chasing the fun of playing music. as a child he became aware of the neighboring DC HARDCORE scene and started teenage bands in his native VIRGINIA. from his first serious project in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to his stints in other outfits like DAIN BRAMAGE and local PUNK legends SCREAM, you get the sense these experiences provided him a vocabulary about how to interact with others. and obviously the musical shorthand faired him well in his later career with outside projects (THEM CROOKED VULTURES, PROBOT, LATE!, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE), session work (GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS, SLASH, DAVID BOWIE, KILLING JOKE and TENACIOUS D) and soundtrack work (TOUCH, RISING SUN: THE LEGEND OF SKATEBOARDER CHRISTIAN HOSOI).
but a lot of this i already knew, what made this book interesting for me where the details about how if personal life affected his lyrical content in the first few records. there are several songs i didnt read as autobiographical that now i can plainly see were. i also appreciate the fact that BRANNIGAN didnt shy away from presenting GROHL at times as being highly opportunistic and unempathetic to the feelings of his "friends" like former FOO FIGHTERS WILLIAM GOLDSMITH and FRANZ STAHL, both unceremoniously booted with little patience or grace, just echos and silence.
if anything, this biography is a great primer for GROHL's upcoming memoir which will highlight stories from his career. make sense, the dude is about connecting people. it is what makes him, well, him.
i'm just going to come out and say it, this book plays out a bit like a hagiography. NO HERE GETS OUT ALIVE (PLEXUS, 1980) by JERRY HOPKINS (and 10 years later amended by DANIEL SUGARMAN) is the first published biography on JIM MORRISON, the legendary front-man of LOS ANGELES rock icons THE DOORS. this book was based in part on interviews HOPKINS had done with with MORRISON a decade early just prior to the singer's death.
in a way it is to be expected. MORRISON was a shaman-like, slithering poet of a front-man who exemplified all the FREEDOM and excess of the 1960s DRUG CULTURE and the fervent ANTI-MILITARISM of the VIETNAM WAR protests. i suspect to baby boomers at the dawn of the 1980s he was still a beacon of hope for things to come (too bad TRUMP is part of that legacy now, ouch).
what i took from this book at the time i read it, which was way back in high school, was the moment they inhabited. MORRISON was part of a generation that was challenging notions of RACE, MARRIAGE, WAR and PEACE, SEX and were most definitely in the midst of an INTER-GENERATIONAL divide. drugs and birth-control allowed people to expand their consciousness as well as divorce SEX from its procreative responsibilities in a pre-AIDS landscape.
the book goes into great detail about the music scene in LOS ANGELES at the time including most predominantly ARTHUR LEE and his band LOVE, who were the house band at the WHISKY A GO GO when THE DOORS started out. ironically in a book about THE DOORS, it is his descriptions of LEE that really resonated with me since it expanded on that brief cultural moment when racial and artistic lines seemed to blur however temporarily in the arts scene, which mirrored the concurrent CIVIL RIGHTS and ANTI-WAR MOVEMENTS of the period.
the other big takeaway is how these same indulgences are what did MORRISON in eventually, famously passing away in PARIS in requisite mysterious fashion. his death and mystique didn't interest me, but his downfall did. the manner in which he sequestered himself from the band and those who cared about his well being ultimately getting pushed away as drugs and hangers-on took over. if anything this is a big ROCK N ROLL cliche. a cliche that influenced countless musicians since including IGGY POP, JANE'S ADDICTION and (i'd argue) the entire PUNK movement.
read this book with a grain of salt. if anything pay attention to its descriptions of the cultural and political moment THE DOORS inhabited. i am almost certain that their greatness lies in their innate ability to absorb and reflect the light from a burning nation bent on consuming itself ouroboros-style. i wish we had someone today who could artistically relay that today's fractured state of affairs accurately and authentically in real time. where is this generation's JIM MORRISON?
who wouldnt want to relive their high school years? maybe take chances you wish you had or perhaps avoid those you did?
that is the basic premise of TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN (TOP SHELF, 2008) by ALEX ROBINSON which follows a middle-aged protagonist, ANDY WICKS, who is transported back to his awkward high school days while under hypnosis for a longstanding, seemingly unbreakable SMOKING HABIT. what makes this narrative interesting is not the premise, which is well-trodden at this point, but rather the idea that what our MEMORY isolates and presents to us as crucial, identity-forming events in our past is not always the case. yes, we are the end product of our past decisions (which makes the idea of being transported back as a youth with the experiences of an adult confusing and a bit cumbersome), but as individuals we are constantly evolving and our changing PERCEPTION of our own past is a reflection of such identity-shifting.
not sure about you, but i can look to my past actions and pick out a whole slew of events that either point to me being CHARITABLE, HONEST and EMPATHETIC or CRUEL, LETHARGIC and ENVIOUS. its more a reflection of my emotional state that anything objective, because in essence i am all those things and even others i havent considered. it is a part of being HUMAN.
following WICKS' journey through his past is interesting because it shows that even with EXPERIENCE, PERSPECTIVE and EMOTIONAL MATURITY, the limited agency of being an adolescent relegates one to a strict set of options. the adult community basically serves to disempower you of your ability to express yourself, as you are considered a work-in-progress of sorts. as a former teacher, that whole sub-narrative surrounding AGENCY is always fascinating to consider and explore.
ROBINSON's graphic novel is provocatively themed with beautiful, quirky illustrations that showcase the discomforting, often brutal SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS of youth. some of which we never grow out of. great read. highly recommended.
written in the intervening years after GEORGE W. BUSH's disastrously incompetent and misguided (to put it diplomatically) decision to lead AMERICA into war with IRAQ, ASSASSINATION VACATION (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2006) by SARAH VOWELL is a memoir about her pilgrimage to sites associated with the murders of past presidents ABRAHAM LINCOLN, JAMES A. GARFIELD, WILLIAM MCKINLEY and their assassins.
yes the premise of this book is all a bit morbid, but her humor and enthusiasm for the subject is what makes this book ironically so pleasant and enjoyable. learning about MARYLAND's racist state song or VIRGINIA's often quoted state motto (by JOHN WILKES BOOTH and TIMOTHY MCVEIGH alike) makes you question the sanity of our system of government all over again. or at least have some respect for how the rancid sausage is made. furthermore, learning about the entrenched corruption and incompetence between government and business during the GILDED AGE of the late 19th century, it is difficult if not impossible not to make the connection to the BUSH ERA. furthermore having read this in 2021, from my vantage point GEORGE W. BUSH comes off as child's play next to the malice and fear-mongering that defined the recent DONALD TRUMP era (and still does to present). the real star of the show seems to be how far the party of LINCOLN has fallen. getting acquainted with GARFIELD and MCKINLEY makes you appreciate the machinations and swell of corporate interests that swayed foreign and domestic policy back then. its beyond depressing.
this is also the type of book that i found myself constantly googling photographs, statues, tombs and historical markers related to obscure figures lost to history like EDWIN BOOTH (legendary SHAKESPEAREAN actor and older brother of JOHN WILKES), ROBERT TODD LINCOLN (eldest son of ABRAHAM), ROSCOE CONKLING (REPUBLICAN NEW YORK SENATOR) and MARCUS HANNA (REPUBLICAN campaign manager). what stood out to me was the section about GARFIELD's passing at the JERSEY SHORE. being a resident of the area, i knew about SEVEN PRESIDENTS BEACH but had no idea that presidents vacationed in LONG BRANCH multiple times. to me that fact was a bit of a shock. to learn that a church ive passed numerous times was where a president was aheld before transport back to WASHINGTON D.C. is pretty interesting and something i feel cheated in not knowing earlier. not since reading BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's BORN TO RUN (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2016) have i found myself getting out and finding local spots of historic significance. i was also relieved to learn that GARFIELD wasnt shot in NEW JERSEY, that happened in D.C. he just came north to convalesce and take in the warm climate. at least he passed in pretty area.
definitely an idiosyncratic, personal and thoroughly enjoyable book that makes investigating history both humorous and absolutely devastating. highly recommended.
i found VIBRATE HIGHER (MCD, 2021) to be a highly unusual memoir since TALIB KWELI, the celebrated NYC MC chose to utilize the form as a means of celebrating and voicing the struggles and passions of his community. it is a distant cry from an ego-driven boasting of past glories and a tired, myopic, self-serving rise-to-greatness against-all-odds narrative which is sadly par for the course of most autobiographies concerning famous musicians. in a sense this wider perspective of this seen in his memoir dovetails quite nicely with the authenticity and integrity associated with his music career. large sections of this book highlight his past major collaborative relationships with the likes of producers such as HI-TEK, J DILLA and 9TH WONDER as well as the extraordinarily gifted YASIIN BEY (formerly MOS DEF). hey pays homage to both those that provided the path (CHUCK D, NINA SIMONE, KRS-ONE, HARRY BELAFONTE, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, FUNKMASTER FLEX, RAKIM, PRINCE and DE LA SOUL) as well as fellow travelers (DAVE CHAPPELLE, THE ROOTS, COMMON, ERYKAH BADU) along the way.
the scope of this book is quite large and comprehensive and seemingly covers everything from PARENTHOOD, FAMILY, COMMERCIAL VS UNDERGROUND HIP HOP and ARTISTIC INDEPENDENCE to PAN-AFRICANISM, BLACK POWER, the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT and BLACK NATIONALISM to modern SOCIAL JUSTICE movements like BLACK LIVES MATTER. just on his ability to meaningfully cover that sort of ground with a sense of cohesion is quite the achievement. but admirers of his CREATIVE WORK and POLITICAL/SOCIAL ACTIVISM would expect nothing less.
what i appreciated most about this book was KWELI's ability to articulate the seeming disparities and gaps between his PERSONAL LIFE and his PUBLIC PERSONA. specifically i am referring to how his career affected his relationship with his first wife and his time availability for his children early on. i thought that was particularly courageous to voice how he made mistakes in terms of INFIDELITY and paper-chasing early on and how that balance took a moment to suss out and recalibrate. especially since KWELI is often given the "CONSCIOUS RAPPER" tag in media profiles, for me as a fan it was particularly meaningful that he was able to fess up to when he didnt meet his own standards. that he was confident enough to admit his weaknesses and past mistakes just makes him that much more compelling as an artist in my opinion. makes him HUMAN.
another thread throughout this memoir is the importance of FAMILY and EDUCATION. being the son of educators, KWELI despite his uneven academic career always seemed inclined to maintain a sense of curiosity about the world and his place in it. even well past his days at NYU, his first impulse when presented with a difficult situation is to educate himself or surround himself with knowledgable people. this happens with regards to business as well as political matters. he seems to be the very definition of what they called in EDUCATION circles a "LIFE-LONG LEARNER." what makes that instinct all the more noble in my opinion is his inclination to use his pulpit and PUBLIC PERSONA as a means of furthering that message. there is a risk and an opportunity cost to being so outspoken in your lyrics, perhaps you are limiting your commercial appeal to some demographic, but seemingly this is what makes him him. his AUTHENTICITY and CURIOSITY is the commodity he trades in and this memoir does his REPUTATION justice.
i want to admit my bias as well, because given that i did my student teaching in graduate school at BROOKLYN TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL, KWELI's alma mater, i cannot help but root for the guy. he just seems like a conscientious kid that did well and never forgot his roots. his city. his people.
VIBRATE HIGHER is a compelling memoir that educates just as much, if not more, about the struggle for political suffrage and economic/social justice of a community then the artist himself. i dont think he'd have a problem with that description of his book, which is probably why this is easily one of the better memoirs by a musician (of any genre) i have come across. highly recommended.
BURMA CHRONICLES (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2008) is an autobiographical memoir by FRENCH cartoonist GUY DELISLE that depicts his yearlong tenure in MYANMAR while his wife was stationed there as part of her work with the international NGO DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS. to state the obvious, this era in the history of MYANMAR predated the military junta's experimental flirtation with democracy and the release, political rise and swift downfall of AUNG SAN SUU KYI. it also predates the genocide currently taking place against the MUSLIM ROHINGYA population in the southwest of the country.
what makes this book interesting, much like his other works cataloguing similar stints in NORTH KOREA, CHINA and ISRAEL, is deft manner in which DELISLE presents a culture through his personal experiences as an expatriate with everyday people. given his status as his wife's "plus one," he essentially uses this unique opportunity to critical examine his daily mundane interactions. this manifests in a narrative that is made up of intimate vignettes about dealing with issues ranging from the systematic (MEDIA CENSORSHIP, GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION, FOOD INSECURITY, INTERMTTENT ELECTRICITY and UNRELIABLE INTERNET CONNECTIONS) to the personal (LOCAL CUSTOMS/FASHION/CUSINE, RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS, GENDER ROLES and FILIAL PIETY). sure there are times when his observations come off a bit PATRONIZING and even PATERNALISTIC, but in my experience that is part of the process of acclimating to new surroundings and normative culture that differs from your own. so i dont fault him too much for that, in fact i think its a testament to his honesty to include such and gives this graphic novel a sense of authenticity.
as ive mentioned in this forum before, i formerly worked in MYANMAR in the northern city of MANDALAY, which is far from the metropolis that is YANGON where DELISLE resided more than a decade before. there were things i learned from BURMA CHRONICLES about my area, specifically KACHIN STATE which was to my north. i taught children of their military during my tenure and i really had no idea about the jade mines located there and the dismal, sub-human conditions endured there by local workers at the behest of foreign companies (mostly CHINESE). i did not know about the narcotics problem there and how it worked within a broader GEOPOLITICAL STRATEGY by the military junta. of cause looking back, who would have told me? i was literally surrounded by AMERICANS, some of the CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY persuasion so at the very least they were highly unreliable on most any subject.
having been a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA i worked in concert with some foreign NGOs so i found it interesting learning about the politics regarding the mission of DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS and the decision matrix they utilize to deem a situation beyond salvageable. in BURMA CHRONICLES DELISLE and his family leave because the organization determined that they were rendering services that should be provided by the government. in essence they were aiding in the lack of development and progress by the military junta. i find that sort of thing incredibly interesting. too often in ALBANIA i felt that PEACE CORPS was more interested in what we got our counterparts to produce rather than having them self-determine and work towards mutual goals. that over time all we provided was a crutch for the locals to rely upon instead of becoming more self-sufficient. it is nice to know in this instance that responsible NGOs take their mission seriously and are willing to depart if the conditions do not present themselves. of course, i admit that an NGO is different than PEACE CORPS, which is an extension of the STATE DEPARTMENT, so maybe those missions and their ethos dont match exactly, but all the same it is not in the AMERICAN interest to have developing countries rely on us for expertise. or maybe it is?
i thought DELISLE did a stellar job of elucidating the experience of adjusting to living in a developing by a WESTERN expatriate, worts and all. i highly recommend this graphic novel to anyone interested in learning about that experience or even a pre-"democratic" MYANMAR for that matter. cant wait to seek out his other publications.