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* = all-ages
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It all started with an act of kindness to a passer-by. A man saw a paperback copy of Norman Podheretz's Making It as part of a used book sale spread out on a blanket on the street, and asked the flith-smeared fellow who placed it there how much he wanted for it. It was just a couple of bucks, but when the buyer reached for his wallet, he found it wasn't there, he'd left it at home. He laughed about this to the homeless man selling the books, who let him take it then anyways, suggesting he drop by the money when he walked by the sidewalk dispayed later, as he had done in the past. The first man came back and paid, and visited again and again. Eventually, the first man would take the second man home and make him his lover of many decades. And they're still together.
Visionary science fiction author and professor emeritus Samuel R. Delany was the lucky book purchaser, and Dennis was the hard-drinking but also hard-working, homeless man. Without the former being a writer (and a truly excellent one at that), we might never have known this bizarre and touching story. Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books Inc. has just celebrated the men's long-running, happy relationship by putting back out Delany's graphic novel Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York, illustrated by Mia Wolff. I have often heard this story, and wondered about the particulars of it. The implicit mercy, compassion, empathy, and excitement is unavoidable to anyone who gets the shorthand version. But major props to Fantagraphics for reprinting the 44-page page personal history (in superbly produced hardcover treatment), as the nuances and negotiations of "Chip" Delany and Dennis starting a life together haven't been fully explored otherwise.
Hard Listening is the biography of a rock supergroup (consisting mostly of best-selling authors) that lasted for twenty years (playing to audiences that consisted mostly of librarians). Hard Listening is an experiment in multimedia literature, with interactive quizzes and video clips in addition to the standard interviews and essays. But really, at its heart, Hard Listening is a love song to a woman.
Kathi Kamen Goldmark wrote several books. She also owned a record company, played in bands, taught preschool, and ran a business supporting authors on book tours. A woman of endless energy with a wicked wit, Kathi seemed to know everyone in the literary and music worlds. So when she got the idea in 1992 to raise money for charity by gathering best-selling authors to play classic rock (badly) at a book fair, she had all the right connections.
The writers she got for that show – among them Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Barbara Kingsolver – had so much fun, they made the band a regular thing. With an ever expanding and rotating cast of authors, The Rock Bottom Remainders (a publishing term for books that don’t sell) toured like a real band and performed their schtick until Kathi’s death in 2012.
In Waging Heavy Peace, Young is like a cool, old black-sheep uncle inviting you to kick back on the front porch on a summer evening with a cold beer, while watching the sun set and telling old stories. The preview chapter wanders like one of Young’s guitar solos, rambling from his model train collection, through David Crosby’s freebase addiction and relationship with Graham Nash, to the timeless beauty of the 1953 Buick Skylark, the Vietnam vet he hired to take care of his classic car collection, the barn that houses the collection and his business offices – all of which is just to introduce his obsession with sound quality and the evils of the mp3. Because you see, Young has an idea for a new technology that will pair the sound quality of vinyl with the convenience of mp3s. His is a storytelling style my mom (herself a huge Neil Young fan) calls “going down around Nellie’s barn.”
If you’re a music trivia freak looking for a comprehensive life story full of chronologically ordered details about Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and Crazy Horse, this book will drive you crazy. If you’ve ever wanted to kick back and shoot the shit with one of the greatest musicians of the last century, this is your chance.
Guest Editor Ann Powers opens the book with a powerful introduction that (forgive the pun) strikes a chord in the reader and emphasizes the fact that although the world of criticism and analysis is often thought of as exclusive, music is still an inclusive, uniting force:
Deep Focus is a new line of small but richly rewarding studies, the first one about a favorite film by a great writer, Christopher Sorrentino. They're cheap and hot little books perfect for reading at the bus stop, before a movie or concert, and especially along with a DVD of the flick being playfully examined. It's an exciting new attempt at film studies. And the fact that the first two authors are superb essayists and worth reading over and over, and the films are the kind you have to own and watch again and again, means Deep Focus has scored with the perfect $13.95 each gift this season for film and modern literature fans.
Jonathan Lethem's They Live is the first volume in the series, and the media-massaged author of novels The Fortress of Solitude and Chronic City scribes a scene by scene, anarchist polemic via extended hobo punch out, delineation of the Reagan-era, rabble-rousing science fiction/horror classic by John Carpenter. (Carpenter is a dependable guy for shockingly intelligent genre films, from the original Assault on Precinct 13 to Escape from New York and Los Angeles to Vampires.) While dismissed by some as over-the-top B-movie shrill political paranoia, very few people who have seen it have ever gotten over the scene where wrestling star "Rowdy" Roddy Piper first discovers the ugliness of the alien race attempting holding us in submission to consumerism and resigned to the 9 to 5 world. It's everywhere and in everything, even makes the homeless bow to it, dispossessing all of us on a gratingly precise regularity, and like most great SF They Live is a timeless explanation for how the future is shaping the present. Like how the pernicious and opnely known but accepted MK-ULTRA program tried to create disassociation in people by the CIA back in the 1960s, so that mind control kills off the host in the personality of those they've experimented on, our created "core" values of greed and fear are against us. They Live is extremely (and to some, comically) blunt about how we are more programmed than we'll ever know, unless we dream something new in a very direct and violent way (symbolized by one of the most awesome one-on-one brawls in an alleyway in They Live than you'll ever find in another movie).
For those who were thrilled by the tribute to film noir at this year's Seattle International Film Festival, and are craving that same sexy, dark psychosis in some graphic novels, locally-based/internationally renowned publisher Fantagraphics recently put out three books to cooly creep out your summer.
Have you ever seen Eraserhead? In David Lynch's first B&W Surrealist mind-hump of a movie, there is scene with a little song the "Lady in the Radiator" sings in which the only lyrics are: "In heaven, everything is fine." It is a supremely affecting and menacing moment in an art film filled with them.
Josh Frank, co-author of Fool The World, The Oral History of a Band Called The Pixies, was a Twin Peaks fan growing up in suburban Potomac, Maryland when he first saw that perverse pageantry. He would later come to find out the otherworldly, upsetting tune was written by Peter Ivers, an experimental-pop musician and the catalyst-center of an early experiment in cable television's desire to blend challenging new rock music, insurgent comedy, and arty weirdness into a show called New Wave Theatre.
That show featured bands like the Dead Kennedys and Fear, among many others, and lived up to the strangeness of the movie Ivers wrote the song for, as well as his classically bizarre LPs Knight of the Blue Communion (1969), Terminal Love (1974), and others. Full of stark imagery mixed with improvisational madness, Ivers' own music was simply another element of this proto-punk Renaissance Man's adventures in acting, humor, TV scores (for Roger Corman flicks and even Starsky & Hutch), but most of all, his New Wave Theatre, which was a thinly veiled look at the real Los Angeles underground shot out on channels like USA to the heartland of America, rattling the minds of its children. It thrilled John Belushi and Harold Ramis, whose lives would be entwined with Ivers' own, as driven to excessive creativity as the former but with an ambitious heart to entertain wide-scale too like the latter. As status-quo karmic payback (if you believe in crap like that) Ivers was found gruesomely beaten to death in his art studio-loft-music space on March 3, 1983.
"We've always been of the mind that it's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask for permission." --Eddie Spaghetti, The Supersuckers.
So begins We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut: 1988-2001 by Eric Davidson, whose name you may have seen on by-lines for succinct, sucker-punching articles in Village Voice media papers and on features in CMJ, and elsewhere. Or you may know him as a member of New Bomb Turks, one of the bands that kept underground, garage-fumed punk rock alive through the 90s pop punk boom-bust.
Davidson has spent years putting together this over-300 page Bible of the fecund underbelly of three chord, deviant American independent rawk, beginning with the death throes of 80s hardcore as bands like The Cynics and Death Of Samantha pushed noise from "loud, fast rules" to "loud, lo-fi blues." Remember walking into Fallout Records on Olive and seeing vinyl kept alive by bands like the Raunch Hands, Didjits, A-Bones, and Devil Dogs (among all the zines and comix and gnarly t-shirts)? Or when you went in to get the new Spinanes or Built To Spill CDs at the Sub Pop Mega Mart and saw Sub Pop and other labels releasing and distributing rare and obscure scuzzy sounds from Thee Headcoats, Dwarves, and Oblivians? "We Never Learn" comes with a paralyzing free CD sample of this no sell-out, no-surrender punk to soundtrack the history Davidson tells.
This weekend (Saturday and Sunday, March 13 and 14) Seattle area comics fans have a big old funny book hootenanny to party at inside the Washington State Convention Center. There are some panels and huge rooms full of comics and toys being sold. Also, dealers of another kind: I found the bootleg soundtrack to the Aussie skinhead flick Romper Stomper there last year! Right before a dark cloud of Suicide Girls turned a long table's corner and crashed into a swarm of Star Wars Storm Troopers. I am not making any of this up. It was freaking awesome-possum.
When author Tony DuShane was a nervous young man struggling with being a Jehovah's Witness, his extremely religious father lost his mind and punched five holes in the wall above their living room couch. To hide these examples of his dad's breaking point, the already-disfellowshipped teenager plastered an Einsterzende Neubauten poster over the damage.
This is one of the minor scenes in a very funny, but also very mood-rattling novel by DuShane, whose "Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk" came out from Soft Skull Press on February 2nd. It's marketed as fiction, but due to the author's own past and the curiosity those of us outside the cult have about the goings-on of all those extremely well-dressed young men and women who thrust crappy end-of-the-world literature at us downtown, it probably wouldn't hurt to consider it memoir.