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The exact day I became a fan of (Two-Tone) ska was April 19, 1980. That was the night the Specials played on Saturday Night Live.* I was enthralled. I went out and found the record the very next day.

When I found it, I actually thought it was a little dull in comparison with the live songs I heard the night before. I learned to love it, but I really do think, unlike a lot of genres, that the live recordings of this short period of time capture it in a way that the vinyl never did. The Specials “Ghost Town”** may be the only song better in the studio, but that’s because it’s a brutal, bitter announcement that not only was the two-tone era dead -- such a short life! -- but so was everything progressive people had worked for, including hope.

I just read Pauline Black’s autobiography “Black by Design” so I’ve been thinking about that era a lot this week. Pauline Black was the singer for The Selecter, probably the most famous woman in that era of music. The book itself is an adoption memoir sandwiched around a musician memoir. Black, adopted at birth, was raised in a white working class English community with very few non-white influences available to her. The provocative title of the book shows her battle with being black, but not being raised black. The surname she grew up with was actually Vickers, but she took on the last name Black as a way of 1. Truly identifying as black and 2. Having a performer name so she wouldn’t get fired from her day job in case the whole band thing didn’t work out.

Here’s the first incarnation of The Selecter so we can all have a clear starting point:



The weird thing about The Selecter -- the blackest band in Two Tone -- was that they were started by the white guy. He had written an instrumental with one of the folks who was in the Specials and The Specials, not having enough money to record a second song for their first single, put that song on the other side of the record. It became a top ten hit and the guy who wrote it figured he better form a band to capitalize on its success. He basically found a Coventry reggae band, added Pauline Black, and The Selecter was born.

Unlike most musician memoirs, “Black by Design” doesn’t have many bad things to say about anyone, including the members who left the band angry when they kind of disintegrated after the first album. About as snide as Black gets is when she – proud of her band – talks about how they were they only band on the label that was truly all working class. At first it was maddening that Black would only hint at the real personalities of the more famous people around her, but I started to respect it after awhile. It may have been unsatisfying, but she must have resisted a lot of pressure from her publisher to not trash her bandmates and more famous Two-Tone artists. A typically understated sentence, (discussing the reunion version of The Selecter) “Neol Davies and I found that some wounds are too difficult to heal and went our separate ways in 1993.” Yes, that is the only sentence about the guy who wrote all the band’s hit songs, and who formed the band originally, deciding to leave.

What is fascinating, and again also maddening, is that it’s a memoir of a small-scale star who never really got rich. She talked about the day – a decade or so after their one big album was released – when she finally had enough money to open a savings account. Her husband of 30 years or so is pretty absent from the narrative except it’s clear that he worked 40 hours a week his whole life at some job. The memoir of a star who isn’t rich: that’s a book I want to read! This could have been that book, but it’s only hinted at, not really explored.

Other things have a way of just being dropped in… Black became an actor after leaving The Selecter and it turns out she’s friends with Vanessa Redgrave because they are in the same Marxist party. Hi! I’d like to know more about that please. In fact that mention was only there at all because she was talking about her working class brothers’ homophobia and inability to interact with her black, queer, or arty friends.

Still, like I said, the book is an adoption memoir sandwich. I am – for obvious reasons – much more fascinated by adoption stories than I used to be and this has a lot of the usual adoptee narrative, with some extra transracial abductee intensity: adoptive mother who didn’t want her to hang out with black people, adoptive mother who views Black’s (also adopted, but white) brother’s search for his birth parents as a betrayal, the search for grounding, community, and place. She almost never mentions her adoptive family and unknown birth family during her fame years (was she not in contact? doing too many drugs? too busy? We don’t know.) but after her adoptive mother’s death (her adoptive dad dies before that, though it is only mentioned after the fact and in passing) she searches for her birth family. It’s the last 60 pages of the book, but it’s – to me – the most gripping –even tearjearking – part.

Still, after thinking about it for a week, I don’t know whether to recommend this book to folks or not. I found the whole thing fascinating, but I was already a big fan of her music and intrigued by her story which I had no idea of before the press for this book came out.

Anyways, here’s a great live version of “Three Minute Hero” to end this post with:







*embedding is unfortunately disabled. But go check it out and try and remember yourself at age 12. Why wouldn’t you love this?

**further studies )
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I loved “We Need to Talk About Kevin” as a novel. Lionel Shriver did the near-impossible with this book. She situated being the parent of a teen murderer as part of the continuum of motherhood, rather than a freakish aberration. Without sugarcoating the mother’s character, mistakes, or motivations, Shriver manages to get at a lot of the ways that mothers (not fathers) are blamed for things their children do. Without minimizing the horror of the killings in this story, it is a very delicate and constructed balance of compassion and realism for everyone involved.

The movie, not so much.


It wasn’t bad, mind you, just not as ambitious or interesting. While it certainly makes you feel the mother’s pain, for whatever reason it is unable to make Kevin and his killings a horrible part of a bigger picture. The result is a much shallower and more easily forgettable work.

The movie version certainly leaves an impression. The first half hour reminded me more of the incredible but hard to endure “Killer of Sheep” than anything else. Immersed in the life of the mother during a few interspersed time periods with very little dialogue, it’s agonizing to watch; but not in a bad way. In the way that makes you feel like you are experiencing a small portion of what a woman in that position must be feeling. So far, so good.

Making a work of art where a mother of a mass murderer is even a semi-sympathetic character is a hard job. How can that character ever feel any happiness? Any laugh or smile is an insult to the families of the dead. It’s hard to tell what seeing the movie would be like if I hadn’t read the book, but one pivotal scene really limited the movie’s possibilities.

In the book, the mother, Eva, often sits in the prison waiting room -- always alone, never talking to the other women who are almost all, if not exclusively, women of color. She uses her son’s name as a way of not having to interact because bringing him up usually shuts up anyone trying to talk to her. But one day another woman does not allow her to shut down the conversation. She tells Eva that Eva is a good mother because, even after everything her son has done, she still comes to jail regularly, trying to do what she can. It’s a brief conversation – one not examined thoroughly by the mother narrator -- but it brings up so many issues that – to me – it was the most weight-bearing few pages of the book.

What is motherhood? How much ability does a mother really have in shaping a child? What is the responsibility of a parent for the horrible things a child can do? How is the experience of black mothers different from white mothers in a society that imprisons black youth at a much higher rate than white youth? Are the incarcerated deserving of attention and support, even if unremorseful?

Additionally, it shows that while having a murderer in the family will certainly get you thrown out of the respectable upper-middle class, there are other communities in this world, other people who you may never have interacted with before who may actually have things to offer, in fact may have a richer, more complex view of life than you previously thought possible.

In the movie, the whole scene is reduced to a sobbing black woman sitting next to Eva. After some delay, Eva reaches out and holds her hand. Neither woman says a word. End scene.

The biggest failing of the movie is that it just left me with nothing to discuss. It was a two hour wallow in the misery of the mother of a teen school murderer. After I read the book [livejournal.com profile] smallstages and I talked about it on-and-off for days. It’s a pretentious cliché to advise people to read the book rather than see a movie based on one (Hello “Hunger Games,”)* but in this case it’s really the truth. The book was the best novel I have read in years. The movie is forgettable.


*The “Hunger Games” movie is better than the book (which I have never read) for one undeniable reason: outing racists.
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Went to see Danbert Nobacon read from his “anarchist fairy tale” Three Dead Princes last night in the Marina. I actually think the Books Inc. may be the best thing in the Marina and not just because they have a very nice worker review of my book.* It’s a well-stocked bookstore with excellent worker favorites. A Percival Everett book stared at us throughout the whole performance.

Probably because it was in the Marina, it was pretty sparsely attended. I had conflicts with tonight’s performance at Adobe Books and tomorrow’s at Gilman so we decided the Marina would be a fun experience. Kind of like a vacation in another city.

Danbert does a great reading. He comes with a guitar and props!
danbert and death

I haven’t read the book yet, and it’s not my usual genre, but his reading – which included ventriloquism, songs, and hints of inter-species relationships – was enough to make me buy it.

I mean, how could I say no to this face?
death



*Thanks Maggie, whoever you are!
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I probably should have publicized it –really I just forgot – but most of you wouldn’t have trekked up to Sonoma on a cold Sunday afternoon to see some of the best cheesemakers in the country anyway. Am I wrong?

Clark Wolf, a super sweet guy and longtime cheese professional, has a book out about American Artisanal cheeses. I bought a copy and I definitely recommend it.* Clark tells the stories of many of the best U.S. cheesemakers: what they do, why they do it, and how they made it happen.

It’s clearly a tribute to Clark that he got a number of cheesemakers to travel for this event. Jennifer Bice (Redwood Hill) and Ig Vella (Vella Cheese) were close by, but Franklin Peluso came all the way up from San Luis Obispo, David Gremmels (Rogue Creamery) came down from Oregon, and Mateo Kehler (Jasper Hill) came all the way from Vermont.

It was an educational event put on by my pal Sheana Davis and cost $20per person (The Sonomans tell me even events in the parks cost money in Sonoma. Another reason to live in a city, I tell ya) but folks got their money’s worth. First there was lots of wine to drink. Second, everyone got a cheese plate with Camellia, Mezzo Secco, Franklin’s Teleme, Rogue River Blue, and Constant Bliss plus accompaniments. I was there to sell the cheese people were tasting in case anyone was so overcome that they needed to buy a piece on the spot.

Anyways, it was a good time. Clark interviewed each cheesemaker about their history and the things that make them unique. [livejournal.com profile] smallstages and I ate lots of cheese. (Of course I only sold about 10 pieces. Good thing I’m not gonna charge work for my time.) But check out Clark’s book, it’s pretty awesome.



*Makes a great xmas present. Especially combined with a pre-order of my book Cheesemonger which comes out in March. Yes, I will be plugging it at every opportunity. Why do you ask?
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Hey, you know what makes a great holiday gift?

My book. It is now titled Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge and sure, it won't be out until March, but pre-ordering it for that special loved one, co-worker, or friend makes a holiday gift that will last through the first quarter of 2009. Order it today. Give 'em a nice piece of cheese and a promissory note. What a fabulous idea!

ETA: hmmmm, all this discussion about the cover below is now moot. Looks like they want to change it again.
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As some idiot incoherently tries to sell a book arguing that liberals=progressives=communists=fascists and only right-wingers are really for freedom, let us take a moment to remember a real American anti-fascist. Let's also remember that the people who went to fight fascism in Spain, when many right-wingers and industrialists were cozying up to it, were hounded by the US government, labeled "pre-mature anti-fascists", and blacklisted or jailed.

Is there anyone more deserving of a (theoretical of course) punch in the face right now than Jonah Goldberg?

Feel free to make your nominations below.

Dishwasher

May. 3rd, 2007 09:16 am
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I was so excited by the release of Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States that not only did I pre-order it, I read half of it last night. Go buy it! It's awesome.

Dishwasher Pete was one of the great zinesters of the great '80s/'90s zine era. I'm pretty sure that, like Cometbus, Dishwasher Pete somehow managed to scam a ciculation of 10,000 readers per issue by the time he stopped publishing. I know we couldn't keep in on the shelves at Epicenter, it was one of our best sellers, right up there with Cometbus, Doris, i'm so fucking beautiful, and Pathetic Life.

The general theme was working class kid attracted to dishwashing because of the opportunities for free food, slacking, travel, and quitting on a moment's notice, decides that his quest should be to wash dishes in every state. It's a class-conscious and funny memoir/travelogue. Lots of drinking, dish-breaking, leftover eating and finding better things to do than work. Go get it!
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From "Specialty Cheese Shop Manual" 1981

"With constant world-wide inflation, the prices of imported cheeses and domestic cheeses continue to hit new highs. It was just a few years ago when most retailers thought they would never be able to sell a cheese for over $4 a pound. Now we see a few cheeses ready to break the $10 a pound level."

(After a discussion of whether to buy full 200+ lb. wheels of Emmenthal) "Cuts are found most often in the average shop. They weigh 12 to 14 lbs. And can be easily handled by a woman clerk."

"The ideal customer of a specialty cheese shop is affluent, highly educated, well traveled and likes to entertain. He lives in an area where home entertaining is not only a social event, but also an integral part of his career development. The ideal customer has a lifestyle in which cocktails are usually enjoyed before dinner, even when not entertaining guests."
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I realize that I covered some of this ground back in November but I was specifically asked to do this, so here we go:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
First off, I wish that I had written what Slit wrote in this thread.
Since I didn’t, I’d say Living My Life by Emma Goldman

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Who?
Heh. Like all the time. I would totally date VI Warshawski except that her boyfriends always get beat up and her fashion sense is a total lust-killer. Phillip Marlowe appeals to the side of me that just wants to take someone in, cuddle them, and tell them everything is going to be alright. Plus I have a weak spot for people who have a way with words.

Also, I would totally go out with Emma Goldman’s autobiography. Autobiographies are always part fiction.

The last book you bought is:
In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot Graham Roumieu
No Bosses Here (book about worker co-ops written in the mid ‘70s)
Home Girls ed. Barbara Smith
Fears of Your Life Michael Bernard Loggins
all bought together at the Anarchist Bookfair

The last book you read:
Venus of Chalk by [livejournal.com profile] susanstinson Wow. Now I’m even more proud to have had her in my home. Go buy it because Susan should be a famous author living off of royalties by now.

What are you currently reading?
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot Graham Roumieu
Justice Dominick Dunne



Five books you would take to a deserted island:
I hate this question because of course the literal answer would be guidebooks to edible plants, camping survival texts, diagrammed irrigation system maps, Canoe Building for Dummies etc.

Also, there’s something off-putting about the question in that it is a dismissal of urban concerns as somehow unnatural. Certainly, essays on race, gender, sexuality, class, gentrification etc. will have less meaning on a desolate island, especially as the years go by and especially if I’m alone on the island which is always how I picture it. Of course, if I’m "alone" like Robinson Crusoe some of those might be useful.

I mean, I love Raymond Chandler, but how old will it get to read about Murphy beds, knock-out drops and dames with secrets while I’m sitting , sunburnt and lonely in the middle of the Pacific. It’s a question that tries to stack the deck towards so-called Great Books.

But, accepting the whole premise, my list today would be:

Living My Life I mean geez, if I’d Fahrenheit 451 it, I’d certainly bring it to the island.
Black Athena Martin Bernal. I’ve never been able to finish this book. Here’s my chance.
Just Above My Head James Baldwin
Cloudsplitter Russell Banks
Despite Everything Aaron Cometbus. Ya know, gotta keep it real. (I might have Fahrenheit 451ed this one, but Aaron already has!)
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On her LJ, [livejournal.com profile] violetisblue asked me what books were most formative to my politics. Because I spent a couple of days last week lying miserably in bed staring at my bookcase, my list kept getting longer and I decided to just post it as an entry. A good number of these books were time-and-place for me, meaning that while I found them essential, your results may vary. But all are works that are incredibly important to me, even if some I haven’t read in 20 years. Take this for what it’s worth: not much. It's definitely not supposed to be a comprehensive list of must-read books to develop a political analysis, it was just mine.

I’d be interested in other people’s answers too. So feel free to meme this if you are so inclined.

Fiction/Autobiography

The Dispossed Ursula LeGuin. Anarchist and capitalist planets, utopia and distopia within both. One of the only Sci-fi books I’ve ever liked and it’s probably my favorite novel ever.

Just Above My Head James Baldwin. Not growing up religious, while I can appreciate Baldwin’s early works like Go Tell it on the Mountain, this book affected me a lot more. Amazing for its scope and compassion. Underrated probably partly because it was out of print for so long. I actually first read it as a xeroxed copy that a professor made for me. A 600 page xeroxed copy!

Boxcar Bertha "as told to" Ben Reitman. "Autobiography" of a hobo woman Great historical detail of the ‘30s. Certainly spoke to me more than Steinbeck, but that’s probably just because I read BB on my own and not in school.

Living My Life Vol. 1 Emma Goldman. God that woman must have been annoying to do political work with. Still, I love this book as a document of a life of struggle to make a better society that doesn’t ignore other human emotions. By the way, you won’t find that "If I can’t dance to it…" quote in here because it doesn’t exist. And Vol. 2 gets kinds depressing.

Zami Audre Lorde It’s an identity politics classic. The biomythography of a Black, lesbian, communist. Ruptured irreparably my view of a seamless history of the nobility of the left while still offering hope for the future.

The Last Days of Christ the Vampire JG Eccarius. Ok, this book really isn’t up there, writing-wise, with the others. But as a teenager how could I resist a gang of punk rockers, graffiti artists and weirdos connecting through Maximum RocknRoll and exposing the Vampire cult in control of organized religion and world capitalism. A DIY classic.

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. Ok, this book is fucked up. No question. But important things can be found in non-ideologically pure places. A ‘60s dropout high school English teacher was so passionate about this book and the way the Combine chews us up and spits us out, that I couldn’t help being affected. I tried to re-read it a few years later and was blown away by the sexism. But I can’t deny the other politics weren’t formative. By the way, I just saw the "Strangers with Candy" episode where Amy Sedaris learns she’s adopted and really the child of "Indians". At the end she re-enacts the last scene from the movie. I was sick in bed and laughing so hard it hurt me.

Any Raymond Chandler novel. Language is important. Good writing engages the reader and makes them care. The left press doesn’t need to be SO BAD.

Essays

Yours in struggle Minnie Bruce Pratt, Elly Bulking and Barbara Smith. Not to ignore Smith’s essay, but reading white people write about anti-racism was definitely a turning point for me in thinking about "not being racist" vs. being anti-racist. I have no idea how dated this might seem today, I maybe should go back and check.

This Bridge Called my Back Cherie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. Collection of essays written by radical women of color. Undoubtedly parts of this will read as dated. One of the attractive and important things about identity politics was the way that everyday actions and assumptions could be politicized. I think there’s, obviously, a limit to the effectiveness of this, mostly because a lot of people take it down the road of essentialism in an increasingly non-essentialized society (or maybe differently essentialized is more accurate, I’m not sure). BUT there’s no denying the great amount of truth and intellectual food for thought in contextualizing the assumptions, behaviors, and choices one has available.

Notes of a Native Son James Baldwin. Baldwin was one of my favorite novelists but was just as good an essay writer. This collection of essays contains incredible glimpses of history as it was happening in the late ‘50s through the ‘60s.

The Great Shark Hunt Hunter S Thompson. People underestimate how good a writer Hunter Thompson was before he became an over-stylized, drug-addled caricature of himself. This is a collection of amazing journalism that, as a 15 year old, made me want to write.

"The Tyranny of Structurelessness" Jo Freeman. It was just a 10-page pamphlet, but it’s the best thing ever written about small group democracy. Seriously.

History (I can be kind of a history geek, so I’m keeping this list short)

A People’s History of the United States Howard Zinn. Something to counter the textbooks….

Dynamite By Louis Adamic. A history of labor and violence in the US. Fascinating take on labor history and answers the question about how the Mob took over so many unions. (quick answer: workers needed protection from boss-funded vigilantes and Pinkertons. Then, as labor radicals were imprisoned or killed, the labor thugs seized the vacuum and took power.)

Personal Politics by Sara Evans. History of the Civil Rights movement and ‘70s feminism.

SDS by Kirkpatrick Sale. History of the ‘60s/’70s campus protest movements.

Haymarket Martyrs Paul Avrich. Incredible detailing of the working class and anarchist movements in 1880’s Chicago. Learn why International Workers Day is celebrated on May 1. And why the US doesn’t celebrate it.

Open veins of Latin America Eduardo Galeano. History of imperialism in Latin America that reads almost like a novel. At least it did to me as a Sandinista-supporting 17 year old.

Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus. Sloppy history I’m sure, but it weaves together the story of radical ideas and radical art movements. Seemingly with no precedent, certain ideas reassert themselves periodically, reappearing with shocking force when the correct societal situation arises even when they’ve laid dormant for years. Read it as fiction so you don’t have to worry about the parts that don’t make historical sense.

Homage to Catalonia George Orwell. Story of the Spanish Revolution, anarchism’s most shining and depressing moment. Solidified my conviction that you can’t trust CP members and you can only trust Trotskyists when they are poorly armed and fighting for their survival. This book started my interest in learning about the Spanish Revolution. Unfortunately, the books that I agree with more, ideologically speaking, are dry and boring so I’m glad I started here.

The M section on my bookshelf.

Marx, Mao, Malatesta and Malcolm X. The basics are important.
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I should have mentioned my favorite mystery writers. I mentioned Raymond Chandler, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and Kate Allen (the earlier ones) and Marcia Muller (the later ones)*. I should also say that I love the Lawrence Block burglar series, Walter Mosely,** Liza Cody, Gar Anthony Haywood, Eric Ambler, Val Mcdermid,(I like the early ones and the later ones both, but in different ways) GM Ford, Manuel Vazquez Montalban, Michael Nava,(the later ones) and Charles Willeford. I like Dashiel Hammett but he disapoints me because he’s not Chandler. I always wanted him to be better because he was writing in SF and Chandler was in LA. Eventually I just had to concede. Also if you see any mysteries on Pluto Press, pick ‘em up because they did a whole series of Lefty mysteries that I’m pretty sure are now all out of print.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch because I try and get all my mysteries from the library.



*ok, I like her books, but it drives me nutty the way that some character will ask the main character at least once a book about her Native American background (I don’t remember I think like 1/16 Cherokee or something) that never comes up in any other way but to make the character a little more exotic. And some of those early books are unreadable, she became a much better writer over time.

** I really wanted to hate him when Bill Clinton said Mosely was his favorite author. But Mosely’s too good. I just decided that Clinton was just lying instead.
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I know many of you out there are Sci-Fi folks. Beyond a couple of obvious titles and authors ( The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin is one of my favorite novels ever) I’ve never really gotten it. My genre guilty pleasure is reading mysteries.

When I was a kid I loved mysteries. My favorite series was the Three Investigators which, despite a commercial tie-in to the Alfred Hitchcock media empire was really well-written for y/a books. Besides, the super-genius main character lived in a junk yard and was fat. What’s not to love? The kids were still pretty much goody-goodies, but not like the diabetic-coma-inducing Hardy Boys twerps.

But when I got all politicized I stopped reading mysteries cold. I was moving on to adult books (you know what I mean, not kids books) and the mysteries seemed to be too right-wing, involving good-guy cops and the idea that "the system" would actually provide justice, if sometimes just needing a little push. Fuck that. Smash the state. I was a teen anarchist. Watch me be self-righteous.

Not that my analysis wasn’t partially correct. Most mass-market mysteries, especially in the late-‘80s were insipid, badly-written, odes to the police state. Happily though, and with suggestions by [livejournal.com profile] jactitation I discovered the joys of the lesbian feminist mystery.

I picked the most political ones to start with. Barbara Wilson’s Murder in the Collective, The Dog Collar Murders and Sister of the Road. These are a little dated now, the killer is found out in Murder because porn is found in his room proving he must be completely evil!. Oh, the ‘80s! But they’re worth reading. Dog Collar is a great account of the lesbian sex wars of the ‘80s with a murder backdrop and Sister has an intense ending that undoes the assumptions one makes as a reader.

Eventually I found authors and presses that I liked, and mysteries again became my guilty pleasure reading of choice. Grafton, Paretsky, Muller, etc. Then I found Chandler and realized where a lot of the good stuff was coming from. No one metaphors like he did. I can even read some cop mysteries now without filling full of hate. At least ones like Kate Allen’s.

However, because I was cherry-picking the good and political stuff for so long, I forgot how bad some mysteries could be. Recently, my Dad discovered my reading habits and started loaning me books. First was The Da Vinci Code, which has the unique ability to not only be the most cliched-filled waste of time I’ve read in years, but somehow is so bereft of interesting phrases that I can feel it’s memory black-hole-sucking original thoughts out of my head when I try to describe it. I must stop writing of it now or risk permanent brain damage.

Then he leant me a John Dunning book. John Dunning writes mysteries about a book dealer so he’s kind of a darling among people like my dad who collects and sells hunting and fishing books. I’m only on page 28 and the cliches are wounding me so bad that I may have to stop reading. Example: (the narrator dealing with an insult by a pompous author) "Normally at this point I would take off my kid gloves and bring up my own verbal brass knucks" My eyes! They’re bleeding!

But there’s a creepiness which both intrigues me and makes me want to throw the book into the corner and never pick it up again. (Of the narrator’s future love interest named Erin d’Angelo) "Her name suggested an Irish-Italian clash of cultures but to me she looked only like the best of America. She might have been a freshman college student straight from the heart of the country, a professional virgin with taffy-colored hair, a lovely oval face, and big eyes that radiated mischief." "Professional virgin"? I don’t even know what this means but I think it somehow reveals too much about the author.

Anyways, this is a roundabout way of asking for suggestions of mystery writers to read. Anyone?
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They just makes me so happy when they're good. The last two I read, The Dogs by Rebecca Brown and Chicano Chicanery by Daniel Chacon, were great in completely different ways. I happen to know that 6th St. Books has a couple of discounted copies of The Dogs ($5 I think) and could use your money. I know cuz I bought one last night even though I had just finished reading another copy and returned it to the library.

Marginalia

Jun. 18th, 2004 10:44 am
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Because my last post struck a nerve, please post comments with amusing examples of margin comments from books you have at home. You may post anonymously if you find it too embarrassing. I will look for good examples in my own books over the course of the day and post those as well.

This is a good example.
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This post may make the librarians hate me.

I have nothing necessarily against writing in books, even library books. When I was in college there were debates ranging in some of the political books that had been raging since the ‘70s. As long as one doesn’t make the actual book unreadable, it doesn’t bother me. Sometimes it can be really amusing. I remember reading a biography of Anastasio Somoza written by a supporter which had been mocked by student who obviously had read it for the same class I had years earlier. The author would write something like "Somoza brought modern roads and infrastructure to Nicaragua" and the literary heckler would add something like "because he found the old roads too small to fit his modern tanks and troop carriers." I’m sure it was funnier than that, but you get the idea.

So anyways, I was reading The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford (If "spoilers" for a book published in 1971 will bother you, stop reading now). I wondered why I been able to buy it so cheap. I hadn’t noticed that the last 10 pages are filled with comments. But what’s weird is that only the last 10 pages have any writing on them. What made someone decide to comment just in the last chapter and not throughout the book?

The thing with writing in books that others will read is that one has the community responsibility to be smart or funny. I mean, I can ignore the occasional sentence like "author uses symbolism here", because it’s unintentionally amusing. I picture a future of color coded text for books. Green type for symbolism, blue for metaphor, red for plot movement etc.

But when The Scribbler is making more revealing comments it can get distracting. Especially when they are missing the point. The Burnt Orange Heresy is a noir-ish novel where the main character is an art critic trying to make it to the big time. He sees his chance when a lawyer gives him information on where to find a certain recluse artist so he can be the first American to interview him. In return the art critic must steal a painting.

The artist has never shown his work. Now, as it turns out, the artist actually has done no art at all. His reputation has been built by other critics who wrote reviews and defined periods of his artistic life, building their own reputations while depending on the artist to stay out of the public eye. It’s a sweet series of co-dependent relationships, but this American art critic has promised to steal a painting. Since there are none to steal, he paints one and writes his review of it. Then things go wrong and, as happens in these types of books, he ends up killing his girlfriend.

My book scribbler seemed to be reading the book with an eye to the psychological and is overly concerned with the narrator/critic’s reality. Here’s an excerpt: "He now is back in touch with reality – and no longer acts only on his sub-conscious but also his conscious. (His girlfriend) is dead and gone, and it is now time for James to view reality through his own eyes" I must admit that this comment stumped me a little. Mostly because the character seems very aware of what he is doing at all times. Not necessarily of the potential consequences, but certainly in planning his fake painting, his climb up the art world ladder and the murder of his girlfriend

All good noirs are, on some level critiques of capitalism, or at least what capitalism does to individuals. That’s one of the reasons I like them. The Scribbler ignores the societal pressures on Figueras, Puerto Rican outsider who has altered every aspect of his history and life in order to be accepted in the white, rich world of art. His actions, somewhat predictably for the genre, lead to his downfall. But it’s hardly because of is lack of communication between his conscious and sub-conscious.

My favorite graffito is The Scribbler’s final comment. Written under the last sentence of Willeford’s novel, Scribbler literally gets the last words.: "Finally. James Figueras last words in the book are, ‘I want to confess to a crime of passion’. Anyone can draw their own conclusions to what this means. I personally find it to be rather poetic, the passion James is referring to I believe is his passion of being a single minded character who’s only concern is for himself. , in terms of women fame, power, and money. The first and only time James Figueras demonstrates any form of responsibility is in the last line of the book. One can only wonder what the future held for James Figueras, one can only wonder."

One can only wonder what the Scribbler was reading this book for. All the notes imply a class of some sort, but who assigns an obscure Charles Willeford book? Part of the Scribbler’s notes look like they would go directly into a student paper, the others seem much more personal. One can only wonder . . .

Underlining is a different issue by the way.
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Went for unexpected beers tonight after my last Board of Directors meeting. I’m really learning to like Wild Oscar’s. It’s a relatively new bar, both Irish and queer. Not necessarily, at the same time, but often it is.

Because of a semi-drunken discussion about how to best enable worker co-ops take over the world, I was late to Modern Times for the reading from Without a Net the new book that Michelle Tea edited about "the female experience of growing up working class". Unfortunately, LJ’s own [livejournal.com profile] beelavender and [livejournal.com profile] goodbadgirl* (who is rumored to exist in real life) and my co-worker Goldie couldn’t make the reading, but there were still another 10-12 contributors. I managed to catch Diane Di Prima, Ricky Lee, and Colleen Mckee. Sailor Holladay also got up at the last moment and told rotting teeth stories that you know are close to my heart if you go back a ways with my LJ.

All I can say is that from the readings and from what I’ve read so far, people should be checking this book out.

Also, and I don’t know if this will come out right, people need to quit bagging on Michelle Tea. She’s not my friend, (or my enemy either).We know each other to nod at on a good day, and we’ve likely discussed cheese a few times. But the older I get, the less I can stand the way that when someone starts to get a little famous out of the underground scene they came from, (punk, dyke, whatever) everyone starts talking shit about the work that they would have used as a badge of coolness a year or two before. I imagine some people who used to impress out-of-towners with "Oh yeah, I know Michelle, we hang out at the Lex." are the same ones being dismissive of her today because she’s developed some out-of-scene popularity. The crabs in a barrel thing is old.**

I just remember saying such stupid stuff about punk bands like, say, "Wild Gift" by X being not fast enough or that some stupid band getting big enough to play in a bar instead of a punk club was selling out.*** So maybe I’m just blaming others for my stupid mistakes of the past. Still, it seems like often when her name comes up, people can be really dismissive of her and her work. And I’m sure people have seen examples of this phenomenon before and know what I’m talking about.

Maybe I’m going too much out on a tangent because I’m a little drunk. All I’m really trying to say is that she put together an amazing collection of essays here that people should take a look at. Going to bed now.



*Click on that link up there, Good Bad Girl, you’ll be glad you did.
**Ex lovers are, of course, excepted from the above paragraph. Not that they are the ones talking shit in this case necessarily, just cuz that’s the universal rule. They have the right to be as barrel crabby as they want.
***Of course, sometimes I was right. The Ramones "End of the Century" for example.
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I was sitting on a bench in Seattle hanging out with one of my oldest friends, Dolphin Roadkill. We were catching up hurriedly like I tend to do when I haven’t talked to someone close in awhile. Even worse this time because she was only on a 15 minute break from the Hippie Healthcare Emporium.

A woman approached us and they greeted each other. My friend introduced me and they chatted for a minute. I gave them a little space and marveled once again at the non-jaywalkingness of the Seattleites. Those people can stand on curbs for hours and not move if the light doesn’t change.

When she left, Dolphin Roadkill said, "You’ve read her books, right?"

Turns out it was Rebecca Brown. What makes it weird was that I actually had a copy of The End of Youth in my bag at the time which I had just started reading. Good thing I didn’t know it was her or I would have been all nervous and barged into their conversation.

"Look at me! I have your book! Yeah, it’s from the library, I didn’t buy it or anything. It seems really good so far, but I’ve only read the first 20 pages." Who knows what I would have come up with to embarrass us both.
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I know that I should just ignore the lefty sects. I’ve been told that on this very LJ. But I just can’t help it, those folks are so wacky. I try to think of it this way, I know they’ll never amount to much politically beyond annoyance, but tracking their splits and machinations has become something of a hobby since I became politically active.

[livejournal.com profile] walktheplank suggested that I read Inside Out by Alexandra Stein awhile back, and I finally got around to finding a copy. Her take is that the group she was a part of (called The O., for "The Organization") was more cult than political organization. That seems to be the case based on the mixture of self-help and Marxist terms, the arranged marriages, and the social control of members. It also might be considered a give away that they almost never actually do any political organizing, or even go on the cannibalize-for-cadre binges of other political groups that is the traditional sectarian method for recruitment.

I was especially interested in The O because of their involvement with the Food Co-op Wars in Minneapolis in the ‘70s. The thriving food co-op movement in that city was forever changed when, in the name of the people, sectarians in dark glasses carrying baseball bats took over the main food warehouse in the city and occupied it. After the fighting in the streets was done, the anti-sectarians simply started a new warehouse and boycotted the old one, driving it out of business. But the network of political food cooperatives in that area was destroyed forever. The O, then known as the C.O., was at its height then, but soon lost or purged most of its 200 members. The rest went underground. This was not identical, but mirrored the fights over the People’s Food Warehouse in San Francisco during that same time period which ended in a gunfight and a death during a meeting to decide the fate of the SF People’s Food System.

Everyone around at the time yells COINTELPRO, but how much was just bad politics?

That’s the question I kept asking myself as I read this book. Unfortunately for the co-op history* Stein’s involvement with The O starts in the early ‘80s as her San Francisco political friends begin to drop out of politics. I understand the longing for Movement and the feeling of wanting to be serious about her organizing. I understand that the dissolution of focussed activism in the late ‘70s made people do funny things when a few years before they felt that revolution was right around the corner. But I’ll never understand why people join small sectarian parties. Especially one which intentionally isolates her, doesn’t allow her to sleep (because of scheduled activities) and which never reveals any of its goals.

It’s unclear what she has been told and what she assumes are the politics of the "Marxist-Leninist" organization she joins. There were rumors that certain famous Black Power militants were really high up in the leadership which, one has to guess, made it ok that all the cadre were (seemingly) all white. In fact, it could be seen as a badge of commitment, and in this case anti-racism, that one would disavow their own self-determination (or bourgeois side according to The O) for the struggle as planned by The O’s wise leadership. As it turns out however, the group is run not by a central committee or a leadership collective, but by one Black man who seems to be making a living having all these white people working for him and hiring his construction company to constantly remodel their workplaces and homes.

Of course he’s also manipulative, violent, crazy, and has charismatic control of the members. Stein goes to great lengths to show how scared to think for themselves once they are involved in The O. In fact, the leader secretly goes to jail for over a year after killing someone, and everyone in the Organization (how many people? 10? 20 at most I’d say) just keeps working on their previous orders,** with no idea that it was not just them, but everyone, who hadn’t heard from the "leadership" during that time. Now that’s cadre discipline!

Predictably, the members of The O have no visible sense of humor and Stein hasn’t seemed to developed one since she terminated her membership. My favorite passage in the book comes after she has left The O and she confides to her Old Left mother that she has been in a secret communist organization for the last ten years:

"’What are they," (her mother) asked shrilly, "Trotskyists?"
For her generation of Communists, Trotskyists were the ultimate form of evil, so this was her way of trying to understand.
‘No," I sighed, ‘But that’ll do.’"


Now that’s a funny line; Lefty comic gold even. Trotsky jokes please radicals of all stripes except for, of course, Trotskyists. But instead of having a good laugh about this, this becomes a heavy moment about how no one can understand what she’s been though.***

Further demonstrating the lack of humor, which probably is a common denominator between sectarians and cultists, is the fact that early on in her O tenure, the inter-Organization communiqués stop coming from "O.S." (Organization Secretary) and start coming from "P.O.O."**** This is not commented upon.

[livejournal.com profile] jactitation reminded me of one of the other (unintentionally) funny moments. As soon as they leave the cult, what’s the first thing they do? Write a position paper on The O of course. Sectarians are nothing if not stubborn.

There was a (self-described) ex-Weatherman ex-radical who lived in the town where I went to school. He became a minor local celebrity denounce all campus activism using himself as a bad example. He used to repeat certain phrases a lot, whether shouting at us on the streets or on the local rightwing cable access show. "You’ve been co-opted by the international Communist conspiracy!" "You’re building shanty towns now, next thing you know you’ll be throwing molotov cocktails at banks!"*****

My response to him was always to yell back, "Stop blaming us for your bad politics!" That phrase kept coming back to me throughout reading this book. Inside Out didn’t make me think, "Wow, I could have joined a sectarian cult by accident!" Instead, it made me yell, "What are you thinking!" every few repetitive pages.



*The book Storefront Revolution details the Minneapolis food co-op history.
**Fortuitously, Stein had just been approved to fundraise for the ANC just before this jail term began. The idea may just have been to make contacts through which to sell their computer software, but since she received no other orders she actually did manage to do something useful for awhile.
***It also reflects on her relationship with her mother, but space limitations . . .
****acronym meaning unknown.
*****Yet some still say that ‘60s radicals had catchy slogans.
gordonzola: (Default)
We have a winner.

The contest is over. No need for any more punk rockers to write their memoirs. The most self-serving book of the punk era has been published. It’s The Stranglers: Song by Song . in which prostrate journalist Jim Drury fawns over singer Hugh Cornwell while listening to old Stranglers records, all of them, while asking Hugh what they all mean, scribbling the answers as if he was recording a lost holy book.

Let me make and admission first. I loved the Stranglers when I was a kid. Me and my friend Rich Quinn used to stay up late and watch "Videowest" a low budget video show that pre-dated MTV. The Stranglers mastered that medium before anyone else and they became my favorite band after watching "Duchess", "Five Minutes", "Nuclear Device" and other songs over and over on the video channel that didn’t have much of a pool to choose from.

They would have been my first concert in 1979 if they hadn’t cancelled the all-ages show for which me and my friends were, evidently, the only people who bought tickets. I admit it. They drew me in with their carefully developed air of mystery and menace. A few years later I recognized this as misogyny, pretentiousness and a marketing plan but hey, I was young and naïve. I’ll still defend some of their songs, the ones not haunted by the above, and I still love that gravelly bass sound they got on their first three/four records.

Evidently Hugh Cornwell left the band in 1990 on bad terms. I had stopped listening by then so I didn’t notice. The Stranglers Song by Song tells Hugh’s version of the history of the band (with an introduction by Paul Theroux!*). Cornwell is still trying for the image of a tough, intellectual rocker here but it begs the question if he is so intellectual, why didn’t Hugh write a book instead of slowly blurting it out in short attention span paragraphs to a paid sycophant?

It’s probably unfair to characterize it as a punk memoir book since Cornwell spends most of it distancing himself from the word. I swear I remember them claiming to be the first punk band ever when I was a kid, and believing it, but in this book any ties they had to the punk scene were purely in the effort of moving units and becoming a successful band. For example, on putting "Sometimes" on as the first song on their first album, Cornwell says it was done in the name of "drawing people in so they thought they had bought a punk record, then giving them something a bit more intelligent afterwards."

Self-importance is a constant throughout the book. According to the book the Stranglers recorded one of the first rap songs, did a soul album, pioneered synth drumming, and started the practice of spitting at punk shows. I guess it’s good to be proud of one’s life work but there’s times when, oh, it might be a tad exaggerated.

The rap claim is the most amusing. Describing the song "(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)" Cornwell says, "What people don’t realize is that it was one of the first rap songs. There’s no singing on it apart from the chorus refrain. I got a bit irritated when I went to a launch party for Blondie’s "Rapture" and the press were saying that was the first rock rap song" Except for the fact that the song is spoken, not sung, I can’t figure out what could possibly be "rap" about that song.** I want you all to find ac opy or a download, listen to it, and tell me if you see any evidence of "rapping". Maybe he’s kidding. Cornwell was known to play practical jokes on journalists

As for the sexism of some Stranglers songs, Jim Drury asks, "People regard The Stranglers as a sexist band, yet "Princess of the Streets" sees the man as the victim

Cornwell responds, "Absolutely . . .There are a couple of lines that people might say were derogatory to women, but if you took them out it would be a great love song" Not only a non-answer but accepting the curious assumption that a man being the victim of a woman, excuse me, a "piece of meat", "stab"bing him "in the back" is somehow exempt of being sexist.

But the most amusing part of the book are the pretentious, faux-intellectual, Spinal Tapisms. About the song "Peaches" ("Walking on the beaches / looking at the peaches.") "There’s a lot of innuendo in that song and I liked turning the idea of female emancipation upside down. It’s my surrealist fetishism, because sometimes by turning things on their heads you get a fresh look at things. It’s not trying to legitimize a view or discredit it, it’s just getting a new angle on it." Funny, I never realized the song was that deep. I haven’t seen Spinal Tap in awhile, but I immediately flashed on their being interviewed about sexism on the song "Sex Farm" and the response being something like "It’s taking a sophisticated view of modern sex. And placing it on a farm" (not a real quote)

I also found the history Cornwell purports to be illuminating as well. For instance what happened to the Mayans? Cornwell says, "Some people believe that an asteroid the size of the Isle of Wight hit the world near the Bermuda Triangle and a tidal wave wiped out the civilization." I mean, maybe so. But when I hear "Bermuda Triangle" and "asteroid" in the same sentence I start thinking "wingnut".

As for using a quote by Franco’s daughter on a song called "Spain" then getting her to appear on stage with them when they played there on that tour, the politics aren’t mentioned. The quote, from a propaganda film made after the Spanish Civil War ended had her (as a small child) saying, "I hope all the children of Spain have a nice house to live in and lots of sweets and toys. . ." Yes, that’s what Franco’s dictatorship was all about, sweets and toys for children.

It goes on like this for 370 pages detailing every song in order of their release. Most of it is concerned with songwriting details, "I wrote the verse, John wrote the chorus and Dave did a great keyboard fill. Etc.". I believe you’d need to be/have been a real Stranglers devotee to attempt this book.

I would love to hear your nominees for most self-serving punk memoir*** by the way, but I don’t think this can be topped.



*Weirdly, I’m reading Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux right now and enjoying it a lot. Then again, they’re just using his name to further The Strangler image of intellectual rockers. All he really says in the intro is that they were unique and he used one of their songs in a book he wrote about London.

**Let us pause to reflect on the meaningful rap lyrics of "Grip": "Stranger from another planet / welcome to our hole /just strap on a guitar / and we’ll play some rock n roll. / But the money’s no good / just get a grip on yourself." Maybe it’s the "another planet" / Rapture "man from Mars" thing that is confusing him.

***Mike one of the MRR editors made the wonderful statement that every one of those books declares punk dead when the writer loses interest in the punk scene. 1979, 1981, 1985, 1991 whatever. (My personal choice would be 1985 but I got drawn back in during that riot grrrl / queercore thing.)

****This is an extra set of asterisks. It doesn’t relate to the book but check out this Stranglers cover band and scroll down to see their picture. Hee hee hee. Why aren’t they playing London when I'm there!?!

*****Geez, I forgot to even mention the cover shot cropped to make it look like Cornwell has all his hair.

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