Thursday, November 23, 2017

"Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World" by Billy Bragg (Faber & Faber)

ISBN: 978-0-571-32774-4 Faber & Faber
Music artist Billy Bragg's history of Skiffle is a remarkable book. For those who don't know, Skiffle is music made in the United Kingdom by people (not all trained musicians) who used homemade instruments, including guitars, to perform blues and folk music, mostly that came from the United States. Lead Belly was the leading performer and songwriter that these young British musicians admired the most, and generally, it is their version of his songs which became popular and in turn, inspired rock 'n' roll in England. Nothing is by itself, and this narrative has the cold war politics as well as how the recording industry operated and tried to control their airways. The power of the teenager, both as a creative force as well as an economic strength is part of this story as well. Bragg did a magnificent job in capturing this large movement on these pages. The book is full of fascinating characters such as Ken Colyer, Lonnie Donegan (Skiffle's Elvis in one sense), Joe Meek and the whole traditional jazz scene, especially in Soho London. 

I have always been fascinated with the post-war years in London, and "Roots, Radicals and Rockers" is a wonderful journey into the world of contemporary music of that time. Also, fascinating to me is how another culture borrows from another to make something new. I would also recommend this book to anyone who is interested in British Punk rock because they share a similar DIY practice.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"Paul Bowles on Music" edited by Timothy Mangan and Irene Herrmann (University of California Press)

ISBN: 9780520236554 University of California Press

Paul Bowles, the writer, meets Bowles the composer, who wrote music criticism in the 1940s.   The critiques he wrote in themselves are not that fascinating, but what's interesting is the culture that was presented in New York City during that era, and the coverage of the mainstream media at the time, with someone smart and brilliant as Bowles covering the "Waterfront." 

Bowles as most of us knows as readers is a writer of great skill but also wrote from a great distance.  His work, especially his short stories, is reporting another culture, which is odd, strange, and unknown to the westerner.   In a sense, Bowles was the head ant investigating the other culture for food and music and reported back to the American culture of that and future time.  What you see here is Bowles, primarily a composer at the time, writing about various music recitals/concerts that took place in Manhattan.  The majority of the events are classical recitals, but there are some side trips to see jazz (at mostly big venues) and folk (again, in major concert halls of the time).  He doesn't go to jazz or folk nightclubs to do his reporting, but mostly to places like Carnegie Hall and so forth.  So, in a sense, he's reporting on music culture, not for the specialist, but in most cases for the casual reader who looks through the newspaper for local news or events.  Some articles he did write for special interest publications, but even these pieces are geared for a broad readership.

As a writer and a publisher, as well as someone who loves music and music criticism, I find Bowles extremely important.  For one, I love his music, what I have heard so far, and two, it's fascinating to notice his 'place' in that society that was New York.  He was very interested in other cultures even in the 1940s, and often it seems like he went to South and Central America to discover new music, but was disappointed to realize that even then, countries were officially hindering certain type of music for a more commercial take on that world.   Bowles also covered film movie music for a specialist magazine in that field.  As far as I can gather, he would go to see the film, and just report on the music how it was used in the film.  That's interesting!  Also, he reviewed books on music (again, mostly classical, but some books on jazz) as well as recordings.  So he was probably one of the earliest critics to talk about records, for a well-read journal/newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune.   Also, there is an interview with Bowles, one of his last conversations with an interviewer about him working as a critic.  That alone is a fascinating document.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lun*na Menoh artist on Tea With Tosh

An early episode of Tea With Tosh, shot in 1987, which is also the last episode of Tea With Tosh as well. I met Lun*na Menoh in Los Angeles at an opening of her show at a cafe. I was totally knocked out by her work, and invited Lun*na to do an episode of "Tea With Tosh." A week later I asked her to marry me, and we are to this day still a married couple. With all respect, I'm basically a groupie. Here she talks about her work, but keep in mind this is what she was doing in 1987. Also included are the video works of Shirley (Squid) Ouchi.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Tom Recchion Composer LAFMS on Tea With Tosh

My second post for "Tea With Tosh."  I did this show in 1986. My guest for this episode is Tom Recchion.   A composer, visual artist, and the man who designed the graphics for most of my TamTam Books.  Before that happened, I had him on my show.  Here we have the Los Angeles Free Music Society (LAFMS) roots, as well as Los Angeles art in this show.  Watching it now, I'm so proud of having Tom participate in my program.   It's basically a snapshot of a specific time and place - but alas, I feel very tied to Tom's world personally.  It was a magnificent time with a wonderful person, that is Tom .  - Tosh Berman

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sherds Podcast on Boris Vian's "Red Grass" (TamTam Books)

#3 Red Grass by Boris Vian

In this episode, we look at Boris Vian's Red Grass (1950), a surrealist science fiction novel in which the main character, Wolf, creates a machine that allows him to erase his own memories.  Perhaps a critique or satire of existentialism, perhaps a veiled song of mourning for post-war France, Red Grass is a somewhat obscure novel that really got us thinking.
Over the course of our discussion, we consider Vian's playful complexity, his parodies of psychoanalytical and existentialist thought, and the possible significance of Red Grass in terms of French collective memory in the wake of the Second World War. 
This episode features readings by Kinga Stanczuk

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"Everything Is Combustible" by Richard Lloyd (Beech Hill Publishing Company)

ISBN: 978-0-9976937-6-8 Beech Hill Publishing Company

The band Television means a lot to me.  Even before I heard a  note of their music, they had great importance to me.  I saw a photo of the band when Richard Hell was in it, and I was intrigued by their visuals.   I liked the haircuts and their clothing.  It was no frills and all attitude.  I must have been around 18 or 19 when Television hit my consciousness.  Not long after, but for sure after Hell left the band, I purchased their single on Ork Records, Little Johnny Jewel" at my local punk rock record store, Bomp Records in the Valley.  I heard a sound that matched their vision.   To this day, and we're talking 40 years later, Television is still a mystery to me. 

 I have read a lot of books regarding the New York music explosion of the 1970s, including "Please Kill Me" (an excellent book) and various memoirs by musicians of that period (all of them are pretty good).  Still, what is Television?  And on top of that, who is Tom Verlaine"   Richard Lloyd who was one of the remarkable and fascinating characters that came out of the  "Please Kill Me" book and even more important, a brilliant guitarist in Television.  Verlaine and Lloyd were the bookends, and Billy Ficca (drums) and Fred Smith roamed between those two.   Verlaine was and is the primary composer for Television (Hell, when he was in the band, shared songwriting duties, and is brilliant), but that group is constructed like a piece of architecture.  Lloyd was part of the building blocks to build this magnificent sound that is Television. 

"Everything Is Combustible" is a remarkable memoir, due that Lloyd is a good prose writer and a fascinating guy.   Very straightforward, yet metaphysical in his approach to his life, and even with his addictions.   He has a mind like a scientist, who wants to analyze the things and people in front of him or in his sights.   One of my favorite parts of the book is when Lloyd tries to look at his drug addiction clearly and showed frustration when a medical doctor tries to get him to a 12 step program.  At the time, Lloyd wasn't interested in quitting drugs; he just wanted to know in detail the nature of addiction and how it affects the brain/body.  In such fashion, he reminds me of William S. Burroughs. To investigate the 'unknown' and somehow try to make it more 'known.'  

Lloyd writes his memoir as if it's an original science paper.  When he attaches to something, he doesn't let go, until Lloyd masters whatever he desires.   His guitar obsession is singular and it's his devotion to the instrument that made him such a remarkable musician.   He's egotistical in a sense he knows what he can do, yet his appreciation of other artists are quite open and in its way, a strong focus on him as well.  He casually knew Jimi Hendrix as a teenager.  I gather he wanted to know what made him such an iconic and fantastic musician.  He doesn't look at Hendrix as a fanboy but like a scientist studying in a laboratory.   For the mystery part, that is still a mystery to me.  The reader gets facts regarding the inner-workings of Television, but what made Tom Verlaine be such an odd fellow?  Richard Hell in his memoir wrote about Verlaine, and they were great friends, yet, I didn't feel Hell could penetrate the mystery that's Tom Verlaine.  Lloyd doesn't get any closer to Verlaine's character, but you do get great stories about him not using luggage, but laundry or store bags to keep his clothing.  The fact is Verlaine is a very strange being and somewhat guarded.  One gathers he is a control freak and wants to be in control of Television, but what was it in his background that turn him out that way?  Lloyd doesn't answer that question, nor do other memoirists/music historians. 

"Everything Is Combustible" is a must-read for those who are fascinated with the CBGB's New York rock world.  For whatever reason, or what was breathed in that Manhattan air, concerning that generation of musicians, they left a lot of great literature for us to read (and music too) and for us fans to comment on. Lloyd's book is pretty wonderful in that sense.  Superb read. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Harry Kipper on Tea With Tosh

As promised, "Tea With Tosh" with my guest artist/performance artist Harry Kipper.   In the years 1986/1987 I did 20 episodes of "Tea With Tosh."  Gary Calamar, Deborah Hunter and Shirley (Squid) Ouchi came up with the idea of me doing a public access show, and together, with many friends, we did the show.  I came up with the concept of a chat show that I imagined would be an afternoon program.  The inspiration for me was Dick Cavett and William F. Buckley.   At the time, both hosts always had fascinating people on their shows, and another inspitation is when I was suffering from the bad flu/cold sometime in 1985, and I watched a lot of afternoon interview programs on an old black and white TV with horrible reception.  I was too ill to get out of bed to fix the set or adjust the channel, so I just let it be.  The spirit of the show was to do everything in the present and worry about the future.  The past for me was the research of the interview subjects.  Also, I wanted to be in an official format where I can ask questions to all the people who came on the show.  I would never ask these type of questions in a private conservation - but doing it in front of the (imagined) public seemed OK.   I did receive public attention during the run of the show, but mostly through waiters, who many recognize me by watching "Tea With Tosh."  It seemed I had a huge following among people who worked as servers in restaurants!

Harry Kipper is a major favorite of mine.  I met and socialized with Harry (and his partner, Harry) at Punk venues, but I first met him through my father Wallace Berman, who later arranged for Harry to perform at the Mermaid Tavern in Topanga. Sometime in 1972?  Secretly, my father made the flyer for the show and posted it all around Topanga sometime in the very late night.  He loved The Kipper Kids.  And so do I.  Therefore love Harry Kipper.  The other "Harry" married Bette Midler, and I believe he became an economic advisor or dealing with finances/stock market.

"Tea With Tosh" with guest, Harry Kipper.  1986.  30 minutes.  If you like the show, please give it a like or a comment on the YouTube page.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Tea With Tosh" was a cable access TV program that was produced and done in 1986 through 1987. I did exactly 20 shows. My chit-chat guests were everyone from Philip Glass to Phranc to Peter Case to George Herms to Russ Tamblyn to Bruce Conner to Jack Hirschman to my soon to be wife Lun*na Menoh. I imagine myself as a combination of Dick Cavett and William F. Buckley. With no money, but we all had a vision (of sorts) to define our culture as we lived it. Now, I digitalized the entire series and will slowly (and surely) make it available to the public. What we call "Tea With Tosh."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Jimmy Witherspoon /Wallace Berman - "Lush Head Woman"

My father Wallace Berman was a close friend to the great jazz and R n' B singer Jimmy Witherspoon.  They wrote a song together, and 'the Spoon" recorded it.  Here it is.  "Lush Head Woman"

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tosh Berman's (Tosh Talks) YouTube Channel

Photograph by Kimley Maretzo

I'm revamping my YouTube channel and very shortly will be adding the early episodes of "Tea With Tosh" as well as making new editions/episodes of "Tosh Talks."  I have quite a few episodes on my channel at the moment.   Do click on the link down below and subscribe to my station.  Merci, Tosh!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Odd Jobs" by Tony Duvert (Wakefield Press)

ISBN: 978-1-939663-29-0 Wakefield Press
Jonathan Swift comes to mind while reading Tony Deuvert's "Odd Jobs."  The set of stories takes place in a village, and all focus on particular occupations that are held in this village.  Or is it even the same village?  Nevertheless, there are occupations such as 'the snot-remover,' 'the wiper' (he cleans your ass and collects your poop) and 'the fondler' who skillfully jerks off boys, and so forth.  I imagine if you try to locate this specific village it may be difficult.  Therefore we're lucky that we have Tony Duvert to lead us to a world, of his own making, and beyond that, a savage satire on family culture and practices. Duvert is a writer who is very sensitive to the concept of family, and how cruel that system can be on individuals and more likely children.  A controversial writer in France, the late Duvert reminds me of Fassbinder the filmmaker, in that he too attacked systems that eventually oppressed a class or the public.  A social commentator, as well as a very dark humorist, "Odd Jobs" is a remarkable piece of work. Like his "District" (also published by Wakefield Press)  this book is a fantastic (although not necessarily) companion to "Odd Jobs."

"District" by Tony Duvert (Wakefield Press)

ISBN: 978-1-939663-30-6 Wakefield Press
Like the iconic and cliche saying about peeling an onion and each layer has a separate meaning or taste, so does the work of Tony Duvert.  "District" is a 40-page book, with ten sections/chapters and an introduction by the translators S. C. Delaney and Agnès Potier.   While reading the book this early afternoon, I immediately thought of the text that went along with the photos of 
Eugène Atget, who took early images of Paris and its life before Paris become modernized in the late 19th century.  Duvert covers an unnamed city (one can presume it's Paris, but who knows?) and in detail writes about that area in a poetic view or prose.  One gets the impression that he's a loner observing life as it happens, but not participating in what goes on in front of him.   It's a gem of a small book that leaves a large impression on me.  I have always been fascinated with writing that deals with a specific space, such as in various writers who were part of, or influenced by Situationists.  Duvert's "District" can follow that direction of such groupings, but also a touch of the "nouveau roman."

"Misia: The Life of Misia Sert" by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale (Alfred A. Knopf)

Superb biography on Misia Sert, who was a wealthy iconic model as well as a supporter of artists Renoir, Vuillard, Bonnard, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Wherever she sat, it seems that she was the magnet or in the presence of greatness in the art world. From writers to artists to composers to close designers, she knew everyone, and everyone seemed to want her support and friendship. At the moment I can't think of a better book on European art from the 19th-century to the World War II era, where things fell apart in the world of the arts.

"Misia" is written by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, which is the sole reason why I picked this book up. In my vinyl hunting, I have come upon two great albums by Gold and Fizdale, who play duo pianos, and focused on early 20th-century music, specifically the excellent Paul Bowles. Gold/Fizdale, a gay couple, seem to be at the very heart of the boho music world of the 1940s and 1950s Manhattan world. Besides writing this remarkable biography (1980), they also had a local New York City cooking show as well.

"Misia" is brilliantly told through various letters and journals by those who are in Ms. Sert's social world, as well as her letters to such cultural icons like Jean Cocteau and her best friend Serge Diaghilev, whose personality comes out gloriously in these pages. Cocteau was a hustler for his work, and Diaghilev was a hardcore hustler for his vision of the ballet and combining the most exceptional talents in art, music, and dance in one space, and on one stage. Misia also helped a young Coco Chanel start her world as fashion goddess, and may and may not have been lovers. The book is a gossip's dream of classic scandal on everyone from Marcel Proust to Erik Satie. It's fascinating to me that I know all the participants in this world, except for Misia Sert! There are people like her who were extremely important for any scene to get started, and she was the finance/friend that kept the ball rolling - especially to someone who was a combination of financial ruin and mess, Diaghilev.

The book is full of bitchy witticisms and an essential title for anyone who even has the 'slightest' interest in art culture from those times.

Monday, October 9, 2017

"Left" by Tosh Berman

My politics is hard Left. Mostly due that I’m left-handed and feel more comfortable with anything that deals with the left, either in politics or positioning things around me that is suitable for my left-handedness.   Even when I go out for walks, I only turn left.  I never turn right.  For instance, this morning I went out for a walk where I left the entrance to the house, reached the street, turned left.  When I approached Glendale Blvd, I made another left when I arrived on Fletcher.  I walked straight on Fletcher till I reached Larga Avenue, and went straight down to Glendale Blvd where I made a left.  I stayed on Glendale Blvd till I reached Waverly Drive, made a left and walked straight to my home and up the stairs to the entrance.  Approaching my door means I have to turn right, so I didn’t go up the stairs but went to the back way which is straight, a left, and then another left which leads to the back door.  

I tend to be messy due that I’m left-handed.  For instance, it’s challenging for me to write with a dip pen.  For a right-handed person, it’s easy for them to dip the pen into a bottle of ink, and the ability to drag the pen onto paper.  For a left-handed person they need to lower the pen into the ink, and once they reached the page, they either have ink blots on it or other stains.  Ever since the Industrial Age, where machines were made for the right-handed worker, the Lefties had a raging war to compete or do the same job.  In the appearance of their work, the left-handed person is messy, clumsy, or looks stupid.  God knows how many times people have noticed this trait with me. 

Also, there is lots of mistrust with individuals who are left-handed.  That hatred for lefties is even stamped in the language.  For instance, the Latin addictive ‘sinister’ means ‘left,’ as well as ‘unlucky.’   The term “left-handed compliment” means something that’s unflattering or not worthy of any seriousness.   Even magic is thrown in as something against the Leftie.  It is often known as ‘left-hand path, which duh, is inclined to the black magic.’  White magic is the right-hand path. When you get down to it, the world hates the left-handed person.  What’s maddening is that none of us decided to be left-handed, but because we are born to be left-handed, we are forced to suffer from the Right-handed world.  The right comes from the organized part of the world due that they made the machines and tools that can be only used by the Right handers with a significant amount of comfort.  On the other hand, the Lefties have to use the same machinery, and what they get for it, is humiliation and hatred.  

The other thing I have noticed is when you go out eating; it’s wise for the left-handed person to be sitting by the end of the counter because otherwise, your arm will be jabbing the person on your left.  There is only one spot for the left-handed person in a restaurant, and that is on the end table.  Rarely, like hardly, can a left-handed person be in the center of the table.  They’re forced to be outside - and that means also being forced out of the table conversation.  Or if you’re placed at the dining counter, by the wall, your left hand is constrained due to the wall being there.  

If that is not bad enough, Yale had a study where Left-handed people were more likely suffer from psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.  It’s no wonder I’m not allowed to run machinery including driving a car. I remember once I was pulled over due to a lighting problem in my taillights, and the cop noticed that I was left-handed and tried to give me a ticket for being so.   I had to argue with him that there is no such law, but he thought that was insane.  He actually contacted a fellow police officer, and that cop told him “no, it’s not against the law, but of course, it should be a law against left-handed drivers.”  So, I just got a ticket for a bad headlight, but still, the paranoia out there is real. 

My first introduction to being the dreg of the world due to my leftie character was in elementary school.  The teacher would call me up to the chalkboard to write some sort of answer.  The class would complain because it was strange for seeing someone using that side of the body, that hand and write something on the chalkboard. I remember almost crying in front of the class, but I bit my lip so I wouldn’t do so.  Even the school classroom chairs were a problem for me.  They had seats with a desk attached for writing.  And of course, they were made for the right-handed person.  If you were that persuasion, you can sit up in your chair and have no trouble writing.  Me, on the other hand, with my left-hand had to reach out to the table, and therefore twist my back to do so.   I must have resembled a hunchback fellow!

As a teenager, I had to share the front seat with my mom on the right, because she prefers the window/door seat, and my father who drove the truck.  My left hand and arm consistently smacked against the gear shift of the truck.  So, I had to force my arm to my torso as much as possible to not to hit my father while he was driving the vehicle.   It seems that for my whole life, I had to control my left upper limbs from other people, due to the industrial or interior design of furniture and machines.   The constant annoyance of being aware, when others are apparently not aware nor do they have to be, because they’re fucking right-handed.  

It’s getting to the point that it’s hard for me to sleep on the right side of the bed.  Then again, what is the left or the right side of the bed?  It really depends on where one is standing and one’s direction.  If I’m facing the front of the bed, I can point to the left side, but if my back is against the direction of the bed, then the left side changes.  So in theory, is there such a thing as a ‘left’ or ‘right?’   Doesn’t it depend on where one is standing?  I have often heard people commenting “on ‘your’ left,” which is utterly confusing to me.  Being left-brain minded, I get bewildered with directions and what’s North, South and so forth.  

On top of all of this, I don’t want people to know that I find all of this confusing because it makes me sound dumb.  In fact, I feel stupid.  Not when I’m by myself in a private world of my own making, but when I go out socially, and I have to function in a manner that’s proper and entirely agreeable with the rest of the world.  It’s very tiresome you know.  

With things being sided with the right-hand world there can be no peace or justice till the Left regains what is indeed ours, which is part of our world.   

- Tosh Berman, Los Angeles, 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

Hugh Hefner 1926 - 2017

Hugh Hefner himself is not that important, but the importance lies in how America looks at Hefner and Playboy brand.  For all purposes, Hefner is not someone special, and therefore that's the secret to his visual success.   He knew how to tap into that world that was his generation.   Also, his other great secret or talent is that he wasn't hip whatsoever.   His Playboy philosophy appealed to the most unhip part of the population.  He didn't make the female an object, but more that he's part of the world that allowed or projected that world in a glossy magazine.   I think his appeal is that he was able to communicate with the average Joe and tell them that they too can be part of this world.  The big difference between Trump and someone like Hefner is that our President doesn't want anyone to be part of his class or share the power, on the other hand, Hefner clearly wanted to express that you too can be in his place.  

Playboy was the only world where Herb Albert can beat out Miles Davis as the best trumpet player in one of the Playboy jazz polls.  This, I think expresses honestly what the Playboy Magazine thinks and listens.  It's an image that has no bearing on reality, yet, it is a remarkable skill to make a world of one's liking.  When Hefner was younger, it was awesome-like, but as soon as age creeps up on one, it becomes bad taste.  In fact, there is a lot of kitsch culture that goes with the Playboy brand and image.  They didn't intend it to be in that light, but alas, they were not that self-aware of their existence. 

"The Last of the International Playboys" is a truthful portrait of that generation of lost men.  The aging swinger was grasping toward youth, and not be able to hold on to its magic - in fact; it causes premature aging!   Hefner was never really young.  He was always an old man, and if anything, it's his brilliance to capture the middle-aged American Male's psyche in the mid-century era.  - Tosh Berman

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Les Sewing Sisters open up for SPARKS at El Rey Theater, Los Angeles Oct 14 & Oct 17

Les Sewing Sisters (Lun*na Menoh and Saori Mitome) are the opening band for SPARKS that will take place on Saturday, October 14 and Tuesday, October 17 at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles.
To get a taste of Les Sewing Sisters' music, click on the link down below:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Slow Writing : Thom Andersen on Cinema" by Thom Andersen (The Visible Press)

ISBN: 9780992837723 The Visible Press

In the 1960s there were a lot of great 'film' related books that speak to the fan of the medium, but also express a viewpoint of the world as well.  Thom Andersen's "Slow Writing" reflects that series of perfect moments when I used to haunt the bookshelves at Samuel French and Larry Edmunds bookstore in Hollywood. 

Cinema was not separated from 'real' life - even Hollywood had to reflect on the outside world once in awhile.   For me, and this is entirely a subjective view there is two type of fans of cinema.  The one that gets into the merchandising and the inner world of that medium - mostly the generation, that offers a peculiar view of the world that is half-made up and almost have a will of steel in bringing that world up in their everyday lives.  And then there is the cinema that reflects on the politics, the concerns, and the nature of being human in a world that's often unsettling.  These two sometimes go hand-in-hand, or more likely take two separate highways to get to their destination.    "Slow Writing" is a book that reflects on the 'outside' world but through the medium of the cinema.  It's a fantastic series of essays focusing on Ozu to Christian Marclay, Warhol, and for me an obscure filmmaker Pedro Costa.  

Thom Andersen writes clearly and doesn't have the slightest whiff of academia confusion or stance.  He's a guy who goes to the movies and thinks about them afterward.   His interest in politics, film noir, and the Hollywood Red scare era is a toxic seduction to get the reader involved with 20th-century pop cultural history.   It is also a world that bites very hard and doesn't let go of its fans or those who dwell in the history of the urban landscape - especially Los Angeles in this case.  "Slow Writing" is a perfectly paced book.  The essays blend into the others as if one is bathing in its water.  Over the years I have read great books on film, and "Slow Writing" is without a doubt a classic volume on the subject matter, as well as commentary on Los Angeles seen through the medium of film, and how that reflects on the actual world, that most of us dwell in. 

Also, praise to The Visible Press for making a beautiful book to behold and treasure.  It's elegant, which is also very much like Thom Andersen and his writing. 

(I will be having a discussion with Thom Andersen on his book "Slow Writing" at Skylight Books on October 12, 2017, at 7:30 PM. )

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"X-Rated: Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s" by Tony Gourmand and Graham Marsh, Introduction by Peter Doggett (Reel Art Press)

"X-Rated: Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s" by Tony Mourmand and Graham Marsh (Reel Art Press)

You can't overestimate the sexual urge even in the era of Trump. Still, a look back into the era when there were actual dirty movie theaters that showed dirty movies in one's neighborhood or more likely in the borderline between your 'safe' area and the 'bad' neighborhood. Usually, it's the folks from the 'good' area that frequents these type of theaters. For my generation, and I was a child/teenager in the 60/70s, the attraction of an X-rated movie theater was hard to avoid. Not only for the pleasures of seeing the flesh, but also the beautifully designed film posters that advertise these films. Reel Art Press publisher and editor Tony Nourmand has the largest collection of these posters from that era. With the great assistance of Graham Marsh, they have made a book that is essential to not only dirty movie lovers but also anyone who even has the flicker of interest in cinema practices as well as pop cultural history.

Russ Meyer is clearly the genius of the X-Rated film, that is more exploitative than sexual. Still, when one watches a Meyer film, you're clearly exposed to another version of a demented world away from your own surroundings. His film posters are pretty much an excellent representation of what you are going to see in his cinematic work. Beyond that, not that many other geniuses in this field of work, still, the graphic art aspect is brilliant and often witty. For me, I prefer the posters of the 60s because, for one, it was truly an underground landscape. There was something forbidden in that world, and these posters express the iconic naughtiness of those times. The 70s were a time of more openness and more self-aware of the issues of that era. Still, as the budget got bigger, the posters became more sophisticated in the sense of movies made for the mainstream. It's interesting to compare the two eras of dirty movie posters.

And sadly the book also exposes that the time of the dirty movie poster is now dead. There is no need, especially when the VHS and DVD world came into prominence. And even worse, streaming! Also a terrific introduction by Peter Doggett.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Dear Mr. Beckett: The Samuel Beckett File: Letters from the Publisher" Edited by Lois Oppenheim/Curated by Astrid Myers Rosset (Opus)

As a publisher (TamTam Books) I'm fascinated with books about publishing or about the publisher themselves. I'm especially interested in the great American publisher Barney Rosset.   His Grove Press is/was very much a presence in my library for nearly my entire teenage and adult life.   If it wasn't for example and inspiration I got from Mr. Rosset (from a great distance, never met him) I doubt I would have started TamTam Books.  Reading "Mr. Beckett" brought up my anxieties about my press, and I can totally 'feel' for whatever situations that Rosset took on or got himself involved in.

For one, anyone who has even the slightest interest in the world of publishing should read this book.  By no means is it a perfect book. In fact, it's kind of messy, but at the end of the read, a delightful mess of a book.  Some of the interviews repeat themselves and could have been edited down, but I think the purpose of the publication brings the reader to that era of Samuel Beckett and his relationship with his American publisher, Barney Rosset.

As the full title states, it is a file of Rosset's letters to Beckett, as well as some correspondence from Beckett to Rosset, but also interviews with Rosset, and Eugene Ionesco and Alain Robbe-Grillet, regarding their relationship with the publisher, but on Beckett as well.  There is an insight into various theatrical productions of "Waiting for Godot," as well as his other plays.   Also interesting interview regarding the making of Beckett's "Film,"  with Rosset (he produced the movie) and working with Buster Keaton.  The letters from Rosset to Beckett are fascinating, concerning the relationship between author and publisher.  Nothing dramatic or bad happens between the two guys, but the daily struggle of getting things done, and dealing with financial issues is at times painful (for me) and awesome at the same moment.   A magnificent monument to the publisher and the writer.  May it last forever.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Letters To His Neighbors" by Marcel Proust (Translated by Lydia Davis) New Directions Books

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2411-6 New Directions Books

I'm fascinated with a writer's residence.  Especially a writer like Marcel Proust, who lived in Paris, yet, couldn't stand outside noise.  He had lined up cork in his room to keep sounds out, but alas, where does one stop, when it becomes an obsession.  Ironically enough, or perhaps cruelty playing at fate, his upstairs neighbor was a dentist with his office right over his bedroom. Proust deal with this problem by addressing various correspondence to the upstairs neighbor's wife, Mme Williams.  Often sent with flowers, compliments, or books.  Proust, even at his wit's end, was a charmer.  Any other temperament, it could have been war.  Alas, it was more of a problem for the whole building to solve. The upside of this situation is that Proust and Mme Williams became close friends.  She made music in her and husband's apartment, and often Proust complimented the sounds above.  

"Letters to His Neighbor" is a very brief small book.  All the correspondence is from Proust, so you don't get Mme Williams commentary in the above narrative.  Still, and not surprisingly, the letters by Proust are written so beautifully.  One wonders if the world would be a better place on Social platforms like Facebook if writers of Proust's talents were on it?  The book is beautifully translated from the French to English by the great Lydia Davis.  Her afterword puts a focus on the relationship between the two neighbors but also comments on the Proust apartment which I found fascinating.  There is even a floor plan of Proust's apartment.  Also, we get what living inside Proust's headquarters was like.  According to Davis, the apartment was stuffed with his family's furniture, and it must have been like the world within a world. 

"Letters to His Neighbors" is slight, but its the devil in the details, and gives some light to "Swann's Way" as well to his other volumes of the same series.  Proust fanatics will want this, but again, it's the writer's lifestyle that I find of great interest.  As a guy who sits behind his computer, I can imagine what Proust had to go through for his work.  After all noise or quiet is a subjective view of the world. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Roland Barthes

“We know that the war against intelligence is always waged in the name of common sense.” 
― Roland Barthes, Mythologies

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Evening Series: Sunday, September 3, 2917

The Evening Series: Sunday, September 3, 2017

The night is so hot and still that when I farted, I can taste it from the air.   The temperature in the house is around 90 something degrees, and I swear if I die, the ants looking for water in the kitchen will cover my body.  Even now, I’m not sure if it’s sweat from my head, or an actual insect is running freely in my inner ear.  I can feel a tickle, and it’s not the ha-ha kind. 

There’s  fire in the hills.  One of the reasons why I don’t live in a canyon area is due to nature being challenged by weather conditions and man(person)-made conditions where death and destruction are part of the package.  I prefer the world of the concrete or cement buildings.  Made by civilization and proud of it.  Built to last, if not forever, then a few decades.  

The stench of an airless evening.  One gets the impression that you can throw a heavy object up in the air, and it will just stay in place.  I wonder if I fall, will I hit the ground.  What do I know?  I can’t even get myself up from the floor. 

- Tosh Berman

Emil Cioran 1

"Except for music, everything is a lie, even solitude, even ecstasy. Music, in fact, is the one and the other, only better." - Emil Cioran

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sparks - Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me) Official Video

The fantastic new single/song from Sparks.  From their new album.  Out in September.  The video is great as well.  Sparks forever!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saturday, August 26, 2017

I have a problem.  A writer’s problem to be exact.  I have an urge to document and write on the Trump administration or White House.  It’s my nature to write satirical pieces.  I like to observe the world and somehow make it more absurd, to bring out the reality or the substance of that reality out to the open.  When I try to write about President Trump, I fail.

Also, I don’t think I’m the only one with this problem. I have seen excellent reporting on Trump’s world, but the observations or making humor seems to fail on a regular basis.   I read all the commentary in various publications, both from the Left and Right, and all fail.  I can’t speak for them, but since I have the same problem, I feel it’s the foundation is not settled under my feet.  It shifts like sand on a windy day on the beach.  Whatever ridiculous thing I write about Trump, the ‘great’ man himself seems to top it.   The truth is Trump is hysterical.  No one can touch him with respect to humor.   He’s the type of guy who has a knife on someone’s throat, and everyone says “please drop that knife, Don.”  Then he cuts the guys throat just because he wants to do it, or show that no one has any control over him.  He doesn’t care about the guy whose throat got cut, but cares deeply about how people see him, and even more important, that they don’t control him in any fashion or manner.

Trump is not like Conrad Hilton, who started off working in his Dad’s general store in New Mexico, which eventually he turned that general store into a ten room hotel, and of course, ultimately, the Hilton Hotels around the world.  Trump was very much born into his situation of wealth and followed his daddy’s footsteps into the world of property.   I would like to say that Trump is brilliant at branding, but in no way or fashion have I ever wanted to wear a Trump tie or eat a Trump steak.  I have always considered him a low-life bottom feeder of a tycoon and one with no original creative vision.   Howard Hughes was born rich, but at the very least he had an impressive vision of aviation and owning a movie studio.  Trump never did anything creative in his life. Everything he touches turns into mediocrity.  Including his family and now, the White House.

There are great characters around Trump, for instance, Steve Bannon.  But even writing something satirical about him is hard, due that like his soul brother of sorts, Trump, he’s impossible to make fun of due that he makes himself into a fictional figure.  For one, no one likes Donald Trump.  Bannon, I’m sure, thinks of him as a fool, and of course, every Republican secretly and (sometimes) publicly hates him as well.   I seriously doubt that Jared Kushner likes Trump.  I’m going to presume he wants his wife, but his father-in-law.  No.  He can be made fun of, due to the corruption of his very soul.  Trump and Bannon have no soul.  Kushner does, and he knows what he’s doing is bad.  Therefore a chance for a writer to comment on someone like Jared.

For example with Trump.  Him pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Apparently, a man who is in the wrong job, but loves the position of power, in the same sense as a boy who likes to be chosen hall monitor at their high school.   Does Trump like or care for Arpaio?  My guess is no. He's just a prop for him to use, and he will throw him under the bus if the mood hits him in the right place.  Arpaio is a man with a vision, a plan even.  Therefore a perfect subject matter for a writer to comment on humorously.  Again, if I was going t focus on Trump, I will come off as a failure.  At this moment and time, it's imperative for writers to comment on their time and era.   The thing is, it's a tough job when you're dealing with a psychopath.  I don't have the skills of a true crime writer, but perhaps one is needed when writing about the Trump administration.

On the other hand, I'll still work on it.   All of us should do so.  I just wished that there was someone like Preston Sturges around.  Where is he when one needs him?

- Tosh Berman

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Evening Series - Monday, August 21, 2017

I recently purchased a window shade, where it will keep the sunlight out, but if you’re outside the window, you can see yours truly as a shadowy figure moving around in my living room.  Day and night.  Privacy has never been an issue with me.  I don’t see the point in it.  Some people I know have shredders so they can cut up their bills and health notices as well as other personal papers before they throw it in the trash.  I, on the other hand, post all my bills, including notes from my doctor as well as sensitive tax notices on my Facebook page.  I figure the best way to hide something is to put it all in plain sight. 

It has been an open secret that every night I have a performance by our window.  Although we do have shades, the image on the curtain looks like images from a Lotte Reiniger film.  A German Filmmaker who was the pioneer of the silhouette animation.  My “shadow play” is never planned out in advance.  It’s everyday life in Tosh’s household, and that seems to bring an audience out in the evening.   The only thing I do in an organizational sense is to leave my trash cans out in front of the garage.  One for regular trash and the other is for recycling waste.  The show during the summer months starts at 9 PM.

Tonight, I’m planning on doing a version of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1895 play “Anatol.”  It’s theater about a bourgeois playboy named Anatol, who is obsessed with the thought of a lover being unfaithful to him.   It’s a common problem around me, and it’s a play that I take to my very heart.   Through the theater, one can project their anxieties in such a state, where it is healthy.  The lighting of the piece needs to be perfect.  I have to set lights within the living room to project the images to the outside world.  I hired a well-known lighting expert for the stage, Hassard Short, who came recommended by a friend of mine, Billy Ladd, who is a chorus dancer on Broadway. 

I spent the day making articulated cut-out figures, one representing me as Anatol, and the rest are all the women characters in the play.  Each cut-out female is based on an actual woman I know.  I have asked these particular 'models' to come over to the house, where they have to remove all their clothing so I can trace their body onto paper to do the cutting that will fit their form.   Being a heterosexual male, I was, of course, attracted to the female forms in front of me.  As part of my body reacted to what was in front of me, one of the models was kind enough to trace on the paper so that it can be part of the cut-out figure of my character.  I expect when I make my appearance as a cut-out, with the help of my model, I will get a standing ovation from the audience.  

When one prepares to put together a show for an audience, it seems that the preparation is more important than the actual performance.   I have had dreams where I'm a viewer instead of one who is participating in the narrative of the dream.  Now, that I'm conscious I make dreams happen.  It's the payoff that keeps on paying.  

- Tosh Berman

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Arbitrary Stupid Goal" by Tamara Shopsin (MCD/FSG)

ISBN: 978-0-374-10586-0

A hard book to put down.  Each page is a bite size narrative that is so well written and often profound, that you just want to take another page in, and then after that, another, and so forth.  Tamara Shopsin, besides being a wonderful prose artist, is also an illustrator and designer.   Some of the text is only a few paragraphs long on a page, to full page - but this is an epic history of her family, their friends, and the main star of the book, New York City, specifically Greenwich Village.   

Every page is a reflection of the classic New York landscape. One that I often imagined in fiction, films, and music.  Reading this memoir, I have The Lovin' Spoonful as a soundtrack in my brain.   No mention of the band within its pages, but that is what I bring to the text as a reader.  The Shopsin family are well-known in the Village and beyond, due that they had a food market, which turned into a legendary diner.  I've been there twice, and the food was incredible, but beyond that one goes there for the spectacle; the theater that comes with the restaurant.   I can't think of another diner that is so enjoyable, as well as entertaining.  The chances of being insulted by the owner (the author's father) are in the 70% bracket.  Of course, it's worth taking a chance, because it's an amazing show.   And again the food is great.

Tamara Shopsin's book captures the flavor of her family which in turn means classic New York City.   Every page has a wisdom or philosophy either made by Tamara, or by the mom Eve, or dad Kenny.   This is the book to have when one is feeling down or depressed.  The life that comes off these pages is rich, brilliant, and hysterical.  The sad thing is Manhattan has changed into a huge shopping mall mentality.  Shopsin captures the moments why one would want to visit NYC in the first place, as well as a focused snapshot of life being lived at its intense pleasure.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Evening Series: Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Evening Series: August 16, 2017

I need a pre-amp for my stereo hi-fi, and at the moment, my right channel, or speaker is not working.  It’s OK if the album is in Mono, but most of my vinyl is in Stereo.  So, in my living room, I have to stay close to the left speaker, which is awkward, because our dining table is closer to the right speaker.  That is where I like to sit and stare at the album cover or read the liner notes while listening to music. 

I had a record listening party, and that too was odd because all seven of us had to sit around the left channel speaker.   I had to get chairs from another room, and what was worse, we were listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” and I can be wrong, but I feel we’re missing some of the sonic aspects of this specific album, by listening only to the left channel.  We often look at the right speaker, and all of us, shake our heads. 

Since we’re on the second floor, and due to the weight of our bodies by the left speaker, we noticed that the floor was squeaking more.  And when we had our dance party the night of the listening party, close to the left speaker, the floor collapsed.  Of the seven, four died.  I was saved due that the left speaker fell and got stuck between the hole, and therefore by holding on the speaker I survived this ordeal.  Sadly we had to cancel the dance party that night.  

For me, it was touch and go.  I had to decide to save my life or spear the speaker being damaged in the fall.  Luck had it, we managed (the speaker and me) to get ourselves stuck between the wooden beam and ceiling.  Due to the kindness of our neighbor downstairs, he brought the speaker successfully down from the wooden beam, and my wife pulled me up from above.   After checking to see if the Hi-Fi was OK, I then checked on our guests.  Like I reported before, four died.  It’s a tragedy.  The scratch on the left speaker will always remind me of that evening. 

After fixing the floor (thanks to the landlord Mr. Kushner) it looked new.  When I look at my left speaker, I’m reminded of the tragedy.   Four people lost their lives by dancing to Gary Glitter’s “Rock n’ Roll Part Two”  In one of the ‘yeah’s” in the chorus they went down like a Led Zeppelin.   My wife was spared, if not by God, then by the natural urge to have a drink and to eat some dip on a chip on the other side of the room.   I often think how fate comes in and enhances the scene.  No, I mean life. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Evening Series: Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Evening Series: Tuesday, August 1, 2017

As the darkness takes over the sky, I notice the music changes as well.  Michael Nyman’s music works in daylight.  His album of 1990 “The Kiss and Other Movements” is very much a morning piece of music.  It has rhythm and a direction which is onward and doesn't look back.  Which is ironic, because Nyman always has a glance toward the past concerning his music.  Chamber music made for minimalist rooms with a large window.  Birds outside seem to respond to this album in a lively manner.  I like to play music loud, and I usually open the windows up in the room so the sound can travel beyond the four walls.  It maybe my imagination or my fantasy coming to life, but it seems birds come over to our window sill to listen to Nyman’s music.  I have to make sure that they don’t fly inside the room because we don’t have screens on our windows.  Once, a bird did fly in, and it took me the whole afternoon to get it out of our home.  The bird that flew in was a California towhee.  They tend to knock on windows because they are reacting to their reflection.  Once inside the house, they are bewildered. I first, used a broom to try to push it to an open window.  But the bird panics, and eventually goes to even a higher location.  So unable to reach the bird, I just open all the windows, and within time, it finally sees its reflection, and once that happens, they leave through the window.

The late afternoon becomes a horror show.  Particularly in the living room, because by 4 to 6 pm the sun directly hits the space, and although the temperature is not high, it’s very uncomfortable to sit in the room.  I tend to play Serge Gainsbourg in the late afternoon, and especially music he recorded in the early 1960s.  The album of that time of day is Gainsbourg’s “Confidential” which is breezy, swings, but has strong melodies.  Electric guitar, stand-up bass, and Gainsbourg’s voice.  What can be better in a hot, bright room?   The living room is large enough in that I can move around the room to avoid the direct sunlight that comes through the windows.  We have wooden shutters, but they’re original (house built in 1937) and quite beaten up through its years blocking the sun.  Some of them are utterly useless, and the sun comes in invited as well as uninvited.  What’s interesting about Los Angeles weather is very much the same every day, so one can directly predict when the sun will hit the room.  I’m usually dancing with the direct sunlight.  More of a waltz as I move five feet here or there to find shade.  “Scenic Railway” one of the outstanding songs from “Confidential” drifts from the speakers as if it is having a sun stroke.   I like to take naps in the afternoon.  The coolest and most shady is under the table.  So I often lay down on the wooden floor, facing the ceiling, and take a nap for fifteen-minutes.

Around 7:15 P.M., darkness takes over the room.  It’s time for wine.  We have no direct electric lighting in the living room, so light comes from an old lamp in the corner as well as street lighting outside our window. It is a crime light, so it gives out a yellow tint.  My favorite drinking music, and in the evening (mind you) is the NASA Voyager Space Sounds.  These are sounds that come from outer space.  It’s the sound of ionized gas or plasma that is heard outside the Voyager.  The sound is ghostly, even haunting in its intensity.  One can think of it as ambient music, but while listening to it in the darkened room, I find myself being thrown into the sound as if someone throws catnip to a kitten.  I’m drawn to the music as I stick my head out the window to see the stars.

From a distance, walking from house to house to driveway I can see a pair of coyotes strolling down my street.  These two Flâneurs or as I like to call them, boulevardier, and I imagine looking for food.  I don’t have any pets, so I’m not alarmed, but still, I find them sinister.   There is nothing beautiful about them, and their habit of staying in the shadows during the daytime hours, or brazenly walk down an urban street in the nighttime always gave me a sense of dread.  Ever since the drought, coyotes have been getting closer to human’s houses, and of course, the attraction to smaller pets is a magnet for these dogs of the night.  Still, I can’t keep my eyes off them  One of them comes up to my staircase.  I have seen these animals run into people’s yards or entrances, but I have always dreaded the thought that they will come to my property.   I put the music of the Voyager loud, in hopes that the coyotes will realize that humans are living in these homes.  What’s alarming is I hear a sound of a coyote digging outside my front door.  Then the sound of sniffing. After a few minutes of silence, besides the music, of course, I hear a knock on the door.

I  didn’t answer it.  I then heard a yelp.  I stood by and kept an eye on the door. I also went over to the window to close them.  Although we are far above the street level, I had this sudden fear of a coyote jumping from the road to our window pane.  Impossible, but the imagination doesn’t always take logic.  I was slightly tipsy when I went to bed.   As I laid on the bed, and top of the bed sheets and blankets, I kept hearing sounds outside the house.  I got up, and I saw the two coyotes staring at me through the window.

I have read that Freud had a dog that stayed with him during his sessions with patients.  His dog was also aware of time in that the animal would head toward the door when the session was coming to a close.    I now wonder if the two coyotes out there are perhaps waiting for me to leave the house.  Or to guard me in the case of imminent danger?  The truth is I don’t want to think.   I want to live.  I want to think what the night brings to me.  The two coyotes are the answer.

- Tosh Berman