Books Aloud – December 2007

The Anti-Matter Anthology
Norman Brannon
Revelation Books
Street: 11.05
When you're writing about music, it's pretty hard not to come across as a douchebag or a kiss-ass. Norman Brannon never comes off like that in this collection of interviews culled from his '90s fanzine. Brannon's interview style is very unique. He often asks his subjects very personal questions (“When was the last time you cried?” is a common one) that really humanize these figures that so many people put on pedestals. Hearing about the frontman of Rage Against the Machine crying because a journalist betrayed him makes his radical public image seem less threatening, and learning that the vocalist of straight edge icons Youth of Today played at least one show hung over reminds the reader that everyone, no matter how iconic, fucks up once in a while. Brannon's honest journalism is a breath of fresh air in a medium that is often fueled entirely by bullshit. –Ricky Vigil

Dead Children Playing
Stanley Donwood & Dr. Tchock
Street: 10.01
It's hard to divorce the artwork of Donwood from its marriage with the sights and sounds of Radiohead, whom Donwood has been illustrating since the Bends. In this collection of paintings and “short stories” (if that's what you want to call them), Donwood is seen takes instruction manuals and scribbles aphorisms that twist and pervert their meanings. His other paintings, of places and geography, remind me of Paula Scher. Unfortunately, since I have been seeing the same pictures and paintings since 1994, I can't help but blame Thom York (aka Dr. Tchock) for both helping and hurting Donwood––helping him gain a well-deserved recognition, but hindering him from going beyond himself. Dead Children Playing might as well be subtitled “the art of Radiohead.”–Erik Lopez

The Haunted House
Rebecca Brown
City Lights
Street: 09.07
I was incredibly disappointed by this book in every sense of the word. Brown’s novel was originally published in 1986 and was praised as a “brilliant first novel”. While I am not familiar with any of her other novels, I can say that this one simply hit a wall for me. Written half as real life accounts and half in mystical hallucinations, the novel explores the repercussions that the antagonist Robin Daily experiences as an adult after her turbulent childhood. Sadly, it is often hard to decipher what is fact and what is fiction, and the jolted memories never really come together to form a cohesive story. It’s well written and I didn’t put it down because I was anticipating all the pieces to come together. Unfortunately, they just never did. –Jeanette Moses

I Went for a Walk
Shanti Wintergate and Gregory Attonito
Hollywood Jersey
Street: 09.19
Good God, where do I begin? Hippies shouldn’t be allowed to write children’s stories. They also shouldn’t be allowed to do the illustrations. And they really shouldn’t be permitted to borrow heavily from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. You know the story already: a kid daydreams about visiting far away lands, inhabited by creatures that look nothing like us, only to return to reality just in time to eat whichever meal they were about to miss. The only thing missing is an anti-parental subtext and a kid named Max. Sure, THIS story has the kid visiting distant planets and then taking a second trip into the miniscule world of subatomic mold, but it is obvious that the tale is lifted from somewhere else. You could look past the similarities if the story was an improvement, but it falls short of the original. Add in sub par graphics and a kooky “believe in yourself” ending and you’ll start to understand what I’m talking about. –James Bennett

Editor Phil Freeman
Da Capo Press
Street: 08.01
In his essay on Solid Air, Simon Reynolds points out that a Desert Island Disc as not necessarily your favorite music, just records you, for sentimental or random reasons, can’t live without. As editor Phil Freeman notes in the forward, more important to this text than the definition is whether or not you care to read 21 intentionally-pedantic contributors carry on about music, a portion of which you’ve actually heard (if you’re lucky); that kid who wore his Holy Diver shirt every Fall day in 8th grade failed to get you into Dio, so how can someone do so now? Surprisingly, all but a few of these eclectic journalists –from The Wire to to Ohio’s Other Paper – convince; they do a brilliant job loving on these aural security blankets, persuading you – yes, you with your 4000 CD collection – to check out this music. Okay! I’ll revisit Dio! – Dave Madden

Mark Amerika
MIT Press
Street: 05.31
What a bummer this book is! Amerika is a digital pioneer not only in poetics, but is a VJ, artist, creative writer and teacher working and living out of Boulder, CO. Unfortunately, this book is a mish-mash of what seem like whiney blog posts, stream-of-consciousness “creative” writing and a vague and wimpy attempt at defining digital poetics. What the reader will be surprised to find is a bunch of self-aggrandizement through his writings as a digital persona that read like a wannabe artist trying to impress other wannabe artists and/or hackers. Amerika takes us through a trite journey of the early wiles of the Internet and its many masks; he spends endless pages musing and reflecting on what it means to be VJ, to be a digital artist, to go to Australia and to write it all down all while name-dropping Rimbaud, Derrida and Lautremont. Just like the real America, Mark Amerika and his book are going down the tubes. I was super excited to read this only to find out its one big pat on the back for Amerika. Boo. –Erik Lopez

Noam Chomsky
City Light Books
Street: 07.15
Chomsky’s “radical” views on the United States, its foreign policy, the mass media and such have been hammered home time and time again in vast volumes and quantities of his books. Anyone who fashions themselves “in the know” politically will at some time or another point to or quote Chomsky. It is refreshing, however, to have a book that speaks more to current political affairs AND that traces the trajectory of Chomsky’s political thinking over a specific span of time concerning any number of international and domestic issues. Interventions reprints all of Chomsky’s op-ed columns for the New York Times syndicate from the years 2002-2007. The snapshot that one gets is of a grumpy old man calling out the United States on every perceived impropriety while not offering any other solution or idea into the vast debate of global politics. Do we really need another pundit? An interesting read if you want to fill in the gaps of your Chomsky knowledge, but otherwise an old hat. –Erik Lopez

Rated F
Todd C. Noker
Street: 05.08.06
When an entrepreneur of a Provo video store has the brilliant epiphany to start editing movies to make them “family safe,” he thought he would just be bringing in a little extra dough. What he wasn’t counting on was suspicion from his distribution rep, a murderous husband who wants his wife edited out of home videos before permanently “editing” her, and competition consisting of an uber-conservative family of blonde alien cloned children bent on destroying his business at whatever cost. Written by that Todd C. Noker of X96, the fictional plot is funny, fast-moving and action-packed––complete with Molotov cocktails, tire-slashing and stripping at gunpoint. But the real power of the story lies in its ability to deliver a fable that hits oh-so-close to home, of the ironic lengths people will go to in order to adhere to plastic standards, of the questionable practice of burying your head in the sand in order to preserve a dubious innocence. The owner of the video store questions, why are Kate Winslet’s breasts in Titanic so offensive, but hundreds of people drowning on a ship is A-OK? Should we edit war movies like Private Ryan and pretend the violence of history doesn’t exist? Artistic censorship is also covered, and ironically, Rated F was banned from West High School because the original had a 9mm gun on the cover and upset a teacher who saw a student reading it. –Rebecca Vernon

SABER – Mad Society
Roger Gastman
Gingko Press
Street: 07.07
Roger Gastman’s latest book is an intimate portrait of the world-famous LA graffiti artist SABER. SABER attained world-wide fame and recognition in 1997 when his LA River painting took the graffiti world by storm. The original roller-piece, which is visible in satellite pictures, measured about 55 feet in height, stretched 250 in length and took 35 nights and 97 gallons of paint to complete. In this book Gastman paints a picture of a man just as monumental, detailed and intense as the piece most people associate with him. Photos spanning SABER’s entire career, both street and studio, will offer something new to long-time followers of this legend as well as those discovering him for the first time. Stories from the man himself, his parents and his peers compliment the images while giving readers insight into the wild world of counter-culture graffiti in Los Angeles and abroad. –Brian Van Steenkiste

Third Coast
Roni Sarig
Da Capo Press
Street: 05.07
My issue with Third Coast is simple: too much information. The book contains enough anecdotes, quotes, opinions, interviews and vague inside information to fill several tomes, not a mere 336 pages. Due to his fling-out-as-many-ideas-as-possible style, interrupting himself with “oh this is important too”, Sarig leaves gaping holes in the story. For example, he omits Geto Boys’ greatest achievement, their contribution to the Office Space soundtrack; in a single page, Sarig skips from Pharrell’s high school days to “Rumpshaker” to producing Justified – that’s over a freaking decade right there! While the book does contain interesting and informative passages such as an entire chapter devoted to Houston’s DJ Screw, the author would be wise to revisit this work with a competent editor, lop off 3/4ths of the detours and develop a few themes (e.g. spend more than ten pages covering the history of West African cultural practices and the Blues and Reggae). – Dave Madden