a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Issue #14 (October 7, 2009)

Another Pointless and Pure Baseball October in Wrigley Field, Saturday:

Photo by Joe Carducci

From the desk of Joe Carducci...

Q: "Will Books Be Napsterized?" (Randall Stross in Sunday's NYT)
A: Yes! (Me here)

Stross writes,

"Free file-sharing of e-books will most likely come to be associated with RapidShare, a file-hosting company based in Switzerland. It says its customers have uploaded onto its servers more than 10 petabytes of files — that’s more than 10 million gigabytes — and can handle up to three million users simultaneously. Anyone can upload, and anyone can download; for light users, the service is free."

The mechanics of file-sharing do matter, but as with the music industry, the publishing industry has made its bed since the cultural revo of the sixties woke it up. That its super-comfy feather-bed became a zinc-lined death-sled coffin fascinates those professionals involved, but it won't really surprise or alarm them for they are not really book-people. As in the music industry, where music obsessives were driven off by the collegiate class of lawyers, accountants, and statisticians attracted to the bigger money of baby boom market album-oriented economics, the book business ran down its own dead-end. Theirs features the end of the time-honored profession of book creation with emphases on the editor-writer relationship and distribution through long-running booksellers often named for their owners (Stuart Brent’s, Harry W. Schwartz’s…).

Today’s marketplace is increasingly made up of phone-reliant "readers". These readers require digests of news so they understand the night's jokes, and perhaps the lay of the political landscape on this or that policy debate or election. They buy books right or left, voting with their purchases, depending on television buzz and then these books filter through the used bookstores on their way to the shelves of Salvation Army and Goodwill stores, largely unread one supposes. The production of such books is a short-term strategy.

Of course the digesticization of information yields smarts rather than wisdom, and that's enough for politics. One wonders, though, whether the book writers who come out of today's news media can contribute anything as enduring as Mencken or Lippmann did. There's smarts in today's newspapers and magazines but it's producing micro-analyses and micro-histories, and the glib marketing reaches into the works themselves as they labor to launch terminology (Bo-Bos, Tipping Point, Shock Doctrine...).

The corruption of the books themselves is the true concern. The old relationship model has been de-professionalized with agents, brokers, lawyers, and media reps crowding in between editor and writer. And so the writer often takes a larger advance but has less time to research and write what I will call a real book. I spent over four years on my first book, Rock and the Pop Narcotic, beginning April, 1986 immediately upon leaving SST Records. The last addition to the first edition was the Camille Paglia quote which I added in late December, 1990 just before sending the book off to Eerdman’s for printing. I got 2,200 copies in hand by March, 1991. I sent out five promotional copies. When Henry Rollins read his he called to see how many I’d printed. When I told him he thought I’d never sell them all and he’d never get to add the book to his newly ramped up 2.13.61 catalog. The second call I got regarding the book was from Roger Trilling. He’d bought the book at Amok in L.A. and wanted me to write for Details magazine, which I did; he also wanted me to send a copy to Robert Christgau, which I also did. He reviewed it in the Village Voice -- didn’t quite approve of it or my editor-less style.

Thanks to Tower Records and those old-line bookshops I did sell them and I then revised it for Henry, spending another year updating and re-editing it. That edition of 3,500 or so came out in 1995. I begged off any editing help; not sure there was anyone in the world could tramp around profitably in that book. I improved it but it's still a slow motion Odessa-steps avalanche-massacre. (I don’t claim to be at my best in nonfiction; I always err on the side of content over form there.) But 2.13.61 hit the roll-out of Tower, Borders, and Barnes & Noble nationwide and that run sold out too. Then everything began to roll-back and fail as the web and Amazon.com expanded. Henry himself was the first person I knew who bought from Amazon. When Doug Biggert of Tower Magazines first called me to order R&TPN, we had a nice leisurely talk about Tower, SST and other things we were both hip to. Not so efficient maybe, but the book world (and the music world) misses that Tower know-how today.

Soon enough Henry had to re-frame his company around his own titles and I got back into the publishing business. It is now much more difficult to work from outside. My second book, Enter Naomi, a much easier read on the face of it, has sold two thousand copies to date, with hardly any of the reviews R&TPN received. But many of the shops are gone and the free weeklies, daily newspapers, and magazines are all in the process of melting into their websites. Whatever is coming probably does not include much of the things I spent my life inundated with, because every year the age of the web-crawl generation advances against the age of books, mags, papers, records, papyrus….

Beyond the mechanics of distribution, however, I believe that the content of books (and music and film…) was retarded when those first hustlers and hires out of the hippie wave succeeded in pulling up the ladder after themselves. It happened in radio programming most dramatically in the period between 1972-74. One has to ask what kept the Ramones off “Saturday Night,” never mind radio itself, when they are now heard over the P.A. in major league baseball parks?

I arrived in Hollywood in September, 1976; “Jaws” was still at the Cinerama Dome, “Rocky” was at the Pix, and that winter “Star Wars” opened at the Chinese. This pushed me from film to music. I like genre films, but there was something wrong with those films, and what followed was worse, more juvenile -- Saturday matinee serials weren‘t worth remaking at any budget never mind as overblown big-budget epics. My first stop in Hollywood was Pando Productions -- Peter Fonda’s company -- I had been very impressed with “The Hired Hand”. They had a small office south of Hollywood Blvd and the girls took one of my scripts and lo-and-behold nothing came of it.

I gradually got interested in punk rock as I read about it and began to hear the records. While at Systematic Record Distribution (1978-1981) and at SST Records (1981-1986) it became clear that we were faced with having to build our own parallel music industry-in-miniature -- from fanzines to labels, from college radio stations to music venues, from booking agents to distribution…. It was a formative experience for all of us, especially the bands. But the lifespan of most bands is a mere five years. (Read the attached interview Jordan did with the Louisville/NYC/France based band Circle X and marvel at the insouciance of their decades spent making music; why bother, most would ask, but it was the right strategy if you weren’t populist in the Black Flag manner.)

I was at SST in Redondo Beach when I read reviews of first novels by Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis. You knew they didn’t know what was going on outside of some soshe-world on elite campuses or in Manhattan nightclubs so how could they write anything important? Goes without saying they weren’t old enough to offer masterful insight into the human condition, so that leaves zeitgeist-work. My guess then was they had to be new-journo-damaged at best, Vonnegut gimmickry more likely. I figured I was likely the best writer of my generation, but I wrote nothing but screenplays and press releases for SST. My PR prose occasionally met with approval; most notably when Richard Meltzer reprinted one about a Rollins spoken-word event in his L.A. Reader column, or the time Greg Ginn made me throw a thousand copies of a trade-show press release about Black Flag’s 1984 rut through Florida in the trash. Curt Kirkwood didn‘t have a mind for PR-ese but I handed him one release I‘d written about Hüsker Dü and he told me the only thing in it he could relate to was my referring to them as potato-eaters. I took that as high praise.

There is little question today that I was in the cockpit of the culture, if rock and roll still counted. But exactly what generation was I anyway? I didn’t consider myself a punk, never mind hardcore; I never did shave my beard off or stop listening to Steppenwolf. But since a generation was forced onto a siding by the hippie mercenaries who’d gotten a chokehold on the music and media business, its art didn’t rate in the historical parade of generations. When I left SST in March 1986 we were still so underground that I didn’t receive a single job offer from another label, major or minor. I think I’d signed an agreement with SST not to go to work for another label for one year. Not that I was going to… And then fifteen years after the Ramones and the rest did the heavy lifting, Nirvana and then Green Day and then Fall Out Boy struck platinum and further buried the history of punk as it was in the seventies. The culture’s been retarded ever since; thank you Jan Wenner. Thank you Lee Abrams. The record industry by necessity had to follow the press and the radio and cut the music’s ties to its own historical evolution. It won’t prove enough that young kids hear the Ramones at the baseball stadium today, thirty-five years after the fact. As I said, “Retarded.”

In the latest oral history of punk -- SF’s “Gimme Something Better” -- the authors explain their deal with Penguin and how it wasn’t enough time or pages to cover it all. They prove that, I’m afraid. For my books I’ve had all the time my biological clock gives me, though no money at all. But decades of the major and minor publisher’s investing in instant books written on the clock by hacks trying to clamber up out of dying dailies, weeklies, and monthlies has swindled and driven book buyers away by foisting one too many glorified magazine features into fake books, barely worth the remaindered price. Why not google for the url and check out RapidShare if you’ve grown up with the web at your fingertips?


James Belich's "Replenishing the Earth - The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-world", reviewed by Bernard Porter, author of "The Absent-Minded Imperialists".


Michael Rother interview.


Christian rock band Flyleaf’s second album. I thought Clive Davis was going to have the singer go solo by now. They never released the best tune off their debut, “Perfect”, as a single but the record did go gold in slow motion over the last three years.


L.A. punk was as early in its origins as NYC. Try telling that to posterity.


Michael Hurley animator


Baader-Meinhof Komplex explained.


Ford’s reward.


Jordan Mamone interviews Circle X "the Americans who became Sioux". French version published by Revue et Corrigée.


Arthur Miller unraveled.


Marion Davies recuperated.


Any Chinese version of the BBC or Reuters or TimeWarner or News Corp or Bloomberg will be good news for Chinese letters arts, and these guys. Scary thought given ours.

Movie Review
by Chris Collins

Come and See, (Idi i smotri), (1985)

A Soviet film, directed by Elem Klimov, set during World War Two which veers between the surreal, the brutal, and the crude.

Florya, a peasant boy from a Belorussian village joins a band of partisan guerrillas in 1943 with little more apparent motivation than adventure and patriotism. From there, like Fabrizio in the Charterhouse of Parma, he is less a participant in the war than a spectator, getting lost in the woods, meeting a girl there, and then returning with her to his village to find his family and everybody else massacred, possibly in reprisal for his enlisting.

In an apocalyptic climax, he is caught in the middle of an SS rampage through another village. Hellish incidents accumulate, of such oppressive violence as to break the film, with its theretofore muted dread and surrealist touches, into two pieces. Villagers are packed into a barn which is then set alight. A German grabs him and places a pistol at his temple while another photographs him, then lets him go. And finally, the girl he met in the woods rematerializes, stumbling toward him, raped and bleeding.

The Russians get revenge of a kind, but the boy's mind is lost, past disgust and rage. He raises his rifle and slowly empties it at a portrait of Hitler left in the mud, and as he shoots, black and white newsreel footage of the war runs in reverse to ultimately reveal a picture of the infant Hitler. The effect is one of the boy's mind, and that of the filmmaker, struggling to undo horrors which have their origins in a single diseased psyche. While the film does not attempt to shed light on that psyche, its vision of manifold evils metastasizing from it is indelible.

Not Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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1 comment:

  1. When oh! When will Life Against Dementia become available?