Scratch 'n' Sniff

For the “Shrivelled Up” & the “Stupefied” I have written a serious & proper chorale. This chorale is a sort of bitter preamble, a kind of austere & unfrivolous introduction. I have put into it all I know about Boredom. I dedicate this chorale to those who don’t like me. I withdraw. Image © Simon Miller

A Mammal’s Notebook: The Collected Writings of Erik Satie

Erik Satie

“The first collection of Satie’s writings available in English… A pivotal character in the French avant-gardes from the 1880s to the Dada movement of the 1920s. Dismissed as a bizarre eccentric by most of his contemporaries, Erik Satie is recognized as a key influence on 20th-century music.”

Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Paperback: 192 pages


John Coltrane

Bill Cole

Cole’s biography of this influential jazz giant has many things going for it, even though Coltrane’s poetry, which pops up throughout the book, is not one of them. The author writes from the perspective of a music professor, and as such provides the clearest musical portrait offered on Trane to date (short of Andrew White’s books of transcribed Coltrane solos). Fortunately, Cole does not get so bogged down in the technical arena as to make this book unappealing to the non-musician reader. In fact, John Coltrane stands out in its effort to illuminate the science of jazz improvisation for the non-playing reader in plain English. Cole’s appreciation for Trane’s later (free music) period steers the book in a more “spiritual” direction—something most other students of this subject don’t do. This is a mixed blessing. The more traditional triumphs of Trane’s canon (“Giant Steps,” “Moment’s Notice”) come off as somewhat belittled for their “Western” (non-African) harmonic content, whereas Ascension and other later records are held up as the “real” work. What stands as the most significant of Trane is work is a matter for each listener to take up with his or her own ears, and should not be printed as gospel. And Cole’s thoughtless, off-handed critiques of such players as Bill Evans and Billy Higgins should never have been printed, period. Yet, in John Coltrane the reader is given much to contemplate, and Cole’s interviews with other musicians do much to reveal the concerns of a musician in the heat of the moment. SH

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 272 pages

Juba to Jive: The Dictionary of African-American Slang

Edited by Clarence Major

An investigation of the chronological cultural and linguistic development and etymology of Ebonics in American history. A thoroughly researched work that can be employed as a subcultural reference text. OAA

Publisher: Penguin
Paperback: 548 pages

Kitsch in Sync: A Consumer’s Guide to Bad Taste

Peter Ward

The concept of good taste seems to have originated in the late 1600s. The advent of mass production caused mass acquisition and loss of the exclusivity that had invested objects with a sort of good taste status. The word kitsch is derived from turn-of-the-century Viennese slang (verkitschen etwas—to knock off or cheapen). Fast forward to our era where kitsch items, “if owned by somebody with a little more taste and sophistication, [could] be regarded as chic and witty.”
So far, so good. The sections on household goods, ironic collectibles and “God and Mona Lisa” are all well-conceived. The chapter on highbrow art (Dali, Koons, Pop Art, Pierre et Gilles, high-end furniture designer Sotass, and the Memphis design group) is also a high point. However, a case is made by the author that an artist named Vladimir Tretchikoff was the ultimate kitsch artist, without a word about Keane or the multitude of others (Peter Max, Vera, etc.) who might lay claim to that title. Schiaparelli and Lagerfeld are among the designers taken to task in the fashion section. Finally, we get a subjective tour of schlock TV, which the author seems to submit as ultimate proof of his lamentable thesis: “Get into sync with kitsch, for you can’t escape.” SA

Publisher: Plexus
Paperback: 128 pages

Kraftwerk: Man, Machine and Music

Pascal Bussy

“Ein, zwei, drei, vier… “ thus begins the saga of Ralf und Florian, whose revolutionary Kling-Klang sound shook the world’s speakers to the ground and whose robotic emanations are still pulsing around the globe from Detroit to Goa. This is as inside a view as we will probably ever get into the construction of the Kraftwerk audio-conceptual mystique. Witness avant-garde music students Ralf and Florian dropping acid before a Stockhausen concert; their first group, Organization, and its improvisational beginnings at German art-scene happenings; Kraftwerk’s relationship to German experimental music explorers Can and Neu!; their hidden conceptual “guru” Emil Schult and his role in crafting their anti-individualist Eurocentric image; the influence of the groundbreaking English art duo Gilbert and George and other conceptual artists; film director Fassbinder’s on-set Kraftwerk obsession; the pair’s love for the minimalist rock of the Stooges and the Ramones; a top-secret summit meeting between Ralf and the reclusive Michael Jackson in New York; and many other elusive glimpses behind the Man-Machine’s hermetically sealed façade.
The story of Kraftwerk also becomes, by necessity, the history of the early years of electronic pop music, or as they describe their sound, “industrial folk music.” Some milestones: their first use of a treated rhythm machine and a vocoder on “Pineapple Symphony”; their first mini-Moog, which cost them the price of a new VW; their first use of a synthesizer—which, surprisingly was not until their fourth album, the global sensation Autobahn. As Ralf Hütter describes their appeal: “The dynamism of the machines, the ‘soul’ of the machines, has always been a part of our music. Trance always belongs to repetition, and everybody is looking for trance in life, etc., in sex, in the emotional, in pleasure, in anything, in parties… So, the machines produce an absolutely perfect trance.” SS

Publisher: SAF
Paperback: 192 pages

Krautrocksampler: One Head’s Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik, 1968 Onwards

Julian Cope

Former Teardrop Explodes leader and all-round space cadet Cope is our intrepid guide to the world of the influential German kosmische musik of the ‘70s. Although the book suffers from a few glaring omissions, with only a passing mention of Agitation Free, minor coverage of such important figures as Klaus Schulze and none at all of Michael Hoening, such lapses are easily forgiven as this is a very personal “trip” through one fan’s record collection, stopping along the way to admire the early work of Kluster, Ash Ra Temple, Amon Düül, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Can, Neu!, and the Cosmic Jokers. Cope’s enthusiasm is both captivating and contagious. While we’ll have to wait for the long-delayed Freeman brothers book for the definitive history, this impassioned tome is more than adequate in the meantime. BW

Publisher: Cosmic Field Guide
Paperback: 144 pages

Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women

Ricky Jay

A copiously illustrated, well-researched look at some of the most bizarre “acts” ever to grace a stage before TV came along and wrecked everything. Among the astonishing variety of performers observed is Willard, “The Man Who Grows,” who added six inches to his height onstage; Arthur Lloyd, who could produce virtually anything printed on paper from the 15,000 items concealed in his suit; and Blind Tom, the most amazing musical prodigy in history. But the ultimate is France’s legendary Le Petomane, whose act was based on his incredible ability to mimic animals, play a flute, and blow out a candle from two feet away, all using his most unlikely orifice. Now, that’s entertainment! JM

Publisher: Warner
Paperback: 343 pages

Legendary Joe Meek

John Repsch

“Telstar” by the Tornadoes shows what legendary British record producer Joe Meek could do with a few tape recorders, an odd assortment of non-musical instruments and a highly personal vision. Called the English Phil Spector, Meek was also truly one of the great loons of the 20th century. “His public life was one of laughter, tears and, above all, music,” notes the cover blurb. “His private life was a tortured tangle of violence, sex, drugs, gangsters, the occult and, eventually, murder.” These are only the basics, however. Kept in girls’ clothes by his mother during his formative years, in later life Meek developed an obsession with Buddy Holly (whom he believed he contacted through a Ouija board), made an unsuccessful pass at Tom Jones, and produced hundreds of singles—some so outré that to this day they sound not simply contemporary but of the future. Then at age 37, on the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death, Meek killed his landlady and then himself while in an apparent state of panic brought on by a forthcoming police investigation of a particularly grisly homosexual torso slaying. This is one of the best biographies of a musical figure, period. JW

Publisher: Woodford House
Paperback: 341 pages

Letterheads: One Hundred Years of Great Design 1850-1950

Leslie Cabarga

“The letterhead is often regarded as the first proof of the actuality of a business entity. When those first gleaming reams of stationery and business cards arrive, one can truly proclaim himself in business. And when, conversely, a business fails, those same gleaming reams come home as scratch paper and an occasional melancholy reminder of fallen empires that might have been… This lively portfolio, containing 200 of the most colorful, unusual and expressive letterheads of the American industrial age, accompanied by historically interesting captions, provides a unique perspective on such industries as printing, tobacco, food, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and entertainment.”

Publisher: Chronicle
Paperback: 120 pages

Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way

Gustavo Pérez Firmat

A sociocultural overview of the contemporary development of the first and second immigrant generations (labeled by Ruben Rumbaut as “1.5 or one-and-a-half” Cuban-Americans) that have lived “life on the hyphen” for the last half-century. It is the author’s search for identity that led to his examination of the history of Cuban-American culture and the adjustments that have been made living a hybrid life in contemporary America. He tries to define various Cuban Americans ( for example, YUCAs, or Young Upwardly Cuban Americans) and show “how tradition and translation have shaped their lives in Cuban-American culture, a culture which is built on the tradition of translation, in both the topographical and linguistic senses of the word.” Perez Firmat claims that it is one thing to be Cuban in America and another to be Cuban-American.
Music, movies, television, and literature are used to illustrate his investigations. Cubans who have become icons in American culture—Desi Arnaz, Perez Prado, poet Jose Kozer, writer and Pulitzer-Prize winner in literature Oscar Hijuelos, and even the Madonna of Miami herself, Gloria Estefan—all get their due in this book. The author does give us plenty of dirt on many of the personalities that he examines but also gets sidetracked and exposes more of himself. He quotes Desi Arnaz from his autobiography A Book:”writing a book is, I discovered, not an easy thing to do. It also proves that the brain is a wonderful thing. It starts up when you are born and stops when you sit down at the typewriter.” OAA

Publisher: University of Texas
Paperback: 231 pages

Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

Daniel Clowes

In his much-beloved comic book Eightball, Daniel Clowes takes on those twin maladies of contemporary American culture, irony and nostalgia, and does it better than anyone, anywhere, in any medium. First serialized in those pages, the protracted nightmare that is Velvet Glove seems even more relentlessly grim in collected form. As a claustrophobic excavation of the artist’s psyche, this work stands alone. JT

Publisher: Fantagraphics
Paperback: 144 pages