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


Viva Las Vegas: After-Hours Architecture

Alan Hess

How Vegas was built, from the Meadows Club in 1931, to the Flamingo in 1946, up to the Mirage in 1989. “In all those streamlined façades, in all those flamboyant entrances and deliberately bizarre decorative effects, those cheerfully self-assertive masses of color and light and movement that clash roughly with the old and traditional, there are certain underlining characteristics which suggest that we are confronted not by a debased and cheapened art, but a kind of folk art in mid 20th-century garb.” Or, as one wag puts it: “‘They begin to become art… or psychiatry.’” GR

Publisher: Chronicle
Paperback: 128 pages

Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles

Barney Hoskyns

Taking off from the Central Avenue jazz clubs of the ‘40s and touching back down just south of there to witness the emergence of gangsta rap in the early ‘90s, this is one Brit’s overview of the musical culture of “the city of night.” Odd brackets, to be sure—The Bird and Ice Cube—to this predominantly lily-white musical journey. It is a point not lost on the author, who works in a City of Quartz type of analysis of the class conflict and racial tensions simmering just beneath the music’s affable exterior. Here again is that irresistible sunshine/noir dialectic, eliciting expressions as diverse as those of the Beach Boys, Steely Dan and Black Flag, all of whom attempted at one time or another to sum things up with respect to the sublime and apocalyptically abject dream that is L.A. For the author, the best So-Cal songs are slick, lushly produced and orchestrated, outwardly beautiful yet at the same time haunted by their own hollowness. Just like your basic Angeleno, that is. As Hoskyns sees it, the music is just as narcissistic and self-destructive, and is a kind of potlatch of sumptuous, ostentatious surfaces erected solely to be stripped away. Hoskins really hits his stride discussing the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter syndrome of the early ‘70s, for instance, while his appraisal of L.A. punk seems rushed and cursory, and rap even more so. Not scary enough, perhaps—at least not compared to the confessional balladeering of James Taylor or Jackson Browne, the studio epiphanies of Phil Spector or Brian Wilson, or the psycho-delicized ramblings of Arthur Lee or Kim Fowley. JT

Publisher: St. Martin's
Hardback: 384 pages

White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture

Jan Nederveen Pieterse

Collectors of negrobilia (hello, Whoopi Goldberg), take note. This compelling visual history charts the development of Western stereotypes of black people over the last 200 years and examines how caricature, humor and parody are used as insidious instruments of oppression in commerce and advertising. Read it, then throw out that box of Darkie toothpaste! MG

Publisher: Yale University
Hardback: 260 pages

Why Do They Call It Topeka? How Places Got Their Names—Cities, States, Countries, Continents, Oceans, Mountains and More

John W. Pursell

“Bunkie, Louisiana: Colonel A.A. Haas, the founder of the town, once gave his daughter a mechanical monkey that he had bought for her when he made a trip to New Orleans. His daughter, Maccie, could not pronounce monkey, so she called the toy Bunkie. Later, when the town was officially incorporated in 1885, her father, in a capricious moment…” You get the picture. ‘Ropeka is the Dakota Indian word for “good place to dig potatoes.” GR

Publisher: Citadel
Paperback: 241 pages

Will Pop Eat Itself? Pop Music in the Soundbite Era

Jeremy J. Beadle

This book gets off to a splendid start. The first three chapters illustrate the history of music and literature and how they came to be “modern.” Cases are made for the precedent of “recycling” in music and literature long before sampling technology and the cut-up method of William Burroughs. The whole concept of recorded music is subjected to recontextualization (for instance, whereas the early recordings of Caruso were souvenirs of a live performance, later operatic recordings were never intended to be simulacra of live performances). Beadle explores the impact of technology on such bands as the Beatles and the Beach Boys and provides an overview of the history of black music leading up to the advent of rap, then comments on current times in which recordings are the end product of samplers, soundbites, collages and lawsuits. The author then visits a modern recording studio where he creates a track using mixers and samplers and does a great job of describing the whole process in lay terms.
A case involving the KLF (Kopyrite Liberation Front), in which the use of an ABBA sample led to the court-mandated destruction of all existing copies of the record in question, segues into a rather precise account of the KLF and their various contemporaries in the British dance music scene between the years 1988 and 1992. This final section becomes frustrating since the legal situation is in a constant state of flux and these bands were not making the great artistic strides in their use of sampling technology. SA

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 269 pages

Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde

Edited by Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead

Titled after an essay by the founder of Italian Futurism, F.T. Marinetti, this sleek volume comprises a selection of early artistic responses to the audio and radiophonic technologies—several composed on or about the time of these developments—interspersed with corresponding analyses and theoretical appraisals from some of the leading voices of the so-called new music and radio arts. The editors identify their subject as “sound art,” which is neither songs, symphonies nor any of the more conventional modes of sound production and broadcasting. Rather than attempt an exhaustive survey of this admittedly narrow field, they instead visit and revisit certain key themes which have attended the automation of sound from the start, and which continue to exert a profound influence over present-day creators. The first of these themes is proposed by writer Raymond Roussel, who instinctively identified the record/playback relay as a form of reanimation—a machine for returning the voice of the dead. Accordingly, Roussel’s book Locus Solus is interpreted as a series of bodily metaphors for the inscription, reproduction and transmission of sound.
Synaesthesia is another recurring concept—an idée fixe among the Surrealists, who produced very little soundwork per se, but employed the technology of recording in the most general sense as a model for the operations of the unconscious. Their primary modus of automatic writing is only the most striking example of the sort of technical incorporations which fill these pages. The mind as machine, the machine as mind—the prosthetic motif works both ways. From the chance compositions of Marcel Duchamp to the narrative cut-ups of William Burroughs by way of the Russian Constructivists and their dream of a vast aural archive, the lock-and-key symbiosis between phonographic disc/magnetic tape/wireless transmitter and human consciousness is subjected to all kinds of tinkering, a series of experiments aimed at nothing less than a total overhaul of the human psyche. JT

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 452 pages

Wolvertoons: The Art of Basil Wolverton

Edited by Dick Voll

“Wolvertoons is a distillation of the finest work ever done by comic art’s greatest master of absurd exaggeration, and as such it may well be the most outrageous display of cartoon art ever assembled, as Basil Wolverton was to comic ugliness what Alberto Vargas was to female beauty in art.”

Publisher: Fantagraphics
Paperback: 134 pages

Xuxa: The Mega-Marketing of Gender, Race and Modernity

Amelia Simpson

“Xuxa (SHOO-sha), a former Playboy model and soft-porn movie actress, is Brazil’s mass-media megastar whose children’s television show reaches millions of people in Latin America and the United States. Simpson explores how the blond sex symbol emerged in the 1980s to become a cultural icon of extraordinary authority throughout the Americas… In exploring the meaning behind the myth that is Xuxa, the author examines the ingredients of her stardom, including her long-term relationship with Brazil’s soccer idol, Pelé, and the careful manufacture of a sexually suggestive style juxtaposed with juvenile entertainment.”

Publisher: Temple University
Paperback: 238 pages

Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future

Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan

The best thing about the popular visions of the future was, they promised that the future was going to be FUN. Whopping, Jules Vernian, amazing, eye-popping FUN. Cars that turn into airplanes, rocket packs, flying hot dog stands, two-way wrist televisions, monorails whizzing through massive metropolises, airplanes the size of steamships. Clean, effortless, streamlined, Jetsons-style F-U-N. And anybody could play the future game: “In 1894, an obscure socialist named King Camp Gillette published a curious utopian tract, The Human Drift, in which he outlined his vision of utopia. Gillette prescribed for the future an astonishing collection of 40,000 skyscrapers, clustered together in one grand ‘Metropolis’ near Niagara Falls. Built around vast atriums covered over with huge glass skylights, the steel-framed buildings would house most of the North American population in cooperative apartments… Within a few years, however, Gillette’s socialist future was a thing of the past, as he turned to perfecting the invention that was to bring him lasting fame in the annals of capitalism—the safety razor.” GR

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University
Paperback: 158 pages

Yo’ Mama

Snap C. Pop and Kid Rank

American slaves were punished severely for fighting among themselves. To relieve tension and keep wits sharp, they created a mental exercise, based on trading insults, called Dozens, referring to groups of substandard slaves who were sold in lots of twelve. Given that sons were often separated from their mothers and sold off to other plantations, memories of Mama were considered to be precious. Mamas became the subjects of the ultimate insults, creating the most impact. Once mentioned, there was no going back. All jibes were going to include “Yo’ Mama” from then on.
The Dozens has survived by being passed down from generation to generation as a social ritual. Today the Dozens is considered mainstream among African-Americans and other populations, and has been popularized in the media. It is a means of settling conflicts without violence, releasing tension and establishing a pecking order. It is known today by many names including ranking, sapping, busting, capping and slamming. Rules vary from ‘hood to ‘hood. CF

Publisher: Berkley
Paperback: 128 pages