No Success Like Failure: The American Love of Self-Destruction, Self-Aggrandizement and Breaking Even

Ivan Solotaroff

At the point of convergence between extremes of fame and infamy, the entire fabric of “received ideas” to which our culture clings gets caught up in a tailspin and scattered to the wind in a variety of surprising reconfigurations. Author Solotaroff stakes out a kind of vanguard terrain—at once anomalous and absolutely integral to any social analysis of life in late-20th-century America—and he explores it by way of its complex and conflicted denizens: Charles Manson, James Brown, Andrew “Dice” Clay and certain lesser-known, though no less legendary, figures, such as street corner comic Charlie Barnett, unsigned basketball prodigy Earl Manigault, and Ray and Jay, the kids who took seriously Judas Priest’s “subliminal command” to “do it.” All casualties, in some form or another, of the glare of the spotlight. JT

Publisher: Sheep Meadow
Hardback: 224 pages

Among the Thugs

Bill Buford

What might compel an educated and well-adjusted man to start spending every free weekend with a gang of football hooligans—mere journalistic curiosity, or is it something deeper and more dangerous? This is the strange quandary of Bill Buford, a California native who came to London to start the literary magazine Granta, and began at once to develop an unwholesome preoccupation with that country’s lumpen-prole threat. Who, after all, can resist the pull of a crowd poised for destruction? “‘It’s going to go off,’ someone said, and his eyes were glassy, as though he had taken a drug. ‘It’s going to go off,’ spoken softly, but each time it was repeated it gained authority …“ What’s going to go off? A powder-keg of seething class hatred, empire-envy, racist fury and countless pints of strong English ale. Brittania über alles! JT

Publisher: Vintage
Paperback: 320 pages

ANSWER ME!: The First Three

Jim and Debbie Goad

Aging punks find renewed purpose combating the glassy-eyed revival of hippie-chic in so-called rave culture (or Ravestock™), the consumo-liberalism of slack, of spectacle society (whether middlebrow or “alternative”), of the multicultural and welfare states, and find their true selves in the process. The Goads are easily the most influential members of the latest crop of countercultural “taste-makers,” the success story of their “hate rag” ANSWER ME! unprecedented in the by-definition marginal universe of personal zines. And let it be known that this empire-to-be was built on a good, old-fashioned foundation of blood, sweat, tears and flawless spelling; not the usual faddish ephemera. It was inevitable that whatever remained of punk in the ‘90s should take a sharp turn to the right, a form of self-actualization, really. With ANSWER ME!, the DIY initiative finally reclaims its Calvinist roots, alienation is reconfigured as rugged individualism, and all that fiddling with sexual codes serves in the end to mark an essential difference. Punk’s sexual ambivalence erupts here into full-scale biological warfare—the body being inherently revolting, as is, by extension, reproduction, childbirth, you name it. No surprise then that the Goads should choose instead to toil on behalf of the mighty death drive. While not the first magazine wholly devoted to mayhem, ANSWER Me! is easily the most ecstatic. Now that AK press has reprinted the first three issues in a single hefty volume, the Goads’ particular achievement may at last be measured against the general eruption of prurience which defines our cultural moment. Initial shock waves eddy ever outward into eventual alignment with the mainstream, and death, once the last outpost of the unthinkable, is not only colonized but converted into our foremost commodity. Or, in the words of the typical ANSWER ME! reader: “I’ll trade you two Dahmers for one Gacy.”
Supported by a familiar cast of fringe-dwellers (Anton LaVey, Timothy Leary, Boyd Rice, Ray Dennis Steckler, Russ Meyer, etc.) as well as some welcome new additions (Dr. Kevorkian, Rev. Al Sharpton, Al Goldstein, David Duke, etc.), the Goads set forth in these pages a definitive manual of cultural provocation and resistance, and one auspiciously devoid of rock’n’roll. Extreme and vital information is sniffed out (vitiated) at the source, rather than distilled by way of some popstar’s blathering. Likewise, no trippy typefaces, no kinko-collages, and no fisheye photographs to intrude upon the crystalline sobriety of the ANSWER ME! aesthetic. Two Top 100 charts, one devoted to mass murderers, another to “spectacular” suicides, are exemplary journalistic feats, showcasing a near-psychotic fastidiousness which perfectly complements the subject matter. Order rules at the offices of ANSWER ME!—the better to drive home their message of hate, and if not a message, then at least a market. JT

Publisher: AK
Paperback: 134 pages

The Future Lasts Forever: A Memoir

Louis Althusser

Part absolution and part apology, this, the first volume of a posthumously published autobiography, begins on the morning of November 16, 1980 with the tragic death of the author’s wife at his hands. As the influence of academe was brought to bear upon the local authorities, the French proto-Marxist was deigned unfit to plead on his own behalf and sent straight to the sanitarium without arrest or trial—a merciful outcome for anyone other than an intellectual, that is, one in the business of “speaking his mind.” Returning several years later to the scene of the crime, Althusser attempts to reconstruct the defense he was denied, and to supply some crucial answers to a resentful public and even to himself. “I intend to stick closely to the facts,” says he, “… but hallucinations are also facts.”
Tracing his troubles back to earliest childhood, to his name in fact—Louis was his mother’s beloved first husband, killed in the war—Althusser describes his haunted experience with dispassionate candor. In the process we come to know the boy continually plagued by his own absence and inauthenticity—a self virtually destined from the start to disappear. Taking refuge in his studies and subsequent academic career, Althusser distinguished himself as a scholar and the foremost authority on Marxist analysis which he revised for the hippie generation through his influential concept of the “state apparatus.” Yet periods of concentrated production and lucidity inevitably gave way to paralyzing depression: the eminent philosopher gracing the halls of higher learning one day, and the loony bin the next. Shuttled from one institution to another, Althusser remained a shut-in for the greatest part of his life, first at home with his domineering mother, then as a POW during World War II, and finally within the ivory towers of academia. His political imagination flourished within these closed quarters, as did the various maladies which finally overwhelmed his reason.
A latter-day Oedipus wandering through the wreckage of his life, Althusser seeks through writing to probe the central blind-spot, to suspend the self at the point where it vanishes, or fractures into separate compartments, be they Marxist, misogynist or just mad. The revelations which follow are a little hard to swallow perhaps, but it is entirely to his credit that he doesn’t try anything “easier.” Just as tenuous and volatile as the lines which connect radical theory to revolutionary practice are those that bind the subject to the object of love. Retaining no memory of the fatal act itself, nor even a prompting desire, Althusser argues that killing his wife amounted in effect to a kind of suicide; that by destroying “the other” through whom he gained his meager identity, he himself would cease to be. It is a scenario worthy of Robbe-Grillet: The detective discovers not only that he is the perpetrator but simultaneously the victim of his crime. JT

Publisher: New Press
Paperback: 364 pages

#$@&!: The Official Lloyd Llewellyn Collection

Daniel Clowes

A semiparody of the noir sensibility, it is interesting mainly as an exercise in style—that ‘50s graphic thing Clowes has mastered to greater effect than any other cartoonist around. This material reveals little of the brilliance to come. JT

Publisher: Fantagraphics
Paperback: 96 pages

Blissed Out: The Raptures of Rock

Simon Reynolds

The subject of Blissed Out is ostensibly the “alternative” side of ‘80s rock, from grunge to acid-house, but more importantly, perhaps, the book reveals how Reynolds became the art world’s resident rock critic—second only to the slightly more ubiquitous Jon Savage. The chapter headings give the author away: “Miserabilism,” “The Powers of Horror” and as a grand finale, of course, “The End of Music.” Reynolds is no run-of-the-mill hack—he’s done his homework in French theory, and he wants everyone to know it.
To be fair, the rock “text” has been slighted for too long by the thumbs-up/thumbs-down school of scribblers, or worse, by those who employ it as a springboard for stream of consciousness rambling à la Lester Bangs or the confessional musing Nick Kent. In Blissed Out, Reynolds attempts something much more rigorous, unobjectionable were it not for the orgy of quotation that ensues. From Situationism to Simulationism, no buzz-concept is left untouched. A dash of the abject from Kristeva; a pinch of the obscene, courtesy of Baudrillard; and several generous helpings of that perennial Barthesian favorite jouissance—et voilà!
Those interested in the ideas behind the music of Nick Cave, My Bloody Valentine or Loop will surely be disappointed. Here, rock is only a pretext for airing a reading list, which is actually quite limited. JT

Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Paperback: 192 pages

The Bradleys

Peter Bagge

Before moving to Seattle to take part in the hugely popular slacker-comic HATE, Buddy Bradley was just another kid whiling away his adolescence in the suburban outback of the Garden State. In The Bradleys, Peter Bagge rehearses the first imperative of the comic book to its greatest effect: staging a series of spectacular collisions between elements of banality and all-out phantasmagoria. Life unfolds at a pretty regular clip—nothing too unusual happens contentwise—but formally, all hell breaks loose. Bagge deploys an ultragrotesque hot-rod aesthetic as an index to the psychopathological undercurrents which attend such teenage rites as hanging out at the record store, drinking and driving, and dealing weed to supplement one’s allowance. Heads take over bodies, mouths take over heads, and teeth take over mouths—pretty weird stuff, and how like life… JT

Publisher: Fantagraphics
Paperback: 152 pages

Circus Americanus

Ralph Rugoff

When Roland Barthes wrote his groundbreaking Mythologies in the mid-’50s, the idea of turning loose the tools and techniques of philosophy on such things as wrestling matches and Citroën cars was still quite novel. Since then, not only has the once-dark continent of consumer culture been thoroughly illuminated by the searchlights of theory, it has internalized their glare, becoming itself a kind of self-consciously semiotic construction. In this collection of updated mythologies originally penned for the LA Weekly’s art column, Ralph Rugoff trains his sharp and incisive gaze upon those areas of everyday life where symbolism, design and aestheticization have completely displaced utility, and representation has come to precede the so-called real. A kind of dialectic is ventured between articles detailing the incursions of the new, and those more concerned with the disappearance of the old. For instance, the opening section on the West Coast proliferation of such postmodern hallucination engines as Sea World, Alpine Village and the Universal CityWalk, is followed by an appreciation of the few remaining signs of precisely the industrial culture these theme parks are busy supplanting. Above all, Rugoff appears to be fascinated with the increasingly pervasive cultural tendency or drive to somehow frame, remove and reproduce whatever might be considered significant experience. Appropriately, the subject of museology figures prominently in Circus Americanus, and it is explored through a series of highly pointed collections, assembled around such men as Richard Nixon, Liberace, Gene Autry and L. Ron Hubbard. Other topics of interest are nudist magazines, cosmetic surgery and forensic photography. An article on the Mexican art/sport of lucha libre declares the abiding influence of Barthes’ pop semiotic, but from there on in, Rugoff is alone in his Brave New World of mini-golf courses and thematic funeral homes. JT

Publisher: Verso
Paperback: 204 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

Nico: The End

James Young

Sweat it out with Nico on her too-small tour bus, surrounded by her dysfunctional and wantonly decrepit backup band, her opportunistic, no-talent crew, her bloated, lovesick manager and her wasted, drugsick fans. The Teutonic diva of doom deserved better—”She should play ze Carnegie ‘All,” claimed her French son Ari. Instead, she endured misery and degradation, lugging her dusty harmonium from one art-house stage to another, continually on the verge of kicking as her entourage siphoned off her dope-reserves, underappreciated by reporters wanting only to know about Andy and the Velvets, and overappreciated by a manager who besieged her with embarrassing sex-poetry in between bouts of explosive masturbation in the adjoining hotel room. This is the rock ‘n’ roll adventure as it veers off into old age-void of glamor, romance, myth—but it remains an adventure nonetheless. JT

Publisher: Penguin
Paperback: 207 pages