The Faber Book of Madness

Edited by Roy Porter

This book “endeavor(s) to present a rich miscellany of the experience of madness from the viewpoints of numerous parties: psychiatrists, nurses, friends, family, writers, artists, theologians and philosophers.” The writings span several centuries and vary from a couple of pages to the occasional well-placed one-liner (for instance, in the section on depression, Susan Sontag writes: “Depression is melancholy minus its charms”).
What could have been a tedious discussion of the various aspects of mental illness is rendered with deft editing into a seamless train of varied ideas. There are 19 major categories, many devoted to a single malady (possession, delusion, depression, etc.). The editor has managed to tie together the various accounts and perspectives with a sentence or two between each entry so that each section flows together as if the individual writers had been discoursing among themselves. He has a special knack for punctuating the dry and serious with a bit of Sylvia Plath or Woody Allen. There are also contributions from Charlotte Brontë, Antonin Artaud, Nietzsche, Poe and William Seabrook. SA

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 572 pages

It Came From Memphis

Robert Gordon

What came from Memphis? Rock ‘n’ Roll! Here Robert Gordon paints a fascinating portrait of the city and the scene that many consider to be the veritable Ground Zero of the rock ‘n’ roll explosion. Despite the best efforts of Jim Crow, Memphis was the steaming cauldron where Black met White.
It was in Memphis that the thumping Delta blues of Muddy Waters, B. B. King and Howlin’ Wolf blasted from the juke joints and melded with the twangy, country pickin’ of Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzel and the Grand Ole Opry. A prolific cradle of musical talent, Memphis not only spawned Sam Phillips, Sun Records and Elvis Presley but produced the Mar-Keys, Booker T., Isaac Hayes and the whole swingin’ ‘60’s assault of the Stax/Volt sound. Memphis continues to cast its shadow over contemporary alternative rock through the work of legendary producer Jim Dickinson as well as Alex Chilton, once the teenaged singer of the Box Tops, whose later records would greatly influence many. AD

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 305 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

The Boy Looked at Johnny

Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons

Legendary vitriolic broadside directed at all things punk, now derided by co-author Julie Burchill as “total speed damage.” Tracks the origins of punk rock music, both in the U.S. and U.K., including such seminal bands as the New York Dolls and the Runaways. Includes new pix and forward by guitarist Lenny Kaye. Gossipy, bitchy and quite possibly libelous, Julie and Tony go for the throat of the pop music world with a meth-tipped pen. MW

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 95 pages

Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division

Deborah Curtis

From the jacket: “Touching From a Distance describes Ian Curtis’ life from his early teenage years to his premature death on the eve of Joy Division’s first American tour. It tells how, with a wife, child and impending international fame, he was seduced by the glory of an early grave. What were the reasons behind his fascination with death? Were his dark, brooding lyrics an artistic exorcism?” Who’s to say, especially since Deborah Curtis seems to have zero interest in her dead husband’s music, but this book certainly delivers as a classic rock-wife saga with a twist: Along with the usual obsessively rendered details of infidelity, betrayal and alcohol abuse, there are also descriptions of epileptic seizures, emotionally crippling bouts of morbidity, and suicide. Includes complete lists of recordings and gigs, as well as lyrics, both published and unpublished. MG

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 213 pages

Wagner’s “Ring” and Its Symbols: The Music and the Myth

Robert Donington

Often able to evoke both the excitement of the music and the action experienced in the theater, Wagner’s “Ring” and Its Symbols takes a Jungian approach in exploring The Ring and its mythological underpinnings. Includes an appendix of musical examples and selected motifs following the main discussion, allowing the reader to cross-refer to significant leitmotifs. JAT

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 342 pages

Scorsese on Scorsese

Edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie

Few directors are more erudite and eloquent than Martin Scorsese, making this addition to the Faber and Faber “directors on themselves” series particularly interesting. Scorsese the raconteur and film scholar tells stories about his own movies. Interviews interspersed with oeuvre analyses cover familiar territory: Scorsese’s Italian Catholic upbringing in Queens and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, his early fascination with movies, his student films, the director’s encounters with Roger Corman, and his breakthrough biographical films. Given the intense nature of Scorsese’s films, it is surprising how casual he makes their productions appear. In his telling, Taxi Driver almost sounds like a home movie made during preproduction on New York, New York. Taxi Driver storyboards for Travis Bickle’s bordello shoot-out and Scorcese’s description of Bible-film research and personal reflections on The Last Temptation of Christ provide insight into his working methods. RP

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 178 pages

Un Chien Andalou

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali

No image is more closely identified with Surrealist film than the opening scene of Un Chien Andalou—a young woman sits calmly while a man slices her eyeball open with a straight razor. Although it is technologically primitive, not to mention silent, Un Chien Andalou remains an enigmatic landmark in the history of cinema, as radical today as when it was released, in 1929. A collaboration between upstart Spaniards Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel, the film was quickly if grudgingly accepted by the notoriously fickle Surrealist group, mainly due to André Breton’s enthusiasm. Public reaction was mixed, although Buñuel, in 1929, attacked “those spectators who, recuperating the film as ‘beautiful’ or ‘poetic,’ overlooked its true intention as a ‘desperate and passionate appeal to murder.’” DB

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 38 pages