Category Archives: Books

The Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood

berlin_storiesWritten in the early 1930s while Isherwood was living in Berlin as an English teacher, he witnesses the simmering political situation as the Nazi party rises to power and prominence. As a former resident of Berlin in the later half of the first decade of the new century, I was able to follow Isherwood down the streets and through the routes he travels, into the hinterhofs and up the dark altbau stairwells. He describes in vivid detail the characters he meets, the crooks, the dandies, the whores, the pimps and crooks. The stories would later be woven together in a pastiche of scenes, characters and impressions for Broadway in 1966, then as the 1972 film “Cabaret” with Liza Minnelli and a very well cast Michael York.
The grim political tone aside, reading these stories transported me back into Berlin instantly. Nearly all the characters he encounters had their counterparts to my own experience. It’s an intimate look into this very special and unique time period from a very personal and sincere perspective – it’s no wonder this collection is so highly regarded in literary circles.
The introductory character, Mr. Norris, is a man of little scruples, a failed dilettante and businessman of no certain legitimacy. He swindles, schemes and manipulates his way through life, all the while remaining very charming in a certain way. He reminds me of the storyline set forth in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Satansbraten”. He seems to also be alluded to in “Cabaret” as the writer who Brian is paid to translates the smut book for. Sally Bowles is of course the focal point as the cabaret girl, who is in the book actually British, not American, as portrayed in the film adaptation.

The Secret Life Of Lobsters

by Trevor Corson, 2004 Harper Collins Publishers

The Secret Life Of Lobsters, Trevor Corson, 2004Written by journalist Trevor Corson, who spent a short but observant time in the field on a lobster boat, this well researched book approaches the life and ecology of the American Lobster from a variety of viewpoints. Starting with personable introductions to some of Little Cranberry Island, Maine’s lobstermen and their boats, setting traps along the coast. Offset by the scientists who studied lobsters in laboratory tanks, and on research vessels large and small, including manned submersibles and a robotic lobster researched by the US Navy, both the commercial and scientific tools of the trade are presented in fascinating details. From Francis H. Herrick in 1895 til cutting edge computer modeled larva distribution patterns, there is much to be learned about the biology and ecology of the Maine Lobster and it’s human predators, who are also it’s most concerned conservators. Their molting and reproductive habits, their larval stage, which holds a few surprises, as well as social behavior is all revealed. This book was a great look into a little known world. I could have used a few more recipes at the end but sometimes the simplest way to cook a lobster is the best way.

California Deathrock – The Photo Book

 Mark Splatter circa 2003 at a Release the Bats photo session with Amelia G and Forrest Black 
2000-2005 was a particularly relevant time in deathrock culture. I had just moved to California from New Jersey, as the proprietor of Deathrock.com, a webzine that served as a sort of beacon for the dark-minded music aficionado. Part reference guide, part webzine, it was a place where bands like UK Decay, TSOL, and The Mob first got more than just a mention in a collectors’ trade list. I was a young zine publisher who’d taken up web design in its infancy and was eager to share my love for anything remotely Misfits-esque, or even darker, more somber sounds like Southern Death Cult and Kommumity FK.

The New York presence of adherents for such sounds was lacking, apart from a small corps of gloom rockers like Charlie the Slut and Paul Morden, who took me under their wing as an aspiring DJ, and our close friends. When I visited California to meet some of the Los Angeles correspondents I was blown away by the packed floor of a club dedicated to just such sounds at Release The Bats. NYC always stood apart as too homogenous and sophisticated in its tastes to cater to such a niche and outmoded (although beloved) style. It was a no-brainer that the West Coast was where I wanted to be, where deathrock, as many argue, was born. 

Six months later I packed my bags and arrived, a 21-year-old devil lock-wearing deathpunk, and a postage stamp-sized record distributer with a case of music and a pair of DJ headphones. There it was not that it was still going strong, as it was ground zero for a full-on rebirth. New bands were evolving and converging, local bands coming into their own distinct style, Cinema Strange and The Deep Eynde pumped all sorts of energy and fishnet into our veins, and local legends were showing their faces again. Kommumity FK, Dinah Cancer and Gitane Demone resumed their positions as luminaries. Release the Bats was our Mecca, facing west. Bands from all over the globe were sending their energy into it too. Crews from further north and south were getting in touch. First the San Francisco synth-damaged Phantom Limbs with The Vanishing one on top of the other. Frank The Baptist and Diana Death from San Diego.

In that motley crew of deathrockers, gothpunks, dark new wavers, postpunks and horrorpunks were Amelia and Forrest, of Blueblood fame—one of the only established alt-porn names of the day. With their camera savvy and eye for the exotic black-clad, they managed to capture in brilliant gloss the blackest the Sunshine State had to offer, from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Now their work has been collected in this deluxe photo book, California Deathrock.

It reads without words like a yearbook of the era. Looking through the photos brings “ooohs” and “aaahhs” of recognition; the friends, acquaintances, strangers, lovers, and adversaries (if only for their makeup flair or record collections!). Fishing names and memories out of a golden era is just one of the perks of this book. The first of all being the gamut of styles, the theatrics, the glamour, the variety and poetry of appearance that this book represents, a jewel in the collection of anyone who finds beauty in the creativity and expression of the gothic style.
http://californiadeathrock.com for more info:

  
and

http://ameliag.com/cadramzn.php to order!

  

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Why does George Orwell prefer never to eat in smart restaurants again at the end of ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’? (1933)
He argues that the luxury of such places are a sham. not only a sham but a swindle. for exorbitant prices, you are served a meal that has had every conceivable corner cut out of it. i must say i agree. from the Jackson Pollock-esque use of a few sauces on top of a sliver of entree to the high price of designer sodas, wines and beers, tipping a waiter who would just as soon serve you out of a garbage can.
Orwell, during the late 1920s worked the Paris service industry first as dishwasher in a luxury hotel, second at a small restaurant, as plongeur, or dishwasher/prep cook. I would say that despite detailed regulation which is regularly enforced at most establishments – whether Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles or Berlin – the problem of cleanliness in the kitchen is still an issue.
But the heart of the matter is the work involved. He presents the fact that the staff of a restaurant (hotel or any other establishment) is concerned with service, expediency and profit. to keep profits high, fewer employees must work long hours, waste as little as they can get away with, being able to hide sub-par materials in the process of transforming it to an elegant meal – if only on the surface.
more importantly, these employees are little more than slaves. There is no doubt many levels of prep-cooks and dishwashers and sub-chef kitchen staff, at many eves of income, who’d not think of themselves as underpaid wage slaves. But the point I’m trying to make is not to sound the alarm bell on behalf of all underpaid kitchen staff through the world. there are many other positions of like it that suffer the same dilemma.
Our underpaid kitchener can hardly support a life of comfort on this wage. a warm house for himself and perhaps his family, enough quality food to eat, clothes and education. the basics of a normal human life. he is working hard for this, harder than others often, in heat and filth and with no reward for a job well done, aside for perhaps the excess of the kitchens output in form of food and drink. being hard work, Orwell points out that it is taken for granted that it is valuable work. Or is it?
Luxury restaurants provide the convenience of being served an exotic meal, the pomp and performance, the atmosphere, and the feeling that one is making a grand gesture which translates into triple and quadruple digit bills at the end of the night. Orwell’s supposition is that a home cooked meal is infinitely cheaper, more quality, than a luxury restaurant. “Essentially a ‘smart’ hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things that they do not really want.”
No doubt, from Orwell’s position at the time, from the bottom looking up, its easy to dismiss the millions of people who dine at restaurants on point of habit and principle. but he accounts for this in his analogy of the rickshaw puller in asia – hard, unrewarding work for small pay to a poor class, but a luxury to the rider, only in so far as that those who ride a rickshaw “consider it vulgar to walk”.
Another thing he is getting at is the benefit of ‘work’ in society. He begins by presenting the addage “A slave should be working when he is not sleeping” (Marcus Cato, 2nd Century BCE). The effect being that slaves should have no leisure time in which to bemoan their condition, rally together, and upset the status quo. Not that everyone languishing in a poor job can be reduced to a slave, but there is a parallel in the amount of drudgery and any reasonable expectations at advancing one social status from point A to B. What it comes down to is, that lower classes are kept in a constant state of flux as of wether they are going to be able to ‘pull through’, even in normal everyday circumstances that provide the basics of civilized living.
This condition is perpetuated by the upper classes, who do not want to lose any of their own liberties by spreading them even thinner amongst someone lower than themselves. This could be anything from a house in the suburbs to a family vacation ‘to Italy’ (where siad family will stay in hotels and dine in luxury restaurants). This is fear of the mob.
“Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental difference between rich and poor, as though they were two different races, like negroes and white men. But in reality there is no such difference. The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit.” So the cycle repeats, and even today we have billions of jobs created merely for the need of something to keep the underclass busy, and at that constantly occupied in at least what is supposed to be 8 hour a day jobs – down from the 15 hour work days Orewll describes having participated in during the late 1920s. Not that those extra hours are now leisure in which we empower ourseves with. De rigueur is the shopping, television, video games and fantasy novels we are convinced to spend time and ever more money on. Also, in thanks to that 8 hour work day, even more individuals can be employed, to take part in the cycle as populations grow in order to provide more consumers for the products that the rich are selling us. More breakfast cereal, more wide screen TVs, more hair products, more fashionable clothing, more luxury restaurants and hotels.
Henry Miller (whose Paris experience postdates Orwell’s by something like a decade) came to the conclusion as well, that this drudgery, this busy work, is needless, and particularly with the urgency that it sometimes demands. All this work, will get done. If man were left to his leisure, he will eat, he will have a home. He may not have the need to make sure that the LCD is secure on a new assembly line television in a factory that is made to be sold he knows not where to he knows not who, destined to be trashed in another year for the next model so that the owner of said company can have several houses that stand empty for a good part of the year.
Does this mean that I am against restaurants altogether? Not at all. There is a difference between a ‘smart’ or luxury restaurant, and a place to get a meal. Getting a meal does not require the deal of prestige and multiplied cost that comes with some establishments where the cost is derived from the Brand, the name of the proprietor, or the amount of stars it draws in equally frivolous catalogs, repositories for limitless other effete dining spots and hotel restaurants. There are a dozen or more eateries, taquerías, burger joints, food carts and bistros individually owned in my neighborhood alone. Not to say that any one of them is guaranteed to be especially clean, or their staff isn’t underpaid, but you’re also not paying three times (minimal!) as much for that risk. The last time I did something like that was for my 36th birthday – at a times square restaurant – hardly luxury, but in any case deliberately ornate, with the expectation of paying a premium for it. The food was blander, the drinks exorbitantly priced (this is New York, after all), the atmosphere, although exceptional, was also cheap, and not worth repeating the experience. Next time I feel the need to go out, I’ll go to an Argentinian grill or a burger restaurant where at the going rate $20 will get you a decent meal and a drink. But I agree with Orwell that a meal at home is far more satisfying with just a few simple ingredients from your preferred markets. And I also agree that the cost, for the amount of labor and for quality of product at a fancy restaurant, serves two purposes: To enrich the owner of said restaurant and a status symbol for the diner. Neither of which are appealing to my sensibility.


Sources:
– George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris (1933, Chapter XXII)
– Henry Miller Reads and Reflects


“The satisfaction which no longer comes from the use of abundant commodities is now sought in the recognition of their value as commodities: the use of commodities becomes sufficient unto itself; the consumer is filled with religious fervor for the sovereign liberty of the commodities. Waves of enthusiasm for a given product, supported and spread by all the media of communication, are thus propagated with lightning speed. A style of dress emerges from a film; a magazine promotes night spots which launch various clothing fads. Just when the mass of commodities slides toward puerility, the puerile itself becomes a special commodity; this is epitomized by the gadget. We can recognize a mystical abandon to the transcendence of the commodity in free gifts, such as key chains which are not bought but are included by advertisers with prestigious purchases, or which flow by exchange in their own sphere. One who collects the key chains which have been manufactured for collection, accumulates the indulgences of the commodity, a glorious sign of his real presence among the faithful. Reified man advertises the proof of his intimacy with the commodity. The fetishism of commodities reaches moments of fervent exaltation similar to the ecstasies of the convulsions and miracles of the old religious fetishism. The only use which remains here is the fundamental use of submission.”

(‘The Society of the Spectacle’, Guy-Ernest Debord)

Reflections on War and Death, Sigmund Freud, 1918

de mortuis nil nisi bene” (Nothing but good of the dead)
“We remember the old saying:

Si vis pacem, para bellum.
(If you wish peace, prepare for war.)

The times call for a paraphrase:

Si vis vitam, para mortem.
(If you wish life, prepare for death.)”

The motto of the Hanseatic League said: “Navigare necesse est, vivere non necesse” (It is necessary to sail the seas, but not to live.)

“It was not the intellectual puzzle or any particular death which roused the spirit of inquiry in man, but the conflict of emotions at the death of beloved and withal foreign and hated persons.
From this emotional conflict psychology arose. Man could no longer keep death away from him, for he had tasted of it in his grief for the deceased, but he did not want to acknowledge it, since he could not imagine himself dead. He therefore formed a compromise and concealed his own death but denied it the significance of destroying life, a distinction for which the death of his enemies had given him no motive. He invented spirits during his contemplation of the corpse of the person he loved, and his consciousness of guilt over the gratification which mingled with his grief brought it about that these first created spirits were transformed into evil demons who were to be feared. ”

“In our unconscious we daily and hourly do away with all those who stand in our way, all those who have insulted or harmed us. The expression: “The devil take him,” which so frequently crosses our lips in the form of an ill-humored jest, but by which we really intend to say, “Death take him,” is a serious and forceful death wish in our unconscious.”
“In his novel, Père Goriot, Balzac refers to a place in the works of J. J. Rousseau where this author asks the reader what he would do if, without leaving Paris and, of course, without being discovered, he could kill an old mandarin in Peking, with great profit to himself, by a mere act of the will. He makes it possible for us to guess that he does not consider the life of this dignitary very secure. “To kill your mandarin” has become proverbial for this secret readiness to kill, even on the part of people of today.”

Oppressive air

I was staying in a huge apartment house in Vienna, thanks to Julia. The owners were away for quite a while, several months at least, and more months to go before they would be back, so it was arranged that I would stay there for a few weeks.
Their home was several rooms each on two floors in a Victorian apartment building. The furnishings were a mismatched heap of 80s deco paired with left over nic-nacs from a bygone era, heaped with papers, portfolios and collected junk with nowhere left to put it, someplaces towered up to the exceptionally high, paneled ceilings.
… There was one recessed, dark alcove that led to another wing… I entered it once but had the sensation of being pushed out, with no air entering my lungs as I struggled in. That was completely alarming.

Road stories

“The outcast am I not, unhoused, unblest,
Inhuman monster, without aim or rest,
Who, like the greedy surge, from rock to rock,
Sweeps down the dread abyss with desperate shock?”

————–
“Bin ich der Flüchtling nicht? der Unbehaus’te?
Der Unmensch ohne Zweck und Ruh?
Der wie ein Wassersturz von Fels zu Felsen braus’te
Begierig wüthend nach dem Abgrund zu.”

– ‘Faust’, Goethe (1808)