Wednesday, August 24, 2016

WHEN MATES MAKE BOOKS

Another LA friend who has a new book out is Evan Kindley, with his contribution to the Object Lessons series on Bloomsbury: compact and elegantly designed studies of everyday products, places and procedures that we take for granted and rarely notice, let alone ponder - but in this series are pondered with an approach and a sensibility somewhere between Roland Barthes and Wes Anderson. The "hidden lives of ordinary things" so far exposed and probed include the bookshelf, the sock, the shopping mall, the egg, hair, glass, waste, the cigarette lighter, the shipping container, the remote control...  and the questionnaire,  the subject of Evan's own monograph.


It's a fascinating, fun archaeology of knowledge-procurement, stretching all the way from the 16th Century Spanish cédula and the Victorian confession album, via Gallup and the MBTI personality test, to today's datascape / dataclysm of OkCupid and the BuzzFeed quiz.  Proust, Jung, Adorno, L. Ron Hubbard and Helen Gurley-Brown all make appearances, as do many other figures both well-known and obscure. 

OkCupid evolved, we learn in Questionnaire, out of an online study guide start-up called The Spark. That's my clumsy segue to a song by Sparks that actually features a questionnaire in the lyrics - in a most surprising (but very Ron Mael-ly) way....  Are there any other pop songs that features questionnaires?



More covers from the Object Lessons series  - whose designer Alice Marwick talks about her process here







A series of mini-object lessons - micro essays on things like fridge magnets and "when does bread become toast" - at The Atlantic.

Another "Questionnaire" song - suggested by Ed Torpey

Saturday, August 20, 2016

WHEN MATES MAKE BOOKS

This has only happened once before in this series, I think - a mate who has literally made a book.

A pal of mine here in LA - J.C. Gabel - has launched a new publishing imprint: Hat & Beard. All of the books they've done are beautiful looking objets fétiche and among them are several of special interest to music fiends. In particular, this new collection Slash: A Punk Magazine From Los Angeles, 1977-80. 



Jointly edited by Gabel and Brian Roettinger, the book contains facsimiles of all 29 of the legendary punkzine's covers and reproduces many of the mag's features and articles, along with a shit ton of great photographs, flyers, concert posters, adverts, and so forth. There's also a bunch of new essays, memoiristic pieces and oral histories from folk associated with Slash or involved in the LA punk scene.



This book is gorgeous, with exquisite care applied to the deployment of different kinds of paper and varying trim size, typography, alternation of matt and gloss, the placement of images...

For sure, that can sometimes feel slightly incongruous set against the gnarly nature of the original magazine and the movement it documented. But face it, the aestheticization and archivization of punk, industrial, et al, is a done deal: that ship has long sailed. And it's not like these people weren't aesthetes all along -  curation was latent within the deliberate and deliberated-over choices they made with graphics, clothing, indeed every aspect of presentation and performance, Not forgetting the provocations of the lyrics. This was a supremely stylized anti-style.

                                               


                                           
Whereas the music has often dated, or at least revealed its limitations, punk's graphic language, its hair and make-up,  actually still retains a bit of its edge - an after-shock of the monstrous power to offend and alarm that it had in its own day (punks were literally seen as monsters, by the older generations and normals). In a sense, I think McLaren was right to argue that the clothes were more important than the records, more empowering and life-transforming. Certainly there was more of a commitment being made, a stand taken, when people got togged up like that and ran the gauntlet of the public gaze (and sometimes the public's fists), than simply buying the discs and listening to them at home.  And the graphic language was shockingly new in its moment, much more of a break with the Old Wave way of doing things than the music was, which had plenty of precursors in '70s hard rock, glam 'n 'glitter, etc.

Los Angeles punk was a very Anglophile scene (unlike NYC) and in some ways seems to have pushed even further the U.K.'s shift of balance towards the visual side. Perhaps that explains why I get more of a frisson looking at the images or record cover imagery of The Weirdos or The Germs than listening to the noises they made.  Never really understood the high regard for  "Forming", for instance, while the Weirdos didn't get close to destroying music, just scuffing it slightly. The Screamers were great to look at, the music an enabler for the performances more than anything. They were right to hold out for the videodisc revolution that never came (or didn't come in time for them), rather than going into a recording studio to try to bottle what only worked in situ.










Information and purchasing details for Slash: A Punk Magazine From Los Angeles, 1977-80 can be found here.