Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


The Great Game:
The Struggle For Empire in Central Asia
by Peter Hopkirk
p. 1990
Kodansha International

  The Great Game is a name for the geo-political struggle between Russia and the U.K. for supremacy in the region that we today call Central Asia, the Chinese Far West and Afghanistan.  This struggle, which bears many similarities to more recent conflicts in this region, took place during the 19th century.

  The gist of the conflict pitted an expansive Russian Empire against the defensive British Colony of India (today's India and Pakistan.)  Then, as was the case in the 1980s, the concern was with Russian expansion towards the Indian Ocean.  In the 19th century, it was the British who got their ass handed to them by the Afghani's- in particular during the first Afghani War of the 1840s the Brits lost 16,000 men from their occupying force- during the course of their retreat- from an Army that numbered about 16,000.

   Aside from the to-and-fro of the British occupying strageically important countries like Afghanistan, the Great Game was a contest between the secret agents of Britain and Russia- trying to bring disparate Central Asian Despots "into the fold."  Along the way many people- British and Russians- lost their lives in ways directly and indirectly related to the conflict.

  The Great Game very much pre-saged the cloak and dagger aspects of the Russian/Western Cold War in the 20th century- secret codes, spies, murky geo-political ambitions- it was all there in the 19th century.  The Brits and Russians even had their own Cold Warriors- called Anglophobes on the Russian side and Russophobes on the British.  These partisan created their own body of literature that excited much popular comment, much as similar literature created excited during the 20th century cold war.

  I can't help but wonder to what extent the American Government was familiar with the narrative of the Great Game in the aftermath of 9/11, and why, exactly, they thought our intervention would end any differently then the intervention of the Russians and British in the 19th century. Afghanistan is a bloody place, best keep your distance, is my view.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


    I have a bit I do in conversation about "DANDIES VS. FOPS"- understanding the difference is key to understanding the meaning of personal style.  Both the Dandy and the Fop are archetypes for contrasting methods of the individual personality and it's relationship with groups of people.

    A significant similarity between the two types is that they are both hyper-conscious of their status vis a vis other people.  The "inventor" of the Dandy style- Beau Brummel- was an actual person, who came from an un-gentlemanly background- his father was a merchant- and his inheritance was only 20,000 pounds- a pittance in those days.

   To give you a yardstick for measuring how pitiable Brummel's inheritance was, in George Gissing's New Grub Street, an inheritance of 10,000 pounds is tantamount to making a woman "unmarriageable."  Brummel compensated for his lack of status by cultivating what today we call "a sense of personal style."  Unlike the personal style of the fop, which I will get to in a paragraph, the personal style of the dandy is reasonable congruent to the personal style of a modern man or woman:  rigorously hygienic, fastidious attention to matters of dress, sharp witted, careless with money.  Part of the "meaning" of Dandy-ism was, ironically, to strip away affectations from personal style.  How ironic then that moderns often use the word "Dandy" to mean a surfeit of personal affectations.  Really, that person is a Fop.

  The Fop precedes the Dandy in time. The Fop is a stereotype of the stylish man about Court from France, interpreted by English men about Court.  Unlike the Dandy, who's attributes could find him a men's magazine tomorrow, the Fop was stereotyped by affectations that have not ages as well.

  The Fop was characterized by garish white, pan-cake make-up, elaborate wigs, over-dressing and using French styles and vocabulary.  In almost every sense, except perhaps in terms of attitude towards money and spending, the Dandy and Fop are opposites- consciously opposed from the perspective of the Dandy.  For the Fop, the Dandy is simply an "other"- to be laughed at, until of course, the point in time where all the Fops became Dandies.  Ultimately, that eclipse was tied to the decline of the Court itself in the period of Brummel's life- 1778-1840.  The court based Fop was replaced by the city based Dandy.

  You can easily imagine a young Gentleman coming to London during the period of Brummel's ascendancy and "choosing" to be a Dandy rather then a Fop, while the reverse hardly seems possible.  I would argue that the Dandy added a concern with authenticity to the realm of personal style.  The Fop, a mincing, french speaking dude wearing a huge wig and pan cake make up, whatever else he may be (dashing, witty.) is not authentic under any circumstance- that's the whole point of being a Fop- to emulate something that nobody is naturally.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


New Grub Street
by George Gissing
Oxford World's Classics Edition
p. 2009; originally published in 1891

  There are two main problems with the idea and the execution of the"1001 Books to Read Before You Die" series  The first problem is that the editors use the word "BOOKS" to mean "NOVELS."  All 1001 Books to Read Before You Die are Novels, not one is non-fiction.  Even the books that aren't novels are there because they are antecedents of the novel.
   The second problem is the over-representation of the significance of works from the recent present.  In a book that take up close to 1000 pages (960 if you must know.) the last hundred or so years take up 800 pages- meaning 200 pages for every novel before the 20th century.  I would humbly suggest that if there are only a hundred or so worthy novels written between 1700 and 1900, there were the same amount or fewer in the 20th century, rather then another 800 or so books.
    The time immediately prior to that transition from the "long 19th century"- till 1914, to the twentieth century is a crucial period for the transformation of the Audience, similar to the transformation that occurred during the so-called "rise of the novel" in the late 18th century.
    New Grub Street by George Gissing is a solid attempt to portray the beating heart of artistic self awareness about the market.  This locale is London England in the late 19th century- late 1870s- 1880s.  His characters are Authors trying to succeed in the world of publishing- either by writing fiction, stories and articles in the London Press of the period- which has to count as the first modernish marketplace for Artistic product.  It's certainly the first Artistic marketplace where an Author could portray such a market place in a work of art.
   Although the style of Gissing's writing places him squarely inside the mid-late 19th century realist/psychologist tradition of novel writing, there are moments of self awareness that resonate with the modern reader.  The main characters- all male writers with varying degrees of Artistic self importance and worldly success range from Reardon- the "tortured Artist" who dies- abandoned by his heiress wife and forgotten by the public.  Harold Biffen- author of the "stream of consciousness" anticipating "MR. BAILEY, GROCER" is the fierce, uncompromising modernist Artist- he ends up poisoning himself.  Milvain is the knowing young hustler who "understands how the game is played."

  You could easily imagine the plot of New Grub Street transferred to any local indie rock scene in America or Europe, because Gissing so perfectly captures the mind-set of Artists struggles with the reality of the Market.

  The message of this book really hit home with me- call it the futility of artistic endeavor- because it takes place in West London- in the exact same place where I studied abroad... IN THE 90s.  Harodl Biffen's garret was three block from my dorm/hostel.  It was in London, during this time, that I essentially decided to pursue a legal degree rather then a career as a "writer."  Unlike me, Gissing's characters are all in on writing- to stop writing- as Reardon does later in the novel- is considered the ultimate disgrace and considered good cause for spoual abandonment.

  If I could have given advice to the characters in this novel I would have said, "GET OUT OF LONDON IMMEDIATELY!"

Thursday, December 22, 2011


  A phenomenon I've found distressing is over-celebration by indie labels about year end publicity via list.  Here's something to consider: EVERY LABEL GETS YEAR END LIST PUBLICITY.  I'm not saying that I ain't privately and occasionally keeping score, far from it.  However I am not bugging people to do numerous facebook posts, tweets or website blog posts from an "official label" perspective.  

 I will simply observe that the sales boost that you can observe from Artist who receives some of the year-end list attention is quantifiable.   Due to a quirk of supply on Amazon, I've been able to actually watch a specific Record sell 15 physical copies in a little over 24 hours.  That may not sound like a lot, but trust me... at the levels I'm working at- it's a lot.

  HOWEVER I did want to point out the Les Indockuptiblies 2011 year end best albums list because I have a fondness from this French, mostly Music oriented magazine.  My wife would get copies sent to her from France, and I even though I can't read French, I simply admired the Magazine as a music Magazine- with a sophisticated understanding of the indie music world.   I think their top 50 Albums of 2011  is my favorite year-end list thus far this year.

Monday, December 19, 2011


by Rudyard Kilpling
p. 1901
Penguin Classics Edition
this edition 2011

  Now we're talking classic literature!  After over three years of 18th century and early 19th century novels I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.  By "light at the end of the tunnel" I mean relieve from the strictures of the 19th century European Realist novel.  Soooo tedious.  I don't read novels to learn about the well observed rituals of life among the lower bourgeois of 19th century France.  And while I appreciate the technical accomplishments of the 19th century realists, I don't fetishize the technique.   I certainly don't care to wallow in the morass of Victorian family novels.  If I want to learn about the 19th century European bourgeois I'll  read non-fiction.

  KIM is what you call a Bildungsroman or "coming of age story."  It's also a foundation block of any body of "colonial literature," perhaps the progenitor of the genre.  KIM is also an enduring classic that maintains an audience among children and adult.  The Puffin Classics version of the book I read was published in 2011- the cover shows a sophisticated graphic sensibility and the kind of additional materials you expect from an Oxford Classics Edition- but pitched for high school kids, not college students or adults.

   I think it's a testament to the strength of this book that it appeals equally to professors of literature and children all over the world.  That is what you call a classic work of art: Appealing to different Audiences over a long time period.  Late twentieth century PC derived concerns aside, KIM is a superb example of a top 100 novel- a clear way station on the path between the Novel as mostly European Art Form and it's emergence into the great wide world.  I think you could argue that the story of the Novel in the 20th century is the emergence of great novels from countries outside of UK, US, France & Germany.  Particularly important are the bodies of work that came from South Asia, Africa & Latin America.

  This transition begins with the literature of colonialism and imperialism because it developed an Audience for novels about those locations.   It was the desire of people from those places to develop their own stories in the colonizing format that created the explosion of diversity in the novel during the 20th century.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 My Year In Music

   2011 My Year in Music actually started in December 2010. It was after Christmas, I was staying with my wife at the Tambo Del Inka Rest & Spa in Valley Sagrado.  You know, trying to get away from it all?  It was there I discovered that the Dirty Beaches Badlands LP had "leaked."

  "Leaked" in the sense that our digital distributor had released the album accidentally, reading the release date is March 30th, 2010 not March 30th, 2011.  As it turns out, my view is that the "leak" actually helped the record obtain a larger audience, and personally converted me from a "leak-fearing" to "leak-embracing" mentality.  That was my first lesson of the year in the music business:

   If you have a product that starts with zero audience, leaking can not hurt you, because the worst thing that can happen is for everything to stay exactly the same, i.e. a product/artist combination with no audience.

  2011 began to go "right" on January 14, 2011- not long after I returned from my very interesting, refreshing Peruvian sojourn.  That was the day that Pitchfork named Dirty Beaches "Sweet 17" "Best New Track."  As it turned out my buddy Josh Feingold over at SONG PUBLISHING was right to counsel me to not get too excited since, "The designation that really matters is Best New Music (Album) not Best New Track (Song.)"  That's actually a reversal of the conventional music industry wisdom, and deserves some recognition as an independent fact, considering the vital role that the Best New Music designation plays for about 10,000 Artists and 1,000 Record Labels.

      After Dirty Beaches, Sweet 17 was named Best New Track, the attention was overwhelming, especially from labels that didn't know that Zoo Music existed.  Solicitations included those directed to the label itself regarding who was "putting out" the Badlands LP.  Clearly something any "bedroom indie" Label needs to consider immediately on the occasion of any kind of market success is the need to react to the needs of the Artist. If you don't react in some positive way to the increased attention that results from success, you will lose your artist nine times out of ten.  Or, as another, wiser person i was talking to put it, "99 times out of a hundred."

   The saving grace for Zoo Music is that the attention for the Badlands LP came within the frame of time designation as the pre-release period- jan- march 2011- and PR had already been arranged, production commenced etc.  From the perspective of "sharks" who wanted to put out Badlands, that was an important distinction and caused many would-be suitors to drop away immediately.

  The next big mile stone was the Pitchfork Album Review of Badlands. At the time, I was aware of the fact that the mere presence of an Album in Pitchfork's Album Review section was significant, but considering that Sweet 17 had been designated "Best New Track" I that Best New Music was, if not a fore-gone conclusion then a high possibility.

        As time dragged on between January 14th and April 4th,  I was less and less sure of the likelihood of getting Best New Music.  The "nail in the coffin" was The Weeknd: House of Ballons receiving Best New Music on March 29th, 20110- the week of Badlands release.  Both reviews were written by the same writer, Joe Colly.  Both Artists are Canadians? Joe Colly gave the Weeknd 8.5 and Badlands 8.2.  I still think about:   On my recent Hawaiian vacation to Princeville, my wife and I were driving back from Waimea Canyon on Kauai to the St. Regis Princeville, listening to this college radio/public radio station, and they played the Weeknd and I was like, "Ohhh."  This was in November.

   After the initial sales period in April, early May, it became clear that Zoo Music's existing capacity couldn't satisfy demand for Dirty Beaches record.  That's a problem that def. fits into the category of what I outlined earlier:
       Clearly something any "bedroom indie" Label needs to consider immediately on the occasion of any kind of market success is the need to react to the needs of the Artist. If you don't react in some positive way to the increased attention that results from success, you will lose your artist nine times out of ten.
    The simple fact is that a small, independent record label doesn't exist without its star Artist.  Record Labels are their Hit Records, and that is always going to be linked to a specific Artist who will receive offers to move "up the food chain" of the music business.  This is the point where having Artists involved in releasing the music is  useful and a reason why an Artist owned label, other factors being equal, will have an advantage in retaining a specific Artist.  Nothing about an Artist owned label cancels out the need to react to the needs of the Artist who is putting out a record, but among roughly equal competitors for a specific Artist its an advantage.

   The Fall of 2011 basically involved holding my breath to see where the follow-up to Badlands would land.  One of the cardinal principles of this level of indie record label-dom is the well framed one album deal, "Put out one album with us, if you want another one... we'd love to."  That is the clear difference between what a Zoo Music represents vs. a larger indie or even indies of the same size.

     One of the down-sides of that from the label position is that it influences you be very passive from a business perspective in the aftermath of a hit record: That's a flaw of the one record deal from the perspective of an Artist seeking to maximize Audience size.  If the Artist isn't concerned about total size of the Audience, it's not an issue.

      That's the only way the Artist and the Label can ever be equals, anyways.  BOTH the Artist AND the Label should be concerned about overly elaborate contractual arrangements. I would argue that written contracts are really only appropriate when there is existing value to the contract.  If the agreement is, "We'll try to do a good job creating an audience for an artist with no audience" you don't need to put that in writing, I'm sorry.  I say that as a lawyer, with all due respect to the respect that Artists and Labels show to the business agreement known as a "contract."

      You know what you need a contract for?  My wife worked on a project where they built a basketball/hockey arena.  It cost 150 million dollars.  That's something where you need good contracts.  Putting out a record with no recording budget and a pr agreement does not require written requirements- it requires honest efforts and good faith- and you don't need to write that down- or you shouldn't have to, anyway.  Any Label/Artist combination should be so fortunate that they've made soooo much money that you need a contract.

    I think though, my 2011 Year in Music was summed up in an interview that Alex Dirty Beaches gave to a French interviewer in response to the question, "What is indie about your music?" or something like that. He said, "It's not about a specific sound, it's about ethics and how you treat each other."  I think it was shortly after that I watched that interview that Alex agreed to put out the follow-up LP to Badlands on Zoo Music.  It happened... a month ago?

  In conclusion, My Year in Music 2011 was basically tracked to the release of Dirty Beaches Badlands, and I spent most of my time dealing with the consequences of that release. 2012 is going to be all about the follow up album.  An answer to the question of what Artists can "do" in the music business besides creating music  is to maintain Artist relationships.  That's a valuable skill set if it can be harnessed to market discipline.   The conflict that the music business causes to Artist relationships is something like trauma.

  If you think about the prototype break-out, economically viable Artist, its someone who has spent some time and energy maintaining authentic relationship with people that exist outside of a business environment.  As a result of their success, these Artists are basically required to form new relationships with people who are only interested in them because of their success.   The Artist wants to embrace the means to leave whatever pre-success environment they've existed in, but is cautious of potential negative consequences.

  Realistically, you can't ask someone who literally didn't care about an Artist before they were successful to care about what they did and who they hung out with prior to achieving success.  That goes without saying. That can be a hard lesson for "local" friends of successful Artists to learn, but it appears to be a universal principle of the relationship between Art and Commerce.
   This year I was grateful that I had partners who were Artists because I know my skill set doesn't really include the kind of  personal touch one needs when dealing with Artists on a daily basis.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Visit to Revolver/Midheaven Warehouse in San Francisco

      The Revolver/Midheaven Warehouse in San Francisco is pretty much the coolest place in the world, from my perspective.  Just imagine the coolest record store in the world, but it's not a record store- rather a place where records come from.   The ability of Revolver/Midheaven to not only persist but prosper on a modest scale is a testament to the good that capitalism can create.  Reviolver/Midheaven is also validation that Art and Commerce can co-exist in equipoise.

     If I could, I would bring my Artist friends here and say, "See? This is what's real: Not major labels, band managers who make big promises, publishing companies with advances that never recoup.  If you want to come and see how you make a career as an Artist in the Music Business without being a complete and total asshole, come here and sit on the shipping floor for a week...and see.  You need this place, as much as this place needs your Records."

  I would argue that the Revolver/Midheaven Warehouse in San Francisco is a sacred space in the cosmos of DIY.  I would add it to other verified sacred DIY institutions/ritual locations on the West Coast like:    

     Che Cafe in San Diego, CA.
     The Smell in Los Angeles, CA.
     The headquarters for Maximum Rock n' Roll in San Francisco, CA
     924 Gilman St. in Berkeley, CA.
  I won't post pictures or the address because I kind of feel like Revolver/Midheaven wants to operate in silence- and I respect that.  Revolver/Midheaven is the indie music business equivalent of the Irish Monasteries that waited out the Dark Ages in Europe.  So much knowledge has been lost, and I'm like an acolyte living in a nearby settlement... Revolver is the remote monastery, filled with illuminated manuscript, keeping the flickering light of knowledge alive in the surrounding darkness.

Thursday, December 08, 2011





Monday, December 05, 2011


Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture
by Eric L. Jones
p. 2006
Princeton University Press
The Princeton Economic History of the Western World, Joel Mokyr, Series Editor

  I almost certainly read this book because it references Tyler Cowen's In Praise of Commercial Culture, with the same level of respect & admiration that I feel for the same work.  I ordered it on September 28th of this year, and I already finished it- pretty good turn around time, shows I'm interested in the subject matter which is best described as.... I would say a history of ideas.  A cross-disclipinary work, though it's hard to ignore its inclusion in the Princeton Economic History of the Western World series.

  That series features heavy, heavy titles like, Quarter Notes & Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Ninteenth Century, by F.M. Scherer.  And who could forget the immortal classic by Timothy W. Guinnane, The Vanishing Irish: Households, Migration, and the Rural Economy in Ireland, 1850-1914.   That's SNOOZE CITY, BAYBAY.

  Unlike some of the tedious sounding titles that share the Princeton Economic History of the Western World designation, Cultures Merging is a breezy little book, without so much as end notes (foot notes, often to news publications, dot the text in an unobtrusive fashion.  The fact that the Author, Eric L. Jones, has read Cowen's work is key, key, key to animating Cultures Merging.

  Whereas Cowen is very mild about the implications of his argument in Praise, Jones is less so:

    In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998) came as a shock to conventional anti-market wisdom.  Cowen demonstrates that government agencies and public monies are not essential to creating an active and original world of the arts.
   Some of his most intriguing observations are directed at the way individuals form their taste, devise their judgment, and erect their (mis)perceptions about cultural products.

   However, Jones' restatement of the positive impact the Market has on artistic creativity is worth noting, "Markets relax the constraints on internal creativity.  The great thing is to evade single buyers- patrons or Arts Councils- since these are likely to cramp one's style, like that of poor Velasquez, who had to paint eight-one portraits of Philip IV."  Cultures Merging is appropriately sub-titled as a "Critique" of the meaning & impact of Culture, but it's a sensitive, well-reasoned critique that was obviously to sophisticated for the public to grasp.

  All I'm saying is that you take Cowen's critique and then add Jones' stuff and rename it "The Psychology of Culture" instead of trying to pitch it as history or economics. Truly no one gives a shit about history (unless it's the Civil War or World War II) and truly, truly, no one gives a shit about economics, but psychology books are all over the place, and selling.

Zombie Apocalypse As Literary Genre

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks
p.  2006

Brad Pitt in World War Z

  I think you could make an argument that Max Brooks and his Zombie Survival Guide deserve credit for single-handedly kick-started the surge in Zombie related literature and popular culture.  The Zombie Survival Guide was published in 2003, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, was published by the same author, Max Brooks, in 2006, and continues, in its airport novel edition, to sell strongly- #230 in books overall and in the 10 ten in three different sub-categories of "Horror" over there at Amazon.

  Clearly, the Zombie is a metaphor for contemporary alienation and economic anxiety that is perfectly- PERFECTLY- in tune with the mood of this country over the last five years.  When will our fascination with Zombies end?  Probably when the economic climate improves.  The role of "horror" in literary and genre fiction is as old as novels themselves- Gothicism was one of the first identifiable stylistic trends in the Novel itself.

   However to call World War Z a "novel" is to do it a wee bit too much justice, I think.  World War Z is more like a property, in the same way that the preceding Zombie Survival Guide was something you bought at Urban Outfitters...not Waldenbooks.   World War Z takes the form of an "oral history" a format familiar to readers of such magazines as Spin and Esquire.  The writing is casual to the point of detracting from the over-all merit of the work, but no one is very much concerned with critical acclaim.

   The airport novel version I read was released in September of this year, so you can see a long gestation period at work between initial publication and full-on hit-for-the-ages status- which is where World War Z is right now- five years between initial publication and version suitable for sales in our nations airports and hotel gift shops.   If I was going to right an airport Zombie novel, I would festishize the locations and clip around the world, but keep the focus on one central Zombie Killer- a special forces type or post-apocalyptic anti-hero.

  Historically, the Zombie film was all about the claustrophobia and solitude that budgetary limitations dicatated.  Half a century on, the Zombie novel has merged with the post-Apocalypse fantasy genre, but its appeal in an era of anxiety is all too obvious.  My sense is that World War Z was a hit, first of all because it was published in 2006- after his own 2003 Zombie Survival Guide raised interest levels, but way before The Passage, Zone One, 28 Days Later, etc.  Brooks was first on the ground with the expansive combination of Zombies/Apocalypse.

  Brooks is not much of a prose stylist- both Cronin's The Passage and Whitehead's Zone One run circles around Brooks clumsy magazine speak, but Brooks is laughing all the way to the bank, and considering the gap of time that elapsed between World War Z being released, and the subsequent timing of the books by Cronin and Whitehead, you could argue that they were directly inspired by the success of World War Z.

Sunday, December 04, 2011


Champlain's Dream: The European Founding of North America
by David Hackett Fischer
p.  2008
Simon & Schuster

  I don't know if there are more then a handful of history professors who can swagger into the office of a major US publishing company and say, "Seven hundred page biography of the french dude who founded "New France" in the 17th Century... with about 20 color prints... GO!"

  But the fact that Champlain's Dream exists is a testament to the weight that David Hackett Fischer carries in the academic/popular publishing industry.  For example, his last couple forays into historical biography concerned what I would call two "red meat" subjects for American History fans: Washington's Crossing (2006) (Part of the Pivotal Moments in American History series) and Paul Revere's Ride(1995).

  Those are the type of subjects that move units in non-fiction publishing, as witnessed by their continuing sales strength. (1)  On the other hand Champlain's Dream is about a French guy from the 17th century, which is way, way, way outside of the interest field for most of the people who would pick up Paul Revere's Ride paperback at the local Barnes and Noble.

  The fact that Fischer chose to write this book is a testament to his strength as an intellectual.  An effective purveyor of ideas is someone who conveys those ideas to an audience forcefully and with style, and by both measures, Fischer has to be one of the primary operators in the field of academic history.  In this book, Fischer doesn't just write a 500 page biography of the man, he provides a 50 page Appendix concerning the 400 year  historiography of books about Champlain and another fifty pages of End Notes citing many of the books discussed in the historiography appendix.

   Throughout Champlain's Dream Fischer shows himself at the top of his game: combining an understanding of narrow technical literature with an interesting ethical perspective and a mesmerizing command of narrative.    Fischer's break out hit was 1989's, Albion's Seed.  Albion's Seed persuasively described colonial America as the combining of several regional cultures with their roots in different geographic parts of England.   Champlain's Dream represents a kind of extension of those themes into Canada.   Champlain's Dream is different from Albion's Seed in that the technical discussion is cloaked in what is putatively supposed to be a straight-forward biography of  a Canadian "Founding Father."

   Towards the end of this 500 page plus biography, Fischer describes the result of Champlain's Dream as the creation of 3 francophone cultures,  Quebecois, Acadian and Metis.   The Quebecois are the main-line French settlement line, the Acadian's were originally in the coastal area of Canada, the east coast, and they were more from South Western France- and ended up migrating into Louisiana (Cajuns.)

  Finally, and most intriguingly, there are the Metis, a combination of French and Indian cultures, language and customs.  This is a culture that is less studied/understood then the other two- and they were certainly hanging out on the Great Plains and Great Lakes period for the first couple centuries of the United States.  It's fair to say that the Metis have gotten the shaft from American historians.  

  Champlain himself shows many admirable qualities, particularly in his relationship with Native Peoples.  New France was a disease free, almost conflict free oasis in North American for at least a century and Champlain deserves that credit.


(1)  For example, Washington's Crossing, published 2006, is 17,000 over-all in "books," #11 in the sub-sub-category of "Books About George Washington," and #40 in History/Americas/United States/Founding Fathers.  Paul Revere's ride is 40,000 over all and #45 in that same Founding Fathers sub-category.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dean Martin's Palm Springs House (photo)


Dean Martin's Palm Springs House. (FLICKR)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

alex dirty beaches in gq- full page

          This opportunity was developed by Jeff Anderson at Solid Gold Public Relations- now opening an office in New York City.  Dirty Beaches- GQ- tuxedo- from the December issue.
           Jeff Anderson...delivered the goods with the Dirty Beaches Badlands campaign.  Personally, I wanted to hire him for that job because of his work on Best Coast, and for him to turn around and work Best Coast in 2010 and Dirty Beaches in 2011- whatever one's personal preference about either act- the results? Undeniable.
          Alex was essentially an unknown outside of the noise tape underground as of 12/31/10 and within the year- WITHIN THE YEAR- he's doing national print media.  Of course, it's all credit to the artist, but you can't accomplish it, not really, without PR.

Monday, November 21, 2011


In Praise of Commercial Culture
by Tyler Cowen
p. 1998
Harvard  University Press

   Any discussion about "culture" starts with the potential for great confusion.  Culture has multiple meanings- most often it is either used in a broad sense- culture as an assortment of believes, customs and shared assumptions that bind a community together in time and space.  Or a narrow sense- to refer to Arts.  This narrow term is summarized in Cowen's In Praise of Commerical Culture:

  I use the terms culture and art interchangeably to cover man-made artifacts or performances that move us and expand our awareness of the world and of ourselves.  I have in mind painting, sculpture, music, film architecture, photography, theater, literature and dance.

    The broad usage is defined in Eric Jones, Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture as, "the pattern of beliefs, habits, and expectations, of values, ideals and preferences, shared by groups of people, large and small."

   Much confusion results when writers attempt to talk about both meanings in the same article or how both meanings are manifested in a specific individual.  The broad meaning is more methodologically controversial, the narrow meaning is a widely accepted synonym with a 300 year traditions of philosophical debate.  The network of concepts that lattices the broader meaning of Culture is essentially specialist only territory, whereas the usage as a synonym for the arts was/is/always will be a topic of great interest to specialists, and non-specialists alike.

  In Praise of Commercial Culture- written by a professor of Economics from the United States, is a good example of just how  the discussion of culture as arts continues to generate ample debate well into the present. day.  Unfortunately, the great majority of this discussion- the nature and quality of culture as arts, is the equivalent of cave dwellers making cave paintings: possessed of their own beauty, certainly, but not particularly technically sophisticated.

      That is because even as the Arts themselves develop a larger audience over time, the average interest level of that audience declines.  This observation, at the dilution of the attentiveness of the audience as it expands, is itself at the heart of Cowen's great distinction, Cultural Optimists vs. Cultural Pessimists.

       This distinction spans time, space and ideology to embrace practically the entire history of ideas that surrounds the Arts.  The main school is that of Cultural Pessimism, "Cultural pessimism comes from various points along the political spectrum and transcends traditional left wing/right-wing distinctions.  Its roots, in intellectual history, include Plato, Augustine, Rousseau, Pop, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Spengler.
       Cultural Pessimism has modern advocates, including Harold Bloom, Neil Postman and a legion of arts critics in every country of the world.  For people who actually think about a subject like "the meaning" of the Arts, or a specific Art, this is the "default mode."  In other words, if you are reading this and you have an opinion on the subject "Is a specific Art or Art generally getting better or worse over time?"  you are likely to answer, "Worse."

       Although Cowen does an excellent job in detailing the specific views embodied by the modern advocates of Cultural Pessimism towards the Arts, he doesn't do a very good job of explaining, "Why Cultural Pessimism?" as he purports to do at the end of this book.  His answers are illuminating: Old people don't like new things!  Artists are alienated by capitalism!  Parents don't like new things!  Religion is jealous of the power of the Arts! but pretty shallow.

     I think a better understanding is reached by looking at the maintenance and generation of ideas about art over time as constituting a cultural(broader sense) system, and thus subject to systemic analysis. Shared ideas have their own force, which tends to grow or diminish over time.  The shared idea of Cultural (narrower sense) Pessimism is clearly a winner.  Just how strong the playing field favors Cultural Pessimism is demonstrated by the weak, hesitant nature of Cowen's argument, which largely takes the form of a rather timid argument that market capitalism supports, rather then hinders a Culturally Optimistic view point.  I agree with what Cowen is arguing, but he doesn't go far enough- and that's by decision.

  An Economist, Cowen isn't interested in engaging Plato and T.S. Eliot on their own terms, he is simply summarizing and cataloging their viewpoints.  Personally, I think  In Praise of Commercial Culture would have been better received. (700k rank in book sales.)  Considering that he is specifically seeking to invalidate the ideas of writers of Harold Bloom and Neil Postman, you'd think he would steal some of their better ideas in terms of popularizing an unpopular idea (Cultural Optimism.)

   The position of advocating for Cultural Optimism is clearly vacant at the present moment- really, it's not even a debate that exists outside of this book, but personally I think the Cultural Pessimists are simply wrong for a lot of reasons- a lot of the same reasons that caused me to start writing by own book on what is essentially the same subject (former title: False Consciousness: How Intellectuals Misunderstood the Importance of Art)  but minus the Cultural Pessimist schematic and the hoary analysis of Cultural Pessimism and its causes.


Sunday, November 20, 2011


The Concept of Cultural Systems:
A Key to Understanding Tribes and Nations
by Leslie A. White
p. 1975
Columbia University Press

    The title of this book should actually be "The Concept of Cultural Systems: From The Perspective of An Anthropology Professor."  White is a crucial figure in the second generation of American social scientists, who helped elevate the so-called social sciences from rank Darwinian influenced mumbo jumbo to something approaching a useful, non-racist perspective on human society.

   Writing in 1975, White was writing as someone who had been rewarded for his progressive views- he was the chair of the Anthropology Department of the University of Michigan after World War II- which was a comfortable place to be.  In 1975 the transition from using a metaphor of Darwinian/Biology to using a Systems/Functionalist approach to describe human culture was firmly in effect, and The Concept of Cultural Systems works as a kind of short summary of that specific transition- the how and why of intellectuals ceasing to describe society as a kind of biological organism, and beginning to describe it as an interdependent system.

    One distinction is important to maintain if the concept of cultural systems is to be useful:  Cultural systems are not people and do not possess morals and ethics like individual humans.  Rather, systems are subject to the influence of vectors- which in this book means "groups of people with common interest."  White's repeated use of lobbying examples drawn from the Federal Government of the US in the New Deal era to illustrate the impact of vectors on cultural systems is a clear indicator of his perspective.

  White's repeated description of a cultural system as an integrated whole stood in opposition to the first generation of American anthropologist- Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict- who were similarly obsessed with the way cultures allegedly transferred traits from one to another.

  The transition from biological metaphor to systems metaphor is documented by White but not really examine, however considering the role of technology and business in 20th century life it's easy to see how an anthropologist might spend more time thinking about society as a kind of integrated system.

  One later insight that White is either ignoring or did not agree with is the critical role that the State plays in any society that possesses a state- he often alludes to the lobbying of the state by business interests as an example of how "vectors" influence cultural systems, but he fails to acknowledge that the very fact that businesses bother lobbying the state is a testament to the state's importance in their "mind."

  White's emphasis on analyzing cultural systems without attaching moral judgments about those systems being good and bad is well taken- and that seems to me to be a foundation of the new social sciences of the late 20th century- analyzing cultural systems and vectors without judging those same systems.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pitchfork Editorial on Dirty Beaches, David Lynch & Lana Del Rey

Taking Pictures of Taking Pictures, Dirty Beaches, David Lynch & Lana Del Rey, and the Tumblrization of Indie(RESONANT FREQUENCY PITCHFORK EDITORIAL)

               I recently saw Dirty Beaches perform in Paris. It was a fine show, and leader Alex Zhang Hungtai is a magnetic performer, but there was something strange about it. I like Dirty Beaches' record Badlands from earlier this year, but at one point I was joking with some people that his approach to music could be summed up as: "I like Link Wray, Elvis' Sun Sessions, Suicide, and David Lynch." (Of course, Lynch's presence in this particular list is in some ways redundant, because his aesthetic already overlaps with the references in the other three, but the twist he provides is essential.) And sure enough, when he took the stage in Paris, the first sound was him strumming the chords to Wray's "Rumble" (maybe you know it from    Pulp Fiction, another cultural artifact littered with pop re-blogs).       Hungtai has greased hair and strong features and manages to evoke the vibe of the 50s bad boy, and here he was up there with a saxophone player who had sunglasses and a beret. They were lit by spotlights coming from the rear of the stage, so they appeared in silhouette. The vibe was palpable. I thought for a moment of Bill Pullman in Lost Highway, grinding away on his horn as an outlet for his wife's marital infidelities. The reference was probably not intentional, but that's the way this kind of subconscious imprinting works. When I later heard a rumor that Dirty Beaches had talked to the bookers of the Lynch-designed Paris club Silencio about playing a gig, it brought everything full circle. "I like David Lynch" had become "David Lynch likes me" (Lynch doesn't own the club, so I'm speaking metaphorically here) and suddenly the world of music retro seemed caught in an endless feedback loop.

  Also, this article Not Every Girl Is a Riot Grrl, was pretty good:

       We are at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C., watching two male guitar techs set up the stage for Dum Dum Girls. The girl continues in the same wide-eyed tone, "Look at these guys setting up the stage for a girl band-- that's how it should be." Quiet for a few moments, her boyfriend seems unsure of how to respond. Then he affects that sarcastic, jokey tone that you're supposed to coat most of your words in when you're 16-- lest you give too much of yourself away-- and says, "See? Sexism is dead!" No one invested in the discussion, myself included, seems sure what he means by this. The comment hovers for a minute, gesturing toward something bigger and stickier than anybody feels like getting into. Talk soon returns to the Harvest Dance.
          I have a friend who likes to say that most people still talk about music as though "female" were a genre, but as today's wide stylistic variety of women making independent music attests, there is no "female" sound. There is only the sound of being perceived female: the same old assumptions, conversations, reference points, and language-- all-female, girl band, riot grrrl-- reverberating through an echo chamber, hollow and fatigued.

   That Dum Dum Girls bit is from yesterday.
  Dirty Beaches, David Lynch, Lana Del Rey. (GOOGLE SEARCH)


by Joseph Conrad
Anchor Books Edition
1957 edition
originally published 1915

      Increasingly I've been considering the books I'm reading through the lens of publishing.  My previous digital distributor, with whom I maintain a legacy relationship, recently added an "ebook" section to it's upload services, and my thought is that ebooks are AT LEAST as potentially viable for an indie distributor as music.  Ebook sales for genre fiction/bestsellers are approaching and/or surpassing physical books in many cases.
       Additionally, the "store front" component of book sales has experienced challenges analogous to those faced by chain CD stores.  If I was to design an ebook I would keep the following principles in mind:

   1.  texts written before the 20th century are almost entirely copyright free, which means you can reprint popular old books without permission.
   2.  the author and/or subject needs to have an already existing, quantifiable audience, and that audience has to be measurable.
   3.  the book should take advantage of the digital medium to look really spectacular, the way that a modern LP has to have a cover that looks good in a 1" by 1" space.

       So one idea would be to take a lesser known novel of a well known author and find a work in the public domain that could be republished, preferably with an introduction from an individual with their own audience:  an artist, perhaps.  And you could make it a series of reprints.

     All these thoughts were drawn out by reading of VICTORY by Joseph Conrad.  Best known as having written the source material for Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (Conrad's short story The Heart of Darkness.)  Victory fits the criteria that it is not covered by copyright.

      Second, there is a market for the underlying author, Joseph Conrad.  If you look at's free Kindle Ebook chart, the Kindle version of Heart of Darkness- free, btw- is #1 on the Fiction/Drama/British & Irish- whatever that means- #1 (Lord Jim is #17 on the same chart.)!  Victory itself is a free kindle ebook, but with a significantly lower rating, #2677.  My sense is that people would pay a dollar or two for a paid version of an otherwise free book if it had some combination of aesthetic appeal OR was a digital version of a limited edition physical book.

   I think Conrad, with his "so old it's new again" take on the Imperialist/Colonialist experience, is a man for his time.  He was... an internationalist, with a career analogous to that of Jack London but in the context of the British Empire.  Victory is what you call "a lesser work" but it has strength and relevance.  It's not hard to  "get" Conrad's characters- with their "us vs. them" assumptions and casual racism they could be the international corporate businessmen of today.  In Victory, the main protagonist is a "Swede" named Heyst. The action is set in 19th century Dutch Indonesia.   The nemesis is a "gentleman" known as "plain Mr. Jones."

  Victory is a "Conrad-ian" tale filled with existential doubt, loathing for humanity and lack of regard for women.  The main villain, Mr. Jones displays a contempt for women that turns into a crucial plot point.  The setting, on an isolated island in Indonesia, echoes the idea of the relationship between an individual man and "civilization" like Heart of Darkness, though in a minor key variation.   I think given the presence of two other Joseph Conrad novels in the top 20 of the FREE books section conclusively demonstrates  that he has an audience.  You could print a small amount of physical books as paperbacks for sale to independent book stores- no more then a hundred.

  I'll note that one of the charms of this particular edition of Victory is the cover- a two tone orange/blue paperback with a 50s/60s graphic vibe.  When I think about the question "is it proper to be nostalgic for periods like the 50s and 60s" this book- published in 1957- makes me answer "yes."  This book is close to a half century used- was last purchased in the late 1960s- presumably used at that point, and is still in great shape in 2011 after a trip to Hawaii and back.  That's quality manufacturing.

   But the main positive aspect of Victory is that it's close to 300 pages and a "page-turner" in it's own early 20th century way.  I don't think you would want to re-publish a 500 or 700 book in real life, and no one wants to read a long book unless it's about child wizards, or vampires.
    But uh, I think republishing old books could be done- the most obvious thing to do is to have a celebrity write an introduction to a free book and have people download it for the association with the celebrity.  I wonder if that is already happening. You could sell the physical edition like a limited edition vinyl record and then if it takes off people buy the download, like they buy the mp3 album.  THINK OF THE POSSIBILITIES. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Popular Recreations in English Society 1700-1850

Popular Recreations in English Society 1700-1850
by Robert Malcolmson
p. 1973
Cambridge University Press

       The way I see it, the recipe  for writing a book of non-fiction is to take a bunch of books normal people will never read and combine them in new and interesting ways.  This is very much one of those types of books- not particularly interesting as a stand alone book, but incredibly valuable if you are trying to assemble facts about popular culture in the 18th and 19th century.  If you stop and think about how important and fussed over popular culture is TODAY, the comparative lack of regard for it in the 18th and 19th century is somewhat puzzling.  Wouldn't someone writing about American Idol want to know about the cock throwing past time of rural England in the 18th century?  After all, the try out shows of American Idol SHARE ALOT of likeness to the "sport" of throwing rocks at a rooster that is tied to a stake in the ground. SPORTING.
     It's also interesting to read about the "running of the bulls."  This is something that exists only in Spain today, but was widespread in England in the 18th century.
    As for the take away, here's what I wrote, "As economic change accelerated, and as the market economy established a firm grip on social thinking and behavior, many customary practices came to be ignored and the recreations they supported were forced into disuse."

    I also thought this observation was interesting, "In the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries many men were still intensely suspicious of 'enthusiasm', of pleas for reform, of moral earnestness, and they reserved their favor for moderation, stability, and a cautious worldliness."

Monday, November 07, 2011


Art as Experience
by John Dewey
p. 1934
Perigree/Penguin Press

    John Dewey was an American philosopher of the late 19th and 20th century best known for his espousal of a "pragmatic" philosophy and progressive political ideas, but he also wrote about Art.  Art as Experience is not a book per se, but rather a rewriting of a series of lectures he gave on the "philosophy of art" at Harvard in 1931.

  Dewey's pragmatic philosophy emphasizing social relations between humans was hugely influential in social sciences like sociology, where he clearly inspired writers like Erving Goffman and anthropology (see Roy Rappaport)  His influence has been less notable in the field of aesthetics and art theory, and that's a shame, because in my mind, Art as Experience is the best book about the role of Art in human experience ever written.

    Art as Experience starts from the observation that there can be no Art without an Audience- the two are intertwined because humans are social creatures and none of us exist in isolation.  This statement about the nature of Art stands in direct contradiction to the two main schools of art philosophy: Classicism, which holds that Beauty is an objective truth that exists outside the experience of any single person and Romanticism, which postulates that the Artist stands alone in the world, without reference to his human environment.

   Much of the argument of Art as Experience takes the form of the language philosophy strategy of being extremely precise about the terms being used.  This gives the actual text of Art as Experience a tedious feel, even as the ideas expressed dance and sparkle with the light of discovery.  Dewey works his way through defining, having an experience, the act of expression, the expressive object, substance and form, etc.  I won't lie- it's dry.  Boring even.

  BUT, it's a book that every art critic, blogger, etc should be forced- AT GUN POINT- to read.  That's because to read Dewey is to understand that Artists and Critics are on the same side- they both care and appreciate art and artistic products, and they both want to share their love/interest in art with a larger audience.

  This idea of critics attacking Artists for some real or perceived "failure" is revealed by Dewey to actually be a failure of the critic- for failing to understand that his or her own experience is intruding on their understanding of the subject of their criticism.   It's a wonder to be that Dewey's Art as Experience isn't more commonly read and loved by Artists and Art critics, but I suppose he only has himself to blame- that man was not a prose stylist.

    I would say that if you were going to read a single book on the subject of the "Philosophy of Art" it would be this book- and that there isn't another book you need to read after this one. Particularly, while reading Art As Experience I thought of conversations I had with my friend/business partner- Brandon Welchez of the Crocodiles.  Brandon often espoused the opinion- common to Artists that "Writing about music is like dancing about Architecture- i.e. pointless" and my response was basically, "Um..." but now I would reply that when a critic really understand the purpose of writing about art- to help clarify, illuminate and publicize worthy artists- and sharing one's interest in a specific art and artists with the wider world- art criticism can help to create an appreciative audience for a specific artist or art product where none existed before.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


FACT:  If there are two things blogs are about they are:


  Now, if you take the clock back 12 months ago, I had basically "given" up on writing about both stations because they always get upset about anything "negative" you write about them.  FAIR ENOUGH.  Today?

     I now know that my friends are generating significant, measurable income from Satellite Radio, and that their music is "in rotation" on certain of those stations.  Closer to home, I receive income from "streaming" services like SPOTIFY- which is a MONSTER let me tell you- don't let the haters scare you off on that one.  Let's put it this way- if "sales" of SPOTIFY increases the sales of ITUNES has increased over the last decade, every indie label with a half-way relevant back catalog will be making 2-3k a month, minimum.  MINIMUM.

    At the same time, it is quite clear that the highest levels of music industry success are barred without "radio support."  Bob Lefsetz has his flaws as a journalist, but at least when he addresses a specific subject you know it's "relevant" and he wrote to that effect within the last seven days.  It's true, though- JUST LOOK AT THE 949 HOLIDAY HOOTENANNY vs. 91X WREX THE HALLS

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011.


MY MORNING JACKET  (15 million plays)
TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB  (18 million!)
MATT & KIM (1.3 million)
DELTA SPIRIT (1.9 million)

   The big surprise for me here is Two Door Cinema Club clocking in with 18 million, undoubtedly because of their popularity in the UK over here they have a alt rock radio hit.  The other band that would fit here would be TEMPER TRAP with a similar formula: foreign, have a song currently in rotation on 94/9.  I'm surprised to see that Matt & Kim are only at 1.3 million plays- that is low for the amount of "push" that they get from having a hipster magazine as their label, but their presence is a testament to the fact that they MIGHT have a song on 94/9 in the near future.  Delta Spirit is the equivalent of a Dum Dum Girls and Crocodiles, but you can see the difference here in that Delta Spirit is playing this show, Crocodiles are mixing their third record in the UK, and the Dum Dum Girls are touring Europe.  I would argue for all three bands they are conscious choices.  I don't know if Delta Spirit is played on Satellite radio or not.
  Blackout Party is the "local opener"- a nice tip of the hat, but def. not going to lead to a song being played on 94/9 in the future.

December 11th, 2011


DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE (128 million)
THE NAKED AND FAMOUS (5.2 million)


BLINK 182 (114 million)
PENNYWISE (12 million)
SWITCHFOOT (17 million)
EVERLAST (5 million)
MUTEMATH (8.6 million)

   So you can see it's basically a David vs. Goliath situation here.  You gotta root for the little guy and against Live Nation, don't you?  I feel fortunate not to need to "deal" with Live Nation or live shows generally.  I'm not unsympathetic to the "feelings" of gigantic corporations, but generally I wrote for them to fail, and this show has "success" written all over it.  Several of these Artists have artificially low plays due to being popular before started keeping track: Social Distortion and Pennywise.  The first show will be an interesting data point on the draw of Death Cab For Cutie without an album out and Florence and the Machine.  Florence and the Machine- or more specifically, Florence herself, are on the kind of tear that ONLY a MAJOR LABEL IE UNIVERSAL REPUBLIC can provide.  I think Universal Republic is just the smashing together of Universal itself and Republic.

   I think the proper analysis with Florence is that SHE NEEDS ANOTHER RADIO HIT like their last one.  I think if you really want to cement your status as a major league Artist in the American music industry you either need two hits off the same record OR hits off of subsequent records.  SO NO PRESSURE.

  Social Distortion is an underrated band- their last record was actually number 4 on the pop album sales chart when it came out in January, and their radio catalog is like four or five songs deep.  You can see how 'uncool' Social Distortion is by searching their name over at Pitchfork.  But if you have the catalog, radio play and fan base of Social Distortion, you don't give a fuck what Pitchfork thinks.

  Pennywise is a different story, still active but not as cemented in the music industry as Social Distortion, with one enduring radio hit and a decent back catalog on Epitaph.  They weirdly released a record on Myspace in 2008- I suppose it was self released and then sold by the band rather then on Myspace Records.   Those were the days, huh?  Epitaph must not have wanted the record- you would think an artist would stay with that kind of label but what do I know.

  Everlast and Mute Math are alt rock radio favorites with major label support and middling chart success/presence.  Everlast never really matched his double platinum Whitey Ford Sings The Blues, but then, it was 1998- a time of hope.  "What It's Like" is an enduring alt rock radio classic, even though it topped out at #13 on the singles chart.  Ends also, get's played, but nothing since.  But my sense is that if you still have a song being played on alt rock radio, then you have a career in the sense that you can sustain yourself through music: advances, publishing, song writing, etc.

  I think if there is one Artist that I would expect to see on ONE of the two bills it would be SHE & HIM (16 million)  with  Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.  Zooey's TV show is a HIT, M. Ward is a savvy music vet and this is an easy way to get one of their Xmas standards on one of the alt rock stations down here, then they play the corresponding show in LA for KROQ and Live 105 in SF and they've got a Xmas radio hit. CHA CHING.   I guess Live Nation can't pull Zooey Deschanel to a radio show in San Diego.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


by Erico Verissimo
p. 1957
Orion Press
Translated from the Portuguese by Linton Barrett

     I bought this book from the very excellent Sage Brush Press in Yucca Valley, CA. In fact, this book review is largely an opportunity for me to wax rhapsodic about this book store.  Not to be an effete snob, but a top notch used book store is the LAST thing you'd expect to find in Yucca Valley, except for the fact that Yucca Valley has some of the best antique shop/mall AND vintage/thrift stores in the Greater Southern California Area. AND Desert Hot Springs, CA is "on the way" to Yucca Valley, and that city has it's own vintage/thrift stores.

     As far as I can tell, Sage Brush Press is run by this couple.  Any GOOD book stores will have a "HOARDERS" vibe- it comes with the territory.  Recently, I've become interested in the idea that you could find some great old book from the 50s or 60s- something out of print- non-fiction- and reprint it with a new introduction in an "ebook" format, and then just pay royalties to the copy right holder like you do when you cover a song.

    I was very much in that mind as I read Erico Verissimo's "MEXICO"- which was printed in this nice hard back edition with a purple and orange 60s graphic cover.  I would think if you were doing an "Ebook" you'd want a similar kind of catchy cover- in the same way you need to have a good 1" by 1" version of an LP cover that you publish. Erico Verissimo is said by wiki to be, "an important Brazilian writer" who wrote both fiction and non-fiction.  Mexico is a combination travelogue/artistic criticism/philosophical musings along the lines of an Octavio Paz, a Borges, a Llosa, but a little more down to earth, and couched in the manner of a travelogue.   Seriously, this book, written in 1959, could appear in the New Yorker tomorrow and people would be like, "Yeah- interesting stuff, it's not dated at all."

  One of the things you could do in an ebook for a book like this book is link the text to public domain photographs of places discussed in the text.  Verissimo actually travels BY BUS through Mexico in the early 1950s and it's a pretty quiet time.  It sounds a lot like the world of Hemingway in the 1930s or Europe in general in the pre World War II era.  I.E. a pretty chill vibe.  Verissimo actually gets into lengthy conversations with some of the premier authors of the time/place (mexico/1950s) and they share their opinions about Mexico freely with the author.

  I can't help wonder how many of these books were actually printed to begin with.  500? 1000? 100?  I have no idea.  This literary Brazilian perspective on the Mexico of middle 20th century is interesting, that's for sure. A welcome shift in perspective, let's say.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

david lynch dirty beaches

Ominous Clouds (PHOTOS)

ominous clouds photo, 1.

ominous clouds, 2.

ominous clouds, 3.

  I am a HUGE fan of using the metaphor, "ominous clouds on the horizon."  First, it's something everyone can relate to, in terms of actually having seen it.  Second, it's very accurate in terms of stressing the need to be able to literally look ahead of you and think about issues like, "How fast are those clouds moving towards me?" and "When will the Clouds arrive here?"

  I particularly prefer "ominous clouds on the horizon" or "dark clouds on the horizon" to "sunny skies."  The obvious collolary values of sunny skies are relaxation and general laziness, whereas dark/ominous clouds on the horizon connote a watchfulness and attentiveness- IMPORTANT TRAITS TO HAVE.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom

The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom
by Grant D. Jones
p. 1998
Stanford University Press

  I just finished reading another book by this author on the Maya.  Specifically, Maya Resistance to Spanish Rule: Time and History on a Colonial Frontier.  That book ends where this one picks up, i.e. the conquest of the last Maya Kingdom at the end of the 17th century.  It's what I would call a Werner Herzogian story, replete with forced labor, needless death, insane ambition and pointless conquest.  In fact, I'm a little suprised that Herzog never made a movie about this story, but that might be explained by the fact that the first book written on the subject since the conquest itself WAS PUBLISHED IN 1998.  How's that for forgotten history?

  The last Mayan Kingdom was located around the area of Lake Peten Itza.  At the time of initial European contact, the Mayans lived in a bunch of related Kingdoms on the Yucatan peninsula.  The main Kingdom at the time of the original contact was known as Chichen Itza, the present day Mexican city of Merida, but basically there were several Kingdoms extending through much of southern Mexico, Guatamala and Belize.   Some of these Kingdoms had been strongly influenced by the Mexica/Aztec vibe, others were more traditionally Mayan.

  When the Spanish arrived, they immediately instituted their system of forced labor- resembling European feudalism.  Quite sensibly, this spurred migration by the Mayans from the North to the South. Allegedly the rulers of the last Mayan Kingdom had themselves emigrated from the North within the last century, but they co-existed with local Mayan speakers who had never left.

  This complicated territorial dynamic between the new comers and the never-lefts was something that the Spaniards never really understood, and since this is the first book length treatment of this subject EVER, it's fair to say that until Jones spoke up, no one else understood it either.

  The last Mayan Kingdom was ruled in complex fashion.  There were five sets of paired kings/high priests, four of which ruled for the communities living to the north/south/east/west of the capital.  The last pair ruled the capital itself.  It's quite clear from Jones' source material that the time immediately preceding and succeeding the Spanish conquest of the last Mayan Kingdom was a time of civil war among the Maya- and that this civil war prevented the Maya from implementing a coherent strategy of resistance.

   Various factions among the Maya advocated radically different strategies.  The main/central King was what you would call an accomidationist- to the point where he sent a nephew of his north- in secret- to be converted to Christianity and pledge loyalty to the Spanish King.  A couple years later this created an awkward scene when the Spaniards showed up and gave him European style clothes symbolizing the submission of the entire Kingdom to the Spanish.

  As you could imagine, this created conflict among the other four Kings- none of whom were aware of what the central King had done.  Thus, after this point- which is still a year or two before the conquest, the "main" Mayan King basically lost all authority over his own people and created a climate where conflict between Mayans who wanted to resist and those who wanted to accommodate.

  There were several skirmishes before the final invasion- skirmishes marked by Spanish missionaries and the odd soldier being attacked and having their heart ripped out.  When the Spanish finally did conquer the capital- an island city in lake Peten Itza- it was  a fucking disaster marked by famine and plague.  At the same time, there was a lengthy period of civil war among the Itza themselves- specifically between those who helped the Spanish survive and those who wanted the Spanish to leave.

  In the end, the area wouldn't recover until outside immigration picked up in the 1950s.  The invasion itself happened in 1699- so we're talking about three and half centuries of recovery time.  As I said- it's a Herzogian story.  Someone ought to make a movie.  What's Mel Gibson doing?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


The World of The Huns
by Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen
University of California Press
p. 1973

   The Huns sacked the Western Roman Empire in the mid 5th century AD and were the straw in the drink of the so-called Dark Ages.  With them, the Huns brought Germans (then known as Goths),  Scandanvians (Gespids), Alans (Iranian language speaking white folks from Central Asia) and the Huns themselves.   Despite their historical importance, little is known about the Huns because their language was not written and the Romans of the time had more important things to do then write histories of the folks who were sacking their Empire.

   Maenchen-Helfen's book is an unfinished masterpiece- he emigrated from Nazi Germany, ended up teaching at UC Berkeley, but he died before The World of the Huns could be finished.  Even in it's unfinished state, it's quite the accomplishment.  Maenchen-Helfen draws upon sources written in Latin, Chinese, Persian, Armenian and Arabic.

  There was nothing especially original about the Huns or their methods.  Basically, they practiced the Iranian style of mounted horsemen using composite bows.   They would ride up to Roman (or Barbarian armies, then retreat and shoot their arrows at the opposing soldiers.    They didn't invent this method of combat- it was much in evidence during the centuries long wars between the Romans and the Parthians and Sassanids in the northern part of the Middle East during the 2nd and 3rd century.  However they did bring their hordes right onto the doorstep of the Roman Empire and then sacked the shit out of it.

   Attila and his Horde didn't much persist after the death of the man himself.  Part of the problem is that the Hunnic hordes, being poly-ethnic, didn't have a "nation state" mentality- more like a "we are only going to stick around until we can get the hell out of here."  Thus, after Attila's death, the Goths- serving as his lieutenants, rebelled against his successors and started their own statelets.  Also, Germanic speaking peoples were pushed into Europe from the Russian plains in an attempt to flee the Huns.

   Prior to the hey day of Attila, the Huns were often paired with the Alans- an Iranian language speaking people from the Northern Caucuses.  However, after 400 AD the Alans split with the Huns and settled in  Southern France and the Balkans, where they were a potential source of Zoarastrian/Cathar ideas in Europe.

  As to the ethnic/racial/linguistic characteristics of the Huns, Maenchen-Helfen, comes down on the side of the Huns being poly-racial- being a mix of "Mongoloid" and "Europoid" peoples, but speaking a Turkic language.   SO NOW YOU KNOW

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Maya Resistance to Spanish Rule:
Time and History on A Colonial Frontier
by Grand D. Jones
p. 1989

     Although it's easy to think of books on academic subjects as existing outside the market economy, it isn't true.  Academic titles have long been a part of the "rare" book trade, and Amazon and other on-line vendors now put that market on line for anyone to see.  For instance, this book sells for between 50 and 150 bucks on Amazon.  In this case, it's a price directly attributable to Maya Resistance being "Out of Print" or "OOP" as they say on Ebay, but it also shows a steady demand for the title and multiple sellers who think they can get 50 bucks for it.

     Mayan studies have always been hampered by the traditional "Classic" and "Post-Classic" distinction, with the "Classic" period (lasting only until 900 AD or so) DOMINATING the scholarship.  This, despite the fact that the actual existing civilization that the Spanish contacted was the "Post Classic" variety.  Western scholars have been like children, drawn to big ostentatious temples and eschewing the harder, less glamorous work of unraveling the situation immediately prior to and after post-Spanish contact.

   At the time of contact, post-classic Mayans were organized into a series of regional kingdoms that practiced agriculture, trade and shared a generally organized religion.  After the "collapse" the regional Mayan kingdoms, located across the Yucatan peninsula and the areas of Belize and Guatemala, were gradually influenced/infiltrated and in some cases out-right conquered by Nahua speaking peoples who were typically bearing the culture of the Toltec/Aztec/Mexico City area.

  Cortes's conquest of the Aztec Empire did not directly concern the Maya succesor states, but it was only a matter of time before the Spanish consolidated their control over the Yucatan region, founding the cities of Merida in Valladolid.  These towns, located in the far North of the Yucatan bump, were supposedly in control of an area reaching all the way to Guatemala- a distance of 500+ miles- most of it solid jungle and jungle mountains.

  After the Spanish arrived, the Mayans began to drift southward, into the remaining regional Kingdoms that had not been conquered by the Spanish.  Because the terrain was so difficult and the Mayans so resistant, the period between the mid 16th century and the 19th involved lengthy periods where the Mayans in the southern part of their original territory remained independent and actually repulsed Spanish colonization attempts on multiple occasions.

   Resistance was concentrated inside the Mayan state centered around the modern lake Peten Itza.  The relationship was defined by weak Spanish attempts to colonize- a real lack of will, you might say, combined with determined but low level organized resistance, which largely focused on convincing subjects of Spanish rule to escape to the south.  The Spanish, in turn, supported themselves by forcing the natives to provide Cocoa and Wax for export.  Thus, this pattern led to multiple Spanish attempts to "Reduce" the run-aways via small scale military expeditions into the bush.

  At several points, this back and forth elicited actual attacks by the Maya on nearby settlements- killing people (Spanish and collaborating Indians) and cutting out their hearts, staking them through their rectums, but there were also multiple visits by the Spanish to the heart of the Itza hold-out Kingdom- only some of which ended with the Spanish being murdered by the (justifiably) pissed-off Itza.

  One of the best single stories in this book is how, during an early visit by the Spanish to Lake Peten Itza, they found the Mayans worshiping a horse idol- apparently Cortes, during his early barnstorming tour of the area, had left the Mayans with a horse, and the horse died, and then they started worshiping a statue of the horse.  Despite the fact that the Spanish realized they had to be on their best behaviors, one of the Spanish priests couldn't control himself: He smashed the idol to bits and started lecturing the Natives on the evils of their idolatry.   Not only did that particular mission not end well, it was being cited by defiant Maya for a century afterwards.  I'm sympathetic.

    In fact, the Spanish come off like a bunch of bumbling morons- Jones actually says that the main extract from this entire historical period is how the Spanish failed to not only modify a failing colonial policy (forced extraction from the native population, punishment and increased burdens for those that rebelled) but failed to even recognize the flaws in the policy.  And this is over a period of a century and a half.

   An important aspect to understand about the Mayan/Spanish colonial experience in this region (modern Belize/Guatemala is how small the population groups were.  In this entire 300 page book there isn't a single mention of a city/town/village with more then 1000 people.  Most of the towns involved have about 100 Indians, Spanish or mix.  All of the armed forces involved in conflict range from 10-40 people.  So it was more like a long running, low intensity guerrilla war that lasted until the Spanish "conquered" the Peten Itza centered kingdom at the turn of the 18th century.

  It's also important to recognize this north-south dynamic.  The southern Petin Basin was both the original "Mayan heartland" and the place where the last Mayan kingdom held out BUT, at some point, the local post-classic successors were usurped by Northern Refugees. Thus, the classic ruin of Chichen Itza is in the north, at the site of the present day Spanish town of Merida and the ruling priests of the Peten Itza lake said they had come, from the north.  So there was some conflict between the folks who "never left" and the folks who had actually lived under Spanish rule.  That's probably a universal dynamic in the communities of partially colonized peoples.  Some people 'don't get it', others 'don't like it,' others 'want to be like it.' the it being the colonizing culture.

  How the non-colonized/partially colonized community reacts seems to be critical in the success rate, with history's "winners" being imitators and the losers being the 'don't get it' and 'don't like it' groups.

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