Category Archives: Book Review

Alexander Gardner

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Alexander Gardner –
Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War
By Keith Steiner
Matador – 25.00

How does a camera lie? In this naming of parts, the ways are legion. Most would not question the facts of the doctoring, editing, adjusting of photographs in the modern age of sophisticated airbrushing. The term to ‘photoshop’ is synonymous with contemporary photography in the same manner as to ‘hoover’ is synonymous in domestic management. The alteration of photographs either pre or post exposure is now commonplace, and is not broadly regarded as a breach of ethical standards. The new trope takes its place in a world teeming with smartphone and tablet authored photographs. These photographs engage in stylised composition and promulgate a number of common tropes. Their number renders their imagery indistinct and sometimes invisible.

                                                                                                        (‘The Fallen Man’)

With the advent of fake-news currently marauding the airwaves like an out-of-control tyrant from fake-hell; just as much could readily be applied to photography – could it not?

Along with every schism and trajectory thereof.

Just two, highly in-depth qualities which Keith Steiner address, head on might I add, throughout  Alexander Gardner – Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War.

 

A rather lavishly put together book, which takes both the reader as well as the fan of the photograph on something of a magical mystery tour that’s deeply embedded within some of the most perplexing confines of politics, psychology and photography.

The above quotation ought to send many a curious mind unto perpetual motion; the final terminus of which, as Steiner reminds us in the chapter ‘Reflections on a Looking Glass: The Tragedy of Lewis Payne: The Enigma of Identity,’ invariably reads: ”At risk are the very notions of personhood, selfhood, integrity, identity and personal agency. Readers may recall the blood freezing discarnate incantation which transfixed Orwell’s Winston Smith in Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1949) at his moment of greatest intimacy, privacy and personal realisation – ”You are dead.”

From the tragic Rose Woods of Gettysburg to the equally tragic destruction of New York’s Twin Towers, this book’s powerful assimilation of photographs (and I do mean powerful within the catafalque like context of poignancy), truly are something to behold.

If not believe.
If not try and eventually come to terms with.

As such, the 165 pages of Alexander Gardner – Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War are unsurprisingly special.

As Elizabeth Rigby (later Lady Eastlake) once said in 1857: ”Photography has become a household word and a household want… is found in the cell of the convict… and on the cold brave breast on the battlefield.”

David Marx

Scaffolding – Poems

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Scaffolding – Poems
By Elena Rivera
Princeton University Press – £13.95

tenderness passes by like mists in one’s head

                                                        (‘Nov. 24th (Finished Aug 3rd)

When I first stumbled upon the title of a book called Scaffolding, I have to admit to having my curiosity mighty piqued.

As the author of The Laughter of the Sphinx, Michael Palmer has since said, the book: ”represents a vibrant, exploratory addition to the venerable and diverse New York tradition of ‘city sonnets.”’ Although to what degree these eighty-two sonnets are wholly representative of one of the world’s greatest cities, is clearly paramount to readers objective, if not initial analysis and thought process of what New York fundamentally means.

It is in fact, polar to being: ”not ready to listen to one’s own nothing, ” the most grounded, albeit opaque sixth line of the poem ‘Dec. 4th (Revised N.D.).’

There again, it is some of this collection’s prime simplicity that tends to perhaps inadvertently home in the most. With such lines as:

”And when you least expect it it all comes back
I’m at a window elated by the sky
the moment where lights branched out and I was small”
(my italics)

and:

””by the fall of a shadow across the ground”
The ”pollution tolerant” Lindens and Oaks
witness our delusion, we work in the dark
(again, my italics)

one cannot help but feel lured in by something other – only to find that what ever that otherness is or was, punctuated by something we may have subliminally known all along. A poetic quality, which, for better or for worse, is what a certain amount of poetry is all about anyway.

That almost all of the poems are titled by date, eventually gets a tad wearing after a while; even if only from a premise of wanting a different vision from which to embark.

As is, these ”city sonnets” lean towards being far too mathematical – which to my mind at least, is a b-i-g shame. Reason being, some of Elena Rivera’s patterned randomness is truly beguiling:

”Clearly the idea of fairness was a sham
The failure of not being able to see

and most blindness turn to imitation not
being, the real fiction needs an audience”

The ‘real fiction’ does indeed need ”an audience,” and here’s hoping Rivera’s grows as a result hereof.

David Marx

The Potato Eaters

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The Potato Eaters
By Manuel Rivas
Small Stations Press 

When did her teeth start falling out? Has she always had the inklings of a moustache?

Having read most of Manuel Rivas’ books, I still have to say, if not fully maintain, that the brilliant Books Burn Badly is still my favourite. That’s not to say his books published since (The Low Voices, One Million Cows, From Unknown to Unknown) do not make for intrinsically interesting and occasionally captivating reading.

They absolutely do and The Potato Eaters is no exception.

From the opening gambit that evolves around drug addiction with a sense of humour – in which the protagonist is more than attracted to what sounds like a well-stacked nurse by the name of Miss Cowbutt (great name, somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Izzard’s Mrs Badcrumble) – the reader instinctively knows s/he is in for a quintessentially robust ride of a journey. The sort of which, one has come to expect from Rivas, of which the opening quote above is a most pristine example.

From a short piece simply entitled ‘The Umbrella,’ it is preceded by the altogether hooky, kooky summerisation of an endemically bonkers game show: ”Recordman today, it has been announced, is going to be more intellectual. It’s a question of using your head. The contestants, a couple of men who look like primates in their Sunday best, have to knock down a wall of breeze blocks with their heads. The first one to do so will get a million. The gong goes, and they all rush to the wall. From the initial impact, one them, the one who looked most hard-headed, falls flat on his face and is looked after by two recordwomen, who today are wearing tight, discreet dresses, though they do have a hole right over their nipples, The audience claps. Unbelievable! This is great.”

Indeed!

Blankety Blank it most clearly isn’t – which is what essentially accounts for The Potato Eaters being the sort of book it (most provocatively) is: witty, satirical, and like a lot of the Galician author’s writing, prone to going off on totally terrific tangents.

David Marx

Uncommon People

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Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

”That night there was a tribute on the BBC’s rock programme Whistle Test. Annie Nightingale, the presenter, said something like ‘a lot of us wouldn’t be doing what we are doing now if it hadn’t been for John Lennon.’ I sat on the edge of the bath and blubbed, which is not my habit. Her words touched me off because they related to me, not to John Lennon. I haven’t cried about the death of a famous person since. I have come to realize that if we do so what we’re crying for is ourselves, our lost youth, the days of happiness we associate with the person who has died.”

David Hepworth absolutely isn’t alone when it comes to having ‘blubbed’ upon hearing the most shocking news of John Lennon’s death. I too, was somewhat inconsolable for a number of days thereafter.

Days, which, if anything, were riddled with the utmost of dark, disbelief.

A mode of morbidity, which author, broadcaster and presenter, David Hepworth, continues to further expand upon in this most excellent book’s chapter, ‘1980 – Death by fan’: ”The Beatles created a great deal of happiness. The by-product of that process was fame. Fame on a mad, massive and eventually injurious scale. In killing a rock star, the ultimate somebody, Mark Chapman, the ultimate nobody, probably hoped he would cross over. He hoped he might obliterate the distance between his own puny life and the hero’s life that he saw Lennon leading. His action foreshadowed in a uniquely terrible way our increasing desire to put ourselves at the centre of events, when our proper role should be as a spectator or appreciative listener. It underlined just how big rock stars had become and how much some people still expected those rock stars to be able to mend their own broken lives. It wasn’t anything to do with what the rock stars said or did. It was to do with what people expected of them.”

Indeed, such expectation can and continues to be manipulated to such a (deplorable) degree, wherein any mode of correction – let alone common sense – is invariably laced with wide-open and quite often, grossly misplaced interpretation. An interpretation, which, in the case of the odious Chapman, was overtly fraught with both madness and fantasy.

To such a preposterous degree in fact, that almost all and anything was unfortunately permitted. This including the murder of a Beatle.

But what makes Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars such a compelling and concise, brilliant read, is not it’s translucency and sincerity, but the way it has been so compellingly put together.

Beginning with ‘1955 – the first rock star’ (Little Richard) and concluding with ‘1995 – Revenge of the nerds’ (Marc Andreessen), these 324 pages (excluding Foreword, Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) traverse the entire gambit of nigh all one needs to know and embrace so far as all and any pertinent rock stars are concerned.

To be sure, the mere term ‘rock stars,’ might in many peoples’ eyes, be considered a tad naff and dated. The latter of which, in all (musical) honesty, it may well be. But, as Hepworth colourfully points out, there’s a colossal amount of romanticism entwined within the term: ”The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. But like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.”

Like many things of yore, some terrific things have passed unto yesteryear; never again to be embraced with anything resembling the slightest kernel of truth.

Let alone talent.

As Hepworth immediately makes clear in the book’s Foreword: ”In the twenty-first century it seems rather inappropriate, to use a popular twenty-first-century term, to describe Kanye West, Adele or Justin Bieber as rock stars. These people are cut from a different cloth. The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and above all the advent of the mystique-destroying internet. The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock and roll, which in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands.”

Hmm, what was it David Bowie once sang: ”Watch out you rock’n’rollers.”

Having reviewed his debut, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Moment (which too, was nigh un-put-down-able) I have to say, Uncommon People is an absolute gem of a read.

It’s fresh, it’s jam-packed with new information, and the chapters on Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana simply drip with glittering, honest revelation. Simply terrific.

David Marx

The Treasures Of Queen

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The Treasures Of Queen

By Harry Doherty
Forewords by Brian May and Roger Taylor
Goodman/Carlton Books – £30.00

Such was their uniqueness – hard rock meshed with glam; compositions ranging from grandiose productions to pure pop sensitivity; lyrics that demanded attention; a rare intelligence underpinning it all – that many did not know what to make of Queen when their debut album was released.

I won’t be a rock star. I will be a legend – Freddie Mercury

I’m quite a considerable fan of these Carlton Box-Sets on bands.
Apart from containing an array of terrific photographs and the veritable (odd) assortment of souvenirs, cut-outs, lyrics, ticket reproductions and posters, they convey the artist(s) in such a way most books don’t.

Or at least in a different way.

This is primarily the case due to the all-round lay-out and inclusion of very well put together photographs – many of which are quite large. Therein bequeathing the general reader and avid fan alike, with something of a fresh perspective. It is after all, it’s not everyday one comes across black and white, sepia tone as well as colour 10x8s of rock bands – let alone rock bands who occasionally dress in women’s clothing (as on page 60 of this fine collection).

Indeed, aspects of the band’s unique over-the-topness is invariably and magnificently captured throughout The Treasures Of Queen; all of which, was of course, always underlined by the band’s soaring, idiosyncratically individual sound.

Not to mention robust, musical work ethic – that of guitarist Brian May in particular.

Compiled in chronological order, these (high quality) 95 pages traverse every aspect of the band, by way of working through each of its albums. On the way, there are pull outs of the aforementioned tickets and lyrics, and a closer look at each four members of the band.

There’s also a section entitled ‘Queen at the Movies’ which perhaps for some, sheds indelible new light: ”Their penchant for cinema first became apparent when they were commissioned by Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis to provide the music for the over-the-top sci-fi movie Flash Gordon. Both Brian May and Roger Taylor loved this legendary comic-strip hero. ”We really wanted to do it,” Taylor said.”We wanted to make music for a movie that was not about music, and would be an integral part of the whole experience.”

In all, this collection captures the eccentricity as well as some of the humbleness of a great band, which for many, will no doubt trigger many a musical memory.

I know it has for me.

So if you’re a fan (or even if you’re not) and you’re looking to recapture an era when popular music actually meant and counted for something, then I’d strongly recommend The Treasures Of Queen.

You absolutely won’t be disappointed (darling).

David Marx

The Fourth Reich

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The Fourth Reich –
The EU – An Emerging German Empire
By Sara Moore
Jollies Publishing – £10. 50

Like a literary purveyor of intrinsic blame, this book reads as if a linear dissertation of all things fundamentally wrong with Germany; which, according to Sara Moore, is nigh everything.

With not only the trajectory of the Second World War to contend with, but the more recent austerity measures placed on Greece by Germany (among others might I add); it is indeed, unsurprisingly easy, to perhaps view Europe’s economic powerhouse with considered disdain.

Although The Fourth Reich – The EU – An Emerging German Empire reads as if it really isn’t that considered.

Admittedly, its twelve chapters do start at the beginning (‘Bismarck: Unifier or Conqueror of Germany’) and conclude with a chapter entitled ‘Germany and the Lehman Brothers Crash,’ but the all-round tonality of the writing is underlined with a simmering persuasion of incessant culpability.

For instance, in the aforementioned opening chapter, Moore writes: ”Bismarck was tall and powerfully built. He had thinning auburn hair, sported a red-blond moustache and enjoyed dispensing malice towards his opponents. He had always been candid about his disdain for parliament, declaring: ‘I am no democrat and cannot be one,’ and ‘We shall bring honour and glory to the name of Junkerdom.’ He caused further dismay by declaring: ‘The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions… but by blood and iron.”’

Reading such words, does make one feel inclined to side with the authoress; but the era in which said words were said, does need to be placed into some sort of political perspective – if not balance.

Furthermore, Otto von Bismarck said a great many other things, much of which added to the eventual reunification of Germany in 1871 by way of instilling social order amid the varying states of colossal discontent. None of which is mentioned within these 303 pages (excluding Notes and Index).

Even in the book’s penultimate chapter ‘How Reunification was Achieved,’ Moore again refers to the First World War – as if the many wars that have taken place since then (Vietnam and Iraq to name but two ) never happened: ”How did Germany get away with causing so much misery and bloodshed in the First World War? And why had it caused its citizens such suffering and unemployment in its Great Inflation when it had emerged from the war in a far better state than the Allies and paid practically ‘no’ ‘actual cash’ in reparations?”

Hmm., if you’re going to write a book of such political and influential magnitude as this, at least know what you’re talking (and writing) about.
And get your facts right.

I’m not even going to respond to the above. It’s so demeaning and utterly ill-informed, it’s way beyond embarrassing.

David Marx

The Age Of Bowie

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The Age Of Bowie –
How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference
By Paul Morley
Simon & Schuster – £9.99

The most honest way of writing about David Bowie and all the David Bowies he became in the 1970s as he turned his entire existence and his musical technique into a collage of impressions, memories and experiences is to create a collage in response, to exaggerate the exaggerations and the excess.

Paul Morley has always been a writer to be reckoned with.

Whenever it’s brought to our attention that he’s written a new book, one instinctively knows it’ll be very well written, thought provoking, idiosyncratically incisive, and will probably venture into subjective areas not entirely expected.

Such was the case with the most outstanding The North: (And Almost Everything In It) which I reviewed on this site upon publication. And totally unsurprisingly, such is also the case The Age Of Bowie – How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference. For not only is Morley a huge Bowie fan, the prospect of him writing about him, was always going to be a wholly satisfying, literary undertaking. Continue reading