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Webcomic Sundays #342 by Benny Hope

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Chris Boarts Larson Photo Column – BAT

Chris Boarts Larson Photo Column - BAT

Sometimes there is just nothing better that seeing a bunch of good friends playing a perfect show and delivering a style of music in a way that I love. BAT is a new favorite.

Us Festival, The: 1982 The Us Generation: DVD

In 1982, Steve “The Woz” Wozniak was flush with cash following the success of the computer company he co-founded, Apple. Looking to festivals past and wanting to inspire a more community- and tech-oriented generation stressing a sense of “us” rather than the “me” generation he saw in the 1970s, he decided to spend some of his cash on a festival of his own held at Glen Helen Regional Park (now Glen Helen Amphitheater) in San Bernardino, Calif. over Labor Day weekend, 1982.

Split into themed “days” focusing on new wave, rock, and more eclectic fare, gracing the stage were many of the era’s top acts—Ramones, Talking Heads, Gang Of Four, The B-52’s, The Police, Tom Petty, Pat Benatar, The Cars, Eddie Money, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, and so on—spread out over the three-day weekend, playing for several hundred thousand attendees. Despite triple-digit weather, more than a hundred arrests, several drug overdoses and reported twelve million dollars in losses, Woz threw another, even bigger festival the next year.

Documenting the first Us Festival, this film is largely skint on actual performances by most of the bands—you get a full song from the odd band and brief snippets of footage from many others—and flush with talking head testimonials from the guys who pulled it off yakking about the challenges of mounting a large-scale event and about the genius that is Steve Wozniak for wanting to do so in the first place. Nowhere near as engrossing or culturally significant as the documentaries Woodstock or Gimme Shelter, the results are oddly focused more on one man and the small group of people he employed to make his dream come true, rather than the collective “us” in the name of the festival they created. –Jimmy Alvarado (MVD Visual, mvdvisual.com)

Records Collecting Dust II: DVD

The first installment of this two-film (at least so far) series was largely centered on the West Coast, with a gaggle of punker icons from that side of the country sharing their record collections and ruminating about their first purchases, specific items they think are particularly significant/favorites, and so on. This time ’round the filmmakers head to the other coast to enter into similar conversations with scene luminaries Al Quint, Cynthia Connelly, and Mike Gitter, as well as members of Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Dag Nasty, Fire Party, FUs, Gorilla Biscuits, Government Issue, Helmet, Iron Cross, Jawbox, Jerry’s Kids, Minor Threat, Mission Of Burma, Moving Targets, Prong, Scream, Sheer Terror, Shudder To Think, Slapshot, SOA, Swiz, The Freeze, and Underdog.

As with the previous installment, the results are surprisingly engaging, focusing on the role of music on some of American punk’s heaviest hitters as fans rather than musicians. The discussions come off as sincere, intelligent, and more about inspiration—some of which are pretty surprising considering the bands repped here—rather than “look at this cool fuckin’ record I got that you wish you had, losers.” It’s no easy feat to string a series of talking heads waxing poetic in a visual art form about an aural art form, but they pull it off well here, resulting in a film that’s interesting and thoughtful. –Jimmy Alvarado (MVD Visual, mvdvisual.com)

131 Different Things By Nick Zinner, Zachary Lipz, & Stacy Wakefield, 248 pgs.

I’m a sucker for books about New York City. Especially books that explore the life and times of punks or beatniks, either in the present or the past. Thus, 131 Different Things was right up my alley. Author Zachary Lipz writes about Sam, a bartender at a dive on the Lower East Side, who discovers his former love, Vicki, is back in the city. He looks for a possibility to connect with her, but first he has to find her.

Throughout one long night, Sam and his friend Francis seek out Vicki at gay bars, nightclubs, and dominatrix joints throughout Manhattan, but keep coming up short. Along the way they’re fueled by alcohol and drugs, pizza, and brawling. There are lots of music (and punk) references, whether it’s to Black Flag or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The reason I’m a sucker for books about NYC is because I believe in it as a city of possibilities. You can watch your favorite musician play at a dive bar, get hit on by a bartender, see someone step in vomit on the subway, and fall in love. And 131 Different Things definitely displays the sentiment that anything is possible. With every bar that Sam and Francis go to, something unexpected occurs.

Interspersed throughout the book are color photos taken by Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They accent the action to some degree, but don’t directly relate to it. They primarily show people in party situations or just being weird. Some pictures are of dogs, others of musicians. While I didn’t think them to be necessary to the story, I did like how they broke things up. Yet, they would’ve been better if interspersed more through the story instead of in blocks at the end of each chapter.

The book is also designed by Stacy Wakefield. These three—Wakefield, Zinner, and Lipz—are frequent collaborators. Their experience with one another shows, as they make the complete package tie together well.

On the whole, I very much enjoyed 131 Different Things, primarily because I like books about NYC and punk and people trying to find someone or something and seeing the adventure that happens along the way. This book provided all of that. Still, I can’t help but think it could’ve sufficed just as well if it had been tucked together as a small paperback novella. As it stands, thirty dollars seems a lot for a book that is good, but not great. –Kurt Morris (Akashic, 232 Third St., Suite A115, Brooklyn, NY 11215)

Beauty Found in Darkness By Kent Grosswiler, 128 pgs.

An experimental juxtaposition of haiku and illustrations. I struggle to fully grasp the presentation. You can start from either end of the book and then must flip it over in the middle. One half just seems to use the haikus once on the left page and then repeat the same one on the right page with an illustration. The other half uses a different haiku for the prose and illustrations. It’s a little confused. There’s also one repeat illustration, but I’ll chalk that up to an error. I’m not sure if I’m qualified to review what is ultimately poetry, but there are a few zingers in there. The illustrations really steal the show, to the point where I question if including the original prose haikus really adds anything at all. I can’t doubt the books sense of graphic design, because generally speaking it’s a very cohesive vision. –Gwen Static (Nix Comics, nixcomics.com)

Black Swan Rising By Lisa Brackmann, 421 pgs.

Think about the next big mass shooting. Think about the next time someone brings an AR-15 into a place where we could imagine ourselves—or our children—and opens fire, killing dozens of people who shouldn’t die that day. We all know it’s going to happen in the next year. Think about what you’re going to say when it happens. Because this is important: you already know. You have already reacted to this event. Your opinion is already formed. All of our opinions are. We have our tweets ready. The NRA has drafted their next speech. Political teams on both sides of the aisle have their press releases ready. Bumper stickers have been printed. But let’s say, hypothetically, that we want to live in a world where men don’t mow down dozens of strangers with assault rifles. How do we have a real conversation about change?

This is the challenge that Lisa Brackmann embraces in her latest thriller, Black Swan Rising. The novel begins with a woman being harassed before she’s even named. Sarah Price works social media for a congressional campaign. She also has a secret past. They, whoever they are, have found her. The harassment has restarted. She wonders if her past could derail her boss’s reelection campaign. Meanwhile, across town, local TV reporter Casey Cheng is covering a mass shooting when she gets shot. As part of her recovery, she sets out to investigate the aftermath of mass shootings. Her investigation reveals that her shooter aligned himself with a misogynist, neo-Nazi movement. There’s every reason to believe that more shootings are on the way, and both Sarah and Casey are targets.

All of this is established in the opening pages of the novel. Brackmann sets up a difficult tightrope. Sarah and Casey could easily become mouthpieces for the author; the book could easily become preachy and dull. It could feel like one more voice shouting at us from an entrenched position. Brackmann is too skilled for that. First, she makes Sarah and Casey feel real. They’re both flawed, confused, and trying to move through incredibly difficult circumstances. Sarah is not sure she has the courage to do what she needs to do. Casey may have too much courage. They both may end up dead. More to the point, you care about them staying alive. Second, even though the novel is built around a political campaign, the presumable Democrat (parties are never mentioned) is sweet and caring, but has violence issues and carries a gun. The Republican banks on racism but has a big heart. Both are at times likeable and despicable. The campaign takes a backseat to Sarah and Casey’s intersecting stories. Complicated issues are raised and moral decision must be made. And there are so many guns. And always too many shootings. Through it all, the plot moves like a roller coaster. You get pinned to your seat and flung at increasing speed down a track that feels like it could throw you at any second. It’s exciting. You find yourself at the end way too quickly.

The ending itself is a surprise and a risk, but, for me, totally satisfying. It leaves me realizing that I lost myself in the book, but once I was done, I couldn’t help meditating on this culture of toxic masculinity we’re living in. I feel like I learned something about what a woman has to navigate, about where she finds support and where there is none, and about the institutions that protect and nurture bad behavior by men. I feel a little more ready to have a conversation that’s deeper than two sides shouting at each other across a battlefield. –Sean Carswell (Midnight Ink)

Fade into You By Nikki Darling, 186 pgs

Fade into You is a novel about an L.A. girl attending an arts high school in the ’90s, but it’s not set in L.A’s fabled Westside, it’s set in the San Gabriel Valley. In American literature, the SGV is most prominent for being the place where James Ellroy’s mother was murdered in 1958—from Ellroy’s My Dark Places: “The region defined the crime. The region was the crime….”

In Nikki Darling’s slice of life, however, the SGV is a pleasant place for kids to ramble around and be nervous and petulant and not be notably adventurous. Had I not been reading it to meet a deadline, I would have placed it on the (figurative) nightstand and dipped in and out of it, as though it were the narrator’s diary. (The narrator’s name is Nikki Darling, but Darling the writer says in the acknowledgments that it’s a novel.)

When an everyday tragedy, surprising and inevitable, falls on the narrator just before the end of the novel, it hurt this reader to read about it; a power that I wouldn’t have felt without the novel’s drifter’s pace. As an adult, I know this kind of tragedy won’t go onto define the narrator, but the narrator can’t know that. The everyday-ness of the event is also why we rarely read about it in fiction. This rarity makes it all the more striking.

However, as with other first-novelists writing ground-level novels, Darling seems to have concluded that she’d better go big with the ending. It’s not bad—just out of place—but that’s okay: Fade into You is, like life, about the journey. –Jim Woster (Feminist Press, feministpress.org)

Quit Your Band: Musical Notes from the Japanese Underground By Ian F. Martin, 242 pgs.

I’m not sure a book like this would have existed before the internet. The idea of an expansive yet personal overview of new-to-the-reader scenes allegedly forms the basis for much of today’s expository scene writing—I use the word “allegedly” here because the imagined audience of such books often has at least a toe in whatever musical pool the writer discusses. In the case of the sprawling Japanese music ecosystem that Ian F. Martin discusses in Quit Your Band, though, the author knows that readers are unlikely to have much acquaintance with the groups and scenes he mentions, to say nothing of the intricacies of booking shows in Japan. This lack of acquaintance is one of the points he makes: the best way to immerse oneself in any new ’scape is to find a band and start chasing down tendrils: ex-members, aligned groups.

If this method sounds familiar, it might be a product of your age, dear reader: we used to do it like this (excuse me for a second while I yell at a cloud. Okay, I’m back now). I think a lot of aging punks who are detached from active music hives feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options that are out there, and as such resort to the hackneyed assertion that there’s no good music being made— even though the number of options and avenues that have yielded the exact opposite of that assertion. Because the history of recorded music is available to everyone, it’s now easier than ever for microscenes to spring up. It takes a little more work to find them, but it’s work that’s fun. Or should be, anyway.

Ian F. Martin’s book is more than a book in this age of the internet: it’s easy to forget that all books are now hypertexts. Reading about the bands he discusses in a vacuum is one way to approach this book. It’s much more gratifying, though, to use it as a springboard for discovery. Martin carefully and lovingly details specific, sometimes tiny epochs of Japanese underground music, which are accessible with a little digging. And if you’re a “Back in the Day” kind of person, you’ll remember how immensely gratifying such archeological discoveries could be. If not, now’s a great time to start. –Michael T. Fournier (Awai Books, 1133 Broadway Suite 708, New York NY 10010)

Tucson Salvage: Tales and Recollections from La Frontera By Brian Jabbas Smith, 332 pgs.

Brian Jabas Smith is a recovering meth addict who played in a bunch of bands. He’s also a reporter for the Tucson Weekly. Tucson Salvage is a collection of his columns from that free weekly, focusing on residents of that city who don’t often get much time or coverage: a legless dialysis patient, the operator of a late night hot dog stand, a young woman paralyzed in an auto accident who then put herself through law school, dozens of others.

Smith’s writing in Tucson Salvage is a delicate balance of reporting and pathos, never going too far in either direction. He’s interested in his subjects, spends time with them, becomes involved in their lives—sometimes uncomfortably as his addiction threatens to rear up. He feels kinship with the underrepresented because of his own subterranean travels. As such, he never casts judgment, despite his affection for the subjects of these many standalone essays being at the fore. A few steps in a different direction and he might have been in the same spot.

Due to the confines of newspaper column work, economy is necessary, as is innovation: readers won’t return to repetition. His prose throughout is crisp, occasionally dazzling, and never self-congratulatory. Smith’s eye for defining details translates easily into description which catches personality and setting with a few deft words. Subjects as disparate as custom bike frame designers, long distance couples trucking, and rug weavers are instantly familiar once described.

One of the joys of being a book critic is the arrival of a completely unheralded release which delights. I have no idea how Tucson Salvage found its way to my door, but I’m glad it did. –Michael T. Fournier (Eyewear Publishing, eyewearpublishing.com)