G A N Z E E R . R E V I E W S

prose

Cormac McCarthy o

I am so utterly angry at this book. It starts off good enough until you realize that the entirety of the thing is more or less the same as the first 10 pages. And if ever you wanted a blueprint for anticlimactic endings, well then no need to look any further.

And also, the subtext in this thing? Atrocious. All it wants to do is hammer in the notion that people who work in groups as a community are vicious cannibals, and the only way to possibly survive is to persevere on your own. What a load of poorly disguised Randian egoist trash.

Avoid at all costs.

#prose

Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett o-o-o-o-o

In most of his interviews, Andy Warhol wasn't very talkative and came off as hella awkward while simultaneously being kinda snarky, often dicking interviewers around. So it's quite refreshing to be getting his take on things in his own voice. 300 pages of it, no less. Sure, you can bet the actual writing was done by Pat Hacket, but you can be equally sure that the voice behind the writing belongs to no one but Andy Warhol.

“Very few people on the [West] Coast knew or cared about contemporary art, and the press for my show wasn't too good. I always have a laugh, though, when I think of how Hollywood called Pop Art a put-on! Hollywood?? I mean, when you look at the kind of movies they were making then—those were supposed to be real??”

It's also nice to see him recount his transition from his commercial art practice to his early beginning within the gallery circuit— when he was still not quite sure of himself— before he became a superstar and way before his studio became the go-to place for every major counter-cultural figure in America.

“By the time Ivan [Karp] (who worked at Leo Castelli Gallery) introduced me to Henry [Geldzahler] (who at the time was a new young 'curatorial-assistant-with-no-specific-duties' at the Met) I was keeping my commercial drawings absolutely buried in another part of the house because one of the people Ivan had brought by before had remembered me from my commercial art days and asked to see some drawings. As soon as I showed them to him, his whole attitude toward me changed. I could actually see him changing his mind about my paintings, so from then on I decided to have a firm no-show policy about the drawings. Even with Henry, it was a couple of months before I was secure enough about his mentality to show them to him.”

But if it's the explosive Factory years you're interested in, rest assured there's plenty of that as well. One of the best things about this book though is Warhol's observations about the times. Because that is very much what the book is: a window onto the 1960's through they eyes and words of Andy Warhol. It starts off in 1960 and ends in 1969. By all accounts the 60's was a very special decade in America, and Warhol's retelling definitely drives the point home

“Everything went young in '64. The kids were throwing out all the preppy outfits and the dress-up clothes that made them look like their mothers and fathers, and suddenly everything was reversed—the mothers and fathers were trying to look like their kids.”

It gets better:

“Generally speaking, girls were still pretty chubby, but with the new slim clothes coming in, they all went on diets. This was the first year I can remember seeing loads of people drink low-calorie sodas.”

And then later:

“Since diet pills are made out of amphetamine, that was one reason speed was as popular with Society as it was with street people. And these Society women would pass out the pills to the whole family, too—to their sons and daughters to help them lose weight, and to their husbands to help them work harder and stay out later. There were so many people from every level on amphetamine, and although it sounds strange, I think a lot of it was because of the new fashions.”

So you get interesting anecdotes like that, with associations and theories only someone like Warhol would come up with; Fashion made Speed popular.

He does go on tangents throughout the book, recounting other people's stories instead of his own—which I s'pose you can say is a very Warholian thing to do, isn't it? I can imagine some people getting tired of these long tangents, but I find them to be wonderful additions to Warhol's montage of the decade.

”'I gave Bob Dylan a book of my poems a couple of years ago,' Taylor [Mead] said, 'right after the first time I saw him perform. I thought he was a great poet and I told him so... And now', Taylor started to laugh, 'now when he's a big sensation and everything, he asked me for a free copy of my second book. I said 'but you're rich now—you can afford to buy it!' And he said, 'But I only get paid quarterly.'”

These asides cover a huge roster of characters, from Dylan to Jackson Pollock to Robert Rauschenberg to Jonas Mekas to Dennis Hopper to Edie Sedgwick to Jim Morrison to Lou Reed to Nico to Mick Jagger and on and on. The tone is very conversational and often gosspiy, but it isn't all mere gossip. You learn, for example, how Warhol introduced Henry Geldzahler to a young British painter by the name of David Hockney. This was before Geldzahler became curator of American Art at the Met and way before he became Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for New York City. And it was really before Andy Warhol himself became anything close to a cult figure, which he would start to become only 1-2 years later.

Hard to imagine the transition when you take into account the initial reception towards his work:

“When Ivan brought Leo Castelli up to my studio, the place was a mass, with the big canvases strewn around the living room—painting was a lot messier than drawing. Leo looked my stuff over, the Dick Tracys and the Nose Jobs in particular, and then said, 'Well, it's unfortunate, the timing, because I just took on Roy Lichtenstein, and the two of you in the same gallery would collide.”

And then later:

“Henry Geldzahler was also pounding the pavements for me. He offered me to Sidney Janis, who refused. He begged Robert Elkon. He approached Eleanor Ward, who seemed interested but said she didn't have room. Nobody, but nobody, would take me.”

Amidst the stories, the gossip, and observations, there's also the occasional tip.

“To be successful as an artist, you have to have your work shown in a good gallery for the same reason that, say, Dior never sold his originals from a counter in Woolworth's. It's a matter of marketing, among other things. If a guy has, say, a few thousand dollars to spend on a painting, he doesn't wander along the street till he sees something lying around that 'amuses' him. He wants to buy something that's going to go up and up in value, and the only way that can happen is with a good gallery, one that looks out for the artist, promotes him, and sees to it that his work is shown in the right way to the right people.”

He finally got his first New York show in the fall of '62 at Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery (only 3 years before announcing his retirement from painting). By early '63 he'd moved his work studio from his home to an old firehouse on East 87th st, and soon thereafter he hired Gerard Malanga as his assistant, who was also instrumental in keeping Andy plugged into all the cultural happenings.

“Gerard kept up with every arty event and movement in the city—all the things that sent out fliers or advertised in the Voice. He took me to a lot of dank, musty basements where plays were put on, movies screened, poetry read—he was an influence on me in that way.”

The more things Warhol was exposed to, the more he soaked up stuff like a sponge, not just for his art, but for his very persona.

“In those days I didn't have a real fashion look yet... Eventually I picked up some style from Wynn [Chamberlain] , who was one of the first to go in for the S & M leather look.”

Perhaps some of the most interesting parts in the book is when Warhol recounts some of his efforts in film, which indeed took up the majority of the 60's despite not “bringing home the bacon” in the same way the paintings did. Even today Andy's films have yet to occupy the same place his paintings have, but in reading his retelling it's hard to think that even the most skeptical of skeptics wouldn't be able to see that there's at least a bit of genius in them. In one bit, Warhol even talks about “slow cinema” something that seems to be regaining popularity in recent years.

“That had always fascinated me, the way people could sit by a window or on a porch all day and look out and never be bored, but then if they went to a movie or a play, they suddenly objected to being bored. I always felt that a very slow film could be just as interesting as a porch-sit if you thought about it the same way.” But all in all the greatest thing about the book is that it's such a perceptive account of some of the most interesting aspects of 60's New York. There's lots on Jonas Mekas' Cinematheque, plenty on the changing neighborhoods, how the East Village was becoming all Bohemian, when the Beatles became all the rage and the Stones were having publicity issues, how fashions were quickly evolving year after year (“The masses wanted to look non-conformist, so that meant the non-conformity had to be mass-manufactured”).

I find it quite odd that in the wide array of art-related books recommended to me over the years, Andy Warhol's Popism was never mentioned once. In fact, I never even knew of the book's existence, and just happened upon it by sheer coincidence. It strikes me as essential reading to anyone interested in not just Andy Warhol, but New York's art scene in the 60's more generally, arguably the most important decade in American art and culture at large. And actually, art aside, it's an incredible telling account of the decade more generally, with Warhol's keen observations on things like fashion, music, and media. Even with Warhol's shortcomings—his obsessions with things like glamour, fame, and money, all things that come across in this here book—he still manages to do what he's always done best: hold up a mirror right in America's face.

Highly recommended.

[Buy]

#prose

by William Gibson o-o-c

NEUROMANCER is not a good novel, but it is essential reading.

How do you figure that?

Well, the first thing that hits you when reading NEUROMANCER is Gibson’s inventive use of language. The opening line, which is not dialogue, not a bit of “action”, not anything pertaining to any character—but rather a mere description of a scene—is one of the most memorable opening lines in the history of literature:

The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel. And that is actually very indicative of the entire novel. The characters negligible, the story unmemorable, but the passages: sheer magic. Most of the time, they won’t mean much, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be enchanted by them anyway.

Under bright ghosts burning through a blue haze of cigarette smoke, holograms of Wizard's Castle, Tank War Europa, the New York skyline.... And now he remembered her that way, her face bathed in restless laser light, features reduced to a code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as Wizard's Castle burned, forehead drenched with the azure when Munich fell to the Tank War, mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck sparks from the wall of a skyscraper canyon. Gibson, like Alan Moore, admits that he’s never cared much for plot, but unlike Moore, Gibson strikes me as someone who has very little to say (at least as far as his first novel is concerned), and rather than step away from the obsession with plot (that most entertainment writers are consumed by) in favor of a story’s core concern, Gibson seems to divert his attention entirely to the musicality of words.

Case triggered his second program. A carefully engineered virus attacked the code fabric screening primary custodial commands for the subbasement that housed the Sense/Net research materials. “Boston,” Molly’s voice came across the link. “I’m downstairs.” Case switched and saw the blank wall of the elevator. She was unzipping the white pants. A bulky packet, exactly the shade of her pale ankle, was secured there with micropore. She knelt and peeled the tape away. Streaks of burgundy flickered across the mimetic ploycarbon as she unfolded the Modern suit. Even when describing action, an actual plot point in the story, Gibson gets too caught up in the rhythm of fresh-sounding words, even if they do very little to affix the mind’s eye to the scene at hand. In fact, they typically serve to do the exact opposite, eject one from the story completely and instead get swept away by the sheer aesthetics of vocabulary, meaning be damned.

It is no wonder that even admirers of NEUROMANCER have very little to say about the story, and instead prefer to lean on Gibson’s invention of the word “cyberspace.” Of course, they also stress that one has to consider the time it was written: 1984, and as such realize how ahead of its time it really was.

While yes, envisioning a completely virtual world made capable by a vast network of computer mainframes that characters plug into in order to enter and operate within is indeed a visionary stroke of genius for that time, but let’s not forget that there was some degree of precedent to that idea in things like TRON (1982). Gibson is often credited with “envisioning” the internet before it happened, but a more accurate prophecy less soaked in fantasy can be found in the networked discussion forums imagined in Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME.

But yes, “cyberspace” as a word was indeed invented by Gibson in NEUROMANCER. And the book is full of like inventions. On every other page of the thing you’re bound to come across a new word:

Temperfoam Microbionics Ultrasuede Microchannel Dermatrode Shockstave Dermadisk Wintermute

And on and on. But after a while, you get the gimmick: slap two average words together and voila! A new exciting word emerges, much like “cyberspace”, or heck, the book’s very title for that matter: “Neuromancer”.

Not to downplay Gibson’s knack for inventing new words or his ear for the musicality of unexpected words following one another. It is, after all, the novel’s highest selling point as far as I’m concerned. Possibly even its only selling point, but not one to be undermined, for it will completely shed new light on the beauty of language and give you a purely aesthetic experience from the mere act of reading sentences.

But all of that comes at the expense of story.

Is it a good novel? No. Highly recommended? Hell yes.

[Buy]

#prose

by Peter Biskind o-o-o-o-o

When the two [John Wayne and Dennis Hopper] were working on True Grit, Wayne once flew his helicopter in from the minesweeper he kept at Newport Beach, landed on the Paramount lot, swaggered onto the soundstage with his .45 hanging from his belt, and bellowed, “Where's that pinko Hipper? That goddamn Eldridge Cleaver's out there at UCLA saying 'shit' and 'cocksucker' in front of my sweet daughters. I want that red motherfucker. Where is that commie hiding?”

Like the war between old gods and new in Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS, EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS chronicles the battle between Old Hollywood and New. Well into the 60's, Hollywood was still churning out the glamorous musicals and John Wayne Westerns that were popular in the 50's, but America was a different place that the big studio bosses didn't quite get or understand. Anti-War protests and the Civil Rights movement were taking hold. The already popular Nina Simone began addressing racial inequality in her songs, and Bob Dylan became the most popular singer/songwriter in the country, second possibly to The Beatles, who, even they –mere pop artists– couldn't avoid addressing the horrors of the Vietnam war. Television was new, and it was on TV that you could get a glimpse of people like Bob Dylan and The Beatles, who neither looked, sounded, or behaved like anyone on the silver screen. Television was also where you could see mad, groundbreaking ideas for the first time. Things like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone were miles ahead of any feature-length film starring John Wayne or Elizabeth Taylor.

As the studios began to lose a lot of money, the control enacted over film-making was relinquished to smaller production outfits, which started giving directors full control over how they made movies. So radical were the results that first time filmmakers like Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorcese became stars almost overnight.

And yes, you read that right. Dennis fucking Hopper. EASY RIDER is America's first biker movie, and thus spoke to Americans at the time in a way that no other film ever had. According to Biskind, it largely involved Hopper dicking around on set. The “set” being America's open roads. Nevertheless, it cost $501,000 to make, and brought $91.1 million in rentals. A huge, and very unexpected, return on investment. It won the First Work Award at the Cannes Film festival and was nominated for two Oscars, and Hopper was subsequently christened by LIFE magazine as “Hollywood's hottest director.” It was 1969, and the gates of Hollywood finally swung open to welcome American counter-culture for the majority of the 70's. Arguably, the best decade in American film-making until Spielberg and Lucas showed up to introduce the formula for what would become the, ugh, summer blockbuster.

The book is a treasure trove of “New Hollywood” history, and delves with great detail into some of the horrors, trials, and tribulations involved in making some of America's greatest films. Warren recommended it to me, after I had listened to this NPR interview with Coppola about the difficulties faced in making THE GODFATHER. And let me tell you, what is revealed in that interview is nothing compared to what's in this here book. Not just in regards to Coppola, but pretty much every American filmmaker who rose to prominence in the 70's.

Paul [Schrader] made the call to his agent, Michael Hamilburg, said, “This is The Godfather meets Bruce Lee. It's gonna sell for sixty grand. You get a third of the money, I get a third, and Leonard [Schrader] gets a third.”

Hamilburg gave them $5,000 on the spot. The brothers arrived in L.A. around Thanksgiving and rented a tiny apartment on Bicknell in Venice, a block from the beach, for $90 a month, which Hamilburg paid for. They took the bedroom doors off the hinges, stole some cinder blocks from a construction site, set up two desks, one in each bedroom, facing each other. The only other piece of furniture was a massive butcher block coffee table with wrought iron legs. They rented two electric typewriters, wrote three drafts in about eight weeks. They wrote around the clock, twenty, twenty-two hours a day, worked ten hours, slept one, very little food.

Toward the end, around Christmas of '72, they were running out of money, even though they were spending less than a dollar a day, $7, $10 a week for food, stealing plastic envelopes of ketchup from restaurants, making tomato juice.

“We sat down, took a good look at the script, and said to each other, 'We gotta write it one more time,'” recalls Leonard. “We were just wiped out, needed to find the energy to write one more draft. For us, the only surefire source of that big a jolt was guilt. We talked about, 'How we gonna get' – you didn't wanna go out and rob somebody – 'the guilt?' My brother said to me, 'We'll go to Vegas, lose our money, we'll feel so guilty, so pissed off, we'll come home and finish the script.'”

And sure enough, they did. And a couple paragraphs later:

Says Leonard, “There was an auction, sixteen bidders, it was the highest amount for original script ever sold at that point: $325,000.”

The film that came out of it, THE YAKUZA, directed by Sydney Pollack, is... well, alright. But it did open the gateways for Paul Schrader who went on to write TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL, and eventually direct his own films, like HARDCORE and AMERIAN GIGOLO. But not before screwing his brother over.

When the dust settled, instead of an easy three-way split, The Yakuza money was split 40-40 between Paul and Hamilburg, with Leonard getting only 20 percent. “I wanted to have that sole screenwriting credit, so I made him take shared story credit,” says Paul. Leonard looked the other way, pretended it hadn't happened.

Even though THE YAKUZA was originally Leonard's idea for a novel, before his brother convinced him to co-write it as a screenplay with him. Such personal stories aside, one can't help but see the overarching parallels between then and now. Like Old Hollywood back then, Hollywood today has been riding the wave of an old formula – the summer blockbuster – since well, the 80's really. Like Television in the 60's, the Internet has sprung up as the new media outlet through which one can experience things a little closer to today's equivalent of “counter-culture.” The internet became home to some of Cory Doctorow's first novels, it is where the art of Molly Crabapple first saw the light, where live video was being broadcast from the heart of the Arab Spring, where people are Tumbling their homemade unairbrushed porn, where kids are producing microfiction using cell phones, and where you can hear Kim Boekbinder sing Pussy Grabs Back in response to Donald Trump.

Again, there is a sense that big media outlets are stuck in their old ways, producing things that are far removed from the pulse of now. But if recent hits like MOONLIGHT and GET OUT are any indication, it seems like Hollywood may be catching up. MOONLIGHT is an honest portrayal of homosexuality in an African American community. GET OUT unapologetically tackles the horrors of racism by way of a popular genre film. One of them won the Oscar for best film, and the other is the highest grossing film by a writer/director in the history of American cinema. These are game-changers that tell us that the decade to come will be nothing short of a cultural revolution. And that excites me.

[Buy]

#prose

By Kurt Vonnegut o-o-o-o-o

Finally got around to reading SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut after every goddamn American I know recommended it to me upon finding out about my travels to Dresden. And for good reason. THIS BOOK IS FANTASTIC!

This has got to be the most non-linear thing I've ever read in my life, but it is not the least bit confusing. Also one of the most engrossing. I don't remember being so engrossed in a book since THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY.

It may also be one of the most quotable books. It is also a book with a heart, a book with a mission. It's an anti-war book. And one that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny.

But perhaps most astonishingly is that its an anti-war book that has no villains. This is World War 2. There are Nazis.

When was the last time you read or saw anything WW2-related that contained no villains to speak of? And the book is perfect, I tell you. Perfect!

Vonnegut even comments on that in the book.

I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the 2nd World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me “you know – you never wrote a story with a villain in it.”

I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut. Everyone should read it.

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#prose

By Haruki Murakami o-o

Y'know. I've decided that Murakami is just not for me. Between this book of short stories and the absolutely unnecessarily stretched out 1Q84, I think I can say that with absolute confidence. Sure there are aspects of Murakami's writing that I do like, like the peculiarities of his characters, even if those particular peculiarities have absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand. I absolutely love that. And I do like the magical realism vibes. His stories though, not so much.

My feeling is that his stories often start off most interestingly, but then towards the end –even the short stories– they sort of just lose steam and are thus killed. Meh.

I think its incredibly important to read authors of various cultures. There can be nothing more enriching. And I don't want my distaste for Murakami to put me off Japanese literature in general, so I'm going to have to very quickly attempt to find a substitute (or two) that is right for me.

[Buy]

#prose #prosefiction

By Steranko o-o-o-c

Steranko, of course, is a magician. No, but really. He spent many childhood summers with his old man, who had his own magic act, doing circuses and carnivals until he became a side-show performer himself. By his late teens, he had already reaped a wealth of newspaper and TV publicity as an escape artist. This, I believe, may have helped hone Steranko's special talent at seeing through the mechanisms of how things work. This can be seen in every facet that makes up this pocket-sized novella from 1976. This, however, does not necessarily benefit the story as much as it benefits the rather ingenious visuals, design, and packaging of CHANDLER.

It is precisely because Steranko sees right through the mechanism of noir stories that CHANDLER is a wholly unoriginal run-of-the-mill crime noir tale with plenty of cheese. Where Steranko truly delivers, in my opinion, is in everything else: Crisp and beautifully composed and rendered full-color artwork. An ingenious grid format that gives the storytelling a beautifully steady pace and a very comfortable reading experience that a great many illustrated novels tend to lack, and a modern type treatment that is impeccably considered. It would be unfair to describe CHANDLER as an illustrated novella, because what illustrated novella features two illustrations per page? The illustrations and design of the entire thing are an in integral part of the storytelling experience, which makes CHANDLER far more than an illustrated novel but not quite a graphic novel either. It is a wholly unique experience, where Steranko sticks to 13 lines per column which deliberately correspond to a vertical panel right above. It is a work of illustration and design genius. And even if one was to throw away the story, the design, and just fixate on the panels, it's easy to imagine each and every one of them hanging in the MOMA or MAD completely on its own.

Fans of Steranko's art might be fooled into thinking the larger “deluxe” edition of this book is more worthy of their bookshelf space, but if you really want to experience CHANDLER the way Steranko's design solutions were intended for, then Pyramid's pocket-sized “pulp” edition is the only way to go.

And while I may not be entirely impressed by the story, I cannot possibly imagine Steranko creating the images without simultaneously writing the story for them, nor could I imagine him writing the story without simultaneously considering the artwork and design. Pulling something like CHANDLER off requires something of the cognitive abilities of a drummer, which I've discovered that Steranko also excelled at.

My brain now growls for more Steranko, and so should yours.

P.S. The story was later reprinted and repackaged as CHANDLER: RED TIDE.

#comix #prose