Thursday, June 17, 2021

Book Reviews

Lydia Tomkiw: Poems

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Author: Lydia Tomkiw
Title: Poems
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Universal Exports Of North America

Lydia Tomkiw (1959-2007) once fronted the Chicago based minimal Post Punk duo Algebra Suicide which was pretty unique in pairing Poetry & Music but turned out to be more popular with intellectuals and critics than healthy for their career and income. Still they managed a long and impressive run performing and recording material at their own terms.
During the last few years some of their work was reissued by Dark Entries on two Compilation LP's; "Feminine Squared" (with bonus DVD of an early live performance) and 2019's "Still Life". All remastered with rare and not so rare tracks, photos and collected press quotes (meanwhile both are also available digital). Dark Entries also supported this release hosting a free dl of the remastered tracks which made up 'Big Skin', so the proper format for this would be Book & Download actually.Lydia started out as an hopeful writer, studying arts with passion at the University of Illinois, Chicago and the Columbia College. In the early 80's she got involved with the alternative punk influenced scene and the DIY ethos. On her own she published various handmade collections in small editions which where impossible to find even years I ago (I know because I tried). Nearly all of her work was out of print hopelessly but with some luck I found a few collections where she appeared with one or two (mostly exclusive contributions) besides the poems she had set to music.
'Poems' now sets out to be a complete collection of all her known works, among others with the full support of her Brother John and Don Hedeker who had became her partner and half of Algebra Suicide back in 1981. This book includes facsimile like reprints of her original publications as first part, starting with 'Ballpoint Erections' (1978), 'Obsessions' (1979), 'Popgun Sonatas'(1980), 'Big Skin' (originally issued with the Cassette Only Album by Cause And Effect in 1986)' and 'The Dreadful Swimmers' from 1989.
But actually these where the smallest part of her texts as she constantly wrote for Algebra Suicide (1982 to 1994) and considered those published with the credit booklet or sheets included in equal important form. Not to mention the performances live and recorded where she recited them in her typical distanced dead pan voice, set fittingly to music by Don to be heard even by people generally not reading anything connected to poetry.
After the Duo's demise she found it hard to reconnect with the literal circles she originated from and published another collaborative Audio / Lyrics CD in 1995 under her own Name with various collaborators she knew through networking or her local scene, moved to New York and faded away from the public eye.

In the (Un)Collected part all of her texts can be found - published in anthologies, used for Algebra Suicide and completely unpublished ones. Nearly 200 pages of them. Herein lies the weakest part of this book in a way - instead of sorting them in an obvious order they appear just thrown in one after another. No chronology is given, no chapter (Albums f.e.), no first publication dates or sources, not even an attempt to sort them alphabetically. The added register and the basic discography don't offer any more clues of the origins sadly, as I'd really hoped for a chance to follow her development besides the well documented musical side of her activities.
Maybe most of the information is lost today but as it is this part appears diced up which is an unnecessary low point, considering all the research and love for details and design which went into this book and the excellent introductions by her early mentor Paul Hoover, the memories shared by her fellow student Sharon Mesmer, early Supporter Ira Robbins (Trouser Press) and editor's Dan Shepelavy write-up of her life which fully support an understanding about the situation and times these texts come from and an insight into Lydia's life and development as an artist.
While her use of words is often strange, abstract, witty and charming and/or hard-hitting poignant, filled with far-fetched conclusions and astonishing appropriate observations in a rare quality this is exactly the artistic 1st hand expression which makes them authentical and needed. One can dive into 'Poems' at any page and finds something worthwhile and enriching - sometimes a perfect expression, sometimes an appropriate mood picture, sometimes a question which grows in your thoughts. Of course her poems are also uncomfortable honest, challenging and wreck-less.

"...There's The Sound That I've Sent
It's There To Haunt You
Like A Cello
Like A Buzzsaw
I Hope You're Enjoying Yourself."

Thank you to Dan Shepelavy's tiny independent press who took all the efforts and managed to give Lydia Tomkiw's voice this chance to be re-read and heard.


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Title: Burning Fight
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Revelation records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
A while ago I happened to talk about this book with another old fart like me and he came out with: "that's the hardcore era we experienced"...holy shit!! That's one of these sentences that makes you feel like you've become a dinosaur and your next option is extinction! So "What will remain?" to quote a good old Strife anthem...memories and retrospective analysis and that's what Brian Peterson has collected and sewed together in this book. Peterson has probably cut the majority of the interviews into small interventions through which he speaks about the main topics and all of the peculiarities of the hardcore scene of the nineties. The end result is a composed portrait painted thanks the voices of some of the protagonists of the U.S. scene of that period and I think many of you have already heard names like Kent Mcclard, Vic Dicara, Ray Cappo, Robert Fish, Aaron Turner, Mike Heartsfield, Freddy Cricien, etc. As you may already have guessed, the book intentionally covers the U.S. scene and some of the of the most significant bands (but not all them) of the decade and I'm sure you'll find some interesting profiles for bands such as like: 108, Coalesce, Unbroken, Inside Out, Downcast, Integrity, Strife, Heart Crisis, Guilt, Groundwork and many, many more. Being more or less a coeval of the author and having witnessed the period and having experienced many dynamics related to the hardcore scene of those days, I was looking forward to checking if it was some sort of revaluation of the past. Unfortunately aging you see how everybody has to face the "old days nostalgia" and the side effect of it is that most of us tend to re-depict their past erasing the bad things, but I can guarantee even if the global atmosphere gives the picture of a scene less divided if compared to the present time and where spirituality, politics or ethics still meant a lot, that's not the case. I can assure you Peterson never falls into pathetic overestimations of the past, the only possible remark to his "historical reconstruction" could be he mainly focused on a great variety of muscular bands you can easily label as hardcore (even if it includes uneasily categorizable bands like Deadguy, Guilt, Rorshach) and even if he didn't forget to include combos like Swing Kids, Spitboy or Chamberlain there's no trace of forerunners like Iceburn, Junction, Engine Kids or labels like Art Monk Construction, Doghouse and so on. Please don't get me wrong, this' not sterile criticism, since I believe "Burning Fight" is an intense and interesting reading and I'm sure if some of you have experienced that scene, here and there you'll feel a sort of homecoming. I also understand the book was already huge (almost 500 pages), I just think despite their musical style, some of these "weird" unconventional-hardcore bands with people with a punk/hardcore background proved/prove how, despite its roots, for a short period the nineties hardcore community has been enlightened by an incredible open mindedness that later has slowly disappeared. I don't mean that "these were the days!!" and now the scene sucks, come on!! Those who have experienced the punk-hardcore scene from the eighties could have said the same thing about the nineties. I just think it all has happened because every-once in a while, above all when things are still far from being both categorized and segmented and above all far from becoming more "economically organized" and more "business oriented", curiosity and a genuine interest for self expression may bring some people "beyond the border". For me that's the point, that crossing the Rubicon and that search for self expression are what sometimes become lowest common denominators that link different generations of punks; many define it as a genre of music (and I can't deny I myself sometimes adhere to this kind of classification) but in general I think it's "just" a matter of attitude. I'm sure many of you will easily identify with the words of this or that scenester, above all when you'll read during the teenage days the hardcore scene was a safe place where you finally had the chance to feel surrounded by people like you, "a club for misfits" who were not able to feel comfortable in the "normal" society. Hard to say what's left of these days beyond the musical influence or beside the living inheritance of people like Converge, Sunn O)))), Gentry Densely (Ascend/Eagle Twin), The Locust. It's hard to judge the present objectively and I'm not exactly the right person to do it, after all there's "no time like the present". Differently from "All ages: Reflections on Straight Edge" this book goes to the core of its subject avoids superficiality by expressing a true involvement. "What will remain?"...good question Watson!.

Todd Durrant: Trigger

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Author: Todd Durrant
Title: Trigger
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Rated: * * * * *

Trigger is the first complete novel by Todd Durrant, owner of A Different Drum record label. While A Different Drum is known for great modern Synthpop, Todd Durrant will quickly be known for great and philosophically thought provoking science-fiction. I was extremely impressed with this as a first work by him and anxiously look forward to more. The story was riveting and I couldn’t put it down! It is the type of story with many interesting layers of plot revelation that keeps the reader on edge waiting to see what will happen next. I loved that it was not overly predictable as I find many stories both written and filmed to often be. Instead, this just seemed to get more curious with every page turned.

The most difficult thing about writing this review is that I really don’t want to include too many, if any, spoilers as the greatest fun about reading it was the interesting turns the plot took as more information was revealed. Basically, the story takes place in two different timelines. In one, you have a group of human exiles from Earth who are trying to make their way in space after forcefully leaving the planet due to a an invasion by mechanical "lifeforms". In this timeline, there are divergent political perspectives revolving around either going back to retake Earth by force or expanding further into space and pioneering further development and growth. In the other timeline, which is pre-invasion, the focus revolves around a major corporation, scientific development, and a secret project to help prevent human annihilation by creating a device which is only activated after the calamity has occurred by using a trigger backwards in time to activate it.

The only criticism I have at all about this work is that I think more development could have been done on the desperation that humans faced in the future on these remote space colonies. However, in many ways the author did make it obvious and other readers may likely disagree with me on this one as much of the first part of the book does have quite a bit relating to this in it. However, I have to admit, character development is probably the most difficult aspect of writing a fiction novel and a marked improvement was shown as the story developed. Overall, I think Todd did a great job and I really liked the characters he created. They are all unique and interesting, no carbon copies, archetypical or stereotypes here except maybe where The Admiral is concerned but that is at it should be in my opinion. I also like that he has strong female characters and sensitive male characters. He also shows many situations where their actions are very human indeed, sometimes logical and sometimes purely emotional, but most often a combination of both as their plight is very unique and unusual. I also like the tech in this book and how he stuck to realistic descriptions regarding the physical dynamics of space, unlike the hollywood movies where you see and hear great explosions and flames in space.

Overall, the book has great technological ideas, interesting philosphical questions, multiple timelines, fairly well developed characters, mostly unpredictable plot lines and a very compelling story!

MEIRA ASHER: face_WSLOT woman see a lot of things book

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Author: MEIRA ASHER (@)
Title: face_WSLOT woman see a lot of things book
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Auditorium (@)
Rated: * * * * *
I can't remember when was it the first time that I've read/heard a report about the war in Sierra Leone, but if my memory doesn't fail me, I've come into that subject something like one year ago. I was assisting to an open debate focussed on ethno-psychiatry and this psychopathologist started discussing about the whole problem of re-education of child combatants, about the myth of "magic/secret-societies", "initiation rites" and he closed speaking about war-crimes, violence and the psychological effects of it. I think if you ever had the chance to read, hear or see Meira Asher, you probably won't be surprised by the fact she's been confronting with such a touchy and uneasy (or I’d better say "uncomfortable") subject. This book is the "instruction manual" accompanying the installation Asher's been bringing around for quite a while and it also include an amount of pictures and informations to make everything clearer. "Face_WSLOT" could be appealing also for those who don’t know anything about this young artist, infact it includes a series of interesting essays from Guy Harries, plus several interventions written by experts and by some aid co-operator and so on.
The words of Yekutiel Gershoni (University of Tel Aviv) enlighten and makes intelligible the intricate political/economical dynamics that brought Sierra Leone into the abyss of such a tragic conflict. The most of the other articles discuss about the social impact of violence and about the abuses on females (indirectly showing how the weakest in general are always the real victims of the war).
The most copious section of the book and also the core of the performance itself is represented by the biographies of three women from there. The choice of translating the words of these women but at the same time of leaving it also in their original language, is meant (according to the discussion of the author with Guy Harry) to emphasize the fact recording, transcribing and translating a report implies a sort of reinterpretation. The books comes with a load of information about the post-war situation in Sierra Leone and various kind of appendixes. I will avoid to speak about the cd just for the fact you’ll read about it in the cd reviews but as you can easily imagine the music is complementary to the images of the performance and it gets clear while reading the written text. I guess if I say people like Meira Asher deserves your attention should be cheap and easy, but I think she embodies perfectly the fighting spirit of "angry women" like Lydia Lunch or Diamanda Galas but at the same time she’s able to remain personal and far from a cheesy clone. Some of the income generated by the sales of this cd-book is directed towards the support of third level education for Sierra Leone’s women. I think this book/project is definitely worth of of your attention.

Dr. Rudy Scarfalloto: The Dance of Opposites

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Author: Dr. Rudy Scarfalloto (@)
Title: The Dance of Opposites
Format: Paperback
Rated: * * * * *

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Dr. Rudy Scarfalloto is both a chiropractor and anatomy instructor at ASHA massage school. In his book, The Dance of Opposites (previously published under the title The Alchemy of Opposites), he expresses some rather profound yet obviously simplistic truths. On one level Dr. Rudy’s words express ways individuals can overcome depression, anger, fears, anxiety, addiction, and learn to have healthy relationships. On another level he expresses profound mystic wisdom. The Dance of Opposites helps us change our dualistic paradigm and learn to see the world not as a grocery list of paired and opposing views but instead helps us learn integration of all dualistic opposites in the effort to live more fully and holistically. I know this may sound like the typical self-help drivel but I assure you it is not. This book does not waste time with antics nor systems’. This book gets at what is at the very heart of our existence as human beings. The Dance of Opposites works on many levels. Some may not want to put it down once it is taken up as the information is so clear that you will find yourself wondering why you had not thought of things this way before, it seems so obvious. Also, it is very useful as a daily tool for personal growth and meditation. I personally found it very useful to read small sections at a time to let it gestate and give my psyche something to ponder through the day or week while I am busy with other studies. This can also turn out to be very synchronistic. I have also spent the past few years studying a wide range of mysticism, psychology, and spirituality literature and Dr. Rudy just lays it all out in simple terms in black and white. One of the students that attended ASHA said that she actually considers this book to be her new "Bible" and I can see why. While it may sound blasphemous to some at first, I challenge you to compare the wisdom in this book to any standard "religious" text. You will find that scholars are still trying to guess at the intended meanings of the religious books while The Dance of Opposites is understandable to anyone with even a low education yet possibly more profound. There is also a companion to this book called 90 Days of Inner Integration which I’ve not had the time to peruse fully yet but I can only imagine the transformative processes it could create in the common individual. Dr. Scarfalloto does not hold back with his writing either, he instead bears all by revealing some of his own personal growth experiences, even those that may seem controversial. Knowing him personally, in the class room setting at least, he is a most respectable being and wise beyond what he reveals publicly. The ideas in this book can definitely be life changing for most. It does not matter if you are Agnostic or Christian or anything in-between. This book can change the way you view the world around you in such magnificent ways. You may even find you enjoy life much more!