Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Tuesday, Nov 6, 2012
by Claire Shefchik
Although it reads at times as a kind of existential travelogue, the book is firmly rooted in the Los Angeles port city of San Pedro, where bassist Mike Watt grew up and still lives.

The stereotype of the rock bassist is that he’s an underappreciated second banana. But Mike Watt, who burst onto the scene in the late ‘70s with LA punk pioneers the Minutemen and whose artistic energy hasn’t flagged since, has never been content to let his instrument do the talking. This is lucky for us, because as On and Off Bass demonstrates through its lush, contemplative photography, prose and verse, Watt has plenty more that deserves to be heard.


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Tuesday, Oct 30, 2012
A boy who finds a big toe while digging in his backyard, morbid songs about the decomposition of human corpses, a dismembered head...

At first, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark doesn’t sound like a very scary book. The title is awfully benign, conjuring images of campfire ghost stories that end with an overexcited “Boo!”


Frankly, it sounds pretty lame.


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Monday, Oct 15, 2012
The Waste Land as an iPad app demonstrates how we might re-imagine the book, but it also illustrates how editorial choices can limit value.

The Guardian recently documented a June trek of 25 people through the city of London, on (TS Eliot’s The Waste Land 2012 – a multimedia walk, (Henry Eliot, 30 July 2012). That a poem written in the early 20th Century remains resonant with people who live nearly a century later offers a testament to its often misunderstood and always daunting language, allusion and structure.


But being citizens of the 21st Century, we need not rely solely on the manuscript and printed commentary to bring the poem to us. With new devices like Apple’s iPad, the very idea of the book as a book has been reconsidered. The Waste Land, a cooperative work between Touch Press, Faber and Faber, BBC Arena and other collaborators, releases the text of the poem through the lens of the iPad. From its earliest incarnations, The Waste Land was as much a initiator of non-fiction as it was a poem. As Eliot sought to pad out his poem for book publication, he included a series of notes, which have become famous in their own right. The scholarship and commentary on the poem continues with the Touch Press treatment, which migrates much of its new insights from print to video.


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Tuesday, Aug 14, 2012
I realize Brian Johnson is not a writer: his book got published because he’s AC/DC’s lead singer.

If Car and Driver is your bible and you know the Andretti family tree better than your own, Brian Johnson’s Rockers and Rollers: A Full-Throttle Memoir will provide amusing diversion.


If, like me, you mistook “A Full-Throttle Memoir” to mean a discussion of Johnson’s tenure with metal greats AC/DC, you will be sorely disappointed. 


Johnson took over lead singing duties after Bon Scott’s death in 1980. But so little is said of Scott or how Johnson came to replace him that the casual reader, unfamiliar with the band, will only be confused. Rockers and Rollers is about cars. Cars Johnson has owned, raced, or both. Though Johnson has been a rock singer since his teenage years, his musical career is clearly secondary, undwriting his proclivity for pricey European roadsters with more personality quirks than James Hetfield. 


The book is divided into vignettes, usually little more than a couple pages, describing a parade of cars, rounded out with anecdotes about people Johnson’s met along the way. These folks range from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Paul Newman.  Bandmates are discussed only in context of what they drive—or do not: Angus Young, to Johnson’s horror, doesn’t have a driver’s license. 


I realize Brian Johnson is not a writer: his book got published because he’s AC/DC’s lead singer. I tried to keep this in mind as I plowed through a laundry list of cars that, unless you a complete automobile freak, rapidly dulls.


What finally tipped me over wasn’t the book’s misleading title or too many cars. It was the revolting chauvinism permeating the book. 


I’m sorry.  I don’t meant to sound like a prudish priss: AC/DC is one of my favorite bands. I understand Johnson is a rock musician, albeit a 65-year-old one. The first few mentions of married gents ordering up a little action (and I am cleaning up the vocabulary), and his being “a nervous girl” before an auto race (evidently Johnson has never heard of Danica Patrick, Susie Stoddart, or Janet Guthrie), or the many references to oral sex—not of the happily consensual nature—I let pass. When the sexist references keep coming—and they are nonstop—they begin rankling. 


How tour bus antics involving a line of groupies relate to a memoir about automobiles is beyond me. Nor do I understand how Johnson could attend a friend’s daughter’s wedding and comment that the bride looked “very shaggable”. This is a married man with two daughters he professes to adore. 


Johnson is not a total monster. Rock stardom hasn’t inflated his ego. He’s clearly generous to his extended family and a kind friend. He’s grateful and gracious about his good fortune. His words about his deceased parents, particularly his mother, are the book’s high point. 


What we have here is a case of author/reader mismatch. Though I’d still love to see that AC/DC memoir…Malcolm? Angus? You listening?


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Friday, Jul 13, 2012
From a tough little rodent fighting bandits and corrupt politicians to the tale of a rich, greedy old duck, these classic comics characters ring true in these times.

July brings the latest volumes in Fantagraphics’ project to present the definitive catalogue of the two greatest ouevres in Disney comics: Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse newspaper strips and Carl Barks’ Donald Duck comic books.


Volume 3 of Mickey’s adventures chronicles 1934 and 1935, an era of increasing maturity and responsibility for the scrappy adventure-loving mouse as he deals with Wild West banditry and then comes home to run a newspaper that exposes racketeering and corruption at City Hall. After crusading for justice at home, he does his patriotic duty as a special agent inside a Nautilus-like submarine captained by a thinly-veiled Nazi villain several years before the war.


There’s still no explanation for how some animals are “humans” while others are just animals, like how Mickey can ride a horse in the West and then come home to be greeted by his pal Horace Horsecollar. Or the eternal quandary of why Pluto is a pet while Dippy Dawg (later Goofy) is a chum. Some mysteries won’t be resolved on this plane.


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