20.05.2010, Words by Charlie Jones

Other people's bookshelves: Duncan from Mock n Toof

This set of shelves belongs to Duncan – Mock – Stump from Mock n Toof , a duo that have been doing the DFA 12“s and electropop remixes circuit (they’ve worked on Hot Chip, Holy Ghost!, the Juan Maclean) for a few years now. If you want to know why you should care about their new album (out on Monday, on their own label, Tiny Sticks) more than any of the others from the disco explosion, you should know that ‘Tuning Echoes’ is one of the most formed, pretty collection of dance tunes in a while and more than worth your time. Their music is smart and they’re interesting, so here are Duncan’s favourite books.

1. Milan Kundera ‘The Unbearable Lightness Of Being’

I picked this up randomly because I liked the cover. I’ve only recently got into reading books, prior to that I was far too busy listening to music & day-dreaming. I know some people can read a book & listen to music at the same time but I can’t and this book certainly requires a certain amount of concentration. It’s a bit of a struggle at times, the philosophical aspect that is, but the storyline is pure juice with brilliantly real characters set in the very atmospheric backdrop of the Prague Spring in 1968. How the main character’s partner put up with his smelly hair is beyond me.

2. James Young ‘Songs They Never Play On The Radio’

I think this was a Bill Brewster recommendation. I’m not really into music books per se and i’ve barely got any Nico records come to think of it but I’m glad I picked this up because the writing is so good. The book is about Nico’s time in Manchester during the early 1980’s. The author, who is a keyboard player, gets thrown together with a bunch of amateur musicians by an opportunistic promoter and the result is a tale of chaotic tours, shambolic performances and depraved drug induced behaviour. Nico’s pathetic existence & dependency on heroin is truly sad & James Young is brilliant at conjuring up the atmosphere, smells and the histrionics that revolve around her daily routine of getting a hit. Nice appearances from John Cale (who comes across like a real shit), Allen Ginsberg et al too.

3. Mikhail Bulgakov ‘The Master & Margarita’

After I read this I really did wonder about Bulgakov’s mind. The main part of the story is set in 1930’s Moscow and it concerns itself with the appearance of the devil & his gang who go about terrorising the literary elite & the bourgeoisie in bizarre fashion. Many end up fleeing to the mental asylum as a result. The second thread of this book is about Pontius Pilot and his profound encounter with Yeshua (Jesus), who he later sentences to death, which then turns out to be the subject of a book written by a character called the Master, who makes up the final part of the story regarding his tormented love affair with Margarita. I couldn’t have described this in a worse way if I had tried but this is one of those books where different interpretations can be read on lots of different levels and to make sense of it or describe it in a paragraph is virtually impossible. But this is a beautiful, magical & haunting book…& funny too. Polly, who sings for us, has read it in Russian, German & English, I can only imagine how good it would be in its native tongue. It was of course the inspiration for ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ too.

4. Kurt Vonnegut ‘Slaughterhouse Five’

This is a brilliant book, funny, absurd & poignant. Stylistically as well, it’s totally arresting. It’s centred on the horrific firebombing of Dresden during the second world war, which Vonnegut witnessed as a soldier…so it goes. The main protagonist Billy Pilgrim skips backwards & forwards in a perpetual loop, which takes him from post war USA back to Germany and to a far-off planet called Tralfamadore, where he is kept on display in a zoo. It’s a great anti-war book that left a big impression on me …I ran out & got the movie too which is ace.

5. Cormac McCarthy ‘The Road’

This is as good as everyone says. It’s an intense, mesmerizing read and once it got going I was totally put in a trance by it. At the start I thought the conversations between the father & son were a bit clichéd but I soon got over that and settled into their desperate journey down south in search of warmth & ‘good guys’. Having kids I totally empathized with the father character, I could feel that concern he had over his son but I don’t think I would’ve had his patience or his belief. Their daily routine of searching for food, travelling, making camp & keeping warm really got hypnotic and I missed it when it finished. The strength in this book though is its sparse almost biblical like prose and the overwhelming message of conservation, love & hope it gives out.

6. Ernst Gombrich ‘A Little History Of The World’

As I’ve got older I’ve developed more of a thirst for knowledge which i’m trying to quench in a half-arsed manner. Having daydreamed through school & polytechnic my education has left me with a bunch of half remembered facts & theories that I should but don’t quite understand. I’ve tried the odd history book but find them a bit of a drag (except Claire Tomalin’s book on Samuel Pepys which was great). Ernst Gombrich’s book on the other hand is a little gem. It’s a concise, beautifully written masterpiece aimed squarely at children & people like me who want to know about stuff without all the scholarly guff. It was first published in 1935, having been completed in six weeks, but then only got translated into English in 2005. The thing that striked me most about the book is its humanist tone which contrasts nicely with all the stories of man’s overwhelming need to destroy & conquer time & time again.

7. Donna Tartt ‘The Secret History’

I’ve just finished this one and it’s a really engrossing read. Donna Tartt is a proper writer & I’m definitely going to search out her other book. The story is about a small clique of university students who are studying classics under a charismatic and eccentric teacher. They are all decadent foppish types who in the pursuit of a higher plane of existence (or something) & in line with their Greek studies, commit a terrible crime. They then go onto commit another crime to cover it up and we are then left with their slow self-destruction & disintegration. It’s a bit over long and the author tends to waffle a bit at the expense of the plot but don’t let that put you off…its well worth a go if you like your novels claustrophobic & tense.

8. Alistair Maclean ‘Where Eagles Dare’

I bought this because I’ve got a thing about mountains & snow. Plus the idea of secretly flying into Germany & dropping off a small band of men on a mountain who then have to break into a seemingly impossible fortress to rescue an American General from the Nazis ..i mean, come on, what’s not to like?! It’s tense, fast paced & exciting (and extremely silly). However, there was a part of me at the end that wished the main character had caught a stray bullet in the face because he had become such an insufferable know-it-all & smart alec.


‘Tuning Echoes’ is out on Monday

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