Features
02.06.2010, Words by Charlie Jones

Other people's bookshelves: Emmett from Chrome Hoof

Chrome Hoof”:www.myspace.com/chromehoof are an experimental orchestra who make music that’s a cross between Doom Metal and Disco. Their performances include gleaming 20 foot rams and alien robots. Their new record, ‘Crush Depth’, confirms what we’ve always known – that most amazing thing about Chrome Hoof is that their music is more terrific and forward-thinking than any ‘serious’ band. They launch the record on Friday at Bocking Street Warehouse in London, you really, really should go.

The Morning of the Magicians – L. Pauwels & Jacques Bergier

First published in 1960, this is a groundbreaking compendium of the bizarre, the awkward and the arcane. Alchemy, nuclear physics, the occult roots of Nazism and impossible technologies of ancient cultures are just a few of the subjects dealt with by this pair of frenchmen who gleefully ignore conventional wisdom and drive a tank through the walls of what is institutionally acceptable. Given Bergier’s credentials as a nuclear physicist and member of the French resistance in World War II, this book has now enjoyed a half-century of eye-opening power as a genuine threat to establishment thought.

Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut

Having already taken a blowtorch to conventional ideas about what a novel is supposed to be, Vonnegut in 1973 launches his most coruscating attack on his life’s nemesis: bullshit. Specifically, the form of native bullshit his home country excels at and seemingly prides itself on. Typical of it’s thrilling bluntness is the following passage:

“1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them”.

Not the most helpful of sentiments to a US establishment still trying to prosecute the Vietnam War, but Vonnegut could clearly see the revolting spectre of manifest destiny still driving his country to rob, cheat and kill.

Frank – Jim Woodring

Artist Woodring once showed a few of his images to a psychoanalyst acquaintance, prompting the poor fellow to insist that Woodring never come to him for help. Leafing through this collection of disturbing psychedelia it’s not so hard to see why. These largely ‘silent’ strips have the appearance of sweet, childish fantasy – but soon lurch into profound psychological terror. Here is a world inhabited by giant, sentient flowers, a Mr Punch-like devil, a half-man, half-pig character, Manhog, who is in a constant state of existential confusion, and the strips’ central character, Frank. Eternally innocent, but trapped in a world whose mysteries remain forever opaque and threatening. Uneasy reading at its best.

Frank Zappa – Barry Miles

This substantial biography upset some of Zappa’s more stalwart fans, but only because it was a genuine attempt to be honest about both the great man’s failings as well as his musical triumphs. Revealed is a man consumed from an early age with the process of making engaging music – at the expense of being a father, husband or in any way a well-rounded person. Compared with Ben Watson’s the Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play, Miles’ book may seem a little harsh, but Watson’s crosses the line into fanboyishness – much to Zappa’s own amusement. Probably the most balanced Zappa book out there so far.

Crusader’s Cross – James Lee Burke

Along with James Ellroy, Burke is one of the great American crime writers. What distinguishes this author from his peers is his ability to suddenly inject genuinely poetic language in the midst of gut-thumphing brutality. Steeped in Louisiana lore and landscape, the majority of his novels revolve around Dave Robicheaux, an ex-New Orleans Police Dept officer and now recovering alcoholic private eye. Burke’s books are never your standard fare.

The Complete EC Horror Library

Published by Nostalgia Press in 1970, this massively oversized edition collects some of the notorious output of the EC comics line of the 1950’s. For a few, brief years this company absolutely trounced the competition by hiring the best artists and writers and daring to avoid the superhero/fantasy notion of comic books in favour of gritty real-world issues. The Klan, the Nazi Holocaust, mental illness and all manner of generally off-limits topics were explored. Great delight was taken in tearing off the mask of polite, middle-class American society, exposing societal neuroses most respectable types would sooner pretend didn’t exist. It was only a matter of time before Bill Gaines, head of EC, found himself hauled before Joe McCarthy and company who ultimately made it impossible for Gaines to continue in comics. A new code meant that distributors wouldn’t touch EC material, guaranteeing the lines death in 1955.

Footballer’s Haircuts

A Christmas gift from a Venusian friend of mine who imagined I share his fondness for the human mullet. As this essential tome sagely points out, prior to his now legendary perm Kevin Keegan was an unstoppable force. Once the curlers had gone in his fortunes nosedived spectacularly, ruining first his England career and then his relationship with Shredded Wheat. Some kind of haunting lesson for humanity resides in these pages.

Who Paid the Piper? – Frances Stonor Saunders

Billed as an exposé of Cold War politics, Saunders delivers a mountain of insight into how power in and around our intelligence agencies really works, making it as valuable for our own times as for those pre-Gorbachev. Koestler, Kissinger, Dulles etc are all in here but many of the real players are not household names. Those who subscribe to a mainstream media view of the world will certainly find it an uncomfortable read as, for example, they stumble into Bertrand ‘ban the bomb’ Russell’s curious suggestion of threatening to nuke Moscow.

Robert Anton Wilson – The New Inquisition

Best known for his Illuminatus trilogy, this is Wilson’s personal assault on what he calls the ‘citadel of science’. According to RAW, a vast, ghastly edifice of half-truths and deliberate omissions has been erected, preventing the ordinary individual from making a properly informed judgement regarding the truth of our world. Yes, it’s certainly polemical, but always in an amusing and assumption challenging way. The perfect follow-up book to Morning of the Magicians, the New Inquisition romps through all things Fortean, uncomfortable and downright inexplicable: chiefly the citadels defenders’ refusal to allow an open and honest debate.

Poison Heart – Dee Dee Ramone

You’d think that being the chief songwriter and bassist for one of the world’s greatest ever rock ‘n’ roll bands would bring at least a little happiness, wouldn’t you? Not a chance. Not for Douglas Colvin aka Dee Dee for whom life was an endless river of shit, if this book is to be believed.  The one moment of light relief comes when Colvin speaks of seeing his now ex-bandmembers arriving for a Ramones show: “They looked pretty good in their wigs” offers Dee Dee. If ever a genuine rock ‘n’ roll legend built a bonfire for rock mythology, you’ll find that bonfire here. But even as he watched it burn, I doubt Dee Dee got a chuckle from it. 

+Go to their party on Friday. Complete disclosure: our friends at Dollop are throwing it. Then buy the album.*

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