general reviews

Bukowski bios, Vinyl Junkies, Cyborg

I’ve been trying to read a little more lately; I don’t have that long train commute anymore, which is where I got most of my reading done. But I’ve been sick, it’s getting cold outside, and I’ve almost completely given up on TV lately, so I’m starting to get in the swing of things a bit.

First of all, I read the Barry Miles bio on Bukowski, simply called Charles Bukowski. I didn’t entirely like it. I don’t know if this is supposed to be the “official” bio, but it’s advertised as being one of those “total access with the family and friends” sort of books, and it’s anything but. To be fair, pretty much everyone who was friends or lovers with Bukowski for more than ten minutes has put out a book, and most of those are fairly bad. They suffer from the problem where the person only knew one facet of the guy, and they missed most of the story. Then you have the problem where the “official” bio is only going to mention the family’s opinions, thereby not giving the real story. (For the best example of this, take a look at Jack Kerouac’s various biographies, which have generated lawsuits, infighting, and a total blanket on all information from his family, who want to forever silence any voices that may paint their little boy as anything but sqeaky-clean and wholesome, which he totally wasn’t.)

In my opinion, the best Bukowski bio out there is Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life by Howard Sounes. The Miles book pretty much just tells the story of Bukowski’s life from his books, with very brief corrections and asides, but not a lot of research or dissent. If you’ve read all of the Bukowski books, you already know 90% of what is in the Miles book. But Sounes did a hell of a lot of research to find out where Bukowski lived, who he dated, where he worked, and how everything from his finances to his distant relatives fit into the picture. The Miles book has absolutely no photos; the Sounes book has photos of Bukowski that I’ve never seen before. And since the myth and the man are more different than you think, the Sounes book contains a lot more “I never knew that” moments, and made it enjoyable. The Miles book is nothing more than a recap.

The other book I finished recently was Vinyl Junkies by Brett Milano. This was a pretty light book (about 240 pages in paperback) that talked about the neuroses of people who totally get locked into a collection habit, specifically the accumulation of those pieces of stamped vinyl that people used for music replication back in the days before the CD. He talks to a lot of people who are habitual in the vinyl way, from R. Crumb to Thurston Moore, and he covers not only the general collector of yesteryear’s hits, but people who are really freaked out in their specific collections, like a lesbian that only collects Olivia Newton John, and one of the most ultimate Monkees collectors ever.

Milano talks about actual physiological and psychological reasons behind collection, which make sense, like that collectors might have a serotonin deficiency that causes them to collect in order to feel happy, which they never will. Given my recent diatribe about Stuff, that hits the mark. I am guessing this might also cover people like the crazy eBay mom (you really need to look at that link) [2020 stealth edit: long dead link, I pointed to wayback…] and people who have a thousand cats in their house. You could argue that simply trying to collect every single version of every single Elvis record ever pressed is a little less extreme, but there are some fairly fucked up stories in the book. I think if I paid $4000 for a single, no matter how rare or weird it might be, I’d probably get some kind of serotonin tap added to my water supply, and maybe add a pound of it to every meal from then on.

A lot of the book talked about people always coming back to vinyl, the harshness of the CD, the tactile feel of a record, the look of the jackets, and so on. I guess. I did grow up in the record generation, as I was born about ten years before the CD player, and the first cassette tape system in my parents’ house was the one I got for my 11th (I think) christmas. I have many fond memories of listening to the Haunted Mansion record on our orange box-type phono player, and all of my parents’ crappy record collection, from Billy Joel to Styx, all got burned into my head by the time I entered junior high. And even with tapes being my primary medium all through high school (the walkman made that a requirement; you can’t walk to school carrying a portable turntable) I got on this kick where I bought all of my old Iron Maiden and Twisted Sister albums on vinyl, so I could keep them as a backup and make my own dub tapes, something I did until CDs became completely ubiquitous a few years later. So I never got into vinyl that much, and I’ve always preferred the ease of use with CDs. Maybe if I was a few years older, though, I would have totally been hypnotized by the format, and I would have spent all weekend hauling 200,000 pounds of oil-based platters from Queens to Manhattan.

Last night I started reading the book Cyborg, which is the pulp scifi novel that The Six-Million Dollar Man was later based on. It was completely out of print, and I found it on Amazon for like a buck fifty or something. It’s a fairly horrible little book, but I enjoy it. I think I read half of it in like an hour last night. I also recently found the book The Boys from Brazil, by Ira Levin. It was a weird little alternate-history ditty about Josef Mengele still alive in Brazil, creating a giant project to start up the whole master race thing again. They made a so-so movie of it, but the book was also out of print and hard to find. What’s weird is that Mengele really was still alive in South America when the book came out, although he had no master plan other than to sit on the beach and wait out his time until he eventually died. Anyway, I find it interesting that these books, which are both classics, are out of print, and it’s not like they came out 400 years ago or something. I’m glad Amazon lets me buy up other people’s garbage, though…