Tuesday book review bits

Having read my way through a slew of recent books it behooves me to say something about them — if only to fully clear them from my desk at work and check them back into the system:

  • Julian Cope‘s Japrocksampler is unsurprisingly meant to be a companion volume to his earlier Krautrocksampler — both books being freely biased but still aiming to be informative takes for an English-language audience on the late sixties/early seventies rockkultur of Japan and Germany respectively. Like the earlier volume, Japrocksampler has been received well but not without some criticism — in a quick chat I was lucky enough to have with Kawabata at Terrastock, he averred that it wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly better than nothing! (One of the more amusing errors he noted involves one of the album photographs in the book — an album was pictured with the obi (the paper strip with information about the album such as title, price, etc., as can also be seen with CD imports) of an entirely different album wrapped around it!)

    These caveats noted, and Cope’s irregular stylistic quirks being part of the flow — they’re not disruptive, but are noticeable nonetheless — it’s still a solid introduction not merely to legendary acts like the Flower Travellin’ Band and Speed, Glue and Shinki but the context in which these groups emerged in Japan, from the working of the Japanese music industry to, if perhaps too briefly, the general sociopolitical context of Japan at the time. Don’t know if I would recommend everyone buy it, but read a library or friend’s copy at the least; meantime, the book’s spinoff site, which I’ve linked at points throughout this review, is a fine complement, providing further links and information about the artists in question.

  • Equally not quite perfect — there’s a slew of editing errors throughout that made me wince — but equally worthy of reading is Dave Thompson‘s The Dark Reign of Gothic Rock, which overwrought title aside might actually have been the first book on the subject to not only treat the genre and initial UK-birth period as a detailed and worthwhile subject of study in its own right (nothing against Mick Mercer — who favorably reviews the book here — but his eighties work seems to have been more of a capturing as it happens — equally useful but with its own limitations), but to get nearly all the principal figures caught up in the tag sat down for a series of interviews. Finally getting folks like Peter Murphy and Siouxsie Sioux and Ian Astbury and the like to talk at least somewhat directly about being identified as goth — however unintentionally — makes for instructive reading, since none of those figures had of course ever planned to actually BE ‘goth’ in the first place.

    There’s a good wealth of historical information scattered throughout the book as well — though as noted, having a caught a slew of small but notable errors, it makes me wonder about the ones that I’ve missed — and in many ways it’s the stories of the second-tier groups that are of the most interest, such as learning the story of Specimen and their Batcave club in more detail than I’d yet read. Its understandable enough UK focus leaves out plenty, admittedly — Rozz Williams and Christian Death quite literally appear only in the final couple of pages almost as an afterthought, for instance — but even so, well worth a read, and for its detailed breakdown of the early Sisters of Mercy story alone it was crucial stuff.

  • Finally, John Cox‘s Slovenia: Evolving Loyalties, one in a series of books on Balkan countries published recently by Routledge, was of specific interest to me as someone who has been idly considering a visit to the area for a while, and is now looking towards a trip to both Slovenia and Serbia next summer as part of a larger European vacation. Still, one person’s vacation spot is another’s home and central social context, and Cox’s work taught me more about the country and the Slovenian consciousness as such more than anything else ever has yet. With the caveat that it is an outside perspective from an academic researcher, if one who clearly knows and loves the Balkans, Cox’s book was a detailed, multi-perspective take on many different issues in Slovenian politics, history, culture and more besides — and I didn’t realize until now that Slavoj Zizek was Slovenian! Serves me right!

Next up on the reading list — Kafka’s The Trial. Finally!

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