Monday 27 September 2021

David Bowie by Sukita - Masayoshi Sukita (2021)


Rating: Excellent

This superb book was bought for me by my fiancé for my birthday earlier in the month. Having been a massive Bowie fan since my teens it was an obvious choice. Sukita, from the early nineteen-seventies, took some of the most significant and famous photographs of Bowie. This book contains many photographs that I'd seen in the past, but that I was not aware Sukita had been involved with, so as I went through this beautiful book I was taken by surprise numerous times, which added to the pleasure. There's also some rare photographs included that I'd never seen before. The most famous photograph Sukita took was the one that ended up being used for the 'Heroes' (1977) album, however I had always loved the other photos from this session - in black and white, with Bowie in a leather jacket looking angsty and intense, revelling in his mid 1970's pomp. Fortunately many of the photographs from this session, which actually took place in Japan, despite the album being so associated with Berlin, are included here.

My favourite photo from the book. By Sukita

Sukita's most famous photograph of Bowie

I could write a significant amount of words regarding this book, however, in the end, I'd be merely gushing. One definite thing I will say is that all Bowie fans should have this book in their collection. The photographic reproductions are of a high quality. Sukita provides the text, which is obviously translated and displays a certain charming sensibility of a non-English speaker, who is also very respectful of both Bowie and the work they did together. This becomes very poignant toward the end of the book when, in 2009, Sukita took his last shots of Bowie when he was visiting New York, only one of which is reproduced here. Perhaps this is the only criticism of this book, that it could have been much bigger, with many more photographs, particularly as Sukita worked with Bowie at many different points during his career. However, like Bowie himself, Sukita comes across as someone concerned with quality control, which is totally fair enough. Reading this coffee-table, hard-back book has inspired me to look much more closely at many of these types of publications I have in my collection. In the past I've merely leafed through them, but now I'm going to read them from front to back, so expect more to appear on this blog in the future, including some more about Bowie and other of my musical obsessions.

Not quite that famous photo. By Sukita

Bowie by Sukita

Saturday 18 September 2021

The Process - Brion Gysin (1969)


Rating: Not Rated

The Process is the first book in about fifteen years that I've abandoned. I have a fairly formal arrangement with my reading self to not abandon books I'm not enjoying, which in part probably stems from the discipline of reading for a book club, particularly as I facilitate the sessions. I lasted one hundred pages before I couldn't stand it any more. The problem? Mostly because I've read too many novels like this one, with narratives that are plotless, predominately picaresque in nature and full of flaneur type characters. I love the Beat writers, in particular the great Jack Kerouac, but Gysin, here at least, does not match Kerouac's flair, technical prowess and wide-eyed wonder at the world. Instead, the main protagonist, Ulys O. Hanson, sets out from Morocco to travel across the Sahara Desert, with no luggage save for a hefty bag of 'Keff' that he smokes continually in a pipe. Apparently Hanson meets with the famous Master Musicians of Jajouka and L. Ron Hubbard along the way, but I didn't get that far, worn down by Hanson's stoned wanderings and descriptions of the desert people, the landscape and the mystical trances those he allows to puff on his pipe go through. It's mildly engaging, but I couldn't get rid of an impatient itch inside me that grew until I couldn't stand it any more. I used the excuse of having to begin the next book club novel to bail.

Gysin and Burroughs with the Dreamachine

Brion Gysin (1916 - 1986) himself was quite an interesting character however, a friend of William S. Burroughs and inventor of the 'cut-up technique' of constructing narrative, of which Burroughs embraced wholeheartedly for a series of startling novels from the 1950's until his death in 1997. Gysin was predominately an artist, poet and performance artist and also inventor of the Dreamachine, a stroboscopic device that induced patterns of colour when viewed with eyes closed. Far out man. The Process is Gysin's main novel, with other publications mostly featuring poetry and short fiction, including The Third Mind (1978), co-authored with William Burroughs. Alas, such a pedigree of creative spirit and connections was not enough to propel me forward through to the end of The Process, so in fairness I'm not going to rate this book, only the second in the ten year history of this blog not to be rated. 

Monday 6 September 2021

Lyonesse II: The Green Pearl - Jack Vance (1986)


Rating: Excellent

Jack Vance was such a superb writer, his prose is just so vivid and classy that even though The Green Pearl is not quite up to the quality of the first book in the Lyonesse trilogy, Suldrun's Garden (1983), it is still an immensely satisfying read. The Green Pearl follows the adventures of many of the characters from the first book, particularly Aillas, who is now the king of the southern island of the Elder Isles, Troicinet. Although the novel begins with the sinister movements of the evil green pearl, which appeared at the end of the first novel, a great deal of the narrative follows Aillas' political and military adventures. Whilst the magical forest of Tantrevalles featured strongly as a setting in the first book, here it is the barren and mountainous region of Ulfland that dominates. Aillas battles the Viking-like Ska, who have declared themselves at war with the rest of the world and occupy much of Ulfland. Aillas' wizard ally, Shimrod, appears again and gets caught up in attempting to satisfy his carnal desires with the mysterious Melancthe, who comes across, somewhat humorously, as a parody of a goth (as in goths from the late 70's music scene...).This is just some of the colourful adventure and political intrigue featured as the novel steadily builds its narrative arc.

Cover art from another edition

Once again Vance sends his protagonists on long adventures during which they face dangers both of the practical and the magical kind. It's entertaining stuff and I would imagine that this narrative form was aimed at players of Dungeons and Dragons, who would have been strongly drawn to many of the tropes featured  throughout the novel. My favourite part of The Green Pearl comes towards the end, when the beautiful princess, Glyneth, is kidnapped by the obnoxious Visbhume, a somewhat mediocre wizard, and is taken to the parallel world of Tanjecterly, where humans can live, but are threatened by all kinds of monstrous creatures. This section is wildly imaginative and exciting, with Glyneth going against type as a helpless princess, taking things into her own hands. The Green Pearl has much to recommend, including characters with depth and dialogue that sparkles with verve and complexity. The world-building is sophisticated and features an array of characters with brilliant names and unusual characteristics. As far as trilogies go, The Green Pearl is typical in that although it features a multitude of narrative pleasures, it does come across as a bridging novel, and therefore suffers slightly as a consequence. However, from what I've heard from those in the know the third novel, Madouc (1989), is a fine end to the trilogy, so I'm looking forward to reading that in the near future.