Tuesday, December 07, 2010

2010 Pratt Book Sale

I Came. I Saw. I Was Picky


Enoch Pratt Central Library
December 3-5, 2010


I was disappointed by this year's Annual Book Sale at the Enoch Pratt Central Library. Whether it can be attributed to self-discipline (I made sure to limit my bibliographic consumption because I have WAY TOO MANY books at home!) or the lack of quality selections on offer, I only picked up a few thrift scores this time around.

Plus, prices doubled this year from 25 cents to 50 cents for paperbacks, $1 for hardbacks, and $2 per tape/disc for videos, DVDs and CDs - of which the only bargains to be found (e.g., a DVD of South Park Complete Season 1 or a CD of Big Star's #1 Record/Radio City) were gone after the first hour on Friday, December 3. Thankfully, one of them was...

THE STRANGLERS - RARITIES (1988)

Condition: Donor gift
Cost: $2

Rarities is a 1988 compilation album by The Stranglers that was released by EMI (who acquired the back catalogues of the Stranglers's former record labels United Artists and Liberty). It covers recordings made between 1977 and 1981, of which my favorite tracks include the best-ever cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Walk On By" (produced by Martin Rushent and with Dionne Warwick standing in for Hugh Cornwall on the single picture sleeve)...


"Walk On By" EP (United Artists, 1978)

...and "Sverige" - the Swedish-language single version of Black and White's "Sweden" (the only country where, according to erstwhile resident Hugh Cornwall, "the clouds are interesting") with its irresistable bass line and catchy chorus ("Jag är insnöad pa östfronten!")...


"Let me tell you about Sweden
The only country where the clouds are interesting
Big brother says it is the place for you
Too much time to think, too little to do
Too much time, too little to do
I'm snowed in on the Eastern Front

The change is the minimum
Hypochondriac tombstone
The sense of humor is lost somewhere
Cumulus numbus for you
The change is the minimum
Hypochondriac tombstone
Big brother says it is the place for you
I'm snowed in on the Eastern Front"

(Um, I guess Hugh didn't care much for Sweden - he lived there way before Wallender and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo made the land of meatballs and black metal somewhat interesting.)

(Watch this fun fan video of the "Sverige.")


...not to mention the sublime "Vietnamerica," "Choosey Susie" (which Buzzcocks fanatic Amy Linthicum says sounds like a sped-up version of Pete Shelley's "Are Everything"), the instro "Meninblack," and two of the least compiled Stranglers tracks - the extended 12" versions of "Bear Cage" and "Shah-Shah-a-Go-Go." The two "Celia and the Mutations" songs - a cover of Tommy James & The Shondells "Mony Mony" and "Mean To Me" - date from the period when The Stranglers backed London torch singer Celia Gollin.


The Stranglers have Celia Gollin's back

The electronic tape manipulations in "Yellowcake UF6" (the B-side of their 1979 single "Nuclear Device") reminded me of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Revolution #9" knob-noodlings on The White Album, though I think only Yoko could enjoy repeated listenings to this...

...while the version of "Peaches" on offer here, in which Hugh Cornwall sings "Looks like I'll be here all Summer, Oh what a Summer!" instead of "Oh what a bummer!" violated my friend Dave Cawley's First Rule of Lyrical Rhyming. "Repeating the same word twice does not constitute a rhyme!" Dave (pictured right) screeched upon first listen. "That's just stupid!" Still, Hugh's verbal faux pas did not detract from Dave's vociferous praise of Mr. Cornwall's recent performance at the Ottobar.

***

ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA: A GUIDE TO HONG KONG, TAIWANESE AND MAINLAND CHINA CINEMA by Jeff Yang.

Condition: Ex-libris paperback
Cost: 50 cents

Jeff Yang has great credentials for this subject matter, having run a magazine for Asian-Americans called A and penning the essential pan-Asian pop culture guide, Eastern Standard Time.

It's funny, I had checked this book out of the library and browsed through it when I was researching Shaw Brothers films and when I picked up this particular copy, I noticed someone had left an e-mail printout in the book as a bookmark. Being nosey, I read through the e-mail and - it was mine! Apparently, I had applied for a job at Hopkins in 2005. (I guess I didn't get the gig.)

BRUCE LEE: FIGHTING SPIRIT by Bruce Thomas

Condition: Used paperback, gift copy
Cost: 50 cents

This is the critically acclaimed biography of The Most Famous Chinese Man In History that was written by former Elvis Costello & The Attractions bass player Bruce Thomas - who studied and practiced martial arts before famously getting kicked out of the Attractions after criticizing Costello's B.O. in an interview. Elvis expert Amy Linthicum says it's a good one. (The next time Elvis Costello comes to town, I'm gonna try to get mine signed by Mr. McManus!)

THE WORST MOVIES OF ALL TIME: Or, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? by Michael Sauter

Condition: Gift copy
Cost: 50 cents
Rarity: Out of print

When I flipped through it and saw one of the few reviews I've ever seen of Otto Preminger's notorious 1968 cult counterculture bomb Skidoo, it became an essential purchase. The film is famous for its scene of The Great One, Jackie Gleason, dropping acid in prison; but more interesting to me is the fact that fellow cast member Groucho Marx - who plays no less a figure than God! - took LSD to prepare himself for the role as The Greater One. (He scored the little white tablets from Paul Krassner, as he recalls in his 1993 autobiography Confessions of a Raving Unconfined Nut.) Carol Channing Mickey Rooney, George Raft, Frank Gorshin, Frankie Avalon, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero and and John Phillip Law also fill out the mis-cast cast in this mess of a movie that's rightly "celebrated" here.



(In its defense, Skidoo does feature an interesting soundtrack by Harry Nilsson, and may be the first film in which the end credits - key grip and all - are entirely sung! The song title is, aptly enough, "Cast and Crew" and can be heard here on YouTube.)

Yes indeed, all the "monolithic mediocrities, big budget bonfires, formula failures, and camp classics" are here, from Joseph Losey's Boom! (a John Waters favorite) to Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. A wonderful time-waster of a tome about time-wasters!

THE FINAL FOUR OF EVERYTHING edited by Mark Reiter and Richard Santomir

Condition: Gift copy
Cost: 50 cents

A silly but fun book that takes the format of the NCAA's "March Madness" bracketology to its logical conclusion with non-sporting events - everything, in fact, BUT basketball! Like cereals, bald guys, movie gunfights, First Ladys, celebrity mugshots, sports nicknames, literary heroes, etc.

Hey, I just thought of one that wasn't in the book - a Final Four of "Rock Bass Players Who Practice Martial Arts." So far I've only got ex-Attractions four-stringer Bruce Thomas vs. Stranglers low-noter Jean Jacques Burnel, who's a black belt in dan karate and head of Shiokan UK (continuing his fascination with all things Asian - he also composed and performed music for the Japanese anime series Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo). I have no idea who would win. Wait - didn't Elvis Presley play bass when the Beatles came to call at Graceland? Hmmmm...King trumps chump...


Karate King Elvis

Garage Sale bass Dave Cawley merits mention for his "Pink Flamingo"-style woo-hoo wushu, but having seen him lose arm-wrestling bouts to arthritic middle-aged waitresses, cannot be taken seriously as a Final Four contender.

TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES: SPECIAL COMMENTS ON ADMINISTRATION'S WAR ON AMERICAN VALUES by Keith Olbermann

Condition: ex-libris
Cost: $1

I'll buy that for a dollar! I used to love Keith's rants during George W. Bush's "Reign of Error," most of which are collected here. Keith's become a little too over-the-top and sanctimoniously smug - albeit still brutally clever and delightfully mean-spirited at times - since then (as brilliantly parodied by Ben Affleck - the best performance of his life, IMHO - during his Saturday Night Live appearance), but I nevertheless picked this up for my brother, because he still loves the MSNBC daily lineup of Hardball, Countdown, and The Rachel Maddow Show (my current fave).

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