Book Beat’s May Reading Group Selection is Eudora Welty’s novella The Robber Bridegroom. The Reading Group will meet on Wednesday, June 5 at 7pm in The Goldfish Teahouse (117 W 4th St #101 in downtown Royal Oak). All are welcome! Book’s will be discounted 15% at Book Beat.
The Robber Bridegroom- inspired by and loosely based on the Grimm fairy tale- is a Southern folk tale set in Mississippi.
Legendary figures of Mississippi’s past – flatboatman Mike Fink and the dreaded Harp brothers – mingle with characters from Eudora Welty’s own imagination in an exuberant fantasy set along the Natchez Trace. Berry-stained bandit of the woods Jamie Lockhart steals Rosamond, the beautiful daughter of pioneer planter Clement Musgrove, to set in motion this frontier fairy tale.
“For all her wild, rich fancy, Welty writes prose that is as disciplined as it is beautiful” (New Yorker)
Eudora Alice Welty was an award-winning American author who wrote short stories and novels about the American South. Her book The Optimist’s Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous awards. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America.
“..for a true collector the whole background of an item adds up to a magic encyclopedia whose quintessence is the fate of his object.”
~ Walter Benjamin, Unpacking My Library
April 20th was Record Store Day, an international day created in 2007, by a group of independent record store owners to promote vinyl recordings. Early that morning across the country, people lined up in front of small independent record stores to purchase and celebrate the survival and unique qualities of vinyl recordings. Limited edition albums from Van Dyke Parks, The Band, Half Japanese and over 200 other artists were released that day – with similar hard-to-find recordings released once each year on Recordstore day.
[photo above: lines forming early at Underground Sounds in Ann Arbor, photo by David Brenner, annarbor.com]
Excitement and buzz surrounds these small edition recordings, all simultaneously issued on the third Saturday of April. People discuss the selections and blog about them months ahead. Old blockbuster LPs, never released, unusual oddities and dozens of limited edition 7″ recordings come out for eager waiting fans. Forget about Christmas, this is the busiest day of the year for many indie record stores, who begin stashing rare goodies for months in advance all adding to feed the record store mania.
“Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music. His legacy is tremendous,” Young said. “But when he went home, he listened to vinyl (albums).” -Neil Young [ source: Christian Science Monitor]
Real music lovers, audiophiles and anyone passionate about music, have long known the fact that vinyl recordings are superior in tonal quality to CDs or mp3 files, which use compression to digitize the sound. Compression lops off the highs and lows, reduces depth and equalizes tones resulting in a blander dull sound quality. The beauty of liner notes, gatefold designs and the artwork that comes with a 12″ format is also unsurpassed by the weaker CD or MP3 format. The advantage to the compressed formats (as with pdf files for books) are cheapness and portability. “In 2008 more people purchased vinyl records then in the past 20 years” and the numbers are increasing every year. [source: The Vinyl Revival and the Resurrection of Sound] All praises to the indie record shops. They’ve amassed a giant grass roots effort, that is well organized and working on a huge scale. A new generation has now discovered the pleasures of warm acoustic listening. Long may vinyl spin.
Perhaps bookstores could take a page from the playbook of record stores. Could publishers and bookstores combine a strategy to create a parallel day of international book mania ? What would a bookstore day look like? The prospect of early morning line ups for limited book releases, readings, signings, artist designed book bags, food, art and events — would be an inspring sight. The last time people lined up early for books was during the Harry Potter releases, which were spontaneous grass-roots events. Imagine a day that could create “book fever” on a grand scale – how fun and positive that would be.
In some ways, indie bookstores seem even better poised and organized to bring off a day of book celebration, than record stores selling esoteric vinyl. They both have survived similar experiences, especially in their handeling of the digital gulch. Nobody seems to be talking about the huge piracy issues involved with music or books much anymore. Like the pirating of music and video in torrents, entire hi-jacked libraries of 2500 pdf- e-books are now offered for free and take only a couple hours to download. Music and bookstores both deal with a huge variety of selections, taste and styles -they act as gathering posts for discussion, learning and disseminating culture. Bookstores have regional groups, newsletters, the ABA and other support systems at their disposal, great resources that they could rally together on a day for books. Perhaps vinyl music collectors are a more passionate and dedicated breed of collector than book readers and maybe the pressure from online retailers and piracy issues forced record stores into become more agile and better retailers. Record store Day has helped bring attention to the stores and the products they offer.
World Book Night, is an active charity of free book giving. It arrived in the States last year. Every April 23rd, a network of thousands of volunteers from around the world, have given their time in a selfless effort to spread the joy of books. WBN is a growing concern and there are many testimonials about it changing lives and effecting people strongly, but as a solution for readers finding their way back to bookstores, I’m not sure its effective or even meant to accomplish that.
Giving away books (a highly personal item, not unlike records) randomly to people on the street without regard to their reading habits or personal preferences, is like spinning a roulette wheel. The giver is familiar with the book and can try and give the recipient an idea about its content – but in most cases that’s an unlikely scenerio. Sometimes a random act of kindness is given without much thought or concern for its outcome. People will pick up almost any free sample handed to them on the street – but the process of choosing a book or record (especially when you are using your own money) is a highly personal one, needing thought and effort put into it. Can you imagine if people gave out top 40 records on the streets as charity to “non-music lovers” or “light listeners”- what would the effect be? I believe most of those recordings would end up in the garbage or un-listened to.
Book Crossing is another recent effort at random book giving that tracks each book with a code, you can then follow online where your book has travelled to, and see what comments a reader has left. It’s like a public lending library for vacationers, similar to the anarchistic Little Free Library system. These are all great ideas and serve to get a limited number of books into the hands of people that might have a hard time finding books. What might be useful, or added to all these systems of free giving is the foundation of a Bookstore day, a celebration of book culture tailored to and targeted for readers of all ages and especially to book collectors -a day that could only happen if a number of bookstores desire and act on it, just as the record stores did. Tying the day to romance and gift-giving as its done in Barcelona will only add to the day’s mystique and popularity.
The personal choice of one’s reading material is something done more effectively inside a bookstore or library in private. The act of browsing is a physical, visual and intellectual art, one that needs to be experienced and practiced. Art galleries, museums, libraries, music and bookstores all offer that experience at little or no cost. Browsing is now regarded as an online activity between a persons digital browser and his cell phone or computer. In his essay The Painter and Modern Life, poet Charles Baudelaire put forth the idea of the flâneur as someone strolling down the street, wasting time but still engaged with life, actively looking. The strolling person can wander freely and linger on his way, aware and in contact with their physical surroundings, engaged in thinking, an endangered act these days. Browsing slows life down and gives the mind breathing room. It allows chance encounters and discoveries to happen, and you begin to find out who you are as a person.
Many days now exist that celebrate book culture. World Book Night, which began in the UK is now spreading rapidly. WBN has usurped St. Jordi Day , a booksellers holiday that began in Barcelona in 1927. On April 23rd, droves of people wander through the streets of Barcelona, searching out bookstores and bookstalls to purchase books. It is a holiday for browsing and gift-giving. In its original intention, La Diada de Sant Jordi is comparable to St. Valentines day. It combines books and flowers into a highly personal and meaningful contact between friends, lovers and loved ones. This day of books makes people feel good, emotionally connected and stirs the economy in Barcelona, having a direct positive effect on readers, booksellers and publishers.
[photo above: crowded book browsers and book stalls in Barcelona on April 23rd]
San Jordi day was created by a bookseller that wanted to inspire passion into book giving. He chose April 23rd because it was the death anniversary of both Shakespeare and Cervantes in 1616, and the feast day of Saint George. In the Detroit area, Núria (a native of Barcelona) and Elie, are both wine merchants and committed art advocates who have started “The Society of Saint Jordi” several years ago through which they produce The Day of Books and Roses festival held at the Ferndale Public Library. They bring together books, authors, musicians, food and wine as a continuation of this wonderful tradition.
World Book Night has taken the booksellers holiday (April 23rd) and practically removed the bookseller from it. WBN selects the books from a panel of librarians and booksellers and is able to give them away because they are donated by publishers and the authors forego any royalties on WBN books. The system uses bookstores as drop off points and distribution centers for the thousands of hand-to-hand givers. WBN hopes these book giveaways will change lives and create new readers, giving non-book buyers and “light readers” a taste of contemporary classics. I’m hopeful that many life-changing events can occur and applaud any charity directed at the poor and needy, especially among those unable to afford or get in touch with books. If the intention of WBN is to create lifetime readers, then why not aim their resources and efforts at very young, or impoverished children — they are really the ones on the front lines of literacy and picture books would be much easier, lighter and practical to print and distribute. Putting books in the hands of children will help them create their own libraries and may help improve the future of the book.
World Book Day is an international celebration sponsored by UNESCO but seems most heavily organized in the British Isles. On that day, children are given tokens or vouchers for pre-selected free titles available at any bookstore, or the child can use the tokens to get a discount off any new book at a bookstore. This is one of the largest book and reading stimulus programs in the world, and offers “big celebrations of reading with millions and millions of vouchers for free books going out to kids.”– while bringing children into bookstores, the vouchers also allow for freedom of selection, an important element in supporting and creating readers for life.
International Children’s Book Day is April 2nd (the birthday of Hans Christian Anderson) and also celebrates books and reading for children. Their Children in Crisis program, “provides support for children whose lives have been disrupted through war, civil disorder or natural disaster.” This group is based in Switzerland and seems to be running on limited resources. I’d love to support any program that empowers children (or adults) by allowing them to choose their own books -and to find them inside of bookstores. If a token works in the UK, why not adopt that here?
Perhaps Bookstore Day – or the promise of a global San Jordi day will come to pass when booksellers feel it imperative to make it happen. Authors and publishers could create special works that celebrate the book – and we’d have a one day party to announce and spread this conspiracy of book mania. Working in a bookstore is a liminal position, an uneasy balancing act. Attacks happen from all directions. Publisher’s can seem both supportive and threatening -while the looming specter of a paperless, book free world appears both possible and dismal. We remain here to try and postpone the book-replacing e-readers in our Fahrenheit 451 world as long as possible.By keeping book culture alive and prosperous inside bookstores, we can all take part in slowing down their advance. Just as the premature death of vinyl records was called too soon and reversed by Recordstore day, so might a similar reversal and appreciation of book culture be accomplished by a united bookstore day celebration.
“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.” -Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library”, 1931
“There are a good many roads here,” observed the shaggy man… “Seems to me a person could go ‘most anywhere from this place.” - Frank Baum, The Road to Oz, 1909
In the mid 1980s, Theresa was a precocious teenager and frequent customer at Book Beat. She was a part-time student, speed-reading through Balzac, Victor Hugo, Henry James and Baudelaire. She read the symbolist poets in French, hung out at the goth clubs and was known as Tracy then. She worked as a hostess/greeter in a swanky Italian restaurant, a cataloger at John King’s bookstore and clerk at the main Detroit Library. She mentioned how she once roller-skated down the vast maze of book aisles in the library’s cavernous basement after hours.
“Did I ever mention that since the age of ten I have been able to quote the whole of “Annabel Lee”? A minor peccadillo, but its mine… I’ve always wanted to have a flaw or vice that was tragic and glamorous like the ether-soaked hankie to the nose.” –T.D., Letter 1990
[left: illustration by Harry Clarke from Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe, 1923]
Poe’s gloomy ode made lasting connections… as smart-alecky ten-year-olds we memorized the same trancelike poem and shared a streak of fatalism, dream-struck by Poe’s dark eerie crypt, where lost souls drifted eternally among the demonic forces in the world.
The echoing “tomb by the sounding sea” illuminates a hidden truth in the space where events beyond reality take shape. Many believe Annabel Lee was about Poe’s dead wife Virginia, as it expressed his profound grief and anger – and was written just after her passing. The poet lost in despair, was on a nocturnal journey, following the specter of his spiritual love. Poe’s vivid dreamworld worked its way into another reality, casting its shadow across the art and literature of the 19th and 20th century.
Poe is often the first view children have into the psyche of the damaged adult world. Contemplating his dark dreams connects directly to the innocent heart and soul -and the creation of new worlds, where a child dreamer or future storyteller may discover new vistas, alternate journeys in the pages of a book.
It was “to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities” – that Poe dedicated his grand philosophical work Eureka, a dense prophetic prose poem he considered his greatest work. Poe’s amateur cosmology prophesied the scientific nature and invention of the universe, and its metaphysical influence through Baudelaire and Mallarmé, wove itself throughout French symbolism and surrealism. Theresa was the godchild of French symbolism and cartoon goth America. She placed her faith in dreams and the author’s command of language.
* * * MAD IN FRANCE, MAD IN FRANCE she once hand-stamped on the back of a postcard, “I want to go to the New School in New York and study poetry:
DEMI-MONDAINES (Like Edie) COME IN EVERY SIZE
THEY’RE REALLY MONSTERS IN DISGUISE…
I was doing a window of table settings and the dishes were “Made in France.” I loved the misspelling. (Above) FOU EN LES ETATS-UNIS” – Tracy, 12/09/1989
“literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes.” –Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author
Tracy once described a strange event that occurred in Paris, something other-worldly -a reality based hallucination or vision that came to her while standing on the Bridge Mirabeau. She always seemed cautious and skeptical of anything that smacked of the supernatural, eastern mysticism or the occult, but she explained in detail how a wave of love, an emanation or spirit seemed to transport her through time as centuries flashed in front of her eyes while standing frozen on this historic bridge. There she floated in cosmic time, causing a loss of identity and physical self. She searched through the rows of poetry at the bookstore and pulled out Apollinaire’s famous poem:
Later inspired by the poem and Tracy’s vision, I recorded a music version in 1994 with the acid-folk group Monster Island: bridge mirabeau – she would also inspire several other songs released on the Ecstatic/Yod album “From the Michigan Floor”.
* * *
Tracy grew up in Lapeer Michigan, a quiet Midwest Irish-Catholic city surrounded by open spaces, rolling verdant hills and natural beauty. Lapeer lies about an hour north of Detroit and was once a flourishing lumber town founded in 1833.
[Photo left: Pix theater, Lapeer]
The Duncan family home was situated in lush farmland a couple miles from the center of town. It required long idyllic walks or rocky bicycle rides through dirt roads to reach the nearest neighbor, the corner drugstore or high school, miles away. Lapeer was a countryside foil for daydreams and fantasy -fortunate roots that Theresa would draw from. Many of her fondest moments were spent at the downtown library, where she found books to be another road to freedom and adventures.
The downtown library was renamed the Marguerite de Angeli library in 1981 after Lapeer’s most famous resident, a children’s writer/illustrator born in 1889. de Angeli and the entire town, including the Duncan family was present at the rededication ceremony that coincided with Lapeer’s Sesquicentennial, a huge event in this small town.
de Angeli was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1950 for The Door in the Wall. Her books often focused on common working class people, the forgotten and those overlooked in life. At her Newbery Medal acceptance speech de Angeli said, “It is really true, as we used to tell our children, “When you come to a stone wall, if you look far enough, you will find a door in it.” One of the best doors I know is the help of Librarians. I don’t know what I would do without them.”
As a child Theresa began to read the dictionary front-to-back, over and over, memorizing meanings and spellings – a daily routine encouraged by her maternal Grandmother, a retired artist-teacher she loved dearly and shared a strong magical bond with. From that relationship sprang her love of language. Words are a powerful tool, a celebration of all that was indefinable and mysterious within life. In language she found empowerment and the door to new realities.
* * *
“…what I am really concerned with is giving you some insight into the relationship of a book collector to his possessions, into collecting rather than a collection.” – Walter Benjamin, Unpacking My Library
[illustrated left: The Black Sun Press version of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Marie Laurencin]
We shared our thoughts on reading and I made suggestions for books she’d enjoy. We discussed Stéphane Mallarmé’s poems for his dead son, A Tomb for Anatole, the works of Artaud, Breton’s Nadja, the river poetry of Jim Harrison, the Paris expats, the grim stories of Angela Carter, off-beat young adult fiction and various novels by Stefan Zweig and Pierre Klossowski. She loved the wickedly funny and urbane Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbhom –his only novel, a satire of a femme fatale who kills off her suitors one by one.
Tracy had a sweet-spot for the gothics; Perfume by Patrick Suskind, and the short illustrated oddities of Edward Gorey. She recognized Kathy Acker’s stolen plotline from Akutagwa’s Hellscreen, ( a story we both loved) and brought it to my attention.
She’d often burst out laughing, suddenly and loudly while reading –a wonderful habit, interrupting the lunchtime crowd at the local diner. In between cigarettes and grilled cheese sandwiches, Tracy would be howling her way through John Fante’sMy Dog Stupid and Steven Millhauser’s Edwin Mullhouse, devoured by laughter, as the lunch patrons glumly watched on. There were often calls or visits to the diner to yank her out of her lunchtime reading and return to work.
* * *
Book collector, publisher and eccentric poet Harry Crosby’s diary, Shadows of the Sun, was perhaps the first hardcover first edition she bought. That was followed by Geoffrey Wolff’s superb biography; Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby. This set off a spurt of interest in roaring twenties Paris.Tracy was a disciple of the Sun herself, perfecting and dreaming of the ultimate tan she’d collect one day in California.
In his last notebook entry on December 9, 1929, Crosby wrote, “One is not in love unless one desires to die with one’s beloved.” Crosby once came to Detroit, checking into the Book Cadillac hotel to enact a double suicide pact. A day later on December 10th, Harry and his mistress Josephine would be dead by their own hands. That tragic romanticism was elixir for Theresa.
Duncan interiorized the wild party literati or “Lost Generation” –characterized in Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises, featuring the unstoppable Bret Lady Ashley, “his most enduring siren”, an attractive force of revolutionary female sexuality that exploded on the page. Bret was an uncommon beauty weaving spells of violence and seduction – a life later channeled by Ava Gardner in the film version.
“Thus there is in the life of the collector a dialectical tension between the poles of disorder and order.” -Walter Benjamin, Unpacking My Library
Benjamin’s Unpacking My Library, was an outline of clues and passageways to the mind’s interior. The library as labyrinth and keyboard, as a kind of living playable entity, would absorb Theresa throughout her life. She could never part with a book or be away from her library for long periods and in her spare time, searched out philosophy and antique children’s books. Her library was a source of pride and being away from it for long, invoked anxiety and depression. Her life was dependent on a deep immersion in literature that only another mad bibliophile can imagine.
Theresa’s own Moveable Feast, was a long 1920s phase that included the biography of Sylvia Beach and her expatriate bookstore Shakespeare and Company, Published in Paris and Women of the Left Bank . She was enthralled with vintage Paris and that led to other works on or about; Kay Bole, Djuna Barnes, Janet Flanner, Nora Joyce, Isadora Duncan, Nancy Cunard, Mina Loy, Lee Miller and Caresse Crosby – a secret lodge of radical women modernists. Actress Louise Brooks was another inspiring rebel –her independent spirit and spark-like intelligence was captured in her autobiography Lulu in Hollywood.
Theresa was employed at Book Beat in 1988, when she was nineteen and worked for almost a year. In her application when asked, “What book would you recommend for a boy’s Bar Mitzvah gift,” her answer was, “a subscription to Playboy”… Her art interests ranged from antiquarian illustration to Art Nouveau, surrealism, dada, photographs, the fairytale illustrations of Harry Clarke, Arthur Rackham, J.J. Grandville, Edmund Dulac, Aubery Beardsley and Frank Baum’s Oz series.
“Photography conflates the notions of the “beautiful” and the “interesting.” It’s a way of aestheticizing the whole world.”
Duncan followed the small photo exhibits in our backroom gallery -a time when we showed work by photographers Madame D’Ora, and Baron Adolph de Meyer, art deco spiritualist Frantisik Drtikol, Bernice Abbott, Camerawork pictorialism, James Van Der Zee’s Harlem portraits, Warhol Factory Photos by Billy Name and stills from the silent Hollywood era. When she came back to visit, she’d browse through boxes of old photographs. “When I become rich I’ll buy them all!” she’d say. Photos are surreal, a mystery of distilled traces from the past, that hold their subjects forever beautiful. Each photo can act as container of compacted energy, of memory condensed. Photography seduced Theresa and filled her with wonder, a kind of instant déjà vu knowledge, it was history by osmosis, a romance for the eyes. She loved the flappers, models and bizarrely dressed dancing showgirls from the Ziegfeld follies. Like the Madeline in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, photographs held some fleeting essence, transporting as perfume.
* * *
“In the cult remembrance of dead or absent loved ones, the cult value of the image finds its last refuge. In the fleeting expression of the human face the aura beckons from early photography for the last time. This is what gives them their melancholy and incomparable beauty.”–Walter Benjamin, Selected Writing Volume Four, p. 238
[ photo; Frantisek Drtikol's "Wave or Dark Waves,” 1925]
Theresa soaked up images from art books, postcards and ephemera; gazing on antiques, valentines, scrapbooks, and small bits of advertising – later reconstructing her personal blog as a museum or theater of the mind. Her visual intelligence was born complete years before, but suddenly became public on her website Wit of the Staircase. She presented culture as a looking-glass world, in window boxes that recall artist Joseph Cornell’s romantic reveries, poems created from fragments collaged, the past as a fairytale seen through shadow boxes.
Theresa’s tiny Oak Park bedroom was a half mile from work. She transformed it into a wunderkammer, a miniature museum decorated floor to ceiling with small art cards and magazine clippings; a collection of 19th and 20th century sensibilities, a kaleidoscopic of artists, photos, poets and writers, a wall of dreams, where past and future collided together. It felt like a large version of Cornell box. Her make-up tables and mirrors were plastered with more images, perfume bottles, books and lipstick tubes. Under a window hung prisms throwing rainbow darts around the room.
She once asked what I thought Rimbaud meant by the line “FOR THIS IS THE ASSASSIN’S HOUR” from the poem The Drunken Morning. I didn’t have an answer -but wrote a song describing the memory of her room and the drunken violence of Rimbaud’s poem; the assassin’s hour
Photographer Francesca Woodman’s first monograph was published by Wellesley College in 1986. Theresa read a review I wrote about the book and was attracted to Woodman, a rare photographic prodigy that ended her life in suicide at the age of 22. Woodman’s self-portraits were metaphors of discovery, sexuality, performance, death, ruins and identity – some were striking adaptions from Alice in Wonderland. Woodman created mysterious and surreal inventions -angelic diaphanous imagery inspired by literature that spoke in sympathy to Duncan’s own visual language.
[photo: Francesca Woodman, Untitled, 1975]
* * *
Theresa watched and studied classic noir films. She’d spout off long passages from forgotten B-movies, reciting tough-as-nails Barbara Stanwyck patter. Noir films were a passion and escape –hard-core lessons on American grit and survival. There was comedic genius in these impromptu performances. Noir is about murder, light, shadow, love and revenge, where the leading man is nearly always destroyed by the classic femme fatale woman –irresistible beauties that seduce and destroy the men they encounter. Theresa was the opposite of a femme fatale (although a true scholar of the genre). She understood that noir was also about dark humor, camp, reversing the script and a culture of bad clichés.
In 1989, Warhol superstar Ultra Violet came to Book Beat to sign her autobiography Famous for Fifteen Minutes. Tracy stood by Ultra, chaperoning the visit. Warhol was the king of misfits, and his legacy was at its height. Snippets of video show them both, a couple of old girlfriends chatting away, sharing fashion tips, wearing the identical brand lipstick. “Hey, that’s MY brand you’re wearing! Wait here I’ll show you!” Tracy runs off-screen to get her plastic purse and flaming red gloss… Lipstick was her favorite accessory, worn thick, shiny and deeply scarlet, a costume signature mask with some obscure meaning I always thought was more comedic (a la Lucille Ball) then sexy. She’d loose the gloppy shades in later years, becoming more light and subtle with makeup.
Theresa was model tall and thin with large brown eyes and long arms -she often referred to as “chimpanzee-like.” Her hands smoothly tapered were neat and nun-like. She walked quickly with a hip-hop bounce, a loose irregular up-beat step, slightly off-balance, clownish, on the verge of falling off some invisible highwire. She’d enter a room with loud steps, a combination of grace and klutz. Her laughter came quickly, infectious, slightly masculine and mischievous.
Her style was a conglomerate of damaged fashion and street-punk kitsch; Catholic school-girl outfits, dirty sneakers and farmer overalls, combat boots and hot pants– an assemblage of the soft and hard. She had two coats; a musty second-hand faux leopard-skin fur that reeked of musk perfume and a scrappy black leather bomber jacket “borrowed” from a boyfriend.
“Hi Dear – I just got back from an extended tropical vacation. We stayed in the “Apocalypse Now” bungalow with bamboo walls and floors and mosquito netting over the bed. Now I’m really brown with white hair like a Leni Reifenstahl photo. “Charlie doesn’t get much R&R, a bowl of rat meat, a plate of cold rice.”- Theresa 2/28/1997
Perfume, Crime & musical deafness
In his autobiography, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, ( From A to B and Back Again), Warhol said, “…another way to take up more space is with perfume… Of the five senses, smell has the closest thing to the full power of the past. Smell really is transporting. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting are just not as powerful as smelling if you want your whole being to go back for a second to something. Usually I don’t want to, but by having smells stopped up in bottles, I can be in control and can only smell the smells I want to, when I want to, to get the memories I’m in the mood to have. Just for a second. The good thing about a smell-memory is that the feeling of being transported stops the instant you stop smelling, so there are no aftereffects. It’s a neat way to reminisce. ”
Theresa’s perfume interest may’ve came from reading Warhol -as one of the great archivists, he collected rare perfumes and experimented with olfactory memory. Particular aromas are strong reminders of the past -an ability called the Proust phenomenon. Perfume and its ability to raise memory connect Duncan to Warhol’s biographical approach to the world. They both had a serious interest in fame, glamour and the artificial mechanisms tied to film, photographic stills, archiving and glossy magazines. Warhol manager Billy Name exhibited his Warhol factory photos and film stills at Book Beat around the time of Tracy’s employment. We silver-foiled the ceiling together and blasted VU at the opening.
“The French perfumers,” he says, intently. “There were people of great class among them, but the industry basically was just a bunch of
kids from Grasse, which means typical Côte d’Azur, which means a bunch of criminals. I was talking to a perfumer raised in Grasse once, she said, ‘Either you became a perfumer or you stole motorcycles’.”–TD June /22/2005
Perfume is an ephemeral art like music or film – abstract, formless, emotional and molecular -difficult to describe. Anna McCoy a respected artisan perfumer and perfume blogger called Duncan’s perfume reviews, “incredibly deep, sometimes twisted, always brilliant and to be respected, even if you did not agree with her.” Duncan’s attraction to perfumes was as intellectual as it was sensual. Thinking and writing on Perfume was a way to connect with her poetic nature, to fuse with a metaphysical “vaporous reality.”
“Hello from the banks of the Mississippi. I went to Oxford and saw Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s house. We snuck into the grounds after midnight. It was very dark with bright moonlight and millions of stars. I kissed on his grave and drank bourbon.” – Theresa, postcard, October 17, 1994
* * *
Theresa’s zany humor reminded me of Lucille Ball, the dizzy redhead queen of comedy and a successful (on her own terms) star who was beautiful, mercurial and hilarious. Lucy created her slapstick style using exaggerated larger-then-life silent era gestures. Tracy too was a prankster and part-time goofball – not always on time or dependable, but always fun to be around.
Her last day at work was worthy of a Lucy episode. After a night of too much party, she went into the backroom office and vomited on my desk. That was her final scene at the bookstore.
She was sent home and later I hand delivered her last check. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t think its working out…” It was comedic but at the same time she couldn’t stop crying. In a few days she called to thank me and said she needed to move on, perhaps to Ann Arbor and finish school. Later she’d always say, “I wear my pink slips proudly like a badge of honor!”
La De Da Da Dum: Where’s My Fucking CD?
I am singing along with the new music you sent me…
I am flying back to New York until mid-March on Monday and I will listen to it on the plane through headphones. It’s so sunny and warm here in LA I’m not looking forward to freezing my ass off in the nine feet of snow that just fell over NYC. How’s my little dog going to walk through that shit? She’s only six inches high. – TD, 2/21/2003
We usually agreed on art, movies and books but rarely music. It was like a dropped circuit. Each holiday since the late 1980s we’d trade mix tapes or CDs – a holiday tradition that began at Book Beat to share favorite soundtracks we’d play in the store during the past year. Theresa would respond with Steely Dan tracks (her all-time favorite), Morrissey, Bruce Springsteen, the Kinks, Nirvana and White Stripes, the indie alterna-rock hit parade. Her musical taste was flat, MOR, mainstream. She didn’t think about music too much. It just drifted over her life from Jeremy and other contacts, with rarely much thought put into it, which came as a surprise. I’ve since grown to accept and even appreciate some of her choices, but mostly she favored a kind of dullish mediocre pop music –but why settle for that when there’s so much creativity and richness out there?
Theresa knew I was a Dylan fan and once called me up after discovering Bob’s born-again phase (ugh) –“whaddya think?” she’d ask, “do you know anything about it? I can’t stop listening to this.” She particularly liked Dylan’s Where Are You Tonight? And wanted help decoding the lyrics:
The truth was obscure,
too profound and too pure,
to live it you have to explode.
In that last hour of need, we entirely agreed,
sacrifice was the code of the road.
–Bob Dylan, Where Are You Tonight?
“I used to hate these albums, but Jeremy has loved them since he was a little boy. I think there is something Gnostic, very odd, very beautiful about the writing now. I think Bob Dylan’s Christianity is the equal opposite of Beck’s recent rather dark religious conversion”.– TD 9/05/2004
The White Stripes were Theresa’s heroes –chic pop-blues performers, garage-rockers of the moment, and almost every mix would have one or two of their songs on it. They represented the best of her generation – and there was sweetness and loyalty in that devotion to her hometown favorites. Popular music may’ve been her way to really connect and understand mainstream trends. Her all time fave band was Steely Dan (named after a strap-on dildo in the beat classic Naked Lunch) -a 70s light, pseudo jazz-rock band that put out seven overly produced studio albums, cranking out pop-hits like Hey Nineteen, Do It Again,Reelin’ in the Years and Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. The band resembled the Muppets with interchangeable members, making radio pop-schmaltz with cryptic stoner lyrics in the manner of the Eagles, crooning about “Hotel California… oh, what a lovely place.” Sometimes I think she may’ve been slightly tone deaf, joking or just lazy about listening habits – music was a sore spot. Rarely were her sound mixes tolerable for long, except the last CD she sent around mid-October in 2006, and Steely Dan was not on it.
Her last mix arrived around Halloween, close to her birthday and she asked for feedback: “I wanted to test it out on you early,” she said. I always thought she was bulk mailing them to friends for the holidays but that wasn’t the case. This was a sad coded mix, filled with songs of lost love, gloom and despair, and I dug it. The selection conveyed a sudden maturity and a sadness that echoed through that holiday season, tainted by greed, blood, and that wasteful Iraqi war. Medieval standards by Sufjan Stevens were mixed with southern blues and that great Fall song; HEY! Luciani(based on a play Mark Smith wrote on the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I in 1978). Then came a beautiful acoustic-folk rendition of the Yeah,Yeah,Yeah’s “Our Time”:
I may be dead honey
But I was left with my eyes
And underneath sugar
Well I’ve been sunk by your lies
And my heart baby
Is cold and blue
We’re two of a kind lately
Both me and you
- excerpt from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Our Time
Other depressing songs sank in: Guided By Voices Mushroom Art – “Living without you is difficult, but our dead dreams await…”. A growing emptiness builds up: ”close my eyes and shut the door, I can’t seem to get up off the floor, nothing really matters any more…” (Its Different, Face on the Floor) -all full of sarcasm, ennui and irony, foils for the holiday I thought, good stuff. I lifted several tracks and was impressed by the mix and told her so, but then I didn’t stop to think about it much, until soon after her death. It began to feel like a code for something else going on, a cry for help or escape -and the last song was Big Star’s melancholic “Nightime.”
“please don’t say a word, get me out of here, get me out of here. I hate it here… dancing in your eyes and fell through the skies…”
Local authorNatalie Taylor(Beverly Hills, MI resident and educator at Berkley High School) will be appearing at Book Beat (26010 Greenfield Rd. Oak Park, MI 48237) on Wednesday, December 5 from 6:30-7:30pm to speak and sign copies of her poignant memoir Signs of Life, recently released in paperback. This event is co-sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association Detroit Chapter. Books will be available for purchase at the event. To reserve a copy of the book or if you have any further questions, please call Book Beat (248) 968-1190. Book Beat will be open until 9pm.
“Sit down with this book. See if you can stop after one page.” —Elizabeth Berg
“Told with pulsing heart-in-the-hand pace—this book reads like a primer for anyone who has experienced the beast that is grief. With wit, gutting honesty, and a modicum of self-pity, Natalie Taylor gives us permission to cry the necessary gamut of tears that healing requires…and that includes tears of joy.”—Laura Munson, author of the best-selling memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness
Twenty-four-year-old Natalie Taylor was leading a charmed life. At the age of twenty four, she had a fulfilling job as a high school English teacher, a wonderful husband, a new house and a baby on the way. Then, while visiting her sister, she gets the news that Josh has died in a freak accident. Four months before the birth of her son, Natalie is leveled by loss.
What follows is an incredibly powerful emotional journey, as Natalie calls upon resources she didn’t even know she had in order to re-imagine and re-build a life for her and her son. In vivid and immediate detail, Natalie documents her life from the day of Josh’s death through the birth their son, Kai, as she struggles in her role as a new mother where everyone is watching her for signs of impending collapse. With honesty, raw pain, and most surprising, a wicked sense of humor, Natalie recounts the agonies and unexpected joys of her new life. There is the frustration of holidays, navigating the relationship with her in-laws, the comfort she finds and unlikely friendship she forges in support groups and the utterly breathtaking, but often overwhelming new motherhood. When she returns to the classroom, she finds that little is more healing than the honesty and egocentricity of teenagers.
Unforgettable and utterly absorbing, Signs of Life features a powerful, wholly original debut voice that will have you crying and laughing to the very last page.
Mel Eisenberg (1935-2012) was a regular at Book Beat, a person deep into magic, illusions, the supernatural, playing cards and the circus. During every visit, Mel would drop off a a few yellow legal pads of paper as a gift that we used to write up inventory sold during the day. Mel managed printing companies by profession but his passion was the world of magic.
October 31st, 1976 was the 50th anniversary of Houdini’s death at Grace hospital in Detroit. On that day, Mel organized a gathering with five fellow magicians who came together in the same room in which Houdini died, in an attempt to contact his departed spirit. The event was covered in newspapers and on TV.
At a signing for Daniel Waldron’s; Blackstone, a Magician’s Life: The World and Magic Show of Harry Blackstone, 1885-1965, Mel entertained the audience at Book Beat with amazing card tricks and stories about the great magicians he knew. For most of his life, Mel was a professional magician in the Detroit area known as “Magical Mel”. During the 1970s, Mel ran a local magic shop in the Telex-mall at 10 mile and Telegraph known as “The Emporium of Magic.” It became a local hangout where kids and adults could learn about magic and tryout their routines. Mel loved to pass along his enthusiasm and love for magic. He passed away on March 2nd, 2012.
STEP RIGHT UP! Beginning in the last week of October and throughout December 2012, Book Beat will be selling and displaying Mel’s specialized collection of magic books and ephemera in our backroom gallery. Included in the sale is a a large grouping of books related to the circus; sideshow entertainers, freaks, P.T. Barnum, posters, magazines, photo stills and biographies of magicians (many of them signed) and over 40 rare and seldom seen tarot and cartomancy decks. Mel’s private library represents a lifetime of passionate collecting. The majority of books have been priced below online values and offer a great opportunity for both the novice or advanced collector. Mel’s wife Rosalie penned the following short biography:
Mel Eisenberg was born Nov. 12, 1935 in Detroit, Michigan, where he lived until he married and moved to Oak Park. He attended Central High School and graduated in 1953. He then went to Detroit Institute of Technology, graduating Cum Laude, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. He was a member of Omega Alpha Pi, an honorary fraternity.
He married his childhood sweetheart, had two children, and a long career in the printing industry as General Manager of several companies in the Detroit area. His last position was as a printing forms salesman, which put him in contact with the public, which he truly loved.
His interest in Magic started as a young boy in his pre-teens. He obtained several books and learned as much as he could from them. When he was old enough to work, he got a job in a Magic Shop in downtown Detroit, where he had the opportunity to meet many local magicians, as well as visiting magicians who always sought out the local magic shop to browse through. His earnings always went towards buying equipment and eventually he put an act together and started entertaining at children’s birthday parties, school functions and wherever he could find a captive audience. Magic became his passion and he spent much of his free time practicing new tricks and developing new acts. He entertained children of all ages (3 to 93). He taught classes at the Jewish Community Center and many of his first time students have made magic their career. He was a mentor to many.
In the 1970’s he was asked to become a partner in a magic shop in Southfield, and he jumped at the opportunity. The Emporium of Magic became a place for all the local magicians to hang out. It had a stage, where they could perform at any given moment. They also offered classes for children, as well as adults. The shop closed a few years later but he continued to help old and new magicians from his home.
During his lifetime he had many hobbies, one of which was collecting magic and circus books. He has a collection of approximately 500 books which are on display for purchase at the Book Beat, in the Lincoln Center, Greenfield and Lincoln, Oak Park, MI.
Mel was well respected both in his business and personal life. He died on March 2, 2012 at the age of 76. At his funeral he was honored by having a “Broken Wand” ceremony, performed by one of his early students of 50 years ago.
Note: All photos above are from the estate of Mel Eisenberg; from the top; Mel performing at about age 15, Mel’s cloth pin he wore on his jacket, Magical Mel pin, Mel performs a levitation with his assistant Rosalie, Mel performing balloon magic.
Thank you for coming out to celebrate the Book Beat’s 30th anniversary party – it was a beautiful summer day and we all had a good time with music, authors and refreshments. We were really overwhelmed by the response and outpouring from the community. Thank you all! It’s good to know we are supported and will continue to be a home and shelter for the physical book. A display of the art by the author, librarian Peter D. Sieruta is currently up in the backroom gallery.
If you couldn’t make it to the party, we’ve posted some photos on our Face book page (and below) to share some of the highlights that day. There were a few articles in the press that covered the event. The Sunday Detroit Free Press , the Metro Times had a mention, and The Southfield Sun did a story that included some of our all-time favorite books. Some of the authors that made it to the event and shared there books were:
Thank you to “Outlaw” Crystal and SVmedia.com for covering the event. Below is a video they put together from the Book Beat anniversary party:
Drawing at the top of the page is a recent gift to Book Beat by “Mouse & Mole” author/illustrator Wong Herbert Yee. Pictures below include; 1)Anniversary Cake from Sugar Kisses in Berkley, 2)Poet ML Liebler and his Coyote Monk band, 3)drummer/artist Efe Bes strikes a pose, 4) US Senator Carl Levin and his wife Barbara on the left, talk to Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan, 5) The Senator meets crime novelist Elmore Leonard for the first time.