The week in books.

Krautrocksampler, by Julian Cope
I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to read this book at all. Back when British postpunk/psychedelic musician Julian Cope self-published this book in the mid-90s, it sold quickly and soon went out of print. He's done a couple of reprint editions since then, but there just aren't that many copies of this in existence, and since it is currently out of print, any that are for sale tend to go for upwards of $100. I wasn't willing to pay that much, but due to the good graces of the internet, I was recently able to locate a .pdf copy that was available for download from a blog.

I'm so glad I did. I had an absolute blast reading this book. While it was every bit as informative and entertaining as my most recent music-history read, Simon Reynolds' "Rip It Up And Start Again," Cope's book is far shorter--only about 150 pages total--and read less like a scholarly work and more like a nonstop thrillride. If Reynolds is comparable to Greil Marcus, then Cope is more like Lester Bangs, filling every page of his book with overbrimming enthusiasm and out-of-control stream of consciousness rants about all of the great Krautrock records he grew up listening to. He couches these rants in a framework of the genre's history, and does a very good job of delivering a primer for all those (like myself) who are only vaguely aware of the circumstances in which these records were created. Cope explains how "Krautrock", far from being the derogatory term many have taken it to be, was actually a self-created label jokingly applied to their own records by many bands of the genre--Faust even going as far as calling the opening track on their fourth album "Krautrock." He explains the genre's roots as well, pointing to such disparate influences as the West German-based group of American GIs The Monks, 20th century German minimalist composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and The Velvet Underground as essential building blocks for what came to be known as Krautrock. He further details the movers and shakers of the genre, both those who were inextricably linked to one project (Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream, the members of Can and Faust) and those who bounced around from band to band willy-nilly (Klaus Schultze, Manuel Gottsching, Klaus Dinger), and tells the hubristic story of Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and his manipulative power trip as the mastermind behind the Cosmic Jokers.

Above all, Cope expounds gloriously upon the merits of nearly every album he mentions, creating within his reader an insatiable urge to hear them all with such sentences as: "What the hell is going on in that song? Something scary is implied but the meaning always eludes me." and "Fuck Jim Morrison's ridiculous 'Renaissance Man of the Mind' description. That was just an excuse to be a fat slob. That was just an existentialist knee-jerk. No. No. No. These freaks were fit. Superhuman. Superman. They were here to go. But all in good time." (Those excerpts pertaining to Amon Duul II and Ash Ra Tempel's collaboration with Timothy Leary, respectively.) I tried so hard not to get out of control, not to toggle constantly between the .pdf and my downloading program, recklessly cueing up every new album Cope mentioned. But in the end, I couldn't restrain myself. I've downloaded at least 30 Krautrock albums in the last 24 hours, and I don't even want to think about how frustrating an experience reading this book would have been back in the days when I couldn't do such a thing, and had to hit up record stores in the often-fruitless quest to locate some of thse obscurities. Rest assured, I will eventually buy many of these albums (the Can and Neu! albums alone have been on my list for years). But it is a relief to get to hear them right now, and even more of one to discover that Mr. Cope is almost always justified in his effusive praise. This truly is a musical genre inhabited by an embarrassment of riches. And there is no better book to read in order to get excited about discovering all of them. Check this thing out--but try to avoid getting soaked on Ebay in the process. Some judicious Googling will work wonders.

Poisoned Cherries, by Quintin Jardine
I have mixed feelings about this book, and I think some of the negative feelings I have might have been alleviated had I read the five previous books in this series before reading this one. There are some series, especially in the mystery genre, where a new reader can just jump in wherever they feel like it, and still get every bit of enjoyment from the book they'd have gotten if they'd read all the previous books. I don't think that's true of Jardine's Oz Blackstone series, though. The entire first third or so of this book was devoted to subplots that had continued from previous books. Oz, a former detective now turned movie star, has tried to reconcile with his wife, Primavera, but she has left him for another man, which makes him feel better about the fact that Susie Gantry, whom he slept with while on his honeymoon (!), is now having his baby (!!). Oz is so charmed by the baby, and surprised by his affections for Susie, that he commits to a relationship with her by the time the baby's been around for a week or so. Meanwhile, other women are throwing themselves at him--old flames, co-stars in his new movie, even his not-yet-ex-wife--and he finds it hard to resist them, womanizer that he has traditionally been. Oh, but he must! Think of the children!

The whole time I was reading this section of the book, I was thinking two things. 1: Is there going to be a mystery in here somewhere? and 2: Jeez, every woman this guy meets tries to jump in the sack with him. Seems like a textbook case of wish fulfillment on the author's part, as does the fact that Oz is starring in a movie that's an adaptation of one of the novels in Jardine's other crime series, featuring Detective Bob Skinner. And you know, more power to him I suppose, but the fact is that the women just kept throwing themselves at Oz to the point where it really upset my ability to suspend disbelief. By halfway through the book, when the sixth or seventh woman in a row seemed determined to set an aggressive course for his bedroom, I was thinking, "Oh, well, of COURSE! After all, every woman in the world wants to fuck Oz Blackstone!"

That was the part that no amount of previous series reading would have made better. Who knows, maybe it's like that in every book, and if I'd started with the first book, I never would have gotten to the sixth. But even that would have been something I could have worked with if there wasn't so much of the story that I had no involvement in, and therefore no real interest in. As I said, there was no real mystery until 100 pages in or thereabouts, when the mysteriously reappearing old flame (who throws herself at Oz on multiple occasions, natch) discovers the body of her ex-fiancee and business partner. Oz is convince that she didn't kill him, but the police are just as convinced she did. After a while, other bodies start turning up, in a pattern that seems obvious to Oz, but is missed completely by the police because they don't have the information that Oz has--information that, if revealed to the police, could get his old flame, and even Oz himself, into all sorts of additional legal hot water. So Oz has to figure out who is committing the murders before the poliice charge his ex with them, or turn up any unsavory details, or both.

Once the main plot of the book got going, I'll admit that I did enjoy it a good bit more than I had towards the beginning. I still found the main character's unfortunate combination of rampant egotism and seeming irresistibility to women annoying, and had trouble liking him as a protagonist, but the process through which he solved the mystery was enjoyable to read, the action scenes were engrossing, and the plot kept me guessing right up to the end. However, the detailed subplots that tended to relate to incidents that had occurred in past books, which I knew nothing about, were distracting, and at risk of belaboring the point, I found several aspects of the main character unappealing. This book was OK at best. I doubt I'll read more by the author, at least not anytime soon.



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