SLOWLY, SPITTING CRAWLS THE SNAKE: 10 TOP BOOKS OF 2010

30 Dec

Listen: I love year-end “Top 10/Best Of” music lists as much as anyone, not least because counting to ten represents the extent of my math ability. At their best, these lists serve to elucidate, shining light on artists and work that might otherwise go under appreciated or worse, unheard. A list can put a year of listening in perspective and and help stoke your sonic fires for the years to come, and this year, there are plenty of great lists waiting for you to devour.

But when it comes to the apes that revolt … I plead no contest. I’m tempted to let my pompous nature take over and say something about how further attempting to compartmentalize the subjective and sacred nature of of sonic rituals in to ill-fitting categories of “best of,” “top 10” and “the year” only serves to fuel … something I don’t want to fuel. I’m tempted, but I will resist.

The fact is that putting together a “Top 10/Best Of” list feels like toil to me, and as our friend “Ticklish” Terrance McKenna said so memorably, “man was not put on this earth to toil in the mud.”

Rather, let’s indulge our love of the written word and take a quick look at ten books that made 2010  memorable. You may say it’s a cop-out, but I’m not the only one. In no particular order, for no particular reason, please take a moment to consider interacting further with 10 of the best books the Apes read in 2010.

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Electric Eden:Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music” by Rob Young

Perhaps the greatest book ever written about time travel that is not really a book about time travel at all (except that it is), Young’s words fairly leap off of the page and give definition to some of the more undefinable notions of music, culture and Donovan’s ability to once up and buy himself an island (and we assume he paid in cash).

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The Harvard Psychedelic Club:How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America” by Don Lattin

Even if you believe you know all there is to know about the Leary and Alpert and the opening of the third eye at Millbrook, you owe it to yourself to revisit the tale through Lattin’s careful reportage, if only to prove to yourself that you don’t really know what the fuck you’re talking about.

“‘Turn on’ meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. ‘Tune in’ meant interact harmoniously with the world around you—externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. Drop out suggested an elective, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. ‘Drop Out’ meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean ‘Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity.'”
—Dr. Timothy Leary, “Flashbacks”

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Hellhound on His Trail:The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin” by Hampton Sides

We have almost certainly failed ourselves as a society with our collective inability to understand both the magnitude of societal shift proposed by Dr. King and the motivations of his assassin. It is both simpler and more complex than we ever imagined, a point Sides makes abundantly clear in this revelatory book.

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A Very Irregular Head:The Life of Syd Barrett” by Rob Chapman

Short of actually being the man himself (hint: this is not actually possible), Chapman’s book is the one most compelling, singularly complete examination of the who, what, where, when and why of the very beating heart behind Pink Floyd, and by extension, the entirety of psychedelic music. Absolutely essential.

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Empire of the Summer Moon:Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” by S.C. Gwynne

Page 132: “Comanches, meanwhile, carried a far more effective and battle-tested assortment of weapons: a disk-shaped buffalo-hide shield, a fourteen-foot plains lance, a sinew-backed bow, and a quiver of iron-tipped arrows. Their abilities with bow and arrow were legendary. In 1834, Colonel Richard Dodge, who was skeptical of the stories of their prowess, nonetheless observed that the Comanche ‘will grasp five to ten arrows in his left hand and discharge them so rapidly that the last will be on its flight before the first has touched the ground, and with such force that each would mortally wound a man at 20-30 yards.’ He also noted that, while for some reason the Indians had trouble shooting conventional targets, ‘put a five-cent piece in a split stick, and by giving a dexterous twist he will make the arrow fly sideways and knock down the money almost every time.’ Their accuracy from the back of a moving horse was, to most white men, astonishing.”

Every page of this incredible book is filled that same level of detail.

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We Never Learn:The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001” by Eric Davidson

It would be worth mentioning if all Eric Davidson did was give legitimate definition to the wide, weird world of what we can now feel comfortable calling “gunk punk” (previously known as, “stuff like The Dwarves and The Makers and The Candy Snatchers – you know, that type of stuff!”). Going above and beyond is beyond is beyond, the New Bomb Turk somehow manages to do far more, up to and including re-animating the undead corpse of rock and roll. A neat trick by any measure.

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Strange Days Indeed:The 1970s:The Golden Age of Paranoia” by Francis Wheen

British journalist Wheen bites off more than anyone should reasonably be able to chew, with an investigation into why it was that the 70’s seemed (and still seem) so impossibly weird and unreasonable. Even more unreasonable, he succeeds. The Baader-Meinhoff group, Idi Amin, the Red Brigades, the Angry Brigades, the IRA, the SLA, and Uri Geller, fer’ christsakes (and a shout out or two to “Thank Christ for the Bomb“). Most peculiar, mama.

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Bonhoeffer:Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas

An outlandishly dense treatise on theology, action and inaction, grace and sin, disguised as a biography of the dude who came within a short and curly of killing Hitler. I now dream the impossible dream of Bonhoeffer and Varg Vikernes touring the world with a series of debates on sin, action and redemption, just like Leary and Liddy back in the day.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice. We are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Nomad Codes: Adventures In Modern Esoterica” by Erik Davis

I’ll let you know when Erik Davis writes something that I don’t want – need – to read immediately. It hasn’t happened yet.

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Shelley, My Love: Song of the Day Project – 365 Musical Email Entries from May 2009 to December 2010” by Rock ‘n Roll Rob

This, I believe: I have the greatest friends and family in the world. Oh, ok – that means you, too. But I only have one friend who is liable to call me up and say, “I’m renting a van so we can all go see Nick Cave in D.C. I already bought tickets for you and your wife. You have four months to get your babysitter situation sorted.” I only have one friend who has made an enduring and undeniable contribution to the world of modern art, risking reprisal from some of the most litigious organizations on the planet for absolutely no reward (not even attaching his name to his pièce de résistance) outside of the thrill of artistic creation, a friend whom I firmly believe should submit his masterpiece to the MoMA. And I only have one friend who gave me a book for Christmas this year – a book that he wrote and had published in an edition of 30, signed and numbered. Book of the year. (And yes, the starburst on the book’s cover says, “INCLUDES FORWARD BY PAUL STANLEY.”)

See you in 2011!

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5 Responses to “SLOWLY, SPITTING CRAWLS THE SNAKE: 10 TOP BOOKS OF 2010”

  1. -valis January 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    I dig your mind.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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