June 15th, 2007

All Together Now: Who Hates "Sgt. Pepper"?

It's been ten years since Princess Di's death proved that yes, those stiff English upper lips can quiver with emotion.  In today's Guardian, the UK's cultural elite (well, okay, a lot of them are American) open up and tell us how they really feel about the rock and roll canon.


Ian Rankin loathes the first VU album!  Luke Pritchard thinks "Pet Sounds" sucks!  Franz Ferdinand disses "Marquee Moon!"  ("You know when a boring guy is explaining to you the technical spec of a car, the fuel injection system and the leather seats, and his voice becomes so much background noise?")  Joy Division's drummer doesn't like "Trout Mask Replica."  (He said "it sounded like someone taking the piss," which I initially read as "sounded like someone taking a piss," which I thought was a better critique.  Oh well.)

And obviously it's taken some people forty years to admit they were just pretending to like "A Day in the Life."

Gien Mr. Rankin's dismissal of "The Velvet Underground and Nico" ("'ermine furs adorn imperious.'  Those are four words that should never appear in a rock song"), I thought I'd asked our guest blogger, Katherine Dunn, if there were any sacred cows she'd like to stick a tuning fork into. 

As for the rest of you kids — no more beating on Kurt Cobain, okay?  'Cause he's already dead

More Questions for Katherine

Katherine, you've got a high profile as a journalist, and I was curious as to how you got into the field. Is there a left brain/right brain split between the kind of work/subject matter/style you use in your nonfiction writing as opposed to your fiction? Do you prefer one mode to the other? How do the two feed into each other? Seems like the subject and themes of your work-in-progress segue nicely into much of your journalism — is this always (or often, or ever) the case?

As ever, feel free to ignore/riff on any/all/none of the above.
  • pgdf

Sixties Novels, Part 23

THE CIPHER, Alex Gordon, Simon & Schuster, 1961

How I love doing the detective work on these authors! Perhaps you'll find it of interest too. And while this book falls a bit outside our established chronological range, and is hardly transgressively Sixties at all, it still provides some interesting fodder.

We'll look first at the author, then book and publisher.

Googling "Alex Gordon" provides very little information, in an appropriately cipher-like manner. It would seem at first that our author was a one-hit wonder, and his book went nowhere.

But then we venture to Abebooks, and a chance snippet of info breaks the case wide open.

This book was filmed as ARABESQUE:


But wait! IMDB credits the author of THE CIPHER as one Gordon Cotler! So Alex Gordon proves to be a pseudonym, and Cotler proves to have a long and prolific career.


We find him still writing thrillers in the 1990's. The class notes page for 2002 from Columbia University informs us:

"Gordon Cotler: The artful novelist, TV scribe and short story wizard has returned with his gracious spouse from their first exploration of three nations of Eastern Europe. He’s back at his faithful word-processor in his Central Park West digs mid-Big Apple."

So THE CIPHER was merely an early stage in a large ongoing career.

Turning to that novel, we find that it was originally published as an "Inner Sanctum Mystery" in 1961. This line of books was related to the more famous radio show of the same name:


The date of 1961 is the only one given on the copyright page of the Grove Press Black Cat edition, and booksellers claim the paperback depicted above is that same year. But how could it be that S&S would let a paperback appear the same year as their first-edition hardcover? Not possible! The paperback obviously omits the later date of its own appearance.

Now, Grove Press was indeed one of the seminal Sixties publishers.


Why they chose to reprint a fusty old-line mystery--any book where a character exclaims "Stuff and nonsense!" as happens in this text gets an immediate "fusty" rating--along with Lawrence, Miller, Trocchi and other avant-garde writers is a mystery greater than any contained in the novel!