The History of TamTam Books (March 10, 2014)
Wednesday, March 10, 2014
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March 10 is Boris Vian’s birthday. Today, it’s the date, and I’m going to spend my time today thinking about nothing except Boris Vian. He is in fact very much part of my life in Japan. In 1989, when I first went to Tokyo, I was writing short stories, that my wife Lun*na told me that it reminded her of Vian’s fiction. At the time I sort of knew his name, but the only thing that seemed clear to me was that he was French, and he played French jazz. Beyond that, I knew nothing of him. Lun*na took me to Parco Book Center in Shibuya to show the range of Vian titles that were translated into Japanese. I was amazed that there was a French writer, who was famous in Japan, yet totally unknown in the United States.
It was around this time that I made the decision to start up a press, TamTam Books, to devote itself to the works of Boris Vian. Mind you that I haven’t read one word from this man, yet my gut reaction was that he was an important figure and more likely a fantastic writer. Once I came home to Los Angeles, I went to the Downtown Library on 5th and Flower to research Vian’s work, as well as get practical information in starting a business and a publishing house. The first book I read by Vian is “I Spit on Your Grave.” At first I was confused because there was a quickie - exploration film with the same title. The narrative was a bit similar, but a totally different context. I was fascinated with Vian’s interest in American black pop culture, including the jazz music that was being made in the late 40’s. I xeroxed the whole text from “I Spit….” and went home thinking that this will be the source for the first TamTam publication. Alas, just by chance, I asked the French publisher to send me the Vian novel that he himself translated into English. His original English title was “I Shall Spit on Your Graves.” Plus there were some editorial changes in the American mass market edition that came out in the early 60’s. I restored the title as “I Spit On Your Graves,” and pretty much kept the original Vian translation that he did with an American army buddy at the time.
So that was my first title, the second title I needed was “L’écume des jours.” This is considered to be Vian’s masterpiece. I had two choices, either re-publish the American or British translation that came out in the 60s, or start from scratch. I met Brian Harper through the Internet world, and he already wrote a translation of the Vian classic, and sent it off to the Vian estate for approval. They loved it, and I even liked it more than the other translations. Also with my edition of the novel, there are end-notes describing the real occurrences that took place during the writing of this novel, as well as some of the more obscure references that are throughout the book. You could read the original text with no problem, but if you want, you can also read the end notes at a separate time or at the same time while reading the novel. You choose! The Brian Harper edition is called “Foam of the Daze.”
The other editions that came out in the 60s were called “Mood Indigo” in America and the British edition is called “Froth on a Daydream.” Of the two, “Froth is a better title, the American edition had trouble with the poetic title of “L’´ecume des jours, and just used the title of a Duke Ellington song, that is not even mentioned in the novel! Nevertheless, “Foam of the Daze” is another poetic interpretation of the title, and I am happy with it. Harper kept the poetry images of the novel intact, and I believe it's a beautiful read.
Over the years, I pretty much published every major Vian title, including his Vernon Sullivan titles “I Spit On Your Graves, ” “To Hell With The Ugly, ” and “The Dead Have No Skin.” All great by the way!
Along with Vian, I also published Serge Gainsbourg. His short novel “Evguenie Sokolov” and a major biography by Gilles Verlant “Gainsbourg.” The connection between Vian and Gainsbourg is a very strong one. Vian was one of the first notable figures in France to give Serge attention to his music. Besides that I also published Guy Debord’s “Considerations on the Assassination of Gérard Lebvoici.” It’s a book about Debord’s friend and publisher, Lebvoici, who was assassinated under mysterious circumstances. Just right before his death, Lebovici published the French gangster Jacques Mesrine’s “The Death Instinct.” That will be my next and last French literary work I will publish. “The Death Instinct will come out winter 2014/2015.
Recently I published “In The Words of Sparks… Selected Lyrics, which is edited by Ron and Russell Mael of that band, with an introduction by Morrissey. First of all, there is not anything better in life than Sparks. If you don’t like this band, don’t even take the trouble to talk to me. Having Morrissey taking part in this book is beyond a feverish dream for me. I love Morrissey, and I love Sparks. I also love my Lun*na, and I will be publishing her book “A Ring Around The Collar.” After that I am going to retire from publishing and focus on being an internationally known writer. If I don’t win the Nobel Prize for literature before I turn 80, I will be deeply disappointed and quite bitter over the experience of being looked over by my peers. Thank you very much for reading and supporting my passion.