For over twenty years, our friend and trusted store manager Steve Kilfoy toiled in the fields of Arcana, all the while maintaining his own bookstore, Bookfinger, at The Brewery. In 2017 Steve suffered life-threatening health issues that made it necessary him to leave us. Following a bone-marrow transplant, a lengthy period of enforced semi-isolation while his immune system rebuilt itself, and a stagnant period in the book business, he finds himself in the unenviable position of requiring financial assistance. Steve is an unforgettable individual and part of our history -- please click here and consider supporting his efforts to keep his book business and his home. Thank you.
This week I learned of the passing of beloved restaurateur, philosopher, and iconoclast Kenny Shopsin. While we at Arcana are friends and fans of the work of his talented daughter Tamara, it wasn't until a decade ago that I discovered the legacy of her family's long-lived Greenwich Village eatery - and its idiosyncratic menu and dining rules - through the Jason Fulford-illustrated book "Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin". The true revelation though came with catching Matt Mahurin's captivating 2008 documentary film about Kenny and the Shopsinverse, "I Like Killing Flies." It is a must-see, best viewed anywhere other than on Amazon.com... Faced with moving his cozy-bordering-on-claustrophobic establishment of three decades with little warning, he reacts with equal parts bravado, panic, and denial - all the while dispensing his no-nonsense accumulated personal wisdom and professional ethos as his family and the viewer are equally held in the thrall of his sublime, suspender-ed maelstrom. Often when I've found the expression of my passion for Arcana's environs and books misinterpreted by visitors here during the course of the day - more often than I can count - I've thought of Kenny Shopsin and the sheer force he displays in the film preserving his vision for his establishment irrespective of the consequences. Mind you, this was prior to the rise of the Yelp review, but to understand anything of him from his book and documentary is to know that would have mattered not one iota to the man. I bow to his humanity and curmudgeoness, and will rue the fact that there is one fewer fighters of the good fight among us.
This Saturday, September 29th from 3:00 to 5:00 PM, Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford will be having a local booksigning for their slew of new books oriented towards readers both young and old!
On Saturdays in the mid to late sixties, pre-teen science fiction and comic book enthusiast me would hop the RTD bus from West LA to comb the unadorned wooden shelves and cardboard boxes of Hollywood Boulevard's Cherokee Book Shop and Bond Street Books. I had grown up doing stockwork over the Summers at Campbell's bookstore in Westwood Village which served much of the UCLA community, but had not yet really been exposed to the whole used bookstore experience. In their own separate ways, Cherokee and Bond Street were for me that introduction.
Bert Blum was the younger brother of Cherokee's owner Gene who ran a separate comics shop upstairs - one of the very first in the city. Unlike the Village Rexall Drugs which only stocked that month's titles, Cherokee dealt in out of date back issues going back to the Golden Age, which were of course what I really coveted. Bert was young-ish and hip, and I was pretty sure he indulged in at least modest drug use when he wasn't haggling with his youthful clientele of buyers and sellers. I met any number of like-minded proto-nerds there - many of whom later went on to have jobs in the comics industry.
A couple blocks away, just south of the Boulevard on Wilcox, was Bond Street Books. Bond Street had not as comprehensive a selection of comics, but did possess a magnificent array of back issues of every science fiction magazine imaginable - including my favorites at the time, Galaxy, Analog, and the occasional New Worlds. It's interior was spartan and unruly, and owner Steve Edrington was notably cranky and sarcastic. You needed to be tough to keep going back there with as little available funds as I had then, but I loved that place and so I did. I was impressed by Steve’s way of keeping customers in line, and upon reflection have to think that for better or worse - as my lovely partner Whitney would convincingly argue - subconsciously some of it creeped into my own later retail persona… Soon enough though, those weekend trips took a back seat to having girlfriends and listening to (and beginning to play) music. By my High School years they were but a distant memory, though I tried to catch up with Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, and R.A. Lafferty when I could.
Cut to the early eighties, in my post-Rhino Records, pre-Arcana period of learning to become a bookseller, and therefore exploring each and every local used book store for potential inventory and inspiration. Upon entering Burbank Book Castle on the Golden Mall for the first time, I was mesmerized. A former Woolworth's as I recall, it was cavernous, and filled to its mezzanine with every subject matter imaginable. The bookcases were mostly constructed from old wooden fruit crates stacked up and pushed back-to-back with one another to form lengthy aisles. While there were numerous reasonably priced art and photography book finds to be made each trip, Hollywood was king here. Book Castle had thousands of books, scripts, film stills and one-sheets, and scores of thousands of back issue magazines of all kinds. I found out it was owned by a trio of book dealers - most notably one which was the very same Steve Edrington from Bond Street. Upon seeing him, he not only hadn't changed physically one bit, but also had lost none of his sharp-tongued repartee. Along with Dutton's, Book Castle became my primary reason for frequent treks out to the east Valley in those days when bargains were still to be had.
In the ensuing years both of Steve's partners departed, and he actually bought a building just north on San Fernando Boulevard and rechristened the new place Book Castle and Movie World. While a tenth the size of the previous store, it seemingly housed just about the same amount of stock, and negotiating the aisles was not for the faint of heart. Steve's nephew Mitchell manned the counter most days, and against all odds efficiently rode herd on the miles of newspapers and periodicals still housed in the underground catacombs of their original location two doors down. The shop was a mainstay for gifts, reference, and set decoration for the local Film studios and creatives for decades before the internet changed the ways these things work. Even over the past few years after they jettisoned the mags and papers and stopped buying much, there were always untold treasures to be found on those shelves, boxes, and toppled stacks on the floor. Visiting only a month ago, Mitchell was as usual beleaguered with being half the staff that day, but also unfailingly polite and attentive. He still to this day calls me sir! Steve was as acerbic and funny as ever, even though the process of finally closing up his shop after a run of fifty-one years had begun. At least this was because he sold the building and actually had something to show for all of that time.
Today was Steve, Mitchell, and Movie World's last day. And while those two are due for a well-deserved rest, I'm gonna miss those guys.
In some additional sad news, I just learned that author and publisher extraordinaire Adam Parfrey passed away this past weekend at his Port Townsend, Washington home. Adam was a longtime mainstay of the the local book scene, first via the storied Amok, and later promoting authors and the dissemination of transgressive cultural knowledge by way of his Feral House and Process Media imprints. Some favorite publications of these to be found on my personal shelves include his own "Apocalypse Culture" and “Sin-a-Rama”, guilty pleasure "Ye-Ye Girls", the amazing color photographs of Leon Kagarise's "Pure Country", biographies of Roky Erickson, The Germs, Moondog, Ed Wood, and Walter Keane, and his former wife and partner Jodi Wille's extensively researched "The Source" - the companion book to her awesome documentary film of the same name. And in a suitably spooky “coincidence – perhaps not” occurrence, I had just begun re-reading Feral House’s biography of Pasadena’s own pioneering rocket scientist and occult legend Jack Parsons entitled “Sex and Rockets” this past Friday... While many of the most memorable personalities in the book world tend towards the idiosyncratic, Adam was truly one of a kind who carried on a unique mission. My condolences go out to his family and friends.
Photograph of Steve Edrington at Book Castle and Movie World by John McCoy via dailynews.com
Photograph of Adam Parfrey and Jodi Wille by Andrew Hultkrans via artforum.com
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of our longtime friend and supporter Clive Piercy - loving husband, loyal friend, cycling enthusiast, avid baker, author, and graphic designer extraordinaire.
Clive was a towering Brit whose breadth of knowledge, quick wit, and oft-times acerbic delivery left me alternately in awe, stitches, or fuming on many an occasion. We have fond memories - and a few grainy pictures attached - from when we were fortunate enough to host the publication party for his "Pretty Vacant" on the 'nade way back in 2003 for which he produced a front window display as well as an elegant limited edition just for the occasion. Beyond its title's puckish Sex Pistols double entendre, "Pretty Vacant" is a glorious little book that is both clever in a manner unique to Clive's nature, and likely to be the enduring photographic typology of the until-then underappreciated Dingbat Apartment architecture of his adopted home. His decades of similarly stylish practice at Ph.D, AirConditioned, and Art Center College of Design have fixed his imprint firmly on the local design consciousness.
We extend our condolences to Clive’s lovely wife Annie Field, good friends Robin Hurley and Jon + Carol Kono-Noble, colleagues, students, and everyone else held in his sway over the years. Go you Spurs! - we'll miss you, mate.
Lee + Whitney
It’s a bittersweet moment as Erin Schneider leaves Arcana for the green pastures of Goldsmiths in London for graduate school. Erin defines “one of a kind” and we will miss her enormously. Her vast knowledge of a wide array of subjects (and her opinions thereon) and her inimitable way of sharing it has been a gift to us. Who will be playing obscure fiddle music in the store? Who will tell stories of dancing at the VDL house, playing accordion at the local Swedish dance, storing cosmic energy at the Aetherius Society, and sacred heart singing workshops? Who will zero in on EXACTLY the right book on – just about anything for just about anyone? Who will bring us donuts procured at 3 am and the tales of the concert/art show/ jam session/ or tryst that preceded them? With her leaves a store of cultural, musical, artistic, academic, and spiritual information, an untamable effervescence, and a crackling intelligence that we will dearly miss. She leaves us having graced us with her vibrant presence for 3 ½ years and she will forever be a part of the Arcana. We love you, Erin!
"We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense." Barack Obama, US President. "BANG" by Kerry James Marshall
Culturally I'm a child of the sixties, and therefore have always been an ardent admirer of the illustration and design work of the great Alan Aldridge. His collaboration with David Bailey - "Goodbye Baby and Amen" - is frequently pulled from the bookshelves and perused; and the entry to my home office displays my prized signed copy of his at-the-time banned poster for the original London screening of Andy Warhol's "Chelsea Girls". Alan may be best known for his innovative work as a book designer for Penguin UK, and for compiling the classic two-volume set of "The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics", but he also created graphics and identities for John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Apple Records, The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, The House of Blues, and many, many more. And while John Pasche is officially credited as the originator of The Rolling Stones' iconic "tongue" logo in 1970, it is hard to look at Mr. Aldridge's "Day Tripper" illustration from 1969 and not feel a strong sense of … synchronicity... In 2008, London's Design Museum presented a tour-de-force retrospective of his work that was accompanied by a magnificent hardbound catalogue. Here's an engaging article that appeared in The Guardian at the time of that show in which Alan describes "How I Designed the 1960s".
Alan lived in Los Angeles for thirty years, and we were introduced by our mutual friend, hair stylist extraordinaire Gill Hodgson. On the occasions when our paths crossed at Taboo salon or Arcana, he could not have been more gentlemanly or charming. Blessed with a flock of talented children, he moved back to London a few years ago to be closer to them as his health began to decline. I read the news today that Alan has passed, and want to wish his family, many friends and admirers all the best. If you are unfamiliar with his work, definitely check out "The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes: The Art of Alan Aldridge". It can't not bring a smile to your face!
By the time I began formulating the path that led me from working at Rhino Records to opening Arcana: Books on the Arts down the street on Westwood Boulevard in a tiny one bedroom apartment in 1984, the notion of the gentleman bookseller catering to the erudite carriage trade had all but disappeared. Then as now, the independent book trade consisted mostly of a bunch of idiosyncratic entrepreneurs eking out mostly-modest livings doing what they loved – mostly with too many books and too little room. In Southern California, this group included such departed greats as Harry Bierman, Jake Zeitlin, Peggy Christian, Charlie Saltzman, Melvin Gupton, Jerome Joseph, Alan Siegel, and Chuck Valverde - whose personalities were each as large and varied as their inventory.
Dozens and dozens of used and out-of-print bookstores flourished between Santa Barbara and San Diego, and I visited as many of them as I could each month to pick up new stock for the shop. The San Fernando Valley became my prime feeding ground, and very early on I realized that Dutton’s Books at Laurel Canyon and Magnolia was something special. I bought my first copy of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “The Decisive Moment” there from out of the bed of the shop’s pickup truck, and one of my favorite finds of all time – a Grove Press edition of Robert Frank’s “The Americans” that had been rebound in Mexico in a wacky calfskin arrangement whose gilt-stamped “Los Americanos” on its rococo raised and banded spine called out to me from the travel section - still resides on my shelves at home.
Founded in the early sixties by the eponymous bookselling clan, it was a literary haven that catered equally to discerning intellectuals and generations of Valley Village first graders alike. Located inconspicuously between a gas station and a fast-food purveyor redolent of fried chicken grease, the shop possessed an accretive, stylistically eclectic architecture that frequently - but not always - held back the rain from a labyrinth of makeshift rooms, shelving, and décor. The interior was liberally peppered with prints and posters too high on the walls to inspect without use of the store's gigantic wooden library ladder, tables filled with volumes arrayed spine up, and seemingly random stacks of books that truly might contain anything deployed throughout. And there were always those loads of boxes mysteriously coming and going through the rear door from their giant parking lot that seemed to function mostly as a Volvo-littered staging ground. Most importantly, there was its proprietor - Davis Dutton - known to all simply as Dave. Dave possessed an impressive head of snow white hair, a friendly demeanor, and was as generally knowledgeable a man as I can recall meeting. What I immediately noticed upon getting to know Dave was that unlike the esteemed group of colleagues mentioned above, his expertise was always offered freely and graciously without an accompanying dose of prickliness.
Whether personally dealing with a mother frantic to pick up her kid’s assigned reading list on the last day before classes started, or a delusional book scout demanding way too much for the box of crappy paperbacks just deposited on one of the weathered wooden tables out back, Dave always conveyed a sense of good-natured calm. In twenty-some years of regularly visiting that wonderful store, while often frustrated, I cannot ever remember seeing him lose his cool. As the book trade inevitably changed, the Dutton’s chain expanded and contracted, and loyal customers begat children and grandchildren, that ingrained passion for literacy and friendly, impeccable customer service never wavered. Dave possessed the booksellers’ innate gift of always putting the book you never knew you needed in your hand while his wife Judy could usually be overheard from behind the door of the cramped – and when I write cramped, you cannot possibly imagine how gracious a description that is – office in the archaic ritual of calling in the shop’s daily order of new books to Ingram.
Dave pursued other professions in his early life, but ultimately returned to run Dutton’s with his gifted brother Doug. He energetically oversaw buying and selling for a fleet of shops and garages filled with books, artwork, plus god-knows-what, and an ever-rotating staff of characters. He always made time to chat when I visited, and on the occasions I would receive a call to modestly let me know he’d made a book buy that I “might want to take a look at”, I knew to drop everything and head over Laurel Canyon. In later years, Dave granted me access to the as-yet-unpriced material in the secretive, velvet-curtained closet chaotically shelved with treasures presumed to be too precious for the open shelves. This privilege came with the sly caveat that it could only occur when Judy wasn’t around, so she wouldn't take him to task the moment I walked out over his wisdom in allowing me to do this... Even towards the end of the Dutton’s reign when Dave had begun to slow down and his posture was at times as precarious as those stacks strewn about the place, he never lost his sense of humour or that child-like twinkle in his eye.
This week, Davis Martin Dutton passed away peacefully at home a month short of eighty years of age. On behalf of our own “Mom and Pop” shop, I would like to extend sincere condolences to Judy, Doug, sister Dory, and the extended Dutton family. In my thirty-plus years in this racket I have known many great booksellers and a number of gentlemen as well, but have encountered only a handful that combined both qualities as effortlessly as Dave. He is, and will be, missed.