Literary arts

Book reviews: Create and relate

Words set to photos and music


This week’s books explore three forms of creative expression. The first is a novel about aspiring musicians with an original soundtrack. The second is a collaborative project by a poet and photographer.

Misfortunes of T-Funk: Book One

It’s not every day a novel comes with a musical accompaniment. Besides writing about musicians, author Barnaby Hazen — a music maker himself — lets readers hear the tunes his characters create.

How much fun is that?

The novel’s main characters are Theo and Judah, childhood friends who attend the mythical University of Jazz and Music Technology in Oregon. In their late 20s, they experience a bit of arrested development as they pursue the stuff they need to make it as musicians and songwriters. They hook up with females and deal with the requirements of academia.

This is likely their last shot to do this kind of stuff before the realities of adulthood settle in.

As a nonmusician and a person well past that stage in my life, I will admit I am probably not the intended audience for this novel. But my interest level took a dramatic up-sweep three-quarters of the way through when Theo and Judah hit the road in a band called Babelshack.

The band, whose music is on the grunge side, is planning to perform at several venues in the Pacific Northwest. There are girlfriends in tow. One bandmate brings his wife and two kids.

Yes, there are some serious bumps in the road.

For example, Babelshack’s first gig doesn’t happen when the band discovers the bar was shut down after its liquor license was revoked for selling booze to minors. The band rebounds that night by playing at the Rooster’s Nest, “a dingy white trash country bar.”

“There would be no describing the looks on the faces of the regulars when Babelshack started their first set. Theo [thought] they would probably be shut down after the first song, and the dismal applause which followed, but the night went on and eventually started to show a reasonable crowd for the room.”

One of the most interesting parts of the novel is when Preston, a faculty member who plays drums for Babelshack, puts things in perspective as he relates his own band experiences as a young man. “We had a lot of buzz in Los Angeles at the time, I knew that, but we were living in such squalor it was hard to even imagine a way out.”

I don’t know what Hazen plans for the second book, but I hope he gets the band back together and on the road for more misfortunes.

Go to and search for the novel’s title for four songs plus a reading from the book.

Hazen, who lives in Taos, will have a reading, signing and playing along with two musician friends Saturday (June 10), 2-4 p.m. at SOMOS, 108-B Civic Plaza Drive, Taos.

“Misfortunes of T-Funk: Book One” is 211-page paperback costing $14.

Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze

Poetry and photography can make for an interesting combination, and that’s certainly the case in this slim volume.

The collaborators are Lawrence Gregory, the poet, and Birgit Gutsche, the photographer. The married couple lives in Taos County.

Here’s the poetry part. I will openly admit my personal preference is for prose over poetry, but Gregory’s poetry is enjoyable because it is so accessible. He’s not one of those tortured poets, but a person who shares what he sees and feels cleanly.

From Gregory’s 38 poems, I learned he’s a man in love, plus an observer of nature and people.

In one poem, titled “On This November Day,” he writes about sketching a solitary tree instead of doing a myriad of other pastimes, such as making money, working out at the gym or shopping.

“I did not purchase stocks or bonds nor try/ to hedge life’s bets against catastrophe/ I had the chance but did not sell my soul.”

Here’s the opening to “Liberation”: “How sweet to rest here on this empty shore/ and watch the sun undress the beach once more.”

The book contains 21 black-and-white photographs — with an appropriate splash of red in one — by Gutsche. Most recently, her work was featured in a show (“Sublime to Surreal”) at the Taos Inn, along with works by Heather Ross.

Texture is big in Gutsche’s images, whether it’s a rippling ocean, a barn stripped nearly to its bare wood or frost on a fence post and barbed wire — paired nicely with a poem, “Fifteen Below Zero.”

I would certainly like to see what this duo comes up with for an encore.

“Stretching Silver through Blue Haze” is an 82-page paperback published by Shanti Arts Publishing. It costs $19.95.

Joan Livingston is a writer and reader living in Ranchos de Taos. For more information, visit