Category Archives: Review

Review: Barcelona – City Of Crime by Larry Kovaks

Barcelona - City Of Crime

Barcelona has something of a reputation when it comes to crime. Which is what you’d expect from any Mediterranean city packed to the rafters with tourists, sailors, hookers and grifters. It’s not exactly a dangerous place (Barcelona has a very low homicide rate) but plenty of bags get stolen and plenty of people get gypped. And that’s exactly why this city needs someone like Larry Kovaks whose latest (and first) book, City Of Crime, tells the story of one man’s fight against the ne’er-do-wells and miscreants (‘gypmeisters’) of the Ciutat Vella.

Consisting of a series of stories set in Barcelona’s old quarter, City Of Crime introduces the reader to the scams, tricks and mischief that take place right under any visitor’s nose. From illicit Chinese brothels (one has recently opened here in Cerdanyola, so the flyposted adverts say) to villainous dwarves, Kovaks lays bare the criminal heart of the city as well as its sordid underbelly, all in the gravelly voice of an American b-movie detective.

Kovaks, both the author and the star of the book (though I suspect that editor Andrew Minh deserves some praise for his work on the text), is an impressive beast of a man. His girth is only outsized by his quick wit (for the most part) and possibly his disgust with the bad boys and girls of Barcelona’s underworld. Fuelled by Ducado cigarettes, Voll Damm beer and Mascaró brandy, Kovaks fearlessly confronts the Tracksuit Mafia through the cold, piss-streaked streets of the Raval, like an 18-stone angel.

Much of the material in City Of Crime has been published on the web, both at Kovaks’s own website and in the pages of The New Entertainer. However, that shouldn’t deter readers from buying the printed edition which is attractively bound and features a brand new installment, The Danger Of The Perfect Brunette. My only criticism of the book would be that some of the earlier stories are somewhat short: this is a character who really comes into his own in the longer episodes.

A joy for residents of the Catalan capital and a forewarning for visitors, City Of Crime left me hungry for more. We can only hope that Kovaks, wherever he may be, gives us more of the goods in future editions.

Barcelona – City Of Crime by Larry Kovaks – 1/1
Buy the book online from Lulu here.

More movie reviews

We’ve seen quite a few movies recently, including some old favourites and even a couple of classics I’d not seen before. Here is a quick binary review of the ones I can remember.

Casablanca – 1/1 – Shamefully late to see this for the first time. Good fun, nicely filmed and quite exciting.

The Men Who Stare At Goats – 0/1 – Perplexingly pointless, utterly without direction, basically crap. Did not finish.

Hulk (2003) – 1/1 – Epically misunderstood, awesome on Blu-ray and far better than the shoddy 2008 remake. More on this another time.

Brief Encounter – 0/1 – Couldn’t watch this without waiting for the punchline for a joke that never came. A victim of the many excellent parodies that followed it.

Up – 1/1 – Not as good as Wall-E but still v enjoyable. Loved the tearjerker opening sequence. Forgivable schmaltz.

Looking For Eric – 1/1 – Heartwarming comedy about workers’ solidarity and Eric Cantona.

Let The Right One In – 1/1 – Swedish film about friendship by way of vampirism. Not too vampirous.

Album review: Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners

Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners

I’m a big fan of country music. Not the real, commercial 1990s shit, but the fake and made-up 60s and 70s country produced by Gram Parsons and the Rolling Stones. So I wasn’t disappointed to see that Neil Hamburger’s new album, Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners (SCW from now on) is just what the title suggests: a collection of country songs, sung by one of America’s greatest comedians.

The songs range from The Recycle Bin, an expletive-ridden piece about recycling and failure (more on this later), to a new interpretation of Hamburger’s popular classic, Zipper Lips. But pervading the entire album is a sense of sadness, depression and bizarrely, jubilation.

Naturally, the lyrics are very funny. In Please Ask That Clown To Stop Crying, Hamburger recounts an episode where he witnessed a children’s party in a local park, ruined by a clown who, instead of entertaining the kids, slumps at the table with ‘a cigarette and a shot of gin’ and cries. The clown, of course, is Neil Hamburger. Meanwhile, in Jug Town, we hear of the solace a man can find in ‘a jug of wine’ down in Jug Town. At Least I Was Paid is a tribute to Hamburger himself, who has chosen to work as a hugely unpopular comedian sometimes paid in casino chips – but at least that’s payment.

For me. the big hit on the album is Recylce Bin, a song that combines a forceful rebuke to those who put unrecyclable items in recycling bins (‘You pricks, you fucking pricks’) with a heartbreaking ode to the things that just can’t be recylced (‘Not everything goes into a recycle in: a shattered dream, a divorce? Those are just waste’).

Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners probably started its life as a joke. But the final product will immediately be rated as some of Neil Hamburder’s best work. I’m obviously a fan and I think it’s fair to say that his material will mainly appeal to drink-soaked, single, depressed, male fans of sick humour (which obviously excludes me: I’m married). That said, I really believe that with a bit of effort, anyone who enjoys really good comedy could learn to love Neil Hamburger. The ‘Great Moments At Di Presa’s Pizza House‘ as well as the numerous ‘live’ albums, along with the original ‘Great Phone Calls’ are all indicative of a great talent which will probably only spoil if it gets too much recognition.

Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners – 1/1

Out now on Drag City Inc.

And here’s a video of Jug Town:


Review: Great Moments at Di Presa’s Pizza House

Combining heart-breaking tragedy and side-splitting comedy is a hallmark of great writing. Neil Hamburger’s album from last year, Great Moments At Di Presa’s Pizza House has enough of both to make it a classic barely a year after it was released upon an unsuspecting world.

Charting Hamburger’s early days as he starts gigging in a pizza parlour, this album manages also to tell the tale of an America which was; pizza houses with pipe organs, pizza houses with AA meetings-cum-poetry recitals, pizza houses with wet t-shirt competitions that got out of hand. And there, in the midst of it all, our only remaining link with those great old days: Neil Hamburger himself.

Hamburger’s material in this album is often directed at celebrity and is often far more up-to-date than in much of his other work. Launching into his set with three quick jabs against Mick Jagger, Madonna and Robin Williams, Hamburger stakes his claim as the last of the great comics: the man who, despite compromising massively with his style and material, never sold out. Of course, he was never given the opportunity to sell out but that doesn’t really mean anything.

Along the way, we meet a host of other characters, new and old, who played a role in the life of both Di Presa’s Pizza House and Neil Hamburger. Such as Leroy Brothers, another comic hired by the pizza house – this time just when controversial ‘afro-American’ stand-up was becoming mainstream. His muddled racial stereotypes and clumsy, awkward style – all in hock ‘black man’ accent is rudely interrupted by a customer denouncing him as the white son of a lawyer for Kraft Foods.

Hamburger, though, is on ebullient form. At points, he refers to the proprietors of Di Presa’s Pizza House as ‘pricks’, and asks a critic of his last two albums to ‘go fuck yourself’. He insists that the last few albums were poor because of the messy divorce he was going through at the time. For more information on this, check out ‘Left For Dead In Malaysia’ where Neil, realising that no one in the Kuala Lumpur karaoke bar can understand him, spends several minutes in morose discussion of his wife, divorce and suicide.

Great Moments At Di Presa’s Pizza House is a tour-de-force, and is highly recommended either as an introduction to Hamburger or to complete your collection.  1 out of 1

To find out more about America’s Funnyman, Neil Hamburger try this unofficial homepage.