Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman's World (City Lights Publishers)
The triumphs and tragedies of growing up as the son of a famous Beat artist.
TOSH is a memoir of growing up as the son of an enigmatic, much-admired, hermetic, and ruthlessly bohemian artist during the waning years of the Beat Generation and the heyday of hippie counterculture. A critical figure in the history of postwar American culture, Tosh Berman's father, Wallace Berman, was known as the "father of assemblage art," and was the creator of the legendary mail-art publication Semina. Wallace Berman and his wife, famed beauty and artist's muse Shirley Berman, raised Tosh between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and their home life was a heady atmosphere of art, music, and literature, with local and international luminaries regularly passing through.
Tosh's unconventional childhood and peculiar journey to adulthood features an array of famous characters, from George Herms and Marcel Duchamp, to Michael McClure and William S. Burroughs, to Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell, to the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and Toni Basil.
TOSH takes an unflinching look at the triumphs and tragedies of his unusual upbringing by an artistic genius with all-too-human frailties, against a backdrop that includes The T.A.M.I. Show, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Easy Rider,and more. With a preface by actress/writer Amber Tamblyn (daughter of Wallace's friend, actor Russ Tamblyn), TOSH is a self-portrait taken at the crossroads of popular culture and the avant-garde. The index of names included represents a who's who of midcentury American—and international—culture.
Praise for Tosh:
"Tosh Berman's sweet and affecting memoir provides an intimate glimpse of his father, Wallace, and the exciting, seat-of-the-pants LA art scene of the 1960s, and it also speaks to the hearts of current and former lonely teenagers everywhere."—Luc Sante, author of The Other Paris
"This book is like a fascinating series of autobiographical post-cards that could be subtitled, Growing Up Semina. As the son of artist Wallace Berman, Tosh presents fly on the wall impressions of his parents coterie in the 60s and 70s—a grouping that included such luminaries as Dennis Hopper, Brian Jones, Toni Basil, and Andy Warhol. His memoir give us a glimpse into the 'other' Los Angeles—a bohemia that thrived in the 60s and 70s in numerous enclaves such as Topanga Canyon, Venice Beach, and West Hollywood. This is the story of a kid growing up inside of art world history, retelling his upbringing warts and all. A well-written, fast-moving book that is candid, funny, often disturbing, and never dull."—Gillian McCain, co-author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
"As the son of artist Wallace Berman, Tosh Berman had a front row seat for the beat parade of the '50s, and the hippie extravaganza of the '60s. It was an exotic, star-studded childhood, but having groovy parents doesn't insulate one from the challenge of forging one's own identity in the world. Berman's successful effort to do that provides the heart and soul of this movingly candid chronicle of growing up bohemian."—Kristine McKenna, co-author of Room to Dream by David Lynch
"Through the prism of Tosh Berman, only child, born 1954 to Wallace and Shirley, who personified the wild heart of 20th century West Coast art, we are offered a truly intimate invitation into a magic world of outliers, visionaries and shooting stars.TOSH recounts a life 'lived like a good book on a bookshelf,' a memoir resonant with discovery, passion, music, art, sex, celebrity, ego, desire, and dignity. All told with a son's love for his father, a continuing light into the creative life."—Thurston Moore, musician & writer
"This book is sublime: vertiginous, melancholy, highly amusing!"—Johan Kugelberg, Boo-Hooray
"One could not wish for a better guide into the subterranean and bohemian worlds of the California art/Beat scene than Tosh Berman, only scion of the great Wallace. Tosh has a sly wit and an informed eye, he is both erudite and neurotic, and often hilarious. TOSH, the book, is packed with keen observations and unique anecdotal factoids that could only come from a true insider. It's a must for anyone who cares about California counter-culture and the raggedy-ass drumbeat of the Beat Generation."—John Taylor, Duran Duran
"Tosh Berman is one of the most valuable writers, much less people, the earth has upon it. This book is exquisite. I can't think of another word. What it says, how it says it, what it is."—Dennis Cooper, author of The Marbled Swarm
"I first met Tosh Berman when he was assigned to sit next to me in 5th grade. We rode the Topanga school bus together for many years and even drove with each other to our high school graduation. But the overlap doesn't end there. Our parents frequented many of the same movie theaters, clubs, and galleries. Neither of our mother's drove, either. Both of our families had the celebrities of the day passing through our houses. I witnessed much of what Tosh saw and writes about, and I can say that TOSH: Growing up in Wallace Berman's World captures the times, places, and people with accuracy, sensitivity, humor, and, at times, great sadness. This is a beautifully written memoir, and I highly recommend it to those who are interested in the Sixties, Topanga Canyon, the Southern California art scene, and for those who wonder what it might mean to grow up as the son of one of our most acclaimed artists."—Lisa See, author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
"Reading TOSH, I felt like I was lying on a couch, completely relaxed and engrossed, while Tosh Berman sat in a chair beside me and told me his amazing life story. And at the end, I was very moved and wanted to cry. The affect that TOSH—the book and the man—had on me was that feeling I get when exposed to great art: a mix of sadness and wonder, which seem to be the two faces of the human heart. Wonderment at the beauty around us—the world, its people—and the sadness that nothing lasts, that all must perish. But this is our journey on planet earth: to be brave and feel both things at once, and it's great art, like this book, that reminds us to do so."—Jonathan Ames, author of You Were Never Really Here
"If you are interested in California bohemian art-scene culture, eccentric and fascinating family and friend dynamics between unique individuals, and celebrated yet oddly little-known artists with uncompromising personalities, then read this book!"—Roman Coppola, filmmaker, screenwriter
"This book is perfection. I wish it went on forever. Maybe, somehow, it does.TOSHis almost like a giant map of small city . . . Each sentence is a street. Each chapter is an era. Each memory revealing a secret passage from one place to the next . . . TO READ IT is to WALK IT with Tosh Berman." —Jason Schwartzman, actor
"Tosh Berman paints an intimate and heartfelt portrait of growing up within the quirky West Coast counterculture of the 1950-70s. At the center of the tale is his dedicated and passionate artist father, Wallace Berman, who introduces his son to a bizarre collection of artists, crooks, cowboys, beatniks, hippies, freaks, filmmakers, musicians, mystics, and assorted weirdos. Including hilarious personal stories about Dean Stockwell, Dennis Hopper, Allen Ginsberg, Cameron, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan, George Herms, Leslie Caron, William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Russ Tamblyn, Lenny Bruce, Phil Spector, Brian Jones, Alexander Trocchi, John Cage, and many many more, TOSH, is a delightfully entertaining memoir filled with sly wit and a profound personal perspective."—John Zorn, composer
"There's the life—and then there's the life. With TOSH you can have both. My life, and that of many who sailed with me, was formed by the 40's & 50's. TOSH takes you there. Feel the fabric, touch the canvas of all that informed us. Embrace it and move forward."—Andrew Loog Oldham, producer/manager, The Rolling Stones
"This double narrative of Tosh Berman and his father, Wallace, will tell you more about the creative process than a hundred how-to books purporting to do the same. Joyous and unselfconsciously readable, it celebrates the delights of surprise and observation on every page, as well as, yes—the confidence that things will somehow land upright."—Jim Krusoe, author of The Sleep Garden
"What compels about Tosh Berman's gorgeously written memoir is the proximity of the quotidian and the familiar to the extraordinary, the shocking even, and the enviably glamorous. He recounts a coming of age in which the unexpected laces the ordinary as surely at it does in Alice In Wonderland—only for Tosh, growing up, a cast of artists, nutcases, iconoclasts, stars, and extremists of all kinds provide the distraction and disruption once supplied by the White Rabbit or Cheshire Cat. Add to this his exemplary taste in, and understanding of, a particular pop sensibility—TV, music, Warhol, and comic books. That then heady and head-spinning world, soundtrack to a sentimental education, that was for the young romantics of the mid-twentieth century what clouds and peaks were to those of mid-nineteenth. Brava, Tosh Berman!"—Michael Bracewell, writer
"If the first movie your father takes you to as a child is . . . And God Created Woman, you can be sure of two things. First, that your father is an extraordinary person. Second, that you are destined to lead an extraordinarily interesting life. Both of these suppositions are made evident in Tosh Berman's vivid and loving memoir, TOSH: Growing Up in Wallace Berman's World. What a world!"—Ron Mael, Sparks
"Reading TOSH is like meeting your idols, one at a time, for a quiet chat. Everyone is disarmed, and it feels like you've been in the same room with them for about ten hours, or so. Dennis Hopper is unconstrained and friendly, Toni Basil is bubbly, and Brian Jones has just stopped by to say hello. Topanga, as a place is remote—filled with pockets of escapism, winding landscapes of tumult and ennui. Tosh's world is both expansive and crystalline, he traces the edges of his world, and Wallace's world. We get to come and go with Tosh as he navigates his place in and around the tangle of the time."—Soo Kim, artist, Professor at Otis College of Art and Design
"Sexually giddy, clairvoyant, messianic—Wallace Berman's socially astute photo-collages were vital bread and butter for several generations of artists. The Wallace B bloodline, from which Tosh sprouted, is a verdant gene pool. For artists-readers, TOSH, the memoir, is a luscious document of Los Angeles in the last four decades of the 20th century. Every page is filled with juicy history. Such surprises include a teenaged Sammy Davis Jr. sleepover, a pet alligator, Mae West, Allen Ginsberg, and dozens of remarkable side characters. Bask in Tosh Berman's honesty and gentle style. He is a one-of-a-kind gem."—Benjamin Weissman, artist & writer
Tosh Berman is a writer, poet, and publisher of TamTam Books. As a publisher, he focused on post-war French figures such as Boris Vian, Guy Debord, Serge Gainsbourg and French gangster Jacques Mesrine, as well as publishing Sparks (Ron Mael & Russell Mael) and Lun*na Menoh. His previous book Sparks-Tastic (2013) is a combination of travel journal and thoughts on the band Sparks. His book of poems The Plum in Mr. Blum's Pudding (2014) came out through Penny-Ante Editions. He authored the introduction to Wallace Berman: American Aleph from the Michael Kohn Gallery in 2016.
Photo by Lun*na Menoh
Jason Schwartzman is an actor, screenwriter and musician. He is known for his frequent collaborations with Wes Anderson, such as Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel.