:: Buzzwords Archive: June 2008. Click here for the latest posts.

Writing as though it mattered (published 20/06/2008)

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I’ve just learnt from the Literary Saloon that BS Johnson‘s The Unfortunates has been re-issued in the US by New Directions. The NY Sun have a flick through:

There is one catch, though: The Unfortunates is a book in a box. It consists of 27 loose sections. One is marked “First,” and one is marked “Last,” but the rest are to be read in any random order. In his introduction, Mr. Coe reports that in its day, The Unfortunates “was accorded at best a sort of grudging respect, tempered with a palpable, barely disguised disdain for its pretensions to originality.” And we should disdain those pretensions. Johnson insisted that his randomly sorted sections were better at “conveying the mind’s randomness” than any other technique. But this novelty provides little in the way of mimesis, it only draws attention to itself.

And yet it proves to be a great deal of fun. I chose a thicker, stapled section, and then a thinner, pasted one. I would read three tiny sections in a spate. When I saw that the section on top described Tony’s funeral, I decided to avoid it, until finally I couldn’t resist it. On the whole, the freedom to dispose of one tiny packet after another made the book itself an effortless read.

For its honest depiction of how young men deal with cancer, The Unfortunates can be widely recommended, even to readers not used to “Nashe, Sterne, and Samuel Beckett.” Johnson’s own dogged seriousness, and his concomitant boyishness, make a fascinating medium for his occasional bursts of pity and shy friendliness. This book deserves a place in the history of memoir, and in anthologies about illness, and, with luck, it will have one, if readers do not judge it by its covers.

Given the nature of The Unfortunates, Scott Esposito wonders if everyone is reading the same book.

“…You’d be reading a physically different book as you technically read the same one, just as the narrator reflects that, “everything we know about someone is perhaps not the same, even radically different from what others, another, may seem or understand about them, him.””

Perhaps this is true – that whatever order you read it in the experience is more or less equal. But then if this is true, I wonder if Jonson didn’t fail at what he attempted. Because the book does seem to be about encountering the same person differently. Or maybe it’s really about how people are more or less the same, even when encountered differently.

See also, Let’s have a BS Johnson Day.

We are DJs, we are what we play (published 19/06/2008)

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Sophie Parkin3:AM‘s own Sohemianon the Parkin Lot, an inter-generational club-night she helps run with her mum in London:

Children worry about their parents getting old. My mother is now 76 and instead of getting a hip replacement she has just turned into a DJ. Should I be worried?

And she hasn’t taken up residency on Friday night at a local old peoples’ home to crank out a few Glenn Miller tunes, getting racy with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker as the evening progresses towards 9pm and Ovaltine. The club she is DJ-ing is on Greek Street, in Soho, and is called The Green Carnation. Every Tuesday night between 9pm and 1am you can find her downstairs on the decks, playing everything from Motown to disco, or hauling others on to the floor to follow her in the dance like a pied piper.

[..]

What’s great is the mixing up of the generations. In Pontycymmer in South Wales, where my mother comes from, it’s normal for everyone, of whatever age, to go out on Saturday for a night of entertainment, dancing and drinking. It’s the same in Spain, France and Italy, but for some reason the English like to ghettoise age groups, so the young are gangs of pack wolves drunk and prowling the streets after dark, the middle-aged sit in restaurants widening their girths before having heart attacks, and the old we hardly acknowledge. At what age are we supposed to give up the dance of life? Any moment now, apparently, as I’ve just turned 47.

The opening night of The Parkin Lot had a throng of 18 to 80-year-olds strutting their stuff. It worked brilliantly, with older friends chasing younger ones, richer ones treating the poor students to bottles of champagne, distinguished dancers showing the inexperienced youths how to shake your moneymaker, do the mashed potato and move like a sex machine. The young men commented on the proliferation of MILFs (mothers I’d like to f***) to my daughter, who then laughingly relayed the information to me, while gay divorcees made themselves more than noticeable.

I had intended party games, as the date fell on my birthday, but what with one thing and another we haven’t yet got around to games of musical statues – let alone loveliest legs, most eligible bachelor and bachelette, and blind dating (contestants to be sent to the loo or a handy cupboard together, then required to report back on any knee-trembling activity). We did have an award for best disco dancer, though, won by barman Dick Bradsell, 48, for a backward flip.

This week was an older crowd – but only in birth years, with the fashion icon Zandra Rhodes in a silver outfit and pink locks gyrating on the dancefloor with the artist Andrew Logan to the likes of Tammi Terrell and the Temptations. “Oh, I remember this. I went to see the Temptations in America in 1968 – marvellous, it was,” shouts Andrew, before my mother grabs the pair of them to get a dancing circle going. Who needs gym membership when you have a good disco?

See also, Oh mum, please stop talking about your sex life.

The Missing Links (published 15/06/2008)

2572188089_94886532ac_m.jpgJG Ballard: “In a sense, fakes are the only authenticity remaining to us”. * Will Self and Iain Sinclair talk to Kevin Jackson about psychogeography in Literary London (also: Toby Litt on Hogarth). * Former 3:AM contributor Jude Rogers has published a great article about what she calls “psychogeographic rock” in the Guardian (wish I’d thought up that label): “In quiet corners of the British Isles, a strange kind of nostalgic music is prospering. Some of it summons up disused railway tracks and endless childhood summers through guitar drones, samples and field recordings. Other examples evoke public-information films, abandoned airfields and other creepier elements of our collective history. Together, an array of musicians are making their own musical contributions to British psychogeography”. She focuses most attention on Anthony Harding’s July Skies (a long-time personal favourite) whose new album The Weather Clock is out now. * Sam Jordison‘s forthcoming book, F**k That: Things Not to Do Before You Die has its own website. * Daren King interviewed in the Indie: “I’m a dancing author”. * The Shakespeare & Company Literary Festival 2008. * Blek le Rat: le proto Banksy. * Sodomy in the US of A. * Simon Critchley‘s top 10 philosophers’ deaths. * London’s sexiest car boot sale. * There’s an excellent interview with rock critic Simon Reynolds over at RSB. * Yet another addition (alongside The Beat, Lit Up Magazine, Savage Manners, Straight From the Fridge and, er, us) to the Offbeat zine scene: Parasitic. * How the web was won. * Steven Wells on radical knitting: “So this is how punk ends — not with a bang but with a jumper”. * Bloggers under attack. * Belle de Jour on the box. * The aforementioned Will Self, Toby Litt (plus Edmund White) on their respective fathers. * Top 5 most ridiculous porn scenes.

Second Circle (published )

What We Do Is Secret, a film chronicling the rise and fall of Darby Crash and The Germs, will go on release on August 8th in the US.

(check out 3:AM‘s 2002 interview with Brendan Mullen)

Try this at Home (published )

If you missed the Semina night at Housmans never fear, Booktwo was there:

Last night I attended the launch of Semina, a new series of experimental novels from Book Works, at Housmans. The novels are the result of an open call for submissions, and are being selected by series Commissioning Editor Stewart Home.

The first two titles in the series, Bridget Penney’s Index, and Maki Kim’s One Break, A Thousand Blows!, are available now. Further titles in the series include Bubble Entendre (2009) by Mark Waugh and Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie (2010) by Stewart himself, with another five titles still to be announced.

Both the event and the setting provide some hope for experimental and uncommercial literature. Bookworks is a publicly funded arts organisation, supported by the Arts Council and others, which gives it the freedom to publish work that would not see the light of day at a commercial publisher (although in the current climate even this survival may be endangered). Housmans, meanwhile, occupies the ground floor of a building gifted to Peace News in the 1940s, allowing it to remain true to its political and cultural aims without worrying about the steep rent rises and ecroaching gentrification that have forced out so many others (c.f. Compendium, Charing Cross Road).

I’ve written before about the growing necessity for finding other models for publishing literature, and public funding and private patronage are two possible routes. But they’re not always sustainable, and we shall continue to look, in technology and elsewhere, for other ways.

Further Home events:

28 JUNE 2008
Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA. 3pm. Free.
Stewart Home gives a gallery talk on the work of Richard Prince.

1 AUGUST 2008
The Hayward, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. 7-8pm.
Gallery entry is £10.
Stewart Home leads a stroll around the ‘Psycho Buildings‘ exhibition
bouncing ideas off the works and rocketing into new non-Euclidean spaces.

No Wave Today (published 14/06/2008)

boooknowave.jpgThe New York Times on Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980 book and exhibition: “…’A guitar player like Lydia Lunch was somebody who clearly was not coming out of any kind of tradition,’ said Mr. Coley, a veteran rock critic. ‘She didn’t have a Chuck Berry riff in her.’ The rebelliousness came out in many ways, from song composition — nasty, brutish and short — to the movement’s name, a cynical retort to ‘new wave,’ then emerging as a more palatable variation on punk. The looks were nerdy and androgynous (or, in Ms. Lunch’s case, menacingly oversexed). The sound reflected the squalor and decay of downtown New York in the late ’70s. …Mr. Moore said that only a narrow definition would fit the genre, which was so contrary in its sound and attitude that too much outside context would dilute its impact. ‘We liked the absurdity of how small it was,” he said. “We kept our parameters really tight. We needed a cut-off point, and we cut it off as soon as anybody played any semblance of rock ’n’ roll. Any kind of traditional aspect of rock, it’s over.'”

There is an extract from the intro here. The exhibition (KS Art: 73 Leonard Street, New York) runs until 2 July. The opening, on 13 June, was marked by two back-to-back gigs at the Knitting Factory by Teenage Jesus & The Jerks who reunited for one night only. More on the exhibition here and there. Also of interest.

eXiled on Ames street (published 13/06/2008)

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Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash broke the news late last week that the eXile, the Mark Ames-edited Moscow alternative newspaper that “shit[s] on everybody equally”, had ran into trouble with the Russian Feds. According to the Moscow Times, “authorities are scrutinizing the English-language tabloid…to determine whether it has violated media laws, a step that could lead to the shutdown of the notorious biweekly.”

This kind of controversy isn’t new: you may recall that in 2006 3:AM reported that Alex Kervey’s Tough Press faced charges in Russia of publishing pornography and “insulting Christian values”, and Ames himself has received death threats over the eXile on numerous occasions down the years.

This, though, could be the final blow for the eXile. Writing in Radar Ames, author of Going Postal – reviewed by 3:AM here – says:

The Exile is shutting down. Last night I met with my Russian publisher to “put one in its brain,” as George Romero’s humans would say. Except that putting this paper down is not so easy—imagine if Romero’s zombies had things like tax bills that can’t be ignored, debts to pay off, favors owed to other important zombies—because you never know when you’ll run into that zombie again.

The partners who’d financed us fled for the hills, leaving my publisher and me holding the debt-bomb in our hands. This is not an easy situation. As a rule, my publisher is unusually easy-going for a Muscovite, but he’s also quite large and intimidating—I mean Baltimore Ravens defensive end large. He also runs a massive nightclub, and, well, let’s just say that my publisher knows a lot of people, including a pal of his who runs the Rasputin Gentlemen’s Club, a multi-floor fleshpot that is everything a male wishes the Winchester Mystery House would have been: rooms that lead to everywhere, to desires and fantasies that you never even knew you had, and that you’ll never admit to the following morning. Rasputin is more than a strip-club and more than a Moscow institution: It’s the apex of a flesh-network, involving scores of smaller, lesser strip clubs that feed into Rasputin like minor league teams feeding into the major league club. For nearly five years, from 2002 to 2007, my newspaper’s office was located in the back of Rasputin’s sex club; when we’d order business lunches during work hours, strippers in see-through negligees and glass high-heels brought Borsch and Kotleti to our offices for a mere 40 rubles ($1.50), leading one American former editor to spasm in dangerous palpitation sweats.

Point being: These are good friends to have, but bad enemies to make.

So when my publisher told me last night, “As far as I see it, the Exile‘s debts are yours as well, Mark,” my little saga took a very unforeseen and unpleasant turn.

And then today the media circus finally erupted here in Moscow. What set it off was an article about the Exile‘s closing in today’s Der Spiegel, which was translated into Russian for the online media. Throughout the course of the day today, I’ve been deluged with phone calls and e-mails from the Russian media, who have already begun posting articles misquoting me in that special way that only the Russian media can manage.

No-Brainer (published )

Above Tom “The Mighty” Bradley, whose Fission Among the Fanatics was 3:AM‘s Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2007, reads from chapter 2 of his comic masterpiece of a new novel, Lemur, in which “a would-be serial-killing bus boy tries his best to brain a large prostitute with a potato masher”. Following the publication of a review of Lemur in The Advocate (“the mightiest, most legit and widely read Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender magazine in the world”) Tom claims to have “awoken a fresh archetype in the collectively gay unconscious, and created a new character to grace the pages of Queer Lit”!

[More here.]

Drink like a novelist (published )

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“Kingsley has written often and poignantly about that moment when getting drunk suddenly turns into being drunk, and he is, of course, the laureate of the hangover.”
– Martin Amis, Experience

Stop Smiling magazine review Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis:

Potentially the most charming section of Everyday Drinking, Amis’ chapter on hangovers offers a few conventional correctives — hair of the dog, light breakfast, hot shower — but the real treat is his spirited, loving attention paid to topic, one which he seems to regard as the inevitable outcome of a life lived fully. After dispensing with the physical effects, Amis advances a theory of the “metaphysical hangover” — the cocktail of gloom, despair and shame that accompanies the body’s suffering. Amis considers that Dostoevsky, Poe and Kafka metaphorically render the affliction best, especially Kafka in his The Metamorphosis: “The central image could hardly be better chosen, and there is a telling touch in the nasty way everybody goes on at the chap.” A ‘Hangover Reading Course’ is designed to drop the reader rock bottom as, “A good cry is the initial aim.” His ‘Hangover Listening Course’ recommends Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela, and Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, but warns readers to proceed carefully with jazz, since John Coltrane, “will suggest to you, in the strongest terms, that life is exactly what you are at present taking it to be: cheap, futile, and meaningless.” As is true for the entire volume, Amis’ actual pedagogy is often shoddy, entertaining at best, but the uncompromising bon vivant attitude underlying the presentation is priceless, especially in an age of didactic diets and immoderate moderation.

Amis sets the terms of endearment early, declaring with deadpan faith that a team of American investigators had recently determined that without the societal underpinnings provided by alcohol, Western society would have collapsed around the end of World Word I. From here, Amis concludes, “The human race has not devised any way of dissolving barriers, getting to know the other chap fast, breaking the ice, that is one-tenth as handy and efficient as letting you and the other chap, or chaps, cease to be totally sober at about the same rate in agreeable surroundings.” Amis’ love for drink leads him to abuse the stingy and skewer the snobby, repeatedly stressing quantity over quality in all matters alcoholic.

Nonetheless, the book’s funniest chapter by far is Amis’ ‘Mean Sod’s Guide’, a set of tricks constructed to screw guests while appearing to have flattered them, the ideal scenario producing, “a quarrel on the way home between husband and wife, he disparaging your hospitality, she saying you were very sweet and thoughtful and he is just a frustrated drunk.” Amis suggests serving punch in small glasses, mentioning that the recipe is your own invention and adding menacingly that it has more of a kick than might be expected. Pouring a thimbleful of gin on the back of a spoon over a glass will spike the first sip while leaving the rest of the drink discreetly weak. The cheap wine served with dinner will have been procured “on holiday” and the host will be “interested” in people’s reactions. When the reviews are less than thrilled, “announce bluffly, ‘Doesn’t travel, does it? Doesn’t travel.’ Judge your audience.” Amis ends with a sobering admission that if the reader finds this whole business to be a farce, he must not have been around much yet.

See also: Madman about town, the life and times of Kingsley Amis [Modern Drunkard]