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

Five for Denis Browne (published 10/12/2008)

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Denis Browne, Sid and Nancy associate and Alexander Trocchi‘s literary assistant in later life, answered some questions on this era for Andrew Stevens.

3:AM: To what extent were you involved with Trocchi?

DB: It soon became pretty clear that he had a terminal case of writer’s block, and it wasn’t long till I realised that as far as any writing was concerned, it just wasn’t going to happen. He did manage a few lines of an autobiography and we’d occasionally give me an old notebook to transcribe, but that was it.

So we’d go round looking at old books, checking the stall at Antiquarius, maybe buy some books at Christie’s, stop at the pub for lunch. Another day gone and of course a fair amount of heroin was taken.

3:AM: You mentioned that Alex wasn’t a fan of music and only owned one record, what was that?

DB: The record in question was Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, Miles Davis Quintet, Paris 1957.

I’m listening to it now — it’s Miles at his coolest, maybe with a little narcotic assistance. This is from Alex’s Paris phase. Story goes that Miles and his group improvised the soundtrack while watching scenes from the film projected on a huge screen in front of them. Whatever, it’s an amazing album. Anyway, I found it one day chez Alex, and knowing that contrary to most junkies in my experience, he’d always shown zero interest in music, I asked what’s the story. Typical Alex — he casually mentioned “Oh it was something I was involved in…,” but as always tantalising, and not sure exactly how?!

Trying to explain punk to Alex was one of our few times of total non-communication. I tried to get him to see Sid and Nancy in the context of scagged-out arty youth versus the system, in a harder context than the 50s, but he couldn’t really understand it — he felt he’d fought all the battles he wanted to for “the cause” and by then was retreating/withdrawing into his de Quincey retirement.

3:AM: What exactly did being his ‘literary assistant’ entail?

DB: It amounted to zilch in the end in terms of output. Most of the time it meant helping in various ways in the running of his second-hand/antiquarian book business. Occasionally he’d haul out old drafts or notebooks which we were going to work through, but it never went anywhere. After about a year, I realised that Alex had a terminal case of writer’s block if you wanted to look at it that way, or — as I prefer to think — he’d said what he had to say and really couldn’t be too bothered about writing anything new just for the sake of it… either way, any hopes I had of attaching my literary aspirations to a Trocchi revival were out the window.

In practical terms — I’d get round to his place 10am or so, we’d shoot up. Have a talk about this’n'that. Go to pub for lunch or I’d go out for quiche. Shoot up again. Talk about what we might do tomorrow. Go to bookstall at Antiquarius. Have another fix. Day over, and so it went on…

Monday morning I turned up and Alex was all excited, saying “Look, I’ve started on an autobiography” and pushed some file paper at me. There were about three lines of his admittedly tiny writing, “One morning a young man found himself at the docks in Glasgow…” or similar. It was never heard of again.

3:AM: There were “years of no new material”, “tales of US Mafia publishing pirates” and “wannabe Dutch film-makers” in the later undocumented years of his life. Can you expand on this?

DB: Alex was always really big into the stories of his dramatic flight from the US in the early 60s — apparently for forging prescriptions and other junkie misdemeanours. According to him (as he couldn’t legally get back to the US), this meant that he couldn’t defend the copyright on his material — so that various people from Girodias on down were able to pirate/reprint his writing (esp. Helen/Sappho/Thongs) without paying royalties. I don’t recall the exact details, but he always maintained that one of his US publishers was pure Mafia — Castle Publishing or similar?

To be honest I’ve no idea where the truth is here. Obviously Alex would have been an ideal mark for any rip-off publisher — but over the years I couldn’t help feeling there was always the same pattern with Alex’s scenes and stories — it always got fucked up in the end cos the other people were crooks or didn’t understand him. I guess now my feeling is more that in having a habit you’re imposing such a handicap on yourself that its hardly surprising if other people see you as an easy target, you have so little comeback. Plus it also became part of an ongoing “what’s the point of doing anything, you just get ripped off” riff, which tended to justify not doing anything else and could get elaborated into a whole de Quincey thing about the rejected (and opiated) writer turning his back on those who’d failed to understand him.

Again, there was a Dutch film-maker (Argh! Whose name escapes me) who was always desperate for Alex to develop a Young Adam script with him. I was all for it, but Alex didn’t want to know.

3:AM: How did you feel when Alex came back into fashion in the late 1990s? Were you involved in any of the biographies or the film?

DB: Obviously I was amazed and delighted by the vibe generated around the Young Adam film and the young (mainly) Scottish writers and artists who were feeling what Alex was about… and I’m confident that where 20 years ago I was resigned to him being a minor footnote, I think he’s in for more recognition. I can confidently say that I had zero input into any of the books or films.

Severin, Severin Awaits You There (published 09/12/2008)

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The Seashell and the Clergyman

Date: Thursday December 11th 
Time: 9:15pm
Location: Cameo Picturehouse, Edinburgh.

Steven Severin, founder member of Siouxsie & The Banshees and acclaimed solo artist, presents his new score to the 1928 Surrealist classic The Seashell and the Clergyman.

Directed by Germaine Dulac from an original scenario by Antonin Artaud, this film was premiered in Paris on 9 February 1928. Arguably the first example of Surrealist cinema, this dark, erotically-charged film is a hallucinatory story of tormented desire, guilt and conflict with daring imagery, startling effects and a sense of the absurd.

Following the feature, Steven Severin will perform a live soundtrack to six modern shorts.

Near Death of the Long Sentence (published )

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Steve Finbow of these parts (and also proprietor of litzine Red Peter, a some-time writer for Quarantine Theatre Company and a book reviewer for The Japan Times) is the Featured Writer at Beat The Dust this month, where he talks Pierre Guyotat & Dennis Cooper with Toby Litt, Stewart Home and Stephen Barber.

The Nathan Barley/Damien Hirst Connection (published 07/12/2008)

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Via the latest Private Eye, it seems that Damien Hirst has taken exception to East London stencil artist Cartrain using his now infamous ‘For The Love of God’ in one of his own efforts and the multimillionaire has demanded the teenage stencilist stump up the readies (all £200 of it). This will no doubt be of amusement to 3:AM columnist and Stuckism co-founder Charles Thomson. Here’s me on Cartrain last year.

What a Load of Bolaño (published )

The late and truly great Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño gets a lot of press this weekend. And so he should. His posthumous novel 2666 will not be published in the UK until January 2009 but the American press is all over him. The New York Times Book Review published a letter by Andrew Wylie – Bolaño’s estate agent (so to speak) – refuting claims that Bolaño was a heroin addict.

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Now, we’re not sure where Wylie’s coming from here but we don’t think being a smack addict is going to hurt sales – see Burroughs, Self, O’Neill. There is considered coverage on Literary Saloon’s Complete Review. Bolaño also appears in The Times.

If you are yet to read this maverick novelist, Buzzwords suggests starting with By Night in Chile, Amulet, Distant Star, then move on to The Savage Detectives, the Borgesian Nazi Literature in the Americas, and finally settle down over Christmas with 2666. Buzzwords is saving the short story collection Last Evenings on Earth and the poems The Romantic Dogs until the new year.