:: Buzzwords Archive: June 2009. Click here for the latest posts.

3:AM Top 5: Gavin James Bower (published 19/06/2009)

gavinjamesbower

Along with Joe Stretch and Christiana Spens, Gavin James Bower is one of the Dark Young People, those bastard children of Fitzgerald, Ellis and Houellebecq whose subject matter is the all-consuming nightmare at the heart of the consumer dream. Dazed & Aroused, Gavin James Bower‘s highly-autobiographical debut set in the modelling world, is nothing less than a Less Than Zero for the Offbeat Generation.

Here is the young author’s Dazed & Aroused Top 5:

These are all songs that feature in the book. I also listened to them while writing. I like them all. Which helped.

1. “This Town” — Frank Sinatra
My favourite Sinatra song probably. The lyrics are perfect for Dazed & Aroused, and plagiarised accordingly.
2. “Blue Monday” — New Order
A staple of any model party or model SLASH DJ’s mixtape. Suitable for both Dalston warehouse and West End club. Which is quite impressive, when you think about it.
3. “Mr. Bojangles” — Jerry Jeff Walker (although I prefer the instrumental)
This song was played by a live band when I did my first catwalk show, for John Galliano. I habitually get it in my head and have the urge to walk in a straight line, chin down, unsmiling…
4. “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)” — Bloc Party
My not-so-subtle nod to Bret Easton Ellis and his anti-hero in Less Than Zero, which, incidentally, is my favourite novel.
5. “When You Were Young (Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Remix)” — The Killers
This song is playing during my favourite scene in the book, when Alex is captivated by Frankie on a crowded dancefloor. I first heard it watching the Victoria’s Secret show on YouTube. For, um, research…

Voidoid Live (published )

voidoid

A new edition of Richard Hell‘s classic 1973 novelina The Voidoid is out now on 38th Street with illustrations by Kier Cooke Sandvik (more from the young Norwegian artist here).

Richard Hell and Kier Cooke Sandvik will sign the book on Saturday 27 June at Printed Matter (195 Tenth Avenue, New York City, 5-7pm, free) following a short reading:

The Voidoid was written in 1973 in a little furnished room on East 10th St. I was staying with Jennifer (‘my thoughts and me are like ships that pass in the night’) in her apartment down the block overlooking the graveyard at St. Mark’s Church. The Neon Boys was stalled because we couldn’t find a second guitar player… Every day I’d take a bottle of wine with me across the street to the $16-a-week room I’d rented for writing. The method was I’d keep going till I got to the end of a single-spaced page, which was pretty far. I’d wake up an hour later and have to drink a whole lot of water.”

How Marinetti Taught Me to Write (published 18/06/2009)

3340820283_8b654ee023_o

Tom McCarthy will be talking about Futurism at Tate Modern next Saturday, as part of a day-long symposium (“Futurism and the Avant Garde”) to coincide with their new exhibition. Be there or be Cubist!

These Panels are Our Only Models For the Composition of Poetry, or, How Marinetti Taught Me How to Write

Marinetti’s proclamations about literature — what it should and shouldn’t be, the operations that it should attempt and tendencies that it should shun — outline a vision whose scope goes far beyond the boundaries of the middle-brow novel. This talk, by a crossover novelist/artist, asks what characteristics a genuinely Marinettian contemporary literature might have.

National Art Hate Week (published )

rw

AGAINST THE COMMON ENEMY

NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK has been instigated for the disruptive betterment of culture.

For one week in July the children of Albion will wake up and HATE ART on mass.

NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK is a call for direct action against the mass acceptance of art as a false economy for the smug manipulative elite and their ensuing grip of control over culture as a tool for mediated emotion, market lead non-critical homogeny, and boring popularism.

NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK presents a unified front of non-unified creative individuals against all that is despicable and loved by the people. We oppose the deliberate socio-economic strategy to make us all complicit in our own idiocy. We oppose the affront of state endorsed auto-cryptic balderdash and oppose the ruffians who have been pulled from the ghetto and polished up for elevated status and easy consumption by the masses.

ALL ART IS TAINTED

NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK will redress the balance and all art will be opposed and subjected to a sustained HATE.

NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK takes the symbol of the swastika hung from a gallows as an emblem of resistance against cultural fascism as disseminated by the bureaucrats of art.

During NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK citizens are encouraged to visit art institutions across the land and HATE. Individuals who are unable to attend an organised ART HATE are encouraged to open a random book on any given artist and HATE what they see.

If a child offers you a painting during NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK you are to turn away in disgust.

ART HATE PROPAGANDA

NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK will be promoted and expounded by the production and dissemination of propaganda encouraging unremitting, silent, nationwide ART HATE. (International ART HATE actions have been muted and if found relevant, encouraged)

The propaganda will be entirely visual and self explanatory, as devised by the artists of L-13.

All media, and the general public, will be targeted by direct and viral campaigns designed to educate and challenge the challenging.

260,000 leaflets are being printed and distributed nationwide. Billboard and flyposter campaigns will hit every city.

There will be protest.

There will be no discussion.

No art will be considered sacred.

On the closing of NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK, Monday the 20th July at 12.00 pm, truth will be twisted back into lies.

A LASTING LEGACY

On the 21st July 2009 an exquisite presentation set of all the propaganda and supporting materials will be donated to the Tate Collection so that the nation might remember those who stood up and said no.

This act will be duly noted for next years NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK.

INFORMATION

For further information please refer to the NATIONAL ART HATE WEEK posters and pamphlets on www.arthate.com

3:AM Top 5: Viv Albertine (published 17/06/2009)

3635915663_0f2e580a1f_b

The legendary Slits guitarist Viv Albertine is playing music again, and it was well worth the wait. “At the moment I am writing and recording my own songs,” she told 3:AM. Viv is working with Zoe Street Howe (vocals/various instruments), Dylan Howe (drums), Ross Stanley (piano/organ), Steve Beresford (piano) and others. She is also listening to:

1. “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” [famously covered by The Slits] — Marvin Gaye
2. “Space is the Place” — Sun Ra
3. “Yes I’m a Witch” — Yoko Ono
4. “Letter to Hermione” [a song Viv has just covered] — David Bowie
5. “It’s a Man’s World” — James Brown

[Related: 3:AM's interviews with Tessa Pollitt and Palmolive.]

B.S. Johnson, Brutalist (published 16/06/2009)

By Sukhdev Sandhu.

(cross-posted from telegraph.co.uk blogs)

rhg

You’re Human Like The Rest Of Them is the name of a rather special event taking place this evening at London’s National Film Theatre. Curated by Nigel Algar, it’s a celebration of the film works of one of the most intriguing English writers of the last half century: BS Johnson. A dynamic and compelling figure, an advocate of experimental and avant-garde literature at a time (the 1960s and early 1970s) when naturalism and social realism dominated British fiction, he produced a number of novels that raged with passion and invention.

Albert Angelo (1964), which is based on his experiences as a state-school teacher in north London, features a hole cut through two of its pages so that readers can see through to events that take place in the ‘future’. The Unfortunates (1969), provoked by a friend’s premature and seemingly random death of cancer, was issued as a box whose first and last sections are separated by 25 pamphlets, some a mere paragraph long, that can be read in any order. House Mother Normal (1971), set in an old people’s home, recounts a single event from ten different points of view.

Johnson’s fascination with typographical tricks and literary form – the demands he placed on it, his urge to deconstruct it, his desire to make merry with it – was, in some senses, a very traditional impulse whose roots go back at least as far as Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759-1767), a self-reflexive and bawdy novel tricked out with graphic squiggles as well as black and marbled pages. Equally though, it was an attempt to carry the torch for Modernism lit by the likes of James Joyce and his beloved Samuel Beckett.

Born in West London in 1933, Johnson was evacuated during World War Two (an upsetting experience he never forgot), and failed his eleven-plus exams. He went on to work as an account clerk at a building company and in the wages department of a bakery before, only as a mature student, enrolling at King’s College, London.

This sense of himself as an outsider, a personality at once rawer and more worldly than his Oxbridge-educated peers who occupied key positions within literary London, never totally left him. He worked prodigiously hard, issuing novels, poetry, short stories, as well as countless book reviews as if he was fighting against an invisible clock, and even spent Saturdays travelling across the country in order to report on football games for The Observer.

Johnson’s experience of working-class and lower-middle-class life, his first-hand knowledge of the rhythms and repressions of non-metropolitan Britain, his keen appreciation of how nearly his own creative energies had been snuffed out as a young man: all these inform his blackly comic novel, Christie-Malry’s Own Double Entry (1973) (later made into a film by Paul Tickell), whose bank-clerk anti-hero, applying the debit/ credit principles of double-entry bookkeeping, maintains a running tally of his life that he labels aggravation/ recompense, and proceeds to wreak vengeance on society by poisoning twenty thousand Londoners.

Towards the end of this book there is a chapter, ‘In which Christie and I have it All Out; and which You may care to Miss Out’, in which Johnson tells his protagonist that he’s running out of steam. “‘Don’t be sorry,” Christie replies, “The writing of a long novels is in itself an anachronistic act: it was relevant only to a society and a set of social conditions which no longer exist.’”

Many other writers in the 1960s and 1970s, writers such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Christine Brooke-Rose, shared this point of view, but few of them were able to offer counter fictions that felt anything other than cloistered and archly academic. By contrast, Johnson’s wrestling with literary form is intense, muscular, emotional. The penultimate section of ‘Albert Angelo’, entitled ‘Disintegration’, begins with an extraordinary disruption in which the author, dispensing with any pretense of fiction, declares: “-**** all this lying… Im trying to say something not tell a story telling stories is telling lies and I want to tell the truth about me about my experience about my truth”.

Johnson not only made the task of detonating tired literary structures seem urgent and fun, he tried to redefine the parameters and possibilities of the novel, fusing technical innovation with a visceral sense of locality and landscape in a manner that’s more common in British pop music – jungle, grime, dubstep – than in British fiction (prominent exceptions would include John Berger and Iain Sinclair).

In spite of the advocacy of Jonathan Coe (who wrote a terrific, award-winning 2004 biography ‘Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story of BS Johnson’), academics such as Philip Tew (co-editor of a valuable essay collection ‘Re-Reading BS Johnson’), and some websites (this one is a very useful resource), it’s fair to say that Johnson’s work – like that of his fellow British experimentalists Alan Burns and Ann Quin – is still not as widely known as it might and ideally would be.

That’s even truer of the many films he wrote or directed, a broad cross-section of which the National Film Theatre will be showing tonight. Johnson was drawn to cinema and to movie-making for many reasons: to supplement what he regarded as the pittance he earned from publishing; its potential as a political and consciousness-raising tool (in 1971, in response to the Conservative Government’s Industrial Relations Bill, he made a couple of evocative if not very sophisticated pro-union shorts, ‘Unfair!’ and ‘March!’); the extent to which its modernist grammar of splices, jump cuts and montage informed his approach to literary narrative.

Johnson held strong opinions about film, and especially about the British film industry. He thought it was full of “stinking crap”: “fatuous stories about sexless lovers, quaint old trains, action pictures which move the stomach to retch and not the heart to feel, the class-riddled setpieces of a dead culture, desperately unfunny double-entendre comedies, all forming a Victoria Falls of cesspool effluent. Only the purer waters of the British documentary tradition prevents complete pollution of the environment.”

His own films, made for television as well as for cinema, were a decidedly mixed bag. ‘You’re Human Like The Rest of Them’ (1968), a verse-play about death and disintegration made with the financial assistance of the British Film Institute and the technical help of Bruce Beresford (best known for ‘Driving Miss Daisy’), won the Grand Prix at Tour Shorts Film Festival in 1968.

But ‘The Smithsons on Housing’ (1970), a portrait of New Brutalist architects Alison and Peter Smithson made for BBC2, was hated by many within the corporation. Not without good reason: intended as a showcase for the theories of a couple who proclaimed themselves the “best architects in the country”, and whose ‘streets in the sky’ aesthetics Johnson had already praised in print, it must rate as one of the most bizarre documentaries ever broadcast.

The husband-and-wife team are shot in unflattering close up. They seem sweaty, their make-up is patchily applied, and they keep shifting their gazes so that they resemble parents of a child that has gone missing under suspicious circumstances. Their outfits – Alison wears a strap-collared silver outfit of the kind better suited to an extraterrestrial canine – are eye-poppingly weird. It’s hard to focus on what they’re saying: Alison speaks with the same faux grandeur that Margaret Thatcher later refined; Peter struggles to complete most of his sentences.

As they discuss their plans for the Robin Hood Gardens housing complex in Poplar, East London, they drone in self-pitying fashion about vandals and local naysayers to such an extent that any traces of visionary utopianism are extinguished. The aerial footage of the buildings is not so much futuristic as queasy. The programme, broadcast a couple of year after the collapse of Ronan Point tower block in nearby Newham, would likely have made most viewers distrust rather than look up to modern architects. Indeed, after Robin Hood Gardens was completed, the Smithsons designed almost no further public buildings in the United Kingdom.

Johnson himself never made any more films for the BBC. His next programme, ‘On Reflection: Samuel Johnson’ (part of the You’re Human celebration), was shown on ITV in 1971. Shot on a very modest budget, and filmed for the most part in the great Doctor’s house in London, it’s a sharp, forceful tribute to his eighteenth-century namesake whose work abounded, in what’s also a great description of his own writing, with “the “fierce joy of creation”.

‘On Reflection’ works well because Johnson is informed and passionate about his subject. He’s not afraid to be critical, describing one of his plays as “very near terrible”. He clearly identifies with his subject, referring a few times to his size, unprepossessing looks, and constant battle against melancholia. As for the Doctor’s love of a drink: “Drinking is an occupational hazard for writers, rather like coal dust is for miners. There’s a very important correlation between the flow of thoughts on to paper and the flow of drink into a writer, so much so that it might be officially recognized and drink could be made available on the National Health Service – or perhaps through the Arts Council.”

Johnson is keen to show the Doctor not as the grand and distinguished writer he appears in history books, but as the struggling hack he was for much of his life, someone forced to commit to projects for money rather than for art. He refers at one point to Edward Cave, a publisher “who paid very badly but who would always give his writers a meal if they could prove they were starving, a tradition continued to this day by publishers who think the miserable percentage they allow authors can in some way be excused by taking an author out to lunch.” At this point, the film cuts to a simple message: “Publishers are parasites.”

There are other devices that lively up the programme and make it more than a televised lecture. Sometimes, when Johnson recites the Doctor’s most famous sayings – “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”, for instance – his voice is suddenly and melodramatically dubbed. The Doctor’s interactions with the people around him, in his banter with Boswell or with his wife Tetty, are scored: “Johnson 1 Boswell 0″, “Johnson O, Wife 1″.

A section of the poem ‘London’ is accompanied by atmospheric footage of the modern-day capital: Routemaster buses, misty-windowed Wimpy bars, wrecking balls tearing into old buildings. As soon as the word “malice” is sounded, the camera zooms in on the national flag flying above the South African embassy in Trafalgar Square.

BS Johnson’s best film though, and the one that most effectively translates into the visual realm his beliefs about mortality, the chaos of human existence and narrative itself, is ‘Fat Man On A Beach’ (1974). Directed by Michael Bakewell and broadcast on HTV Wales, it features Johnson, wearing an array of coloured shirts, roaming about Port Ceiriad bay in Gwynedd, north Wales.

At the start, he asks: “Do you really want to sit there and watch it? Well don’t say I didn’t warn you!” Then, over the course of nearly forty minutes, he goes about taking Polaroids of a cameraman, discoursing about bananas, reciting poems by Welsh Nationalists, and leaping across the sand. The film is as eccentric as the documentaries of John Samson, as absurdist as Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett’s collaboration ‘Film’ (1965), intellectually spry like John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ (1972), as unlikely a programme to be screened on commercial television as Norman Cohen’s ‘The London Nobody Knows’ (1967).

‘Fat Man On A Beach’ is a film about Wales that it’s hard to imagine the Welsh Tourist Board embracing. In it Johnson revisits a part of the country he’d first visited and fallen in love with as a young hitchhiker. He punctuates his memories of that time, and of other times he’s spent there since, with various sight gags, jokes about bananas, a dark story about seeing a motorcyclist thrown off his bike and his body flying onto a wire fence that cuts through him “like a cheese cutter cutting through cheese”

At one point he defends this randomness, and even his willingness to include double takes and verbal fluffs: “Why can’t a film be a celebration of the accidental? Do you have to be a told a story? Telling stories is a child’s euphemism for telling lies.” ‘Fat Man On A Beach’ is, if one knows Johnson’s work, a compendium of authorial tics and obsessions: his pushy humour (“Everything reminds me of a joke – if I’m lucky”); his need to expose the mechanisms of his own narratives (jump cuts, he explains, are “little deceits of filmmakers”); his interest in the process of disintegration (there is a close-up of a blood-spattered dead sheep); his captivating childishness (in one sequence he treats the camera as a dog, telling it what to do and calling out “That’s a good boy. Sit!”)

If it’s not always easy to get a full grasp on what Johnson is saying or doing in ‘Fat Man On A Beach’, it’s even less easy to look away. It’s complex and ludic, touching and haunting. And yet were it to be pitched to a commissioning editor at ITV today, there’s not a hope in hell that it would ever get the green light: its presenter would be dismissed as excessively clever and insufficiently famous.

For myself, watching it today, it’s the closing moments of ‘Fat Man On A Beach’ that burn most intensely. Shot from a helicopter, Johnson is shown walking out across the sand and into the sea, the water climbing up his ankles, knees, waist. He seems to disappear from view. On 13 November 1973, barely a fortnight after that he recorded that scene, BS Johnson committed suicide at his family home in Islington, and in so doing largely disappearing from the public view too. Tonight’s celebration is long overdue.