:: Article

Idiotic Thoughts

Billy Childish, the idiocy of idears, Aquarium Books, 2007


It is well known that Billy Childish is a truly prolific artist – painter, musician, writer, film-maker and photographer. He is also a lifelong resident of Chatham, a less well-known town that squats on the muddy banks of the River Medway. A town that Thatcher’s government sunk in its own waters by decommissioning the Dockyard that provided employment for most of the locals (including Billy Childish and both my grandfathers), drowning it like a monstrous child in a bucket at the end of the birthing bed. While many have left, most often moving to London, Billy has stayed, making his colossal body of work. It could be said that the Medway Towns are Billy’s muse, as time and again, references to the place surface in his music (‘Strood Lights’ being my personal favourite) in his novels and poetry, in his pin-hole camera images of the river and paintings and again in his latest book, the idiocy of idears. Though the geography isn’t overt in this book, it is there, immediately recognisable to a former resident in its descriptions of casual small town cruelty.

Ultimately, I would venture that Billy’s refusal to leave the town of his birth (in which, whilst going about his business, he is often subject to insults and catcalls related to his facial hair and sartorial choices) is that an innate topographical knowledge allows for the expansive journey to the self, and Billy Childish’ significant body of work is auto-fictive, an archaeology of the Self. His work is ‘unhygienic’, visceral, and playful – redolent with the human, with experience, with the blood and guts of auto-voyeurism. I would argue that Billy’s work is primarily about territory, internal and external, a reclaimed territory, founded in trauma and delivering a partial redemption. In the idiocy of idears he reclaims literature from a phallologcentric linguistic terrain, by rejecting idealism, valourising the marginality of the subject and his ‘pidjin’ English; and by publishing the book in the uncorrected hand of its author/protagonist, thereby privileging the ‘minor’ language of the Dyslexic he forces language to ‘stutter’.

From his imagery, his ‘under-educated’, ‘outsider’ paintings to his gentlemanly Medway Delta Blues music; the Billy Childish corpus removes experience from the traditional canon of representation, it is playful and full of jouissance – splayed and pinned on an imagists dissecting table, utterly anti-kitsch – in Childish’ work, death and therefore life, bountiful, snotty and imperfect, abounds.

Heidi James is Arts Editor of 3:AM. Her novella The Mesmerist’s Daughter (published by Apis Books) was published in July 2007 and her novel Carbon (Wrecking Ball Press) is forthcoming. She has a column in Dazed and Confused and is a regular contributor to Another Level. Her essays and short stories are published in a variety of anthologies and magazines. She is the proprietor of Social Disease and a recipient of the Sophie Warne fellowship.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, January 17th, 2008.