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Meltdown Diaries Part One

By Andrew Stevens.

Organised as part of Patti Smith’s stint curating Meltdown on behalf of the South Bank Centre this year, Pages from Chaos lived entirely up to its billing. On entering the vast edificial tribute to post-war planning and concrete, I am wont to swoon as I witness a latter-day Joyce-Proust moment actualised before me as Kevin Shields and Jason Pierce chat amiably at the bar. This only serves to heighten my anticipation for my next scheduled dose of Meltdown, which will feature Shields underscore Smith’s own tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe. But tonight belongs to Pierce. And the other musicians lending their arrangements to Smith’s tribute to William Burroughs, namely Matthew Shipp and Marc Ribot. However, the audience’s attention leans considerably to our two readers for the evening, Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore, a line-up that ought to invoke no end of jealousy among the ample numbers of people not in the audience tonight.

It begins with Ribot doing his level best to divest his acoustic guitar of strings as he shifts from drone to flamenco and cosily back again while the personage of Burroughs stares down on us from the mounted screen above the stage. Moore and Sinclair take turns to share with us their take on the man, Moore reading from biography while Sinclair donates a good portion of his own experiences of the beat legend, including stays in Earls Court and treks through the City. Smith herself then emerges from stage left and begins to read from an anecdote-peppered Wild Boys, eventually breaking into song using Burroughs’ prose as lyrics. Tilda Swinton, perhaps a small link to the world of Trocchi for the evening, then takes over more gingerly as Smith nudges it one stage higher with her cacaphonic clarinet.

The second part of the performance, or service if you will, is opened by Swinton reading from Burroughs’ sardonic ‘Thanksgiving Prayer’ as Matthew Shipp and Jason Pierce (or Jason Spaceman as he wishes to be known) compete for sonics on piano and guitar respectively. Smith reads from Queer before ending the performance overcome by emotion on stage and vowing to continue elects to move around the audience replete with clarinet. She’s trying to commune with a dead beat and all I can think about is Lester Bangs’ crush on her as she sits at my feet. It feels as if we’ve come full circle in the intended presence of the author who gave the world heavy metal. It really doesn’t get any more rock and roll than this.

First posted: Monday, June 20th, 2005.

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