Michael K writes:
The following interview took place in April 2007 on the occasion of the annual ‘birthday booze-up’ which Home and I, (fellow elders of the Society for Afro-Celtic Grooviness in the Field of Arts and Craftiness) have undertaken since helping each other to stand up at a S*M*A*S*H gig in Harlesden in 1993 during that first heady summer of the ‘New Wave of the New Wave’. The venue for our interview this time was The Filth and Slapper in Shoreditch, a haven of Post-Samplism, New Neoism and Pure Trance which operates for security purposes under the name ‘The Foundry’. Home and I actually met up for a pre-booze trawl through newly arrived independent publications at the nearby Book Art Bookshop during which I surreptitiously inserted copies of my novels Oedipussy and Do Not Sell After 1999 into the hapless shop-owner’s stock while Stewart picked up a copy of his own pamphlet entitled ‘BUBONIC PLAGIARISM: Stewart Home on Art, Politics and Appropriation’ and began laughing loudly at his own jokes. Having worked up quite a thirst in this way, we soon decamped and, finding The Foundry as deserted as the Marie Celeste on a wet Wednesday, proceeded to appropriate several malts and a half of Guinness each (which Home poured the ‘English’ way). With these weapons and leaving a note addressed to Bill Drummond acknowledging our receipt of them, we entered the Foundry’s makeshift ‘Library’ area of the bar where both myself and Home have lived, with our chwives and children, at occasional times of homelessness during our otherwise thriving ‘careers’. Ten minutes later, having caught up on goings on in marginal milieus as diverse as Neo-Glop and Japanese Panty-Sniffing, we were totally plastered, encrusted around the mouth and ready to begin with the interview…
3:AM: Stewart, your twelfth published novel Memphis Underground is just about to come out in English with Snowbooks and is the first of your books to have been turned down by a couple of publishers prior to getting into print. Did this impertinent turn of events affect the content of the book as it’s coming out now?
SH: No actually I had a deal for this book about four years ago with a literary publisher in the States; they wanted me to re-edit the book because they didn’t like the more self-referential material in the second part. I was willing to do this for the US, but told them that I would use my original draft for Europe as I preferred it to the new version I’d done for them. They’d offered me contracts for world (more money) and US only rights, so I said I was just going to sign the US only contract because I didn’t want the version of the book I’d done for them going around the world. The publisher told me they couldn’t allow two versions of the book to exist because people might compare them; which obviously didn’t bother me because although I was happy to edit the book the way the publisher wanted for the US, I thought it was better as I envisioned it. So the publisher withdrew the offer for US only rights and said if I wanted the book published they’d ensure it came out they way they wanted around the world. So I decided not to do the book with them. So it took a while to find a publisher to do it the way I wanted (the book was finished 5 years ago, well before my last published book Tainted Love), and Snowbooks actually thought the stuff the US publisher wanted to remove was the best material in the book.
3:AM: You’ve gone with Snowbooks this time, an outfit which has something of a reputation for dispensing with some of the traditional tools of book promotion, such as readings and signings, in favour of innovative marketing. You’ve also been highly active on social networking sites in past months. How are these things coming together?
SH: Really well, we’ve got the competition starting up to give away free books on the Memphis Underground profile on MySpace, there is even more strangeness on Flickr, I’ve stuff on my own site and there is more at Snow and even an internet Memphis Underground radio station.
All this material integrates in a more interesting way than the traditional promotions of signings and readings and has a validity of its own, rather than just being promo; Snow don’t set readings up but I’ve organised a few of my own as anyone who looks at my homepages will realise. But the sad fact of the matter is that in a capitalist society you’ve got to do marketing otherwise you just disappear. It goes without saying that those with the most money are in a position to do the best marketing (although happily their imagination often fails them). But very little, possibly none, of what comes up from the internet onto other media is organic; there is always a load of money behind it. I don’t have a big corporation to back me, Snow is an independent, but I do think I can do something more interesting than much of what has been done with the internet as a medium and not just for promotion (because promotions that are only that aren’t that interesting). My website is designed from the point of view of content rather than to look flash, although it is important to me that the design is good too. But I’m not interested in flash graphics, which are all too often fail to cover up a lack of substance (and talking of substances, have you just hoovered up those fat lines of coke Michael? Better get some more!). Likewise, when I came onto MySpace I was amazed how most writers using it simply listed stuff on their profile and pages that would only interest existing “fans (like new book, reading, story in anthology), and didn’t seem interested in drawing new readers in; it was like they didn’t have any imagination (not that I have any imagination either but I’ve been reading Media Week since I was knee-high to a crasshopper and can write great sex scenes because you and your girlfriends are always asking me for threesomes). Obviously if you have a new book out then it is useful to let people know that, but much of the time I’m using MySpace to do other things. And I think you can’t avoid the social networking aspects of it if you actually involve yourself with MySpace, you know people wanting to have sex with you and that sort of stuff (that’s cool, the ones who worry me want to have sex with my girlfriend Tessie and they seem to really believe that she is a ventriloquist doll who’s come to life because she’s possessed by the spirit of Jayne Mansfield, and although I know this is true I wouldn’t expect anyone else to believe it without the evidence of their own eyes because it is so, well unlikely)… Obviously all of this is very time consuming and while I’m on YouTube I haven’t had time to develop making my old and new films as widely available as I’d like, or building the audience for them. Likewise, I really don’t have the time I’d like to devote to doing stuff on Wikipedia, although I do get up there every now and then…
3:AM: You’ve a lot of back catalogue and a lot of it still in print. Have you found that the success of recent novels such as Tainted Love and 69 Things to do with A Dead Princess have kept the older books moving off the shelves?
SH: The old books continue to sell, and I guess that is partly down to the fact that I’ve new stuff coming out, but publishing is changing with print on demand and other innovations, so that publishers are less willing to keep titles in print. Serpent’s Tail who were founded on the basis that they planned to keep their books in print, recently let my novel Blow Job go out of print; I understand their reasons for that, and obviously it would be unreasonable for me to expect them to buck the trends of the capitalist market in a pre-revolutionary situation. So I think increasingly the rights to most of my old titles will be reverting to me, and I will probably end up reissuing them myself as print on demand titles because there is a demand for them.
3:AM: Now, also announced this week is the new Semina series from BookWorks in London, with you as its commissioning editor. The series will publish work by the young and unknown alongside more established artists and writers, through a combination of open-submission and commission. What are you hoping to do with this series and how involved will you be with authors’ development of books in the series?
SH: I’m intending to show that there is an audience for experimental literature, that there are alternatives to the bland realism that dominates not just corporate but most independent publishing today. My novel 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess was very difficult to get published but once it came out it really surprised Canongate by how well it sold. They had to reprint the trade paperback original because it sold out in a couple of months, and obviously you don’t do the mass market paperback until a year later, and so you’d try to print enough of the trade paperback original to last until the mass market paperback is issued. So there is definitely an audience for this type of book. Narrative realism has reached a dead end in fiction, people read true crime and biography to get what they used to get from that kind of novel. The only way to move forward with fiction is to accept the developments of modernism and post-modernism and run with that. Obviously I want the writers we bring into this series to realise their own vision, my role will be to nurture that and give technical help where needed. But if the writer wants it then I will work closely with them on their book.
3:AM: Of course another of the recent developments with you has been your takeover of the Stewart Home Society website. Previously, this was something of a second-hand operation performed by an acolyte but as of Winter 06, you’ve been hands on with the redesign and maintenance. How’s that been?
SH: Obviously I’m always juggling a lot of balls and having someone do something like run my website is pretty fantastic for me. Space Bunny did a really good job of getting in there early with a site, starting it in 1999. The site was run on his enthusiasm but he hadn’t done much with it for a couple of years, so I wanted to set up an official site to keep people up to date with what I was doing and to make sure new (to my website anyway) material was going up. I told Space Bunny I was going to set up an official site, and he suggested I take over his fan site instead, which seemed like a good idea. I remade every page with a new design which was a lot of work but I thought it was worth it. I wanted something that was simple to lay out but visually tight. I’m very pleased with the result, several commercial operations have told me my site is better than what they have, and that is largely down to the time I’ve put into it and the fact that I concentrate on content rather than flashy but empty graphics. I’ve always been a great believer in keeping it simple when it comes to design (and fucking, you know I tend to just go up to a girl and say ‘Hi, baby, wanna make sweet love to moi?’, because I prefer eating out the bush to beating about it…). A lot of web pages have attention-grabbing flashing and clashing graphics, and I don’t go for that at all. Design-wise I don’t really like the early punk fanzines I did in the late-seventies and early-eighties, which are much more that cut-and-paste collage aesthetic, but I think you can see I hit what I wanted to do by the time I did the first issue of Smile in 1984, which has a very simple, plain, balanced, classical layout that works. There’s a lot to be said for centring material (and if you’re fucking make sure the legs are well parted first). I don’t have any design training, so I try to work within what I know to be my own limitations and I also know how to work with others to realise the design I want where that is necessary. For the website, I got Christina Lamb to help me with it, I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know how to do web design, but I’m very happy with the solution we arrived at, and having the template I’m able to maintain it myself.
3:AM: I like the new design and feel a lot but was initially taken aback as the old website had a very underground feel with a flavour of sedition and the forbidden about it. The new style is much more friendly and, obviously, authorial. I wonder had you consciously decided that the old site’s flavour was dated? Or perhaps that it had in some way limited you?
SH: I had no control over the design of the old site, but it did really look like a 1995 bulletin board and graphically tended to be very messy with lots of different type sizes on the pages and a fairly random mixture of colours underneath. It had a real feel of anti-design, a rejection of design, which gave it an immediacy and attracts a certain type of audience. But to be honest, that style of design isn’t to my taste, although I respect Space Bunny for going with his own vision and also to paying a lot of attention to making it possible for those with poor dial up connections and weedy computers to look at it. I’m still trying to keep the pages pretty light, so that people aren’t excluded (beyond those with no computer access at all of course, and that is most people in the world, I don’t like that but I have to live with it), but I wanted a more controlled look (and yes, sexually, I do like seeing a naked woman on my bed constrained by a pair of handcuffs and with a blindfold over her eyes). I didn’t want anything flashy for the website, but I wanted something that looked like some care had been taken over the design, because at the end of the day I believe in what I do and I think it deserves and audience and that this was a way to draw a bigger audience in (which at the same time increases my pool of sexual partners too, so that’s pretty groovy, right now I’m particularly interested in 22-year-old girls from Eastern Europe). Of course it’s cool being very underground, and I’m still pretty underground, and while I don’t want to compromise to bring people in, at the same time I do want to bring them in if they are potentially interested (in my writing, in my anti-art, in revolutionary activity, and particularly if they’re dirty and either under or over thirty and might wanna make the beast with two backs with me). Also the new website design reflects my design tastes, the old design really didn’t reflect my tastes at all, it was a reflection of Space Bunny’s taste and I found it… well, a little messy, just as he no doubt finds my design taste a bit too tidy. Web design is curious because you don’t have the control you have on the printed page (or with a naked lady restrained by a pair of handcuffs), and I found that a bit annoying when I started doing the site, but at the end of the day I’ve had to learn to live with that… I found the way Space Bunny made the site a labyrinth quite amusing, but I decided I wanted to make it easy to navigate, but there are now even more pages and so it is still almost impossible to get around the whole site, and there are still a few hidden parts that you have to look very hard to find. But it’s a big change from the way Space Bunny made the site, which was essentially two sites with separate home pages that interpenetrated each other (and likewise there’s nothing I like better than two girls with a double-headed dildo…), his web architecture was quite amazing and very self-consciously extremely confusing… I appreciated that but felt it was time for a change.
3:AM: Another thing I wanted to ask was whether all this social networking activity from you is in some way replacing the pamphleteering. The Wikipedia entry for you used to mention that your influence in the underground scene was partly nailed by the power of the printed word, a power that the author of that entry felt had declined in the internet era. Do you think that your participation in the MySpace world is in some way an equivalent, in the current era, for your earlier practice of seeding the streets with pamhlets?
SH: I suspect the author of that section of the Wikipedia piece is Florian Cramer or at least someone influenced by him, and actually it is completely inaccurate as is much else in the entry. I don’t bother to correct it because it is amusing to see it repeated elsewhere. For example it says in there that my first book The Assault On Culture was a rejected BA dissertation, this isn’t true and in fact I never wrote or submitted a BA dissertation and the book was written several years AFTER I was thrown out of college. But I find it funny to see this nonsense repeated on the basis of completely erroneous material in Wikipedia. I think there is a lot to be criticised about so called Web 2.0 (centralisation, commercialisation, profit capitalism etc.), but it also marks the onset of the web as a real mass phenomenon, where it is really changing the social environment and where one can’t ignore it. We’ve got now what the hype was telling us we’d have a dozen years ago. So I move with the times but actually I always had that web presence from early on thanks to Space Bunny among others (but also web projects like TorkRadio which I was pulled into). What the Wikipedia entry says about influence was, last time I looked at it, about my influence on subcultures. Now I’d agree the influence I exert through subcultures has declined but this is not because I am less influential now than I was before (I’d say I actually have a lot more influence in the world) but because subcultures have declined for a whole host of reasons (most of them not connected to the internet) it’s inevitable I, and many others, exert less influence through them — also I’ve got older and since most subcultures are predicated on youth it’s natural that I would have been less interested in them even if they hadn’t gone into decline (particularly in metropolitan centres, they are stronger on what for want of a better word we might call “the periphery”). Likewise the Wikipedia entry is written from the perspective of my impact in Germany and is in fact completely back to front as far as much of the rest of the world is concerned. But moving on to the other part of the question, actually I don’t think MySpace and YouTube are a replacement for pamphleteering, I think there is a relationship but they are a different activity and that for various reasons for the time being I will continue to issue pamphlets despite the fact that they are now harder to distribute. I like the form and actually on these I have reverted to a deliberately cruder and more underground feel. I used to set my pamphlets in Quark or whatever, whereas now I just use a word processing programme because I think as the form becomes more marginalised it is nice to make the object appear rougher… But pamphlets circulate in a very different way to information on the web, and they hang around as physical objects, so people tend to read them more closely, often people will just click through stuff on the web thinking they’ll come back to read it properly but never actually do so… I think the same material in a pamphlet is on average more likely to be read more closely than when it is put on the web. You know, my pamphlet is lying around and my reader has constipation so they end up reading it carefully while stuck on the john trying to poo or whatever…
3:AM: Finally, Stewart, we’ve heard mention of a few other projects and developments in the pipeline. Some ventriloquism training, a couple of as-yet-unpublished novels and, maybe, bringing some of the out-of-print things into the Print-On-Demand era via your website. What the hell are you at and how do you fit in sleep with your writing, drinking and sexploitation activities?
SH: Basically, I don’t sleep enough and I drink industrial quantities of espresso. There is a lot I wanna do and I’m not corporate friendly so I don’t have the ackers rolling in to pay other people to do all this stuff for me, and I like to do it myself (especially the fucking, although increasingly I’m finding I’m having to do it with my boots on to save time, I can’t cut down on the duration so the only way to save time there is on the dressing and undressing), although a bit more help now and then would be nice. The world and the culture we have are changing all the time, and if you wanna have some influence over that change then you gotta look at the way things are going and strategise, as well as continually reforging the passage between theory and practice. And actually I’m feeling more hopeful now than I was a year or two ago, because people aren’t buying into the corporate thing as much as they were, there is a sense of increasing resistance, a feeling of new possibilities opening up, the old mole is raising its head, yes I think its time for a communist revolution…
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Michael K is an enigma who was born in Belfast in the mid-sixties and has lived all over the UK. His hobbies include making KLF fans cry by releasing fake prank material by that group.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, April 9th, 2007.