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DAILY BUZZWORDS

Artwork by Sardax

CUTTING-EDGE LITERARY NEWS FROM AROUND THE GLOBAL VILLAGE

by Andrew Gallix

COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED






HO HO HO! 12/20/2002

Buzzwords is off to London tomorrow morning for a well-earned rest. Thanks for your support these past two years: 3AM Magazine is now one of the busiest cultural websites in the world! See you in 2003 for more news from around the global village. Happy New Year 3AMers, may all your dreams come true. Here's to peace!



PANEM ET CIRCENCES? 12/20/2002

3am contributor Jim Ruland is featured in a new anthology of fiction published by Mild Horse Press and edited by Pam Houston. It's called e2ink-1: The Best of the Online Journals. The story is "Kessler Has No Lucky Pants," and it originally appeared in The Barcelona Review. A nice review of both the story and the anthology can be found at Popmatters. To purchase a copy, just visit Mild Horse Press. Jim also has creepy new fiction in The American Journal of Print and an essay about Anne Frank and Vincent van Gogh in the debut issue of The God Particle.

Here's an extract from the Popmatters review: "There's a quiet battle raging in the literary world. . . . It's been going on for quite some years, largely as a debate among academicians, social commentators, and those who work as writers and editors, but fueled by occasional spurts of general media attention from time to time. The issue? Are electronic magazines the salvation of the literary arts in tight economic times -- or the ruination of the fine art of reading? Web critics point to the proliferation in the last decade of cyberjunk zines that are here today and gone tomorrow, featuring self-indulgent and semi-literate writing, pornographic material, and extremist rants. Noted author Todd Gitlin, whose current book Media Unlimited examines the barraging of the contemporary mind by electronic stimuli of every sort, remarked in a March 2002 speech to the Commonwealth Club of California, 'It's frequently said that many people who 'read' online are actually doing a kind of heavy skim, a lot of scrolling.' An even stronger indictment comes from Prof. William Gass in his 1999 Harper's article, "In Defense of the Book," in which the electronic age is blamed for not only the decay of the English language, but the corruption of the human intellect. At the heart of the criticism seems to be the sense that the medium engenders a restless mindlessness in a population already suspected of only wanting panem et circences -- "bread and circuses," as Juvenal so aptly observed about the citizenry of the Roman Empire at its decline.

. . . Are online literary magazines successfully filling the gap left as print journals succumb to precarious economic times? Or is the Internet proving to be an even vaster, more mind-numbing and intellect-deadening wasteland than (God help us) television?

e2ink: The Best of Online Journals 2002 definitively demonstrates that good literature is alive and well and readily available on the web. Patterned after various prestigious anthologies that honor the best fiction each year in print journals, e2ink makes a powerful case for the legitimacy of electronic magazines, both as conservators of traditional narrative forms and champions of the best cutting-edge literary trends. There is an admirable consistency of quality in this collection, an amazing Zen-like oneness of mind among all the editors who read the nominations that has created a volume worthy of a place next to the yearly Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Award anthologies. The fiction in this book is nothing less than breathtaking. . . . One of the happiest surprises for this reviewer in reading e2ink was to discover 'experimental' fiction that was readable, understandable, and truly innovative, exploring adventurous avenues of narrative while remembering that communication is the reason for all storytelling. . . . (W)riter Jim Ruland effectively uses the contents of a closet to describe the ruins of a man's life in the whimsical and poignant 'Kessler Has No Lucky Pants.' He also breaks new literary ground by creating a narrative without a narrator, written from a POV that is not first, second or third person and is both ambiguous and specific at the same time -- a remarkable feat that he brings off in seemingly effortless style.

. . . Whether e2ink will help to settle the great online vs. print journal controversy and confer literary legitimacy to electronic publications is arguable. But one thing is certain. It will stand as a permanent reminder that good literature can be found any place where you have the fortuitous combination of gifted writers, perceptive editors, and discerning readers -- even in cyberspace."




THE SECRET OF BEING A REALLY GOOD DRUNK 12/15/2002

Latter-day Dorian Gray, Alex James, writes a mean blog. He's also published an excellent article in today's Observer: "When I arrived in London from sunny Bournemouth to learn French at Goldsmiths College, drinking was one of the things I liked doing most. Already there was an affinity, there was a thirst and there was Graham Coxon getting out of his parents' car. The very first person I clapped eyes on. He was an inspirational drinker. It was pure ballistics with us in those days. We'd launch ourselves headlong into giggling raspberry-blowing oblivions by night. I was on the roof; throwing everything out of the window. How we laughed. Quoting Barthes and Baudrillard and trying hard to find the meaning of the meaning all over the place. Blur's early gigs were chaos. We were beaten up, maced, arrested. Signing a record deal is like boarding a transatlantic flight. There's always someone coming around offering you a drink. Our label, Food Records, was basically a pub on Brewer Street. It was just around the corner from Smash Hits, which was basically a pub on Beak Street. Smash Hits had the minxiest, wittiest writers. Going to see the NME was a bit like going to see a member of staff at school, but Smash Hits was playtime. The Smash Hits girls thought it was brilliant that you could go to the pub all day and many a quiet afternoon was whiled away playing darts and going on about who was dishy.

I'd still be there now but we had to go on tour. When you start going on tour, you can have whatever you like all the time. It doesn't take long to work that out. Because you are removed from your life, and the scenery is perpetually changing while your needs are largely satisfied, there is a big rush of freedom. But getting what you want all the time doesn't necessarily make you happy. It's just getting what you want. Alcohol and drugs increase your sense of what's possible. A hotel room that made you think of hospitals is now a disco full of new friends. Whatever town you go to, all the young people who will ever amount to anything will be in the best bar getting twatted. Taxi into town, load up on gin and tonic until everything is slightly slow motion and smile at the prettiest girl you can see.

. . . I spent a million pounds on champagne in three years. Drank two bottles every day except Wednesday and gave a couple away. It's something like 0.1 per cent of the entire country's champagne turnover for a year. . . . If I go and see a dentist, I'd rather he was sober. If I go and see a band I like to think that they've tried to spank the limits of their tiny minds. Everyone needs a mask. You put all of yourself into your persona and try to remember which one is the real you. . . . I was playing a dandyish elegantly wasted genius, whom I got to quite like, but he had to die young. The secret of being a really good drunk is to make sure that there is always one person in the room who is drunker than you are. If, for example, you find yourself playing 'Blue Moon' on the piano, there has to be someone singing. Hopefully a pretty girl. Many people become more charming in drink. It is a dangerous sport, like Formula One racing or downhill skiing. To be really good at it you need to dedicate time to it. Some people have a natural flair for it and some are ugly car crash victims. . . . (S)o where you are and who you do it with don't mean jack shit. Glamour is only really appealing when it's your party; it's ugly to be chasing after it. So I drank in the dingy cafes in Reykjavik docks, I danced around the Tate in the middle of the night, did the Macarena in the kitchen, busted the piano at the Savoy, got banned from a few places and the keys to others. A drink is a short cut to happiness but there are an infinite number of ways of getting there.

. . . In January I decided to learn how to fly aeroplanes. It's easily the hardest thing I've ever done. I could take off, fly to Southampton and land behind Concorde without looking out of the window. It reduced grown men to tears and nearly broke me. It took two months. By the end of February I was running 12 miles three times a week and cycling 10 miles a day. By the end of March I was a captain, Captain James, mate. By the end of April I'd had to take an assistant to help me cope with the new pace of my life. Blur started recording in May. By June I'd got myself really organised. It took six months to sort my life out and then the changes started happening. I split up with my girlfriend of 15 years. By August my bridge playing was mustard and my partner and I trounced everyone at the Groucho Club. I could nearly do the splits by September and then I started doing yoga. Wicked! Was having to divide my day into half-hour chunks like a grown-up. If I hadn't gone to live in a barn in Africa for October I would have gone right up my arse. Now it's December and it's horse riding. Give me lessons, teach me, show me. It's bloody marvellous. . . . I was taking positive action and I loved it. It's bullshit to overanalyse. If you spend time talking about your problems they gain too much reality. We could all spend an hour a day talking about our problems, but if you spend an hour a day doing anything you like doing, your problems will get smaller, I promise. . . . Drinking is about the potential of right now; not drinking is about the promise of tomorrow. IT'S ALL GOOD. Take your pick, it's what you want that matters. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." More on Alex here, there, everywhere.




ROCK-HARD NIPPLES 12/15/2002

Geraldine Bedell on the new Mills & Boon boom in the Observer: "Masturbation, bondage, oral sex in a van with liberal use of ice cubes, several orgasms in the shower: this is a brief summary of the action in one of the latest books from Mills & Boon. Forget tender young nurses smelling of camphor and fresh air, and orphaned virgins cast adrift in scary foreign places. Mills & Boon has gone all raunchy. Blaze is the newest imprint from the 94-year-old publishing house, and it is currently producing two books a month in covers designed to suggest that the contents are so hot that they just self-combusted; books that do away with any notion that Mills & Boon produces the novelistic equivalent of antimacassars and knitted tea cosies. One recent offering, Body Contact, opens with the line, 'Maddy Guthrie's nipples were hard.' A little further on, though still on the first page, ex-CIA agent Jack Connors tells her: 'If you want me to go with you on this mission, you'll go to bed with me first.' So, obviously, she does, and they depart for a Caribbean island to rescue the kidnapped daughter of Maddy's boss. For various complicated reasons, every time they are nearly caught, they have to have sex.

Whatever has happened to the staid old Mills & Boon, purveyor of novels to the genteel, which in 1968 advertised that its readers, 'come from that large group of people who are bored with tales of sex, violence and sadism and just want a pleasant book'? Alan Boon, son of one of the founders, advised a writer in 1967 that Mills & Boon readers, 'Do not like heroines to be in love with married men, or married heroines to be in love with other men, or unhappy marriage situations, or any touching on differences of colour.' . . . Blaze was spun off the Sensual Romance imprint by Mills & Boon's head office in Toronto last year (Harlequin Mills & Boon, a merger made in 1971, is now owned by the Torstar Corporation, publishers of the Toronto Star) as something of an experiment, although it always looked likely to succeed. 'As long as I've been writing romances the more erotic writers have sold more,' says Maureen Lee who, as Miranda Lee, has written 54 books for Mills & Boon. This month, Blaze is being relaunched in this country with the new raunchy covers and a substantial advertising campaign. 'As a series, we think they might have wider appeal,' says Tessa Shapcott, a nice lady in a lilac jumper who is the senior commissioning editor for Blaze in the UK. . . . Mills & Boon, she insists, has been 'doing sensuality' since the 1970s. It also featured oral sex as early as 1982, when the hero of Antigua Kiss, Ash, set about the heroine, Christiana, when she refused to kiss him. 'There are other places to kiss,' he informed her darkly. Christiana, shocked, nevertheless surrendered to 'waves of ecstasy'. A 1973 title had Suzy Walker missing her lover: 'Sometimes the longing for love came upon her like a sudden fever, keeping her awake at night, forcing her to an expedient which, although it eased her restlessness, left her unfulfilled emotionally, and depressed by the thought that this might be all she would ever have; this solitary, inadequate substitute for the ecstasies of a shared bed.' By 1998, it was all much more explicit: 'He dug his fingers into her hips, lifted her up, pulled her warm silk thighs apart to open her fully. Then with a thrust of his hips, he plunged into her, deep and hard, all the way to the hilt.'

. . . Mills & Boon's UK market may be in decline, but it is still worth 13.5m books a year, with regular readers getting through an average of four books a month (a decade ago it would have been between 10 and 12 a month). Meanwhile, the shortfall has been made up with international sales. Harlequin Mills & Boon sells in more than 100 markets, in 26 languages, at a rate of one book every two seconds. So something's working. An American sociologist, Janice Rodway, has looked at what consumers of romantic fiction claim to get out of their reading, and found that they emphasise time away from the demands of husbands and children. Rodway suggests that by identifying closely with the heroine, who flourishes when she becomes the most important thing in the life of an extraordinary man, readers are left with feelings of emotional sustenance and well-being. . . . Hilary Wilde, a prolific Mills & Boon author, said in 1966: 'The odd thing is that if I met one of my heroes, I would probably bash him over the head with an empty whisky bottle. It is a type I loathe and detest. I imagine in all women, deep down inside us, is a primitive desire to be arrogantly bullied.' . . ."




BURNING WITH A GEM-LIKE FLAME 12/14/2002

Simon Ford reviews three new books about the Situationist International in Metamute: "More than any other post-war avant-garde organisation the Situationist International (SI) has been, until very recently, very poorly served by a mythologizing and historically lazy discourse of hagiography and wilful misunderstanding. There are signs, however, that SI studies are changing and with these changes some interesting dilemmas are emerging, illustrated by the contrasting tones of three recent books on the SI: The Tribe by Jean-Michel Mension, The Consul by Ralph Rumney and Guy Debord and the Situationist International edited by Tom McDonough.

The Tribe was Jean-Michel Mension's name for a small group of young people who, for a few short years (1952-1954) drifted around the bars of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, avoiding work, committing petty crimes and plotting the demise of bourgeois culture. . . . Arrests and black-outs were an occupational hazard for the hardcore refusniks based at Chez Moineau, a small bistro at 22 Rue Du Four. It was Parisian café society, but back streets away from the tourist-beaten paths leading to the celebrity existentialists at the Café de Flore and the Deux-Magots. Mension claims that the first time he spent 'quality time' with Debord was on his 18th birthday, when they sat on the pavement all afternoon and into the evening drinking cheap wine. The rest of his time was spent hustling for enough money to be able to spend the night in Moineau's, singing, playing chess, arguing about the latest books, and trying to score with the many women associated with the scene, including Michèle Bernstein, Sarah Abouaf, Vali Myers, Paulette Vielhomme, and Éliane Brau (girlfriend first of Debord, then married to Mension, then married to Jean-Louis Brau and later author in 1968 of Le Situationnisme ou la nouvelle internationale). Fortunately for the group -- and history -- into this milieu stumbled Dutch photographer Ed Van der Elsken. His documentary photographs of the tribe (his style and subject matter anticipating Nan Goldin and the dissolute school of photography) eventually found their way into the innovative photo-novel Love on the Left Bank (1956). It was Elsken that took the justifiably famous photograph of Mension posing with 'Fred' (real name Auguste Hommel) in his dirty white trousers scrawled with LI slogans. . . ."




THE MISSING LINKS 12/14/2002

The winner of this year's Bad Sex Award -- Wendy Perriam -- picks her top 10 sexy books.

On the subject of sex, check out the Hottest Camgirls of 2002 top 2O. (Pic: the amazing Teresa Renee whose Oish dot com makes into the top 20.)

Our friend Einar Moos, editor of the excellent Parisiana webzine has published an article on Arthur Miller's Paris in BonjourParis.

Bookmunch's review of 2002. taint magazine's awards for 2002. Writers, more writers and some more writers choose their books of the year.




DYING WILL BE AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE 12/14/2002

Lyn Gardner on our Peter Pan fixation in The Guardian: "Every year for almost a century, around this time in December, normally careful parents -- the kind who wouldn't dream of letting their children walk alone to the shop or see a scary video -- do something extraordinary. They take their children to see a play that is brilliant but one of the most darkly disturbing ever written. It is the story of a strange, dysfunctional boy who refuses to grow up, who hangs around at a nursery window and lures its children away to a place where they meet a fairy who has the morals and murderous impulses of Lucrezia Borgia, and do battle with a wicked pirate who is both a distorted father figure and a walking, talking phallic symbol. It pops the idea into young, suggestible heads that 'to die will be an awfully big adventure'. The story is, of course, Peter Pan and, like other great examples of Victorian and Edwardian wonderland literature, it was written by a man whose relationship with children was at best suspect. There is no evidence that JM Barrie ever acted on any of his impulses and most contemporary reports describe him as distinctly asexual, but his predilection for hanging around Kensington Gardens making friends with small children would today set alarm bells ringing and send social workers running to take protective action. Peter Pan is undoubtedly one of the greatest plays of the past century. Even Peter Llewellyn Davies, the second son of the young family of five boys that Barrie befriended, and a man with more cause than most to loathe Peter Pan, called it 'that terrible masterpiece'. Llewellyn Davies was teased and haunted all his life for being the original model for Peter Pan; at the age of 63, he threw himself under a train at London's Sloane Square station.

Although it seems unimaginable now, the tale of Peter Pan didn't begin as a narrative for children. The character first appears in Barrie's 1902 novel for adults, The Little White Bird, an account of the interest taken in a small boy called David by a wealthy childless writer, who takes the child for walks in Kensington Gardens and tells him stories about a character called Peter Pan. David was the name of Barrie's elder brother, who died in a skating accident aged 13 and so became trapped in eternal youth. Barrie tried hard to replace David in his devastated mother's affections, even going as far as wearing his dead brother's clothes. . . . Yet Edwardian readers saw nothing askew in The Little White Bird, just as they were not alarmed by Robert Baden-Powell's delight in young men's bodies and desire to set up a scouting movement. Baden-Powell was obsessed by Barrie's stage play of Peter Pan, which premiered in 1904, and saw it many times. As did many adults, who made up the bulk of the play's original audience. In her excellent book Inventing Wonderland, the critic Jackie Wullschlager writes of grown men cheering as Peter Pan declares: 'I want always to be a little boy and always have fun.' Well, don't they still?

. . . Perhaps, though, Peter Pan endures because of the central figure of Peter himself, the boy who refuses to grow up. He made Edwardian men cheer, but in an age where youth is prized, adolescence officially lasts until the age of 35, children grow up but refuse to leave home, and regular botox injections and plastic surgery can leave you with a face as smooth as a baby's, the notion of eternal youth now appeals to both sexes. Yet that is an appalling idea. At best, a child who never grows up is -- like David Barrie or the fourth Llewellyn Davies child, Michael, who drowned aged 21 in what was believed to be a suicide pact with his best friend -- a dead child. At worst, he or she is frozen, unable to achieve independence and lose either their sexual or emotional virginity. 'No one must ever touch me,' declares Peter, surely one of the most tragic statements in the whole of English drama. Adults often respond to Peter Pan as being about their own loss of innocence, when in fact it is about its deliberate retention. That is infinitely more twisted and sad. Tony Graham, artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre for Children, argues that Peter is seriously disturbed, and shows all the signs of a child who has not been nurtured and has been starved of love. 'Pan is not just unhappy, he is deeply miserable,' he says. 'Flying is the external manifestation of what he cannot achieve: mature sexuality.' . . . If we are ever really going to grow up, it seems crucial that we should confront the play's dark core, and deal with its disturbing psychological suggestiveness in a truly adult manner. We should stop wrapping it in a hazy gauze of nostalgia and acknowledge that Peter Pan is not just a work of genius, but a work of genuine horror."




HI-DI-HI 12/13/2002

John Hinde's Butlins photographs are exhibited at the Photographer's Gallery (5 Great Newport Street, London) until 18 January. Sean O'Hagan writes in The Observer: "The late John Hinde once told an interviewer that his colour photographs were an attempt 'to visualise heaven'. . . . He was, and remained throughout his working life, a populist whose approach chimed perfectly with Billy Butlin's mid-Sixties' vision of a mass leisure industry catering to a British working class emerging from the frugality of the postwar years. This wonderful -- in the literal sense of the word -- exhibition features a selection of Hinde's Butlins' photographs from the mid-Sixties to the early Seventies. Originally designed for mass distribution as postcards, the images offer a world that is both familiar and utterly unreal. Everything seems exaggerated but oddly everyday in the manner of a David Lynch film or the staged photographs of Peter Lindberg. A submerged man floats eerily behind glass in a heated pool, watched by a mother and child, at Butlins Ayr. A rocket-shaped monorail train transports grinning punters over the heads of swimmers at Butlins Minehead. In the background, families lounge around a giant, plastic magic mushroom.

Everywhere there are signs of that brief era of Sixties' working-class affluence, from the baroque interiors -- the themed Beachcomber Bar is a temple of South Sea island kitsch -- to the range of leisure activities available. Pop concerts, ballroom dancing, themed bars and bingo catered to the adults, while the kids splashed in the pool, frolicked in the playground or whizzed about on miniature trains. Hinde photographed it all in images that remain dazzling both in their colour intensity and their strange clarity. His deployment of colour saturation, intended, like everything else he did, to make his postcards seem more vivid and modern than his competitors', heightens this garish unreality to surreal effect. It is easy to forget that these photographs are products of the pre-irony age. Although the images were in step with technical advances of the time, Hinde remained unconvinced of their artistic worth. It was left to his heirs apparent, of which the curator, Martin Parr, is the most renowned, to rescue Hinde from the dustbin of photographic history. After working as a 'walkie' -- a roving photographer -- at Butlins in Filey, Yorkshire, in 1971, Parr began collecting Hinde's postcards, and eventually tracked down his elusive mentor in the late Eighties. So began Hinde's remarkable re-evaluation. Long viewed only as master of kitsch, he is now recognised, albeit posthumously, as a peerless social documentarian. . . ."




MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN & HELL 12/13/2002

Living legend Richard Hell, who was interviewed in 3AM a few months ago, has got hitched to the delightful Sheelagh: "Richard, now 53, married Sheelagh Pauline Bevan, 37, on October 5th outside on the deck of a friend's house in Copake, NY. The wedding guests were immediate families only. Sheelagh is graduating from Columbia University with top honors in English in January. They've been going together for six years." (Pic by Babette Meyers.)



THERE'S NOT ENOUGH TIME 12/13/2002

You can now read the text of Richard Hell's talk on Robert Bresson which was delivered in NY back in September: "There's not enough time. There's not enough time. I remember when I was a kid in my early twenties and I was publishing books -- I mean as a small publisher, not only a writer -- I was doing a book of Patti Smith's. We were calling it Merde -- and she drew some pictures, made some graphics for it and one of them was just the words 'There's not enuf time' (she first wrote 'enough' and changed it to 'enuf' which was better), and I thought that was so glamorous, because for me there was way too much time, way way too much time. Which brings me to The Devil Probably doesn't it because the devil makes play (wait no it's 'work') for idle hands. . . .

But on to The Devil Probably… I wanted to introduce this particular Bresson movie for very personal reasons. I hope you will bear with me in this. I didn't see this movie until 1999, but it was made in 1977. Bresson's birthdate is half the time listed as 1901 and half the time 1907, so anyway he was at least seventy when he made the film. I was in my twenties in the 1970s and I was writing poems and fiction but mostly writing and playing and recording music, songs. My first album was also released in 1977 and it was called Blank Generation after the song on it of that title. That album and the things I was doing became classed as 'punk' along with a lot of other musicians and music that surfaced around then. Frankly though I'd always felt that that album of mine, which I really see as consistent with the other things I was doing at the time including my 'novellina' The Voidoid and the book of poems I wrote in collaboration with my then friend Tom Verlaine that we called by Theresa Stern as well as the many interviews I did [not to mention such things as the t-shirt I made which read 'please kill me' on the front], were all kind of failed in a significant way, even though they got a considerable amount of attention and even respect. I felt like they were failed because I never got any indication that they were actually received, were 'read,' were interpreted in the way they were intended. That the overall view of things I was trying to convey, the condition I was trying to express, was never successfully communicated. I didn't really get any indication from the reception my activities got that I was getting through. I remember for instance an interview I did with one of the people who was most sympathetic to what I was doing and saying, Lester Bangs, and I spent the interview trying very hard to elaborate (because he asked me to) on my take on things in songs like 'Blank Generation' and 'Love Comes in Spurts' and 'Who Says (It's Good to be Alive)?' -- songs which he was crazy about, but about which he could only willfully half-hear what I was saying in defense of their message of doubt and hopelessness because he thought there was something immoral in that hopelessness... I tried to explain to him, I wasn't choosing doubt and suspicion and despair, I was taken there by reality. I wasn't affirming it, I was just trying to see clearly. But he couldn't hear that, in my opinion because he was scared of it in himself, but for whatever reason he could only reject my position as being infantile and immoral. And basically he was the only person I was aware of who'd even fully acknowledge these messages that all my work tried to manifest. Everybody else who spoke of it at all just called me solipsistic and nihilist and dismissed it as beneath consideration. And then, after falling in love with Bresson, I come to this particular movie and for the first time find someone, twenty-five years later (when I encountered the movie), but of course independently of any knowledge of me or my local world but in the same period (circa 1977) when I was experiencing these things--and he's perfectly comprehending them and presenting them with the greatest delicacy, respect, and highest artistry. So it wasn't all a dream! How amazing. I existed and Robert Bresson said it matters and is interesting. . . ."




LITERATURE'S PUNK ROCK PHASE 12/12/2002

Kenan Hebert interviews Neil Pollack in Bookslut: ". . . There's a smugness on the left and on the right. Basically, when it comes to people who think they're intellectual, smugness is the common denominator, and that's my goal on the blog and in my writing, is to try to snuff out intellectual pretension wherever it manifests itself. It could be a life's task. . . . These young writers are able to write relatively well, and look fairly cool, in a writerly way. Jonathan Safran Foer is a perfect example of that. He wrote a book that's pretty good -- it's got some invention in it, and some humor, and energy, and he looks the part, and he says all the right things. But something about him just rubs me the wrong way. . . . He's what the middle-aged reading public thinks a young writer should behave like. And it's almost like his media consultants -- which he does have -- have told him to behave that way. And it's … it's upsetting. That he's that contrived a figure. A writer shouldn't be that contrived. . . . I may be wrong, but literature has never really had its punk rock phase. I guess the Beats were sort of the original punk rockers, but there hasn't been anything since then. I mean, there's the zines … there's always the underground. But there's a difference. I don't want to be an underground writer. I have no interest in that. I want to be popular, the way punk became popular. . . ."

You can also check out 3AM's interview with Neil Pollack which we published back in May.




LOVE WILL TEAR US APART…AGAIN 12/11/2002

How did John Peel choose the tracks of his FabricLive 7 compilation?: ". . . On Thursday 31 . . . the call came that Lonnie Donegan hoped we would have time to visit him at the Holiday Inn. We had been supposed to see the legendary skiffler at a soundcheck the afternoon before, but a bad back had delayed him and the opportunity had been lost. I was tired, had a bad back myself and felt profoundly anti-social, but Louise and Dave, variously producer and production assistant on my Radio 1 programme, persuaded me to trudge grumpily on up the hill to the Holiday Inn anyway. . . . This, I felt, as we said goodbye to Lonnie, was the closest I'd ever get to singing with the man whose first hit crucially predated Elvis's first hit by four months, the man whose work so irritated my father that he attempted, in turn, to irritate me by always referring to him as 'Lolly Dolligan', the man who, for me, pressed the start button on a life of at times irrational pleasure in popular music. Three days later, as you will know, Lonnie Donegan was dead, and when Nick from Fabric (that's how we think of him) phoned to ask for a dedication for the sleeve of the LP I had compiled for the FabricLive series, Lonnie's name came immediately to mind. The LP is not, as previous FabricLive releases have been, a mix LP. There are several good reasons for this. The first -- and best -- is that I can't mix. At all. The second is that the tracks come from many different eras and many different places and would, I like to think, defy the most expert mixer anyway. How, for example, could you sensibly marry the Capris' doo-wop gem 'There's a Moon Out Tonight' with the Fall's 'Mr Pharmacist'? Or Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' (incorporating Alan Parry's commentary on Kenny Dalglish's goal against FC Bruges that won the 1978 European Cup for Liverpool) with 'Clock' by Elementz of Noise? It can't be done. Trust me. . . .

. . . I've never been asked to put a compilation together before. The only other time I have been asked by a higher authority to select records for a project other than one of my own programmes was when I was on Desert Island Discs. The problem there is that you have an overpowering urge to pick a track or two to convince sceptical Radio 4 listeners that you are not the cultural wasteland they probably perceive you to be. Thus, I played Handel's Zadok the Priest on Desert Island Discs, but have yet to introduce it to clubland. The same is true of Roy Orbison's 'It's Over'. Unequalled as Roy is for singing along with in the car (minor blood vessels snapping in the forehead as you strive for, but fall short of, those high notes) he doesn't, evidence has shown, do it for crowds of sweaty young people, wild-eyed on drink and other exhilarants. Not yet anyway. I have just been invited to strut my stuff in Lisbon. Perhaps I'll try 'It's Over' or Zadok on the Portuguese. If they stay in the Box long enough, they might end up on the next compilation."




3AM TOP 5 12/10/2002

"Winter Snow", a story by hip English writer Tony White will soon be appearing in 3AM. Tony is currently music-less in New York, but here is his mental playlist:
  1. "Dib-be-dib-be-dize" -- Brother D and Collective Effort
  2. "Beautiful Noise" -- Neil Diamond
  3. "I am I said" -- Neil Diamond
  4. "On Broadway" -- The Drifters
  5. "Apart from that, I'm just listening to the continuous human traffic that's passing through the paper-walled-rock-and-roll-suicide-hourly-rate-flop-house-that-calls-itself-a-hotel which I'm staying in."



THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER LEFT SCHOOL: HAVELS & SOLZHENITSYNS WRIT SMALL 12/10/2002

Denis Dutton reviews Richard A. Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline in Philosophy and Literature: ". . . It's not often that a book by a public intellectual has received as much media attention -- mostly vilification and scorn -- as Richard A. Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Harvard University Press, $29.95). Three reasons for this stand out. First, there's the sheer audacity of including a list of the top hundred public intellectuals, drawn from a larger list of 546 names. This invites endless dispute over how the list was generated, who is on it, who is left off, where each one stands, and why. Second, there is the fact that Posner has managed in the book to offend half of the public intellectuals you'd expect to be called on to review it -- almost as though he made a list of potential reviewers and worked in a swipe at each. Finally, he has tapped into the deep antipathy humanist intellectuals have to seeing a beloved topic treated quantitatively, with statistics and applications of social and economic theory, replete with graphs and algebraic formulae. And after all, what topic is more beloved by the intellectuals than they themselves? . . .

. . . The decline referred to in Posner's title is a decline in the actual worth of public intellectuals' work, not in their media celebrity, which has grown roughly inversely to the value of what they do. This invidious situation has followed, in Posner's view, the proliferation of academics in the ranks of public intellectuals. From the nineteenth century, with such names as Thoreau, J.S. Mill, Herbert Spencer, Matthew Arnold, and Tocqueville, to well into the twentieth, with the likes of Max Eastman, Edmund Wilson, H.G. Wells, and Dwight Macdonald, the great tradition of public intellectuals had its life outside of universities. Although there remain nonacademic public intellectuals today -- Susan Sontag, Roger Kimball, Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal -- they are a severely diminished species. Universities, which have expanded so enormously in the twentieth century, offer 'to anyone who wants to embark on a career as a public intellectual' the requirements for the job: 'leisure, credentials, and financial security.' For academics who otherwise keeps their noses to the scholarly grindstone, and even for those who don't, there is but small cost for entering into the market as a public intellectual, small cost for doing bad work there, and small cost for withdrawing from the market. The media for their part have column space and air time to fill, and they are all too willing to give a platform to public intellectuals to pontificate, predict, warn, scold, handwring, entertain, and occasionally inform their audience.

. . . The public intellectual is selling credence good, ideas and arguments that solicit agreement, and therefore demand some kind of authority in order to be accepted. This authority is attained through having academic credentials indicting a high degree of specialized knowledge: being an academic expert in astrophysics, aboriginal peoples of Tierra del Fuego, copyright law, or Latin poets. . . . Commitment is perhaps more substantial, and can contribute to both celebrity and authority: it means that the public intellectual has stood behind a cause or position in a way that requires a sacrifice or risk of some kind. . . . Posner treats as fatuous the well-known photograph of Edward Said throwing a stone, risk free, at Israeli soldiers, who were not responding. As risk-takers, public intellectuals like Ehrlich and Said, Posner remarks, 'are our Havels and Solzhenitsyns, writ small.' . . . (I)n the United States, academics, far from being marginalized outsiders are, in Russell Jacoby's phrase, 'consummate insiders.' They are the very ones with the power -- and the security of having well-paid jobs from which they can be fired only with the greatest difficulty. Yet they often flatter themselves that they are lonely Socrates-types, independent seekers of truth, living at the edge. . . .

Orwell remains exemplary for Posner. Orwell may not have been a genius in the sense of having a prodigious memory, 'lightening-fast analytical capabilities, a taste for theory, or bold new ideas.' But he was able to see what was plainly before him and describe it in 'unforgettably vivid prose.' 'These are not,' Posner dryly adds, 'typical academic gifts.' Rather than being captivated by big ideas, Orwell was skeptical of them. . . . Typical academics, on the other hand, are not oriented toward political reality: 'They tend to be unworldly. They are, most of them anyway, the people who have never left school. Their milieu is postadolescent.' . . ."




FAILBETTER & BETTER 12/10/2002

The latest issue of Failbetter.com is one of the best yet. Among other goodies there's an in-depth interview with Paul Auster: "Every writer is trapped by his obsessions. You don't choose your subjects -- they choose you, and once you enter a book, you're powerless to escape. Writing novels isn't a science, after all. You grope your way forward, eliminating and adding material as you go along, changing your mind, discovering what you are attempting to do in the process of doing it. And in the end, all you really discover is yourself. Again and again. Still, every time I set out to write a novel, I make a conscious effort to reinvent myself, to work against the books I've written before. No matter how far I think I'm getting away from myself and my past, however, I can never really escape. The thumbprint of my obsessions is all over the final result. . . ."



ART CLOWN OF THE YEAR 12/09/2002

The Daily Telegraph covers the Stuckists' anti-Turner protest: ". . . Members of the Stuckist Movement, formed to oppose 'Turner Prize art', protested outside Tate Britain, in London, for much of yesterday dressed as clowns. They jokingly awarded a custard pie to Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Galleries and chairman of the prize committee, for being 'Art Clown of the Year'. . . ." There's an interesting article on the BBC's website about Turner Prize protests. (Pic: Charles Thomson, co-founder of the Stuckists, left.)



TURNER PRIZE: THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE CLASSES & THEIR 'CONCEPTUAL BULLSHIT' 12/09/2002

Britain's controversial Turner Prize has been awarded to Keith Tyson. Here, you will find pictures of the nominees' works, a profile of the winner and this, all from the BBC: "Artist Keith Tyson, whose works mix art and science, has won the prestigious 2002 Turner Prize. . . . The competition has, as usual, already generated a great deal of controversy. The shortlist was called 'conceptual bullshit' by Labour minister Kim Howells and Tracey Emin, a former Turner nominee, described the prize as undemocratic. Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme on Monday, Mr Howells said he did not regret his comment. 'My opinion has not changed,' he said. 'Art has been colonised by the incomprehensible classes. I love art and have always been passionate about it. The problem is there is now a very small elite of people that believe they are the only ones that can speak about art. I have had many letters from people, all of whom have expressed a sense of being alienated from the art establishment. The fact is that the avant garde is the establishment now.' . . ."

Fiachra Gibbons writes in The Guardian: "Keith Tyson, the artist who put the Beano into quantum physics, and who once cast a Kentucky Fried Chicken menu in lead because his computerised 'Art Machine' told him to, last night won the Turner prize. The 33-year-old former Cumbrian shipyard worker, dubbed the 'mad professor' for his fondness for exploring ideas from the outer limits of cod science and his outlandish proposals for giant neon dinosaurs and the like, had been the bookies' favourite. As the artist with the best jokes, he was also the public's first choice, judging from comments left outside the Turner prize show at Tate Britain in London. That, however, did not stop the culture minister, Kim Howells, from making his notorious contribution to the comment board, describing Tyson's work and that of the other three Turner prize finallists as 'cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit.' 'If this is the best British artists can produce,' he elaborated, 'then British art is lost.' The minister, an art school graduate himself, did concede that Tyson could draw, even if it was 'not something I'd cross the street to have a look at'.

The judges, after four hours of deliberations -- an unusually long time for the Turner prize -- clearly disagreed. Nor did Tyson want revenge. 'Everyone, including the minister, is entitled to his opinion. It's just a little sad,' he said, before thanking his grandmother, Edith Birkett, who was 87 yesterday, for her 'undying faith in me, not that she has any comprehension I think of what I do for a living.' Unlike his three rivals, Tyson's dotty diagrams for sci-fi Heath Robinson devices that might be the work of some garden shed genius, raised a smile and were occasionally touching. The New Capacitor, a large, mirrored make-up compact, had a digital counter underneath programed to run for 76.5 years, the average human lifespan in Britain. Other ideas from his sketchbook were plain wacky, such as his Galactic Central Pointer, 'a finger that remains pointing at the centre of the Milky Way', bionic breasts, and a bust of Mrs Thatcher fashioned in Semtex. Others still had a cartoonist profundity, such as The Thinker, a pillar of computers he called 'a comatose god running its own universe'. His two paintings, Two Discreet Molecules of Simultaneity, a meditation on the interconnectedness of things, were arguably the most beautiful things in the Turner prize show, and took almost as long to read as his rival Fiona Banner's transcription of a porn film. . . . Asked was he worried about the 'albatross' some artists had complained the prize had become, he said, 'The thing about Britain is it doesn't understand what it has got until it has gone missing. They will all be in tears if Damien [Hirst] goes under a bus.' . . . Art is always, at some level, the adoration of the freak," he added, "every artist thinks he's something other than average. There's a media circus today that's desperate to create a kind of image and sustain it. I don't need that. There's enough people around calling me a mad scientist without my trying to engineer an image for myself. I'm the type of artist who would like to take the whole world and reduce it down to a single drop on the table. My work is all about navigating. There's just so much knowledge to be navigated through,' he said. . . .

Many critics felt that the £20,000 prize should have gone to Jeremy Deller, who was not even nominated, for his film recreation of the Battle of Orgreave, one of the key moments in the 1984-85 miners' strike, using former miners who had taken part in the fighting with police. In the past week the winners of the Alternative Turner Prize, the Real Turner Prize, the Barbie Prize for children and the Clown of the Year Award -- all either skits on the Turner or serious alternatives -- have been named. On Saturday demonstrators marched into the Turner Prize galleries to protest at the 'pompous over-intellectualising' of art and the gobbledygook used by gallery curators. Several visitors broke into polite applause."




3AM INTERVIEW AT 3AM 12/09/2002

3am's lovely Utahna Faith will soon bring you a spanking new interview with Andrei Codrescu, novelist, poet, journalist and editor of Exquisite Corpse: "Andrei and I did our '3AM at 3AM' interview this weekend, while drinking whisky (him) and cosmos (me) in a French Quarter bar." Brace yourselves!



THE ART OF LISTENING 12/09/2002

I've been meaning to mention London's Resonance FM for a while but -- like many other things in my life -- never seem to get round to it. Thanks to James Hollands of the Horse Hospital then, who sent me his latest newsletter today in which he announces the launch of a Horse Hospital programme on Resonance FM. Here we go: "Resonance104.4fm is London's first radio art station, brought to you by London Musicians' Collective. It started broadcasting on May 1st 2002. It will continue for a year. Its brief? To provide a radical alternative to the universal formulae of mainstream broadcasting. It features programmes made by musicians, artists and critics who represent the diversity of London's arts scene, with regular contributions from Billy Jenkins, Savage Pencil, John Bisset, Mike Barnes, Matthew Glammore, Peter Cusack, Caroline Kraabel, Clive Graham, Viv Corringham, Chris Cutler, Art Terry, Dave Mandl, Magz Hall, Harmon E. Phraiser, Paul Hood, These Records, Dave Draper, Reg Hall, and the Kosmische Club; guests like Faust, John Sinclair, Santiago Sierra, Gavin Turk, Iroqim Theatre Co., Stanley Chapman, Shirley Collins and The Magic Band; and numerous one-off special broadcasts by artists on the weekday 'Clear Spot'. . . . Imagine a radio station like no other. A radio station that makes public those artworks that have no place in traditional broadcasting. A radio station that is an archive of the new, the undiscovered, the forgotten, the impossible. That is an invisible gallery, a virtual arts centre whose location is at once local, global and timeless. And that is itself a work of art. Imagine a radio station that responds rapidly to new initiatives, has time to draw breath and reflect. A laboratory for experimentation, that by virtue of its uniqueness brings into being a new audience of listeners and creators. All this and more, Resonance104.4fm aims to make London's airwaves available to the widest possible range of practitioners of contemporary art." Resonance FM is broadcast live from 12 noon to 1am all week.



SANTARCHY IN LONDON 12/09/2002

The second Santacon UK in London will take place on 14 December. The meeting place will be sent to you via e-mail (the day before) if you join here. The mayhem will be followed by a free evening at the Horse Hospital (where else?) The Horse Hospital: Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1HX.



BANG-BANG KISS-KISS 12/08/2002

Rachel Cooke on Martinis, Guns and Girls -- 50 Years of 007 (by Martin Sterling and Gary Morecambe) in The Guardian: "Men love James Bond, they really do. They await each new movie -- and there have been 20 so far -- in a state of toe-tapping excitement, almost as if they were actually about to go to bed with Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman or Halle Berry. Given a choice between, say, Daniel Deronda on BBC1 and Moonraker on ITV, they will always choose the latter, a little smile dancing on their lips as they reach for the remote. . . . It is the boys, then, who have kept the Bond engine purring away for the past 50 years, ever since Casino Royale, Ian Fleming's first novel, was published in 1953. This is pretty funny when you think about it. Even Fleming thought Bond 'a cardboard booby' most of the time. 'I write for warm-blooded, heterosexuals in planes and trains,' he once said. 'If one has a grain of intelligence, it is difficult to go on being serious about a character like James Bond. My books are straight pillow fantasies of the bang-bang kiss-kiss variety.' One sad night, he arrived home unexpectedly early to find his wife, Ann, honking with laughter as her friend Cyril Connolly read passages from the Bond novels out loud. . . .

. . . In this, the joyless era of the smoke-free restaurant, it is difficult not to fall for his (Fleming's) memory, even if he did pepper his books with rape fantasies (in The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond makes love to Vivienne Michel; she says it is his 'sweet brutality' against her 'bruised body' that makes the act so 'piercingly wonderful'). The more his arteries furred, the more scrambled eggs he ate; the more his lungs complained, the more determinedly he drew on his cigarettes. By the end, all the creator of the world's most famous action man could do was stare at the shore through a bleary haze of smoke. Fleming, a journalist who had a tricky relationship with his mother (on his father's death, she inherited the right to cut her son off from her considerable fortune without a penny on a mere whim), wrote to make money, though he also tried hard to impress his literary friends, Noël Coward and Raymond Chandler, both fans. The cash came, but slowly and certainly never in the clattering torrents that he dreamed of. Goldeneye, the Jamaican retreat where he wrote many of the novels, was more of a shack than the kind of luxury hideaway his baddies might have inhabited. When Eden retreated there to recover from the Suez Crisis, he was appalled by the lack of facilities. Ann hated it. . . .'"




SONGS THAT SAVED YOUR LIFE 12/08/2002

Tim Footman reviews Everett True's Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of The Ramones and Simon Goddard's The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life in Tangents: ". . . While The Smiths came up with plenty of good tunes, and Johnny Marr is an inventive guitarist and studio technician, that's not what makes the band special. The key attraction (or, for the doubters, the main problem) has always been the personality of Morrissey, and his lush, moving, infuriating, indulgent, savage, daft lyrics. Presumably for copyright reasons, Goddard quotes only sparingly from Steven Patrick's gemstones, and is left to describe, time after time, Marr's multi-tracked fingerwork, with occasional nods to Rourke's and Joyce's dexterity. Not until their third (and penultimate) studio album did The Smiths make serious attempts to flesh out their sound, and then it was usually a case of Marr coming up with a new noise on his Emulator. And surely everybody on the planet knew already that the strings on "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" aren't real? Another problem with Goddard's approach is that it requires absolute precision. In most pop journalism, the occasional slip-up can be passed off as an appropriate avoidance of sterile perfection, like a broken string, or getting struck in the mouth by a pasty. But when you're digging this deep, and attempting to tell the definitive story, there's no room for even a minor goof. Misspelling John Gielgud's name (he's sampled on "Rubber Ring") is tolerable, as he's only really of peripheral interest; doing the same for Andrew Ridgeley is amusing, but sloppy; mangling the names of Morrissey's treasured girl group favourites, The Marvelettes and The Velvelettes, is out of order. Minor matters, perhaps, and ultimately the responsibility of the proofreader, but Goddard then goes on to slam the Very Best Of The Smiths compilation for 'unforgivable typo errors'. . . ." Simon Goddard will be interviewed by 3AM's HP Tinker very soon.



SANTARCHY IN THE UK & ELSEWHERE 12/08/2002

This year's Santacon UK will take place in Wales on 23 December: "Each December for the last 7 years a strange phenomenon has been occurring in major metropolitan areas involving Cacophonous Santas who have been taking to streets and generating a bit of naughty Noël mayhem. It all started back in 1994 when several dozen Cheap Suit Santas paid a visit to downtown San Francisco for a night of Yuletide blasphemy. Things have reached Critical Xmas and these Santarchists now visit over a dozen cities each year."



THE MISSING LINKS 12/08/2002

Don't miss Lee Miller: Portraits From a Life at The Photographers' Gallery (5 & 8 Great Newport Street, London). It started on 29 November and runs until 1 February 2003.

The University of Glasgow's Lanark Collection is also well worth a look in. It includes Alasdair Gray's drafts & papers of Lanark.

Christopher Dreher wonders in Salon why books cost so much.

Michael Hofmann in Granta on the rediscovery of the great Joseph Roth who, incidentally, used to live just down the road.

(Introducing Christine, our latest cutiepie 3AM model.)




SNIFFY GATHERING 12/08/2002

Paul Ash's excellent Sniffy Linings will be celebrating its third birthday at Powell's City of Books (Portland, Oregon) on 12 December (starts 7.30pm): "Paul Ash has gathered some of the best writers from Portland and beyond on sniffylinings.com. To celebrate the release of their second print anthology (packaged as two chapbooks in one decorated bag -- one titled 'Boy', and the other 'Girl'), Ash will read with the following contributors: Margaret Pao, Mykle Hansen, Marissa Madrigal, Mike Daily, and Jemiah Jefferson. Local zinester Mark Russell hosts." There's also a recent interview with Paul Ash here. There's even a fleeting reference to my good self in there!



3AM TOP 5 12/07/2002

Tony Fletcher, editor of legendary English fanzine Jamming! (launched in 1977), is currently listening to:
  1. Madder -- Groove Armada
  2. Lost Children -- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  3. No Weather -- Stellastarr*
  4. NYC -- Interpol
  5. Geezers Need Excitement -- The Streets
Jamming has risen from the ashes on the Internet under the title iJamming!.



CHILD STAR 12/06/2002

Look out for 3AM's interview with English novelist Matt Thorne, author of Tourist (1998), Eight Minutes Idle (winner of an Encore Award, 1999), Dreaming of Strangers (2000) and Pictures of You (2001). He is also famous for having co-edited the controversial All Hail the New Puritans (2OOO) anthology with Nicholas Blincoe. His new novel, Child Star, will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in April 2003. Dreaming of Strangers is currently being adapted for film by an American company called Thousand Yard Film. (Pic: Matt Thorne and Nicholas Blincoe.)



KMZ LAUNCH IN NY 12/06/2002

The New York launch of Kilometer Zero's third issue will take place at Galapagos Art Space (70 North 6th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY) on 15 December at 8pm: "Direct from Paris, Kilometer Zero launches Issue 03 of their magazine and wreaks some literary mayhem in the streets of Brooklyn. The evening will be hosted by Thomas Pancake and features readings, music, installations and moments of phantasmagoric theatre. At midnight, the infamous KMZ open-mic begins and the writers of New York are invited to bring it on. Then things get interesting." The big launch event will be preceded by a KMZ reading at Clovis Bookstore on 13 December.



COPULATING WITH BARNYARD ANIMALS 12/06/2002

The Guardian First Book Award has been won by Jonathan Safran Foer for his novel, Everything is Illuminated. The author is interviewed by Oliver Burkeman: "Six years ago, when Jonathan Safran Foer was even younger than he is now, he impulsively boarded a plane to the former Soviet republic of Ukraine carrying little more than a photograph. It showed a beautiful, unnamed woman -- the woman who, according to family lore, had saved his grandfather from the Nazis -- and Jonathan, then 19, was determined to find her. . . . 'Of course I didn't find her!' Foer says, slotting himself into a seat in a crowded bagel bakery on a scandalously cold morning in Manhattan. . . . To fill the void left by his journey of non-discovery, Foer imagined what ought to have happened, and the result is his critically applauded first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, which won the Guardian First Book Award last night. In it, another 19-year-old, also called Jonathan Safran Foer, embarks on the same quest, hiring a young Ukrainian translator named Alex Perchov, who narrates much of the novel, and whose wooden English provides its funniest moments. This is a jaw-droppingly brilliant book, but from this point it does take a bit of explaining. . . . 'People say I'm writing a humorous novel about the Holocaust,' Foer says. 'In fact, there's nothing humorous about the Holocaust in my book -- by the time it gets to that, there's no humour left. So then the question is, well, do you think it's OK to use humour and tragedy within the covers of the same book? And the answer to that is obviously yes.' Everything Is Illuminated thrilled American critics and the movie rights were sold within weeks; the word 'genius' has been used with some frequency to describe its author. And so maybe it would be hard to suppress the tiniest flash of uncharitable pleasure -- or even just relief -- if a meeting with him were to reveal that he is now swelled with egotism, besotted with his newfound status as a celebrity writer, and not, in short, modest or charming or self-deprecating or nice. Guess what, though?

Foer's early life seems almost as much of a blank slate as the non-story that he didn't find in Ukraine. He grew up in Washington, DC; a child of neither privilege nor poverty, he was working in a post-college job -- as a receptionist in Manhattan -- when he sold the book. But to say that he is unfazed by the change in his circumstances isn't putting it strongly enough. 'It's like, I read that stuff with interest, but as if I'm reading about somebody else,' he says. 'And you know, a lot of it's wrong. I've been on this Jewish book tour for the last month, and I must have heard 30 times an introduction that goes, 'Jonathan Safran Foer is 22 years old.' That's not right. 'He lives in Washington, DC.' Well, that's not right. 'When at Princeton, he won the junior and senior creative writing prizes.' Not right. And then it ends with, 'Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the 2002 National Book Award winner, Jonathan ... Safran ... Foer!' And I have to get up and say not only did I not win it, I wasn't even nominated for it. I won something called the National Jewish Book Award. It's one of those cases in which an ellipsis means an awful lot.' Nor does he seem inclined to play the celebrated-writer game with too much earnestness. He recalls, for example, filming a British television interview with Mark Lawson, and being introduced for the first time to the concept of the 'noddy' -- the TV trick in which, after the camera has been filming the interviewee over the interviewer's shoulder, the positions are reversed, so that footage of the interviewer nodding in response can be spliced into the final broadcast. 'He said, 'Just say anything, and I'll nod'. So, I'm, like 'Mark Lawson, is it true that you didn't finish my book?' 'Yes, yes, very true.' 'True or false, Mark Lawson, that you copulate with barnyard animals?' 'Oh, yes, that's very true.' And he kept a completely straight face.'

And yet there is a serious edge to Foer's insistence on not taking the celebrity writer part too seriously. 'My greatest fear is feeling like a professional novelist,' he says. 'Somebody who creates characters, who sits down and has pieces of paper taped to the wall -- what's going to happen in this scene, or this act. What I like is for it to be a much more scary, sloppy reflection of who I am.' Giving his own name to a character in the novel, he says, was one such way of keeping things true: 'It upped the ante of risk. I suddenly felt like I had something more to lose than whether or not the novel was good.' He's using the same device in a novel he's writing at the moment, and thinks he might always do so. A book of short stories, he muses - 'with Jonathan Safran Foer the black cop; Jonathan Safran Foer the Cuban dancer. There's something almost moving about it. I'm not sure I understand it completely.' . . ."




THE EMPEROR OF LANCS 12/06/2002

Simon Louvish on George Formby in The Guardian: "So it's official -- Winston Churchill is the greatest Briton of all time. But in Blackpool last weekend, it was clear that another candidate would have swept home: Lancashire's own George Formby. By 1939, George was Britain's most popular and highest-paid male entertainer, with estimated earnings of around £100,000. In 1940, in a dream sequence in his movie Let George Do It, he descends from a balloon in the middle of a Nazi rally to biff Adolf Hitler in the chops. The Mass Observation national survey project discovered that this was the biggest morale-booster of the second world war. George Formby comes down to us, in 21st-century Britain, as a squeaky voice with buck teeth playing what many regard as the musical world's most potent weapon of mass destruction, the ukelele. In fact, as Formbyites would hasten to correct us, it was a more singular type of instrument, a cross between the Hawaiian uke and the American banjo, nicknamed the "banjolele". It was first played by George, we are told, at the Alhambra theatre in Barnsley in 1923, and subsequently used in the 20 feature films he starred in from 1934 to 1946. . . .

. . . George Formby was in fact George Formby Junior. His father, born James Lawler Booth in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1875, the illegitimate son of a prostitute, according to his son's biographer David Bret, became a pub singer at the age of 13. The name Formby allegedly came to him while he was watching train wagons labelled with the name of the town near Southport, and George might have been purloined from George Robey, music hall's biggest star at the time. In 1899 Booth married Eliza Hoy, and marked his first London music-hall appearance, as a provincial hick, with the catchphrase: 'I'm George Formby fra' Wigan, I've not been in England long.' Within a few years, he was a star of the halls. . . . In a George Formby film, the toffs are invariably bad-tempered, idiotic, bullying, small-minded, with fruity southern tones. The period was still that of the depression, rarely depicted on the British screen, except when Gracie Fields, in Shipyard Sally (1939), sang the unemployed out of their dolour. But where London audiences sang along with Gracie, they found it difficult to get their earcups aligned to George's Lancashire strain. In the north, however, George was king. . . . George's second Ealing film, Keep Your Seats, Please, was a confection about a uke player who inherits a fortune if he can find which one of seven chairs his eccentric aunt hid some jewels in -- a story, oddly, of Russian origin, remade in 1945 with Fred Allen and in 1970 by Mel Brooks as The Twelve Chairs. The Russian source definitely did not feature 'When I'm Cleaning Windows' and 'Keep Your Seats, Please', two more of George's naughty songs. The lines 'Ladies' nighties I have spied/ I've often seen what goes inside' earned the recording NTBB status (Not to Be Broadcast) at the BBC. . . . Come On George, released in 1940, with George back in the saddle as a misfit jockey who rides a tearaway horse to success, featured one of his most popular songs, 'I'm Making Headway Now': 'I've got my ambition/ I'll be the talk of the town;/ I'll hold my position/ You can't keep a growing lad down...' George's films are hardly movie masterpieces; at best they were apprenticeships for the Ealing comedies that would blossom some years later. In 1941, director Marcel Varnel and co-writer Basil Dearden gave George perhaps his best role, in Turned Out Nice Again, as a newlywed textile mill foreman, who tries to convince the old-fashioned head of his lingerie firm that new styles must oust the old. His mother berates him and his wife for furnishing their new home 'on tick' -- by hire-purchase -- and he serenades a homespun underwear fashion show with 'You Can't Go Wrong in These'. The film also features George's heartfelt swing ditty, 'I'm the Emperor of Lancashire': 'I'll hold a banquet for 50 score, tripe and onions and whelks galore; stewed pigs' trotters, aye, and mutton shanks, for the Emperor of Lancs.' There is much in the film about the schism between the provinces, which still cleave to 'bloomers' and 'knickers', and the metropolis, which has discovered 'panties'. The class struggle is, as always, fought most fiercely in the realm of language. . . . The toffs may have been running the war, but, in the days before technology aspired to make them obsolete, and make war palatable for the consumer society, it was the soldiers who had to win it. It was not surprising that the 'Lad from Lancashire', the commonest of men, became one of the most potent emblems of the 'people's war'. . . ."



NEVER TRUST A GOD WHO CAN'T DANCE 12/05/2002

Stephen Bayley on Roland Barthes in The Independent: "Had he not been run over by a laundry truck on a Paris street in 1980, Roland Barthes would today be writing about Saddam's moustache, Beckham's crosses, Rollerblades and The Simpsons. Or any other signs that give meaning to our world. Barthes was France's most successful intellectual, and his interests included literature, history, theatre, painting, advertising, design, photography and Moroccan boys. These, north African youth apart, are all collected in a new exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in the city he made his own. Given the way he helped shape our view of the world, the exhibition is entirely justified. Barthes interrogated the everyday world, moving from formal literary criticism to writing brilliantly on steak and chips, Arcimboldo and the Tour de France. It is a happy accident of homophonics that the most endearing champions of popular culture, in theory and practice, are each pronounced Bart -- the professor would have enjoyed consanguinity with The Simpsons. Equally, it is haunting evidence of his legacy that the precise details of the fatal laundry truck still beg to be explained. Barthes had certainly written perceptively on detergents ('dirt is no longer stripped from the surface, but expelled from its most secret cells'). Surely the camion de la blanchisserie must signify something? Was the offending vehicle a Unic a Saviem or a Berliet? Barthes would have wanted to know. We have no one quite like Roland Barthes: our idea of an intellectual is someone more resembling Jeremy Paxman than this suave Parisian boulevardier. Obsessed with thinking about thinking, Barthes' life was a stylish intellectual adventure. He was also a hedonist, a meticulous dresser, gay, sensitive, sardonic, sociable, gossipy. He made reading a sacrament. A lonely, tubercular youth became a Professor of Pleasure. For Barthes, dealing with a text was an erotic transaction: reading was 'jouissance', a word which means both joy and 'coming' in the sexual sense. To experience this enjoyable sense of escape, Barthes argued, you need to get in deeper.

But these same texts which engaged him sensually were also 'signs'. And signs became Roland Barthes' business. He began writing in 1947 in Albert Camus' little magazine Combat, essays subsequently published in 1953 as Le Degré zéro de l'écriture. 'Degré zéro' may be translated as 'bottom line'. This quest for the essence preoccupied Barthes. . . . Barthes, who was born in Cherbourg in 1915, effortlessly crossed barriers between the daunting Collège de France and St Germain's more welcoming Café Flore, still in the brainy and bookish afterglow of its Sartre-de Beauvoir period. But Jean-Paul Sartre and Barthes could not have been more different -- one a priapic old goat, the other an elegant eagle-nosed, ebony-eyed Antinous. Indeed, the example of Barthes confirms every jealous English prejudice about the French: he managed to be intellectually fastidious and immensely popular. Never, as Nietzsche said, trust a god who can't dance.

. . . Through Barthes, the structuralist view of the world has passed effortlessly into the mainstream of modern thought, so much so that it is difficult to appreciate now the freshness of his insights. Meanwhile, in the closed world of French universities, after the laundry-truck incident, new intellectual fashions began to strut the academic catwalk. The appealing subtleties of structuralism were replaced by the ponderous absurdities of deconstruction. Barthes' successors have included a lot of morally and intellectually bankrupt poseurs, viciously exposed in Alan Sokal's and Jean Bricmont's sensational Impostures Intellectuelles of 1997. . . . Barthes enjoyed his success and was a supreme egotist. His friend Susan Sontag said his interest in you was really just your interest in him. He even published a review of his autobiography, titled Barthes on Barthes on Barthes. This dizzying self-reference defines the same popular culture that Barthes made respectable. Yet in his last book, the posthumous journal Incidents, he betrays a touching vulnerability. The book portrays a listless, melancholy figure. He describes wanting a glass of champagne at odd times of day while wandering Paris's streets. He dwells on his fear, and acceptance of, sexual rejection. With time to kill, he is anxious that a cup of coffee may not last more than 15 minutes. There is nothing to read in today's Le Monde. He fancies a Laotian boy he sees in a bar, but goes home instead to read Dante through a daze of migraine. One day in September 1979, he writes: 'I am paralyzed by the boredom of having to attend the opening of Pinter's No Man's Land.' . . . Re-read Barthes now and you realise that there was no great methodology, no "great theory". Rather, he makes his point through cumulative aphorism and shrewd observation. His achievement? To make us take The Simpsons seriously. As Professor Morris Zapp says in David Lodge's academic satire Small World, 'I'm a bit of a deconstructionist myself.' . . ."




PIN-STRIPED FORESKIN 12/05/2002

Michelle Pauli reports on this year's Bad Sex Award in The Guardian: "The 'most dreaded literary prize' has been won by Wendy Perriam for a description of pin-striped sex in her novel Tread Softly. The annual Literary Review Bad Sex prize is awarded to the worst description of sex in a contemporary novel. This year's winner includes the lines 'Weirdly, he was clad in pin-stripes at the same time as being naked. Pin-stripes were erotic, the uniform of fathers, two-dimensional fathers. Even Mr Hughes's penis had a seductive pin-striped foreskin.' 'Coming a close second' was Nicolas Coleridge for a passage in his novel Godchildren, in which he describes a man stroking his lover 'like a groom reassuring a frightened foal'. Other literary big-hitters featured on the longlist were Hari Kunzru, also shortlisted for both the Whitbread First Novel Award and Guardian First Book Award; Will Self for Dorian; Jeffrey Eugenides for Middlesex; actor-turned-writer Ethan Hawke; and Canongate's rising star, Michel Faber, for The Crimson Petal and the White. Wendy Perriam, who has been nominated for the prize three times in a row, said that she was 'stunned but pleased' by her win, insisting that the winning scene had been intended to be humorous.

She attributes her interest in sex to her convent upbringing. 'We were taught that sex was wicked and so I became totally fascinated by it,' she explains. 'In a sense I write sex scenes as I still want to be sure that it really happens and that people are taking the risk of going to hell...' . . . The prize, presented this year by socialite Nicky Haslam, is a semi-abstract statue representing sex in the 1950s. The award was set up by the literary critic Rhoda Koenig and the late editor of the Literary Review Auberon Waugh in 1993. . . ."




HER HUSBAND IS STILL A SPACEMAN 12/05/2002

Ex Frank Chickens Kazuko Hohki will play a gig at Club Ducky (Vauxhall Tavern, 327 Kennington Lane, London) on Saturday 21 December at 11pm (£4). Kazuko Hohki will soon be interviewed by Richard Marshall in 3AM Magazine.



3AM TOP 5 12/05/2002

Raquel Bruno, editor and publisher of Aquatulle, the brilliant magazine devoted to music and pop culture from the late 70s to early 80s, is currently listening to:
  1. Banging On -- Johnny Marr & The Healers
  2. Le Tigre -- Le Tigre
  3. Divine Operating System -- Supreme Beings of Leisure
  4. Highly Evolved -- The Vines
  5. We Are Eyes, We Are Builders -- Soviet



THE WHY CHROMOSOME III 12/03/2002

Some men have a fetish for women's shoes. All women have a fetish for women's shoes.



THE NOTHINGNESS WHERE EXPRESSION CAN TAKE PLACE 12/03/2002

Surreal performance company Ridiculusmus ("Our working method is more about creating the nothingness where expression can take place") will be at The Barbican in London throughout December. Say Nothing (7.45pm, 4th December 2002-4th January 2003) is "An attack on apathy in the warzone, an ominously petty soap opera amidst the chaos that is Northern Ireland at peace performed on a suitcase full of grass". There will also be six special performances of Yes Yes Yes (which someone described as "The most beautiful, exquisite antidote to the pain of life") in December (13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28).



SONIC BOOM-3AM EVENT AT ICA 12/01/2002

Sonic Boom and Spectrum will play a gig at the ICA in London on Monday 16 December (8pm, £10, concessions: £9, members: £8). This will be Spectrum's first London date in three years and it's organised by 3AM's Andrew Stevens: "Sonic Boom was vocalist, guitarist and songwriter in the critically acclaimed Spacemen 3 (alongside Jason Pierce of Spiritualized fame), and released his debut album as Sonic Boom in 1989 before the band's final album Recurring in 1990. As Spectrum in 1992 he recorded the Soul Kiss (Glide Divine) album, which was followed by the Highs, Lows and Heavenly Blows album (both on Silvertone Records). 1997 saw the release of the Forever Alien album on Sonic's own Space Age Recordings label. These releases feature both Pete Bassman and Will Carruthers of Spacemen 3.

The mini-tour, which will take in Scandinavia and England, are the first dates since 1999. It will precede an eagerly awaited new Spectrum album, released later next year, which will be supported by a string of dates around the UK to promote the release."




THE CULT OF THE ANGRIES 12/01/2002

Frank Kermode in The Guardian on the Angry Young Men: "Humphrey Carpenter (The Angry Young Men: A Literary Comedy of the 1950s) is a practised biographer; he can do groups as well as single persons, but he admits that this group set him a new problem, which was that he remained throughout unsure whether it really existed. The Movement (a rather localised, mostly Oxford affair) and the Angry Young Men (more London, more of the theatre) were certainly the inventions of journalists, but they took on a kind of reality when the public was induced to view the young men in terms of those inventions, and also when the writers concerned noticed that the mirror of gossip did, however distortedly, reflect them. And whatever they thought they were doing, they could hardly not know that it would give rise to large, vague speculations about the cultural condition of England. . . . Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin and John Wain knew one another at Oxford, but had little to do with autodidacts like Colin Wilson, John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe -- this last name less often mentioned in this context than might have been expected, doubtless because Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) was published a little too late to be fitted into the fashionable grouping.

Since the constituents of his mass biography led such disparate lives and had such varied interests, Carpenter has had to be especially deft in linking one chapter to another. It happens conveniently that Wilson's The Outsider came out just when Look Back in Anger opened at the Royal Court; and Room at the Top appeared just before The Entertainer arrived at the same theatre. To a biographer dealing with quite a large cast of characters these coincidences serve as useful junctions, giving the narrative a coherence greater than any offered by life itself. . . . Amis, Larkin and Wain were all at St John's but not in the same year; they shared a satirical or anyway somewhat embittered temperament, a learned love of jazz and, though only Wain would ever openly admit to it, a love of poetry. Larkin was the first to break into significant print with his two novels, and their publication partly accounted for the unflagging admiration and respect in which he was held by Amis and Wain. But these two were the funny ones: Amis was famous like Lucky Jim for his faces and the great variety of noises he could produce in illustration of his remarks, and Wain was his close rival in these arts. . . . A major difference between Wain and those erstwhile friends who so often put him down in their letters was that he did not share their need to pretend to hate poetry, art and music. Carpenter says that Amis took that line - for example, concealing his real love of Mozart -- for fear of being accused of resembling the cultured phoneys on whom he lets Jim loose in his first novel. Even when writing to Larkin he has to apologise for mentioning the names of Schubert and Wolf. Wain would never have apologised for liking a work, and if he disliked it he would try to say why, not just sneer or pull a face.

If we are to understand the myth of the Angries we have to admit that Wain added less to it than Amis, partly because he was, as time revealed, a lesser novelist than Amis and a lesser poet than Larkin; but also because he took less pleasure in snarling. He always struck me as being as close to a completely honest man as you could meet, a man who cared about the views of other people and about the people themselves. Snarling was a much more useful contribution to a cult of Anger. . . . There would have been no revolutionary rage or aspiration for the Oxfordians to join in had not Wilson, Osborne and his associates, and later John Braine stormed onto the scene. These men had little in common with the Oxford group, except that, as Carpenter is quick to point out, everybody concerned cared a lot more about getting on than about changing the culture. Much as he admires Lucky Jim, he condemns the hero's selfishness and allows the imputation that it reflects the author's. And Braine's Room at the Top, a huge success that he was never able to repeat, makes a virtue of pure selfishness. Later Braine became a member, along with Amis, of the Bertorelli lunching club, the Fascist Beasts, whose members were famous for professing fairly extreme rightwing politics. Both, of course, had only lately moved over from the extreme Left. (Here again Wain was different: he was voting Tory in the early 1950s, when Amis was still a member of the party.)

It was Osborne, doubtless no less selfish than the others, who supplied most of the anger and was most audible, because he was so good at invective and found a theatre to demonstrate his power. His chapter in Tom Maschler's Declaration (1957) was thought bold to the point of outrageousness: he even attacked the royal family. Angus Wilson, reviewing Declaration without much enthusiasm, acknowledged the reality of Anger, remarking that 'nobody under fifty... can sincerely feel content with the present state of the arts. We are all waiting for something great to turn up. And ... we are often led to speculate whether England's artistic death does not reflect a wider sterility in the social and political structure of the country.' Wilson doesn't seem to think the cure would come from the contributors to Declaration, for he treats them as symptoms, not healers. . . ."








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