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DAILY BUZZWORDS

Artwork by Sardax

CUTTING-EDGE LITERARY NEWS FROM AROUND THE GLOBAL VILLAGE

by Andrew Gallix

COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

DISASTODROME! 01/25/2003

David Thomas, the founder of Pere Ubu is organising a three-day festival of "voice and vision where the reputation of 18 avant-garage heroes will be collectively tested" at UCLA (February 21-23). Disastodrome! will include live performances by Pere Ubu, David Thomas and the Two Pale Boys, Frank Black, and The Kidney Brothers, as well as the first appearance in 27 years of the legendary Rocket From The Tombs and the American premiere of David Thomas' rogue opera, Mirror Man:

"Disastodrome! continues a series of events conceived as an antidote to datapanik. In 1976 David Thomas and John Thompson note that in a state of data overload all 'new' information will only serve as a sedative-like drug, a junkie culture becomes inevitable, dataflow can be the only social imperative, and that discrimination, or any other hinderance to dataflow, must become anathema. Dataflow Junkies pursue a highly ritualized course. A break in routine can lead to disaster... to datapanik! The symptoms of datapanik are easily recognized: doubt and fear of the moment. Is what I'm experiencing meaningful... enough? What will my friends say? Is everything okay? Disastodrome creates a space in which the ordinary citizen can be freed from that burden of anticipation haunting the data-junkie. Only Disastodrome can guarantee that nothing will go wrong.
'It's a mess!'
The cry goes up.
'It's a disaster!'
Oh no, my brothers, Disasto reassures us that everything is going absolutely according to plan. Relax. Let it wash over you."




SEVEN YEARS OF PORRIDGE 01/24/2003

Literary terrorist Stewart Home reviews former Angry Brigade member's book: "Bending The Bars is not what someone who has accepted at face value the press stories about John Barker being a dangerous terrorist and drugs smuggler would expect him to write, but then Barker is both too genial and too complex for these one-dimensional misrepresentations of his past to adequately sum up where he's coming from. This book is not about Barker's relationship to that loose 'affinity group' known as the Angry Brigade, but rather an account of the time he spent inside after being convicted of bombing various properties (no one was actually hurt during the course of these actions).

. . . Most of the time not much happens in Barker's account of his seven years of porridge for the Angry Brigade actions, but as a result small things became magnified. In places this creates a sense of disorientation that reminds me of Beckett; in as much as Barker creatively deploys a sense of boredom to simulate the end games of literary modernism. However, this isn't simply a case of avant-garde anti-narrative tricks being self-consciously redeployed as a post-modernist trope, Barker simultaneously undercuts these entropy effects with some hilarious and bizarre stories; among these is an account of the bemused reaction of those around him when a friend posts him a toy rat as a present. . . ."




PUNK AID 01/24/2003

A big Punk Aid festival will take place in April (Friday 11-Sunday 18) at Brixam in Devon (England). The line-up includes The Dead Kennedys, The Damned, Menace, Chelsea, TV Smith, personal favourites Penetration and The Itchy Tits All Girl Show (pictured).



THE MISSING LINKS 01/24/2003

A review of Interpol's recent Chicago gig. Official website of disco punk gods The Rapture. Videos of writers including Toby Litt and Jeff Noon. Paris-based American litzine Kilometer Zero has come up with the great idea of a Squatters' Cookbook: "Squat life is about community and artistic dreams. Nowhere is this more evident than in the kitchens. Working with little money -- often squats are equipped only with a single hot plate and no running water -- artists create magnificent and healthy meals. This cookbook will feature the very best of Paris squat recipes along with the photographs and stories of the artists behind the food." China Mieville, soon to be interviewed in 3AM, has been shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Awards 2003. The nominations for the 2003 Weblog Awards are in. John Mullan on Latin and Greek epigraphs and epigrams in novels from Henry Fielding to Donna Tartt. Oriana Fallaci on the threat of Islam in The New York Observer. British Culture Minister Kim Howells claims he isn't a "fuddy duddy". Good old Julie Burchill argues that the truth loves to go naked: "Body hair is, after all, Mother Nature's own bossy-boots burka, covering up the bits she deems too attractive to be on show, and it never hurts to show the old bitch who's boss." Is Art too good for Notherners? You can download the new Bonnie Prince Billy and Star*Bodixa albums in their entirety! There's hope for the USA yet: The Office is a critical hit across the Pond.



WE ARE FAMILY 01/24/2003

Husband and wife Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin have been shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. Gaby Wood in The Guardian on literary couples: "Last week it was announced that for the first time a married couple are to go head to head in the competition to win a major literary prize. Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn, who are both 69 and have been together for more than 20 years, have won their individual categories of the Whitbread prize (biography and fiction respectively). So two partners who work in such different genres that they would never normally be imagined as rivals are suddenly vying for the £25,000 award for Book of the Year. The pair have spent the last few days giving an entertaining performance to the press, at one point even suggesting that they planned to throw bread rolls at each other during the prizegiving dinner in two weeks' time. But perhaps the most curious aspect of the situation is that people should have focused so much on the rivalry, when they might have been impressed by the funds that may be shared. After all, Frayn and Tomalin will either walk away with £10,000 between them (if neither of them wins) or £35,000 (if one of them wins). What can be bad about that?

I asked Michael Frayn whether they had a joint bank account, and he said they didn't, but that they were buying a new house, and 'doing it with common funds'. I wondered then if he felt at all competitive with his wife, and he admitted (though it's always hard to tell if Frayn is joking) that 'to be absolutely sincere about it, I will be genuinely pleased if Claire wins, because it's a terrific book, and I think she should get the prize. But also... I will feel a slight pang that I didn't get it.' Clearly, it's a slightly tricky issue. . . . Perhaps the most startling thing the Frayn/Tomalin news has brought to light is the suspicion -- or perhaps it's even a schadenfreudian certainty -- that writers must not get on. They are, we seem to imagine, selfish, competitive and vampiric by nature -- sucking real life and friendships dry for the sake of fiction.

And, though that's an exaggerated picture, it's possible that not all of it is a myth. When The Corrections was first published, Jonathan Franzen spoke at length about the way in which he and his ex-wife Valerie Cornell, spent five years and several hours a day writing in cramped accommodation. Cornell said then that if a social worker had found them, they would have been 'turned in for self-abuse'. Things became particularly difficult when his novels were published and her more experimental work was not. 'When the rewards of our jointly held ambition began to accrue to me,' Franzen explained, 'it was very hard.' They separated after 12 years.

. . . Yet for every clashing couple, for every Plath and Hughes or Hellman and Hammett, there are Iris Murdoch and John Bayley, the Brownings and the Shelleys. The world is full of apparently happy literary pairings: Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser, Margaret Drabble and Michael Holroyd. Why should writers who have each other's best interests at heart not be the best critics, or the most understanding domestic support? . . . Still, the writing life, shared, does have its peculiarities, and it is perhaps only through glimpses of oddly intimate domestic quirks that one might begin to understand the resulting professional success. 'A wall, soundproof, must mount between us,' Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal of her relationship with Ted Hughes. 'Strangers in our study, lovers in bed.' Most writing couples follow this rule, working in separate rooms or separate buildings -- and in the case of Drabble and Holroyd, living apart for the first 13 years of their marriage. They all say they are each other's first and best critic, and are able, in general, to detect in a fairly concrete way the effect that they have had on each other's work.

The novelists Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt (pictured) met in 1981 and married soon afterwards. At that point, neither of them was writing novels. So, as Siri puts it, 'all our fiction corresponds to our marriage'. . . ."




THE CUNT HAD TO STAY 01/23/2003

The mighty Will Self is interviewed in Nerve. Here are a few excerpts. On the social milieu in Dorian, Self's latest novel: ". . . This is a milieu I actually inhabited in the early '80s. I had an angry exchange with the audience member at one of my readings recently. He came up to me and said, 'I very much enjoyed the reading, but I think it's very stylized. I can't believe the gay, drug-addicted aristocrat you described would really exist.' And I went completely off my temper. I said, 'How many gay, drug-addicted aristocrats have you hung around with? Well, I fucking have, and I modeled him on one of them.'"

On writing: "I've written a short story recently that's the first entirely naturalistic thing I've written. It doesn't have any metafictional layers, any borrowed conceits or supernatural things at all. But on the whole, my fiction is not philosophically the idea of reality. I want to convince people that fiction is stranger than truth. A difficult proposition, because on the whole, it isn't. I tend to take the conventional literary naturalism and depart from it as fast as I can." On the special relationship: "Well, insofar as that Britain is not the fifty-third state, we don't necessarily want American hegemony. So it's problematic for Blair at that point."

On toilet art: "In the visual arts, especially the plastic arts, any old fucker thinks they can create. They have examples of these formative and mold-breaking acts of transgression, which are pregnant and meaningful because of their banality, which are picked up and replicated by banal people. It's toilet art: anybody can be bothered to think about it when they're having a shit. But to actually get up and do it, well … laughable, isn't it?"

On drugs: "Nah, I haven't done drugs for some years now. I gave up all mood-altering substances other than tobacco. I wrote this book very straight. Very straight. With maybe the occasional lentil."

On the choice of the right word: "In line seven of this novel is the word 'cunt,' for example. Now I'm not saying, wow, I'm so brave; on the contrary, I'm sort of cowardly. It would have been braver to get rid of that 'cunt.' Certainly, it would have gotten me more readers. If I'd taken out that 'cunt,' people could have cantered on to at least page twenty without finding something to offend their sensibilities. But the point is: it had to be there. It wasn't any kind of view of cunt, or the thought of cunt or the fact of cunt: it was just the right word in the right place. . . . There was no getting around the 'cunt.' The 'cunt' had to stay."

You can read an extract from Dorian here.




THE VOMIT COMET 01/23/2003

One of Granta's Best Young British Novelists -- Dan Rhodes -- describes his "Pop Idol moment": "I had been briefed before Christmas, so I knew I was going to be on the list and did all my hardcore celebrating before the New Year. In fact, when the list came out on Sunday night, I was working on a 3,000-word article that Granta had persuaded me to write. It was going really badly, and receiving lots of congratulatory emails from friends saying 'I bet you are out drinking tonight, aren't you?' didn't help. Eventually they ground me down and I went to the off-licence, bought a bottle of Cava and discovered that articles get written more quickly when booze is involved. When I found out the book was going to be published, I was so delighted that I had a bit of a Pop Idol moment: I wept and called my mother. Like most writers, I'm primarily motivated by hatred and revenge, so this is a really good poke in the eye to those people who wrote me off. . . . I know that being on a list like this can put you under pressure to do something even better, but it's just a bit of fun and you can't really let it change your life. I'm planning to leave the country and learn Vietnamese after the novel is published. I think it would be better to have a hit and leave it at that than struggle on for years. . . . On Wednesday, I met a few people from my publisher's office in a club in London. When my publisher is around, it is my duty as a writer to drink as much as I possibly can at his expense, so I did just that. We decamped to the Groucho club because we wanted to do some outrageous celeb spotting. The only celeb we saw was the great Arthur Smith. I rolled home on the last train, or the vomit comet as I like to call it, and spent most of Thursday with a stinking hangover. I am having today off and plan to go to the British Museum with my friend. Our mission is to steal the Elgin Marbles and return them to Greece, but I'm a bit worried that we might not get home in time for Top of the Pops.



GET WELL SOON! 01/23/2003

3am Editor in Chief Richard Marshall was the victim of a road accident the other day. Our thoughts go out to him (Pic: Richard, Christmas 2003.)



SPOTTED DICK 01/23/2003

Spotted yesterday lunchtime on his fancy scooter, Rue Bonaparte (Saint-Germain-des-Près) in Paris: novelist, media personality and socialite Frédéric Beigbeder.



IN THE FLESH 01/23/2003

Allan Metz has just published Blondie From Punk to the Present: A Pictorial History (Musical Legacy Publications) which looks set to become the definitive book on the NY band.



DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE WESTWORLD? 01/23/2003

3am contributor Travis Jeppesen has published a review of Michel Houellebecq's Platform in The Prague Pill: ". . . Rushdie is right. Houellebecq is a great writer. . . . The idea behind Platform concerns 'the death of the West.' For Houellebecq, competitive capitalism has resulted in our inability to relate and satisfy one another sexually. On the other side of the world, reasons Houellebecq, 'you have several billion people who have nothing, who are starving, who die young, who live in conditions unfit for human habitation and who have nothing left to sell except their bodies and their unspoiled sexuality.' Seen from this light, the Leftist idea that sex tourism is exploitative seems absurd, as both parties are effectively satisfying their human needs. A simple idea? It could be, but not everyone agrees. And there are those who express dissent using weapons more dangerous than the rhetoric of politically correct Westerners. . . . Despite all the controversy surrounding his work, Houellebecq is very much grounded in a proud French literary tradition. The bleak perspective found in his books is reminiscent of Baudelaire and Sartre, although the writer he calls to mind repeatedly is Céline, whose Journey to the End of the Night was deemed 'nihilistic' by his contemporaries, an adjective that has also been applied to Houellebecq. . . . Houellebecq's dirtiest transgression isn't his excessive sex scenes, nor his characters' racist diatribes. Rather, it's the simple fact that he makes us laugh at things we're not supposed to laugh at. In penning such memorable lines as, 'Intellectually, I could manage to feel a certain attraction to Muslim vaginas,' Houellebecq smears shit all over the politically correct reality we've been conditioned to accept. . . ."



BITCH SLAPPING 01/23/2003

3am's adorable Californicator Kimberly Nichols has published two excellent short stories in Small Spiral Notebook and nthposition. Check it!



THE BAKELITE KNOB PROBLEM 01/23/2003

A few more links to some of the numerous articles about Granta's Best of Young British Novels 2003 list. DJ Taylor points out in The Guardian that old-age pensioners also write novels. Granta editor Ian Jack tells the Daily Telegraph that 'The idea that youth equals innovation or worth is a spurious one -- though, as a society, one that we seem absolutely in hock to' . . ." He "makes no apologies for refusing to publish more experimental writing. 'It might earn you Brownie points, but you won't get much of an audience. There's no point publishing for 10 people in Islington.' . . . Indeed, Jack, 57, is wary of the label 'literary magazine', with its connotations of 'little bits of poetry and lots of the editor's mates'. . . ." In The Guardian, Ian Jack explains that the link between the young authors on the 2003 list is the abundance of "sex, and transgression generally" as well as "much more historical writing": "This introduced us to what came to be known as the Bakelite knob problem. In one novel we read, a woman didn't switch on the radio, she turned the Bakelite knob on the wireless. There was a lot of that sort of thing. Sarah Waters is brilliant at not doing that."



END OF THE SURREY PEOPLE 01/23/2003

Blank generation legend Vic Godard, who was recently interviewed in 3AM, is playing a couple of gigs to promote his new album, Sansend (Sansend is the best thing I've ever done"). On 21 February, Vic will perform at the Brixton Windmill, and on 29 March he will be at Bedford Esquires. More dates in Leicester, Bath, Brighton and Southampton will be announced shortly.

The punk postman is also interviewed (for the second time) in the latest issue of Erasing Clouds: ". . . 'This is Camden Town,' Vic announces while driving. . . . You know that design tycoon Sir Terence Conran?' Vic asks, 'He used to live down here, his son was one of The Clash's roadies, so we used to crash out in his house. . . . And Bernie made crash any band that he got over up to London in Terence Conran's flat. At one point he was managing an all-female French band call The Lous, who took their name after Lou Reed. . . . Also half of The Clash was sleeping there. . . . One day Terence Conran came back. We were meant to be using only one part of the house and there were all these people using his favourite room so he slammed the whole lot out and we could never use that again. The Clash even had their office in his house at one point!' Vic keeps on driving and recounting his story, then at one point he stops and indicates a row of beautiful white houses on the right side of the road. 'There!' he exclaims, 'It was one of these houses, see these white places with the balconies, it was one of them!' 'It looks so posh!' I remark. 'I know, it's a lovely place,' he says. 'John Nash designed these houses. As I told you, we didn't really live there, we only used to crash there, if you went to a gig and you missed the last bus, rather than walking all the way to were we lived, we could just go in there till the morning.' . . ." There's also another fascinating extract about Sid Vicious: "'Sid was a really sensitive person trying to play the part of a real thug,' Vic remembers. 'He taught me the first three chords on the guitar, he taught me how to play 'Chinese Rocks' on the guitar, that was the first time that I could actually strum those chords on the guitar in the rehearsal place one day. I think you might say old Sid started me off as a guitarist!' Vic exclaims. 'He once said on Radio One that his favourite bands were Abba, Subway Sect and The Ramones! That was the best thing that had ever happened to us! You didn't have any respect for all the other people who said they liked you, but if Sid said that, then you'd really thought you'd made it!'"




THE PONG OF THE DEAD 01/22/2003

Writers and artists - including John le Carré, Salman Rushdie, David Hare, Günter Grass and Arnold Wesker -- tell openDemocracy if they're in favour or against a conflict with Irak -- as if we cared. For or against, none of them will suffer. Plus some of them come out sounding like right cunts! Just because John le Carré reckons the USA has gone mad doesn't give him the right to talk a load of shite ("Only the good Germans have so far succeeded in sticking to their silent guns. I wish profoundly that the rest of us Europeans, in the spirit of a nobler President, would declare ourselves to be citizens of Berlin"). Thank Christ for good old Harold Pinter who has penned an anti-war poem. Here's an extract from "God Bless America": "Your head rolls onto the sand / Your head is a pool in the dirt / Your head is a stain in the dust / Your eyes have gone out and your nose / Sniffs only the pong of the dead / And all the dead air is alive / With the smell of America's God." Potent stuff.



3AM TOP 5 01/22/2003

Not content with ranking among the Best Young British Novelists 2003, Toby Litt will publish his fourth novel next summer. Entitled Finding Myself, it is described as "Toby Litt meets Virginia Woolf meets Big Brother". Here are the last 5 books he has read:
  1. The Impressionist -- Hari Kunzru
  2. Where the Wild Things Are -- Maurice Sendak
  3. The Mermaid and the Drunks -- Ben Richards (out in March)
  4. Child Star -- Matt Thorne (out in April)
  5. Northanger Abbey -- Jane Austen



IT'S ONLY FROCK'N'ROLL… 01/21/2003

Vogue gets all excited about the new generation of rock chicks (W.I.T., Vive La Fête, Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs…).



THE MISSING LINKS 01/21/2003

There's a public appeal to renovate Manchester's John Rylands library. The latest London Review of Books essay deals with Descartes, hypocrite, snob and twat: "When Queen Christina called in 1649, Descartes was flattered enough, or broke enough, to answer, even though he feared -- quite rightly -- that the Swedish winter (and 5am royal philosophy lessons) would be the death of him. The idea of teaching his philosophy to a queen, especially to a queen who was intellectually inclined, and who would be played on film by Greta Garbo, was irresistible." Douglas Coupland's new novel, Hey Nostradamus!, will come out in July in the US and in September in the UK. Rachel (of Friends)'s "steamy lesbian kiss". Donna C of The Donnas is interviewed in Starpolish. Michael Dirda in the Washington Post on his "ideal literary magazine". Will Self on his desire "to create fiction that is stranger than reality" in the Village Voice. An American survey indicates that today's busy women have less sex than their 1950s counterparts. An excellent site devoted to the mighty Alasdair Gray. Kurt Vonnegut -- who has turned 80 -- is interviewed in AlterNet.



THE SUN SHINES OUT OF HER BEHIND 01/20/2003

"Curvy Kelly Brook was voted the owner of The Most Beautiful Bum In The World by Sun readers -- then admitted: 'I didn't know I had a nice bottom.' . . ."



DOING IT FOR ETERNITY 01/20/2003

Former Public Image Limited bass player, Jah Wobble, has published an article on the state of the music industry in The Independent on Sunday: "Personally, I'm not too bothered about the decline of the record business. . . . All that ever interested me about the music industry was getting the money to make a record, and that's all I'm interested in now. The form wasn't hard in the old days. Eventually, after wining and dining with A&R men, you'd get to meet the MD of the company and tell him that 'yes, of course I want to sell lots of records too!' and 'no, I realise I can't go on making un-commercial records!' I'd make a few more noises about how grateful I was to be given the chance to salvage my career (again) and then I'd naff off and make another record that 5,000 to 15,000 or so people around the world would levitate to. That might not sound like a lot of people, but imagine waving a stick at every one of them. Your arm would go numb.

This was a hustle that I managed to pull off every few years. By 1996, I realised it was going to be virtually impossible to carry on with this record-deal caper. For one thing, I'm not getting any younger (although I hasten to add, I am still extremely good-looking, with a body both lithe and sensuous), and for another, it was getting harder not to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. Actually, I realise that my circumstances were better than those of many artists. I was under contract to Island. I had given them a reasonably commercial album two years previously. Since then I had finished and released one very un-commercial record. I then presented them with three albums, one after the other in quick succession: an album inspired by William Blake, a Requiem Mass and an album of Celtic poets. The company's response to these records was like mine is to a Jehovah's Witness at the front door. . . . If I hadn't known better I'd have said they were glad to see the back of me.

I had always thought it was just a matter of time before I had my own label -- there's none as mad as the self-published, and all that. And I'd had the luxury of a dry run back in the early Eighties, when to my delight I found that I could record an album in my bedroom for virtually zilch. You could spend another £100 cutting it before ordering 2,000 pressings at around 35p a shot. I'd pick up the records from the manufacturers and deliver them all myself to various distributors, exporters and wholesalers, as well as specialist shops. I found that I'd come out of it with a good few quid. Remember this was over 20 years ago, when you could buy a gram of coke, two flights to New York on Concorde and a Ford Capri and still have change left over from 10 bob. Unfortunately, instead of reinvesting the profits, I had a tendency to spunk the money down the pub. In this respect, at least, I was way ahead of the game in looking to merge my business with that of breweries and distillers. So anyway, here I am, all these years later, doing it again. It will have been six years and 20 releases on my label, 30 Hertz, come June.

I suppose that in a way I've done the classic Nineties downsizing thing. I don't even live in London any more. The operation is run from a leafy Stockport suburb. 'Location, location, location,' I tell myself, as I wander the Peak District. It's a funny era this one, volatile and unpredictable. Yet on the other hand, as long as you're not stuck in the poverty trap, you can invoke change, both rapid and radical in your life. Spiritually speaking, owning a label has much to offer artists. As William Blake said 'Create your own System or be enslaved by another Man's'. Also, before you consider it, check your (primary) motives. Are you doing it as a purely business thing? If you are, you're nuts. Or are you, like Blake, doing it for eternity? I'm doing it for eternity. . . ." Jah Wobble's new album, Fly, is released on 27 January.




WHO KILLED THE HAMPSTEAD NOVEL? 01/19/2003

DJ Taylor wonders in the Independent on Sunday "Who Killed the Hampstead Novel?": "Twenty years ago, in the depths of a Thames Valley winter, I struggled through the piled snow-drifts to attend something billed as the 'Oxford Fiction Symposium'. Here, in front of a couple of hundred undergraduates in New College hall, a panel consisting of Malcolm Bradbury, Salman Rushdie, Michael Frayn and Melvyn Bragg dealt suavely with enquiries on that ancient chestnut, 'The State of the Novel'. Didn't the panel think, I remember asking -- and the question was, I regret, designed to be personally offensive to Melvyn Bragg -- that in the early 1980s the traditional English novel of middle-class morality and manners could no longer be written? That was the kind of thing that got asked at fiction symposia 20 years ago. Bragg, I recall, gamely defended himself and others. Bradbury (obliquely) and Rushdie (a bit less obliquely) left the audience in no doubt where they stood. The traditional English novel of middle-class morality and manners was in the ash can: the bright, postmodern future lay gleaming across the horizon.

Curiously enough, exactly two decades have passed since the last occasion on which it was possible to regard the English novel, as opposed to certain individual English novelists, with any seriousness. Periodically a sudden wave of interest and enthusiasm descends on the lone, lorn shores of English literature: in the early 1980s it fell with a resounding smack. Salman Rushdie had just won the Booker Prize. The first "Best of Young British Novelists" (McEwan, Boyd, Ishiguro, Barnes, Amis Jr) was about to hit the bookshops. More to the point, the process was as much economic as literary. In the wake of the 1983 promotion it was boom time for the literary novelist: much of the 'restructuring' that affected the domestic book trade later in the decade had its origins in the large sums of money thrown at aspiring talent in the early 1980s and the necessity of clawing some of it back.

At heart this exercise in literary musical chairs, a phenomenon that affects literature perhaps three or four times a century, was sharply adversarial. The thing being avidly promoted to the excited reader of, say, DM Thomas's The White Hote (1981), Graham Swift's Waterland (1983) or Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor (1985) tended to be advertised under the banner of postmodernism, which for the purposes of literary journalism meant not much more than a fashionable eclecticism of word-play, time-travel and trickery. The thing being disparaged was the old, tired, serio-comic portrayal of bourgeois life (the words 'Hampstead novel' were by this stage simply a term of abuse) produced by such very different writers as Kingsley Amis and Margaret Drabble. All this was ripe to be swept away by a tide of imported US demotic (Martin Amis) and magic realism, the sense -- I think Salman Rushdie actually uses the phrase somewhere -- of stories falling off trees rather than a single narrative being laid out in a quiet English garden. I can remember reading Midnight's Children for the first time in 1981 and being prostrated by its exuberance, the feeling of procedural rules being made up as the writer went along, the thought, so rarely stirred by all those sober little English novels of the 1970s, that here at last was a demonstration of why books mattered in a way that lesser cultural artefacts do not.

Over the intervening two decades, the postmodern tide has swept repeatedly over the shores monitored by the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books and left, well, some perfectly serviceable driftwood. The first "Best of British" promotion of 1983 showcased the work of a group of writers who, with one or two exceptions, have stayed in the public eye ever since. Scarcely one of them, though, has moved on in any genuine sense from the positions established nearly 20 years ago. Time and again one picks up a novel from the Barnes/McEwan/Amis school only to put it down again in the consciousness of the same tricks being played, the same ground being dutifully covered. Only Timothy Mo, perhaps, of that 1980s generation -- a novelist inexcusably overlooked on that first list -- has moved off into new territory (Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard, Halo2). But Mo fell out with British publishing nearly a decade ago, decamped to the Far East and now publishes his novels under his own imprint. As for the succeeding generations, booked to extend and repopulate this roster, one need only look at the 1993 "Best of Young British" selection to appreciate how feebly that torch has been carried on.

But the shortcomings of most middle-aged British novelists are not merely a matter of their failing to write good novels. It is also intimately connected to the kind of thing they choose to write novels about. Without being chauvinistic, hardly any of the books that make the Booker shortlist each autumn perform a task that one might reasonably expect of a British writer: that is, to write something set in Britain that offers some comment on our national life. . . . There are any number of theoretical, if not socio-economic, reasons for the inability of many British novelists to write meaningfully about the society they inhabit. Others, though, are more directly connected to the state of publishing and the condition in which the successful middle-aged novelist tends to find him or herself come middle age. As we live in a global economy, according to one school of critical thought, we are simultaneously entering the era of the 'global' novel, the book that bounces purposefully between continents and, if the translators do their work, can be assimilated by any audience. And in the wake of the global novel, inevitably, comes the global novelist, the Amis/Rushdie figure, wandering vagrantly between London, New York and places even farther flung, setting his books in a kind of maze made up of airline destinations and exotic scenery. Nobody minds a broad brush, of course, and yet to strive for this supra-national focus is to risk losing the thing that gives most novels, British novels especially, their distinction. The reason why Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis -- two writers whom I revered to the point of idolatry back in 1983 -- no longer appeal in quite the same way is that they seem deracinated, cut off from the things that are worth writing about. . . ."




DESTINATION: NOWHERE 01/19/2003

There's a short interview with Jamie Reid -- the brilliant artist who was responsible for all the Sex Pistols artwork -- on a new website called The Art of Jamie Reid. Here's an extract about Punk: "It was perfect timing, with that first generation of kids coming out of school, particularly working class kids, who'd been given loads of promises but had nothing to do, whether jobs or opportunities. It was all about that do-it-yourself fuck-all-that-fucking-corporate-glam-rock-shit that was going on in the music business. We did our own artwork, produced our own music and the whole thing was inspirational. Punk was also very tribal which was interesting and in its own way, quite pacifist. It wasn't about the icons such as the Pistols or the Clash, or whoever. I know from being a visual artist involved in campaigns such as the Criminal Justice Bill and the Poll Tax (protests) that's it's about a continuous story of protest. It's still going on with what's been going on in Seattle last year." Screen prints of Jamie Reid's work are available through Britart.



WHEN BABYLON WAS BURNING 01/19/2003

On the subject of those heady days, I recently came across an interview with Sophie Richmond in The Independent which was published in 2000 to coincide with the release of The Filth and the Fury: "'They were the only band on earth. The only music worth listening to.' I'm sipping Earl Grey in a north London back parlour. Sophie Richmond, fortysomething, courteous, quietly spoken, is telling me about the Sex Pistols. 'I first saw them in spring 1976. Then again in the summer.' Richmond was a fan, then a friend. By the end of the year she was working for their manager, Malcolm McLaren. . . . 'I was running a printing press with Jamie Reid, my boyfriend at the time,' she tells me. 'Jamie had known Malcolm as an art student in the Sixties. When the Pistols started, he invited Jamie to develop the visual side of things.' 1976 was the hottest summer on record. Babylon was burning with anxiety and the Sex Pistols . . . were getting a reputation.

As Reid got to work with scissors and glue, Richmond became McLaren's assistant, handling the day-to-day running of his management company, Glitterbest, and dishing out the wages ('£25 a week'). So what were the lads themselves like? 'Steve and Paul were really easy, nice guys,' remembers Richmond fondly. 'John was more difficult. I liked him a lot, but he tended to stick with his friends from north London, like Jah Wobble. He kept himself to himself.' One of Lydon's friends who didn't go down so well was John Ritchie -- Sid Vicious to his mates. 'I didn't get on well with Sid,' Richmond says. 'He seemed very young. We all were, but Sid was particularly immature.' We talk about The Filth and The Fury, in which Richmond, briefly, appears. The movie gets the thumbs up. 'It gives a very good picture of the time. Especially the inward-looking aspect of it all,' she says. The Pistols and their entourage were something of a cabal. 'We were very tight-knit. There was little contact with other people outside our circle, or with other musicians. That's conveyed well in the film.'

. . . The office was shared with Reid, whose ransom-note lettering, ripped Union Flag and safety-pinned Queen have become part of the codification of 20th-century Britain. Richmond pays due respect. 'Jamie was responsible for it all. I do remember helping to cut up song titles for flyers, though. We were both really interested in using slogans and graphics.'

Life was sweet, but as summer finally faded, the clouds rolled over. The band signed to EMI, unleashed 'Anarchy in the UK' and appeared live on Thames TV's Today programme, where they said 'shit' and called their clumsy interviewer Bill Grundy a 'fucking rotter', as you do. Thames's switchboard went into meltdown and the press began the offensive: the front page of next morning's Mirror presciently providing the title for Temple's new film. Richmond was amazed at just how easily shocked people could be. 'We didn't set out to be "punks",' she says. 'Certainly we tried to provoke and be vaguely political, but I soon learnt that what comes back at you is completely unexpected. It's not always what you want.' These days you're unlikely to be assaulted in the street simply for parting your hair the wrong side, but the Seventies, let's not forget, was a decade of volatile youth factions. 'Old rockers on the King's Road would often pick on the band. When John told me about being attacked or gobbed on I thought, that's not what it should be about.' . . . In the Eighties Richmond moved into publishing and now edits anthropology books. . . ."




MUM'S THE WORD 01/19/2003

John Edwards Gunn reviews Mum's latest album, Finally We Are No One (out on Fatcat Records), in Spike magazine: "I'm not all that interested in the biography of bands, but it seems essential to the character of Mum's music that they're Icelandic, and of course a big part of their appeal to the likes of style-mag editors, now that Iceland is -- for some reason -- the epitome of cool. Well, who cares about that, except that cool is a good word to describe Mum (and Iceland, course), in the other sense of the word. Finally We Are No One is sedate and dreamy, very like Boards of Canada, where ambient textures come fused with fuzzy beats. Occasionally it stirs into more vigorous life, for instance on 'We Have A Map Of The Piano', but for the most part the formula remains unchanged. High-pitched tones give a childlike quality, while breathy vocals in sweet, naive, heavily-accented English sing lyrics like 'when I'm swimming through a tunnel/I shut my eyes'. . . . On their titles alone it would be easy to convict Mum of feyness and whimsy, but the purity of their sound is compelling, and there's a toughness in there somewhere. . . ."



CHIPMUNKS ARE GO! 01/19/2003

Ben Watson writes about Chipmunka Publishing and "Mad Lit" in Mute: "With the publication of Dolly Sen's The World Is Full of Laughter, Jason Pegler has successfully transformed his career as certified lunatic (madman, drink/drugs/rave casualty, mental health user, psychotic survivor) and author (A Can of Madness, Chipmunkapublishing, 2002) into that of a publisher. In his hands, website technology becomes the cultural Colt 45 of the twenty-first century, giving every new boy in town equal weight with the best-established store-front business and star-toting sheriff. At Chipmunka Publishing, initial runs of a hundred are reprinted on demand. The paraphernalia of a 'proper' publisher are suddenly possible -- book launches, ordering via bookshops, a series of tangible books, an imprint -- without stock-rooms, reviewer lunch-dates and national advertising and distribution. We don't need capitalisation any more. Pegler's intent is to give other psychiatric patients the chance to tell their story, unencumbered by censorship or political ideology.

Recognition of the class component of 'mental' problems makes his and Sen's accounts especially telling. Oppression -- alienation from the media, lack of recognition -- finds a retort in bonkers megalomania. This is madness on the NHS, not privileged psychotherapy in Hampstead: 'I was getting letters threatening eviction. This caused a lot of stress for me ... As far as I can see it, society/bureaucracy, whatever you want to call it, contributes to the depression of the individual. Anyone who has been to a dole or housing benefit office will bear this out.' Of course, middle-class reviewers will find Sen's line of reasoning incomprehensible. The broadsheets prefer fictions which announce themselves as such: artificial, unaccusing pirouettes aimed at the Booker Prize. . . . As Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home are fond of pointing out, contemporary middle-class novels -- the Booker Prize contenders -- lack something (in fact, they lack most things which might make a critical mind pick up a book ...).

Walter Benjamin said the task of the critic was to 'wrest the tradition from the conformism that threatens to overwhelm it'. We need to do that to Gogol's 'Diary of a Madman'. . . . Perhaps now, ensconced as a Penguin Classic, it looks like 'literature', but was it always something so quarantined from everyday life? . . . Gogol's tale of a petty clerk who reads letters penned by a dog in order to spy on his beloved, who comes to believe he's the king of Spain, and who interprets his incarceration in a lunatic asylum as recognition by the Spanish court, was not simply 'great literature'. Its burlesque registered the trauma of landed Russians facing the rise of a new, monied class and a modern bureaucracy: the comedy and tragedy of a society fixated on status and undergoing ructions. The stakes aren't simply 'literary'. In fact, 'Diary of a Madman' eerily predicts Freud's case history of D.P. Schreber, and thus the first stirrings of scientific psychology. 'Diary of a Madman' was a text written for Gogol by the impromptu (and unresolved) goadings of a social crisis. Unable to bear liberal compromise, Gogol offended the only audience for his outrageous texts by writing an essay in support of the Tsar. Abroad, he succumbed to religious mania. Back in Russia, he followed the instructions of a 'spiritual director' and burned his rewrite of Dead Souls. Finally, in 1852, Gogol killed himself with a penitential regime of abstinence and exaggerated fasting. Was 'Diary of a Madman' 'literary' - or actually a cry for help? We should not allow the posthumous accolade of a Penguin Classic edition to blind us to the facts of Nikolai Gogol's fucked-up existence. . . ."




THE MISSING LINKS 01/19/2003

New issues of the Barcelona Review and Context have just gone online. There's an interesting review of Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel in the Complete Review. You'll also find a write-up of Geoff Dyer's Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It which hasn't yet been published in the UK. Don't know how to say 'blowjob' in French? Check out Nerve.com's "Foreign Slanguage" column. There's a brilliant photo gallery of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in The Modern Age. Ladies: do you want a bum like Kylie's? A great idea: Pepys' Diary in blog form. Dustylizard recently selected Selima Kyle's "Mondo Reichman" published in 3AM.



3AM TOP 5 01/13/2003

The author of England's Dreaming, Jon Savage, is hard at work on "the 1930s and the Spanish Civil War" which he describes as "one of the worst fucking fuck-ups" he has ever studied: "Talk about everyone hating each other!" What is he currently listening to? "Basically, I want to rock, and when I don't want to rock, I want something that's evocative, heartfelt, and different":
  1. "Inbetweens" -- Johnny Marr + the Healers (Music)
  2. "Superbike" -- Fat Truckers (Futurism 1; City Rockers)
  3. "Cherokee Girl" -- Beau Brummels (Bradley's Barn, Warner Archives)
  4. "Blend" -- Sandy Bull (Reinventions, Vanguard)
  5. "All Day and All of the Night" -- Peaches vs the Kinks (white label)

(Pic: Jon Savage in 1978 by Linder Sterling.)




HE WALKED IT AS HE TALKED IT AND MADE ME CUT MY HAIR 01/13/2003

There will be a few more links to articles on the late and great Joe Strummer over the next few days. First off, there's Billy Bragg's tribute on the BBC's website: "The Clash were the greatest rebel rock band of all time. Their commitment to making political pop culture was the defining mark of the British punk movement. They were also a self-mythologising, style-obsessed mass of contradictions. That's why they were called The Clash. While Paul Simonon flashed his glorious cheekbones and Mick Jones threw guitar hero shapes, no-one struggled more manfully with the gap between the myth and the reality of being a spokesman for your generation than Joe Strummer. All musicians start out with ideals but hanging on to them in the face of media scrutiny takes real integrity. Tougher still is to live up to the ideals of your dedicated fans. Joe opened the back door of the theatre and let us in, he sneaked us back to the hotel for a beer, he too believed in the righteous power of rock'n'roll. And if he didn't change the world he changed our perception of it. . . . He drew us, thousands strong, onto the streets of London in support of Rock Against Racism. He sent us into the garage to crank up our electric guitars. He made me cut my hair. . . .

Were it not for the Clash, punk would have been just a sneer, a safety pin and a pair of bondage trousers. Instead, the incendiary lyrics of the Clash inspired 1,000 more bands on both sides of the Atlantic to spring up and challenge their elders and the man that we all looked to was Joe Strummer. He was the White Man in Hammersmith Palais who influenced the Two Tone Movement. He kept it real and inspired the Manic Street Preachers. And he never lost our respect. His recent albums with the Mescaleros found him on inspiring form once again, mixing and matching styles and rhythms in celebration of multi-culturalism. At his final gig, in November in London, Mick Jones got up with him and together they played a few old Clash tunes. It was a benefit concert for the firefighters union. One of the hardest things to do in rock'n'roll is walk it like you talk it. Joe Strummer epitomised that ideal and I will miss him greatly."




WHY THE WORLD HATES FRANCE 01/13/2003

Thanks to Hissyfit for putting the record straight and telling it like it is in an article entitled "Slap Them: They're French" (and subtitled "Shut Up, Frogs"): ". . . Even in a world characterized by endless division, we must find common ground, and remember what unites us. We all hate the French. We don't hate French individuals, for the mere crime of being French. That would be wrong. But The French? What have they done for us lately? Or ever? Think about it. From Italy, we enjoy delicious pasta and life-affirming works of art. From England, we inherit great literature and sprightly pop music. Even the tiny nation of Switzerland teems with the watches, chocolate, and clever little folding knives it aches to export to the New World. But I defy you to point to a single positive contribution France has made to our well-being.

Food? Surely you jest. Only the French could take a pure, unadulterated good like cheese and come up with a sodden, runny mess like brie. I suppose the principle behind escargot is that you can eat just about anything once it's been steeped in garlic, but I thought that one of the perks of being at the top of the food chain was that we could leave invertebrates off the menu. . . . Film? Yes, let's absolutely give France props for taking a popular medium and systematically stripping it of any element that might -- even by accident -- entertain the audience. . . . Language? Have you ever noticed that most of the French words and phrases that have entered the English lexicon happen to represent concepts that pretentious people like to talk about? . . . Of course, one should never stereotype a whole nation of unique individuals. On the other hand, the reason clichés take hold and resonate is that they have some basis in fact. How else to explain the reputation the French have for being rude, pompous, snobbish, and smelly? That's right, France: I said smelly! What are you going to do about a direct attack like that? Wait, I think I already know: surrender."




WHY THE FRENCH HATE AMERICA 01/13/2003

Henri Astier in this week's Times Literary Supplement on Gallic anti-Americanism: "America's 'war on terrorism' and threats against Iraq are often said to have alienated its friends abroad, and squandered the initial sympathy triggered by the September 11 attacks. This may be so -- but it is unclear how many friends America had to begin with and how deep the sympathy ever ran. Across four continents, including 'friendly' Europe, millions regarded the attacks as a fantasy come true. Jean Baudrillard exaggerated only a little when he wrote that 'everyone without exception had dreamt' of such a cataclysm -- adding that al-Qaeda 'did it, but we willed it'. Among French intellectuals, in particular, such wishing of death and destruction on the United States is common, and predates its emergence as a superpower. 'Let faraway America and its white buildings come crashing down', Louis Aragon wrote in 1925. . . . Revel finds that the world's view of America is still obscured by ideological blinkers. In L'Obsession antiaméricaine, he relentlessly exposes instances of US-bashing in newspaper articles, radio interviews and political speeches by the great and the good from Cape Town to Copenhagen, and from São Paulo to Seoul. Revel makes three main points: most -- though by no means all -- criticism of US diplomacy or society does not make logical sense; its purpose is to provide psychological comfort; it is self-defeating.

The self-contradictory nature of anti- Americanism is something many of us unthinkingly accept. We are happy to view American society as both utterly materialistic and insufferably religious; it is predominantly racist and absurdly politically correct; Americans are both boring conformists and reckless individualists; US corporations can do whatever they want and are stifled by asinine liability laws, and so on. Revel makes us stop and consider the incoherence of such views. . . . The first sign that the anti-American obsession is at work is the wilful ignorance of available information. America's strengths and weaknesses are analysed in countless books and articles published every year. But these balanced analyses are absent from the accounts of America's social and economic health routinely found in European newspapers. Instead you find blanket condemnation: America is said to be plagued by horrendous inequality and poverty. The fact that US unemployment is chronically low by European standards is ignored, or dismissed by the myth that the extra jobs are menial. But if America is so sick, Revel asks, why are we so worried about its wealth, its technological supremacy and its cultural model? These instances of doublethink, he argues, can only be explained in psychological terms. Anti-American recriminations stroke a society's collective ego by drawing attention away from its own failures. Such weapons of mass distraction are at work, for instance, when a muzzled Arab press spreads the belief that the war on terrorism has placed draconian curbs on the US media. Likewise, Africa's elites like to blame all their continent's ills on the United States, to avoid facing up to their own responsibilities. In 2001, the Organization of African Unity called for a 'Marshall Plan for Africa'. But as Revel observes, Africa has received the equivalent of four Marshall Plans in as many decades.

The purpose of European anti-Americanism is to find a reassuring explanation for the Continent's catastrophic loss of status. Europe virtually tried to commit suicide in the twentieth century, and American preponderance is a direct consequence of its self-inflicted wounds. In the space of thirty years, the Europeans triggered two World Wars from which the Americans had to come and rescue them. But rather than face up to this sorry history, Europeans prefer to pose as victims of America's drive for world domination. American 'unilateralism', Revel explains, 'is the consequence, not the cause, of power failures in the rest of the world'. . . ."




BEST DRINK OF THE DAY 01/13/2003

Along with literature, women, alcohol and football, tea is one of the great joys of life. The Royal Society of Chemistry's quest for the perfect cuppa has led The Guardian to ask its readers to send in their recipes. Here's one of them:
  1. Boil water.
  2. Put some hot water into pot.
  3. 1 tsp per person plus one for the pot.
  4. Pour boiling water SLOWLY over tea leaves.
  5. Leave for 3 minutes then stir.
  6. Pour tea into china cup/mug with milk already in it.
  7. Sugar as much as you like (I like two heaped spoons in a mug and 1 in a cup).
  8. Have bacon, eggs, sausages, back pudding and tomatoes already cooked and waiting with fresh loaf French bread with lots of butter.
  9. Dip bacon into the yolk and add on a piece of black pudding and eat.
  10. Follow up with a chunk of bread and butter (optional to dunk the bread in the yolk).
  11. Sip nice sweet tea -- Brook Bond preferably! Heaven.
  12. Turn to Sports page of newspaper and see that England have stuffed the Aussies at cricket. Double Heaven!
  13. Put Radio 4 on and listen to the Shipping Forecast. Triple Heaven

(Does not happen very often.)

And here's another:

  1. Heat up some water 'till it boils.
  2. Find a clean mug, or one that isn't too dirty or at least one that isn't caked in filth.
  3. Carefully place a teabag in the mug.
  4. Add the water to the teabag in the mug.
  5. Wait for a while. You've managed to remember what's happening this fa. Try not to forget that you're making a cuppa -- this is the crucial stage.
  6. Remove teabag from mug -- congratulations, you've made the perfect cuppa! Add milk and sugar to taste.

Alternatively, turn to George Orwell's "A Nice Cup of Tea", first published in the Evening Standard in 1946. Not only does Orwell explain how to achieve the perfect cuppa in 11 easy steps, but he also settles the milk-first-or-last business once and for all. Only twats pour in the milk first: "Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round." You know it makes sense.




LAST CIGARETTES 01/13/2003

An extract from Alex James's latest blog entry: "Cigarettes are fireworks. They let off a slow explosion in the middle of the brains. It is deadly, we know. But we love to play with the fire. I smoked my last cigarette. It is the final stage of growing up. I liked being a cheeky young fucker but it's not forever. There is other stuff. The whole point of the rock and roll dream is that it can't last forever. You could look at life after 30 as renouncing all the things you loved doing during your 20's one by one. . . . I once spent a whole afternoon writing Joe Strummer a reference so he could join a posh drinking club. The next time I picked up the N.M.E. there he was annihilating Blur with some carefully considered invective. Then the fucker died. We all cried."



SCI-FI LONDON 01/13/2003

One of 3AM's favourite authors, Steve Aylett (who was recently voted Bookmunch's Writer of the Year), will take part in a panel chat ("Can SF Predict the Future?") at the Sci-Fi London Festival at 11.30am on Saturday 1 February (Curzon West End, Shaftesbury Avenue). Aylett's Accomplice series of books now has its own website.



APPLICATION COUNTER 01/12/2003

Matthew Wascovich's new collection of poems, Application Counter (Slow Toe Publications, 2002, 36 pages, stapled, limited first edition of 100 copies, $6) is available from the Soft Skull Press store or email Slow Toe. Here's what Todd Colby, author of Riot in Charm Factory (Soft Skull Press) thinks of Wascovich's latest: "He has given his gift to words and the words are better for it. He uses words as tools invented to tickle the machine that is my brain."



THE MISSING LINKS 01/12/2003

Why is Spitafields Market in East London earmarked for closure? Britain's Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has written an anti-war poem entitled "Causa Belli": "They read good books, and quote, but never learn / a language other than the scream of rocket-burn / Our straighter talk is drowned but ironclad; / elections, money, empire, oil and Dad." Julian Barnes on Kipling's motor tours through France. I was interested to discover that, on one occasion, Kipling described England and France as "Each the other's mystery, terror, need and love". I also loved this bit: "On March 26 1913 his motor-notes show him sheltering from the rain in Bourges Cathedral, 'where met highly intelligent young French priest who knew all about the Jungle Book. Gratifying to notice the spread of civilisation in Gaul.'" Salman Rushdie on The Twin Towers, Gangs of New York and the threat of war. Tom Paulin's poem "On Being Dealt the Anti-Semitic Card" can be read here. (3AM model: Silvia Falanga from Milan.)



THE JOY OF PUSSY 01/12/2003

The Guardian recently published an essay on cloning by Michel Houellebecq: "I don't like myself. I only feel a touch of sympathy, and even less respect, for myself; what's more, I don't interest myself much. As a teenager, then as a young man, I was full of myself; this is no longer the case. The mere prospect of having to recount a personal anecdote plunges me into boredom verging on catalepsy. When I absolutely have to, I just lie. Paradoxically, however, I have never regretted reproducing. You could even say that I love my son and I love him more each time I recognise in him the trace of my own flaws. I see them displayed over time with an implacable determinism, and I rejoice. I rejoice immodestly at seeing there repeated, even made permanent, personal characteristics which have nothing particularly estimable about them; characteristics which are quite often worthy of contempt and have, in reality, the sole merit of being mine. Moreover, they are not even exactly my own; I fully realise some have been lifted straight from the personality of that vile cunt, my father. But, strangely enough, that takes nothing away from the joy I feel. This joy is more than selfishness; it is deeper, more indisputable.

On the other hand, what saddens me about my son is seeing him display (Is it the influence of his mother? The different times we live in? Pure individuality?) features of an autonomous personality, in which I cannot recognise myself and which remains utterly foreign to me. Far from marvelling at this, I realise that I will have left only an incomplete and faded image of myself. Western philosophy hardly favours the expression of these sentiments. Such feelings leave no space for freedom and individuality, they aim for nothing but eternal, idiotic repetition. There is nothing original about them; they are shared by almost all of mankind, and even by the majority of the animal kingdom; they are nothing but the living memory of an overwhelming biological instinct. Western philosophy is a long, patient and cruel training course whose objective is to persuade us that a few wrong ideas are right. The first idea is that we must respect our fellow man because he is different from us; the second is that we have something to gain at the moment of death.

Today, thanks to western technology, this veneer of proprieties is rapidly cracking. Of course I will have myself cloned as soon as I can; of course everyone will get themselves cloned as soon as they can. I will go to the Bahamas, New Zealand or the Canaries; I will pay the asking price (moral and financial demands have always counted for little next to the demand for reproduction). I will probably have two or three clones, as you have two or three children; between their births, I will allow for an adequate gap (not too narrow, not too wide); as an already mature man, I will behave like a responsible father. I will make sure my clones have a good education; then I will die. I will die without pleasure, because I do not wish for death. Through my clones, I will have reached a certain form of survival -- not completely satisfying, but superior to the one which ordinary children would have brought me. For the time being, it is the most that western technology can offer.

As I write, it is impossible for me to foresee if my clones will be born outside a woman's womb. What appeared to the layman as technically straightforward (nutritional exchanges via the placenta are a priori less mysterious than the act of fertilisation) turns out to be more difficult to replicate. In a situation where techniques have sufficiently progressed, my future children, my clones, will spend the beginning of their existence in a jar; and that makes me a little sad. I like women's pussies, I like to be in their wombs, in the elastic suppleness of their vaginas. I understand the safety considerations, the technical requirements; I understand the reasons which will progressively lead to in vitro gestation; I merely allow myself, on this subject, a little hint of nostalgia. Will they, my little dears born so far from it, still have a taste for pussy? For their own sakes, I hope so. There are many sources of joy in this world, but few pleasures -- and few of them are harmless.

If they have to develop in a jar, my clones clearly will be born without a navel. I do not know who was the first to use, in a pejorative sense, the term "navel-gazing literature"; but I know I have always been put off by this cliche. What interest would there be in a literature which pretended to talk about mankind by excluding all personal considerations? Human beings are, comically, much more similar than they let on; it is easier than you think to attain the universal by talking about yourself. And there we find a second paradox: talking about yourself is a tedious, even repellent activity; but to write about yourself is, in literature, the only thing worth doing, to such an extent that we measure - classically and rightly - the value of a book according to the author's capacity for personal involvement in it. You could call this grotesque, even insanely immodest, but that's the way it is. . . ."




BLITZ KIDS 01/12/2003

Tony Fletcher of iJamming! on NY sensations Interpol whose debut Turn On the Bright Lights was arguably one of the best of 2002: ". . . What I'm getting at here is that when people talk of how Interpol sound like every band that emerged from punk's shadows between 1978 and 1983, that's only part of the story; what's equally important is that Interpol wear the enthusiasm of the consummate music fan in their demeanor as well as their music. The suits and the haircuts suggest a certain blitz-kid flash, but I think they're just a decoy, a collective uniform for the individual identities to take refuge behind. Because what you hear with Interpol is also what you see: a young band still very much beholden to its influences, but blessed with a fine coherence, a quiet confidence and a powerful presence. And if you can't figure out how they've gathered these traits together so rapidly, then neither, I wager, can they. . . ." (There's a great gallery of Interpol pix at Melody Nelson.)



THE FUTURE IS FEMALE 01/11/2003

'Are Britain's best young writers now women?' asks Vanessa Thorpe in The Observer: "Two days ago the name of Monica Ali was known, outside her own circle, to only a handful of publishers. Today, the 35-year-old writer can claim to be one of the most significant British novelists of her generation. Quite a transformation for one weekend. Although Ali has yet to have her first work of fiction published, she has, remarkably, been selected to take her place in the list of the 20 best novelists in this country under the age of 40. The prestigious and controversial list, brought out every 10 years by literary publishers Granta, has, at one stroke, established her as one of the key creative figures of her generation. The judges, who over the past four months have considered the work of all Britain's best known young writing talents, have confidently plucked Ali from relative obscurity on the basis of the manuscript of her novel Brick Lane, which is to be published by Doubleday later this year.

The book, which won strong support from all five judges, is a lengthy saga told from the point of view of a young woman brought from Bangladesh to east London to marry. The story has been described as having 'shades of Manil Suri's The Death of Vishnu, possibly Zadie Smith and a dash of Arundhati Roy'. The Oxford-educated author is half-Bangladeshi and half-English. Her book caused a flurry of interest last year from foreign publishers hoping to buy the rights. Not many of those on the long-awaited Granta list were chosen without careful debate, but Ali's debut novel was one of the few that received near blanket approval, along with the work of acclaimed women writers Sarah Waters, 36, author of Tipping the Velvet, Zadie Smith, 27, who wrote White Teeth and novelist A L Kennedy, 37.

. . . So are Britain's best young writers now women?

The two previous Granta lists have been dominated by male writers. In 1983 the names of Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Graham Swift and Ian McEwan were included -- all men who were to become this country's literary heavyweights. In 1993 Will Self, Louis de Bernières, Iain Banks, Hanif Kureishi and Ishiguro (again) were among the anointed. The chairman of judges this year, Granta editor Ian Jack, has admitted that he enjoyed reading many of the women's books more than the men's. Yet there are still more men on his list than women. . . . But if women are the best and most promising fiction writers around at the moment, why aren't there more of them on the list? Especially as Jack says he openly regrets that the names of two other women novelists were not included: Rebecca Smith and Zoë Heller. . . . Fellow judge Nicholas Clee, editor of the Bookseller, has a theory that the work of many women writers is not suited to competitions. Their style, he suggests, is often less deliberately impactful, although the effect can be just as lasting. Among women novelists who did make it through this year are the well-known names of Nicola Barker, 36, Rachel Seiffert, 31, and Rachel Cusk, 35, but there is also a more unexpected listing for Susan Elderkin, 34, whose romantic Sunset Over Chocolate Mountains bowled over reviewers two years ago. . . ."




HARDCORE STODGE 01/11/2003

Sean O'Hagan met up with Pulp's Jarvis Cocker before the singer's move to Paris: "In the BBC canteen, where passing celebrity chefs must recoil before a menu that has stubbornly resisted the onward march of culinary ponciness, Jarvis Cocker is tucking with relish into meat pie and chips with a side order of overcooked cabbage. This is hardcore stodge. 'Proper food,' as Jarvis puts it, only half-jokingly, holding a gravy soaked chip up to the light. It is at moments like this that you begin to fear for his chances of survival when he departs these shores next month to relocate in Paris, home of concepts like 'nouvelle', not to mention 'cuisine'. 'I reckon I'll be all right,' he says, slicing into a soggy cabbage stalk, 'I mean, I'll not be conversing with cabbies for a while, which may be no bad thing, come to think of it, but it's not like I'm going to the other side of the universe. It's only Paris, for God's sake; I think I'll fit in there quite nicely.' You wonder. Sartorially, for instance, Jarvis occupies a place that could never ever be described as coiffured or très chic. Today, beneath his lank fringe and large horn-rims, he is decked out in a surprisingly tasteful brown shirt that, as is the case now among the stylishly alert, could be either thrift shop or catwalk, light blue jeans, slightly flared, and matching blue round-toed shoes. His pièce de résistance, though, is a big fluffy coat that all but envelops his elongated, stick-thin frame, giving him almost cartoonish aspect. He nevertheless manages to look cool, albeit in an emphatically thrown-together English way.

. . . Next week, he begins the flit from Hackney to the 9th arondissement. In pop cultural terms, it feels ominously like the end of something. The band that began life in Sheffield 22 years ago, before New Labour, long before Cool Britannia, when the other lot were still in power and seemingly immovable, may well be no more. Or not. When I ask, no one seems to know. 'I honestly can't say what is going to happen to Pulp,' Jarvis shrugs. 'We're going to have this gap, at least a year, and if Pulp continues to exist after that, I imagine it will be quite different.' He is not, he says, into the notion that just because you are in a band you have to keep putting out records 'in some dutiful way'. He thinks that Pulp will continue after the break if 'we still have something valid to say'. For fans of literate pop songs about modern English manners, about car parks and public parks and discos, about drugs and porn and comedowns, about class and sex, and all the edgy fun that undercuts the average weekend on these islands, Pulp's possible demise is cause for a moment's sad reflection. For 22 years, they have done it their way, struggling as indie darlings for at least half that time, splitting up and reforming along the way, then, finally, gloriously, capturing the tenor of the times in that brief moment of ecstasy-fuelled mid-Nineties' optimism when 'Common People' and 'Sorted for Es and Wiz' sat atop the pop charts. Along the way, Cocker has supplanted Morrissey as the quintessential English lyricist; a kind of Alan Bennett of the Britpop charts, his wry, northern songs managing to be both funny and darkly revealing, often in the same line. With 'Common People', he wrote one of those songs, now part of the collective consciousness, that managed to say something trenchant about the way we live and make us laugh at the same time. 'I'm proud of that,' he says. 'And I'm proud of getting unpalatable stuff in the charts. I'm glad we did our own thing and stayed a bit outside it all. We've not been tailored or studied. We've been haphazard and fucked-up and we've sorted it out... that's human, ain't it?' The past year has been a life-changing one for the 38-year-old singer. In April, he married fashion stylist Camille Bidault-Waddington, 32, in France and, soon after, learnt he was going to be a father for the first time -- the baby is due on 13 April, nine months exactly from the wedding day. The wedding was magical, albeit in a low-key way. I know this because I was there. My friend Susanne is Camille's best friend and was maid of honour, so they invited me along too. It was that kind of do: there were fashion people and pop people and bourgeois French people and all Jarvis's old mates from Sheffield. Loads of them. That, alone, seemed to say much more about him than you could ever learn from the pop press or tabloids. He seems to have pulled off the rare trick of getting what you want without losing what you had. It has not been easy.

. . . In retrospect, Jarvis now thinks his decision to pursue a career in pop might have had something to do with deciding, at a very early age, to have nothing to do with the 'normal' world. 'Not getting married, not having kids, not getting a proper job - that's what being in a group is all about. For me, it was anyway. I thought, I'm not gonna have anything to do with normal life... it only ends up causing shit. I guess the realisation I got to only recently is that, like it or not, I am part of the human race. It took me to get well fucked-up to realise that.' . . ."




SLEEP ON A SUNBEAM 01/11/2003

You can listen to Belle & Sebastian's recent John Peel session here. Kimberly will be pleased!



OFFICIAL 01/11/2003

Several new phrases which make it into the BBC's glossary of 2002 come from David Brent, the boss from hell embodied by Ricky Gervais in BBC2's award-winning cult series The Office. Unfortunately, Ricky Gervais recently revealed that there "probably" wouldn't be a third series. A nation mourns.



MINGING IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER 01/11/2003

Minging features, of course, in the BBC's glossary of 2002, which reminds me of what George Berger said at some point during 3AM's Christmas get-together: "Minging is in the eye of the beholder". It really cracked us up at the time. Then again we were all pissed. (Photo: George Berger and a tiny bit of Andrew Stevens. Bloody good photographer: Andrew Gallix.)



BOLLOTICS 01/11/2003

The BBC's glossary of 2002 is now online. It includes, inter alia, bollotics, generation text, post-ironic, reality fatigue, targetitis and warchalking. One expression that doesn't appear in the BBC's list is 'pram face'. A 'pram face' is defined on Popbitch as "a phrase used to describe a popstar who has a face that looks more suitable on a girl pushing a pram round a council estate. (See Liz Atomic Kitten, Emma Bunton, Keisha Sugababe, the ginger one out of Girls Aloud etc.)" So now you know.



THE ART OF FELLATIO 01/11/2003

Fiachra Gibbons meets up with Adam Thirlwell who has been selected as one of Granta's 20 best young British novelists although his first novel hasn't been published yet: "It is quite a burden waking up one morning at age 24 and being told you are one of the best young novelists in Britain, on the strength of a few thousand words in an obscure literary magazine. But yesterday Adam Thirlwell was holding up well. So far the fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, has had only one piece of fiction in print, an extract from his as yet unpublished novel, Politics, in the Oxford literary magazine Arete, tantalisingly entitled 'The Art of Fellatio'. Nevertheless, the judges collating the Granta list of the best young British novelists, were sufficiently blown away by what was in the dog-eared manuscript for the book to elevate him into the company of AL Kennedy, Zadie Smith, Alan Warner, and Nicola Barker. . . . Ian Jack, the editor of Granta and chairman of the judges, admitted: 'His agent wrote to me saying he was a cross between Milan Kundera and Woody Allen, which made me not want to read him.' . . . Thirlwell acknowledged the Czech master Kundera had been an influence. 'Yes, he is one of my favourite writers. It is a comedy about sex that is not about sex. That's a part of the joke. There is a lot of sex in the book, but it's really about morality.' Thirlwell was not unduly worried by the attention thrust upon him. 'I still can't believe I am being mentioned along with Zadie Smith and Ben Rice. I'm honoured.'

The Scottish novelist and physicist Andrew Crumey was on the list until it was discovered he was a year too old at 41. He warned: 'The book world is being overtaken by the notion that young equals best. Publishers no longer need nurture an author's career over many years; instead they turn a nice profit through filling our bookshops with an endless succession of photogenic 20-something debut novelists all of whom are billed as the Next Big Thing, and can be quietly dropped if they fail to break through.' . . ."




SHOES THAT MAKE YOU WANT TO BLUSH 01/11/2003

Jess Carner-Morley in The Guardian on the "ever-increasing fetishisation of the high heel": ". . . Some would say the magic is all about sex. There is no doubt that wearing high shoes has a shamelessly sexualising effect on the female form. In order to aid balance, the pelvis has to tilt, causing the back to arch and breasts and bottom to jut. The stiletto-wearer is made more aware of her posture, and so of her body; she finds herself throwing her weight on to one foot, exaggerating the shape of her hips. The sexual associations of stilettos are reflected in their design. This is never more true than at the hand of Blahnik himself, who sculpts every curve of the heel and whittles every whip-thin ankle strap until his shoes make you want to blush. . . . There must be more to it than sex, because it is not just high heels that are fetishised - it is expensive high heels. . . . . In her book Shoes: A Lexicon of Style, fashion historian Valerie Steele points out that shiny, unmuddied boots were originally a status symbol associated with knights on horseback. The precise click-clack of new heels is a time-honoured method of ensuring that one's entrance does not go unnoticed; the phrase 'down-at-heel' refers to worn heels that have gone unreplaced.

Pretty though they are, there is a dark side to high heels. The Italian shoemakers who created the stiletto in the early 1950s did so by inserting a metal pin into a high, slim heel to keep it from snapping; they named their invention after a narrow-bladed knife favoured by Renaissance assassins. The undertones of power and danger cut both ways: a woman in high heels is taller, more imposing, and wearing what could potentially be a dangerous weapon; on the other hand, odalisques in the harem of the Turkish sultan were once made to wear high, precarious sandals to prevent them from fleeing. What's more, high heels are not supposed to be very good for you, what with the killjoy mutterings about back pain and the supposed danger of falling down stairs. . . . (Illustration by Sardax.)




FRESH OF FACE & LOUCHE OF MANNER 01/10/2003

London's finest The Libertines are interviewed by Dorian Lynskey in today's Guardian: ". . . When you talk to the Libertines' frontmen . . . it does not take long to realise that you are in the presence of peculiar talents. Last summer, before they had even released their first single on Rough Trade, 'What a Waster', the NME was calling them the 'best British band of the year'. And when compared with other much-hyped British newcomers such as the Coral and the Streets, the Libertines have by far the most far-reaching and fantastical aesthetic. Up the Bracket bears traces of the Jam, the Smiths and Blur circa Modern Life Is Rubbish, but also has a rich palette of non-musical influences. Like the Smiths or the young Manic Street Preachers, the Libertines come armed with several bedroom-walls' worth of heroes and icons, a cultural collage that reaffirms the idea that sometimes in rock there is nothing sexier than a voracious intelligence. They enthuse about a mythic Englishness they refer to as Albion (they keep a collection of journals called The Books of Albion) and Arcadia. In the past they have expressed affection for Oscar Wilde, Disraeli, and Galton and Simpson. You might also add Joe Orton, Lindsay Anderson's film If... and Pinkie from Brighton Rock.

Fresh of face and louche of manner, they are equal parts Dickensian urchins and Wildean dandies. Doherty sits wrapped in a rug-sized shawl smoking through a cigarette holder, while Barat, in a dapper greatcoat, lights his smokes with a union flag lighter. In photo shoots, they favour antique Crimean war regalia. . . . To an outsider, the Libertines' history is a tangle of contradictory tales and details. Doherty and Barat complain about journalistic inaccuracies, but to be fair, even they disagree on several incidents and they are not averse to taking dramatic licence. The overall impression, though, would make a cult novel: a picaresque trip through a neo-Dickensian netherworld of rogues and romance. . . . Until Rough Trade lifted them off the breadline, the Libertines lived and played wherever they could: a condemned pub, an anarchist squat, a disused factory run by a character called Delvin the Wizard and, most memorably, a brothel on Holloway Road, north London. . . . Up the Bracket, recorded at speed with the Clash's Mick Jones in the producer's chair, is a dazzling piece of work. Played with such anarchic gusto that it sounds like it might fall apart at any minute, it suffuses bullish swagger and needle-sharp wit with humane romanticism: the contradictory sound, to quote Doherty's hero Morrissey, of sweet and tender hooligans. . . . Best of all, new single 'Time for Heroes' has the priceless line: 'There's few more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap.' . . . Given their ideal of Albion, I ask what disheartens them about the reality of English life. 'Everything,' says Barat. 'That's why I choose not to live in it.'

Doherty is more optimistic. 'Just when you get really wound up, you turn a corner and you're somewhere else completely. You find an Arcadian glade -- a glimpse of paradise in the middle of it all. And that's why you persevere.' . . ."




BEST OF YOUNG BRITISH NOVELISTS 2003 01/10/2003

As in 1983 (Martin Amis, William Boyd, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Shiva Naipaul, Graham Swift et al) and 1993, Granta is publishing an issue devoted to the Best of Young British Novelists 2003. This decade's list is made up of: Monica Ali, Nicola Barker, Rachel Cusk, Peter Ho Davies, Susan Elderkin, Philip Hensher, A. L. Kennedy, Hari Kunzru, Toby Litt, David Mitchell, Andrew O'Hagan, David Peace, Dan Rhodes, Ben Rice, Rachel Seiffert, Zadie Smith, Adam Thirlwell, Alan Warner, Sarah Waters, and Robert McLiam Wilson.



WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE PUNK WARS, DAD? 01/07/2003

Christmas this year was marred by news of Joe Strummer's death. Sean O'Hagan argues in The Guardian that "Even when the venue was wrong, or the sound was shit, or the bouncers were in full-on psycho mode, what you got from a Clash gig was pure passion. They hit the stage running and did not let up until the last encore, Strummer up front, flailing at his guitar, or wrapped around a mike stand, howling out his words like some unholy cross between Eddie Cochrane, Lenny Bruce and someone in the throes of an epileptic fit. You left feeling wrung out and exhilarated, feeling like you had felt the full force of some primal rock'n'roll energy that had its source way back in Memphis or Chicago rather than west London. This, though, was the fabled Sound of the Westway, in all its guttural, frenetic, inchoate glory. It was a kind of white boy blues, a kind of protest; the sound of primal rage and racial tension, of inner-city boredom and sheer frustration, all channelled into this pent-up noise that at times threatened to consume the singer. The titles alone gave ample warning that this was not a music for the faint-hearted or the purist: 'White Riot', 'Garageland', 'I'm So Bored With the USA'. For an all too brief time, the Clash were the greatest rock group on the planet. Period. Anyone who tells you different is lying, or a pop-swot who sat out punk on the sidelines, taking notes and formulating theories, while everyone else surrendered to the noise and the chaos. . . . If you want to hear British punk at its most pared down and powerful, though, the Clash's eponymous debut album still sounds more singular and ground-breaking than Never Mind the Bollocks, not least because it avoids the heavy metal guitar roar that, alongside Rotten's enervated sneer, was so much a part of the Pistols' signature. I can still remember the first time I heard 'Janie Jones' exploding out of my speakers at breakneck speed, a thrill so new I was not even sure I understood it, much less liked it.

The Clash were also the coolest band on the planet. At times, they looked impossibly cool, a hybrid of every rock'n'roll style motif, with nods to the Beats, the Dreads and the Chicanos for good measure. If you came of age in the Seventies, long after rock's first golden age had passed, and the twin evils of English prog-rock and West Coast country rock ruled supreme, the Clash looked and sounded like you always imagined all the truly great rock'n'roll groups looked and sounded: lean, lithe, loud, primal, and fucked-up. The Clash was the first group that made me feel that I had not been born too late: too late for the Stones, for the Velvets, for the Stooges and the MC5, for the Doors and Hendrix and Dylan. But not, praise be to punk, too late for the Clash. Perhaps, for all of the above reasons, the group carried a weight of expectation that would have toppled a lesser band. Fans hung on every word of Strummer's like it was gospel. I remember the first big NME interview, conducted by Tony Parsons on the Circle Line, then issued as a flexidisc with the song, 'Capital Radio', thrown in for good measure. Instant collector's item. I remember Strummer on the front of NME, photographed at the typewriter like Kerouac, penning a feature on a single roll of paper: The Thoughts of Chairman Joe. I remember Strummer, again on the cover of NME, clad in pajamas and lying prone on a hospital bed from a bout of hepatitis caused by a gobbing fan. ('What did you do in the punk wars, daddy?') I remember the group turning up to chat to fans outside the shortlived Roxy in Harlesden after the cancellation of a sold-out show, Strummer in bondage strides, Simonon and Jones in leather biker jackets, Topper, God bless him, wearing a trilby. We were meant to be all in this punk thing together, but when Strummer spoke, it still felt like Moses had descended from on high.

I finally met Joe Strummer properly when I interviewed him for NME on the release of a retrospective album, The Story of the Clash, in 1988. He was mellow and accommodating, nursing a pint of Guinness in the Portobello Star in the company of Penny Smith, the photographer who immortalised the group in their heyday. I asked him if, as a solo artist and actor of some repute, he minded talking about the Clash? 'Not at all,' he quipped, 'I was in 'em. It don't get much better than that.' . . . Rave on, Joe Strummer, wherever you are."








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