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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

WHOOPING COUGH ON TWO IMPOSSIBLY LONG LEGS 05/21/2003

A documentary entitled The Importance of Being Morrissey will be broadcast in June on Channel 4 (in the UK). Morrissey is also releasing a 15-track anthology of songs which influenced him on 26 May thus inaugurating the Under the Influence series. Here are a few extracts from the sleevenotes (link via Moz maven HP Tinker): "In early 1970s Manchester the grinding horrors of daily life are softened by song. . . . How empty life would have been without The New York Dolls. . . . The New York Dolls were the world's most perfect pop group, but they were far too free, far too happy, far too un-hung up, and thus their end was foredoomed. . . . In the real world of pop songs, genius drags the always reluctant world along. Awful to listen to on first play, the first Ramones album stays beside me almost thirty years on. A cruel £5.29 on import in 1976, this is an album of criminal ballads, and "Judy is a Punk" still sends a shock through the blood, complete with red-herring lyrical lift from "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am" ("second verse/it's the same as the first"). At Manchester's Electric Circus to promote their debut album, the Ramones move across the stage like human remains floating ashore. Smallpox brought them together. Joey is whooping cough on two impossibly long legs. . . ."



MOTHER & WHORE REVISITED 05/20/2003

3am contributor Laurence Rémila is involved in a reenactment of Jean Eustache's La Maman et la putain, to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary. The event will take place on 23 May in assorted cafés and private flats located (mainly) near the Canal Saint Martin. For more info contact Rémila. Meeting point: the Valmy (café), 145 Quai de Valmy at 4pm.



THE MISSING LINKS 05/20/2003

A celebration of Foyles, the people's bookshop. The truth about Jessica Lynch. Teenages tribes - a puzzled parent's guide!. Teen lingo. Sid Vicious toy. An interview with Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger. The scud stud, Rageh Omaar. Sam Lipsyte is in the latest issue of the Vestal Review. New Scientist analyses Eastenders' enduring popularity and puts it down to the soap's primal quality. A 1996 article on lost punk classics in Tangents. Kevin Pearce writes about bands like The Wasps who played "like their lives depended on it". Geoff Dyer reviews a new biography of Nietzsche. A good article on Shane MacGowan of Pogues fame in Fluctuat.net. Dante's Inferno Test. The Swells Premiership Awards (link via Steven Rogers). Tom Paulin on William Hazlitt.



RE-SEXING THE CHERRY 05/20/2003

3am's Californicator, Kimberly Nichols, has published an article entitled "Re-Sexing the Cherry" in the new issue of the truly excellent Clamor Magazine.



DON'T LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER 05/18/2003

Don't know if you've ever checked out the extraordinary early pictures of the Sex Pistols on the official website, but you really should. I love this one of Sid Vicious and Vivienne Westwood at the 1976 Notre Dame Hall gig. There's a great interview with Ian Dickson, the photographer, whose other classic Pistols shots are here.



THE MISSING LINKS 05/18/2003

I just want bang bang bang! Angelina Jolie's sub-navel tattoo ("That which nourishes me destroys me") comes from Christopher Marlowe. The Auckland Writers & Readers Festival ends today. Orwell's journalism. A survey carried out by Orange in Britain to find the 50 best books in women's literature. On a similar note, the BBC's Big Read Top 100. Audrey Levy of Melody Nelson interviews The Stills in Earlash. The Kills are interviewed in Papermag. New live pictures of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at New York Doll. An article in Mute about the Stop Shopping Roadshow. There's a big buzz around Kanine Records' NY: The Next Wave compilation. Andy Warhol's screen tests (see picture) at MoMa. 3AM's Utahna Faith is launching her own literary journal called Wild Strawberries. The first issue includes Andrei Codrescu as well as 3AM's Andrew Gallix and HP Tinker who recently interviewed Simon Goddard who writes about The Smiths' twentieth anniversary in the Sunday Herald. More and more Dave Eggers everywhere. Britney in sexy Barbarella mode advertising iced tea in Japan. Hit replay, boy!



FREE AM 05/11/2003

3am gets a mention in Ben Hammersley's article on the thriving online literary scene published in The Guardian: "Writing is dead, they say. The internet killed it: kids r writing SA n txt, grown-ups rely on spell checkers and stylish grammar is punished by green squiggly lines. In fact, listen to the critics and you would be forgiven for thinking the internet is not so much a cultural wasteland, but a vacuum -- sucking the very essence of civility and art out of its users. Perhaps once. But now, with the internet firmly placed in the majority of homes in the English-speaking world, the web is seeing a burst of old-fashioned literary endeavour. Writing, it seems, is very much alive and well on the web. The combination of massive potential readership, almost free publication, and the ease with which words can be put online, means that literary magazines, notoriously profit-free in printed form, are blooming across the web.

Sites such as The Simon, The Morning News and Über offer daily essays. Opium Magazine has daily 'humour for the deliriously captivated' and publishes reviews and feature articles. Sweet Fancy Moses is 'where wit lives'. Haypenny does 'concept fiction for concept people', and The Black Table prints what it likes. 3am Magazine has fiction, interviews, poetry and politics. McSweeney's has both great writing and the benefit of being the online presence of the publishing empire of Dave Eggers. There are literary journals covering every genre, every style, every country and certainly every city big enough to have a scene. . . . Readers are getting a good deal. But why is this? Cost, mostly. Until now, a free press has been anything but: paper, printing, binding and distribution all cost money that niche publications would never be able to find or recoup. But with the internet, one can be read almost anywhere on the planet, contributed to by strangers and influenced by writers who, only a few years ago, you would have never had the chance to hear of. . . . For lovers of good reading, there has never been a better time."




THE MISSING LINKS 05/11/2003

Assorted English personalities choose the books they hate. Peter Tatchell chooses The Bible, Roger Scruton goes for Transpotting ("It's nihilistic, destructive of all human decencies, and very badly written"!) while Philip Hensher bashes The Tempest ("can't bear it: it's incredibly boring and stupid. There are patches of great poetry, but nothing happens"). John Harris looks back on the Britpop years in The Independent. Blur live at London's Astoria yesterday. Germans remember Nazi book-burnings. Julie Birchill on the spirit of pop.



FLASH REVIEW 05/11/2003

"Treading the path already beaten by Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, historian Clive Bloom has produced a mighty account of 2000 years of riots, rebels and revolts in England's capital. Violent London has it all, from the time of Boudicca through the political intrigue of Soho coffee houses to the Angry Brigade, Grunwick strikes and the May Day marches. Despite being the capital of what is often referred to as a conservative and reserved society, London has characteristically served as a bastion of protest and subsversion, with the Chartists and the anti-fascists of Cable Street being there to tell the tale. Bloom has given 2000 years of often silent history a voice" - review by 3AM's Andrew Stevens.



THE MISSING LINKS 05/09/2003

The BBC reports on a bunch of monkeys' failure to write great literature. Heidi Julavits tells the New York Observer all about The Believer which she co-edits. Manchester City play their last game at Maine Road on Sunday. A Bonnie Prince Billy animation for Sean Dingle. The 10 most popular misconceptions about Oscar Wilde. Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger is back and he's glad to be rid of Saddam. English schoolgirls and Russian pop stars. Philippe Legrain argues in the Chronicle Review that cultural globalization isn't synonymous with Americanization.



LONG LIVE THE OTHER AMERICA 05/09/2003

English novelist Margaret Drabble in The Daily Telegraph on why she loathes America: "I knew that the wave of anti-Americanism that would swell up after the Iraq war would make me feel ill. And it has. It has made me much, much more ill than I had expected. My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world. I can hardly bear to see the faces of Bush and Rumsfeld, or to watch their posturing body language, or to hear their self-satisfied and incoherent platitudes. The liberal press here has done its best to make them appear ridiculous, but these two men are not funny. I was tipped into uncontainable rage by a report on Channel 4 News about 'friendly fire', which included footage of what must have been one of the most horrific bombardments ever filmed. But what struck home hardest was the subsequent image, of a row of American warplanes, with grinning cartoon faces painted on their noses. Cartoon faces, with big sharp teeth. It is grotesque. It is hideous. This great and powerful nation bombs foreign cities and the people in those cities from Disneyland cartoon planes out of comic strips. This is simply not possible. And yet, there they were. We are accustomed to . . . phrases such as 'collateral damage' and 'friendly fire' and 'pre-emptive strikes'. We have almost ceased to notice when suicide bombers are described as 'cowards'. The abuse of language is part of warfare. Long ago, Voltaire told us that we invent words to conceal truths. More recently, Orwell pointed out to us the dangers of Newspeak. But there was something about those playfully grinning warplane faces that went beyond deception and distortion into the land of madness. A nation that can allow those faces to be painted as an image on its national aeroplanes has regressed into unimaginable irresponsibility. A nation that can paint those faces on death machines must be insane.

There, I have said it. I have tried to control my anti-Americanism, remembering the many Americans that I know and respect, but I can't keep it down any longer. I detest Disneyfication, I detest Coca-Cola, I detest burgers, I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history. I detest American imperialism, American infantilism, and American triumphalism about victories it didn't even win. . . . America uses the word "democracy" as its battle cry, and its nervous soldiers gun down Iraqi civilians when they try to hold street demonstrations to protest against the invasion of their country. So much for democracy. (At least the British Army is better trained.) America is one of the few countries in the world that executes minors. Well, it doesn't really execute them -- it just keeps them in jail for years and years until they are old enough to execute, and then it executes them. It administers drugs to mentally disturbed prisoners on Death Row until they are back in their right mind, and then it executes them, too. They call this justice and the rule of law. America is holding more than 600 people in detention in Guantánamo Bay, indefinitely, and it may well hold them there for ever. Guantánamo Bay has become the Bastille of America. They call this serving the cause of democracy and freedom. . . . A great democratic nation cannot behave in this manner. But it does. I keep remembering those words from Nineteen Eighty-Four, on the dynamics of history at the end of history, when O'Brien tells Winston: 'Always there will be the intoxication of power… Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever.' . . . I hate feeling this hatred. I have to keep reminding myself that if Bush hadn't been (so narrowly) elected, we wouldn't be here, and none of this would have happened. There is another America. Long live the other America, and may this one pass away soon."




LIVE FAST DIE HAPPY 05/07/2003

William Leith interviews literary revolutionary Matthew Branton in the Independent: "Matthew Branton is a 34-year-old novelist from Sevenoaks who lives in Hawaii and likes to do dangerous things. For instance, he belts down mountain roads, naked, riding on a skateboard, as often as he can. 'Do not attempt this if dying from your injuries would be a problem,' he explains on his website, . . . He also says, 'Wearing safety gear clouds your ability to react purely without consciousness... if you're not entirely 'in the zone' every millisecond you're doing this, you die horribly. If you're not prepared to die horribly at any second, you shouldn't be doing this.' . . . This is a man who likes to live life without protection -- he is a bareback type of guy. Recently, he's decided to extend this bareback attitude to his writing career. Having written his fifth novel, The Tie and The Crest, Branton has decided to dispense with his publishers, Bloomsbury, and release the book to his readers, for free, on the internet, with the help of The Independent on Sunday. The book, whose title is taken from a line in the Jam song, 'Eton Rifles', is the gripping tale of a fictional 13-year-old schoolgirl who is, like all Branton's characters, shafted by the establishment. 'I wanted to create a character whose family life is ruined by money.' Of his strange, possibly crazy decision not to publish the book, he says, 'I'm just saying: 'that's enough,' you know.' He is talking to me on the telephone from his beach house in Hawaii. 'I will not go on working in this industry. I will live off fish that I can catch and veg that I am growing until my demands are met.'

. . . If you look at Branton's novels, it's not such a surprise to find that they have been written by a man who likes to take his clothes off and court death, or, at the very least, professional suicide. Most of his characters are like this. They are self-defined pariahs. They are mad depressives. These are people locked in a grim battle with the forces of conservatism and normality; people in Branton's books hate and fear the suburban life as if it were a totalitarian regime. . . . Branton hates the regular world we live in: the world of shopping malls, suits, cars, and white-collar jobs. He hates what he calls 'the mainstreaming of alternatives'. He wrote The Hired Gun, a novel about a workaholic hitman, as a sort of protest at the Western work ethic. 'I was in London,' he tells me, 'and we were in the middle of what I think was the sharpest boom we've had so far in this boom-and-bust cycle.' This was the late 1990s. 'Everyone in the world was just knocking their brains out at work. And when you're not at work you have to go to the party afterwards, because if you start not going to them, you won't be at work much longer. Work was demanding our whole lives of us. There was no time off. And The Hired Gun was saying: don't give everything to work. It's just not worth it.' . . . He's furious. This is where his 'demands' come in. He has terminated his relationship with his publisher, he says, because he wants to make a difference. He wants to add one more small voice to the growing anti-capitalist movement. No doubt he wants to attract attention to himself, too; he values readers, of course, more than money. But he begins his explanation, which quickly becomes a rant, with a broadside at culture in general. 'The dumbing-down that has been an undeniable process in our culture over the last 10 years is now having real-world effects. I believe that it's directly and at least partly responsible for our participation in this filthy enterprise in the Middle East.' Branton's logic, which I can sometimes follow, is that our relationship with popular culture has changed disastrously over the last 10 years. The fact that discerning people are now able to consume middlebrow books and TV shows 'ironically' really means that they have become more middlebrow, rather than more ironic. And, it turns out, this new middlebrow population is easy to push around. 'Why was Blair so instantly able to dismiss the will of the people after the peace march on 15 February?' asks Branton dismissively.

. . . Branton's rant continues. He is venomous. 'It's because of this dumbing down, and our collusion in it, our acceptance of it, thinking that watching soaps every day is somehow authentic, thinking that buying chick-lit and lad-lit and Harry bloody Potter is okay because it's a meaningless holiday read, whatever. These things aren't okay. We're not Cool Britannia. We're a global laughing stock, with our Spice Girls and our Cockney gangster movies, and our artists who shit the bed and get paid for it, and our boarding-school wizards. And nothing else!'

There is more. A lot more. 'Our culture is important, right?' he spits. 'It shapes who we are. Young people are made to feel that living some kind of cross between Sex and the City and Cold Feet, with a swindling bloody mortgage and a swindling pension, and a house stuffed full of cheap tasteful shit, manufactured for sub-breadline wages in China, is the best you can hope for in this life.' Branton pauses. 'If I'm the only voice saying, no, no, it really bloody isn't the best you can hope for, if you will only stop swallowing the crap that's fed you, then fine, at least I'm saying it.' . . . Arriving at a crescendo, he declaims: 'Decent people throughout the world are being stamped down, shouted down, gunned down, bombed down... while our leaders bark the orders at the behest of big business.' . . . Branton, I think, was sick of not being taken seriously. Now that he's taking a big risk, now that he's entering the literary world without the prophylactic of his publisher, it feels good. He's unprotected. He's looking forward to a wild ride. 'If anyone is interested,' he says, 'then here is one small good thing. And what we need now from people is lots of small good things, because the big things are in a terrible bloody mess.' He pauses, possibly to take a pull on his spliff. 'Yes,' he declares. 'I probably won't make any difference on my own.'"




BURNING WITH A GEM-LIKE FLAME 05/07/2003

What promises to be a cutting-edge publisher with a social conscience is about to be launched in Britain. Flame Books intends to "work with authors rather than against them." They claim that they will "offer high royalties to support future work and fair contract terms to authors, in line with recommendations made by various writing organisations" -- Flame Books will only be sold online thus cutting out the middlemen. Every book sold will result in a donation being made to "a local creative project or literary prize". Their website will also provide a platform for the numerous British "small-run independent magazines". Definitely one to follow.



WRITERS SHOULDN'T BE FUCKING CURATORS 05/07/2003

Selected extracts from Irvine Welsh's latest interview: ". . . I write my (Daily Telegraph) column in standard English. For journalism it's a great language: exact, precise, a little anal, a little dull but great for conveying information and instruction in service of the empire! For novels, for looking at social groups and cultures, it has more limited application; it's just not funky enough. People don't use it in movies, television or in real life. Why do they persist with it in books? Writing should reflect the myriad of different contemporary cultures. Language is living and evolving. Writers shouldn't be fucking curators. . . . Since I've encountered the US media I've become more of a fan of the net. The irony is that by being so over the top and monolithic, the US broadcast media are turning people on to alternative websites for sources of news and information. I teach a couple of classes in a liberal arts college and I'm surprised at the number of people there -- not extremists by any stretch of the imagination - who simply no longer trust the media to provide accurate, unbiased news. . . . I'm a failed musician rather than a successful writer. Music helps me immeasurably in the writing process. I make out a play list for every character and buy the records they would listen to; it helps me find their personas. What they play, where they stay, who they lay, is my matrix for character development. . . . I have a lot of successful musician pals and as I get older I find that I'm lucky to be a writer. I have great anonymity compared to musicians who sell the same number of records as I do books. Also, as music seems more tied to age, youth culture and commerce than books, readers tend to be more loyal to a writer than listeners are to a band. I know a lot of bands and artists who have tasted some success, but are now 'winding down'. I feel that I'm just getting started -- that I won't be a proper writer until I've done about 10 books. I've just been serving my apprenticeship, and I can't wait to properly get going."



SUSPENDED ADOLESCENCE 05/06/2003

Oliver Robinson reviews Matt Thorne's new novel, Child Star, in the Observer: "Talk of restraint besieges the pages of Matt Thorne's fifth novel, a familiar story of arrested development. Witnessing a surreptitious backrow hand job in a New York cinema, his narrator fantasises about an end to his emotional imprisonment. Since adolescence and a six-week spell on reality TV, Gerald Wedmore hasn't moved on. The past isn't without its trophies. Ellen, Perdita, Sally, Sophie have all been seduced by his diffident charm. In his twenties, however, Gerald is choked and emotionally comatose, living in the Oval -- 'the best area of London for voyeurism' -- and in a bubble after modest exposure on the television docu-soap. Now sidling into adulthood, his reality is in shards. . . . Child Star is about non-celebrity, coping with normality. Fear of obscurity is behind its story of suspended adolescence. On the docusoap, a lizard-like dramaturg taught Gerald to think of life as narrative. It could be shaped by the will. Ironically, it's those fantasies of fame and self-realisation which have stalled his advance. He clings to them like a lost love. . . . In its privileging of propriety over perversion, Thorne's realism is the literary equivalent of the missionary position. Recumbent, conventional. He loves the limitations of the genre: the neat causal chains -- a door opens, it closes; a phone rings, it's answered -- and its easily won resolutions. Sure, in isolated passages, traces of masculinity still swagger. Thorne recognises the libidinal link with fame, that male celebrities of the modern age are not unlike the libertines of another."



THE MISSING LINKS 05/06/2003

The author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera, has finally accepted to publish his latest novel in France after becoming a bestseller in 26 other countries. There's some great live pictures of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Melodynelson. The French gothic revival. Kenji Siratori has his own website. spam is 25 years old. Ladies: wanna increase your libido? Dracula was well gay. New documentary about Thomas Pynchon. A doctored picture of a jubilant Baghdad crowd? Two old links on experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage who died in March. The incredible phonebox cam! KA Dilday in Open Democracy on the dearth of translated books in the US and the narrowing of the American mind. In England, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is launching a campaign called Expand Your Mind this week to encourage Brits to discover foreign books. JP Dancing Bear of Disquieting Muses has a poem published in Verse Daily.



THE MOZER OF ALL BIRTHDAYS 05/06/2003

If you're in Manchester on 23 May, celebrate Morrisey's birthday at the Star & Garter.



3AM TOP 5 05/04/2003

The author of Timoleon Vieta Comes Home, Dan Rhodes is currently listening to:
  1. "My Life Is Starting Over" -- Daniel Johnston: "I'm trying to make this song my anthem. It was the first Daniel Johnston song I ever heard, on the Andy Kershaw show, and it blew me away. He's one of the most brilliant, honest and heartbreaking songwriters around, and a big influence on my writing."
  2. "I Know It's Over" -- The Smiths: "The best song by the best band ever. I'm going through a major Smiths rediscovery phase after reading Simon Goddard's excellent book Songs That Saved Your Life. Tragically, after nineteen years of being a Smiths fan, their songs are still the soundtrack to my life -- I can't work out if they saved it or ruined it."
  3. "Wonder People" - Love: "This is the great lost track from the sessions for their Forever Changes album (which has been my favourite record since I was 15 -- an obvious choice, but every note is perfect, even the bum ones). It's great that Arthur Lee's out of jail and back on the road again. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he was happily hurling his tambourine at people's faces, just like in the old days. I have a talent for choosing inappropriate role models."
  4. "Sweet Blindness" -- Laura Nyro: "This is the best hymn to booze I've heard. It was written and sung by an impossibly grown up nineteen-year-old in 1967. Her Eli and the Thirteenth Confession album is a masterpiece."
  5. "Don't Take It Too Bad" -- Townes Van Zandt: "I couldn't listen to this song for a very long time because it reminded me of someone. I love Townes. I saw him at the Borderline in 1995. He staggered on stage, clearly hammered, stared out at the audience and said 'I don't know where the hell I am -- but it's great to be here.' A year later, after lots of trying, he finally managed to drink himself to death."



TOO GOOD A COMPOUND TO BE WASTED 05/04/2003

Stephanie Merritt reviews Dan Rhodes's Timoleon Vieta Comes Home: A Sentimental Journey in today's Observer: "Timoleon-Vieta was, apparently, the subject division on the spine of the T-V volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica set that Dan Rhodes owned as a boy. Too good a compound to be wasted, it became the name of the lost dog in his first full-length novel. . . . Simply put, this short novel is a delight, a masterpiece of beautifully unforced comedy. That the story has such potential to fall into grotesque caricature and never does is testament to the sureness of Rhodes's understated tone and deft turns of phrase; sharp, contemporary observations sit comfortably alongside a sense of fairy-tale. . . . Timoleon Vieta's odyssey to return to his master sees him pass through the small dramas played out by ordinary people; vignettes of love, death and mundane tragedy with archetypal resonances. There are some lovely comic observations here worthy of Jerome K Jerome: all Cockroft's expat neighbours are writing books about moving to Umbria and keep asking him to read their manuscripts: 'Books with titles like Olive Oil and Sunset: An Umbrian Odyssey, or Uffizi Lover: A Year of Bruschetta and Botticelli, or Cracked Walls and Chianti: Five Seasons on a Tuscan Hillside. Each time he went back he expected the bubble to have burst, but they kept on appearing on the shelves.' Cockroft is a tragicomic figure portrayed with such tenderness that the reader can't help but develop an affection for him that embraces his camp absurdities and the deep sadness of frustration and unfulfilment that dogs him (he was hounded from the London arts scene after making unintentionally racist comments on a talk show in the Seventies). He is fussy and ridiculous but essentially a sweet-natured man whose constantly thwarted ambition is to be loved and understood. Each of the little stories that illustrates Timoleon Vieta's journey homewards is similarly lit with a redeeming optimism in humanity in the face of life's cruelties, and the dog always appears, fleetingly, at the story's climacteric as a symbol of hope. Rhodes has a wonderful lightness of touch with his characters, but his fairy tales don't come with easy, happy endings. He manages pain and possibility without schmaltz. Timoleon Vieta is a novel that, in spite, or perhaps, because of its sadnesses, leaves you smiling."



TRYING AND FAILING TO KISS PEOPLE 05/04/2003

The extraordinary Dan Rhodes is interviewed by Lloyd Evans in the Daily Telegraph: "Dan Rhodes is no fan of convention. Just as his name appeared on Granta's list of the 20 best young novelists in Britain, he announced his retirement from writing. This coincided with the publication of his first novel, Timoleon Vieta Come Home. His decision seems perfectly sincere, even though he hasn't yet shrugged off his writerly habits. . . . I arrive on a day of glorious spring sunshine to find the blinds drawn against the dazzling skies and Rhodes hunched at a shadowy table listening to Mexican jazz and sipping Stella from the neck. With his dark brows and clear grey eyes, he seems the very image of the poetic hermit -- rootless, solitary and slightly tipsy in mid-afternoon. I think of F Scott Fitzgerald or the young Graham Greene. 'I wouldn't want to write anything lukewarm,' he says of his refusal to clatter out another book. 'I don't want to write just because I'm defined as an author.' His route from obscurity to literary acclaim is equally unorthodox. 'So many writers have been to Oxford and Cambridge,' he says, 'and I'm always suspicious of that. It means they spent the years from 16 to 18 diligently studying when they should have been out failing their driving tests, or trying -- and failing -- to kiss people and generally being teenage disgraces.' That parenthesis is revealing. 'Trying -- and failing -- to kiss people.' After leaving school, Rhodes enrolled on a humanities course at the University of Glamorgan. He took the creative writing module and began experimenting with comic stories. It was only when he openly embraced the subject of sex that he discovered his authorial voice. 'Before that I was writing about girls, but in a very, very veiled way,' he says. 'I'd hide all the emotional stuff behind gags and cartoonish characters. Then I started to be emotionally honest, rather than using stupidity and wordplay as a mask.' . . . After graduating, he took a succession of casual jobs and ended up as a warehouseman at Waterstone's in Tunbridge Wells, where his parents own a pub. He wrote Anthropology while toiling in a fruit and veg farm. 'I'd think things out in the fields, and come back with a story done and dusted in my head.' . . . What of the Granta list? 'I've been officially declared A Novelist by The Government,' he says facetiously. 'I feel as if I should be under a lot of pressure to go about my business now as a proper novelist should -- but I'm really just ignoring it and enjoying the fun stuff.' Is he burdened by the weight of expectation? 'Anyone who lets it go to their head is a bit stupid,' he says, 'although I confess to being slightly that way too. I think that now I'm on the Granta list I ought to have a pied-à-terre in Bloomsbury. And if the book's a hit, tragically, I probably will.' . . . His prose is cool and beautifully poised, and yet his stories are sprinkled with tragic reversals which occasionally seem to border on sadism. Like Evelyn Waugh, he seems to use fiction to purge himself of emotional pain. And given that he writes with such grace, I find it hard to believe he has renounced fiction forever. Isn't a new idea germinating somewhere, I ask. 'I honestly don't know. I'm bereft of any imagination at the moment and I'm really enjoying it.' When I ask about his state of mind when he was starting out, he suddenly piles on the adverbs. 'I was completely, utterly, psychotically committed to it. I wrote these books obsessively, and even when I was in the pub with my friends I wasn't 100 per cent there.' He seems relieved to have taken the pressure off himself. 'I'm now trying to relearn the basic social skills and I'm having fun doing it. A lot of authors churn out books when they should be having a year or two off.' 'Name them,' I say. He chuckles. 'I do try to behave myself in interviews.' He thinks for a moment. 'Salman Rushdie.'

When I probe him on his retirement, he confesses: 'I'd be frightened of writing another book because it would probably mean my life was deeply unsatisfactory. I'm content now. And contentment isn't a good breeding ground for interesting writing.' I suspect that by "contentment" Rhodes is speaking of a personal romance, but a certain steeliness in his manner dissuades me from pressing the question. This leaves his fans in something of a quandary. If Rhodes is to produce another novel, they will have to wish him further emotional turmoil and pray he relinquishes his state of barren bliss."




GET IT REGULAR! 05/04/2003

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LIFE: LESSON 3 - UN-ACHIEVABLENESS 05/04/2003

"It now strikes me as interesting that I chose this opening, with the man hoping to see up a girl's skirt, and being frustrated by passing traffic. . . . This had been one of the central obsessions of my teens: the fact that a glimpse up a woman's skirt can make her seem infinitely desirable, worth pursuing to the ends of the earth; yet the act of sex cannot provide full satisfaction of this desire. . . . I was not concerned with the intensity of male sexual desire - although I felt that it is far more powerful than most men are willing to admit. It was this element of 'un-achievableness'. . . . Barbusse's hero watches a girl undressing in the next room; but when he tries to re-create the scene in imagination, it is only a poor carbon copy. 'These words are all dead. They leave untouched . . . the intensity of what was.' . . . In Ritual in the Dark, this inability to grasp the essence of sexuality becomes the symbol of our inability to grasp the essence of anything important - of Autumn, of water . . . This, it seemed to me, is the basic difference between human beings. Some are perfectly satisfied with what they have; they eat, drink, impregnate their wives, and take life as it comes. Others can never forget that they are being cheated; that life tempts them to struggle by offering the essence of sex, of beauty, of success; and that she always seems to pay in counterfeit money." - Colin Wilson, 1978 Introduction to The Outsider (1956).



PHEW! WOT A SCORCHER! 05/04/2003

Check out our new 3AM tank tops available now from the 3AM Store. There's one model for men, and two for the ladies: here and there.



WISE & CRACKING 05/03/2003

Novelist surfer Matthew Branton is giving away his new novel! Miranda Sawyer writes: "This man is called Matthew Branton and he wants to give you a present. It's the previous two years of his life: two years spent honing and crafting and agonising over his latest novel, The Tie and The Crest, the story of a poor little rich girl and 'the best thing I've ever done'. For his previous four (The Love Parade, The House of Whacks, Coast, and The Hired Gun), Matthew averaged about £50,000 a book, and every one was optioned for a film. Cool, clever, with a sizeable following for his witty, zippy, modern writing ('both wise and cracking,' said Esquire), Matthew is shaped like a publisher's dream. The Tie and The Crest was all set to be his proper 'breakthrough' book. But -- to Bloomsbury's immense chagrin -- he's decided to give it away for free. . . . This isn't a stunt, by the way: Matthew really could be getting big money for this book, and he really has decided not to. It's a first, as far as I know. Stephen King's much publicised serial story on the net, The Plant, asked readers for money (about half paid); even if they hadn't, the most popular writer in the world could afford to skip a pay cheque for a cute marketing exercise. Matthew's cash rejection isn't a scam, it's political: a one-man protest against the publishing industry. Sophie Dahl's novelette was the straw that broke Matthew's back. 'I don't want their stupid money until the industry is less stupid,' he says. 'Culture is important; it affects how people think of themselves, the world, their place in it, and the publishing industry in this country is now a joke that's gone too far.'

Actually, he didn't say that to me, he wrote it. Matthew used to be a man about London: I'd spot him out, but we never spoke. Not until he sent me an email -- a 'batsignal', he called it -- about two months ago. We had a small virtual argument when I questioned his motives for his internet gift. Matthew is a passionate man, 'serious, however cringemaking that sounds'. Born in Kent in 1968, he was the first Branton to go on to further education, at Sheffield Poly in his mid-twenties, working three jobs to fund his studies and still racking up a £15,000 debt. He worked in publishing, travelled America, got diphtheria... Eventually, after a couple of years in London, he moved to Hawaii, in 2000. Now, he lives on its northern point, with his wife, Julie Stone, a political science academic doing unfunded research. 'We're living off air,' asserts Matthew: they both surf, and they fish and grow their own vegetables. . . ."

Here are some highlights from the interview: "The deal in British publishing is supposed to be that the crap is published and put up with because it funds the good stuff. I'm afraid that I have to ask, where is the good stuff? To quote the Manics: 'Libraries gave us power.' Not any more they don't. They're stuffed full of Sophie Dahl and Naomi Campbell's novels, along with Tony Parsons's drivel, a gang of floppy-fringed public schoolboys and their precious pointless literary fictions, a few failed PR girls and all the rest of the cobblers that passes for a publishing culture these days. . . . I'm not making any great claims for me or for my work, I'm just saying that against the tidal wave of cobblers, here is one small, good thing that I'm not even asking you to part with money for. Every other writer rewards their readers by charging £25 for a hardback at this stage of their career. I reward mine by giving them my fifth novel for free, because the fact that I have readers is the only thing giving me hope for this world. . . . The culture industry in Britain since the early Nineties has come to consist almost entirely of consumer capitalist propaganda dressed up as 'better living': young people are made to feel that living some kind of cross between Sex and the City and Cold Feet with a swindling mortgage and a swindling pension and a house stuffed full of cheap tasteful shit manufactured for sub-breadline wages in China is the best you can hope for in this life. Lots of people (not just let's-run-a-vineyard type yuppies) have rejected this and pissed off out of it to try living another way that doesn't make you so ashamed. Do you remember that census last year that showed a million young men unaccounted for? The only comment was facetious: maybe they're all in Ibiza. No. We're in the remote places of the world, growing our own food, working in kind for what else we need. You don't hear about us because really, why should we tell you? . . . We just need some kind of place where people who are getting fed up with the way things are going in this country can come together. And that includes not just everyone who skates, everyone who surfs, anyone who was ever a punk or a crusty and meant it; I think it also includes anyone who went on the veal protests or laid flowers outside Kensington Palace or went on the march against this stinking war. All of these are to my mind little gestures of protest, of saying 'You're not having all of me' while simultaneously expressing a kind of mourning that things are not as we know they should be. Yes, I probably can't make any difference on my own. But I refer you to David Lynch's The Straight Story -- take one stick, and anyone can break it over their knee. Take 20 sticks, and it's going to hurt them if they try."




THE MISSING LINKS 05/03/2003

More on the new London Review Bookshop here in the Financial Times and the Independent (links found through our friends at the Literary Saloon). Alan Warner's dream of the perfect novel. Toby Litt on one of his favourite English seaside resorts. Check out the Beck's Futures 2003 shortlist. Yeah Yeah Yeahs gorefest. Great photos of London Mayday 2003 in Urban 75. Peter Ackroyd on William Blake. 3AM contributor Jim Ruland appears in Diagram. The Brighton Festival kicks off today and runs until 25 May but -- be warned -- Steve Mitchelmore from Spike Magazine reckons it's a load of "middlebrow shit". A profile of William Gibson. Steve Aylett has published an article on The Matrix in the second issue of Bang, the new Brit rock mag. Aylett claims that "The piece has been sub-edited to make it inaccurate and clumsy".



JOHNNY INCOGNITO 05/03/2003

3am chief editor and webmaster extraordinaire Jim Martin fronts a kick-ass punk band called Johnny Incognito. You can download three Johnny Incognito tracks for free: "Fix Me" (the oblivion ditty), "Genetic Jean" ("Every punk band needs a song about a superhero. This is ours") and a "punked-up and grossly altered version of the childhood classic" "Teddy Bears' Picnic".



THE MISSING LINKS 05/02/2003

Don't miss Will Self's introduction to Alasdair Gray's classic second novel 1982 Janine. There's an excellent interview with Nick Hornby in Failbetter which I've been meaning to link to for ages. The Toronto Star discovers Dick Lit. Toby Litt reviews the latest William Gibson who talks about the art of blogging in The Guardian. An article in Wired on why Gibson is putting an end to his popular weblog. The London Review of Books is about to open its own independent bookshop in Bloomsbury. New issues of Pulp.net, taint, Stirring and Pif have all gone online. Mike Skinner aka The Streets is interviewed in nerve. The Rapture have launched a new website. Playboy's sexiest babe of indie rock poll. Manchester's finest The Buzzcocks are interviewed in Popmatters. The latest on the Orange Prize for Fiction. The origins of St George, England's patron saint. An interview with Blur. The new issue of Punk Planet is devoted to the "Revenge of Print". French writer Marc Edouard Nabe in Baghdad. Speedy German authors. The Atlantic on Hitler's forgotten library. Download English novelist James Flint's Pleasure Beach film shot in Blackpool. The return of Chrissie Hynde in The Independent. Dave Eggers' new monthly magazine, The Believer. Irvine Welsh at the Prague Writers' Festival on his decision to move to the US. Britain's last independent publisher, Duckworth, has been saved by Penguin.



GONE TO PATAGONIA 04/29/2003

The author of Habitus and 52 Ways To Magic America (out in paperback in June) -- the one and only James Flint -- writes about his adventures as a gaucho in The Observer.



GETTING YOUR KIT OFF FOR GAUGUIN 04/27/2003

Top English author Geoff Dyer, whose Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It was recently published, has penned an excellent article on Gauguin in today's Observer: "Last year I was asked if I would be interested in travelling to French Polynesia to write about Gauguin and the lure of the exotic in commemoration of the centenary of his death in May 2003. . . . Before everything went pear-shaped between them, Gauguin and Van Gogh had a plan to set up 'The Studio of the Tropics'. Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, looks like Eric Rohmer had decided to do a film in the tropics: a film where nothing happens and everywhere resembles some small town in France where you would never dream of taking a holiday. It would have been great to have been here when Gauguin first arrived -- or so we think. But Gauguin himself arrived too late. By then it was already 'notorious among all the South Sea Islands as the one most wretchedly debased by 'Civilisation' -- an emblem, as one art historian puts it, 'of paradise and of paradise lost'. Only in Gauguin's art would paradise be regained and reinvented, in paintings like Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? . . .

. . . Gauguin was a symbolist which means his art is full of symbols. Even the colours are symbolic of something even though they often seem symbolic of our inability to interpret them adequately. Not everyone has had the patience to try. For DH Lawrence, Gauguin was 'a bit snivelling, and his mythology is pathetic'. This visual mythology achieved its final expression in Where Do We Come From? According to the most important mythic element in all of this (the myth, that is, of the artist's life) once Gauguin had finished it he tried to kill himself, but ended up overdosing or underdosing. When he had come back from the dead he spent some time contemplating his answers, his answers in the form of questions in the form of a painting. Then, like almost all the other paintings he'd done, it was rolled up and shipped back to France, leaving him with little evidence of the world he'd created. Some days he woke up and thought to himself, 'Where did that big painting get to?' and then, as he sat on the edge of the bed, giving his itchy leg a good old scratch, he would remember that he had sent it off and would have to start another one.

. . . Well guys, you've been very patient because, obviously, the question that you all want answered is 'What are the women like?' Are they babes? No one was more eager to answer this question than Gauguin himself and the answer, obviously, was yes, they're total babes. Many of Gauguin's most famous paintings are of Tahitian babes who were really young and looked like they were always ready to go to bed with you even if you were a syphilitic old lech whose legs were covered in weeping eczema. Of course, he was also a great artist, but they didn't know this. To them he was just a randy old goat who was always trying to persuade them to get their kit off which they were happy to do even though the killjoy missionaries who had come to the island before Gauguin and converted people to boring old Christianity had managed to get them to cover up their breasts. The missionaries made them wear something called a Mother Hubbard, but Gauguin knew that underneath these frocks they were all loveable and their breasts were still there and were no less nice for not being visible to the naked eye until they were undressed. They might not have known he was a great artist, but Gauguin believed himself to be one, right up there with Manet whose Olympia goaded him to do a really horny picture of a naked Polynesian woman, ideally one who was only about 13. At first, though, Gauguin didn't do much painting. He just tried to look and understand what was going on in their heads. He read stuff about Maori art and myths and this helped him understand, but he was an artist and for an artist looking is its own form of understanding. Earlier visitors to Tahiti had noticed the grace and stillness of its inhabitants, but while they thought this was just laziness or torpor, Gauguin saw 'something indescribably ancient, august, religious in the rhythm of their gestures, in their extraordinary immobility. In the dreaming eyes, the blurred surface of some unfathomable enigma.' As well as trying to understand what was going on in their heads he was also keen on getting inside their pants and the other colonials took a dim and possibly envious view of this.

That's how it was in Gauguin's day. But what about now? I can give a fairly authoritative answer to this because it so happens that while we were there the finalists for Miss Tahiti were all being photographed by the press. In our hotel! Yes! Then one of the photographers came and photographed Francesco and me -- and guess what? She was a total babe, too -- so much so that it seemed ludicrous that she was taking our picture when we should have been taking hers. She looked like she'd stepped straight out of a Gauguin painting. So yes, Tahitian women, they're really beautiful -- especially when they're young. Then... Well, to put it bluntly, they get fat. . . .

. . . Gauguin's decision to go to the Marquesas was in keeping with the psycho-pathology of island life. 'Polynesia' translates as 'many islands', all of which you wish you were on instead of the one you actually are on. En route to Hiva Oa we had flown over any number of paradisaical islands and atolls. In the course of our time here I had become aware of still more islands, each of which sounded more idyllic -- with finer beaches, surrounded by sea more turquoise -- than every other. As I studied the brochures I began to develop a profound resentment against Gauguin, that he had come to Hiva Oa and not idyllic Bora Bora, for example. I phoned Tahiti Tourism and pointed out that Gauguin had actually spent a little time on Bora Bora but they did not feel that this merited changing our itinerary. Well, how about Tikehau, I said? But Gauguin did not go there, they said. Yes, I said, but perhaps places like this have the kind of appeal now that Tahiti did back then. Perhaps, I said, if Gauguin had been alive now he would have gone to Taha'a Noho Ra'a and stayed in an over-water bungalow at the Pearl Beach Resort and Spa as a way of reconciling the savage part of his own nature with the contemporary need for boutique luxury. None of this was very convincing and it soon became apparent that the question 'Where are we going?' was turning into its vexed opposite, 'Where are we not going?' -- to which the answer was: all the places I really wanted to go. Other people thought Hiva Oa was paradise but if this was the case then it was a paradise from which I was becoming impatient to be expelled. With this in mind it occurred to me that the apple in Eden grew on the tree of knowledge of elsewhere. Up until that point Adam and Eve were happy where they were. Then they ate the apple and it was slightly disappointing to them and they started to wonder if there were other kinds of apples elsewhere, if there were crunchier and sweeter apples to be had from somewhere else. They began to think that maybe there was a funner place, somewhere with a better view where the food was nicer. They even began to suspect that paradise itself might be somewhere else. And not only that, they began to think that there might be some commercial potential in this knowledge, that it might be possible to make a living importing and exporting these apples and marketing paradise as a destination. From there, to keep the history of the world as brief as possible, it is only a small step to package cruises and supermarkets stocking the full spectrum of exotic fruit.

Increasingly, the question on my mind in Hiva Oa was 'When can we leave?', but I had also gained some insight into the questions posed by Gauguin, the questions that don't go away, the tiki questions, the questions that stay put. We are here to accrue air miles, to be upgraded, whenever possible, on aeroplanes and in hotels, to try to alter our itineraries to include Bora Bora and Huahine. We are here to suffer terrible disorientation and jetlag and to be plagued constantly by the desire to be somewhere else. We are here to wish we had brought different books to read and to wish that we had not lost our original copy of David Sweetman's biography of Gauguin. We are here to wish we'd had a tattoo done. We are here to buy presents for our wives and then to spend long hours constructing excuses as to why this was impossible because everything in Tahiti is so expensive and there's nothing worth buying anyway. We are here to claim that the line about getting the email address of a woman we met on the flight to LA was just a joke and that the photographer in Tahiti was not a babe at all. We are here to wish things were different and then find ways either of reconciling ourselves to the fact that they will be the same or of changing them through the fiction of art. We are here to be bored rigid and then to wonder how it was possible to be so bored in such a nice place. We are here to wait at Hiva Oa airport in the drenching humidity and to feel, ultimately, that we are glad we came even though we spent so much of our time here wishing we hadn't. We are here to make sure our seatbelts are securely fastened and to ensure our seats are in the upright position before landing. We are here to go somewhere else." (Picture from Identity Theory's recent interview with Geoff Dyer.)




OH YES! 04/27/2003

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs celebrate Andrew Gallix and Saddam Hussein's birthdays by releasing their debut album, Fever To Tell, on April 28. (Picture from top music site The Modern Age.)







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