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Artwork by Sardax


by Andrew Gallix



Greg Farnum writes: "Millions of Americans are fed up with the corporate stranglehold on the public airwaves. Some folks in Ferndale, Michigan, are doing something about it. With the backing of a large number of local residents, as well as luminaries like human rights activist Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, columnist Jack Lessenberry, and author Jim Hightower, these folks are preparing to conduct a public demonstration of what local, community-centered radio might really be like, radio that provides a forum for local musicians, churches, merchants, civic groups and others, via a measured act of civil disobedience -- two weeks of unlicensed broadcasting of WNFC Radio Free Ferndale from the heart of Ferndale with a small, 100-watt transmitter. They say they will not interfere with licensed signals. The WNFCers are aiming for high-profile participation -- from school board to senator.

The purpose? To help convince the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to change their rules and make it possible for communities like Ferndale, and not just corporations, to have a station -- a station which serves local needs, putting people and community ahead of profits. This effort is part of a larger struggle. In the late 90s, media and community activists, concerned politicians and ordinary citizens campaigned successfully to convince the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a new form of radio station, 'Low Power FM' (LPFM); small 100-watt stations designed to serve individual communities. In an era of awesome media consolidation, this was a lonely victory for media democracy in Washington. And it was only possible because of a massive civil disobedience campaign in the form of "pirate" radio stations across the country. However, their work, and that of people like Congressman David Bonior and FCC Chairman William Kennard, was thwarted when the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) pressured Congress to keep LPFM stations out of our nation's top 50 markets! In effect, they ruled that America can have LPFM, but most Americans can't.

But Congress also mandated an independent study (the Mitre Study) which recently concluded that complaints against LPFM are baseless, recommending that the original FCC plan be restored. Now a new bill, to be introduced by Sen. John McCain, is in the offing to fully implement LPFM. Meanwhile, the broadcast giants, their lobbyists, and their friends in Congress are ratcheting up their opposition, while simultaneously, space on the dial is rapidly disappearing as media conglomerates gobble up the last open frequencies. WNFC Radio Free Ferndale is the latest, and arguably the most dramatic, effort in the struggle for community radio. And what will happen after WNFC's two week demonstration period? Will it continue? Will it wither away? Will it be forcibly shut down? Stay tuned."


Check out the website for Modstock, a celebration of 40 years of modernism. A poem by our friend punk legend Richard Hell in Kultureflash. The Killers on the joys of Las Vegas. Saving William Blake. An interview with The Others in The Independent. The New Yorker on bloggers-cum-authors. The lowdown on the Hay-on-Wye literary festival where writers play scrabble, check out second-hand bookshops, meet autograph hunters, indulge in a little light doodling and wear nifty togs: "The pièces de resistance in the ensemble, however, are the mustard-coloured socks. It takes a brave man to veer from the straight road of black, grey or navy, but yet again, (Melvyn) Bragg takes the scenic route. Coupled with the tan slip-on loafers, the effect is simply dazzling". A walk along London's South Bank. Pete Libertine back in rehab (in France this time round). More Babyshambles downloads. An interview with self-styled genius Colin Wilson. A review of Jonathan Coe's biography of B.S. Johnson. An elaborate matrix of deceit. Black Market Clash. Erwin James's conversion from criminal to writer. Pictures of lost Britart works. Franz Ferdinand videos. J.K. Rowling's new official website. No nipples please, we're British! Guillaume Destot's excellent new design site. Laurence Rémila: last of the infamous international playboys. Ken Loach. The slavery of teaching English. A new book about Adam & The Ants in Italy in 1978 called Whip Avantgarde. The Ants' back catalogue is being remastered. Monica Ali's year as a star. London's Poetry Library has an excellent website where you can find, for instance, old issues of Ambit including stories by 3AM's in-house genius H.P. Tinker. J.P. Dancing Bear, editor of the American Poetry Journal has just released his first collection of poems, Billy Last Crow (Turning Point Books). Alan McGee's Death Disco on (BBC) Radio 1! Flame Books have just published Living Rights, "a collection of stories and poems inspired by the first ten articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". Flame Books are accepting submissions for "a creative anthology which aims to highlight the work underpinning PEN in general, but more specifically Sierra Leone PEN". For more information go here. Underground legend Bill Levy was recently on the cover of Amsterdam Weekly. An excerpt from Levy's "Have Rock Will Roll" published in 3AM back in 2001 featured prominently with our address. More Bill Levy in 3AM here and over there.

3AM MAILBAG 06/03/2004

Just in from the ever-excellent Fire Records: Codename: Dustsucker by Graham Sutton's "post-rock" outfit, Bark Psychosis. It's eerily majestic and out in July. San-Francisco-based Jon Roniger has just released an album entitled Addicted which sounds like Joe Cocker mating with David Gray.


From John Armstrong's The Secret Power of Beauty: Why Happiness is in the Eye of the Beholder:

"At the core of beauty is a conception of how we would like life to be and yet we know that life cannot be that way".


Punk svengali Malcolm McLaren on The New York Dolls in The Guardian: "In 1974, the Sex shop I owned with my partner, Vivienne Westwood on the King's Road in Chelsea became a magical place. The New York Dolls called it their 'glory hole'. In it, we created a feeling that was both euphoric and hysterical. You felt an enormous range of possibilities that whatever was happening couldn't be predicted, that it was a movement towards a place unknown. The New York Dolls were part of that feeling. To the generation that followed in their wake, the flamboyant failure of the band was an inspiration to all. . . . I was shocked by how bad they were. How much it hurt my ears! And then I started to laugh - laugh at how stupid I was. How bad they were. Bad enough to be good. By the fourth or fifth track, I thought they were so, so bad, they were brilliant. I was smitten - like my first real desire, first kiss, first everything. I had seen the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the High Numbers, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, but this was the first time I had fallen in love with a group. Vivienne and I moved into the Chelsea hotel. I wanted to give tout New York a party. I wanted to invite everyone we knew in NYC: Michael J Pollard, a star in Bonnie and Clyde, Candy Darling a star of Warhol's factory, Patty D'Arbanville, the subject of that famous 60s hit, Where Do You Go to, My Lovely?, Bob Colacello, followed by Andy Warhol himself and of course, the Dolls. There was Sylvain Sylvain, a red-cheeked Egyptian toyboy dressed in a child's fringed cowboy shirt; Johnny Thunders, a rock'n'roll Latino rag-doll whose face I had great difficulty in finding; Arthur Kane Jr, a boy-girl who seemed to think he was every suburban girl's wet dream of a Teutonic god in gold spandex, and David Johansen, a New York Mick Jagger lookalike, only 20 years younger and a lot taller, wearing a dress that belonged to his girlfriend, Cyrinda Fox. Our entertainment was our rack of clothes from the new shop, Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die (we wanted everyone to try them on), a punch bowl, some hula hoops and the reggae soundtrack of the Jimmy Cliff film, The Harder They Come. Guests screamed from the balcony of the hotel down to the streets below, welcoming everyone up. Some peed out of the window.

The Dolls returned to London in 1973 and played on the roof of Biba's, a large, fashionable store on Kensington High Street. There was nothing dangerous about pop culture at that time. Nothing sexy, nothing stylish. But the New York Dolls seemed to incorporate all of that because they played so beautifully badly. They were chaos incarnate, so sexy. Every muscle in their body could be seen. They were so trashy with their garish makeup. They looked the best tarts on parade. Their music, a crude, raw marriage of the Shangri-Las and John Lee Hooker spat out that look and sound that we all desperately wanted. . . . Somehow, they made you feel you could do it yourself. They made you feel a part of something that was always on the verge of collapse. That night, without a second's thought, I replaced the sounds of John Lee Hooker, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Gene Vincent on my jukebox with the Dolls.

What was it they had that so enchanted me? It was simply because they rang all the bells that I wished pop culture had but couldn't find in London. . . . The Dolls embodied sex and androgyny, translating it into fashion. Sex translated into fashion becomes fetish, and fetishism was the very embodiment of youth. Youth has to behave irreverently; it has to take drugs, because of its fundamental belief in its own immortality, which it needs to assert over and over again. And fashion and music are the natural expressions of its need for confrontation and rebellion, and fetishism, in both, is its necessary razor's edge, the exhilarating border between life and death. Fashion and music, music and fashion - they were expressions of the same needs - and it now seems natural and right that a shop producing a street fashion of boredom should be the venue for its music. The Dolls had pinpointed for me some essential deficiency in the English imagination. I began to cast around for people who could equal the Dolls' fantasies. I decided to close down Too Fast to Live, and rethink the entire shop. The one thing that hit me clearly at that time was sex clothes. That's what the Dolls were doing! They were wearing fashion as sex. I decided to change my shop and call it Sex, a place for liberated teens. An emporium of perversity. It would look like a cross between a school gym and a padded cell. I ripped out the dancefloor and used the wood to make parallel bars. I covered the walls with sponge and sprayed slogans from pamphlets I'd picked up in NYC - the SCUM (Valerie Solanas's Society for Cutting Up Men) manifesto, adding the words: 'Does passion end in fashion? Or does fashion end in passion?' As soon as the new store was complete, I decided to set sail for the US, to engage, belong, harness, dominate and ultimately, I thought, control the New York Dolls. I decided to make them look not like girls, but worse, like Communist dolls. . . . This bomb of fashion and music that I brought back would set alight London, reigniting the energy and excitement of what I had experienced with the New York Dolls in America. . . . Sylvain never joined me in London but Steve Jones kept his guitar. And we finally recruited John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten, and John Simon Ritchie aka Sid Vicious into the Sex Pistols. . . . A fundamental belief in the strength and purity of the amateur over the slickness of the professional (and the eternal devotion to an uncontrollable youthful urge to behave irresponsibly and be everything this society hates) became the legacy of the New York Dolls. It remains the war cry of the outlaw spirit of anything new in pop culture today."


Robert McCrum's all-time literary top ten. The Observer's literary editor celebrates 25 years in the publishing industry. Pete Doherty leaves The Libertines. Britart goes up in smoke. An online exhibition of pictures of The Strokes. The enfant terrible of lit crit, James Wood, was at the London Review Bookshop. He will be followed on 17 June by Jonathan Coe whose biography of B.S. Johnson is reviewed in today's Observer. Strip to kick: the subbuteo streaker! An in-depth interview with Métal Urbain, France's answer to The Sex Pistols. Noddy's rival. Willy Wonka workers go on strike. What do you mean you don't like The Dust Bunnies? The Others in the NME: "Come to our gigs and you won't see the cool people, who look like their mothers were all fucked by the same person. You'll see kids who don't fit in… You'll see the others".


The Guardian have published a fascinating extract from Jonathan Coe's eagerly-awaited biography of BS Johnson, Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson (published by Picador on 4 June):

". . . Johnson was, if you like, Britain's one-man literary avant-garde of the 1960s. . . . Bryan Stanley Johnson was a working-class Londoner, born in Hammersmith in 1933, whose childhood was defined by the trauma of wartime evacuation and his failure to pass the 11-plus. In his late teens he was shunted into banking and accountancy jobs until he forced himself to learn Latin at evening classes and then won places at Birkbeck College and King's College London. During the rest of his short lifetime he published six novels: Travelling People, Albert Angelo, Trawl, The Unfortunates, House Mother Normal and Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry. A seventh novel, See the Old Lady Decently, which was to have been the first of a trilogy, was not published until two years after his death. In addition, he wrote enough poetry to fill two slim volumes, several full-length plays (mostly unperformed) and wrote or directed more than a dozen short films (mostly for television). He was a busy sports reporter, too, covering tennis and soccer for the national dailies, to say nothing of pouring out a torrent of book reviews and polemical articles for anyone who would print them. And he worked tirelessly for the trade union movement, making documentaries and propaganda films, anonymously, under the Freeprop banner. All this, and more, squeezed into a working life that lasted little more than a decade.

On the face of things, Johnson had a high reputation. His books won prizes, his films won prizes, and throughout his career he received plenty of favourable reviews. But he was always angry, and hurt, and unhappy at his treatment by the literary establishment. At an early age, with the publication of his very first novel, Travelling People, he adopted an uncompromising, oppositional stance to the efforts of his fellow novelists. What these people were all writing, essentially, was 'the nineteenth-century narrative novel', an exercise which he regarded, in a post-Joycean universe, as the literary equivalent of travelling by horse and cart when there were cars and trains available. Johnson, by contrast, set himself the not inconsiderable task of reinventing the novel with every book he wrote. Starting, in Travelling People, with devices adapted from his beloved Tristram Shandy - pages shading to grey, then to black, to convey the experience of a character having a heart attack - he went on to cut holes through the pages of a book, so that readers could see forward to a future event (Albert Angelo), and present the chapters of one novel unbound in a box, so that readers could shuffle them and recreate the randomness of experience for themselves (The Unfortunates).

And so, at a time when the lightly ironic, social-realist novels of Kingsley Amis, John Wain and William Cooper set the dominant literary tone, it was Johnson himself, if anyone, who looked like the anachronism: an old-style modernist, who firmly believed that literary tradition could be kept alive only by radically redefining it, who conceived of literature (borrowing his metaphor from Nathalie Sarraute) as 'a relay race, the baton of innovation passing from one generation to another', but was dismayed to see that 'the vast majority of British novelists has dropped the baton, stood still, turned back, or not even realised that there is a race'. It is hard to overestimate how much, or on how many different counts, Johnson - who began his creative life as a poet, then wanted to be a playwright, before finally turning his hand to novel-writing - disliked not just most contemporary fiction, but almost everything, in fact, about the novel as a form. Dialogue, characterisation and plot as you might expect to encounter them in almost any English novelist from Fielding to Ian McEwan are all pretty much absent from his books. His preferred mode was the interior monologue: what dialogue there is in his novels, he hedges around with ironical disclaimers. His preferred central character was himself, unapologetic and undisguised: when presenting 'fictional' characters he makes it clear that they are authorial puppets, with no pretence of inner reality; Johnson's novels were always written 'without any question of destroying the reader's suspension of disbelief, since such suspension was not to be attempted'. And he disdained plot because 'Life does not tell stories. Life is chaotic, fluid, random; it leaves myriads of ends untied, untidily. Writers can extract a story from life only by strict, close selection, and this must mean falsification. Telling stories really is telling lies.' Johnson was not the first person to hold this view. Mistrust of the imagination, and of the falsehoods into which it threatens to lead us, goes back a long way: as far back as Plato, at the very least. It's an extreme position, all the same, and not one which you would expect to sit comfortably with the role of novelist.

But then, Johnson wasn't interested in making life easy for himself. He took up other extreme positions, both in his professional and his personal life. Ultimately, these positions - and the chain of random circumstances with which they disastrously intersected - proved destructive. He took his own life at the age of 40, in November 1973.

. . . If I think about it at all, I see the high modernism of Joyce and Beckett as a straitjacket the novel had to break out of. Stories - those 'lies' which are not lies at all because they are shared, because they are part of an honest pact in which both writer and reader are complicit - remain the bedrock of the novel; narrative curiosity (dismissed by Johnson as 'that primitive, vulgar and idle curiosity of the reader to know "what happens next"') remains the centrifugal force which draws readers back to the novel and therefore keeps it alive. On this point, it would seem, I've parted company with Johnson: for the time being, at any rate.

. . . For all that I now disagree with much of what he wrote and believed, I have to say that, in the course of preparing this book, I have found myself empathising with Johnson more closely than ever before. This is because I have finally come to know, over the past few years, what it's like to force yourself to work within a set of assumptions that you fundamentally mistrust. In my case, these are the assumptions that underpin the writing of - and public appetite for - literary biography. Like Johnson, I have a strong puritanical streak, and it remains one of my core beliefs that a work of literature should speak for itself. It seems, nowadays, that literature is discussed more than ever before; but at the same time, it has never been less valued. And literary biography (for which the British have a unique passion) has had a large part to play in making this state of affairs possible. Milan Kundera predicted as much more than a decade ago, when he dismissed the whole genre by pointing out that 'the novelist destroys the house of his life and uses its stones to build the house of his novel. A novelist's biographers thus undo what a novelist has done, and redo what he undid. All their labour cannot illuminate either the value or the meaning of a novel, can scarcely even identify a few of the bricks. The moment Kafka attracts more attention than Joseph K, Kafka's posthumous death begins.'

But this doesn't quite apply, in Johnson's case. Slippery as the relationship is between Kafka and Joseph K, the relationship between Johnson the novelist and 'Johnson' the - hero? central character? subject? - of his own novels is more slippery still. This is a man who wrote novels only about himself, with passionate honesty: or at least convinced himself that he did. He also wrote novels 'especially to exorcise, to remove from myself, from my mind, the burden [of] having to bear some pain, the hurt of some experience: in order that it may be over there, in a book, and not here in my mind'. It's banal, admittedly, to state that in Johnson's case, considering the manner of his death, this endeavour did not work. But doesn't this dreadful fact raise an important question about the novel, about what it can and can't achieve? About the limits of its ability to console us?

. . . Take August 17 1965, for instance. Johnson got involved in no literary bust-ups that day, wrote no fiery letters for me to quote. He did not go out and get hilariously drunk with a fellow author, to provide me with a spiky anecdote. No, he sat at his desk for six and a quarter hours, and wrote 1,700 words of Trawl. Boring, or what? But this is what writers do. Not only is it what they do, but it is what they do best, it is when they are happiest, it is when they are most themselves. If they did not do it, none of the other, superficial, gossipy stuff that fills up books like this would matter in the slightest. It is the essence of the thing. But it is the one thing I cannot write about, that I cannot make interesting. It shows up the whole process I am engaged upon for the potentially dishonest enterprise that it is. (Dishonest, Bryan, in a way that novels never are!) . . ."


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