Monday, November 27, 2006

The Future!

I'm thinking of something post-blog; apres-blog; uber-blog; something that is less about the bad spelling mistakes of the moment but the considered spelling mistakes of poor proofreading. In other words, a blog like magazine or magazine like blog or some combination of those words that I've yet not made. Not that it makes one iota of difference. Iota is a great word isn't it? You only ever get "one iota" never two or zillions or none. Yet iota never stands alone either, it requires that "one" in front of it, or at the very least "an" which is near enough the same except with one less letter, and a different vowel. It's one of the world's great mysteries how there's never, to my knowledge, been a band called "one iota" or even "iota." I think the former would be a bit post-jazz, whilst the latter a little Slipknot. Then again it might be because Slipknot had a number one album called "iowa" which is one letter away from being iota. It's a funny old world.

The End of Rock and Roll

It's long been prophecied, but surely this week is the end of rock and roll?

Not only are "Take That" number one in the singles chart, but here is the album chart top 8...

1. The Love Album - Westlife
2. Stop the Clocks - Oasis
3. Love - the Beatles
4. u218 singles - U2
5. Twenty Five - George Michael
6. High Times - Jamiroquai
7. The Sound of Girls Aloud
8. Overloaded - Sugababes

In other words, everyone is a greatest hits, apart from the Westlife album, which is a covers album.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Never been a better time to buy books from America, with virtually $2 to a £1. I've used it as an opportunity to get Borges' Collected Fictions and even more interestingly, Up is Up, but so is down, New York's Downtown literary scene 1974-1992, a 500 page illustrated tome, that's title alone is excitement itself. I've also been fascinated by the seventies crossover in New York of music, poetry and fiction. The 70s was a strange time for literature, a relatively few English-American books of real note - but a lot going on under the surface that I think the future (i.e. now) will reckon as important; a period when more minor authors are actually more important- the real deal. I've always been blown away by Kathy Acker's writing, for instance, yet she never really wrote a satisfactory novel; somehow that doesn't matter. I guess my occasional rants about bad avant garde writing, are based on my appreciation of good avant garde writing, and also a sense that 2nd-rate Acker or 2nd-rate Burroughs shouldn't be worthy of our attention. A musical equivalent would be all the sub-Stooges bands out these days - its made me go back to Iggy Pop himself, and pick up some of his forgotten 80s and 90s albums for a few pence on eBay. With a new Stooges album due in March with Steve Albini at the helm, I'm definitely regressing. I've had an incredibly busy week, 12 hour days at work because of evening events, a stinking cold, and some other personal stuff, so I'm just coming up for air. I looked out the window this morning a saw a giant black bird stalking the back of the flats. After a few moments thinking a raven had come for me, (perhaps bringing me a message from Odin!), I located my RSPB book, and I'm pretty certain it was a carrion crow, it indeed had a "a bold, upright stance and confident, long-striding walk." I will have to leave out some carrion, next time I leave the house!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Names have been changed

Although one has a little sympathy for Jake Arnotts having inadvertently used a real persons name in his latest novel - and one in the similar line of work to his character (Though would a Tony Rocco be anything else other than a nightclub singer?) - I did find it funny as well. After all, Jake Arnott's novels are heavily modelled on the real world of the sixties and seventies, with thinly veiled versions of some real life characters. A name's a different thing of course, since you can't change it. There's no doubt a George W. Bush somewhere in Gateshead that curses the day the American judges found against Al Gore; and I'm sure there must be a peace activist Anthony Blair somewhere in the home counties. Luckily there's a ready made pool of useful names available free of charge to all novelists. Just check the "spam" folder of your email, and see what the randomly generated names that spammers use appeal to you: Sven Brown and Hussein Mercier would make a great pair of dodgy small time crooks, whilst Aileen Otero must surely be an octogenarian activist; and as for Sallie Stringer - nightclub singer anyone?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Oh no the Beatles

There's been a lot of hype about the Beatles Vegas mash-up "Love." I've always felt every few years we get the Beatles we deserve. In the 70s it was the reverential, but selective red and blue albums. In the 80s it was shallow retread collections, "The Beatles Love Songs", "The Beatles Rock and Roll Music", or Stars-on-45 style Beatles Movie Medley, then it was the re-issue everything in the vaults of the Anthologies, or get the whole collection on CD, for those who don't like any chance or mystery in the collection. Come the millennium we had the "if you only get 1 Beatles disc get this" of the number ones - just like any other band - and now, mashed up soundtrack to a hit show. When they finally remaster everything and put them on to iTunes we'll no doubt get our own personal Beatles albums, synchronised to our personality and mood, and I'll never have to hear "ob-la-di ob-la-da" again. I think its very hard to love everything they did unless you were there at the time - but they were so prolific and varied that you almost create your own Beatles from the debris. So, they were my favourite band when I was 11, but have long since been superceded by others - yet they still hold an interest; I think they'll survive "Love" the same way they survived "Free as a bird", "Beatles Love Songs" and "Magical Mystery Tour."

Roger & Out

We were going to go and see Roger Mcgough reading in Liverpool last night, but left it late to get tickets and unfortunately he'd sold out. He's got an autobiography out from Century, called "Said and Done". I've missed any reviews of it, yet he's one poet whose autobiography I'd certainly pay to hear read. I saw him ten years ago in Croydon reading poems - but in between anecdoting with the best of them. If I sometimes seem a bit dismissive of "funny" poets its probably because I've got so much time for McGough who is, of course, so much more than funny. His "Blazing Fruit" selected poems is a continually great read. I recently picked up a rewarding anthology, Penguin's "British Poetry Since 1945" which was published in 1970. When I was at college we studied the contemporary poetry scene through "the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry." Reading Edward Lucie-Smith's 1970 summary, highlights how pernicious the Blake Morrison/Andrew Motion anthology from 1982 has been. I hated the book then, and hate it more now, for the way it restricted not just the number of poets in the "contemporary canon" but the range. In essense the Motion/Morrison book excludes those featured in Alvarez's "New Poetry" published in 1962 so has 20 years to play with - compared with the 25 years that Lucie-Smith has. It is not just the number of poets that is different but the range. The final chapter of the 1970 book "New Voices" finds room for Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood, Barry Macsweeney, Brian Patten, Adrian Henri and Roger McGough - all absent from the later book, onlly the 2 Irish writers, Heaney and Mahon making the cut. It seems now, more than ever, that Motion and Morrison's influence over the direction of English poetry, so codified in this book, has been nothing but disastrous, through both the exclusion of some of the poets listed above, but also through what followed. There's something of a private club feel to their book, that hasn't served us well since. It's notable that Morrison is most famous for a memoir, and that Motion's latest book is one as well. I think I'll be searching out Mcgough's instead.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I was walking down the road the other day

I'm giddy with excitement at the re-emergence of the funniest man alive, Ted Chippington. Not only has he a Myspace but in a bizarre move, usually reserved for those who are dead or paraplegic, there is a fundraising tribute concert in aid of getting a 4CD boxset produced and released, at the Bloomsbury theatre in London. I'm not entirely sure what this bunch of talentless no-marks think they can achieve, and the news that "Ted Chippington will not be performing or attending the event" is a reminder of comedy's loss. Ted, for those who don't know was and possibly still is the funniest man alive. Dressed like Jack Dee (who certainly stole his suits) and with pithy jokes more deadpan than er... a dead pan, Ted was also a bona fide popstar on the classic "Rockin' with Rita" Vindaloo Special EP ("you sure can't beat her, oh no".) Luckily the power of th' internet offers a chance to catch up with Ted's illustrious history. I first saw him supporting the Fall, and he certainly shared something of Mark E. Smith's unique take on the world. All together now, D.I.S.C.O.....

By the Sea

I've been in Whitley Bay for the weekend seeing family, and, last night, at Sage Gateshead, Herbie Hancock, which was a remarkably good three hour set including classics such as "Watermelon Man" and "Chameleon." I didn't know what to expect, having never been to a jazz "gig" before, but the musicianship - they were just a four piece - Herbie's crowd friendly banter, and a smattering of great songs that I knew showed how to do it. So this year, I've seen Public Enemy, George Clinton and Herbie, its like an all time soul hall of fame all to myself. Otherwise, I've still been recovering from pernicious bug, and though I'm now better, its like I'm now recovering from the convalescence. Take it easy, chicken, in other words. I've begun reading Martin Amis's "House of Meetings." Whilst his last novel "Yellow Dog" was a good book, sometimes shockingly written, the writing here is so far exemplary - I'd go so far as to say, the best he's done. Too early to say if the book lives up to the prose but its a promising start. And a promising start was all I managed in National Write a Novel Month or whatever its called, derailed, by sickness after 2000 words or so. Good luck to those, like the Manchizzle, who are continuing. For what its worth, I found the bit I did do, a little liberating, piling words on words rather than some higher purpose, and, if nothing else, I've the start of a new piece. In the week I gave a presentation to a number of artists/creatives we had at a drop in event with lots of other arts support agencies. "Ten ways for a creative to go digital" or some such thing. Get a Myspace, write a blog, buy a digital camera, start selling on eBay, investigate Creative Commons, post a video to YouTube, tag everything, use Adwords, set up a remote office and publish on demand. I've only done 4 out of 10 myself, but you get the idea...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Shelve It

A formidable response to the Guardian's question, "How do you arrange your books?" - as many answers as bookshelves I guess, clearly a hot topic, and the shelving advertisers at the backend of Weekend must be making a killing. I can certainly see the appeal of alphabetical for large collections, but somehow it always seems a little arbitrary. From being stacked perilously at my last place, to all over the place, but somewhat ordered where I am now - I'm particularly pleased of my poetry bookshelf, my literary biography bookshelf (they're all TOMES so it needed to be big), my reference shelf, and my "favourite authors" corner. Other things are in boxes, albeit alphabetical-ish and thematic-ish. One of these days I'll move to somewhere with perfect shelves and will be able to decorate them perfectly. I think I'm aiming for the feel of an exciting, but adventurous bookshop. Unlike Waterstones - 90% of my books would fit into the fiction/poetry/lit crit/letters departments - with my cookery books in a messy pile in the kitchen (where else?) and my music books strewn by the stereo and next to the CDs.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

You Know You Should Like Them, But...

In David Lodge's "Changing Places" a parlour game between Eng. Lit. lecturers is about books you should have read but haven't. Poet Steven Waling has come up with a new variation on this, on "not liking Auden." "Admitting you don't like someone that everyone else thinks is great feels like letting out a great secret" he says, and its pleasing to have some a poet openly admitting to defeat when it comes to other poets. As it happens, I do like Auden, but kind of agree that its hard to read him. I think its partly because there's not really a good anthology. The little Faber books that introduced by to Pound and others, selected by another poet, falls flat in the case of Auden where a poem is chosen from every year. It's almost as if John Fuller was throwing up his hands and saying "There's so much of this stuff how am I ever going to choose?" and the classic "Selected" is a hard read. My favourite Auden collection is the lightest, "As I walked out one evening" - ballads, songs, lullabies and limericks - and at least it includes "Night Mail" which neither the Selected or John Fuller's collection does. I'm always amazed, reading Auden, he can seemingly do ANYTHING, but that almighty talent is a bit overwhelming. Every time I think about buying the "the collected longer poems" or "the English Auden" I groan a little and go back - perhaps like Waling - to my favourite Macneice poems. I can't say I've been shy about the two poets that I don't like that everyone else seems to, but they tower so much over the last three decades of English poetry that rejected them, also means rejecting much that follows. Like Waling with Auden, I kind of know that I should find more of value in Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, but they've just never done it for me. I'm not sure if it was a bad experience as an undergraduate being forcefed "Digging" and "View of a Pig" or is something more profound. But I liked "Birthday Letters" and you can't not like "Beowulf" so perhaps its something I'll get over? But I think Waling has hit on something, the poets that you don't like being perhaps more illuminating than the ones you do. I know that in both Hughes and Heaney I don't find the emotional response that I get in the poets I like; why is that? Be interesting what other pet hates people have. I guess since poetry lovers are so passionate about their likes, its more meaningful than disliking prose writers. Sure, I don't dig Rushdie or Carole Shields, but there's plenty more literary fish in the sea - poets, for good or for bad - do bestride their art; and sometimes the literature of the age. Without Hughes and Heaney in my pantheon, there's clearly a couple of missing "giants".

Lunar Park

It's been a strange, unsettling week, laid low by a stomach bug for much of it, and so finding a little time on the couch to read "Lunar Park" by Brett Easton Ellis. It's a book that deserves a proper long essay - the sort Mary McCarthy used to write - but I'll stick to a few paragraphs. One of the reviews says its "John Cheever meets Stephen King" and that's very true, for in one sense, whereas "American Psycho" was a horrific story, "Lunar Park" is partly a horror story - set around Halloween with all the necessary acroutements - a house, missing children, demonic toys. It's always been difficult to see the similarities between Brett and his contemporary at college, Donna Tartt, but here it's explicit for the first time. This is not a subverting genre book, more a book that uses genre - here horror, as Tartt used the mystery - to set the narrative for the wider point. I guess Ellis has always liked edifice - think the Huey Lewis and the News chapters of "American Psycho" - but here, more explicitly than ever before, its clear thats how an essentially autobiographical writer creates a "veil" between him and his material. Here there are almost seven veils, and in dancing with them, Ellis doesn't always pull it off. The self-narration - by a character called Brett Easton Ellis - is one barrier - in that when the ghostly activity increases there is none of the foward tension you'd get in a better King, because he's already told you about it, highlighted what goes next. As a reader, I think this is the book's main failing, that it doesn't take the "horror" seriously enough to make it truly work. There are two many things going on, and though he does a valiant job of pulling them all together - or apart - by the end, there's a lot of words before you get there. But that's the only negative really - after all, if you wanted to read a horror story about a writer you'd be far better with Stephen King's exceptional "The Dark Half". For Ellis is here writing about himself, yes, but also his dead father - and also about fathers and sons in general, his own in the novel "Robbie", the missing boys... typically, the grand satires that have previously played out around Wall Street and the fashion industry are here diluted, but still potent in dealing with American suburbia - surely, when you think about it, his real subject all along? I remember when he visited Manchester asking the question whether - in the wake of the novels that were then current ("Cold Mountain" et al) American writers were leaving the cities and the city's concerns. This was before 9/11 - he shrugged and didn't want to answer for anyone else - but he was probably already writing or thinking of writing "Lunar Park." That "tour" actually occurs in the hilarious, appalling, brilliant, self indulgent (your choice) first chapter, a potted and somewhat accurate autobiography of Ellis "the writer." I learnt a couple of things - that my favourite book of his "The Informers" was actually written before the others - and that "American Psycho" was actually about his father. That is this book's subject, and its painful and playful, with some astonishing writing - and occasionally, some banality. Unlike his other novels, this one has a definite heart. In the past it has been the intensity of Ellis's dark satirical vision which has astounded - but you'd have had to be a fool (or one of his early reviewers!) not to be impressed by how consistently and relentlessly that satire was written down. Here, the book's sometimes much sloppier - but books are quite sloppy these days, aren't they? - and there's a pulsing, human heart. There is still the darkness of his earlier work, and occasionally the dazzling pyrotechnics of his prose, but its more subdued. In one sense, he's just another writer now. There are echoes of Paul Auster's trickery here, and surely the "children's crusade" of Michael Cunningham's recent "Specimen Days" is mining the same "loss" as Ellis's missing boys. Yet, we can go back to Jay Mcinerney's debut "Bright Lights, Big City" to find a fascination in newspaper articles about lost children. America is a land where the missing appear on the morning milk cartons. Its hard to know whether "Lunar Park" will appeal to his normal fans - now older - and those who've stayed away to date, will probably remain distant, but they should take a look. American fiction is losing some of its "can do everything" feeling - and becoming more interesting as a result.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Me and my poem