Saturday, May 29, 2010

In a Lonely Place

Craig Finn, of American rock band The Hold Steady, writes a beautiful piece in yesterday's Guardian, about how, when writing a song on his new album, he remembered the obscure indie band Heavenly, their song "Space Manatee" which he had the single of a decade and a half ago, and of the suicide of Heavenly's drummer, Matthew Fletcher, an act which ended the band. I was a great fan of C86 style music, and, to a lesser degree, kept following the obscure bands that followed in its wake on labels such as Sarah Records and Fierce Panda. As Finn articulately states, this was music that was made with care, devotion almost, but without ever expecting fame or fortune. Yet a record recorded in obscurity could surface on a college radio station, and years later find itself the subject of a song by a band who are, in many ways, a world away from Heavenly. It reminds us that public suicides are also private ones. None of us could ever know Matthew Fletcher any more than we knew Kurt Cobain, yet in some ways we pretend to know the latter, and  share, somewhat, in an inherited grief. Around that time, the mid nineties, I wrote a song called "Glamour Suicide", partly as a response to a Jesus and Mary Chain song, but also against that whole myth of rock and roll suicide being a glamorous thing. I think it was Kurt Cobain's mother who put it best, referring to "that stupid club" of rock and roll deaths. Finn reminds us that there are many less celebrated figures who have taken their own life, and but for a few pieces of vinyl wouldn't be remembered at all, outside of their grieving family. When I wrote "Glamour Suicide" I hadn't known anyone who had taken their own life, though there was a guy who I had worked with a couple of years before who had made several attempts. Over a decade later, I know of three suicides, one a close friend, (which I touch on obliquely in my recent long poem, "Juxtaposition #4") and the sense that unlike other deaths, suicide is the one that never goes away - the pain that keeps on hurting - is self-evident. That song's rhythm slows down as if on life support - but it's quite a jaunty song, despite the lyrics and the theme. I was 27 when I wrote it. Was I in a lonely place (as the Joy Division song would have it) when I wrote it? I don't think I was - but it was almost like I had a premonition of the suicides that would touch me. Life seems really hard sometimes in your teens and early twenties, but later, you realise that its later that you get the real battle scars - you have seen people close to you die, accidentally, purposely, whatever.

What I liked about Finn's piece is that it somehow chimes with why we do art - not to be famous - but because somehow it matters, it can matter, and in ways which we don't always know - so that over a decade after last thinking about this particular song, another artist is reminded of it, and recalls it in song. I remember that great little song "Sweeping the Nation" by Spearmint with it's list of obscure bands, or Allen Ginsberg talking about "the best minds of my generation" in "Howl". There's a brilliant piece in this month's Uncut magazine about the Poetry International in 1965 which brought the counterculture to the UK for the first time. If the beats liked jazz, the hippies liked rock and roll, and it made all the difference somehow. In our creative spaces, it is as important to remember those who tried, as it is to remember those who may have succeeded. I like reading old poetry magazines and anthologies - such as the remarkable Angel Hair anthology  which celebrates the late 60s/early 70s poetry magazine of the same name. The lovely Poetry Magazines website is a great place to browse more recent British magazines.

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