I've been in Barcelona for much of the last week - and that was immediately after this year's typically excellent FutureEverything festival in Manchester. The two cities have a lot in common, or at least a lot of connections between them - but I wasn't quite expecting Thursday's torrential rain to be one of them!
Much as I enjoyed the visit, it was for work, and I didn't find time to read, write or listen to anything all week, so I need a bit of a cultural top-up now I'm back. Its 20 years since Kurt Cobain died and since "Definitely Maybe" by Oasis. I was pretty established in Manchester by 1994, and had moved into a decent sized flat in West Didsbury after 18 months in Eccles. Here I recorded a new cassette "Seventy Mauve", which at the age of 27, was probably me at one of my musical peaks. (The last seven tracks of my 90s compilation "Nineties Sell Thru" are taken from it.) Nirvana and Oasis seem to owe something to each other. For a start they both achieved the seemingly impossible - breaking out from, respectively the American hardcore, and UK indie scenes into becoming briefly, the biggest bands around. The massive sales of "Nevermind" saw Nirvana retreat into the more left-field sounds of "In Utero", and - we know now - dissolution and heroine. "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" - Oasis's 2nd album - is still one of the top 5 bestselling albums in the UK of all time; and led to cocaine, excess and declining artistic returns. There the similarities stop of course; for Oasis wanted to "Live Forever" whilst Cobain wrote a song called "I Hate Myself and I want to die." This is not just a difference between American and European sensibilities, or a tale of two working class heroes - rather, in some ways, I suspect the commercial success of grunge paved the way somehow for a British rock band like Oasis. Both bands, remember, were purveyors of rock classicism, but for Nirvana is was Boston and Sabbath, whilst for Oasis is was Slade and the Beatles. Post-Morning Glory Oasis were as relevant I guess as the Foo Fighters were after Nirvana died, retaining a large part of the audience, but losing a large part of the point.
Anyway, I was reading about Oasis on the flight over and will probably come back to them in a bit. Culturally Nirvana remain the bigger draw, not least because of that violent ending (after all the antagonistic Burnage brothers are still both with us, thankfully), and I notice that the winner of this year's Sunday Times short story prize is for a story entitled "Nirvana" by Adam Johnson, whilst the bookshops are full of a novel called "In Bloom" by Matthew Crow.
My Nirvana shelf now runs to 10 CDs, which isn't bad for a band who only lasted for 3 albums. Like all great rock bands I don't listen to them with nostalgia, but as if they were minted yesterday. The same applies to Oasis's first couple of years, but less so to the "Britpop" phenomenon that came in its wake. If we are nostalgic now for Sleeper, Ash and Supergrass its probably because "rock music" has pretty much died as a vital charting phenomenon in the years since, caught between reality TV, autotune and protools, and R&B.
Literature seems a little less allied to fashions, though I'm curious at how easy it is for an individual writer - particularly like me, one who is not in any way part of the industry - to be curiously always separate from the fashion. So its been particularly pleasing that a couple of seeds I sowed in the early part of the year have borne fruit. I have 3 poems alongside a somewhat stellar line up in the 2nd issue of poetry/plays/fiction magazine "Bare Fiction" (available mail order or from Foyles, Charing Cross Road.) Very pleasing to be alongside writers of the calibre and originality of Hannah Silva, Ira Lightman, Isobel Dixon and others. And I've also got a piece of "hybrid art" (it contains no words, so I hesitate to call it poetry!) in issue 2 of "Verse Kraken" a wonderfully clever online magazine which uses "spurs" to encourage new, original work; again I'm alongside quite a few artists/writers whose work I admire.
I'm back in Manchester, and leafing through my Facebook events (funny how we still using the page metaphor), I see that this Friday is Ben Marcus, the American experimental prose writer, at the Anthony Burgess Foundation. I'd recommend to anyone interested in the cutting edge of American fiction to come along. The following day is the Manchester print fair, a regular event in the calendar now, which celebrates print in this age of the virtual. Go in the afternoon so you can stay around for a one-off poetry event - No Spy Zone - poets responding to the NSA/GCHQ surveillance. The glacial pace of the poetry world means that poets are sometimes seen as apolitical, yet it was Carol Ann Duffy joining other writers outside Pentonville Prison recently that got the national media interested in the ban on books in prisons; and it is local poets who are able to respond quickly and imaginatively to our new surveillance culture. You probably won't find much evidence of it in Poetry Review, or on Front Row, of course, but I'm increasingly of the view that the commodising of art culture is part of the problem. D.I.Y. is not just out of necessity, but a preferred mode of operation.
See you all there.
April is also National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). Which, I think you'll agree, is pretty cool. Are you having a go Adrian?
I did it a couple of years ago, and decided that a poem a day was a little too many for me, though I did enjoy the process. But if anyone's doing it, good luck.
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