Monday, July 31, 2006
The pleasure of putting your words down and having them appreciated is "thin porridge" compared to the thrill of meeting another person soul-to-soul, and the satisfaction of living three-dimensionally. I started out writing because I couldn't make it any other way in life. One might as well be honest.
What do you have at the end of your life except love?
He did his thing? I've always done my thing, so I see no romance in it. After a while the perpetual gratification of oneself gets hollow and boring.
I started writing, as a child, to give fuller play to my imagination. I started sending it out, in my late teens, after the imaginative element of my writing had all but died, because I was skinny, disturbed, unloved--I wanted to be told I was brilliant.
I continue writing, now, because I've done it so long it's as necessary as breathing. But I don't hope for anything from it.
I said to a friend after Maureen's funeral, "The only ambition I haven't achieved in life is figuring out a way to be happy." It's true. I'm working on it, though. And the one thing I'm sure of is that it can only be done through the connections you make with other people, down in the world,
"on dark earth,
before we all go to Heaven."
The rest is the empty ravings of the Ego.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
The Johnny Cash autobiography is a fantastic read. He wrote it in 1997 after his creative renaissance with Rick Rubin and American Recordings and it's imbued with the vitality and certainty of an artist who's on top of his game again. He tells of his friendship with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and his relationship with the true creator of rock and roll, Sun Records supremo Sam Phillips--stories any self-respecting fan of contemporary music will want to read. This is not the rather pious Christian we studiously avoided in the Seventies and Eighties. He doesn't deny his faith--why should he?--but he doesn't deny his frailties and failings either: a particularly powerful scene in the book shows him sick and shivering in amphetamine sweats on one side of a hotel door while Roy Orbison knocks on the other side, trying to gain admission to visit with his old friend and Hickory Lake neighbour. Cash can't move, so ashamed is he of his own physical condition, so unready is he to face the grief Orbison will be carrying after the deaths of his wife and two children all within a few months of each other. (Orbison, when Cash apologised to him later and explained the situation, said, "We've all been there." And haven't we just.)
A glance at various internet sites and a listen to arts review shows reveals that Cash has now transcended the country music tag that used to define him. He's regarded these days as some kind of monolith of rock and roll, godfather to all the alternative bands wrestling with booze and drugs to live honest lives in a dishonest world. Quite a feat for a guy I first saw on "Little House On The Prairie". But the contemporary image of John may be closer to the truth than that massaged, infinitely sentimental picture he presented back then, not longer after his suicide attempt and the fabled rescue of his wounded heart by June Carter: he was busy trying not to die in those days, he can be forgiven for losing some of his harder edge (you want suffering? go out and suffer for yourselves). Cash had a depth that his flirtation with the more self-righteous, conservative fringe of American Christianity could never rub off. Listen to any of the earlier recordings and you'll hear it. Listen to any of the later recordings and you'll hear it. Even Waylon Jennings wouldn't have consented to an advertising campaign like the one featured in the picture above.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
It'll need a few rhythm changes as I concentrated, over the two days I've been writing it, on getting the poem down rather than on making each line precise right there and then. But I won't be excising any of the thoughts that came out (some surprising, some distasteful), as I sat and wrote. "First thought, best thought." And the idea was to heal. Making the poem a kind of exorcism. If the thoughts arose, then they've been hiding in my brain these last ten years, manipulating and directing me to do the things I've done.
But I won't be posting the poem here even when it's finished, out of sensitivity to my mother and those who knew and loved her. Probably I'll make a chapbook of it. More information will appear here if I go that way.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Sampas, like a literary knight errant, reports that those sections excised from the original novel to suit the fashions and prejudices of the time will be restored in the new version--though he adds that sections taken out by Kerouac himself won't be included. Can it be said, then, to be truly unexpurgated? I would like to see the whole work, with--perhaps--annotations to indicate which sections Jack may not have wanted to be in the final version. That way we get a picture of his vision for the published work, but also his working method, and the truth of the man behind the increasingly fake and romanticised image. Jack was a man, flawed like all of us; but it was from this corruptible soil that some of the greatest prose and poetry of the last century emerged.
Incidentally, how are Sampas and the editors involved in the creation of the new version of "On The Road" going to be sure what was taken out by Kerouac and what was removed by other hands, including Giroux and Cowley, with whom he first worked on the novel? On the single-spaced typescript of the infamous "O.T.R." scroll I imagine that sort of scholarship would be extremely difficult; and the consequences of error would be disastrous for our understanding of Kerouac, and the perception of him as an author and a man by succeeding generations.
I was thinking about this as as I rode home on the bus tonight. I had bought Johnny Cash's autobiography just before I caught the bus. After I'd finished thinking about these people hating every moment of '06 heat I opened the Cash book and found, in the opening pages, Johnny listing all of the things he is thankful for. And though you could dismiss a gesture like that as rather cheesy, how much more preferable it is to look at your life as a gift rather than considering everything that happens an insult to your dignity and your natural right to occupy a throne and be worshipped by all. We're all going to die. Right? Would you rather die thinking how beautiful the rabbits were on the hill outside your window, or cursing because your old lady put too much starch in your underwear last night? Negative people may think they're cleverer than everybody else, but in truth they're a real f****** bringdown.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
However, I have done a test-write tonight of the new STRANGE TALES idea, writing about the weird years with my mentally unstable relative, and it flowed well, and reads okay. So I may continue with it tomorrow, if a poem doesn't come along before that and hijack my attention.
Now it's past 10pm, I'm stripped to the waist but still sweating and it's time to sit down in the dark and watch tv for a while before going to bed. Goodnight sweet world.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Tonight, though, talking to my friend, the idea came up that I might write a memoir/ autobiography focussing on all of the weirdness (how do you spell that? my dictionary is upstairs) that has happened in my life. It's not a bad idea. Long unemployment, hanging out with Communists and Anarchists, meeting poets, getting entangled with a mentally ill relative and watching her mind fall apart, the suicide of a friend who screwed my girlfriend, four years waiting for my last girlfriend to leave her husband. And so much more. If I could find a way to put all that in a book it would make the weirdest story ever told. In fact, that might even be the title. I'm going to think about this for a while and see what I come up with, though I'm reluctant in a way to invest the time and effort when in all likelihood I'll never be able to sell the book anyway.
In the real mail this morning I got a superior lit-gifting from poet t.kilgore splake: a copy of "Back Beat" by Albert DeGenova and Charles Rossiter (Cross+Roads Press 2001). Albert has been a contributor to ANGEL HEAD, and his style is well-appreciated by yours truly. Rossiter's work I don't know, but now I can get acquainted with it. Norb Blei's books are always attractive volumes--they could sit on any bookshop poetry shelf and nobody would be able to tell Cross+Roads wasn't a subsidiary of a major publishing house--but this one is particularly appealing to this old angel head because of a fantastic Emmett Johns drawing of Jack Kerouac in Messianic posture reading his poetry to a crowd. That old cache of impossible cool the Beats--and above all Kerouac--have is well communicated by Johns. Required bus stop reading for me for the next few days, oh yes.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Monday, July 24, 2006
Well, it's probably always been the same way; and I'm not entirely innocent--I deliberately contacted well-known names when I started Blue Frederick to get the magazine more attention. But really the cynical business part of the poetry game makes me want to vomit just a little bit. That's why I've withdrawn into my own little corner of the web and do my thing quietly in the company of whoever wants to come along. I just don't play the game anymore because the larger poetry world seems too phony to me, too filled with giant egos playing games with other people's trust.
Listen, guys: if you get too far away from the kid writing poems in a cheap notebook in his bedroom because he likes to write and he's got nothing else to do, you're in big f****** trouble creatively. Look what happened to Allen Ginsberg when he became his own Allen Ginsberg doll.
On Reading Some of the Dharma
The literati have a party
and late in the evening
only a few are left
trying to smile through their sadness
as they talk of writers' retreats
A few more drinks will bring
a few more laughs.
"You got another book out,"
one of them says
"that's what we live for"
while over in the corner
two of their children
are cutting leaves
off the houseplants
with kiddie scissors
and the biggest smiles imaginable.
Jack Kerouac says
the world is empty
but the children
~ Gerald Nicosia 3/ 14/ 98
Sunday, July 23, 2006
You can read anyone if you're open-minded enough, or you have enough knowledge to get the references and understand the techniques. Or if you have enough patience to put up with bad technique and the poet's own bullshit. I have nothing against Zeitgeist Press, but their mission statement does exemplify the kind of anti-intellectual attitude that pervades in the small presses and makes much of what we produce so boring.
Everything that isn't easily understood is dismissed as "academic nonsense" (phrase courtesy of Brian Morrisey). Must the two words necessarily be yolked together? And what does "academic" mean? (We ought to understand our terms before we use them.)
WC Williams didn't call necessarily for a shift to vernacular speech in poetry; what he wanted was a correlative language in poetry for the speech rhythms of the modern age--and that was achieved a long time ago by Pound, Williams himself, Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas--all of whom, with the exception of the Doc--are dismissed as "unreadable" by practising poets today (and those who love WCW's plums and wheelbarrows don't read his great "Patterson" epic).
Sentence of the week: The images are not rained upon with glorified intricate metaphors, but prevail getting down to the seeds in the brilliance and power of raw truth (Brian Morrisey again).
I get fed up (and this is the thrust of it--I'm not presenting an objective argument, it just bores me)--I get fed up with reading the same flat statements in unadorned language about things that happen to all of us all the time, which is where small press poetry (especially of the hipper variety) has gone, with lines always broken up in the same way. It reads a lot better than those folks who mishandle a loftier language and fumble with elaborate metaphors; but it's still dull--poets have been writing in the same way since Kerouac died.
And I'm really fed up reading about prostitutes and homeless guys and the nobility of the streets. That's sentimental. You love the streets so much, let the Whitman-lookalike who hassles you for cigarettes and change every day have your apartment and you go sleep in a doorway.
Every time I read a poetry magazine these days I have the strong feeling that poetry is ready to move into the next phase of its historical development, and everybody's just waiting around to see what happens. We are scribbling poems in the bright hungover morning with the ashes of the real party--the Beat Generation heyday--glowing faintly on the fire. It's not a bad place to be, but there's more to come.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
I dwelt on what the woman had said for a long time. I find premises like the one she had spat all over us disturbing, because the God I grew up with was a friendly, loving God, and the boy Jesus was a chilled-out hippie: surely He would disapprove of people making threats in His name, being all wrathful about everybody but themselves. And then I thought, Well, it wouldn't matter anyway, because most folks who haven't sworn fealty to Jesus don't believe in Heaven, so threatening them with exclusion from something they don't believe exists is hardly going to whip them into line.
If God does exist--and in my book it's an "if" the size of Aberdeen--my bet is that He'll look into our hearts when we are waiting outside the Gates of Heaven, and admit or reject using what He sees in there as His criteria. If He's only going to check your passport is in order, He seems like a funny sort of all-seeing all-knowing transcendental superbeing to me.
can it be true
what i've been
don't go to heaven
don't have souls
like we exalted
if it is true
(as i'm assured),
and there'll be
no cats, no dogs
no birds there
when i croak
my last, then
lord, i'm just
not coming up.
i ask you humbly
to send me
where they go
with no animals
to this angel head.
drank coffee listening to birdsong
in the trees around the garden.
the bing-bong of announcements
at the rail station carried
through the air. such peace.
one summer i waded through
ken kesey's giant 'sometimes a
great notion' novel with a photo
of bob dylan for a bookmark.
i really knew myself back then,
but i didn't know i knew. i had
an hour daily with kesey, the
birds, the bing-bong and the soughing
wind before i put on my face
reluctantly and went down into
the home. the complications
that blew me too far from the
peace i found were self-made,
though i put the blame, in true
bruce fashion, on everyone but me.
Friday, July 21, 2006
The first things that have had to go are the chocolate and the doughnuts. Oh, and the ready meals (I don't like to cook). I understand that ready meals are packed full of salt (or something). Hmm. I've also had to concede that it may not do my waistline any good to eat seven to eleven rounds of bread a day. My friend, who's a cook, reckons four a day might be sufficient.
My God! Suddenly I'm buying rice cakes, eating vegetables of all things, and refraining from filling my face until meal times. Radical. And I have this pleasantly confused, slightly swimmy feeling in my head all the time because I'm not stuffed to the point of being semi-comatose.
It's like living inside an edgy but weirdly stimulating dream.
in unseemly haste
to blow off
the stress of
this week, and
my adolescent crush
on her, i
sucked the filter
of the tab
that you and i
when you went
use the benjo.
i went right
down my throat
as well, like
a fly committing
suicide. it wasn't
joke that struck
my funny bone
and made me
laugh until i
choked. it was
the filter from
which is why
you dropped it
when i passed
it back. your fingers
pure hot roach
with no retarding
a bit like how
it feels with her
i thought, quite
the image, and
would write it
down like this
as soon as i
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Well, that has to stop, for a start. I like the idea of marriage, though I've never been married--not legally anyway. But I don't like the idea of holding back the water until God sanctifies a dam!-- especially since I'm not even convinced there is a God. My bohemian training encourages me to gratify my desires as they arise; and I can't see anything immoral in that, since my desires only run to sex with a consenting adult, alcohol and the occasional tab--none of which are likely to bring down civilisation.
Perhaps it would be different if I had Heaven, as she does. Perhaps God makes sense of abstinence.
After all, she is the one who wakes up in the morning glad to be alive. She is the one who's survived painful divorce and the death of her father and her best friend all in one year, and still feels a sense of gratitude for her home, her family, her surviving friends, her life. Mr. Smart-Alec Permanently-Gratified Bohemian hasn't woken up in a good mood for twenty-five years.
I've been in maintain mode ever since I came back from the working week away, holding on grimly until I could take some time off and recharge my all-but-flat batteries at home with my books and in my sanctified refuge at the Squirrel Hilton. I've also had to factor in the unexpected resurrection of my social life. Hunted in the workplace, blunted when I leave. "No sympathy for the devil".
The Poem will return this weekend when the temperature dips and I start putting together the next ANGEL HEAD. So much fine writing by so many good poets will undoubtedly be the boost my inspiration needs. Watch S.P. for details of when the next issue is online.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
leave her husband.
This one loves God
and won't abandon Him
for a mortal romance
of the sweaty, fleshy
kind i favour.
to another guy again!
How long, o Lord,
how long before
I get to taste
the fruit of love once more?
We all know that America is the superpower. But whatever happened to the two British stalwarts of pride and arrogance? Blair should not be placing himself in the role of over-eager hanger-on ready to do anything he is asked when he deals with the least intelligent, least effective, most dangerous US president in modern history. In his own country he is famous for his control freakery and his disdain for the democratic process. So why is he stuttering here like he's approaching Humphrey Bogart to autograph his napkin?
Other disturbing things: 1) (and forgive the Englishness), that Bush does not know it's vulgar to chomp snack food with your mouth open while talking to an important guest, and 2) --perhaps even more disturbing than the spectacle of Blair abasing himself--that a man of Bush's age and background uses a word like "Yo". "Yo Blair!" For some reason the idea of that makes me shudder. It exposes him for a vain and swaggering fool with absolutely no sense of irony.
But who's the real fool? At least when Bush goes to bed at night he can do so without the troubling memory of the moment in the day when he voluntarily fed someone else his testicles.
How much like an arrogant, intellectually limited redneck on his front porch beneath an American flag with an AK-47 on his lap did George Bush sound in the same conversation? No analysis, no nuances in the thinking, just bloated posturing for the benefit of someone he obviously regards as an inferior.
Blair's relationship with Bush has done more harm to his reputation in Britain and abroad than even the occupation of Iraq. And now the Dynamic Duo want to make war with Iran?
No wonder Tony Blair is the only person left in the world who believes in British justice.
Monday, July 17, 2006
I'm listening to his Greatest Hits as I write and thinking of many things, including Billy Bragg's comment Bruce Springsteen is the reason I don't lose faith in America. There are many other reasons--like t.k.splake, Ralph Murre, Sharon Auberle, Norb Blei, Walt Whitman, Sam Shepard, Gary Cooper AND the landscape, the American Constitution (however much they abuse it), the Indian traditions, George Bush's atrocious stateside poll ratings--but you know what Billy Bragg means. Springsteen seems to carry on his shoulders the whole left-wing/ independent American song tradition, and if anything has radical fervour has increased with age. But he's also extremely cool, in a very geeky uncool way. The beautiful thing about America was always the perfect marrying of style and substance. Would the Beat Generation continue to appeal to us across the globe if they were associated with cardigans and slippers in damp wallpapered attic rooms rather than road going and jeans and great hair? I am a wholly unreconstructed hardcore Kerouac-loving Angel Head, and even I don't think so.
Springsteen hit big at the exact moment I hit adulthood (1983/ '84), and as such he belongs to my generation in a way that none of the other singers I admire ever could. I drove past an abandoned petrol station in Wellingborough the other day and remembered going into it in my dad's car the day I bought "Born in the U.S.A." (the day it was released in the UK). My dad put it on the car stereo grudgingly--I suppose my mum had pressured him into it--and keeping it at a volume almost too low for me to hear in the back, played it for a few minutes before declaring, "That's so repetitive" and taking it off. But through Springsteen I learned to love my dad and be proud that I had sprung from his loins. When I listen to "My Hometown" now I think of Wellingborough and my dad and I know who I am and where I have come from; I know with pride and love the stuff that has made me the man I am today. A 41-year-old Beat Brit Bard full of sadness and regret, with a lifetime of selfishness and bad choices made and emotional cruelty to others still not quite behind me, but perhaps not such a bad guy after all, somehow. "This is the creature I am," as Allen Ginsberg would say.
And half of the love I have in me I found in Bruce Springsteen albums. Can't say anything like that about any of the other artists I listen to.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
I am thinking of a softness
that she fills me with.
when she's in my radius
everything feels soft inside;
and when she's not, it doesn't.
like when i leave her house
i feel the softness being
pulled out of me
by the fist of distance.
i miss the softness so much
it makes the parts of me
that had felt soft feel
heavy like impacted stars.
the sky's face in light or dark
looks like your mother's face
when she was angry with you,
and giving you the famous
i just want to be loved
by someone, preferably
somebody nice like her.
There's no sense in dressing
up these things to make
your poems seem cleverer.
All this "nationhood"...it's nice being part of something-I like being able to identify myself as English-but I know it doesn't mean anything. A nation's just a territory created by old wars! And personhood. What's a person? I've been looking for my person for the last five minutes and I can't find me anywhere. All I can find is the borders of my person, like these outstretched arms with fingers attached typing messages into the keyboard. They look remarkably like everybody else's borders too, albeit some are darker in colour, some have more or less hair, some don't need washing as much as mine.
People disagree with my person, but since my person doesn't seem to exist other than in some delusional hoodwink sense, why should I get too worked up about it? I do sometimes, same as everybody else, but why should I? Threaten my non-existent castle if you like, you can't throw hot oil down the walls of something that isn't there...
But even if you don't buy non-existence, isn't there room enough for everybody on this big planet? You think what you want and I'll go over there and think what I want. I like your spot, but that spot looks okay too. Maybe sometimes we can even phone each other and exchange ideas...
Like I said, I am a simple man.
I saw people getting into each other's faces and spit-shouting to settle disagreements on the work holiday I've just returned from...I heard one person threatening to firebomb another person's house with them in it, their statement perfectly sincere in that moment of fulminating anger--and though people tell me anger is a positive thing and my own efforts at emotional self-control the sign of some disorder, I have to tell you, dear reader, I thought the behaviour of those work colleagues a disgrace, and an embarrassment to a species that included Buddha, Leonardo Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Gandhi. Violence is the resort of crazy dogs. We have a choice.
It begins by getting your head out of your own ass and learning some respect for other people and this beautiful planet we occupy so temporarily, in our turn.
That woman has opened up a world of feelings I've never known before. When I finish talking to her and go back to my empty house the separation hurts.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Remember I promised you a tedious holiday story? (that is, the story of a tedious holiday). Well, the stories may filter out slowly over the next few days, if I can be bothered to tell them. It was long, it was boring, we were forced to live on top of each other (almost literally), in a manner that just doesn't suit a lonesome angel head, and the service users we took with us made cool meditative holidaying a challenge that defeated everyone. The only thing that made the week bearable for me was the breathtaking beauty of the bay that housed the caravan park. I found a pathway up to a hilltop that looked down over the park and the sea and went there every day at dawn and at dusk to meditate, write poetry and clear my head. I christened the hill "point splake", though none of my work colleagues could wrap their brains around the smith nom-de-plume and kept calling it "Bruce's Hill" instead. Some of them even started hiking up to point splake themselves to marvel at the panorama beneath them.
For the first few days the visits to my hilltop eyrie rescued my spirits. But then--ah, even beauty is not sufficient consolation when there's a hole inside you shaped like a 400-year-old cottage four hours drive away from your present location. I'm happier to be back here now than I can possibly tell you.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Many died, many who survived still suffer horrendously as a result of the injuries sustained in these callous, cowardly attacks.
Remember how it felt that day.
Then try hard to understand and to forgive. If you don't, you risk becoming the mirror image of the people who took the bombs onto those trains and buses and spread death and horror that hot July morning.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
I don't want to go. I've never been to Somerset, but I'd rather not discover it for the first time on a date and at a location chosen by somebody else; and in the company of people I wouldn't normally socialise with--nice as some of them are. It is a contractual obligation, however, so I'm stuck!
Ungrateful swine, do I hear you say? It's a free holiday! Well, yes. And I'm sure there will be some laughs while we're there. I may even get some writing done, when I go wandering lonely as a cloud on my days off.
But can I really live for that long without access to my computer?
Going cold turkey from blogging and word processing I may be a nervous wreck by the end of next week.
Btw, anybody who thinks they might take my absence from the Lookout as an opportunity to break in and rob me--don't even try it. There are dangers here you wouldn't even believe. And my neighbour will shoot your legs off.
Tony. Old pal. Put a sock in it.
Well, I held off calling the guy (let's say his name is Joe, which it is), for a while--life and nerves getting in the way--but I finally phoned him tonight and he was a prince. He's pencilled me in for a night in August or September. Or the Months of the Brown Trousers, as they will be known.
I'm going down to Beat Night tomorrow night with Tim to have a look at the venue, get a feel of the crowd, listen to whoever is performing. It seems there's been an active poetry community in Northampton for a while now, and in my arrogant isolation I knew nothing about it. Isn't that the way. Bruce always knows better than everybody else.
the air smells
like the sea from childhood.
so fierce it looks
like movie rain, or
sea spray from a ship.
great shot from heaven!
one bolt of lightning
took the power out.
after the thunderstorm
the sky grumbles sullenly,
ashamed how it behaved.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Monday, July 03, 2006
even the old mens' heads are turned
by the way she walks
inside her short red dress.
the wind turbine on the hillside waits
for a portly Spanish knight
to confuse it with a giant
on the streets of other days
afraid some old flame
will meet me with my belly
dandelion clocks floating
through the stifling summer air
in the crematorium car park
smirking through my tears--
the vicar said she learned
to dive, not drive!
he's out fast in his shorts
and sandals, carrying
his cassock underarm!
what i'd give
to hear a sutra, or see
a lama's smiling face today.
in black chatting quietly
while our hostess washes up--
jim beam in the coffee.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
JOHN PEEL EVERYDAY, the site dedicated to the late and fantastically lamented British disc jockey, has had a haircut and a facial and is ready to view in its new gussied-up condition by hitting the link in the Reading Room . If you remember Peel, you will probably have gone over for a look already. If you don't, have a look anyway. The indie bands that are all over the British charts like chicken pox are presenting a commercial version of the music he alone (more or less), supported on national radio throughout the Eighties and Nineties--at least until the Bugsy Malone version of the Peel Show, Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley's Evening Session came along. Andy Kershaw was always a kindred spirit of course (though he slagged off the marvellous Home Truths), but Kershaw--in true independent fashion (for let us not forget "indie" means independent)-- disappeared up a side alley and ended up playing World Music on Radio 3.
It vexed me as only an irritable old man can be vexed when a 20-year-old indie-loving work colleague saw me with Peel's autobiography and asked me who he was. You can't expect anything else, of course. Time marches on. Peel himself wouldn't have had it any other way, though by all accounts he worried constantly about being superseded by some new young turk who would expose him for the old fart he felt himself to be.
It never happened.
And it still hasn't happened, even though Peel is no longer with us (at least in portly bodily form).
I would venture to suggest that as society moves further and further away from the hippie/ punk/ radical hip hop counter cultures, the chances are increasingly remote of another genuinely independent voice like Peel's coming along and influencing the direction in which the artists and "the industry" go. But I hope I'm wrong. It was fun, while he was alive, having one person on the cultural scene that money couldn't buy.
But I am rambling. Just have a look at the site!
(By the way, if the owner of the copyright on the above photo, whoever he or she or it--if it's a company--might be object to its presence here, just let me know and I'll remove it. You could sue me, of course, but since I have nothing it might be a waste of time.)
some helpful biographical data
While sitting in the bath, where I do a lot of creative thinking, it crossed my mind that since most S.P. readers don't know who Peel was, I should provide, as the subheading indicates, some helpful biographical data.
Peel was born John Robert Parker Ravenscroft. The surname morphed to "Ravencroft" in the Sixties when Peel was working on radio in America, as somebody mysteriously believed the "s" was superfluous, then morphed still further into Peel--I believe on his return to the UK in 1967 (though Domestic Empire may be able to correct me on that one).
After returning to England, Peelie became one of the infamous "pirate" djs broadcasting from a ship just off the English coast for a radio station whose name I've forgotten: was it London? or Caroline?--the only way, in those days, to break the hammerhold that the BBC had on the British airwaves. His show, The Perfumed Garden, was by all accounts a fascinating hippie affair (John, in those days, was as hippie as they came), full of music nobody else would play, poetry, John's own idiosyncratic verbal meanderings. It became a legend in its own lifetime, and the fortunate folks who remember it still talk about it with admiration.
As tends to happen when something new and vital starts stirring things up, the BBC looked down on the pirate ships and dropped a cheque book on their heads to neutralise the threat they posed. The worst and the best of the djs were handsomely rewarded to come in from the sea and join the roster of the newly established youth radio station, Radio One; and John Peel, who can blame him, took the king's shilling and went along. I doubt he expected he would be there very long, hoeing a row that had seemed perversely independent even among the pirates. But he was to be there for the rest of his life, his late night shows still required listening for those who liked their music raw-boned and independent even into the daftly-named noughties.
I first became aware of John in the late Seventies, when school friends who were into punk rock began talking about his shows. Peel made punk in the UK, arguably, by packing his shows with the emerging new music when no other disc jockey at the BBC--or anywhere-- would touch it. His own listeners hated him for it--they were hippies and this new music did not fit the hippie template at all: it was short, violent and determinedly stupid, a celebration of everything negative and anti-life. Or so it seemed . But Peel ignored their criticisms. If anything, actually, he was encouraged by them. If punk was inviting that much contumely, it must be breaking new cultural ground: didn't Elvis Presley, after all, bring the towering wrath of the older generations down on his head when "Heartbreak Hotel" sent shock waves around the world in 1956? Peel had never forgotten the excitement, the sheer physical release, of hearing Presley for the first time; and he said somewhere that discovering punk in his late 30s had a similar seismic impact on him.
And so it continued. Punk came and went, Two Tone arrived, the Eighties arrived, grunge closed the Eighties off, hip hop seared itself on the international consciousness and a hundred other half-remembered musical sub-movements had their moment; and John Peel was the first disc jockey on the British airwaves to announce, to promote and to sound the death-knell (as they became commercial successes) of all of them. It wasn't that he was a trend-hopper or that he was concerned with being hipper-than-thou. He was, actually, the supreme old-fashioned middle-class English curmudgeon (which may be why I like him so much): one of his regular gigs, in later years, was as a commentator on the tv show "Grumpy Old Men", where ageing media figures bemoaned the ridiculousness of modern society and of the younger generations. Peel loved music and he wanted it to excite him as Elvis had excited him, as Captain Beefheart had excited him, as--latterly--the Fall had excited him; he wanted to be discovering music every day like a trapped sixteen-year-old stuck somewhere he doesn't want to be in company he can't abide, dreaming of new worlds in which he will be the Man. He once claimed--and I think we can believe him--that he was truly mystified by the attraction, for men of his generation, of staying at home playing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the millionth time. The old heroes, to Peel, were like family uncles he visited occasionally, but usually preferred to avoid.
An attitude, I think, that people in any creative field might do well to assume.
In later years, Peel became the presenter of Home Truths on Radio 4, a "magazine programme", as they're called, about the joys and pains and peculiarities of family life. He invited much criticism, again, for doing this, Radio 4 being seen as too sedate for the Peel of our imagination--it is, also, the home of the Establishment in the UK, well known as the station that politicians listen to--but he persisted, in the old familiar pattern, because he liked it. Family was the only thing that was more important to John than music, as his children discovered to their discomfort when he told stories about them on the radio they would have preferred him not to broadcast. At their request, he stopped doing it.
I have already written extensively about what the world lost when Peel died, so I won't go into it again here. Try a couple of the downloads available at the site and you'll start to get it. And read "Margrave of the Marshes", his autobiography, beautifully finished for him by wife Sheila after his death. You'll find a review of it somewhere in the "Suffolk Punch" archives.
And didn't we all know it would be when it went to penalties. I've seen them all, and what a tale of woe the history of England penalty shoot-outs is. In fact, I can't remember them ever winning one.
But that is, as they say, by the by. England finally put together a giant performance today, their best performance since we beat Argentina--if you discount the 60-odd minutes before Wayne Rooney stamped on the nuts of one of the Portugal players and then, weirdly, appeared to be sent off for shoving his Manchester United teammate (there'll be trouble there next season) Ronaldo. Up to that point England played the exasperatingly dull game that has characterised their uneasy transit through the competition--with the 4-5-1 formation the gnomish manager Ericsson adopted they could hardly do otherwise.
Rooney's departure--and the substitution of David Beckham just before, who like Owen injured himself by attempting the imponderably difficult task of standing on his own legs (only in England, eh?)--galvanised the team into a death-or-glory performance such as we have all known they had inside them, but had given up hope of seeing. Finally, as the sentimental but rather wonderful old footballing cliche goes, they were ready to die for their shirts. And perhaps I'm being overly English by saying this, but taking that into consideration, I couldn't care less that it all went breasts up in the penalty shoot-out, and now they will be flying home. All I ever wanted was something to be proud of.
It's been a hell of a ride, guys. Now let's get ready for the Euros in 2008.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Because I could not stop for Death--
He kindly stopped for me--
The Carriage held but just Ourselves--
We slowly drove--He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For his Civility--
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess--in the Ring--
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain--
We passed the Setting Sun--
Or rather--He passed Us--
The Dews drew quivering and chill--
For only Gossamer, my Gown--
My Tippet--only Tulle--
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground--
The Roof was scarcely visible--
The Cornice--in the Ground--
Since then--'tis Centuries--and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity--
from an email to t.k.splake, 30/6/06
what have I left out
what have I forgotten
with a long black shoe
with Communist Party and a broken stocking
(from "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg" by Allen Ginsberg)
Tomorrow is the tenth anniversay of my mother Sylvia's death. It seems unbelievable that so much time has passed since she "went her merry way", as the poem says--though there's nothing merry about an agonizing death from cancer. I have become much more preoccupied with it this year than I was at year 6/7/8/9--probably because ten is a number that closes, a number that encloses a very definite and easily-understood chunk of time. So the arrival of the first decade since her death marks the end of something related to her--perhaps the final and utter passing of the world in which she lived. Which in itself is a cause for grieving, though things were pretty much screwed up for me then, trapped as I was by fear and confusion, unable to move in any direction, unable to hold onto the things in my life that were good, like the active social life that was about to collapse under the pressure of my paranoia and suspicion, my fragile ego, my egotism: after that fell apart I didn't go out socially for five or six years, got caught in a twisted situation with a relative who took my money and fed me lies about everybody I knew to mess my head up...stories of rape and child abuse, horror scenes I was too fragile to deal with objectively, too naive about how vile some people can be to see the utter falsehood in. She had a heart that was as black as winter midnight, and it took me half a decade to realise.
I am away from all that now. I have many friends in the living flesh-pressed world, and long-distance friends made through poetry. But as the tenth anniversary of my mother's death arrives I find I still miss her painfully. Still recall her wit and loving-kindness, as well as her sour rotten moods and resentments--evidence of the unspoiled child that lived inside her even at 54. She gave me whatever delight I take in my life, most of the principles I cherish, and she taught me how to write--literally, by encouraging me to pick up a pen and use it, and figuratively by teaching me that the imagination was primary and the real world should never be allowed to interfere with that too much. If I can pass on a message to any impressionable minds that might be foolish enough to listen to me, it will be that one.
I hope she got the Heaven that she wanted and not my dreary old reincarnation round, coming back to die over and over and over again like Maureen and that 15-year-old friend of my friend's daughter in Northampton and John Peel and me too someday, though hopefully not until I've achieved my last unfulfilled ambition--to figure out a way to be happy in this too-short and frequently wretched life.