Monday, September 28, 2009

Mickey Rourke And Me

The thought occurred last night that chronologically at least Mickey Rourke is almost a contemporary of mine. And when he came to my attention for the first time in 1983, playing the Motorcycle Boy with Brandoesque intensity and intelligence, but with an elegance uniquely Mickey's, I thought I'd seen an actor who'd be a creative touchstone to me for the whole of my life.

Of course, everybody knows what happened to Rourke soon afterwards. The last movie of his I watched was a version of Bukowski's "Barfly" that somehow failed completely to catch the poetry of Bukowski's writing or his vision; and the elegance of the Motorcycle Boy had vanished from Rourke himself. Then there were the newspaper stories, which we needn't revisit here since the parts of it that were true are Rourke's business, and the majority of it was probably invented anyway.

He has returned to prominence now, however, with "The Wrestler". I haven't seen it yet, since I don't go to cinemas and I was waiting for the dvd to come down in price before I bought it. Now it has, and it's sitting on the bench under my tv at home waiting to be watched tonight. And the tag line under the movie title is "Never give up without a fight."

Indeed. We are in the end days, Mickey Rourke and me, when the talk is of Last Chances. Mickey has seized his, by all accounts, and made a movie that will stand forever as a monument to his wayward life and his tremendous gift.

But what have I achieved, in the 25 years since I first watched "Rumble Fish", with my laziness and indecision, with my lack of focus, my lack of mental strength, my wavering self-belief? And how much time do I have left? Thirty years if I'm extremely lucky; but the way things are going, probably a hell of a lot less.

If I don't get serious about these matters, like Mickey Rourke did with "The Wrestler", I'm going to run out of time. I could wind up being remembered, if I'm remembered at all, as the greatest man ever to achieve absolutely nothing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Stasis And Change: A Voice From The Past

I love the internet, but in some ways I lead a pre-internet life. I hope I always do. I buy my music in music shops like HMV (if you can still call them that), and I rely on the release information over the counter to tell me when an artist I like has something new coming out. It's that or the music magazines, though I don't buy them often; I'm too old for NME, and the magazines directed at the older fan have a disturbing tendency to write endlessly about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones--which is fine, but you want something more unusual and stimulating if you're paying a £4.95 cover price for your reading matter. And the music I buy tends to be played on what product manufacturers (apparently stuck in the Eighties, which I guess is a couple of decades more up-to-date than me) call without a trace of irony a "boom box". I could fork out more and get a proper whatever-you'd-call-it, with grown-up speakers etc., and a radio inside, but the idea just doesn't appeal to me. Such things seem pointlessly showy to me, and who am I being showy for?

Those little objects people put in their ears to play music on don't appeal to me either. You have to download the music first anyway if you want to play them on those contraptions, and I don't have a computer since mine stopped working.

As for reading itself...I mean, book reading, and poetry reading...well I prefer to do that with a book in my hand rather than reading off a computer screen. It's something that probably looks terribly quaint to most people, especially the under thirties, but I like the quaintness as much as I appreciate the activity. I don't really want to be a part of the world that's developing anyway, not a wholehearted, unquestioning part. I've seen another way and there were some things about it that I liked a lot better.

No design object, as far as I'm concerned, that you can find in the household is more beautiful than a well-packaged book.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It Kept On Raining And At Last The Levee Broke

I wrote my first poem in a year last night. I'm holding onto it for a while so I can get a proper distance on it--before I present it here or anywhere else that might be appropriate I mean--but it was a great relief to get one out. My focus at the moment is on my book (still no title), which is a kind of alternative history of the 1980s seen through my eyes, with a special emphasis on music, literature and politics (my three major interests); but I used to write poetry every day. Sometimes they were even worth reading, such as the ones Norbert Blei featured in his book "Other Voices" (sorry Norb, I don't have the publishing details to hand), or the many I got into British magazines like the legendary "Outlaw" .It would be awful to think that for whatever psychological or physical reasons I just couldn't do it anymore.

Well, the poem last night suggests I might still be able to do it, from time to time, with the right stimuli: I'd had a lot of black coffee before I wrote it, and a banana, and I'd watched a great movie which got my mind pulsating (it was my awe of certain singers and poets and film directors which pulled me into the arts in the first place). I'd also had a short, funny conversation with a woman I'm extremely fond of, last night, while I watched the film. And then the poem just came out, if I could really claim it to be that much of a sudden and miraculous event when I had to take the thing through three drafts to get it to its current state.

But it is here, and that's what matters. Even if nobody ever reads it, or if those who do don't like it. They will like something that I write, at some point, if the inspiration proves to be consistent. And it matters more to me than I let on that my writing is accepted somewhere, though the Nobel Prize may be a step too far for somebody who can alienate even himself without intending think?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What If?

What if my supposed intelligence and this book I keep talking about are just the snobbish delusions of a back street weirdo everybody else avoids because he has the stench of failure and loneliness about him? What if this time off work spent labouring over the book is a criminal waste of temporary liberty and I would have been better occupied lying on a beach with a cocktail in my hand? What if all my ideas really are just the useless transparent rationalisations of a pathetic man who was rejected early by society and never made his way back in? Huh? What if?

The Standard View Of The Philistines Again

A couple of enlightened souls have suggested, knowing about the book I'm writing and my continuing preoccupation with the topic generally, that I would look back on the Eighties more happily if I'd had more fun at the time. That maybe I wouldn't have taken such a dim view of everything at the time, even, if I'd had more sex and I'd gone to more parties.

It's an interestingly philistine view, in my opinion. Do ideas always have to be the consolation prize for those without what is called "a life" ? Do we only follow politics or read books if we don't have someone to go out and get drunk with? Do we only care about what's happening to our neighbour if we have no one to fuck?

Actually, if anybody is reading this, I had a lot of fun in the Eighties, although I was pretty messed up emotionally at times; I'm not going to justify myself here by detailing the fun I had, but rest assured, ye masters and mistresses of erectile and cocktail bar oneupmanship, I had my share. I just happened not to like watching miners and rainbow travellers and the unemployed getting their heads cracked open for the crime of disagreeing with their Government. I just didn't appreciate the legislative persecution of homosexuals. I'm funny that way.

Many English people only acquire a sense of responsibility for the direction their country is travelling in, of course, when there's a dark-skinned or foreign-speaking community to persecute.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Why is a piece of writing considered more legitimately creative and artistic just because it's been chopped up on the page and presented as something called a poem?

Poetry is a quality that some writing finds, to me, not the particular manner in which something has been written.

There is more poetry in the better newspapers than you find in half the magazines.

Alarm! Look What They're Responsible For Now!!!

Somebody on the radio today (yes, I'm always listening to the radio) proposed that England is being driven to the Right by excessive immigration because people from Muslim and predominantly Christian African countries tend to be more conservative than we are instinctively.

I'd never heard that before, and I don't know if it's true. I'm not even sure if the fundamental premise--that the U.K. is a liberal society--could be sustained by argument. Most of the African people I know are more conservative than I am, but so are most of the English people. And the majority of Muslim people I know are reluctant to express their opinions in mixed company because they expect them to be greeted with hostility.

The newspaper representation of Muslims here or abroad is that they oppress their women. And many of the African men I know regard the relative freedom women have in the U.K. as unseemly. One man even suggested that a woman in a short skirt who's out on the town at night and drunk only has herself to blame if she gets raped. But a lot of Englishmen would say so too.

Homosexuality, in the meantime, is blithely put down by them all. And fiercely so by the Jamaican male, whose style and way of talking and whose music have made him a folk hero in the British consciousness. A female friend from Jamaica told me that if a man confesses to homosexual feelings in the wrong bar over there he's likely to get killed.

Regardless of how conservative they may or may not be,however, is the immigrant population really close enough to the machinery of Power or to the controllers of the mass media in the U.K. to influence opinion in any sort of direction? I doubt it. The only unconscionable right wing extremists allowed to go on television and radio and vent their spleen in this country are the B.N.P. and their cohorts. Who are, perhaps not coincidentally,


Friday, September 18, 2009

What Kind Of Subhuman Scumbag Would Mug An Old Lady From Behind For Her Purse?

This is the scene I came across stepping out of the Bard Gaff this morning: A weeping, confused old lady lying on the pavement a few doors up from my place with two boxes of chocolate next to her which she'd obviously dropped when she fell.

"Did you see him?" she asked me. "Did you see him? He took me from behind and ran off down the road!"

I looked down the hill but her attacker had obviously gone. There was nothing to be seen except two rows of parked cars and some bin bags.

"No, I didn't see anything," I said. "Are you all right?"

"He took my purse!" she said. "He took my purse! Good job there's nothing in it but some cards"--this without humour--"I'd better call the police."

I offered to call them for her but she declined. She was outside her own door when this prize example of humanity seized her, and she said her husband was inside. The thought occurred to me that he might not be, but who could blame her if she just wanted to be rid of me? One stranger had just mugged her after all. Now another was offering priestly ministrations?

I told her my house number in case the police needed it or for her to use if she wanted help later on, and then I left to come into town and shop.

But all the way along my route to the shops I couldn't get the mugging out of my head. And in some ways I was--and am--more preoccupied with the mugger than his victim. She will be okay. She had scraped her hands when he forced her to the ground, and the shock of what happened will probably not leave her for a while; she will undoubtedly lose her trust in people she doesn't know for a long time, if not for good. But one day the experience will be a small, if traumatic, memory.

What kind of person, though, if that word is still applicable in his case, would do something as disgusting and cowardly and parasitic and inhuman as mug an old lady, and from behind, not even giving her the chance to see him coming and punch him in the nuts or shriek for assistance? How can anybody be so self-involved, so solipsistic, so lacking in the normal human feelings of sympathy and consideration for others, that they would be able to do something like that?

You might say I have been living in Balamory or Cicely, Alaska all my life, but I find the idea of such inhumanity (if that word doesn't exist it should), terrifying.

The trade unions, of whom I am a great supporter, warn that poverty tears apart the social fabric of the nation. They're right. But in my experience the poorest people in society tend to be the most brave and dignified and generous and empathic. To suggest that this mugger was created by poverty is an insult to everybody else struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

To suggest, even, (as I am tempted), that he was created by the dehumanising effects of Capitalism is a nonsense. Yes, in Capitalism a flat screen tv is more valuable than the person who owns it, and human lives mean less than the circulation of money. But we resist Capitalism's odious attempts to remove our moral compass.

And anyway, perhaps a man who professes to be a Buddhist and a political liberal shouldn't say it, but to be frank who cares what created the scumbag who took that old lady's purse and the skin on her hands and her peace of mind this morning? He probably would have been a parasite and a danger wherever he was born in the social strata. Whether the Pope or the Dalai Lama or the Archbishop of Canterbury or Thich Nhat Han or Barack Obama or anybody else I admire would agree with me, I can't help believing that some people are just born with a streak of wickedness in them. And nothing can excuse what the mugger did; nothing. If he is found he should be whipped until he pleads forgiveness and then thrown into a dirty prison.

That's not likely to happen, though, in a country where even a murderer can expect only fourteen years in the slammer.

I wonder if we have to look there, first, for an explanation as to why some people feel free to violate the Law with impunity? Even a streak of pure evil might be held in harness, in some, if the consequences for them were worse than the thrill of an evil act.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Football Just Isn't My Game

I had a moment of disturbing self-realisation last night. One of those face-in-the-shaving mirror revelations about oneself (though I wasn't shaving), which could have startling implications for my social standing and questions of my manhood.

I don't give a toss about football.

I always said I did, simply because it was de-rigeur, the expected thing, social shorthand, a way of confirming to myself and others that I was normal when every urge or interest I've ever had has led me away from convention and into the netherworlds of imagination, creativity, sexual compulsion, book-learning and politics.

It kept the bullies at school away from me for a while when I joined in with conversations about Match of the Day. They could pick on the real freaks for a while then, the ones with too much integrity to pretend they cared about such a pointless and uninteresting game.

And it comforted me, despite it being a form of self-deception, to believe I shared a passion with the cruel simians who made my life so difficult. I didn't know what difference was back then. I thought it was a curse, not a blessing. That I had been marked out for a life of suffering. Which given the fact that somebody would abuse me or mock me or shove me or threaten me or hit me several times every day at school is not as melodramatic a conclusion to draw as it sounds.

I wanted to believe I could be like them so they would leave me the hell alone. I wanted to walk like them (arrogant swagger), talk like them (loud monosyllables and swearing), look like them (short-hair, same clothes as everyone else), think like them (not at all), share their interests (punk rock and footie). And though I cut my hair and swore at every available opportunity--although I attempted to walk as if I were wearing a wet incontinence pad (a walk Liam Gallagher perfected years later)--football was the only one of those I could pull off with any real conviction.

The trappings of conformity to that early ideal of convention have been falling away slowly for a long time now. Anyone who knows me in the flesh will attest to that. I can't even hear a conversation about "shagging birds" these days without wanting a hot shower (and sadly I hear such crude sexist claptrap from the majority of the men I know most of the time).

But a vague belief that I was "football mad" clung on longer than any other lie I told myself in my efforts to be one of the lads. I'm not, though. I can watch it if it's on, and there's nobody else in the room enjoying it. (Somehow that reminds me of what a mechanically conformist activity watching football is--like watching X Factor for people who are insecure about their sexuality--and it makes me want to go somewhere else and read.) But watching football is not the same as loving football. I can watch Stargate and Countdown too on a slow day.

If I like football as much as I've told other people (and myself from time to time), how come I've never been to an actual football match? And why can't I name anybody in the current Ipswich team? Nor do I actually give a shit who's in the current Ipswich team.

Let the past and present school bullies and street thugs and car thieves and men with little willies and big porn collections and middle class blokes who want to prove their connection to the streets and mummy's boys who just want someone to sing with and people who need a substitute for a complete lack of any personality or passion of their own worry about such things.

There is, to be fair, a small number of true football aesthetes out there turning up week after week at tiny venues for a genuine love of the game. And they will always be there, despite Sky's influence.

But I'm not one of them. Never have been, never will be. My twin passions are music and books, and that's never going to change, however lonely that leaves me in old age.

Admitting this to myself as well as to anybody else who might be listening is tremendously liberating.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

No Wonder Nobody Reads Books Anymore

My friend made a telling observation in a bookshop the other day. I was looking at the Allen Ginsberg--William Burroughs' collaboration The Yage Letters and thinking I might buy it. Then I flipped the book over to the back and noted the £13.99 price.

My friend, who most definitely isn't a cheapskate like yours truly (I probably wouldn't pay £13.99 for my own funeral), was visibly shocked: "My God," she said, "no wonder nobody reads books anymore."

If The Yage Letters had been a large volume, like War And Peace or Ulysses ,perhaps an elevated cover price would have been justified. If it had been a limited edition hardback version of the same book with photographs and notes not availiable anywhere else, I might have considered it.

But this was a paperback, and slight enough to be read by an enthusiastic reader in two toilet sittings. And I am an enthusiastic reader. Just ask anyone who's ever been to the Bard Gaff.

Like my friend says, no wonder nobody reads books anymore. You can get a return ticket to Birmingham New Street from Northampton for less money than that. Or ten bottles of cheap lager. Both of which, I don't doubt, would bring you much more satisfaction.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Punk Rock: My God, You Really Think So?

It's interesting, the way everybody else seems to regard the arrival of punk rock in '76 or '77 as a tumultuous sweeping-away of the conservatism that pervaded in those long-gone days. I've always thought of punk as being deeply conservative, albeit in a very adolescently posey way, with its violent (and self-glorifyingly stupid) eschewing of book-larrning, its disinterest (I know, I know, the Clash) in politics, its celebration of primitive musicianship. Unless you were lucky enough to fall over Joe Strummer in those days, punk was quite likely to push you pogoing straight onto the dole queue and forever after into a life of shit jobs, football hooliganism and National Front (and subsequently BNP) membership. O England! O St George! O Winston! Farkin foreigners...

The punks I knew were conformist cowards who kicked the shit out of anybody who was weak or different because it made their dumb friends laugh, although the black kids were usually harder than them when it came to the big scraps in the park. Kids with glasses, kids with spots, kids with spastic limbs, kids with long hair, kids who read books...everybody got it. The punks were about as far outside the System as Enoch Powell or your stereotypical misanthropic Granny wheeling out the biscuit trolley before she sits down to regurgitate a hate-filled Sun newspaper editorial all over you. And most of the music, when you listen to it without the wax of age and unwarranted nostalgia clotting up your ears, is crap. Now ska...that was a different matter...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Down & Out In The 80s

I have reached, roughly, 1985 in my book about life in the 80s. I say roughly because I found, when I started thinking about it, that I can't remember exactly when anything happened. Even the major cultural events that sort of interweave with my own life have become chronologically confused in my mind. And I'm not sure some of the things I remember happening to me actually did. I'm pretty sure, at least, that they didn't happen in the way I remember them.

So the book, which is ostensibly a mini-memoir, will actually be a work of fiction, pretty much. I wonder if it's always the same and our sense of history, both personal and collective, is false.

Now people and cities and countries disappear like pricked bubbles in the air.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Dead Man Remembering The Dead

It's strange. My mother has been dead for 13 years now but sometimes I miss her as if she only shuffled off the mortal coil yesterday, and the communication between us was familiar and habitual, instead of a long-gone distant memory. I need her advice on things. I don't feel ready to deal with all the crap in my head alone and I'm terrified that if I dump it on those who are closest to me they'll run in the opposite direction with wings on their feet like Billy Whizz in "The Beano". Or was it that Greek God, old What's-His-Name?

Because I've been ill this past couple of years I've become preoccupied with death and loss. I feel like somebody who might already have passed away and is walking around in a ghost body wondering why everything feels different. After all, nothing in life is as I remember it; nothing is as it used to be when I felt like I belonged to life and life belonged to me. Every place I used to work has been shut down, boarded up, fenced off, is grown over now with weeds and rubbish; nearly everyone I've known in any way shape or form is gone. I can't even understand the fucking culture that surrounds me (although it did lift me a bit hearing Bob Dylan sing "I Want You" in the public loos this morning).

Every day I get up, do my thing at home and go to work wondering if I'm going to die today. Or get an urgent call from the hospital telling me I have a brain tumour. It may or may not be stupid, but that's the way I feel. So I write furiously trying to get something down before I croak or lose my job because my health becomes too poor, after which I'll be too hung up on considerations of survival to be creative. I can't think about career anymore. I can't think beyond lunch, the way my mind is going. And I'm afraid to go to concerts or plays like I used to because I imagine myself blacking out in the middle of a performance and being a ghastly tragic spectacle hauled off to hospital (again), jabbed at, tested, photographed, questioned, all in that condescending manner reserved for patients they know are really really screwed.

Some days it isn't possible to kid yourself into what used to be called "positivity" (which might be defined as a state of mind you are persuaded to adopt so that you quit bothering me), and then the anger and the fear pull at your hide like relentless, wild dogs. That's when you need somebody who can make you feel safe without making it obvious that that's what they're doing, because when anybody is transparent about trying to make you feel safe it makes you feel even more afraid. My mother was the person who used to be able to perform that trick for me, though the only thing that ever scared me more than I'm scared now, when she was alive, was her cancer diagnosis. I wish she was here now and not part of that vanished world out of which I'm floating, still, like a lost shirt on the wind.