Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski - Part 1

Library Fines: You Must Be Kidding Me

I heard the other day that the library fines at Northampton Uni are £1 for every hour your book is overdue. That means I owe them £24 on a really stupid critical book attributing Esther Greenwood's behaviour in The Bell Jar to penis envy. I took it out and then effaced it from my memory for a day because it was so ridiculous.

Well, so are the library changes, ladies and gents. I'm not paying. You can email me; you can call me; you can send the bailiffs round; but I'm not supporting your middle class comforts and crap university architecture with my hard-borrowed cash. Lower it to a £1 a week and we'll talk.


I'd completely forgotten, may the Gods of Poetry shame me, that yesterday was William Blake's birthday. All bow down at the feet of the Bard of Albion.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Paris, Midlands

I have two essays to write in the next two weeks for this degree I've managed to get myself jammed into sideways, and the computers at the university today are refusing to open any file that might help me research them. Fine. Just another one of the cute little frustrations of electronically-dominated twenty-first century academic life. (I don't have a computer at home, you see, so I can't go there and do the work instead.)

But who gives a crap. I have a few days yet. And I have so much reading to do, that should keep me busy (ie: away from anything important) until whatever's wrong with these computers is made right.

I was watching Paris, Texas last night. It's one of my favourite films. I first saw it in '84 or '85, the first time it was shown on tv; and as I watched it - does anybody remember the beautiful haunted loneliness of Harry Dean Stanton's Travis? - I thought how nice it would be, if only for a while, to go back to the way things were then. No internet. No mobile phones. If you wanted to talk to somebody you drove a hundred miles to the next phone booth or you waited until you saw them. In those days it was possible to be alone with yourself. The only way you can do that now is by expressing a dissenting opinion, which will lose you more friends than foot odour; but you'll still have to engage with the electronic public brain at some point.

The wags among you will no doubt say that I am fantasising on a computer about a life without computers. You're right. People don't publish much writing or poetry on paper anymore - particularly not mine - so what choice do I have? I'm a writer. But I do think we've lost something by plugging everybody into everybody else as we have in this cyber age (if we still call it that). The revolutionary potential of technological developments is huge, but the spirit needs the anonymity of the desert or the mountain sometimes. It's where all the best people have their visions.

The Sorrows of Old Hoddther

I've noticed my eyes have started streaming whenever the wind blows or the temperature drops. I should go and see a doctor probably, but I like the way it makes me look like a melancholy German Romantic weeping at the sadness of the world.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

(HQ) Allen Ginsberg Sings Hare Krishna to William Buckley

Mop-Tops in Manc

While I'm in Beatles mode, here's a fabulous old Pathe News report on a Beatles concert in Manchester in 1963. It looks like it comes from another world, but I was only a year away from making my own grand appearance. Small wonder I feel like an alien from the other side of Mars when I sit in a lecture room full of teenagers at the University.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hammell on Trial

I've always thought this was the best statement about any of the Beatles.

Back in London: Spectres of the Fantastic In and Out of Class

I went to the Big City yesterday with Northampton University to take part in a symposium called "The Fantastic Imagination" with Richmond, the uni for American students in London. I did a presentation with my friend Martyna on "The Female Gothic" - a subject I know very little about, I hasten to add; it was just the first thing that popped into my head when the Head of English at Northampton asked what we were going to talk about. It seemed to go well. One of the American lecturers there said we looked like we were presenting the Oscars. Really? A portly, grey-bearded middle-aged man and a 23-year-old Polish Goth?

Unusually for me I had very little to contribute for the rest of the day - other than when we were freezing our arses (or perhaps I should say asses) off in the courtyard smoking area at lunchtime - because I know absolutely nothing about fantasy literature, almost nothing about Gothic literature, and the only science fiction author I've ever read is Phillip K. Dick (who I love, by the way). Lisa, sitting next to me, had to explain more than once the multiple references to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

It was a nice way to spend a Friday though. A couple of Northampton students - who, sadly, had been grumbling about the lack of white people in London as we drove through Kilburn on the coach - came back from lunch animatedly telling us they had found Thackeray's house around the corner from the university campus. "What's the name of his book?" they said to the class. "Vanity Fair," I said, when nobody else made an offer. "Damn, yes, Vanity Fair!" said one of them. "I've been trying to remember that for ten minutes. What's it like?" I had to own that I'd never read that either.

My favourite moment of the day was driving past the Albert Hall. Seems odd, perhaps, for an Englishman, but I'd never seen it before, not in real bricks and mortar. I remembered, as we passed, Bob Dylan's concert there in 1965 as filmed in the documentary Don't Look Back. Ginsberg was present that night, and the Beatles. Some of the true titans of my own fantastic imagination. There is that wonderful moment in the movie when Dylan and Bobby Neuwirth are going into the hall before the first of the concerts. "This must be very old," Dylan says, apparently awestruck. "Queen Victoria built it for her dude," says Neuwirth, so hip and languid in his speech he can make the theatre of a queen sound like a beatnik crash-pad.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Return of the Egregious Angel

You'll be delighted to hear I'll be posting more regularly on here from now on. I've become a bit soured with Facebook, its ephemerality, and the way it has of sucking you into the consensual world by exposing you continually to hundreds of other lives. Perhaps to anybody other than a writer it would be a good, healthy thing to be able to plug into the public brain every day at a moment's notice. But a writer needs a more arrogant, solipsistic relationship to what is presumed mistakenly to be the real, inevitable world. Well, I do. My isolation from what I see as the lies and the bullshit of ordinary life has always been my power. So from now on there'll be less Facebooking - less discovering who went out last night, who's watching the X-Factor this weekend, who thinks we should stand up and weep before a Union Jack every morning for Our Boys In Afghanistan - and more writing my own stuff, more creating a picture of my own fabulously uninteresting world for anybody who can be bothered to come over here. It's what I used to do before Facebook grabbed me by the ankles and tried to pull me under anyway.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World

I watched the Martin Scorsese documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World last night. The wondrousness of George's best songs is not something you ever forget, but it's nice to revisit them, especially on a guided tour hosted by a great director. The movie lacks a little of the cohesion of Scorsese's Bob Dylan: No Direction Home, which was structured around Dylan's conversion to electricity and the "Judas!" heckle at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, but it's still a marvellous trip for anybody who remembers those times, has a feel for those times or who's interested in general ideas of counter-culture, and new/old alternatives to Capitalism. If you can afford the £10.99 most shops are charging for it, maybe you should give it a whirl.