Showing posts from January, 2013

The Elephant Man: Joseph Merrick Gets a Lynching

I saw David Lynch’s ‘The Elephant Man’ for the first (and I would imagine the last) time the other day. I was more interested in watching Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds movies when it was released in 1980, being a late developer culturally in some ways, but I thought, at 48, that I was ready. Friends had told me it was terribly sad. Harrowing even. They said that the suffering of the famously disfigured John Merrick was almost unbearable to witness. Hmmm.
Call me a callous old bastard if you like but I didn’t find it that at all. It might have been, and I’m sure it was for the real man the movie was based on (who was actually called Joseph Merrick), but Lynch and John Hurt laid on the pathos of the Elephant Man’s existence with a giant trowel. He was so completely pitiful in his vulnerability I expected a syrupy children’s movie chorus from lamby glove puppets after every beating he took and every disappointment he sustained.
I would have liked to see how Merrick’s suffering had twist…

Judy, Waylon and Me

photo by Gerald Zoerner

I have spent most of the day at the university, tackling a horrendous assignment. It's an "explication" (which is a horrendous word) of an essay about gender by Judith Butler, the American post-structuralist philosopher. I don't get on with philosophy at all and I've been bashing my brains against Judy's (undoubtedly) brilliant wanderings for a week at least. I've also been trying to work out what the hell "explicating" an essay on someone's theories about gender has got to do with English literature. I know I'm studying women's writing this year, but we didn't have an essay about Karl Marx to do before we studied Dickens.

I had more fun this morning playing Waylon Jennings' Greatest Hits CD before I came out. Not the famous leather-look, gold-leaf-lettered one from the Seventies (although I bought that on vinyl when it was released and still have it in my spare room), but the one that RCA released ma…

Happy Birthday Janis Joplin

Today is the birthday of Janis Joplin, my mother's favourite singer (and one of mine). It's pointless saying how old she would have been because she isn't. And we don't need to crank any more tragedy out of her early death. Let's remember her life instead.

There were a lot of incredible artists in the second half of the Sixties, but none could wrench the passion out of a song like Janis. I'm not sure if she meant a word of what she was saying. Maybe she was just punching the clock like the rest of us do. But whenever the band wound up that fierce electric blues Janis made the words sound as if they were pouring out of her heart.

Maybe that's where the perception of her as a tragic figure rather than a dynamic one comes from, I don't know. Nobody sees Jimi Hendrix, my mother's other great hero, as a tragic figure, although he died at 27 just like Janis. But when Jimi was on stage he didn't sing the blues, not in the same way. Most of his stuff w…


I’m re-reading Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test at the moment, and absolutely loving it. I should be putting all my concentration into the degree I’m doing but I’ve tried that. It made me feel psychotic.
Wolfe’s book is from 1968. My time, or at least the time my heart belongs to (I was only 6 years old when the 60s ended). It’s the story of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, that famous band of day-glo loonies who turned the world onto LSD.

Ken Babbs, who I published in my poetry magazine Blue Fred’s Kitchen, is in it, gloriously so. Allen Ginsberg, my ultimate hero, is in it. Hunter Thompson is in it. Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead are in it. Neal Cassady famously drives the Pranksters’ psychedelic bus Furthur. Even Kerouac makes a guest appearance at a party in New York early in the book.
These people have been companions and totems of mine for years. When I read about them it’s like someone telling me that all of the most dynamic and interesting men in the world…

Alina's Imagination

Readers might want to know about an interesting blog I've found. It's called Alina's Imagination and it has some really nice, clear, clever, perceptive writing in it.