Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Technicolour Dreams

Life in Technicolour by Tegaki. Not in exhibition.
Today started in a really dull way for me: a letter through my door telling me I hadn't got the job I went for on Friday. Community support worker. Christ! I thought. What sort of body odour or invisible-only-to-me skin condition must I have? I'm being turned down for jobs I walked into ten years ago. "The quality of the candidates was very high," said the letter, as if this were some sort of consolation. Ta very much!

But then I sparked up the capricious, prehistoric laptop someone gave me at uni three years ago and my mood improved. I had an invitation from artist/singer-songwriter Helen Verrill to go and read some poems at the Technicolour Dreams Art Exhibition in Northampton in March (the exhibition runs to the end of April). I thought about it for a while and then said yes. I need something nice to happen right now, and some practice before Woodfest in August wouldn't hurt.

Technicolour Dreams will be a showcase for the work of Helen and some of her artist friends. When I report on it again I'll share their names. It's being held in the old cinema, which I've written about here twice before--yes, the site of P.J. Proby's infamous trouser-splitting episode, and the show by the Beatles. I've always wanted to go inside and walk along the same corridors (possibly) that John Lennon walked.

The only problem with me reading there (I will be doing an evening show on March 14th) is that it's now owned by the Jesus Army. Which means that a large number of my poems, including "Jack the Bastard" and "Racist," probably aren't appropriate. Even if the Jesus Army wouldn't mind I wouldn't feel quite right, doing my usual potty-mouthed act in their place of worship. I'm sure I've got something good enough in the locker, though, that isn't liberally peppered with swear words. I'll have to start digging and see what I come up with.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pussy Riot

The shameful treatment of Pussy Riot at the Winter Olympics was noticeably under-reported by Western media this week. We saw the pictures, but all of the debates about our responsibilities towards those feeling the whip hand of repressive Russian government were exhausted before the tournament had even started. Most of us would agree that the public flogging of a musical group engaged in a funny demonstration is ugly and excessive, but we would prefer to be able to focus on the curling thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin and his thugs know nothing about the true nature of rock and roll anyway. If they really want to neutralise whatever threat Pussy Riot pose to their nasty bigoted criminal rule, they should give the band a multi-million pound contract with a major label; and then let them headline big shows in Moscow and St Petersburg. Nothing sucks the juice out of rebellion like success.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Desert Island Movies

Guy Pearce in "The Proposition," written by Nick Cave. A brutal, occasionally surreal Australian Western in which Pearce has to track down his own brother and kill him. How weird that the kid next door from "Neighbours" became such a wonderful actor.
Sam Riley as Ian Curtis of Joy Division in "Control." This movie's very close to me, for obvious reasons, and hard to watch too. It's tough to see your own experience portrayed so accurately and honestly. The music, if it needs to be said, is thrilling.
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in "Before Sunrise." I'm told some people find this trilogy of films infuriatingly self-indulgent. Some people are wrong. They're beautifully acted and directed vignettes of love between a man and a woman capable of talking.

Cary Grant in "The Bishop's Wife." Forget the ridiculous remake. Grant is an angel who hasn't earned his wings yet. He comes into the life of a jaded bishop to help restore his faith and (uh-oh) falls in love with the Bishop's wife. Magical, and not in a phoney way.
Marie Riviere in Eric Rohmer's "Le Rayon Vert," which was released in the UK, I believe, under the title "Summer." (Why?) Rohmer made many beautiful films but this one is singular because of its really exquisite ending. If you are human, you will cry.
Clint Eastwood ordering a gang of gunslingers to apologise to his mule in "A Fistful of Dollars," my favourite Eastwood pic even though there are better ones. My mate Salvatore used to do a great Italian-accented impersonation of this speech.
David Thewliss in Mike Leigh's intense, harrowing "Naked." Lesley Sharp turns in a wicked performance in this too. My friend Lee saw "Naked" first and said I reminded him of the central character Johnny (Thewliss). When I saw the film I wasn't flattered.
Al Pacino in "Serpico." I first saw this in '81 or '82 and something in it chimed with me immediately. Perhaps it was Serpico's rather unbending morality; or maybe just his loneliness. I didn't feel I fitted in with the crowd either.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

They Were Never Lovelier

Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in "It Happened One Night"

George Clooney said something I liked to Matt Damon when they were discussing the new, but deliberately atavistic, war movie Clooney has written and directed, "The Monuments Men." It went something like, “People aren’t as cynical as their movies.” I don’t see many war movies, but the best of them portray war as a bloody horror; and yet the number of wars around the world seems to multiply with gay abandon. Could it be, possibly, that the folks back home (safely back home) who vociferously support conflict after conflict think war is really a bit more like “Kelly’s Heroes” than “Apocalypse Now”? Of course it could. If they believed the latter had any truth to it they would never vote for another hawk president or prime minister again.

As we get older and we have less time to fool ourselves about our vanishing life, and less desire to posture for others, we find we no longer like the films we were once so enthusiastic about, or even the films we know we’re supposed to like. My favourite movie so far this year isn’t “12 Years a Slave,” as much as that has been lauded by everybody around the world; it’s “Philomena,” in which Steve Coogan’s jaded journalist helps Judi Dench’s cheated mum trace a child sold for adoption by the Catholic church in Ireland 50 years before. It would be hard to argue against the huge importance of “12 Years a Slave,” and the potential good it could do in terms of correcting false notions about black history, but for some reason I thought it was arch and emotionally disconnected. “Philomena,” though, made me cry buckets.

I also find, more and more, that I like the old Hollywood films of the 30s and 40s (but especially the 30s). The romantic comedies of the time, which I love the most, are nearly always made according to the same formula; but it is such a rich one each time you see it the experience is new: handsome male leads like Cary Grant and beautiful, but always intelligent, females like Katherine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert; clothes by the top designers; humour that sometimes borders on anarchy—people chasing in and out of rooms talking at 90 miles an hour, frequently over one another, and using the richest of language, with puns and Hollywood in-jokes that stray onto postmodern turf before the idea had even been identified (like when Cary Grant orders a character played by Ralph Bellamy in "His Girl Friday" to be dealt with to stop him interfering with the course of true love and says, “You know who I mean, he looks like that actor Ralph Bellamy.”)

The culmination of almost every story made according to this formula is marriage between the male and female but that doesn’t matter; back then marriage was the signifier of romantic union, so all that marriage really needs to say to us as modern viewers, if we object to the institution itself, is love found, love achieved, love consummated—and however sophisticated we think we are, we all need love. Women in movies from the 30s—the better movies anyway—invariably marry on their own terms too. You don’t imagine Katherine Hepburn heading out through the door in the last scene of a film and then taking up a life of meek domestic servitude.

The best, most ambitious, romantic comedy from the 30s is probably “It Happened One Night,” in which Claudette Colbert’s heiress (there is always money) goes on the run to escape marriage to a man she doesn’t love and meets, on a journey across America, Clark Gable’s journalist, who’s looking for a scoop; obviously, Clark falls in love with her. That movie is shot with an exceptionally poetic eye by master director Frank Capra. It also does something that the feeble, diluted modern imitations of the rom-com style never do, which is offer a stark sudden glimpse of real life in the midst of the wonderful dream it weaves. On a bus ride through the night which has always looked to me like a visual rendering of the concept of Beatness, the travellers are singing together when someone collapses from hunger. This is, after all, the Depression. When we go back to the love story, the importance of love as a rescuer and ennobler of the spirit is somehow enhanced.

And that’s why I like the movies of that period, I think. Not because, as people often assume, they offer an innocent refuge from the world as it really is. Hollywood doesn’t show you the world as it really is these days; with a few notable exceptions mainstream American cinema (and I distinguish that emphatically from the indies) hasn’t said anything worth a shit for decades. I love old Hollywood movies because they have more of a habit of talking honestly to us, albeit in formulaic ways, about things that matter; and those formulae, fundamental to which are a style and panache we don't have anymore, embody something else that is vitally important to the survival of civilisation—the existence of dreams. When I dream, not being twenty years old anymore, I don’t dream about being a muscle-bound soldier mowing down Taliban in a Call of Duty game. My favourite is the one where I am a handsome singer in a night club and everybody thinks I’m terribly funny and charming. Now that is something Cary Grant could have made a good movie about.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Looking for Pascale

Pascale Ogier was the actress I most liked to watch in my late teens. She was in three movies I saw in those days: “Le Pont du Nord,” in which she appeared with her mother Bulle, “Ghost Dance,” with Robbie Coltrane and Jacques Derrida and “Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune,” directed by Eric Rohmer. All of them were shown, at one time or another, on English television, although “Full Moon in Paris,” to give the last of the three films its English title, didn’t appear until after Pascale had died.

I didn’t know that when I saw it on tv, although somehow I found out before I bought the film on VHS. All I knew, watching each movie in turn, was that I was captivated. She was beautiful, with a turn on the style of the best young women of our generation that was very individualistic and very French. (The measure of her individualism is that she designed her own [and other] costumes in “Full Moon in Paris,” as well as having credits for production design.) And, in the films,she was working with Jacques Rivette and Rohmer and talking about ghosts with Derrida, who mystified me. I had just dropped out of formal education and discovered the life of the mind. I loved anything that was clever and stimulating, even if I didn't understand it.

How Pascale passed away soon after “Full Moon in Paris” isn’t a matter for “Suffolk Punch.” Anyone who needs to know already does and serious students will be able to discover the facts of her life elsewhere. Even a short career shouldn’t be interpreted in the light of its brevity. What interests me, thinking about Pascale, is what the scarcity of information about her on the internet tells us. There are many online journals / magazines / blogs about counter-culture heroes, music and movie icons; but all I could find about Pascale is incomplete biographies with conflicting birth dates, hundreds of photos and sleazy blown-up stills of her naked taken from films. (Some people are real scumbags.) We seem to prefer our icons to be, on the whole, English-speaking. And men.

When I found out that Pascale was gone I was really sad, and embarked on a lifetime of French film-watching (when I could find them, or afford them), probably searching for a repeat of the lovely infatuation I had with her. “Le Rayon Vert,” the movie Rohmer made after “Full Moon,” or the next one after that, became one of my favourite films ever; and I adore the half-French “Before Sunrise / Sunset” movies even though everyone I’ve ever spoken to finds them tedious and self-indulgent. It’s that feeling they have, a certain feeling sometimes found in European movies, which English and American movies are rarely able to create.

In a sense I have been looking for Pascale in all of these films and I’ve never found her. Many of the experiences I’ve had, usually at home in front of the tv because French films are rarely deemed worth a wide release in the UK, have been moving, stimulating, inspiring—I’ve had every response you can imagine, though rarely boredom, which I’ve frequently done from Hollywood product. But you can never quite replicate the thrill of a first love, even a movie one. When I see a rare clip from one of Pascale’s movies I’m suddenly a skinny lost 19 year old again, living on movies, music and books and bursting with ideas about how to turn the world on its ass. Which is pretty much the person I am today, if you take out the “skinny lost 19 […]” part.

A few years after Pascale passed away I was in Paris and decided to spend my birthday in Pere Lachaise, the cemetery there where the French bury their great men and women of the arts. My primary purpose was to visit the grave of Jim Morrison of The Doors, but I’d forgotten that my birthday was also his birthday—which meant that his grave was inaccessible because of the number of tourists and scary Parisian cops clustered around it. Wandering away in the rain, pissed off, thinking I’d wasted my journey, I stopped on a certain path to light a cigarette and found myself looking at Pascale Ogier’s grave. A strange, almost unbelievable coincidence. I’d had no idea that she was here, although it made sense.

I moved in front of the grave, crouched down (with rain falling on my back and soaking me through my thin coat), and I read the inscription. What’s written there, again, is for other sites. As I crouched in front of the grave, though, musing on Pascale, and the person I was when I first saw those great movies, a man came up and asked if he could take my picture. He was French, but he spoke in heavily-accented English. Perhaps my complete lack of personal style gave away my nationality. I nervously said, “Yeah, okay,” and he asked me to look back at the grave. I don’t know what he wanted because before I could question him about his motives he’d taken the picture and walked away. I wish I had that picture now.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Gertrude Stein: Would You Ask This Woman For Tea?

Gertrude Stein painted by Pablo Picasso
I have been reading, with some difficulty, “Three Lives” by Gertrude Stein. I say with some difficulty not because of her well-known and much-debated prose experiments, but because of her boring and offensive characterisations of different races, and her generalisations about class.

Ann Charters explains in her introduction that the constant repetition of names and phrases Stein indulges in has something to do with an attempt to create a written equivalent of the paintings of Cezanne. I’ll buy that, although to my eye/ear at least it doesn’t work, not here anyway.

Charters also says “a feminist reading of the book as a literary satire, […] could argue that each of the three heroines exemplifies different aspects of the way society trapped underclass women […] in stereotypical roles.” I’ll also buy that, cautiously, although it’s a tough one at times given that the author is a rich woman looking down on everyone.

Take this sentence I read yesterday on the bus after deciding to give the book a second chance (I had put it aside in exasperation two weeks before):

“In the days when he had been young and free and open, he had never had the wide abandoned laughter that gives the broad glow to negro sunshine.” (Stein, “Melanctha.”)

I put the book down again when I read that. I don’t intend to pick it up again. Stein, when she finished “Three Lives,” wrote to her friend Mabel Weeks, “I don’t know how to sell on a margin […], so I have to content myself with niggers and servant girls and the foreign population generally. . . . Dey is very simple and very vulgar and I don’t think they will interest the great American public.”

(Note the highly amusing use of “dey.”)

Now, it could be that I am underestimating Stein’s gift as a writer, or not understanding it because of what she would undoubtedly call my German pedantry. You could even argue that in her views about race and class she was a product of her time, and therefore she cannot be judged by contemporary standards.

But I’m not judging her. I just don’t want to spend any of my own time in company I find narrow-minded and boring; and for that reason I will be taking “Three Lives” to a charity shop at the earliest available opportunity. Maybe Nick Griffin or Godfrey Bloom could use something to read on those long nights in the political wilderness.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Luke, Mike and John Storm the Royal & Derngate

Johnny's in the basement
 I saw John Cooper Clarke at the Derngate last night. The Royal & Derngate, as two people in front of me insisted on calling it. Two drunken patriots in velvet hats.

I'd been looking forward to this show for months and I wasn't disappointed. John was supported by two poets: first Luke Wright, then Mike Garry. I hadn't heard of either of them before the show, but apparently they're quite well known. Shows you how much I get around.

Luke, who has a quiff that makes Morrissey's early 80s barnet look timid, performed a bunch of rhymers about himself, the honours list and the decline of the English community. (Etc.) It was heavy, insightful (and inciteful) stuff couched in humour. He charmed the hell out of those people in the hats.

Mike Garry's set was more serious. He joked that he was positioned between Luke and John in the running order to provide emotional balance. One of his poems was a half-sung, half-spoken thing about Tony Wilson. It was gripping; and later in the year it's coming out with musical accompaniment to raise money for cancer research. ("That motherfucking disease," he said.) I'll boost it here, when the time comes, if I know.

Mike ended his set with a poem about his mum. I expected a lot when I left for the show last night, but I didn't expect to be reminded so movingly of my own mum's passing in a poem I would kill (almost) to have written myself. He is a good bloody poet. Wish I could get him for Irchester.

John was brilliant. He performed many poems I hadn't heard, including the marvellously-titled "Get Back On Drugs, You Fat Fuck," as well as some of the classics. My favourite JCC poem has always been "Beasley Street," and he coupled that one with "Beasley Boulevard," which describes the same place after it has been given a makeover by the BBC. I don't think I'm giving much away by saying he closed with "Evidently Chicken Town." It's his "Like a Rolling Stone." If old Bob didn't do that every night he'd probably be hung upside down from a lamp post, and John's fans are equally insistent.

In his set there was also a lot of riffing and free association. John's one of the best stand-up comics in the business, even if it's a bit hard to follow sometimes when he starts developing an idea. Last night we were treated to lengthy ruminations on "Grocer Jack" and John's exclusion from that mighty vehicle of the spoken word "Poetry Please." He also briefly morphed into Elvis when he was brought libation. "Charlie Hodge," he said, in a hybrid Mancunian-American accent. "Charlie Hodge."

I came out of the theatre thinking what a fantastic job we all have as poets. Practised at this level, with this kind of intelligence and wit ("what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed," as Pope says), it's a beautiful thing to behold. I could hardly wait to sit down with pen and paper and write something new of my own. Cheers chaps. Come back to Shoe Town the next time you're on your travels.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bob Dylan at the Superbowl

I was disappointed when I heard Bob Dylan had done an advert for Chrysler at the Superbowl. I knew he’d advertised other things, and his songs pop up everywhere these days; I regularly hear “Like a Rolling Stone” playing in the shopping centre in Northampton. But somehow Bob and the gigantic mainstream consumerist orgy of the Superbowl still seemed strange bedfellows.

“Variety” said with a weird mixture of glee and sadness “Bob Dylan is for sale.” They pointed out that Bruce Springsteen had resisted corporate advertising. But hang on a minute, Springsteen sang at the inauguration of a president who bombed innocent people in drone strikes, refused to close Guantanamo Bay, tapped the communications of everybody in America, was complicit in the persecution of Chelsea Manning and chased Edward Snowden to Russia for patriotic whistleblowing. Bob and Joan Baez have sung for Obama too, but Bruce is no paragon of virtue

However unedifying I find the spectacle of the guy who sang “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” doing adverts, Bob never claimed to propound the counter-culture principles (whatever they are) that critics now accuse him of betraying for money. Even if at one point he did join Neil Young in knocking artists who advertised.

You could argue that he first sold out when he signed for Columbia. But as Dave Van Ronk points out in “No Direction Home,” Bob had no interest in the left wing versus lefter wing debates that fuelled the Greenwich Village scene back then.

When “Bringing It All Back Home” came out, folk fans were outraged and considered the very electric rock we lionise as pure music now a kind of mindless, morally corrupted noise pollution. At a press conference Bob was asked by one of the square journalists of the day if he had any comments or arguments about the accusation that he’d “sold out to commercial interests.” Bob replied:

“Well, no comments, no arguments. I certainly don’t feel guilty.”

He was then asked, “If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest which would it be?”

“Ladies garments,” Bob quipped, in a spookily accurate prophecy of what was to come decades later.

We project our best hopes for ourselves on cultural figures (as opposed to artists), and Bob—who has a foot in both camps—has suffered more from that than most. If he doesn’t compromise, then in some way I don’t understand—perhaps by attaching ourselves to him, in our imagination—we don’t have to feel quite so bad about our own compromises. And we all compromise more times than we would like, often to the extent that we feel we no longer know ourselves. Can anybody be said to have compromised, though, when they didn’t actually promise anything in the first place? “I’m just a guitar player”—that was as definitive as Bob ever got. The few statements he ever made about politics, allowing for an apparent lifelong habit of playfulness and dissimulation, suggest that he stands somewhere on the liberal side of the right anyway.

Perhaps I’m making ludicrous allowances for an old hero, but I think Bob had a sort of vague ideological sympathy with the Chrysler ad. He has been talking about the destructive effects of outsourcing jobs to cheap labour in foreign countries since “North Country Blues,” recorded before even I was born. In “Union Sundown” from 1983’s “Infidels” album he sings:

Lots of people complaining that there is no work
I say, ‘What do you say that for?’
When nothing you got is U.S. made
They don’t make nothing here no more.

I believe, although I’m not sure, that there’s even a reference to outsourcing in “Chronicles.”

So, could it possibly be that Bob thought he might do something patriotic, something for the ordinary people of America, when he agreed to do the ad? Yes, I’m sure he trousered a big wad of cash; but might he just conceivably have believed in what he was doing? Do we have to be so cynical?

I still find the whole idea of my first and greatest hero doing Superbowl ads utterly depressing; but I’m not sure I have a right to.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Back at the Typer with the Care Work Book

Alan Moore, well-known Bruce Hodder impersonator.
I found my care work novel today, hidden away in one of the boxes we haven't unpacked in the two months since our house move. And as I've been really keen to get going on it again, I started this afternoon, at chapter 21. Chapter 1 is normally the starting place, in my experience, but writing these things the normal way has never quite worked for me; so I'm trying something different. It's fun.

The novel is about a miserable, failed poet (see if you can guess where I got him from) who's trying to hold onto his soul and his sanity in a care work job he hates. His relationship has broken down, he can't write, he's being persecuted by the vengeful ignoramus who manages his care home, and his only friends are an insane Christian who delights in fucking with his mind, and a poster of Alan Moore that talks to him from the wall over his bed.

I haven't got a decent title for the book yet. I'm enjoying myself too much with the manuscript to think of one. Laughter, wanton weirdness and the occasional poignant bit have to come first. Somewhere along the line I think I forgot that pleasing yourself was what writing was all about.


Poll results are in. The favourite William S. Burroughs novel of "Suffolk Punch" readers is his first novel, "Junkie," luridly subtitled "Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict" in the first edition, and published in 1953 under Burroughs' pseudonym William Lee.

Beat enthusiasts will know that Allen Ginsberg acted as Burroughs' literary agent for "Junkie" (English spelling "Junky"). The subject matter being rather dangerous in 1950s America, Ginsberg could only find a home for the manuscript at Ace Books, run by Carl Solomon's uncle A.A. Wyn. Burroughs took an $800 advance.

To soften the impact of "Junkie" on readers--or perhaps to deflect the inevitable criticism of Ace that would come from the moral watchdogs of pre-"Howl" America--Wyn published the book in conjunction with a forgettable(and forgotten) 1941 text by a former FBI agent, Maurice Helbrandt. This was called "Narcotic Agent" and subtitled, fabulously, "Gripping True Adventures of a T-Man's War Against the Dope Menace."

Burroughs, before the publication of the book, called the "sandwiching" of the two works "an appalling idea," but since he needed the money, he didn't interfere. Later, in a letter to Ginsberg, he admitted, "'Narcotic Agent' not so bad as I expected it would be. He does not sound like an overly obnoxious character."

"Junkie" was written in a conventional narrative style. It wasn't until much later in the decade that Burroughs began the really radical experiments with form and content that made him an avant-garde legend. (I don't think his rep is entirely based on the murder of his wife.)

Those books, from "Naked Lunch" on, aren't really for reading, not in the same way that "Junkie" is. Some of them, in fact, are exasperating, and hard to finish. When you encounter page after page of apparently nonsensical, disrupted narrative, as you do with some of the Burroughs works, the natural impulse is to throw the book at the wall.

I have been through that. It's why I have almost everything by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg on my shelves and barely a third of the William Burroughs ouevre. But I feel, reading interviews with him and thinking about the books I have read, that Burroughs is the one from whom, perhaps, there has always been most to learn.

As William himself might say, I shall investigate further, and then file my report.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Joan (2)

Today is the anniversary of Neal Cassady's mysterious death in Mexico. It's also the anniversary of the birth of Joan Vollmer, who became William Burroughs' wife and went down in twentieth century cultural history as the woman who died from a bullet wound to the head in a game of William Tell that went tragically wrong

Joan was, of course, worth more than being a ghastly footnote in someone else's biography, even someone as considerable as William Burroughs. By all accounts she was more intelligent than her famously brilliant husband and eventual slayer. But the process of re-integrating all the significant women into the cultural stories from which they have been excluded is a slow one. We wake up from the past with all the verve of blind oxen.

In a post from the Nineties on his excellent "Literary Kicks" page, Levi Asher writes that Joan's death has caused some people to dismiss William Burroughs without reading his work, and others to regard him as an admirable icon of the Underground. Condemnation is a more understandable response than congratulation for such a horrific act,as far as I'm concerned; but anyone who thinks Burroughs didn't suffer terribly as a result of the shooting must lack a little something in the area of common humanity.

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan's death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out ~ William S. Burroughs

Ladies & Gentlemen, Your Host Is... . . .

I've been talking on Twitter tonight to singer/songwriter and friend of "Suffolk Punch" Kenneth J. Nash. Ken is organising the acts for this summer's Irchester Woodfest, which I've written about at the blog before. You know the deal: bands, chainsaw carvers, stalls, historical re-enactments and wasps on the candy floss. It's a brilliant show, set against the backdrop of my favourite green hideaway in the whole of the county.

This year Ken's adding a Spoken Word stage to the show, and tonight he asked me to host it, announcing the poets and all that. If it's possible to gush in a tweet I gushed in my reply. What a fantastic offer! So now you're reading the ramblings of the Spoken Word stage host at Woodfest 14. I'm also going to read a few ditties of my own. I'm excited already and I've got another seven months to wait!

There was a time when I was dubious about standing up in front of people. It made me nervous. But I got over that self-doubt by doing a complex presentation on postmodernism in front of two frighteningly brilliant academics as one of the final parts of my degree. I kicked ass that day, getting the first A for a presentation that I'd got in three years of university; and when Woodfest comes I will shine again.

Now all I have to do is find a job so that I can afford to eat between now and August.

Monday, February 03, 2014

A Message From Suffolk Punch To Our Hacker

Queen Liz says it all. Fuck off, you sleazy back-sliding thief in the night, and take up a different profession. You're not even smart enough to be a hacker. Don't you know PayPal have security measures that stop robbing bastards like you profiting from the labours of people with more talent and intelligence? Which, by the way, is almost everybody?

William Is Expecting You

Have you voted in our friendly poll of favourite Burroughs novels yet? What's the matter? DON'T YOU LIKE ME???

Sunday, February 02, 2014

How The Dad Of A D.J. Did For P.J.

Stories about Northampton's part in cultural history always grab my imagination. This one is so indicative of its time it's great. I first heard about it from my mother years ago, who liked rock and roll even if she was never convinced by P.J. Proby; then Whispering Bob Harris talked about it on "Desert Island Discs" this morning.

Harris, who for a d.j. chose a really boring list of records by the way, grew up in Northampton. His dad was a policeman here, one of the blue boys sent out to watch the performance of P.J. Proby at the ABC (yes, the cinema that The Beatles played). Improbably, Proby had become a figure of controversy because his trousers had split when he was performing in another town somewhere. The young American star was under strict orders not to cause a repeat of this wardrobe malfunction with his onstage movements.

But in Northampton his trousers split again. This was too much for the custodians of the uptight morality of the times and the show was stopped by Whispering Bob's dad. Proby released a single afterwards called "I Apologise" which made the Top Ten, but by all accounts his career was never quite the same again. Who would want to book an artist so obviously intent on corrupting the youth of the nation?

Incidentally, a little background research on Proby's later career reveals that he has recorded not only T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," but also The Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK." I have to find a copy of them both. William Shatner's version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" was a treat for lovers of a good piss take; but P.J. Proby doing The Pistols? I can't even imagine what that sounds like.

Another cover from the Norton Records catalogue. Norton's co-founder Miriam Linna used to be the drummer for The Cramps. She now plays with these fine fellows.

Go to for more album / poster art and to order some hot wax.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Mugwumps

The Meet Cafe occupies one side of the Plaza, a maze of kitchens, restaurants, sleeping cubicles, perilous iron balconies and basements opening into the underground baths. On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws. Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. (In fact all longevity agents have proved addicting in exact ratio to their effectiveness in prolonging life. ) Addicts of Mugwump fluid are known as Reptiles. A number of these flow over chairs with their flexible bones and black-pink flesh. A fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs through which the Reptiles absorb the fluid sprouts from behind each ear. The fans, which move from time to time touched by invisible currents, serve also same form of communication known only to Reptiles.

William S. Burroughs, from "Naked Lunch."

Naked Lunch