Tuesday, 11 November 2014

American Vampyre

* Since posting the following I have realised that an earlier American edition of Polidori's 'The Vampyre' does indeed appear to exist. However, there are no copies listed on the US Library Of Congress Online Catalog. *  

Book collecting is one of my hobbies. I blame a bookshop in my childhood home town of Brackley. It was they who enlightened me to the true and certain knowledge that the only thing better than reading a book was reading a book in its best possible state. In some cases that means a first edition, no matter how poorly it was produced; in others, that means seeking out a handsome new edition, with attractive illustrations, or else a handsome new binding, perhaps with an informative new introduction.

I am always on the look-out for books. Every shopping trip, every holiday, every dull fag end of a Saturday afternoon, it doesn't matter where or when, I simply cannot help but fill any empty available timeslot with a quick visit to the nearest bookshop, antiques emporium, charity shop or village fete. As a consequence I have bought many dismal books of supreme worthlessness but happily the odd random discovery ensures that this hobby funds itself, thus supporting my belief that money spent on a good book is never [or perhaps better to say 'rarely'] wasted.

This is my most recent discovery. Given the current interest in all things 'gothic' [an interest, incidentally, that I have long sincerely nurtured] I thought it might interest others. It is I believe an unrecorded rarity, and possibly represents the true first American edition.



'D. Polidori' [Dr. John William Polidori]: THE VAMPYRE
Cameron & Ferguson, London & Glasgow [n.d. circa 1890].
Small octavo pictorial paperwraps, string bound. Stamped 'Price Four Ce(nts)' to lower front cover. Collects 'The Vampyre' [1-20pp] and 'The Dean Of Badajoz' [20-24pp]. Slight discolouration & wear to pale yellow covers, fragile covers partially separated from each other along lower spine edge, affecting perhaps one third of the spine. Rare cover details other titles offered by publisher. A good to very good copy.

The Scottish publishers Cameron & Ferguson were formed in 1871. Prior to this, George Cameron had been publishing since 1855 on his own, mostly musical titles. According to the available listings at COPAC, their first joint titles were listed as being published in Glasgow, the later titles London & Glasgow. It is likely that subsequent to the inauguration of their partnership that they decided to broaden their scope, which resulted in several different product ranges i.e. 'Threepenny Novels', 'Boys Famous Tales', etc.  The majority of these titles were rousing adventure stories although there are also several fairy-tales and gothic novels.

The titles listed on the rear cover [which, incidentally, do not mention 'The Vampyre'] refer to an 'American Fourpenny Library' but all of the books in this series are priced in British pence, indicating that they were American-themed stories marketed at a British audience, for example, 'The Yankee Scout', 'Rube The Hunter, or The Captive Of The Crow Village'. None of these titles are listed in American cents. The Cameron & Ferguson edition of 'The Vampyre' also features original artwork which clearly depicts a man in a Stetson-style cowboy hat, indicating that it was targeted specifically at the American market. This artwork is uncredited although the initials 'B.T.' appear in the lower left corner of the front cover illustration. On the basis of this evidence, my surmise is that the Cameron & Ferguson edition of 'The Vampyre' was produced for sale only in the USA, and as such, may be the first American edition.

No copies of this edition are listed with any national library in the UK or USA [refer COPAC, Library Of Congress, Yale etc]. Nor is the edition referenced in any reference book at my disposal. Cameron & Ferguson's 'The Vampyre' appears to be an unknown, unrecorded edition, and as such may be the true first American edition, given that earlier recorded editions of the book were published only in London and Paris [refer the first edition, published by Sherwood, Neely & Jones, in London, 1819; the so-called 'second edition', same publisher, but claimed to have been published in Paris, 1830; and also the John Dicks 'Popular Edtion', published in London, 1884, in double-columned magazine format, with a misleading illustration of Lord Byron].

Extremely rare, to the point of 'unheard of'.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

PUSH THE VIEWER AWAY: NICK CAVE'S FILM ODDITY

Finally, after months of being teased like a fish on a line by marketing spiel and drip-fed reviews, I managed to see the Nick Cave film "20,000 Days On Earth" in a British cinema, having failed miserably to secure tickets for the premiere in London, which had allegedly sold out in advance to the BFI's own members. In fact I was very nearly in the film. My partner and I managed to secure tickets for the Koko gig featured in it but only after registering under a false name as a 25 year old woman (the applications in our own names with our real ages were unsuccessful). However, last-minute childcare commitments prevented our attendance, so we passed them on to a very grateful third party (at the same price, mind).

This odd allocation for the Koko gig seems to mirror Cave's preference for 'connecting' with attractive young girls in his audience, a process whereby he selects and then invites one of the lucky nubiles to place their hand upon his bared chest. This whole scenario reminds me of the Hollywood cliche whereby leading men are allowed to age in the context of romantic or sexual interaction, whereas their female consorts are expected to be young and fresh-faced. Well, it reminds me of that scenario, and also of Peter Stringfellow's dress sense, by virtue of the open-necked shirt and glittering jewellery. Cave seems to be struggling a little with his visual image these days.

My expectations for "20,000 Days On Earth" were high. The reviews seem to have been very positive, and we had been impressed by the opening gig of the "Push The Sky Away" tour which we caught at Brighton. It was a fine performance. Cave is a spirited and agile performer and he has the keen sense to work with some highly talented professionals including Jim Sclavunos, Warren Ellis and Thomas Wydler. Ellis's diabolic wizardry with an electric violin was particularly striking. If he ever played at funerals then I feel sure he could raise the dead. My partner is convinced that Cave rewarded our manic, back row upper circle dance moves with a nod and a wave as he left the stage but personally I'm not so sure. He may have simply been returning my mischievous requests for "Spinning Around" with a subtle two-finger salute.

Nick Cave typing a complaint to his tailor

Besides this live excellence there is Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' outstanding back catalogue. One of the first LPs I ever bought was "From Her To Eternity", and I still know most of the lyrics by heart. Barely a day goes by when I don't listen to a burst from "Murder Ballads" or "Abattoir Blues". The songs 'The Curse Of Millhaven' and 'Nature Boy' make for near perfect driving music.

"20,000 Days On Earth" was only shown for two days and on a small screen at our local 'arthouse' cinema. It therefore played - somewhat predictably - to a packed house. After enduring thirty minutes of loud and tedious adverts, the film finally began, starting approximately ten months after I had, via Facebook, first expressed an interest in seeing it. The circumlocutory route it seemed to have taken before hitting UK screens had contributed quite considerably towards heightening my expectations. Anyway, all griping aside, it started promisingly enough, with a spinning digital clock counting upwards from 0 to 20,000 as the viewer was treated to a barrage of collage, images culled from Cave's life, starting from birth, racing ever onwards through youth towards middle age. But then it cut away to Cave waking in his bed, next to his silent and otherwise absent wife Susie Bick, and as it did so, a sombre and rather depressing gloom descended upon the film, setting the tone for almost everything that followed.

I'm not going to dissect the minutae of the film scene by scene because people can watch it for themselves and form their own judgements. It would also take too much time and I would rather spend it more creatively elsewhere. However, I thought the film failed for several reasons, as follows.

The absence of many key figures was striking. Cave's wife and children were featured but did not contribute anything of their own. His mother was often referenced but was never seen. Mick Harvey was notably absent. Apart from Warren Ellis, the other band members were not invited to contribute anything. No fans were interviewed. The camera never once turned to film the production, and thus reference those behind the lens. In terms of the music world, there was a notable absence of third party heavyweights, fellow performers or music journalists, who could either contribute valuable insights into Cave's work, or else entertain with amusing anecdotes. We weren't even properly introduced to the all-but anonymous archivists who apparently maintain Nick Cave archive.

The aim of the film wasn't entirely clear. I didn't know whether it was meant to be a promotional feature to support the "Push The Sky Away" album or a biographical reflection upon Nick Cave's life. The frequent references to Brighton suggested the former but the vaguely philosophical musings about life, the universe and everything hinted at the latter.

The gloomy narrational introspection was punctuated by a series of odd segments in which Cave was either interviewed by a psychiatrist, or else drove around in a black Jaguar talking with Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld and Kylie Minogue. All of these interviews seemed staged and clipped. None of them flowed, none were revealing. The only exchanges which came close to flowing with anything approaching fluidity were those involving Warren Ellis. Ellis comes across as an amusing and pleasant raconteur.

The live footage shot at the Koko gig was disappointing. The snippet from 'Stagger Lee' completely failed to communicate the dark and edgy bass-line brilliance of the song. There were no excerpts from old videos. The penultimate scene shot at the Sydney Opera House, in which the song 'Jubilee Street' built up to a slow and powerful crescendo, was so drawn out and drip-fed that I felt like standing up to shout "Bloody well hurry up and transform then!"  

Two things struck me about the production of this film, both linked to statements that Nick Cave made himself. Early on in the film he revealed that the key to (his) writing was 'counterpoint'. He said that the juxtaposition between two disparate things could create something original and exciting. (He didn't use those exact words but it's close enough.) He illustrated this by talking about a scenario in which he would put two things (a child and a bear, I think) into a room just to see what happened, and if that didn't produce something of interest, he would introduce a clown. If that didn't stimulate something then no problem, you could just shoot the clown. It was a funny and clever example, vaguely echoing Brian Eno's 'Oblique Strategies' method of creativity. However, it was clearly not a process favoured when making "20,000 Days On Earth". The film has no counterpoints. It has but one perspective and one agenda, that of the man calling the shots.

The second thing that struck me was this. When talking with Blixa Bargeld, Cave asked his former collaborator whether he thought that some of their earlier work had gone on for too long, and whether it might have benefited from firmer editing. Bargeld agreed, saying that a judicious edit could completely alter a piece of music. Cave added that now he was solely responsible for such matters, he had adopted 'brutal' or 'ruthless' editing techniques (I forget which of the two words he used). I think this is significant. It helps explains why "20,000 Days On Earth" is such a bleak and single-minded production. It hasn't been so much edited as exsanguinated.

The legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker created some memorable films about musicians such as Bob Dylan, Little Richard and David Bowie. What I like about his production style is the free-flowing shooting style which dispenses with authorial narration in favour of fly-on-the-wall observation. In contrast, "20,000 Days On Earth" strikes me as a cheerless alternative in which rather than give free reign to third parties, Cave's editorial presence haunts the film, like the Phantom Of The Opera standing in the wings. Clearly he feels uncomfortable in front of a camera and cannot act to save his life (the notable exception being when he is performing, at which times he seems to come alive). Indeed, Bela Lugosi as a sleeping vampire is perhaps more animated, and arguably more endearing. Furthermore, Cave's bleak midlife-crisis of a monologue hangs over the film like a mist of lead. As the end sequence played out, depicting Cave standing alone on a dark Brighton beach, transforming into what I have yet to discover, I felt like loading my pockets with stones and jumping into the sea, such was the sense of doom and melancholy imparted.

"20,000 Days On Earth" is a bleak, introspective and pretty unilluminating film. It avoids the key issue I thought would be uppermost in Cave's mind, which is that of loss. Indeed, I think it probably is uppermost in his mind, but unfortunately his inability to address the issue head on is disappointing. Instead he flits about the subject touching upon peripheral issues. Cave begins the film by calling himself a cannibal but he stubbornly refuses to take a bite from his own body, and instead feeds upon those around him. Yet like any sensitive person faced with old age, and surely one who has lived in the public spotlight for so long, Cave is probably acutely pained by the loss of his own youth - and by the loss of his looks, the loss of friends, to say nothing of a dwindling excitement in all that life has to offer - but instead of using this platform as a starting point, he talks about the singular fear of losing his memory, a fear that is illustrated by his frequent trips to the 'Nick Cave Archive', and in references to childhood escapades and conversations with his father. This is too selective and too prescriptive. It shines an obfusc light on just one part of the issue.

This is why he needed to cede control over production to an objective third party. It would have drawn this out and centralised it as the theme. This lack of focus is, when taken in the context of his singular reference to a fear of memory loss, rather troubling, as are the constant allusions to his 'transformation' into something unstated and ambiguous. All in all, I thought the purpose and aim of the film to be confusing and befuddling. I am surprised that few critics have picked up on this.

I remain a Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds fan. However, as Cave has pointed out himself, it never pays to meet your heroes, for they always fail to meet expectations.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Robert Aickman Speaks

For those who ever wondered what Robert Aickman's voice sounded like I have uploaded an extract of his voice, in which he reads aloud his story 'Larger Than Oneself'. It is just one of six stories that the author put on tape.

I tried [unsuccessfully] to persuade those who manage Aickman's copyright to release the readings on CD but to no avail. The reasons for this seemed to be as murky as anything the author might have wished and appear to have involved misappropriation [not, I hasten to add, by the literary agent].

Around the same time I also learned that after the author's death, several unpublished drafts of new stories had mysteriously vanished from his office, and were [allegedly] subsequently passed off as the work of another author who was known to Aickman, without the knowledge of the literary agent.

The matter of the 'missing ninth collection' remains shrouded in mystery, as does that of the audio recordings that no one is allowed to hear.




 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

We could be a delf tenné, just for one day

I thought that David Bowie's last album, "The Next Day", was rather odd. Now I view it rather differently. As a concept album, it is actually rather clever.

The sudden appearance of a new, unexpected album in March 2013 made some kind of obvious marketing sense given that it coincided neatly with the high-profile retrospective, "David Bowie Is", which was held by the Victoria & Albert Museum between March and August of that very same year. Bowie is nothing if not adept, and few artists could resist profiting from such staggeringly good publicity. Besides, as revenue from album sales dries up in the post-apocalyptic reality that is internet piracy, then an artist must eke out a living from somewhere, especially when said artist is unable [or unwilling] to tour.


Famously, income streams from album sales have plummeted, and there is little sign that things will improve in the near future. The only way for musicians & artists to claw income from their own back catalogue is to go out on tour. The sheer scale of the return of so many semi-retired artists & musicians to the public stage has been truly astonishing. It has been a near Biblical exodus. Never have so many sang for so few.

Just take a glance at poor old Kate Bush. Rarely has there been an artist less inclined to emerge from the safe shadows back into the judgemental public spotlight than the reclusive Catherine Bush [estimated 'worth' £30m, according to that vile rag, the Daily Mail]. For 35 years stage-shy Kate avoided touring but then suddenly in March 2014 she surprised millions of middle-aged, cardigan-wearing dullards with the announcement that she would be touring in 2014.

But Kate isn't touring for the money, though. No, as the Daily Male faithlessly points out, Kate is 'worth' an estimated £30m. Indeed, an unnamed 'friend' is quoted as saying:

"It's not about the money, because she could have done bigger venues, and in any case she is wealthy."

So, that solves that mystery then.

[Turns to camera and winks.]

Incidentally, Kate Bush's announcement led to another nauseating stampede for tickets by her most pathetic fans, reminiscent of the one involving Led Zeppelin a couple of years ago. Gah. If just one type of music fan deserves to be skewered and roasted slowly over the open burning pit of Hell for all eternity [and I fear that there are, alas, many such music types], then it is surely the music fan who scampers about pleading his or her case as to why they should receive priority treatment for ticket allocations, and ooh, isn't it a cruel and awful world when a badge-wearing superfan can't qualify for a gold Willy Wonka ticket, blub blub blub.

Hmm...where was I? Oh yes, Bowie. I claimed that the surprise release of an unexpected album in 2013 was odd, despite the fact that the V&A was holding a retrospective exhibition of his life and work, and that it consequently made good commercial sense.

I am perhaps more than passingly familiar with Bowie's work. I pestered my parents to buy me 'The Best Of Bowie' when I was 13, having discovered 'Space Oddity' by pure radio-listening chance. 'Scary Monsters' came out when I was 14, and it changed me into the creature I now am. Over the next five years I scoured Bowie's back catalogue, ranging as far afield as The Mannish Boys and The Lower Third. Bowie became the mystic portal who guided me towards The Velvet Underground and Nic Roeg. My bedroom wall became adorned with lyrics from 'Cygnet Committee', cut and pasted punk style from newspapers. To this day, I still attempt to run through the entire lyrical content of "Ziggy Stardust" in the shower.

[Except for 'It Ain't Easy', which isn't a proper Bowie song anyway.]

Given this amateur knowledge, I personally found it odd that "The Next Day" was released in such a perfunctory manner. It was certainly odd that no advance news had leaked out, and that there was to be no accompanying tour, given that touring is the obvious income generator for musicians. I actually think there was no album. I think that Bowie has been slowly producing the odd piece of work here and there over the last decade, and that he simply slapped it together as the V&A retrospective came along, and passed it off as a new album.

Bowie has a track record of continuously producing work and just putting it on a passing album rather than appropriating it more correctly. This certainly happened early in his career. 'Life On Mars' should have been held over for "The Rise & fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars" rather than slapped on to "Hunky Dory". From every perspective it would have made artistic sense. Indeed, had 'Life On Mars' been on "Ziggy" - along with 'All The Young Dudes' - and had 'It Ain't Easy' been bumped - then it would quite easily qualify as one of the greatest albums ever made.

Anyway, I don't believe that "The Next Day" was an album in the sense that his previous albums were albums. I think that Bowie simply drew together the various odd bits that he had been working on over he last decade and stuck them into the same songbook. This is what I find odd about the album.

Odder still was cover, which simply repeated the original artwork from "Heroes", over which had been pasted a plain white square, along with the album title in plain black print.



Odd, that is, unless, perhaps, you consider it from an heraldic perspective......

[This is my own idea. Stay with me.]

Now, in the history of popular music, let alone that of just David Bowie, there are few images as iconographic as the cover for "Heroes". The record company tagline for this ground-breaking album was:

"There's old wave. There's new wave. And there's David Bowie."



The striking photograph above was taken by Masayoshi Sukita. As with the cover for Iggy Pop's "The Idiot", Bowie claimed to have drawn inspiration from the work of the German Expressionist, Erich Heckel, and in particular, his 1917 print 'Roquairol'.



Back in 2003, two interesting things happened. Firstly, Bowie released his penultimate album "Reality". Secondly, he declined a knighthood. Ten years later he released "The Next Day" which coincidentally featured his most iconographic image, the famous "Heroes" album cover, blanked out in the centre by a perfect square. My contention is that Bowie knew that he wasn't treating his audience to a new album in the conventional sense, and he may have felt slightly awkward about the idea of slapping a few bits and pieces together just to cash in from the V&A publicity.

In heraldry, there are eight theoretical 'abatements', as laid down in the fabulously rare work, 'The Accedens Of Armory' by Gerard Leigh [pub. in London, 1562]. An 'abatement' is a visible alteration to a knight's heraldic emblem, so that others might know why their chivalric reputation has been blighted. 

In the case of a 'delf tenné', the heraldic device by which the holder is known features a plain blanked-out square pasted over the top, symbolising the fact that having issued a challenge, the holder [typically a knight] then revokes it. 

For me, this makes the album something of a subtle concept, since it acknowledges its own failings in a manner which is particularly chivalrous. All the more so when the combatant issuing the challenge has elsewhere refused not just one - but two - knighthoods. [Bowie - long a resident of New York and Switzerland - said he couldn't understand what they were for]. 




Now, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb 'revoke' is defined as:

"[To] Officially cancel (a decree, decision, or promise)"

My theory is therefore this: David Bowie deliberately chose an album cover which reflected the delf tenné abatement because he knew that, although billed as a bona fide new piece of work, "The Next Day" was not by his standards a proper conventional album. He then selected the image from "Heroes" to be his heraldic device and then blanked it out in recognition of the fact that he had, in releasing a faux album, revoked his own challenge - perhaps while cocking a wry snook at the British Establishment that had tried to buy his fealty with titles. 

Brilliant stuff. 

CRB
July 2014 



Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Yes we have no updates

Pointless and irrelevant to report, I have been avoiding the internet because of various issues, perhaps chiefly because I have been working on a novel. Until this tortuous endeavour has been completed, I have deactivated my equally tortuous Facebook account, and will only post here, on Blogger, with occasional infrequence.

Rarely, I venture out to sit in National Trust gardens, studiously avoiding eye contact with my fellow man. Here is a picture of me doing precisely that at Whitewick Manor last month. 

Look at me, studiously avoiding eye contact with my fellow man. I'm just like Jeff Wode, tossing my orb about. 

Shirt by Ebay. I tied my own laces. Shadow courtesy of Robert Weine.  

When my book is finally published, and I receive the various accolades, prizes and peer recognition that it will surely deserve, I sincerely hope that the people will lobby our miserable shower of a misgovernment, demanding that Whitewick Manor might be gifted to me, in recognition of my complete and utter brilliance, and for my selfish, random dedication to some things literary. 





INTERPOL: sublime sun set



Arguably the most impressive performance at the Glastonbury Festival 2014, you have just three weeks to watch the complete Interpol set. In my humble opinion, it was an extremely professional and modest performance.

And the setting sun is sublime.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p021gb1h/glastonbury-2014-interpol-on-the-other-stage

Monday, 9 June 2014

News From Nowhere

A brutal, ugly day.

[Poisonous thoughts polluted his mind, his heart lurched like a stricken beast.]

Monday, 19 May 2014

"Now we rise and we are everywhere"

The headstone on Nick Drake's grave 

Somewhat accidentally, we found ourselves passing temptingly close to Tanworth-in-Arden last weekend, en route to the sublime Pre-Raphaelite splendour of Whitewick Manor. The opportunity was too good to miss, although I do have strange anxieties and superstitions about visiting or returning to places I have written about, especially when the literary intention was to explore dark and ambiguous psychological issues. For example, there is a small, unconsecrated church in Cockley Cley, wherein lies a small, barred relic pit, which even to this day fills me with thick, nauseous dread...but enough of that.

[I fictionalised the story 'The Tableaux' sometime back, and further attempted to visualise the imagined horror via a home-made video, now - thankfully - lost in the annals of forgettable self-promotion.] 

Drake's grave is easy to find if you have read any books about him, or have seen the interesting documentaries "A Skin Too Few" and "A Stranger Among Us". I won't name the church because it doesn't deserve the plug given that IT WAS LOCKED. [Personally, I think the least that the immensely wealthy Church Of England can do is to ensure that all churches are kept open during daylight hours so that anyone can visit or indeed seek temporary respite.] 

The grave is exceptionally modest. Drake's ashes have been interred along with those of his parents, Molly and Rodney Drake, both of whom, tragically, succeeded him. There is a polite sign attached to the trunk of an adjacent tree. 



Scattered upon Drake's grave are a small number of inscribed stones and pebbles, in quiet defiance of the request that only 'small floral' adornments be left. One is an attractive black stone love-heart to which has been affixed a silver cross, featuring the words "In Erinnerung an einen wundervellen Menschen", which, I have been reliably informed, means "In memory of a wonderful person". 

"In memory of a wonderful person"

Personally, I find tributes of this kind acceptable, provided they are modest and elegant. But then again, I am not family, and I could quite understand why others closer to Drake might not. The wishes of Drake's surviving family should come first, especially as the grave is shared by two other relatives. Beyond that, the church should be left to decide [despite the fact that they lock their doors gnash gnash gnarl gnarl].

As I say, usually a sense of dread and trepidation falls upon me when visiting such places, for I heavily fictionalised the life, death and haunting of Nick Drake in my story 'The Melancholy Haunting Of Nicholas Parkes', and I was anxious lest any attendant spirit take a dim view upon my attempt at artistic license. After all, the inspiration for my short story came from the epitaph on his headstone, which may serve as some kind of apocalyptic warning:

"Now we rise and we are everywhere."

Indeed, Joe Boyd wrote to me that he was uncomfortable with my take, questioning the need to romanticise Drake's memory. Furthermore, I am currently midway through expanding said story into a long novel, and had the not unreasonable anxiety that the not-so departed spirit of Nick Drake might cast a dark spell over my endeavours, to ensure that not only would my project fail, but that I might trip upon the steep slope leading down from the end of the graveyard, or be trampled underhoof by a herd of possessed bulls in the gently sloping fields behind Far Leys. However, despite these concerns, I enjoyed the strange pilgrimage, and came away feeling content and rewarded.

The locals we encountered seemed pleasantly ambivalent towards our presence but that is probably because we are refined, polite people who have due regard for the privacy and wishes of others. [I speak mostly for myself here; to be perfectly frank, I harbour slight reservations about the politeness of my partner, who - being a North person - is often a tad too blunt for my affected sensibilities]. And I am glad that the wishes of Drake's family have mostly been adhered to, although I do fear that it is only a matter of time before those wishes are infringed. 

Of course, when I refer to 'fear', I refer to the fear that those who disregard such wishes shall experience, for quite obviously the place is haunted, and Drake's unforgiving spirit will take vengeance upon those careless of both his family's wishes and their own lives..... 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

When I last saw you, you were dead

I keep meaning to write about blood. But I'm not sure what I want to say. Or how.

Blood. Or 'blôd', to give the word its original English pronunciation. 'Blood, blood, everywhere, nor any drop to drink', to paraphrase Coleridge. Except that I do know what blood tastes like; I know all too well.

Picture the scene. Early evening in May, young children safely tucked up in bed, sitting watching Mastermind or similar while digesting the evening meal. A curious urge to vomit. Could it be the revenge of the spicy curry? A sudden dash to the downstairs bathroom [actually, just a plain loo, but I have always felt uncomfortable with the unsophisticated terms 'loo' and the bluntly utilitarian 'toilet']. Standing by an open sink, glancing into the mirror at a pale face, wondering whether fingers would be needed to trigger an increasingly essential propulsion of food, when events swiftly overtake me, and a powerful spasm heralds a forceful gush of dark, scarlet fluid into the basin; and not just a short burst of liquid as one normally experiences during a typical throwing-up, but an unrelenting torrent of the red stuff, like rainwater pouring from a gargoyle on a church roof during a raging storm. Soon the sink was full because huge clots of dark red jellylike matter now blocked the plughole. As I sank to my knees, I was handed a washing-up bowl, and quickly filled that too. As my family began to dash about I closed down internally, deliberately blocking-out the external world so that I could cope with the weirdest of sensations, fearful of the adrenalin surges that would soon make me bleed completely out. I slowed my breathing down to the maximum degree of controlled, laboured sloth, and lay back with the bowl on my lap, while the creamy crimson blood sloshed around with the glossy grace of liquid mercury. My clothes were soaked in blood; the floor was thick with blood; my mouth was full of blood.

What does blood taste like? It tastes of death.

For those who witnessed this event, I should imagine that it resembled the scene from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, where blood begins to cascade from the doors of the elevator, engulfing the floor in a tidal wave of thick, surging, haemoglinting foam. I was later given a 'Get Well' card from a friend's daughter who had seen me lying there in that pool of blood, and it simply said "When I last saw you, you were dead, but now you are alive".

"You should call people in to say goodbye," I later overheard someone tell my former wife, as I lay shivering on a hospital trolley, the wheels clanging up and down on the floor as powerful, uncontrollable tremors swept through my bloodless body. It must be bloodless, I reasoned; the evidence was all around.

Passing out as I was rushed into theatre, licking my thirsty lips but tasting only blood, the last thing I remember was the surreal sensation that I was floating on my back, feet first, through a dark, silent void, towards a blinding, shimmering light.

Waking later the next day, blood pressure 80/30, too weak to raise my head, dirty bloodstained clothes, utterly fatigued. A succession of blood plasma infusions and vitamin K injections. Nurses whispering like in the dream sequence from Rosemary's Baby. 

"You've lost a lot of blood. Your stomach lining burst. We've put in seven gastric bands to stem the bleeding."

Glancing up at the drips, vaguely alarmed to see blood plasma with an expiry date of that day. Memories of reaching through to the back of supermarket shelves for the freshest possible stock: was blood expiring today good enough?

Amusement at seeing a plasma bag labelled "Tested for sickle cell anaemia" because of my late father. Had he received such an infusion, he might have employed Alf Garnett-style concerns, apropos of one growing-up in the East End of London after the war. Black man's blood felt good though. It might help restore my mojo quicker.

I have never exchanged bodily fluids with a man but almost certainly I have received blood from several of them. Women too, of course. Technically, I have been intimate with a great many people. My body has welcomed and received their freely-given offering. I can walk down the street and pass complete strangers whose red blood cells and platelets still course through my veins.

My blood is a mongrel hybrid of other peoples' blood. I am no longer pedigree, and hopefully healthier because of it. I have Everyperson's Blood.

I'm not sure how much blood I lost that day but I have a pretty good idea because I saw most of it and tasted the greater part. It is a sight and taste that I will never forget, and the reason why I disfavour rare steak. The internet throws up lots of figures and statistics - the so-called 'Tennis score' guideline being a particular apposite one, which suggests that 40% blood loss effectively means 'game over' - but I am pretty sure that I lost at least five pints of blood. In fact, I am pretty sure that I should be dead. I didn't quite see God but I certainly glimpsed the mystic portal.

Pneumonia, MRSA, blood poisoning, norovirus and a liver transplant were a breeze in comparison. Psychologically-speaking, of course. In terms of sheer physical pain, few things can beat getting on the wrong side of a sadistic male nurse at Addenbrookes, who ensured that I went eight hours without pain relief just a few days after abdominal surgery. It was like reliving live surgery for several hours, and was agonising, utterly, pitilessly, agonising. But on the positive side, I now have a better insight into Post Traumatic Stress.

People write quite a lot about blood. They sing about it too. Vampires, junkies, lovers, serial killers, everyone seems to have a different take. Blood as a metaphor, blood as a stimulant. Blood infected with disease, blood transmitting disease. Blue blood, scarlet blood, blood spurting like a fountain. The blood of Christ. Blood lines. True blood, royal blood, haemophilia. Pernicious anaemia; that's a good one. It has the right timbre.

I nearly saw blood spurting from my wrist once but that's a longer story, and one that I am a little ashamed to speak of.

They say you are safest to only write from experience. If that is the case, then my advice to writers seeking to describe blood loss is to stick to voyeurism, because without an acutely well-developed sense of empathy, you will never be able to truly understand what it actually feels like to bleed out. Speaking for myself, I prefer to be victim rather than perpetrator for reasons of conscience, but on balance, I would rather not have had the insight.

Bloody ungrateful as that may sound.

CRB




Friday, 11 April 2014

"God help thee, Crazy Jane!"






"Now forlorn and broken-hearted,
And with frenzy'd looks beset,
On that spot where last we parted,
On the spot where we first met;
Still I sing my love-lorn ditty,
Still I slowly pace the plain!
While each passer-by in pity,
Cries 'God help thee - Crazy Jane!'"

Long have I been fascinated by the name 'Crazy Jane', first encountering it in the context of Richard Dadd's [1817-1886] extraordinary picture of the same name. The origin of the name, together with its strange evolution through poem, ballad and portrait, is disturbing and fascinating in equal measure. From M.G. Lewis and Sarah Wilkinson [early progenitors of fictional Gothic horror who both helped popularise the sad tale], through to Richard Dadd and W.B. Yeats [painter and poet respectively], the subject has received occasionally intense - but invariably scattered -attention. I hope to address this random neglect by drawing-together various disparate references and putting them into some rough chronological order. 

Little attention is given to contemporary references, for although they may have their place on Wikipedia, they have hardly stood the more rigorous test of time, and are perhaps not likely to. However, I will create an exception with regard to an oblique Nick Drake reference [simply because it's Nick Drake]. 

The first recorded references in printed text to 'Crazy Jane' exist in a rhyming ballad composed by Matthew Gregory Lewis [1775-1818], author of the notorious gothic horror novel 'The Monk' [1796]. Lewis was an influential figure in the literary world, and his work appealed to a wide cross-section of people, whilst simultaneously outraging his numerous critics. Unashamedly in it for the money, there were few ideas that Lewis would not quickly fictionalise. 

Lewis composed 'Crazy Jane' after a real-life chance meeting with a woman we now know to have been the tragic Jane Arnold. An account of this meeting is documented by Margaret Baron-Wilson in her work 'The Life & Correspondence Of M.G. Lewis' [1839]. She writes: 

"Many were the summer rambles taken by the young poet in the woods surrounding Inverary Castle..[and it was during these]...that the encounter with a poor maniac occurred, which gave rise to the well-known balled of 'Crazy Jane'. The alarm naturally excited in the breast of the lady, at a meeting so startling - possibly exaggerated by the imagination of Lewis - threw an air of romance over the adventure, which, suffused into the poem, gained for it a degree of popularity scarce yet abated."

'Crazy Jane' consists of four eight-line stanzas and quickly became very popular. It does not have an agreed first edition but the British Library cite numerous examples of song-sheets in circulation between the period 1795-1830. It was subsequently scored by various musicians, and in addition to being sung on street corners, in taverns and in both front parlours and drawing-rooms, it was also adapted for the stage, as both a play and an opera. Song-sheets were produced in great numbers two hundred years ago, and a well-liked piece could become very quickly assimilated into popular culture. 

Baron-Wilson reproduced the poem, which she copied from Lewis's own handwritten manuscript.

"Stay, fair maid! On every feature
Why are marks of dread imprest?
Can a wretched, helpless creature
Raise such terrors in your breast?
Do my frantic looks alarm you?
Trust me, sweet, your fears are vain:
Not for Kingdoms would I harm you-
Shun not then Crazy Jane.
Does thou weep to see my anguish?
Mark me, and escape my woe:
When men sigh, flatter and languish,
Think them false - I found them so!
For I loved - O! - so sincerely,
None will ever love again;
Yet the man I loved most dearly
Broke the heart of Crazy Jane.
Gladly that young heart received him,
Which has never loved but one;
He seemed true, and I believed him-
He was false, and I undone!
Since that hour has reason never
Held her empire o'er my brain.
Henry fled! - With him forever,
Fled the wits of Crazy Jane.
Now forlorn and broken-hearted,
And with frenzy'd looks beset,
On that spot where last we parted,
On the spot where we first met;
Still I sing my love-lorn ditty,
Still I slowly pace the plain!
While each passer-by in pity,
Cries 'God help thee - Crazy Jane!'

Baron-Wilson discusses the popularity of the piece:

"The ballad has been wedded to music by several composers; but the original and most popular melody was by the celebrated Miss Abrams, who introduced and sung it herself at fashionable parties. After the usual complimentary tributes from barrel-organs, and wandering damsels of every degree of vocal ability, it crowned not only the author's brow with laurels, but also that of many a youthful beauty, in the shape of a fashionable hat, called the 'Crazy Jane hat'."

A Crazy Jane hat? That surely qualifies as an early example of commercial exploitation. And the 'Miss Abrams' referred to was almost certainly Harriett Abrams [1758-1821], who performed at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Abrams worked with the notable Thomas Arne, who composed both 'Rule Britannia!' and 'God Save The King'; she is falsely credited by Wikipedia as having composed 'Crazy Jane', but more correctly, she perhaps arranged a version of the ballad, utilising the words of Lewis.

Thusfar we have a relatively light tale of romantic tragedy, suggesting little beyond unrequited love, plain-pacing and wit-fleeing. However, the 'romance' becomes rather more serious after the novelist Sarah Wilkinson [1779-1831] becomes involved. Wilkinson is an interesting and heroic figure who spent most of her life as a single mother trying to keep clear of the jaws of first destitution and later ill-health which snapped unmercifully at her heels. Obliged to write schlocky 'Gothic Bluebooks' in the style of her male peers for what she bemoaned as a mere pittance [she authored approximately fifty], Wilkinson is respected for having produced work to a greater literary standard than the norm, and for presenting a female perspective on such issues as virtual imprisonment within relationships and society. That her work did not champion women's rights more powerfully was attributable to the male-dominated social and economic climate in which she was working. Sadly, Wilkinson died in a workhouse in 1831, after having undergone many surely brutal surgical procedures for breast cancer. 

Wilkinson was obviously drawn to the myth of 'Crazy Jane', probably empathising with the plight of the real-life Jane Arnold, for at some time during the period 1810-1820, she researched and composed 'The Tragic History Of Jane Arnold' [also known variously as 'The Tragical History Of Jane Arnold, Commonly called Crazy Jane', 'The Tragical History Of Crazy Jane and Henry' etc, etc, depending upon the printer or bookseller]. It is difficult to be more accurate about the date because Copac [a collective comprising the key libraries in the UK] itself is imprecise. Even the date of a later illustrated edition is in dispute; Copac quotes 1818 but several contemporary publications cite this edition as 1813. 



Wilkinson's version describes how Jane Arnold was seduced and discarded by Henry Percival. To quote further from Baron-Wilson: 

"Jane is seduced by Henry Percival, who deserts her and sails away to the West Indies. She has an abortion, goes mad, is called 'Crazy Jane' by the villagers, and dies in the grove in which they used to meet. Her lover dreams of her on the night she dies, returns home 'pale and emaciated, a living skeleton', is declared a maniac, commits suicide and is buried beside her under the same yew."

If these events are factually accurate, the justice meted out to the villain Percival - burying him in the same grave as the woman he wronged - is [to mix up my languages] a most piquant form of schadenfreude. 

Wilkinson's version was probably 'romanticised' in the true definition of the word but the account is still the most detailed we have; furthermore, her research was undertaken within a few short years of the original events. Undoubtedly Wilkinson would have been sympathetic to Jane Arnold's plight given her own experiences, but any feminine bias (or balance, depending upon your perspective) is surely still preferable to that of an opportunistic male chronicler. As good a writer as Matthew Lewis was, he could not possibly have written about the matter with the same degree of experience or qualification. Indeed, one could argue that by virtue of the ironic ambivalence shown in his work, and his obvious masculine perspective, that his own insights would be particularly myopic. 

Although attributed to Thomas Bewick, the illustrated edition of 1813 or 1818 features four illustrations by his pupil Luke Clennell, who was himself to later die in an asylum [madness and death seems to affect many of those drawn to the myth of Crazy Jane]. It is my belief that Clennell's illustrations directly inspired Richard Dadd, for the painter's own version of Crazy Jane also sports a figure with garlands in her hair, in addition to wearing a similar style dress and apron, as originally depicted by Clennell. Furthermore, both creations too have many fabric straps about their arms. These physical similarities are too specific and numerous to be coincidental. However, in the rest of his composition, Dadd spirals off into a weird psycho-fictional realm, creating an ostensibly female figure but with the face of an androgynous man, suspended in mid-air from the flimsiest of boughs, adorned with a bizarre array of twisted ribbons and fetters, all of which are deeply symbolic. The expression on Dadd's figure is perhaps ultimately inscrutable, but for me it is startlingly, curiously serene, imbued with a dark, bleak and thinly ironic consciousness. 

'Crazy Jane' was painted forty years after the Bewick edition, in 1855, while Richard Dadd was incarcerated at Bethlehem Hospital in London. Dadd had been a promising artist, attending the Royal Academy Schools in London. Upon graduation in 1842, he accompanied the obsessive bibliophile Sir Thomas Phillipps on a 'Grand Tour' of Europe and the Middle East for ten months, where he practised his sketching and composition skills. However, Dadd returned a changed man, suffering from schizophrenia and disturbing delusion. Quite why this aberrant behaviour suddenly manifested itself is unclear. 

Upon his return, Dadd began to compose disturbing and horrific drawings. Several featured friends and acquaintances, which alarmed those close to him. Dadd began to believe in the existence of the Devil; in particular, he came to believe that the Devil had taken up residence in his father. Charles Dadd quietly obtained a covert diagnosis from the physician Alexander Sutherland of St. Luke's Hospital, which concluded that his son was 'not of sound mind'. 

It is possible to speculate that Richard may have experienced some trauma whilst travelling abroad, and that his subconscious mind blamed his father for having made him go in the first place. Certainly he was never to accept guilt for the appalling crime that was to follow, nor atone for his actions. 

Fatefully, on 28th August 1843, Charles Dadd accompanied his son to Cobham in Surrey. I have established that there had been a spate of freak weather that month, comparable to the phenomena known as 'Spanish Plumes', resulting in sudden, torrential hailstorms, and wildly variable air pressures, that affected much of Great Britain. Quite possibly this would have impacted upon Richard on a physiological level; an increase in crime has often been associated with unseasonably hot weather, particularly affecting those with appropriate predispositions. The strange weather may have also fuelled his belief in the powers of dark, supernatural forces. 

After dining at a local inn, father and son took a walk, eventually reaching a spot known as 'Paddock's Hole' at about eleven o'clock. Here Richard produced both a knife and a cut-throat razor, and proceeded to not only murder his father, but attempted to decapitate him. It was a shocking crime. Richard fled south to France, but en route to Paris, he attempted to murder a fellow passenger in a similar fashion with his cut-razor, and was fortunately apprehended by the Police. 

Richard Dadd then spent approximately forty years in confinement at Bethlehem. He eventually succumbed to lung disease after being moved to a new facility at Broadmoor Hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire. During this first period of incarceration, he produced a curious body of work, reflected in part by his limited access to materials and other resources. His work was often small and acutely detailed, for example. Furthermore, the sexes were separated in both facilities, so access to female models would have been limited. 

Best known for his macabre depictions of fairy-folk, Dadd's work also explores the negative emotions which exist within the family, as exemplified by 'The Child's Problem' [1857]. Personally, I find 'Crazy Jane' his most interesting work, but that does not mean to say that it is his most interesting; rather, it says more about my fascination with the story and the myth. 

William Butler Yeats [1865-1939] composed 'The Crazy Jane Series' of poems sometime in the late 1920s, narrating several fictitious incidents and encounters involving his Crazy Jane, in a style that is often irreverent and ambiguous. 

'The Crazy Jane Series' is an odd, occasionally jarring set of poems. For example:

'A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.'

Yeats' prose takes a cue from the myth of Crazy Jane, as evidenced by this piece:

IV. CRAZY JANE AND JACK THE JOURNEYMAN

I know, although when looks meet
I tremble to the bone,
The more I leave the door unlatched
The sooner love is gone,
For love is but a skein unwound
Between the dark and dawn.
A lonely ghost the ghost is
That to God shall come;
I -- love's skein upon the ground,
My body in the tomb --
Shall leap into the light lost
In my mother's womb.
But were I left to lie alone
In an empty bed,
The skein so bound us ghost to ghost
When he turned his head
Passing on the road that night,
Mine must walk when dead.

And so finally we wend our way to Nick Drake. Or rather, I do.

The late Nick Drake is often likened to a melancholy poet of the romantic era. This is not surprising given that he read English at Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, study which included the work of Yeats. The first time I encountered his song 'Hazey Jane', I wondered whether it was an oblique reference to the myth of 'Crazy Jane'. Here is one verse from the song:

Do you feel like a remnant
Of something that’s past?
Do you find things are moving
Just a little too fast?
Do you hope to find new ways
Of quenching your thirst?
Do you hope to find new ways of doing
Better than your worst?

The legend of Crazy Jane could be the 'remnant' of Jane Arnold's past.

Tragically, Drake took his own life after suffering from a crippling bout of depression. One need only consult his last recordings - and indeed his third and final album, 'Pink Moon' - to actually experience this at one remove. Is it possible, I wonder, to speculate that the myth of Crazy Jane is itself a curse? It is certainly a very attractive 'romantic' notion, in the literary definition of the word.

But I do hope not, for hopefully obvious reasons.

COPYRIGHT CRB 2014

NB. At the risk of endorsing my own work, I have fictionalised Drake's life, decline and dark supernatural resurrection in the novella 'The Melancholy Haunting Of Nicholas Parkes'.

Friday, 14 March 2014

NIGEL FARAGE: THE LAUGHING GNOME

I was walking, down the Heil Street,
When I heard goose-steps beind me,
And there was a little old man,
All UKIP and grey,
Saying "Throw your vote away".

Thursday, 6 March 2014

World Book Day - My Books

To celebrate "World Book Day", here is a photograph of some books from my collection.



Most of the titles depicted fall into the category of weird / supernatural / horror fiction from the 1850-1940 period. Authors include M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Marjorie Bowen, Barry Pain, Bram Stoker, J. S. Le Fanu and Walter de la Mare.

I have been collecting books seriously for about twenty years. My interest in seeking out original copies was first sparked by the owners of the Old Hall Bookshop in Brackley [John & Julia Townsend if memory serves me correctly]. I would often haunt the bookshop during the school holidays when I was growing up, spending most of my paper-round money on paperback copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Saki.

Ah, those halycon days, where are they now? To be young and able to read all day by the school lake was very heaven.

When I returned in my early twenties, the Townsends steered me towards a fine presentation copy of M.R. James' "The Five Jars" [Edward Arnold, 1922], reassuring me that the £28.00 outlay would hold its value compared to a cheaper, later edition. It certainly was, because the book turned out to be the copy that James gave to his literary peer, E.F. Benson.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

STATISTICUS RIDICULOUS

In this badly staged photo, the poet asks 
challenging, ironic questions.

I shouldn't eat bacon, fried eggs, clotted cream or ready salted crisps
I shouldn't smoke fags, drink beer, or kiss sugar-coated cherry lips
I shouldn't use plastic bags from Tescos, cos they clog up the drains
I shouldn't be buried in a coffin, I should let birds peck at my remains

I should exercise, moderately, four times a week
I should drink tap water, with flouride, and swill it round my cheek
I should trust the banks, shop ethically, and work before I rest
I should give adequate notice of my intention to protest

I am unhappy, statistic, ballistic with shame
Isolated in spreadsheets, anonymous, without name
I am statisticus, ridiculous, politicus, sublime
A victim of dehumanised, number-crunching times

© CRB 2014 

[With apologies to Ian Dury and John Cooper Clarke]

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Non-Stop Idiotic Disintegration: Five Years Of Musical Subversion

SUBVERSION + INVERSION + DIVERSION
subvert [verb]: to undermine, overthrow, destroy
nihilism [noun]: the rejection of everything
decadence [noun]: new sensation arising from decay

[source: my head]

David Bowie spent so much money on drugs that he 
had to sell his shoes and travel third class to Berlin to 
record "The Idiot" and "Lust For Life" with Iggy Pop. 

"Every pleasure which emancipates itself from the exchange-value [of a capitalist society] takes on subversive features."
Theodore Adorno [1903-1969]

A questing intellect requires both diurnal and nocturnal stimulation, all the more an artistic one. Here are three key albums which to me at least exhibit a dark cocktail of psychological emotion.

1. IGGY POP: The Idiot [1977]


The legendary four albums recorded in Germany in the mid 1970s by David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno began with the issue of this landmark work. Described by Bowie as "a guinea-pig for what I wanted to do with sound", The Idiot features material which was both productively innovative and hugely influential. The impact of punk has often been exaggerated; in contrast, the influence of The Idiot is evident in the work of many important bands and musicians, including Joy Division, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Human League, Sisters Of Mercy, Death In Vegas et al.

The Idiot stands out from the other three Berlin albums [Low, Heroes and Lust For Life] because of its dark, hypnotic, cerebrally-corrupting nature. It is dirty, highly-crafted subversion, evoking a sulphurous, poisonous atmosphere, not dissimilar to the nightmarish horrors of Poe's 'The Masque Of The Red Death', or the decadent eroticism of Baudelaire's 'Les Fleurs du mal'.

 'Les Fleus du mal' [Paris, 1857]

To quote Nick Kent from the NME:

"[The Idiot] is totally riveted and fettered to a thoroughly unhealthy aroma of evil and twilight zone zombie-time unease....[the album is] damn unhealthy, perverse, harrowing and...strangely addictive."

Track Listing:

Side one    
 1.     "Sister Midnight"  
2.     "Nightclubbing"  
3.     "Funtime"
4.     "Baby"
5.     "China Girl"

Side two
6.     "Dum Dum Boys"
7.     "Tiny Girls"
8.     "Mass Production"

'I stumble into town
Just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head
And plans for everyone
It's in the white of my eyes

My little China Girl
You shouldn't mess with me
I'll ruin everything you are
I'll give you television
I'll give you eyes of blue
I'll give you men who want to rule the world

And when I get excited
My little China Girl says,
"Oh Jimmy, just you shut your mouth."
She says, "Shhhh..."'



2. SOFT CELL: Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret [1981]

 

1.     "Frustration"
2.     "Tainted Love"
3.     "Seedy Films"
4.     "Youth"
5.     "Sex Dwarf"
6.     "Entertain Me"
7.     "Chips on My Shoulder"
8.     "Bedsitter"
9.     "Secret Life"
10.     "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" 


It is a constant source of amazement to me that this album is not more highly revered. It was recorded very cheaply and very quickly; it features some striking and memorable songs; and the sheer vocal ability of Marc Almond is at times astonishing. Perhaps Soft Cell pitched its subversive context too mischievously, as exemplified by the bizarre and disturbing tracks 'Sex Dwarf' and 'Seedy Films', both of which feature dangerous, arguably irresponsible lyrics, poisonous ideas which nevertheless flow through the mind with an evil, seductive charm.

The cynical and knowing references to the seamy underbelly of urban life in Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret was undoubtedly too unpalatable for the mainstream public in the Thatcherite 80s, no matter how popular 'Tainted Love' was to become. Indeed, I suspect that many purchasers of the album bought it on the strength of that phenomenally-successful hit single, but were appalled at what they found. Yet in songs such as 'Youth' and 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye' [and later, 'Torch'], Almond proved that he was supremely talented in both composition and delivery.

"Why do you hate me so much? What did I ever do except leave you?"
[Lyrics from 'Secret Life']

'Frustration' is an angst-ridden rant upon middle-aged repression. 'Bedsitter' is a grim 'kitchen-sink' glimpse into the shallow and empty life of the disenfranchised working-class youth seeking escapism via heavy partying.

'I was born
One day I'll die
There was something in between
I....I don't know what or why
I'm a man
I want to break a rule
I am a no, no, no, no, no, no, nobody
Everybody's fool
I am so ordinary

Frustration...frustration...frustration....frustration...
I'm so tired of endless hard luck stories
I'm beginning to not give a damn
I wish I could reach right out for the untouchable
Film starring Bruce, John Wayne, Elvis Presley
Experiment with cocaine, LSD and set a bad, bad example
Live a little, run a harem, be a tiger
Meet Bo Derek and be her Tarzan
Reach, REACH out, out, out, out!
Live, live, live!'

[Lyrics for 'Frustration'.]

Later versions of the album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret include the club classic 'Memorabilia'. For me, the Cindy Ecstasy mix is one of the highlights of early electronic music, surely on a par with Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' and Kraftwerk's 'The Model'.

And I don't care if you disagree with me, because you are wrong, wrong, wrong; so very wrong, wrong, wrong.




3. THE CURE: Porngraphy [1982]


"Arguably the album that invented goth, Pornography was the first of The Cure's 'Trilogy of Doom' that would suck Disintegration and Bloodflowers into its vampiric cataclysms of sound."
[Source: NME]

"It's downhill all the way, into ever-darkening shadows...passing through chilly marbled archways to the final rendezvous with the cold comfort of the slab."
[Melody Maker]

"..a masterpiece of claustrophobic self-loathing."
[Uncut]

Track Listing: 

"One Hundred Years"
"A Short Term Effect"
"The Hanging Garden"
"Siamese Twins"
"The Figurehead"
"A Strange Day"
"Cold"
"Pornography"

Pornography was the album that first wounded The Cure. Fiction Records were concerned about both the title and the hallucinatory, nightmarish wall of sound, which was compared to "Phil Spector in Hell" by NME commentator Dave Hill. The recording process had been an intense, substance-abusing torment, culminating in a surreal nightclub fight between Robert Smith and Simon Gallup, which led to the band's first major split. 

The album cover artwork reflects the music within, featuring a distorted, expressionistic photograph of Tolhurst, Gallup and Smith, who resemble embryonic, malevolent clowns shimmering in a blurry, electric womb. Smith holds up his hand, perhaps by way of warning, perhaps in an attempt to connect with a reality beyond his reach. 

The creative depth of Pornography is firmly rooted in its lyrical power. Smith's disturbing stream-of-consciousness narratives are liberally splattered with vivid imagery. Here are some random quotes, all of which demonstrate Smith's literary capabilities: 

"Sour yellow sounds inside my head."

"Like an old painted doll in the throes of dance I think about tomorrow."

"Catching haloes on the moon gives my hands the shapes of angels."

"Cover me with earth, draped in black, static white sound."

"Move slowly through the drowning waves, going away on a strange day."

These are images that would not be out of place in fiction by J.G. Ballard or William Burroughs. 

The tumultuous and crashing sound of Pornography was created during the intense production phase. Apparently the band slept in the studio for three weeks to save money, consuming vast amounts of drugs and alcohol, with tension escalating accordingly. This explains claustrophobic lyrics such as: 

"It doesn't matter if we all die,
Ambition in the back of a black car,
In a high building there is so much to do,
Going home time,
A story on the radio."

It's all there in the opening verse, if you look hard enough, and think obliquely: a coruscating castigation of the record company, together with a bitter and sarcastic reflection upon their claustrophobic experiences making the album. They say that to 'write about what you know' is a maxim for writers, and in these lines Smith does exactly that. 

It is a perverse quirk of nature that in order to produce a nihilistic and introspective work steeped in dark emotion, the artist must plunge him or herself into that psychologically-wounding environment, and suffer the creative process for our viewing and listening delectation. However, some of us in the audience also suffer, at least those of with sensitive and artistic temperaments do. If Pornography fails to evoke any emotion in you - whether it be horror or despair - then you are either a psychopath or a Conservative [as much as the two can be separated]. 

Lol Tolhurst's drums on 'The Figurehead' and 'Hanging Garden' resonate in the black night air like demonic bells from the underworld. Simon Gallup's mesmerising bass lines pump alternately with arrhythmic, sluggish unease and frenetic, adrenaline-spurting mania. As usual, Robert Smith plays several of the instruments himself, including the foghorn-like cello on 'A Short-Term Effect'.  

Smith has been something of a pioneer in his experimentation with vocal sound, a thirst which was vividly evident on the first Cure album Three Imaginary Boys, an album which served as a palette board that Smith has consistently returned to. In particular, the track 'Three Imaginary Boys' laid down the template for what would quickly become known as the trademark Cure sound. In Pornography his voice is subjected to numerous distortion effects on the mixing desk, as evidenced by the dark watery wobble and sharp concert-hall echo in 'A Short-Term Effect'. 

Pornography is a dangerously good album. Smith's waspish lyrics pierce the darker regions of the subconscious mind with poisonous vampire intent. It is probably advisable to avoid it if you are feeling even slightly depressed or suicidal, because it could be the catalyst that will tip you over that fatal slippery edge. Pornography is the artistic equivalent of a deranged, musical collaboration between youthful versions of Edvard Munch, J.G. Ballard and Dylan Thomas, were said individuals to be incarcerated in a studio together for three weeks, with naught but LSD and red wine for nourishment. 

Here is the one single that was released from Pornography. If you hate this then do not under any circumstances listen to the rest of the album. 



END.

[I hereby promise to write about something nice next time. Well, try.] 



Friday, 21 February 2014

While You Sleep



WHILE YOU SLEEP
I hold a knife to your throat
My eyes glint like black fireflies
My broken teeth gleam red
For the pestilent rise and fall of your chest
Symbolises little except poisonous unfulfilment.

WHILE YOU SLEEP
I dream of ways to stop you waking
Imaginary guides whisper advice
Offering implements and opinions
Reality distorted so really untrue
I will wake satiated, but then, then I see you.

WHILE YOU SLEEP
I yearn cruelly for your death
And live in hope that one summer's day
You never shall wake, and instead will
Choke, choke, choke, choke, choke
On your sickening guile. 

Words: CRB
Artwork: Harry Clarke [Out of copyright]

[Untitled #1]

I am trapped inside my construct
No key out and words, clumsy words fail
Immobile and silent, colourless, worse:
Empty, devoid, disappearing, cursed.

Scattering words, scattering brain
An abundance of choice
Yet [long pause]
Words all the same.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Horror Is No Longer Harmless

When I were a nipper, the approach of the weekend raised one key concern: would my Dad let me stay up to watch both films in the BBC2 Horror Double Bill series? 



It was a serious issue. The Horror Double Bill represented a glimpse into a dark adult world I desperately wanted part of, a world which seemed to promise fear, thrills and excitement. Later I would tap literature and music for these visceral and psychological delights, but on the cusp of teenagehood, I lived for horror. Well, horror and fishing. And perhaps Toffos. 

Atmosphere accounted for much. As a youngster I was lucky. I spent most weekends at a place called Turweston House, formerly the family residence of the people who owned Church's Shoes. My Dad had a 'wing' in exchange for looking after the place when the family were away. Turweston House had a gritty tennis court, a freezing cold swimming pool, a lake stuffed full of perch and roach, a gnarled orchard of apple trees, and a huge basement full of wooden shoe moulds that reminded me of the haunting storage rooms at Auschwitz. At that gullible age, the difference between 'souls' and 'soles' seemed a plausible and sinister coincidence. 

Turweston House [centre] with church immediately behind

Turweston Church is located very close to the House, sharing a wall along two perimeters. Not only did we use the churchyard and the house grounds as a huge rambling playground, but the windows of our 'wing' looked out across the churchyard. This is important because I was supremely aware of this unnerving fact when sitting transfixed in my chair watching such films as 'Dracula Has Risen From The Grave' and 'The Reptile', for the rooms were large and chilly, with real open fires and high ceilings, and spectral shadows would leap malicious and unfettered behind the chairs we had pulled up close to the hearth. Outside, the wild English countryside would lay silently quivering under the cloaking dark, as the despising moon would coldly gild the jaundiced tombstones and craven gargoyle faces with dirty white sepulchral tinctures which seemed to me unholy and cancerous. My father would pack my younger siblings off to bed and begin to roll a succession of cigarettes, before succumbing to his reliable habit of quickly falling asleep with a copy of the Daily Mail collapsed upon his lap. Even at that naive age, I knew enough about the world to know that the Daily Mail was enough to send anyone to sleep. 

The first film was usually a black and white feature. The range was extraordinary, varying between expressionist horror such as 'The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari' and 'Carnival Of Souls', through the various 'Dracula'/'Frankenstein'/'Werewolf' mainstays which introduced me to legendary stalwarts such as Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, and then on to the weird series of 1950/60s films which seemed to blend horror with science-fiction, including the mighty 'The Man With X-Ray Eyes'. 

The first features usually offered innocent thrills. According to Christopher Lee in a 1958 edition of 'Picturegoer', "Horror is pure escapism and rattling good entertainment."
  

The first features were often unintentionally funny, as exemplified by the cover for the same magazine:

Skeletonism was rampant in the 1950s

As these neon nightmares ended, I would cast an anxious eye upon the dozing form of my father as he sloped ever further downwards into his chair, hoping beyond reason that the closing music would not rouse him from his torpor. My father was a fireman, and because this involved shift work, he took sleep were he could get it, a habit I have since inherited. I knew that once the credits had begun rolling on the second film, I had passed 'Go', and that I was safe. My father may have been a working-class Tory who liked Jim Davidson, but he was also a musician whose band had appeared on Jukebox Jury, so he understood the importance of frivolous cerebral stimulation. 

I preferred to watch the second films on my own because they would often feature darker, more disturbing themes, and as an emerging teenager, I felt a marked discomfort in sharing that experience with an adult. I wanted to experience these things by myself, and to make my own mind up about the fantasy world of violence, sex and horror that they portrayed. Having said that, the existence of a sleeping adult close by, who would be available to shut up the house and tuck me up safely in bed afterwards, was not something I objected to. 

The second films represented a gateway into an alternate dark promised land. School sought to qualify me for the future daytime routines that would seek to map out the duller path of my life, but the second film in the BBC2 Horror Double Bill offered a tantalising glimpse into a more alluring nocturnal world, where imagination and intellect could be truly liberated, where Edgar Allen Poe, Roger Corman and Bram Stoker reigned sublime. Although I never really understood why at the time, films such as 'The Wicker Man', 'Blood On Satan's Claw' and 'Rosemary's Baby' spoke profoundly to me, stirring complex and often disturbing sensations that went beyond mere visual reality. 

"This isn't a dream, this is really happening!"
Mia Farrow in 'Rosemary's Baby'

Of course, at that age I wasn't particularly enlightened about such seemingly trifling matters as sexual politics - and in particular, the rampant misogyny that I now know to be pandemic in the horror genre - but I quickly formed an instinctive dislike of gratuity and cruelty. I found the former repellent, and the latter fascinating, but only by virtue of the dark psychology which accompanied it. Years later, I would chance across this quote at the beginning of Robert Aickman's short-story collection 'Dark Entries', and I still find it interesting:  

"I am still of the opinion that only two topics can be of the least interest to a studious and serious mind - sex and the dead."
W.B. Yeats

Having said that, Aickman also quoted something elsewhere about it being the secret fantasy of every woman to be raped, so his views should be taken with a large pinch of salt.  

With the benefit of age and experience, I now view the difference between the first and second features in the Horror Double Bill to be of far greater significance. At the time, I myself existed in this watershed; I occupied the brief space between the two slots without consciously realising it. I was both fondly nostalgic for the black-and-white simplicity of childhood, and viscerally excited by the dangerous and colourful prospect of adult life. 

Now....now I just don't know anymore. But I do know this: horror is no longer harmless. There is too much irresponsible, gratuitous horror in the world. 

To quote from 'The Man With X-Ray Eyes' [this time the Bauhaus song]:

"I have seen too much, wipe away my eyes, wipe away my eyes".