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Ernest Hemingway’s reading list for a young writer, 1934
06.16.2014
09:55 am

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Books
Literature

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Ernest Hemingway
Arnold Samuelson

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In 1934, a young student Arnold Samuelson read Ernest Hemingway’s short story “One Trip Across.” Inspired by what he had read, the 22-year-old decided to travel across America to visit the author and ask his advice about writing.

Samuelson had just finished a journalism course at the University of Minnesota and had ambitions to become a writer. He packed a bag and hitch-hiked his way down to Key West. When he arrived, he found the place, like the rest of America, in the grip of the Depression. He spent his first night sleeping rough on a dock, and was woken during the night by a policeman who invited Samuelson to sleep in the local jail. He accepted the offer, and the next day, Samuelson ventured out in search of his hero’s home.

When I knocked on the front door of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, he came out and stood squarely in front of me, squinty with annoyance, waiting for me to speak. I had nothing to say. I couldn’t recall a word of my prepared speech. He was a big man, tall, narrow-hipped, wide-shouldered, and he stood with his feet spread apart, his arms hanging at his sides. He was crouched forward slightly with his weight on his toes, in the instinctive poise of a fighter ready to hit.

Hemingway didn’t hit the young fan, but asked what he wanted. Samuelson explained how he had read “One Trip Across” in Cosmopolitan, and wanted to talk with him about it. Hemingway thought for a moment, then told Samuelson to come back the next day at one-thirty.

Samuelson returned at the appointed time to find Hemingway sitting on his porch. They started talking and Hemingway gave the following advice:

“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time,” Hemingway said, tapping my arm with his finger. “Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.”

They then started talking about books, with Hemingway asking:

“Ever read War and Peace? That’s a damned good book. You ought to read it. We’ll go up to my workshop and I’ll make out a list you ought to read.”

Inside the house, Hemingway wrote down a list of fourteen books and two short stories, which he suggested a young writer should read:

“The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
“The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Hail and Farewell by George Moore
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Oxford Book of English Verse
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
The American by Henry James

 
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He then gave Samuelson a collection of Stephen Crane’s short stories, and a copy of A Farewell to Arms. When Hemingway heard Samuelson was sleeping at the town jail, he invited him to sleep on his 38-foot cabin cruiser Pilar, and keep it in good condition. Over the next year, Samuelson worked for Hemingway and traveled with him on trips to the Florida Keys and Cuba. He later published a memoir based on his experiences, With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba.

Below a brief news item on Ernest Hemingway, looking back to the Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s life in Key West.
 

 
Via Open Culture

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Today in 1816, Mary Shelley first dreamt of ‘Frankenstein’
06.16.2014
09:44 am

Topics:
Books
Literature

Tags:
Frankenstein
Derek Marlowe
Mary Shelley


 
In the wee small hours of the morning, 16th June 1816, Mary Shelley had a terrifying “waking dream” that inspired the creation of her novel Frankenstein. As she described it in her journal:

When I placed my head upon the pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.

The cause of this haunting reverie had been a discussion between Mary’s lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, his lover and half-sister Claire Clairmont (who was then pregnant with his child), and Byron’s doctor John Polidori. They had all traveled to spend a summer together at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. Mary was the daughter of radical political philosophers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and was the teenage lover of firebrand poet Shelley—with whom she had eloped to Switzerland to visit his friend and fellow poet, Lord Byron. 

It was the year without summer, when the skies were grey with the volcanic ash that had erupted from Mount Tambora the previous year in the Dutch East Indies—it was the largest eruption in 1,300 years, and led to floods, food shortages, and cold, inclement weather across the world. A suitably ominous year for the birth of literature’s monstrous creation—Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s creature—the “Adam of [his] labors.”

Unable to spend time outside, the menage sat late into the evening reading ghost stories to each other. These were taken from Fantasmagoriana, an anthology of German and French horror tales. Then one evening by the flickering log fire, Byron suggested that each member of the group should produce their own tale of horror. This they did, mainly Gothic tales of ghosts and the undead. However, Doctor Polidori surprised the company with The Vampyre, which was eventually published in 1819, and is said to be the first of the vampire genre. But it was Mary Shelley—or Godwin as she was then—who had the greatest and most enduring literary success.
 
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Having struggled to come up with an original tale, Mary was inspired one evening by a discussion on “Galvanism,” the scientific phenomenon discovered by Luigi Galvani, whereby muscles (originally on frogs legs, later corpses) twitched and moved, and seem to come alive, when jolted with an electric current.

As author Derek Marlowe described it in his book A Single Summer With L.B.:

The earlier talk of reanimation and the rekindling of dead matter spun in her mind until without realizing it, she herself experienced in her sleep a grotesque nightmare that was so vivid that she felt it was happening within her very room. She saw a manufactured corpse stretched on the floor, a thin figure kneeling beside it, and then she witnessed the corpse stirring, moving, coming to life.

He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes: behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery but speculative eyes.

Starting up in terror, she was no more comforted when she saw the familiar room, the closed shutters, the dark parquet flooring, the patterned walls, for the vision haunted her still. In vain throughout the night Mary attempted to banish the images from her mind, but they returned constantly, until dawn she realized at last that there was only one thing she could do.

I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.

 
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The shy, eighteen-year-old Mary started writing her story that very day and developed it into a novel during 1817:

It was on a dreary night in November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost mounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light I saw the dull yellow eyes of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a conclusive motion agitated its limbs.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was first published anonymously in an edition of 500 copies of three volumes in January 1818. It proved an immediate success, with a second edition published in 1822. The following year a stage production based on the novel, Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein was first produced, which greatly popularized the story, as Mary’s father William Godwin excitedly wrote in this letter:

My dear Mary

I write these few lines, merely to tell you that Frankenstein was acted last night for the first time, & with success. I have therefore ordered 500 copies of the novel to be printed with all dispatch, the whole profits of which, without a penny deduction, shall be your own. 

I am most impatient & anxious to see you, and am ever most affectionately yours

W Godwin

195, Strand,
July 29, 1823.

 
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A revised, more conservative version of Frankenstein was eventually published under Mary’s own name in 1831.

The first movie version of Frankenstein was made in 1910 by Edison Studios. Filmed over three days, the creature was a snaggle-toothed monster with Russell Brand hair. It proved successful, but not as successful as James Whale’s classic film version starring Boris Karloff as the monster in 1931.

From one dream were these wonders so created.

Thomas Edison’s 1910 version:
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Ayn Rand ‘objectively’ explains to ‘Cat Fancy’ that cats are awesome, 1966
06.16.2014
05:47 am

Topics:
Animals
Books
Thinkers

Tags:
Ayn Rand
cats

Ayn Rand
 
It’s difficult to think of something—anything—that could endear Ayn Rand to me, but the news that she was a cat person certainly would be in that unlikely ballpark.

That said, I’d peg this curious missive she sent to Cat Fancy magazine on March 20, 1966, as an obvious hoax if it wasn’t right there in the volume dedicated to her correspondence.
 

Dear Miss Smith,

You ask whether I own cats or simply enjoy them, or both. The answer is: both. I love cats in general and own two in particular.

You ask: “We are assuming that you have an interest in cats, or was your subscription strictly objective?” My subscription was strictly objective because I have an interest in cats. I can demonstrate objectively that cats are of a great value, and the carter issue of Cat Fancy magazine can serve as part of the evidence. (“Objective” does not mean “disinterested” or indifferent; it means corresponding to the facts of reality and applies both to knowledge and to values.)

I subscribed to Cat Fancy primarily for the sake of the picture, and found the charter issue very interesting and enjoyable.

 
It’s especially great that even when writing Cat Fancy about her fondness for cats, she still can’t help getting into a nitpicky semantic debate over the word “objective”! Cat Fancy apparently set out the bait, and she went for it, like, well, a cat goes after a sardine…...
 
Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand swooning over the heroic properties of the American industrialist with an especially adorable Objectivist pal
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Thurston Moore discusses the No Wave scene, 2008
06.12.2014
11:42 am

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Books
Music

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No Wave
Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore
 
In 2008 Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore and music journalist David Browne stopped by the McNally Jackson bookstore to promote their new books, No Wave: Post Punk, Underground, New York, 1976-1980 (coauthored with Byron Coley) and Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth, respectively. Moore and Browne talk expansively about those halcyon years of 1976-1981, when the No Wave scene sprouted up right alongside NYC’s punk scene. Indeed, Moore mentions that the inclusion of “Post Punk” in the title of his book annoyed some of the original No Wave musicians, because after all, the movement didn’t really start any later than the punk movement. McNally Jackson is located on Prince Street, just a few blocks away from where the No Wave scene was active—Moore makes a couple of sardonic comments about how hard it is to believe that it’s the same place.
 
Thurston Moore and David Browne
Thurston Moore and David Browne
 
Moore describes very clearly how strange the No Wave scene was—they had no media echo outside of the Village, and they regarded artists like Patti Smith and Television to be waaaaay too beholden to such bourgeois notions like “songs” and “solos.” Indeed, even Moore was alienated by the No Wavers’ chilly approach: “I wasn’t attracted to No Wave at the time. At the time I was really put off by it. I thought these people were really kind of offensive. I was like, Patti Smith’s great, Television’s great.” As he says, at the time he’d be far more likely to spend four bucks to see the Ramones than pay three dollars to see these local artists who half the time hardly seemed to be playing intelligible music. It wouldn’t be until Moore encountered recordings of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, Mars, and so on that he warmed up to what they were doing. He cites a hostile review of a Teenage Jesus record by Ed Naha in Hit Parader that had such choice verbiage as “This is the worst-sounding record ever made, it sounds like a cat being murdered” that filled Moore with a determination to hear this stuff.

No Wave was so devoid of traditional structure that Browne’s provocative question “How could you tell when a post-punk band sucked?” elicits an interesting response from Moore:  “That’s a good question. The general consensus was that everything else sucked.”
 
Thurston Moore
 
For anyone who was in the Village and seeing gigs during those years, the session will represent a wonderful trip down memory lane. Moore recalls the time that CBGB raised the admission price from two dollars to three dollars, and people got PISSED. The references come thick and fast: Bleecker Bob’s, 99 Records, Rat at Rat R, Mudd Club, Mars, Tier 3….

For those who can’t abide such things, be warned that the inevitable Q&A section starts around the 34th minute (although I found it pretty interesting anyway).
 

 
Here’s a pretty great clip of James Chance & the Contortions doing “Contort Yourself” in Minneapolis, September 23, 1979:
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish’: John Steinbeck’s advice on writing
06.11.2014
12:42 pm

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Books
Literature

Tags:
John Steinbeck
Writing

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Responding to a letter from Robert Wallsten, who was “experiencing a kind of stage fright about actually starting to write a biographical work,” John Steinbeck, author of those longtime staples of high school syllabi, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, gave the following advice.
 

Villa Panorama
Capri
February 13-14, 1962

Dear Robert:

Your bedridden letter came a couple of days ago and the parts about your book, I think, need an answer…

...let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find the reason it gave trouble is it didn’t belong there.

5. Beware of the scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Well, actually that’s about all.

I know that no two people have the same methods. However, these mostly work for me…

love to all there

John

 
1962 was a good year for Steinbeck, as he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. At his acceptance speech, given at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1962, Steinbeck said:
 

Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches—nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair. Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

 
Steinbeck’s speech can be viewed below.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Fear and Loathing in elementary school: Ralph Steadman’s ‘Little Red Computer’
06.11.2014
07:31 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
Ralph Steadman
Children's books


 
Illustrator and cartoonist Ralph Steadman is synonymous with Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo antics and books, yet he has a huge body of work that has nothing at all to do with HST.  Most of the books he illustrated (and, in some cases, wrote) in the ‘60s and pre-HST ‘70s are long out of print and, thanks to his collectibility as one of the greatest contemporary British artists, fairly expensive.
 
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One of his first published books, after years of doing cartoons and drawings for publications like Punch and Private Eye, was a children’s book, The Little Red Computer, published in 1969 by Dobson in the U.K. (and McGraw-Hill in the U.S.), which may just be the first children’s book in literary history to feature a computer as a character. Steadman’s choice of a computer as a character was visionary, since personal computers would not be an easily recognizable common possession for over a decade. Not surprisingly, his sympathy lies with the bullied underdog, in this case a computer that doesn’t understand numbers and consequently flunks out of computer school. He is discarded in an empty field to rust, but soon the field is chosen to be the site of a rocket launch.

Kirkus Review’s brief blurb about the plot is:
 

He can’t add 2 and 2, but, spluttering directions to “where stars are born” and “where Knowledge can be found,” the little red computer leads the first expedition into outer space. Propelled by the little red engine.

 
A first edition in decent condition goes for up to $600.  It was reprinted as a limited edition by Steam Press in 2004, along with the follow-up to the story, Flowers for the Moon, originally only published in German in 1974.
 
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With the mandated anti-bullying programs in American public schools, why not reprint Ralph’s book and make it required reading? Educational art from a master and a worthy message in one colorful, charming book.

More Little Red Computer illustrations can be found here.

The art of Ralph Steadman: a savage satirist:
 

 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

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Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

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Susan Sontag


 
From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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John Fante: The renegade writer Bukowski called ‘God’
06.04.2014
01:20 pm

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Books
Literature

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Charles Bukowski
John Fante


 
Charles Bukowski described the writer and novelist John Fante as his God—the one man who deeply influenced his own literary career.

Bukowski first discovered Fante’s work while looking for something to read at the Los Angeles Public Library.
 

“I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer… It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. Their writing was an admixture of subtlety, craft and form, and it was read and it was taught and it was ingested and it was passed on. It was a comfortable contrivance, a very slick and careful Word-Culture… one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was…

“The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humour and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me. I had a library card. I checked the book out, took it to my room, climbed into my bed and read it, and I knew long before I had finished that here was a man who had evolved a distinct way of writing. The book was Ask the Dust and the author was John Fante.”

 

 
Fante was born into a poor, working-class Italian immigrant family in Denver, Colorado, in 1909. The relentless poverty of his childhood, and the family background of a hard-drinking father and devout Catholic mother, were to influence his writing, in particular his autobiographical alter ego, Arturo Bandini. The young Fante was bookish and smart, and enrolled at the University of Colorado, but he dropped out to concentrate on writing. His first success came with the publication of a short story “Altar Boy” in H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury in 1932. From there on, Fante gave his life over to writing short stories, novels and screenplays. He worked for the Hollywood studios, collaborated with Orson Welles, and produced his classic novels Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938) and the book Bukowski described as the best novel ever written, Ask the Dust (1939). When not writing, Fante spent his time drinking and gambling, taking a similar route to the one Bukowski would follow years later.

A Sad Flower in the Sand (2001) was the first major documentary made on John Fante “the renegade author whose highly autobiographical novels illustrate his deep-rooted love of Los Angeles and his struggles working through poverty and prejudice.” Hailed as “an absorbing, film noir portrait,” this film explores Fante’s life, his influences, and his struggle to have his brilliant literary talents recognized. The documentary includes interviews with writer and director Robert Towne, publisher John Martin, biographer Stephen Cooper, and Fante’s wife Joyce and sons, Jim and Dan.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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On fandom, collecting and Saint Etienne: A Q&A with Bob Stanley
05.29.2014
12:55 pm

Topics:
Books
Music

Tags:
Bob Stanley
Saint Etienne


 
First Third Books, the London-based book publisher who put out that excellent coffee table monograph about the life of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Sheila Rock’s Punk+ book are back with a new volume tracing the nearly 25 year history of Saint Etienne. The book contains over 150 images of the band annotated by Sarah Cracknell, Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley.

The Saint Etienne book comes individually numbered in a run of 2,000 copies. There’s a special edition of 300 copies with a different coloured linen binding signed by the trio that includes a 7” single of two unreleased songs, but that has already sold out.

Over email, I asked Bob Stanley a few questions about the new book, collecting collectibles and fandom. This is probably as good a place as any to mention that I’m a huge Saint Etienne fan myself and that there is a pressed flower Sarah Cracknell knelt down and handed to me after the group’s concert at Limelight in New York in one of the books on the shelves behind me as a type this…

Saint Etienne will be premiering their soundtrack to Paul Kelly’s film The Way We Live live at the close of this year’s Sheffield Doc Fest on June 12th. (I’m going to be at the Fest, sadly we’re leaving that very morning…)

Dangerous Minds: Obviously this is a volume for the Saint Etienne superfan. How did you approach the curation of the group’s history with an eye towards turning it into a product that a superfan like yourself would want to own?

Bob Stanley: We had the nod over which pictures to include, but Fabrice and Lora at First Third did most of the work on the book. The Felt book they put out was off the scale, really beautiful, so we knew they’d do a good job. Our input was really to give them a couple of new songs for a limited edition 7”. I like the idea of rarities - I’m a collector, and tracking down first pressing of albums, obscure singles and first edition books is the rather pathetic hunter and collector instinct in me. I’d be happier saying that, stranded in a forest, I could build a wood cabin with my bare hands. Instead, I can only say I have a recording Walkman that belonged to Florian Schneider.

Music, as a commodity, isn’t consumed so much anymore in its corporeal form by that many young people. The “object”—be it an album or CD—has always been the foundational fetish item of pop music fandom. A rare record is like a hunter’s trophy as far as collectors are concerned. What replaces that in the future? Is it books like this one? I guess what I mean to ask is, don’t people need something to hold in their hands, or to display on their coffee table or bookshelf for true “fandom” to germinate? People our age worship records. They make them feel closer to the creators. A digital file provides no such satisfaction. What replaces that with younger fans?

Bob Stanley: There are two things at work here, I think. One is the celebration of music - having something to hold, the ritual of dropping the needle on the record, or the satisfying click of closing the door on a Walkman. I think this helps the music to envelop you; at least it makes you concentrate. On the other hand, there are still objects that a fan can buy to feel close to their heroes. When I was growing up, that meant buying records. You can buy a lifesize cardboard cutout of Katy Perry, but you can’t buy her records on vinyl. Quite possibly a Katy Perry superfan would rather have the lifesize cardboard cutout - I mean, that makes more sense than having a round piece of plastic with her name written on it. I happen to love the look and feel of records, they’re like art pieces to me. But I don’t think younger music fans are any less devoted if they don’t collect vinyl. It’s pop. It should be ephemeral. If you’re the kind of person who wants to devote his life to it and glory in its history, that’s fine too.

What sort of relationship do you have with your own fans? I have an image of you as someone who might find that your fans are people you’d hang out with—crazed record collectors who might even be able to turn you on to things you don’t know about. Am I right?

Bob Stanley: I’m sure they’re not all crazed record collectors, but there’s definitely a kinship. That makes sense to me - you’re sensibilities are bound to come out if you write or make music. I love social history, so I always find I want to dig deeper, whether it’s picking up a great Roy Orbison b-side, reading about the history of Basildon new town in Essex county archives, or discovering that Hendon FC once played in front of 100,000 people at Wembley. Some of our fans are similarly intrigued by London history, for instance - hauntology, psychogeography or whatever; our relationship with time and place. I know a few of our fans are non-league football fans as well, because I bump into them at matches. But I don’t know how many are interested in the 1946 Town Planning Act. That might just be me.

After the long hiatus Saint Etienne went through until Words and Music by Saint Etienne was released in 2012, the band came back sounding totally invigorated creatively and bringing brand new elements into the music. What have you been listening to lately that you just can’t get enough of and are you working on new Saint Etienne material at the moment?

Bob Stanley: Thank you. We’ve been working on some new ideas. I find I’m being drawn back to late nineties electronica - people I’d forgotten whose records I bought at the time, like Osaka and Isan. There’s an Iranian bloke at the moment who goes under the name of The Waterfront - he’s made a lovely Durutti Column-influenced atmospheric album. It’s quite random, discovering new things. I was in Bergen a couple of months and saw a girl called Vilde Tuv who I thought was phenomenal. Originality is hard to come by, but she’s great, just guitar and bass drum, very intense. Female vocal jazz from the fifties… I really love Jeri Southern at the moment, her album The Southern Style. And I listen out for things I might want to reissue on my Croydon Municipal label - all public domain recordings. Me and Jonny Trunk are in a race to find things and release them. It’s a friendly race, of course.

Below, the video for 2012’s “I’ve Got Your Music”—I find this song utterly breathtaking. Pure pop perfection, I could listen to this on repeat all day long.

 
Covering Michel Polnareff’s “La Poupee Qui Fait Non (No, No, No, No, No)” on Later… with Jools Holland. If you don’t like this… you don’t like pop music:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘I’m Your Man’: Biographer Sylvie Simmons on the life of Leonard Cohen
05.20.2014
08:47 am

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Leonard Cohen
Sylvie Simmons

nehocdranoel
 
Our scene opens on the teenage Leonard Cohen attempting to hypnotize the family maid. Here’s Cohen, growing tall and lanky, losing the puppy fat, smiling, precocious, inquisitive, intense, with a zest for life.

Cohen has bought and studied 25 Lessons in Hypnotism How to Become an Expert Operator, a book that promises much—mind reading, animal magnetism and clairvoyant hypnosis—which the youngster hopes will deliver. As Sylvie Simmons explains in her biography on the singer I’m Your Man, the enthusiastic and earnest Cohen worked hard to master these powerful arts, and soon discovered he was a natural mesmerist.

Finding instant success with domestic animals, he moved on to the domestic staff, recruiting as his first human subject the family maid. At his direction, the young woman sat on the chesterfield sofa. Leonard drew a chair alongside and, as the book instructed, told her in a slow gentle voice to relax her muscles and look into his eyes. Picking up a pencil, he moved it slowly back and forth, and succeeded in putting her into a trance. Disregarding (or depending on one’s interpretation, following) the author’s directive that his teachings [on hypnotism] should be used only for educational purposes, Leonard instructed the maid to undress.

Simmons goes on to describe how Cohen must have felt at this “successful fusion of arcane wisdom and sexual longing.”

To sit beside a naked woman, in his own home, convinced that he made this happen, simply by talent, study, mastery of an art and imposition of his will. When he found it difficult to awaken her, Leonard started to panic.

Let’s freeze the frame on this “young man’s fantasy,” as there’s something not quite right, as neither Simmons or the young Cohen, appear to have considered the possibility that the maid was only feigning her trance, and had willingly taken off her clothes. This would turn everything on its head.

Cohen will later fictionalize the incident in his novel The Favorite Game, where the maid is also a ukulele player (the instrument Cohen first taught himself to play before the guitar), which his alter ego mistakes for a lute, and the maid for an angel. As Simmons puts it “naked angels possess portals to the divine.”

Simmons suggests this slim book on hypnotism had a greater affect on Leonard Cohen than just convincing the maid to take-off her clothes. The book was possibly a primer for Cohen:

Chapter 2 of the hypnotism manual might have been written as career advice to the singer and performer Leonard would become. It cautioned against any appearance of levity and instructed, ‘Your features should be set, firm and stern. Be quiet in all your actions. Let your voice grow lower, lower, till just above a whisper. Pause a moment or two. You will if you try to hurry.’

Scientific research has pointed out that some women are attracted to men with deep, low voices. While a touch of “breathiness” suggests a “lower level of aggression.” 

Cohen’s voice is instantly recognizable. He is aware of its power to mesmerize an audience: when he played at Napa State mental hospital in 1970, he jumped down from the stage and sang amongst the inmates, where anyone who could move “followed him around the room and back and forward and over the stage.” At the Isle of Wight concert, he was the only act not to have bottles thrown at him. Kris Kristofferson was booed off during his set, while a flare was thrown onto the stage during Jimi Hendrix’s performance, setting it on fire. Cohen was unfazed by such antics, he was mellowed out on Mandrax, and before he began:

...Leonard sang to the hundreds of thousands of people he could not see as if they were sitting together in a small, dark room. He told them—slowly, calmly—a story that sounded like a parable, worked like hypnotism, and at the same time tested the temperature of the crowd. He described how his father would take him to the circus as a child. Leonard didn’t like circuses much, but he enjoyed it when a man stood up and asked everyone to light a match so they could locate each other. “Can I ask each of you to light a match,” said Cohen, “so I can see where you all are?” There were a few at the beginning, but as the show went on he could see flames flickering through the misty rain.

As Simmons recounts the episode, Cohen “mesmerized” the audience, with just the power of his voice. Or, as Cohen described his talent himself in “Tower Of Song”:

I was born like this
I had no choice
I was born with the gift
of a golden voice.

 

 
More of Sylvie Simmons and Leonard Cohen, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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