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Haunted: Mark Gatiss goes in search of the ghost writer M.R. James
02:30 pm



In October 1893, members of the Chit Chat Society gathered in rooms at the University of Cambridge to share and discuss academic papers. But this particular evening, towards Halloween, the society had gathered to hear fellow and Dean of King’s College, M.R. James present something very different from the traditional academic fare—the first reading of his ghost stories.

Montague Rhodes James was a respected academic whose reputation would now be forgotten if it were not for his ghost stories. James’s chilling tales set the template for the genre which other writers have since studiously followed. Inspired by the success of his reading, James organized a small gathering every Christmas Eve in order to read his latest ghostly tales to a small group of friends.

James was following a tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas that harked back to pagan times when people believed the dead and the living communed during the long, dark nights of the winter in the lead up to the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year. It was a literary tradition set as far back as Shakespeare, and recently by Washington Irving (The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.) and Charles Dickens—whose A Christmas Carol contained many of the genre’s dearest tropes.
M. R. James and the classic volume of his supernatural tales.
However, unlike Dickens, M.R. James had no truck with benign spirits sent to do good—his ghost stories were filled with “malevolence and terror”:

...the glare of evil faces, ‘the stony grin of unearthly malice’, pursuing forms in darkness, and ‘long-drawn, distant screams’....

His stories were set in realistic and seemingly ordinary worlds where central characters are suddenly thrust into the most extraordinary of situations—a seaside holiday brings forth an evil wraith; a rose garden hides a brutal past; a hotel is host to a grim haunting.

James believed his ghost stories should…

...put the reader into the position of saying to himself, ‘If I’m not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me!’

Most of James’ tales follow a simple formula: reticent hero, usually a scholar, arrives at strange yet alluring location where he discovers some cursed ancient artifact that damages his life. His message—those who fail to learn from their history are doomed and will be punished for their ignorance. Such chilling warnings are wrapped in beautifully written tales of terror.

Mark Gatiss (League of Gentlemen, Sherlock, etc.) is a splendid host in this documentary M.R. James: Ghost Writer, in which he examines the clues in the life of the author of some of the greatest tales of terror. Beginning with James reading to the Chit Chat Society, he examines the influences that inspired the ghost stories, including one particular incident during his childhood when James saw a monstrous apparition—an event he later recorded in his tale “A Vignette.” If you enjoy supernatural tales and ghost stories, then this little documentary is for you.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Shocking!: Bizarre diagrams from 1931 illustrate the many ways to die of electrocution
11:20 am



Some of the diagrams from the 1931 German book Elektroschutz in 132 Bildern illustrate totally plausible ways one might die of electrocution, for instance touching a lamp while in the bathtub or using a hair dryer over a sink. Makes sense, right? But a few others are head scratchers, IMO. The peeing-off-the-bridge and the milking-the-cow ones seem like awfully long shot ways to die from electrocution.




More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
This moody 1953 animation of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ was the first X-rated cartoon
09:42 am



I first read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” during library class at the local Catholic school I attended in Edinburgh. I was about nine or so, and had this devilish love of horror stories, detective adventures and science fiction. Each week our class was told to bring a book we liked to help encourage our reading—this was the one subject for which I needed no encouragement, my only problem was having enough time to read all the books I wanted to read. It was really a free period and usually a cinch for the teacher.

It was nearing Christmas holidays—the first snow had fallen and the trees were blackened fish bones against the sky. Our teacher, a florid Christian brother with squeaky shoes wandered round the class checking-up on what we were reading. He stopped at my desk, and pushed back the book’s cover for approval.

“Edgar Allan Poe? Edgar, Allan, Poe.” It didn’t sound like a question—more like a terminal diagnosis to an unsuspecting patient. “What would the Holy Father say?”

I had no idea the Pope was a literary critic, and so brightly enquired—what did the Holy Father think of Poe?

“Don’t be impudent, boy. That’s the kind of talk that will get you six of the best,” he said, meaning six wallops with a belt, “And this,” holding the slim paperback aloft between finger and thumb, “isn’t the kind of thing you should be reading in class. It’s unsuitable, far too macabre. I’ll have to confiscate it.” The book quickly disappeared into one of his pockets. “Now next time, bring in a proper book. I don’t want to see this sort of thing again.”

I was supposed to feel chastened, but didn’t. If anything I felt his whole response absurd, and for the first time realized books could be dangerous, and reading subversive.

Undaunted, the following week, I chanced my luck with an Algernon Blackwood, which only merited a tut and a sigh.
In 1953, esteemed actor James Mason narrated an animated version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, which was the first cartoon to be given an “X” certificate by the British Board of Film Censors. It’s a rather splendid animation which was nominated for an Academy Award—though sadly lost out to Walt Disney’s Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom. It’s a creepy and highly atmospheric little film that fully captures the terror and madness of Poe’s classic tale.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
A beautiful story about Patti Smith from last night’s reading in Illinois
06:32 pm



Patti Smith is currently promoting her latest memoir M Train. During last night’s reading at the Dominican University in Illinois, Smith was reunited with some very personal belongings, as disclosed today by a member of the audience who posts as “maxnix” on the Steven Hoffman Music Forums.

maxnix “wanted to share a quick story . . ” and posted details of this beautiful moment during Smith’s reading:

The family and I went to see Patti Smith last night at Dominican University in Illinois, reading from “M Train”, telling stories, etc. I have seen her do this several times, and it’s always a lot of fun and a moving experience. Usually, she takes a break and takes (and tolerates!) a few audience questions . . mostly “what’s your favorite poem” and the like.

Last night, however, a woman stood up and told Patti that she had a bag of clothes that belonged to her 40 years ago and would like to return it. Smith (and everybody) looked totally confused, but asked the person to come up to the stage and hand her the bag. Patti looked inside and just froze.

Turns out that 40 years ago the band’s truck was stolen in Chicago, all their equipment/clothes/personal things basically everything they owned. These clothes among them. So Patti pulls out these items of clothing and talks about them (the shirt she wore on the Rolling Stone cover, the Keith Richards T-Shirt you’ve seen her wear in a hundred photos) and then gets to the bottom of the bag. Here was a bandana that her beloved late brother had worn and then given to her, and she starts to weep. Before long, half the audience was crying with her.

Naturally, people in the audience were asking where/why/how?? but Patti just put her hands out and said she doesn’t care how, she’s just so grateful to have these priceless items back. Amazing. The rest of the program, after she piled everything on the podium, she couldn’t stop touching them, eventually slowly slipping the bandana into her pocket and proceeded to do a ripping version of Because the Night with her son on acoustic guitar.

What a night.

Read the whole forum discussion here. Below Patti discussing M Train on Democracy Now!.

H/T Mark Hagen

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘What is Punk?’: Children’s book answers that question with clay figures of Iggy Pop and the Clash
09:41 am



Last year, DM told you about a marvelous children’s book called What Every Child Needs To Know About Punk Rock. In that post I mused a bit at how odd it was, given that punk has been identifiably a thing for roughly 40 years, that there weren’t more books explaining that musical/cultural/fashion phenomenon to kids—there are, after all, members of early punk bands who now have grandchildren, and there’ve long been punk band onesies for the offspring (sorry) of the conspicuously hip.

Well, it looks like something IS stirring in those waters after all, because now there’s the wonderful What Is Punk? published by Akashic, the imprint owned by former Soulside/GVSB bassist Johnny Temple. Akashic became widely known among normals a few years back for the amazing kid lit parody Go the Fuck to Sleep, and have been in the pages of DM before for their publication of The Jesus Lizard Book and David Yow’s Copycat. While What Every Child Needs To Know About Punk Rock was co-written by a child development specialist and focused on DIY culture and rebellion against capitalist norms, “What is Punk?” is a different beast altogether, a whimsical primer on that movement’s early history written in verse by Eric Morse, a writer and publicist who in the oughts founded Trampoline House magazine.

Once upon a time,
there was a deafening roar,
that awakened the people,
like never before.

With their eyes open wide
they shouted in fear,
“What new sound is this?”
and covered their ears.


More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Jack Kerouac talks ‘Dharma Bums’ with Hollywood legend Ben Hecht
09:41 am



October 1958: Jack Kerouac appears on The Ben Hecht Show to discuss the Beat Generation and his latest novel Dharma Bums. Kerouac was still riding high on the first wave of success that came with the publication of On the Road in 1957, and then its follow-up The Subterraneans the following year. Now he was beginning to reap some of the rewards brought by all those long years of hard work and toil, traveling America, honing his writing to a “spontaneous prose,” where first thought was best thought—though this disguised the rewriting involved in being “spontaneous.”

As for Ben Hecht, well he was a famous journalist, author, playwright and screenwriter whose contributions to cinema earned him the nickname “Mr. Hollywood.” Between 1927 and 1964, Hecht wrote or contributed to over 150 movies—often uncredited. While some may not know the name, Hecht’s work is instantly recognizable in such classics as Hitchcock’s Notorious, Spellbound, Rope, Foreign Correspondent and The Paradine Case; or such other gems as the original Scarface with Paul Muni, or Gone With the Wind, or Stagecoach or The Front Page. Hecht was a prolific screenwriter though he thought of Hollywood as a 9-5 job rather than his career. However, he did win considerable praise and acclaim for his film work—being nominated for five Oscars, winning two, and credited with being the first writer to bring powerful and realistic dialog to the screen.
‘The Dharma Bums’ meets dapper Mr. Hecht.
Hecht had started off as a war reporter in Berlin before returning to Chicago as a crime reporter, where he mixed with the lowlifes and hustlers and learnt the language of street—this, of course, he later used to inform his screenplays. Kerouac had similarly lived the low life and learnt the lingo, and one would think this connection would have brought the two writers together, but in his interview Hecht is condescending, almost dismissing Kerouac and the Beats as the latest supermarket fashion rather than a serious literary movement.

Hecht opens with a question on the naming of the Beat Generation, before quizzing Kerouac about his philosophy being a mixture of “Catholicism and gin,” wanting to know in what proportions? Jack is stumped by the question. “G-I-N? Gin?...” he asks, before adding, “I don’t understand your question.” This is where the interview turns into an an awkward dance with both wanting to lead. Hecht asks about Kerouac’s politics (was he a Republican? No, but he liked Eisenhower) and did he believe in the Devil (again a no, as the Devil had been defeated) and what about God? and so on, and so forth. Hecht’s problem is he does not wait or listen long enough to allow Kerouac to give any insight or substance to his answers, preferring to keep the questions moving onwards to some unidentifiable conclusion that is never ultimately reached.

Kerouac sounds bemused and comes off the better of the two. While Hecht (sadly) sounds like a crusty square looking to ridicule the “Drama” bums—as he mistakenly calls them.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Crash: Apocalyptic J.G. Ballard quotes about cars on traffic signs
12:59 pm



In 1965 the British Road Sign project was launched, introducing Great Britain to a multitude of new road signs as well as two ubiquitous two new typefaces (Transport and Motorway), all of which were designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, who basically invented modern road signage in the same act. It doesn’t matter if you live in the U.K. or the U.S. or the European continent—if you’ve been in a car, you’ve seen their two-dimensional pantomimes (example).

2015 being the 50th anniversary of the British Road Sign, this summer the MADE NORTH Gallery celebrated the design landmarks with a project in which they invited “leading British artists and designers to transform the familiar circle, triangle and square signs.” The participants were encouraged to “create their own content for the signs developing concepts that evolve from current signs function of instructing people of speed limits and directions to poetically disrupting our everyday with designs that makes us stop, look and think about design and our environment in a slightly different way; less instructions and more pauses for thought.”

J.G. Ballard behind the wheel of a 1904 Renault Park Phaeton, 1971
Possibly the most intriguing entry came from the well-known British designer Jonathan Barnbrook, whose past projects include the album art for David Bowie’s 2002 album Heathen as well as his 2013 release The Next Day; he also collaborated with Damien Hirst on his restaurant Pharmacy. Barnbrook crated two “anti-signs,” if you will, signs that could never serve any proper public service but whose very inutility prompts the viewer to engage with them in a more conceptual, artistic way. More interestingly, Barnbrook’s two signs incorporate lengthy quotations from the patron saint of automobile crashes, J.G. Ballard, the one man on earth who might fairly be said to disagree with the need for traffic signs to prevent fatal accidents.

Both signs are essentially illegible in the usual sense, and simply offer up a perverse Ballard sentiment about cars in forbidding combinations of red, white, and black. The first features a sentence from Ballard’s interview in Penthouse, which appeared in the magazine in the September 1970 issue (incidentally, three years before the publication of Ballard’s magnum opus on automobile accidents, Crash, but the same year as Ballard’s thematically similar multi-media work The Atrocity Exhibition).

For the record, the full line is “A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status—all in one event.” You can read Ballard’s full Penthouse interview here.

Barnbrook’s second sign appropriates a comment about the eventual demise of cars (one that has proven to be not very prophetic at all) that comes from an essay Ballard wrote for the Autumn 1971 issue of Drive called “The Car, the Future”:

This sign is far more cluttered, with too much text really. The quotation reads as follows: “The car as we know it is on the way out. To a large extent, I deplore its passing, for as a basically old-fashioned machine, it enshrines a basically old-fashioned machine, it enshrines a basically old-fashioned idea: freedom. In terms of pollution, noise and human life, the price of that freedom may be high, but perhaps the car, by the very muddle and confusion it causes, may be holding back the remorseless spread of the regimented, electronic society.” You can read the full essay “The Car, the Future” here.

After the jump, director Harley Cokeliss’ 17-minute meditation on Ballard’s “Crash” thematic, featuring an appearance by Ballard himself…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
New York City BAD BOYS: Intimate photos of Punks, Poets and Provocateurs, 1977-1982
11:05 am

Pop Culture


Johnny Thunders, 1978
Johnny Thunders 1978

From interviews with William Burroughs and Richard Hell, to in-depth revelations and photographs of the people who helped shape popular culture and music, a new book from photographer Marcia Resnick, Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: New York City BAD BOYS * 1977 - 1982 transports you back to a time when there were no rules. A time before many of Resnick’s subjects too quickly burned out like the bright lights they were.

For example, here’s an evocative excerpt (and an image) of David Byrne from Punks, Poets and Provocateurs in which Byrne “predicts the future” back in 1977. It was taken from an interview Byrne did with Traveler’s Digest in which he made a total of 46 predictions about the future. The following ten turned out to be rather unfortunately, spot-on.
David Byrne
David Byrne, late 70s, early 80s

In the future, half of us will be “mentally ill”

In the future, water will be expensive

In the future, everyone’s house will be like a little fortress

In the future, there will be mini-wars going on everywhere

In the future, people will constantly be having plastic surgery

altering their features many times during their lifetime

In the future there will be many mass suicides

In the future there will be starving people everywhere

In the future, the crippled, retarded and helpless will be killed

In the future, there will be so much going on nobody will be able to keep track of it

William Burroughs and photographer, Marcia Resnick
William Burroughs and photographer, Marcia Resnick

Resnick (who very much reminds me of a real-life punk rock version of ass-kicking journalist Lois Lane) and her lucky lens were able to capture powerful and often poignant images of the most legendary bad boy rule breakers (as well as a few girls) from the past. I spoke to Victor Bockris, the author of Punks, Poets and Provocateurs and asked him to share his thoughts on Resnick when it came her uncanny ability to capture this hedonistic period in time on film. A time that would drastically change with the arrival of the AIDS epidemic.

DM: Can you give DM’s readers any first-hand insight into Marcia’s expertise when it came to capturing the compelling and emotionally charged images that are featured in Punks, Poets and Provocateurs?

Victor Bockris: Marcia worked on this project over a period of five years so there were many sessions. What they shared in common was the way Marcia turned every session into a game of fantasy seduction. As she writes, she dressed provocatively with a girlish flair, which included a splash of Lolita. Despite the fact that punk was the first rock movement in which the girls were equal to the boys, punk rockers were particularly drawn to the Lolita Syndrome. This is not to suggest that Marcia was anything but a fine artist. It was her ability to keep her sessions on edge with displays of coy sexuality that drew from her subjects such light in the case of Josef Beuys, or dark in the case Belushi responses. I once noticed that in all the pictures the moments she intuitively captured are moments of tenderness she evoked. There’s a lot of trembling in her work. She was one of the most remarkable girls in that truly remarkable scene. And she played it to the hilt.
John Belushi, 1981
John Belushi, 1981. This was Belushi’s last photo session before his death on March 5th, 1982

Despite the notoriety of many of Resnick’s subjects, it was her ability to draw tenderness from her “bad boys” that allowed for such familiar faces such as Mick Jagger and Johnny Thunders, to be viewed freshly. Bockris’ (as well as Resnick’s) encyclopedic details of the past make for an addictive page-turning read. While reading it (something I’ve done several times already), you may also feel like the world that existed during that all too brief six-year period might disappear before your eyes if you close its pages.

The 272 pages of hedonistic gratification that is Punks, Poets and Provocateurs will be available in November. Pre-orders are happening now. Many images that were graciously provided for your perusal by Marcia Resnick (as well as a old-school interview I dug up with glam metal pioneer and NYC club promoter, Tommy Gunn) follow.
Arthur “Killer” Kane of the New York Dolls
Brian Eno
Brian Eno, 1978
H.R. of Bad Brains
More punks, poets and provocateurs after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Weird bus stops of Soviet Russia
01:13 pm



Photographer Christopher Herwig spent roughly a dozen years roaming the vast expanses of the former Soviet Union, in search of the wild roadside shelters, for want of a better term, dotting the landscape in locales as exotic as Shymkent, Kazakhstan. Last year Herwig successfully funded a print run of 1,500 copies of his photo book of Soviet bus stops on Kickstarter, and now FUEL Publishing has decided that it merits a larger audience; the book, Soviet Bus Stops, will be released at the end of the month.

It turns out that bus stops were a medium of startling vitality with a great deal of local control in the otherwise repressive Soviet Union. Local architects apparently didn’t think too much about budgets, and experimented in a variety of styles including brutalism or outright weirdness. During his journey Herwig covered more than 18,000 miles in 14 countries of the former Soviet Union, traveling by car, bike, bus, taxi and who knows what else. There are examples from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Abkhazia, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Estonia.



Many more of these wild Soviet structures after the jump…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Ralph Steadman’s endangered ‘boids’
01:08 pm



Blue-throated macaw
Renowned for his memorable visual interpretations of the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, Ralph Steadman has since transitioned to a less gonzo subject matter—birding. Next week sees the publication of a new book of Steadman’s paintings of endangered birds called Nextinction, as a follow-up to his 2012 book Extinct Boids, which, obviously, focused on “boids” that are, ah, no longer endangered. Both books were cowritten by Cari Levy. Nextinction came out in July in the U.K., but the U.S. publication date is September 15.

According to the Guardian, 1 in 8 species of birds is threatened by extinction. Steadman’s interest in the animal kingdom is not limited to these two books; he also published The Ralph Steadman Book of Cats and The Ralph Steadman Book of Dogs as well as The Book of Jones: A Tribute to the Mercurial, Manic, and Utterly Seductive Cat.

For more information on endangered avian species, you can check out the website for Endangered Species International. If you want to help endangered bird species, one of the concrete steps you can take is to build a pond in your backyard.

California condor

Red-crowned crane
More of Steadman’s “boids” after the jump…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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