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Kurt Vonnegut: The bombing of Dresden and the creation of ‘Slaughterhouse 5’

It took Kurt Vonnegut more than twenty years to turn his experience of surviving the allied bombing of Dresden during World War II, into his novel Slaughterhouse Five. In this short interview with James Naughtie, Vonnegut recalls the horror of Dresden and how it shaped his vision of the world and led to the creation of his most famous work.

“A writer is lucky to be able to treat his or her neuroses everyday. We’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is. And teh Arts are one way to help people get through this thing. the function of any work of Art, successful work of Art is to say to a certain segment of the population, ‘You are not alone. Others feel as you do.’ We must have kids now, you know, saying the world is crazy - and indeed, it is.”

Recorded for the BBC’s This Week series in 2005, to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Creative Writing 101 with Kurt Vonnegut


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘Love Saves The Day’ by Tim Lawrence: The Disco Bible

Many, many books have been written about disco, and I have read a whole bunch of them (including more well known works like Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco by Peter Shapiro, Everybody Dance: Chic and the Politics of Disco by Daryl Easlea and The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night by Anthony Haden Guest) but still nothing comes close to matching Tim Lawrence’s exhaustive yet entertaining Love Saves The Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-79.

For those of you who still believe that disco was nothing more than an music-industry creation dreamt up in a backroom by a bunch of coked-up suits and sold to passive, gullible consumers too high to know it was an empty fad (here’s looking’ at you, Em!) then you need to get your hands on this book. That goes for anyone else with an interest in the disco genre, particularly those who know the basics of the story but crave more. Because, believe me, it’s all here.

Lawrence is a lecturer at the University of East London and a renowned writer on dance music and culture. He has in the past published books on the avant garde/disco composer and performer Arthur Russell (Hold On To Your Dreams; Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene 1973-1992) and most recently added the introductory foreword to Voguing And The House Ballroom Scene of New York City, 1989-92. But to me, at least, Love Saves The Day is still his best work. From his website:

Opening with David Mancuso’s seminal “Love Saves the Day” Valentine’s party, Tim Lawrence tells the definitive story of American dance music culture in the 1970s - from its subterranean roots in NoHo and Hell’s Kitchen to its gaudy blossoming in midtown Manhattan to its wildfire transmission through America’s suburbs and urban hotspots such as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Newark, and Miami.

Tales of nocturnal journeys, radical music making, and polymorphous sexuality flow through the arteries of Love Saves the Day like hot liquid vinyl. They are interspersed with a detailed examination of the era’s most powerful DJs, the venues in which they played, and the records they loved to spin - as well as the labels, musicians, vocalists, producers, remixers, party promoters, journalists, and dance crowds that fuelled dance music’s tireless engine.

TIm Lawrence may not have lived through this era, but his book is phenomenally well-researched and features interviews with all of the remaining key players, sketching the very earliest days of the movement: from David Mancuso’s Loft parties to Francis Grasso mixing records at the Sanctuary as far back as 1970 (the first dj ever to do so), from Nicky Siano opening The Gallery while still a teenager in 1972 to Steve Ostrow’s gay/mixed Continental Baths (home not just to performances by Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, but also the venue where future legendary djs Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles cut their teeth.) all the way up through the decade to the opening of both Studio 54 and the Paradise Garage.

Love Saves The Day IS exhaustive (perhaps too exhaustive for disco newcomers) and while it can act as a great reference for fact-checkers, it’s also an entertaining read that spares little detail of the complicated drug-and-sex lives of these people. This was an era of radical social change and these folks (and this music) were right at the forefront of those changes. The first chapter of Love Saves The Day is available to read in full on Lawrence’s website, and it focuses on David Mancuso, the man whose Loft apartment-cum-dance-space gave birth to disco culture and who, to this day, remains the beating heart of “real” disco. It also makes clear the connection between hippie culture of the 60s and the emerging gay/black/female-centeric dance culture of the 70s:

When it came to public venues Mancuso’s preferred to go to the Electric Circus, which opened in June 1967, and the Fillmore East, which opened in the spring of 1968. Both of these psychedelic haunts were situated in the East Village — the Electric Circus was located in an old Polish workingman’s club on St. Mark’s Place, the Fillmore East, in the words of the New York Times, on “freaky Second Avenue” — and both hosted live entertainment 1. “I went to the Electric Circus at least once a month,” says Mancuso. “Everybody was having fun and they had good sound in there. It was very mixed, very integrated, very intense, very free, very positive.” The Fillmore East showcased some of his favourite artists. “I heard Nina Simone perform there. I went with my friend Larry Patterson. The Fillmore East would often be noisy but that night everybody was very focused. She was wonderful.”

Mancuso didn’t just go to the Fillmore East to listen to music. “That’s where I also first heard Timothy Leary. He gave a series of lectures backed by the Joshua Light Show.” The ex-Harvard academic was already an important figure for Mancuso, who had first taken Sandoz when he was twenty and the drug was still legal. An early trip coincided with a snowstorm (“each flake was like a universe”) and ten tabs later he came across Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which argues that psychedelics can provide a shortcut to enlightenment. “The book blew me away. It became my bible and I started getting involved with him.” The young acolyte met the acid guru at his LSD (“League for Spiritual Discovery”) headquarters in the West Village, went to his Technicolor lectures and became a regular at his private parties. “People were tripping but the parties were more social than serious. There was food and music. I knew we were on a journey.”
Mancuso’s personal voyage took a vital turn in 1965 when he purchased the key to 647 Broadway, just north of Houston, for two hundred dollars.

Like Soho, NoHo (as the north of Houston area was nicknamed) had historically functioned as a manufacturing district, drawing on New York’s immigrant population as its low-wage workforce, and when industry relocated to the cheaper terrain of New Jersey and beyond New York’s artists moved in, delighted to exchange their cramped Upper East Side apartments for a range of stunningly expansive lofts. The influx triggered off a sophisticated experiment into the relationship between art, space and living that apparently excluded the likes of Utica-born Mancuso, but he quickly established himself as a key player within this creative population, intent as he was on reintroducing art back into the party. “Everyone loved my space,” he says. “There might have been a hundred people living like this so it was very new. A lot of people would just come and hang out there. There were all sorts of activities going on.”

Some of these activities were influenced by Leary. “I would organise these intimate gatherings where we would experiment with acid,” says Mancuso. “There were never more than five of us when we did this. One person would take nothing, another would take half a tab and the rest would take a whole tab. It was all very new and we took it very seriously. We used The Psychedelic Experience as our guide.” Leary also had a bearing on the decoration of the loft space. “I built a yoga shrine, which I used for yoga and tripping. In the beginning it was three feet by five feet and it eventually grew to fifteen feet by thirty feet. As you walked into the loft you were immediately drawn to this area. It was gorgeous.”

Music — which was similar to LSD inasmuch as it could function as a therapeutic potion that “de-programmes” the mind before opening up a mystical trail that culminates in spiritual transcendence — was also introduced into the equation. “Leary played music at his lectures and parties and I went in the same direction. I bought a Tandberg tape recorder so that I could play tapes. The Buddha was always positioned between my two speakers.” That was the perfect position from which to hear the homemade compilations, which drew on a diverse range of sources and were structured to complement the hallucinogenic experience. “I made these journey tapes that would last for five hours. They drew on everything from classical music to the moody blues. They would start off very peacefully and the reentry would be more about movement, more jazz-oriented. Somebody might get up and start dancing around the room at some point, although they weren’t dance sessions.”

...and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

I can’t stress enough how good this book is, and how anyone with an interest in disco, underground culture or the 70s should try and track down a copy. It features some invaluable dj playlists from specific spots and times, which act as a checklist for a whole world of great, under-valued music, but besides that, it’s just a great read. I dip in and out of it all the time, and still find amazement and amusement after many readings, so I guess it would be pretty fair to say that Love Saves The Day is my bible. 

You can find a copy of Love Saves The Day on Amazon.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
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‘Born Into This’: Charles Bukowski documentary

Charles Bukowksi (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) made me want to write and he made it look it look easy. But there is an art and skill to “easy” that is everything but easy. Finding your own true voice in writing is something multitudes of young novelists and poets have attempted only to watch their words lay there on the page like orderly dead flies. Shake em off and start over again.

Bukoswki made me want to write because he made writing seem essential to life, a sign of life, as important as breath or food or drink. As profane as Bukowski could be, he could also draw forth the spiritual in the most mundane of acts and make tying your shoe seem as profound as death.

Rich with footage shot by Taylor Hackford and Barbet Schroeder and plenty of talking heads who knew Bukowski well, Born Into This is probably the definitive documentary on the man.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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Remember the 90s? Kind of… Mike Doughty’s ‘The Book Of Drugs’
11:34 am


Mike Doughty
Book of Drugs

As the old adage goes, the Nineties were just like the 60s but inverted (I think it was on Beavis & Butthead that I first heard that one?) If that was indeed true, then could it be said that the drug culture of the 90s was like that of the 60s only inverted?

Mike Doughty is a singer-songwriter and blogger who is perhaps best-known for fronting the moderately successful 90s alt-rock band Soul Coughing. Doughty’s The Book Of Drugs is a memoir looking back on his time in the band, but moreso (as the title suggests) his addictive relationship with various drugs over the years. From the relatively mild (weed, e) to the more serious (smack, later substituted by alcohol), we’re with him all the way to rehab and the sobering power of the 12-step program (here reffered to mostly as ‘the rooms.’)

This isn’t a book about the insane highs and lows of drug culture, glamorous peaks and perilous troughs - all that sort of thing has been covered in countless other books from the 60s. The Book Of Drugs is rather about the slow, persistent grind of addiction and how it wears the user down over a long period of time, a fitting tone for a book about a period when drug use was seen less as a cutting-edge activity and more a normal part of day-to-day life.

Sure, there are some celebrity cameo drug buddies here, like spliff-caning Redman and the smack-snorting Jeff Buckley (thankfully presented as a regular, fucked up human being rather than some kind of tragic demi-god), but Doughty is still tight-lipped when spilling the real beans. One of the most interesting figures in the book is the unnamed, aging rock star Doughty meets in the New York rooms and who imparts some sage advice. Doughty describes the rock star’s band as basically inventing both punk rock and glam. Hmm, who could he mean? There’s a shortlist of suitable candidates buzzing in my mind…

Doughty does go into lavish detail on the holidays he spent in the far East where his greatest ambition was to stay in his room and nod out. Well, he lavishes upon the reader the bits he can remember, which are scant. Even then, he says, he was pretty crappy at being a good junkie:

I went to the tiny (Khmer] pharmacy to clean them out. I piled box upon box of Valium onto the floor, then noticed—morepreposterous luck!—boxes of codeine. I started flipping those out of the case as well.

I heard a French-accented voice behind me. “What are you looking for?” I turned around and saw a manly, unshaven guy in mirrored shades. I said something half-assed and dismissive.

“Maybe I can help you find what you are looking for?” he said.

I snarled and kept rummaging. He shrugged and went away.

Maybe he was trying to help me in the way I wanted to be helped. who knows what that guy knew how to get—heroin? opium? Here we are in the immediate vicinity of the Golden Triangle. there were a number of basic drug-addict skills that I never got together.

Doughty’s experience of “the rooms,” and especially his squaring of an atheist’s lack of belief with the 12-step program’s insistence upon deferring to a higher power, make for some of the books highlights. In fact, towards the end of the book I was totally sold on the rooms as a potential lifestyle-choice, and had developed an almost Marla Singer-esque desire to go and hang out at my local AA meeting.

However, for all the damage being a drug addict, smack-head and alcoholic has done to Doughty, he saves his real ire not for the drugs, or his various addictions, but for the other members of his former band (who all remain nameless to the bitter end). Some of these passages are bitterly entertaining, and again go to show that like drug consumption itself, by the time the 90s rolled around being in a band was less a glamorous calling than a slog-like routine. One just hopes that, like the drugs he has so successfully kicked, at some point in the future Doughty will be able to let go of all the pain and sadness Soul Coughing has brought him:

I’m full-bore batshit crazy with regards to Soul Coughing. If somebody says they love Soul Coughing I hear fuck you. Somebody yells out for a Soul Coughing tune during a show, I hear fuck you. If I play a Soul Coughing song and somebody whoops - just one guy - I hear fuck you. people email my own lyrics at me—“Let the man go through” or “You are listening”—oddly often (how weird is that, to blurt somebody’s own lyrics at them?), and I type back “Don’t put that one me, I’m not that guy any more, that guy is dead.”

If somebody comes up and says, I’ve been listening to you since 1996, it means I had a definitive youthful drug experience to an old CD, and now you’ll never escape that band that you loathe, and you are forever incomplete without those three hateful faces.

Mike Doughty “Na Na Nothing” (and to be fair, his solo stuff IS better!)

You can buy Mike Doughty’s The Book Of Drugs here.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
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Julian Cope’s ‘Krautrocksampler’ in PDF form

You have to love someone who scans every single page of their favourite book just so they can spread the wordy magic with their friends on the internet. So, big thanks then to Evan Levine at the Swan Fungus blog for doing just that with the rare-as-hens-teeth Krautrocksampler by Julian Cope. A history and compendium of German rock from the 60s and 70s, Levine says of the book:

Back in the great, distant era of erm…the mid-’90s, there was a chap by the name of Julian Cope (ex-Teardrop Explodes/music-writer geek), who decided he wanted to chronicle the history of the Krautorck genre. So, he wrote an excellent book, called Krautrocksampler, in which he not only tells readers exactly when and wear he bought all these much-sought-after-now-sadly out-of-print LPs, but paints a great picture of West Germany in the ’60s and ’70s. When he’s not waxing (his bikini) poetic, he recounts crazy stories, and draws very cool connections between projects and personalities. Cope even proclaims that Klaus Dinger “directly influenced David Bowie to take his Low direction” and “had a direct effect on the Sex Pistols, via Johnny Rotten”. Thassalotta influence!

Having wanted this for a while, now I can read it while I try to track down a copy. In case of imminent yankage I recommend anyone else who wants it gets it now too.

Thanks to Pee Six.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
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Red Light District: Beautiful photos of Parisian prostitutes (1950s-1960s)
11:30 am


Christer Strömholm

Swedish-born photographer Christer Strömholm shot these absolutely stunning black and white photographs of Parisian prostitutes (some female, some transsexuals) in Pigalle, starting from the early-50s into the late-60s. I just can’t get over how beautiful all of these images are.

These photos, plus many more are in the book Amies De Place Blanche by Christer Strömholm.


More ‘Red Light District’ after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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He Is Legend: It’s Richard Matheson’s Birthday

Richard Matheson, the author and screenwriter, celebrates his eighty-sixth birthday today. Few writers have been as original or, as influential as Mr. Matheson, whose novels, stories, and screenplays have infused our cultural DNA. Watch / read any sci-fi / horror / fantasy entertainment and you will find Matheson’s genetic code somewhere in the mix.

Over a career that has spanned 6 decades, Matheson has produced a phenomenal range of novels and short stories, many of which have supplied the basis for such films as I Am Legend (the version with Vincent Price is better than Will Smith’s, though Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man is best), The Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, The Legend of Hell House, Duel (Dennis Weaver has never been better), Button, Button (read the story, forget the film version The Box) and of course Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

I’m a big fan of Matheson’s writing and firmly believe that if ever the Nobel Prize committee should think about reflecting talent rather than paying political lip service to short term causes, then they should seriously consider giving Richard Matheson the award for literature, as few writers, other than say Ray Bradbury or Stephen King,  have inspired so many young people to write, and more importantly, so many to read.

Happy Birthday Mr Matheson! And to celebrate, here is the classic Twilight Zone episode of Mr Matheson’s superb short story Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Enjoy!

With thanks to Tim Lucas

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Elmore Leonard: Rules for Writing

The best advice for anyone wanting to be a writer is, Write. Sure, read books, learn from others, keep a notebook, but it always comes down to just one thing: you and a blank page.

Here Elmore Leonard explains his rules for writing, in this rather hastily edited package from the BBC Culture Show of 2006. As Leonard explains writing is mainly rewriting, and it takes the pulp fiction maestro 4 pages of hard graft to produce one finished page. Now you know, so get cracking.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The ‘Small Penis Rule’
10:54 am


Small penis rule

Apparently, the “small penis rule” is a sneaky defense strategy authors can use to save themselves from libel lawsuits. Here it is described in a New York Times article from 1998:

...For a fictional portrait to be actionable, it must be so accurate that a reader of the book would have no problem linking the two,” said Mr. Friedman. Thus, he continued, libel lawyers have what is known as “the small penis rule.” One way authors can protect themselves from libel suits is to say that a character has a small penis, Mr. Friedman said. “Now no male is going to come forward and say, ‘That character with a very small penis, that’s me!

Now, from Wikipedia:

The small penis rule was referenced in a 2006 dispute between Michael Crowley and Michael Crichton. Crowley alleged that after he wrote an unflattering review of Crichton’s novel State of Fear, Crichton libeled him by including a character named “Mick Crowley” in the novel Next. In the novel, Mick Crowley is a child rapist, described as being a Washington-based journalist and Yale graduate with a small penis.

I did not know about this. I guess you do learn something new everyday.


Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Anaïs Nin: Talking about her Diaries, Henry Miller, Muses, Dreams, Art and Death

It is always good to have reader feedback on Dangerous Minds and recently Jenny Lens’ interesting comments on Anaïs Nin made me dust off my copies and revisit Nin’s books and diaries. This, of course, led me to check out what is available on YouTube, which uncovered these 4 clips, which appear to have been mainly taken from the documentary Anaïs Nin Observed (1974).

In the first clip, Anaïs explains how her diary started out as a letter to her father, and how it became an “inner journey.” This leads on to Nin reunited with Henry Miller where they discuss the importance of the artist as a liberator.

In the second clip Anaïs discusses art, the artist, and creative anger, concluding that she likes to “feel I have transcended my destiny.”

In the third, Anaïs discusses her favorite heroines, including Lou Andreas-Salomé, the Russian psycho-analyst and author, who was friends with Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Andreas-Salomé was one of the first to write psycho-analytically about female sexuality, long before she met Freud, and was his associate in the creation of psycho-analysis. Nin also talks about Caresse Crosby co-founder of the Black Sun Press, publisher of Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound, amongst many others, patron to the Arts, and inventor of the modern bra. Anaïs then goes on to talk about volume 5 of her Diaries and her experiences of taking LSD, and how she turned into gold. The clip cuts out just as Nin discusses not passing judgement on her characters.

In the fourth, Nin and Henry Miller discuss “death in life,” dreams and the importance of recording them, and whether analysis will destroy the need for them.

More of Anaïs Nin (and Henry Miller), after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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