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Charles Dickens & The Train of Death: The rail crash behind the classic ghost story ‘The Signal-Man’
01.15.2016
10:33 am

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Books
Literature
Occult
Television

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In his later years, Charles Dickens often suffered from siderodromophobia—a fear of train travel—caused by his involvement in a railway crash in 1865. If you suffer from say, a fear of flying, then you will appreciate the dread Dickens sometimes endured when he traveled by train thereafter—panic, foreboding, white knuckle terror. His son later claimed that Dickens never fully recovered from the experience and he died exactly five years to the day of the accident.

The Staplehurst rail crash occurred at a viaduct on the South Eastern Railway linking London to the coastal town of Folkestone, at 3:13pm on June 9th, 1865. A section of rail track had been removed. The foreman in charge of replacing the track misread the train timetable—believing his crew had sufficient time to finish the job before the arrival of the next train. His mistake had tragic consequences.
 
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Illustration of the Staplehurst train wreck.
 
Apart from the trauma, the accident had serious implications for Dickens as he was accompanying his mistress Ellen Ternan and her mother to Folkestone where they were to catch a boat back to France.

Long before the 50-Mile Rule—which suggests one should never an affair with someone within a 50 mile radius of home—Dickens had been careful to keep the 27-year-old Ellen out of the public eye in France to avoid any possibility of discovery by his wife or by a prying press. The three were sitting in the first carriage when the train jumped the tracks and crashed over the side of a viaduct. Ten passengers were killed, 40 more were injured.
 
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Photograph of the accident.
 
Ensuring Ellen and her mother were safe, Dickens busied himself aiding the injured and the dying. He described the accident in a letter to his old schoolfriend Thomas Mitton on June 13th, 1865:

My dear Mitton,

I should have written to you yesterday or the day before, if I had been quite up to writing. I am a little shaken, not by the beating and dragging of the carriage in which I was, but by the hard work afterwards in getting out the dying and dead, which was most horrible.

I was in the only carriage that did not go over into the stream. It was caught upon the turn by some of the ruin of the bridge, and hung suspended and balanced in an apparently impossible manner. Two ladies were my fellow passengers; an old one, and a young one. This is exactly what passed: you may judge from it the precise length of the suspense. Suddenly we were off the rail and beating the ground as the car of a half emptied balloon might. The old lady cried out “My God!” and the young one screamed.

I caught hold of them both (the old lady sat opposite, and the young one on my left) and said: “We can’t help ourselves, but we can be quiet and composed. Pray don’t cry out.” The old lady immediately answered, “Thank you. Rely upon me. Upon my soul, I will be quiet.” The young lady said in a frantic way, “Let us join hands and die friends.” We were then all tilted down together in a corner of the carriage, and stopped. I said to them thereupon: “You may be sure nothing worse can happen. Our danger must be over. Will you remain here without stirring, while I get out of the window?” They both answered quite collectedly, “Yes,” and I got out without the least notion of what had happened.

Fortunately, I got out with great caution and stood upon the step. Looking down, I saw the bridge gone and nothing below me but the line of the rail. Some people in the two other compartments were madly trying to plunge out of the window, and had no idea there was an open swampy field 15 feet down below them and nothing else! The two guards (one with his face cut) were running up and down on the down side of the bridge (which was not torn up) quite wildly. I called out to them “Look at me. Do stop an instant and look at me, and tell me whether you don’t know me.” One of them answered, “We know you very well, Mr Dickens.” “Then,” I said, “my good fellow for God’s sake give me your key, and send one of those labourers here, and I’ll empty this carriage.”

We did it quite safely, by means of a plank or two and when it was done I saw all the rest of the train except the two baggage cars down in the stream. I got into the carriage again for my brandy flask, took off my travelling hat for a basin, climbed down the brickwork, and filled my hat with water. Suddenly I came upon a staggering man covered with blood (I think he must have been flung clean out of his carriage) with such a frightful cut across the skull that I couldn’t bear to look at him. I poured some water over his face, and gave him some to drink, and gave him some brandy, and laid him down on the grass, and he said, “I am gone”, and died afterwards.

Then I stumbled over a lady lying on her back against a little pollard tree, with the blood streaming over her face (which was lead colour) in a number of distinct little streams from the head. I asked her if she could swallow a little brandy, and she just nodded, and I gave her some and left her for somebody else. The next time I passed her, she was dead.

 
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Front cover of ‘London Illustrated’ showing Dickens tending to the injured.
 
The accident caused Dickens to lose his voice for two weeks, and he was often visibly panicked on train journeys after that—on one occasion hurling himself to the floor of the carriage convinced another crash was about to take place. However, he was not a man to waste his own experience—no matter how painful—and he used the events in his ghost story The Signal-Man—one of literature’s most famous supernatural tales.

The Signal-Man tells the story of an encounter with a signalman who tells the unnamed narrator of his haunting by ghostly premonitions prior to a series of train accidents. The story formed part of Dickens’ Mugby Junction series of stories. It is a subtle and beautifully told tale, and was adapted by the BBC in 1976 for Ghost Story, starring Denholm Elliott and Bernard Lloyd. Elliott is perfect as the man haunted by a ghostly visitor, whose message he tries to understand.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Beatlebone’: The witty cult novel of the year imagines John Lennon living in Ireland, 1978
12.17.2015
03:27 pm

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Literature
Music

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If you ask me, the most audacious and amusing novel of the year is Beatlebone, by Irish novelist Kevin Barry. Beatlebone posits a charged confrontation between a world-weary John Lennon and the mostly quaint but also hippie-activated Irish countryside of 1978, two years before Lennon’s actual slaying at the hands of Mark David Chapman. In the novel, the fictionalized Lennon, having grown tired of baking bread on the Upper West Side at the age of 37, is eager to find some solitude on a remote property he owns called Dorinish Island, which is located off the western shores of Ireland. (The reader is informed several times that the locals would call it “Durn-ish” Island.)

Lennon plops himself on the shores of Clew Bay with the stated intention of making it to his island, where he intends to spend a dose of time in utter solitude. Lending the proceedings some drama, a phalanx of journalists is said to be in hot pursuit. Lennon is placed in the care of an older local fellow named Cornelius O’Grady, a marvelous creation who seems to embody all of the despondent, hard-drinking wisdom of rural Irish life. After the matron at Lennon’s first hotel sells him out to the local scribes, O’Grady takes him back to his place, which shortly leads to a raucous visit to the local pub, known as the Highwood, where he drunkenly abandons his disguise of “Kenneth” and takes to the stage, and a local hotel said to be populated with “your own style of people precisely” (this turns out to be a trio of intervention-addicted hippies). 
 

Novelist Kevin Barry
 
Tropes from Lennon’s previous life crowd his mind until the events in Ireland unloosen him a bit. He is annoyed that The Muppet Show keeps pestering him to make an appearance (Elton John was on just the other week, and he was “superb, John,” notes Cornelius) and obsessed with the inscrutable opening lines of Kate Bush’s then-new “Wuthering Heights.” He cheekily names a local pooch “Brian Wilson.” Eventually the pop culture references drop away, and eventually Lennon hits upon a new musical concept that bears the same title as the book—we even get a glimpse of the session, as preserved on “the Great Lost Beatlebone Tape.”

Barry interrupts the novel in order to explain some of the real-life basis for the novel and his site-specific researches. John and Yoko actually did own Dorinish Island, they paid £1,550 for it in 1967 and even spent time there before turning it over to hippie squatter par excellence Sid Rawle and his followers for a couple of years, an intriguing interlude that ended abruptly when the island’s supply tent burned down. Furthermore, a major scene of the novel takes place at the Amethyst Hotel, which is also a real place. And so forth.

Barry’s writing is unabashedly poetic, frequently taking on a purple, word-drunk quality. At times the prose is arranged linearly down the page, like poetry, and at other junctures the text is rendered in pure dialogue, like a play. Beatlebone honorably merits the signifier “Joycean.” Here is a brief snippet, chosen almost at random:
 

A street gang of sheep appear—like teddy boys bedraggled in rain, dequiffed in mist—and Cornelius bamps the hooter—like teddy boys on a forlorn Saturday in the north of England, 1957—and the sheep explode in all directions and John can see the fat pinks of their tongues.

Mutton army, he says.

 
The sense of liberties gleefully taken provides Beatlebone with its engine. A world-famous and beloved rock star (soon to be assassinated) evading notice and disappearing into the stalwart Irish countryside—none of it works nearly as well if the main character was, say, Bucky Wunderlick, the fictional rock star of Don DeLillo’s 1973 novel Great Jones Street—because it’s John fucking Lennon, we are able to fill in the blanks so much more readily. Barry does a very good job of recapitulating Lennon’s distinctively reedy vocal patterns, although in all honesty he probably makes him a bit too garrulous (and Ir-ish), but then again, what novelist would be capable of nailing this? The high-wire act is part of the nervy fun of reading Beatlebone.
 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Dante’s nine levels of Hell, LEGO style
12.10.2015
11:07 am

Topics:
Literature
Pop Culture

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Spotted in the Telegraph: Mihai Marius Mihu’s interesting LEGO re-creations of the nine levels of Hell as presented in Dante’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy, written in the 14th century.

Curiously, Mihu disavows any first-hand understanding of Dante’s work, saying: “I didn’t read the Divine Comedy, only the small descriptions of the circles I found on the websites. I didn’t want to be much influenced by the original descriptions because I wanted to give a whole new fresh approach for each circle. I thought more about the significance of titles and from then on it was only my imagination.” The nine LEGO panels seem pretty good to me, but I suspect a Dante scholar might have a few quibbles.

Click on any of the images to get a larger view.
 

I. LIMBO: “A place of monotony, here the souls are punished to wander in restless existence while they moan helplessly in echoes between the ruins of a temple.”
 

II. LUST: “Surrounded by erotic representations, those overcome by lust are forced to watch and experience disgusting things, ultimately being condemned to drown in the menstrual river.”
 

III. GLUTTONY: “The circle itself is a living abomination, a hellish digestive system revealing horrific faces with mouths ready to devour the gluttons over and over for eternity.”
 

IV. GREED: “This pompous place is reserved for the punishment of the greedy ones.”
 

V. ANGER: “In this depressing place the souls are trapped in the swamp, they can’t move and they cannot manifest their frustration which is making them even more angry.”
 

VI. HERESY: “The giant demon watches closely over his fire pit, dwarfing the damned that are dragging the new arrivals in the boiling lava. Those who committed the greatest sins against God are getting a special treatment inside the temple where they are doomed to burn for eternity in the scorching flames.”
 

VII. VIOLENCE: “A place of intense torture where the horrific screams of the damned are eternally accompanied by the hellish beats of drums.”
 

VIII. FRAUD: “In Fraud the Demons enjoy altering the shape of souls, this is how they feed.”
 

IX. TREACHERY: “Lucifer lies here chained by the Angelic Seal which keeps him captive in the frozen environment.”
 
via Coilhouse
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Sex, Politics and Religion: The making of Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’
12.08.2015
11:02 am

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Art
Belief
Heroes
Hysteria
Literature
Movies

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The great film director Ken Russell once remarked that if he had been born in Italy and called, say, “Russellini” then critics would have thrown bouquets at his feet. He was correct as Russell’s worst critics were generally slow-witted, myopic beasts, lacking in imagination and untrustworthy in their judgement.

Take for example the critic Alexander Walker who once dismissed Russell’s masterpiece The Devils as:

...the masturbatory fantasies of a Roman Catholic boyhood.

Walker was being petty and spiteful. He was also badly misinformed. Russell was not born a Catholic, he became one in his twenties and was lapsed by the time he made The Devils. More damningly, if Walker had taken a moment to make himself cognisant with Russell’s source material—a successful West End play by John Whiting commissioned by Sir Peter Hall for the Royal Shakespeare Company or its precursor the non-fiction book The Devils of Loudon by Aldous Huxley—then he would have realised Russell’s film was based on historical fact and his so-called excesses were very tame compared to the recorded events. However, Walker’s waspish comments became his claim to fame—especially after he was royally slapped by Russell with a rolled-up copy of his review on a TV chat show in 1971—Russell later said he wished it had been an iron bar rather than a newspaper.
 
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Oliver Reed as Grandier and Vanessa Redgrave as Sister Jeanne rehearse under the watchful eye of Ken Russell.
 
The Devils is the story of a priest named Urbain Grandier and his battle against the ambitions of Church and State to eradicate the independence of the French town of Loudon. In a bid to have this troublesome priest silenced, Grandier was tried for sorcery after a confession was brutally extracted from a nun, Sister Jeanne, who claimed he was an emissary of the Devil. Grandier was acquitted of all charges but a second show trial found him guilty and he was tortured and burnt at the stake. Russell described Grandier’s case as “the first well-documented political trial in history.”

There were others, of course, going back to Christ, but this had a particularly modern ring to it which appealed to me. He was also like many of my heroic characters…great despite himself. Most of the people in my films are taken by surprise, like [the dancer] Isadora Duncan and [the composer] Delius. They’re out of step with their times and their society, but nevertheless manage to produce rather extraordinary changes in attitude and events. This was exactly Grandier’s situation. He was a minor priest who was used as a fall guy in a political conflict, who lost his life and his battle but won the war.

After that they [the Church and State] couldn’t go on doing what they were doing in quite the same way, and around that time [1634] the Church did begin to lose its power. Twenty years later no one could have been burned as a witch in France. The people of Loudon realised too late that this man they knew so well simply couldn’t have been guilty of the things he was charged with, and if they hadn’t been so bemused by the naked nun sideshow that was going on and the business and prosperity it brought to the town, they’d have realised it sooner. So the fall guy achieved as much in the end as if he had been a saint. And to me that’s just what he is.

Though Russell was on a high after his international success with the Oscar-winning Women in Love (1969) starring Glenda Jackson, Alan Bates, Oliver Reed and Jennie Linden, and The Music Lovers (1970) a flamboyant biopic on the life of Tchaikovsky with Richard Chamberlain and Glenda Jackson, he had found it difficult to find a backer for The Devils. Original producers United Artists pulled out, leaving Russell “out on a limb: having written a script and commissioned set designs from Derek Jarman and costume designs from Shirley Russell.

It would have been a disaster to scrap all that work. Bob Solo, the producer, who had spent years getting the rights to Huxley’s book and Whiting’s play started looking around for another backer, but it took four months of offering the package before Warner Brothers agreed to have a go.

Russell’s script was considered too long and cuts were made. He had originally made Sister Jeanne the focus of his story, following the nun through her involvement in Grandier’s execution to her career as a star:

I suppose it’s the film that turned out most like I wanted it to, though I would have liked to carry the story further to show what happened to [Cardinal] Richelieu and Sister Jeanne. At the end de Laubardemont says “You’re stuck in this convent for life”, but as soon as he’d gone Jeanne set about getting out because her brief moment of notoriety had whetted her appetite for more. So she gouged a couple of holes in her hands and pretended she had the stigmata, saw ‘visions’ and, with the help of Sister Agnes, gulled some old priest into thinking she was the greatest lady since the Virgin Mary.

So she and Agnes went on a jaunt all over France and were hailed with as much fervour as show biz personalities and pop stars are received today. In Paris 30,000 people assembled outside of her hotel just in the chance of getting a glimpse of her. She became very friendly with Richelieu, the King and Queen wined and dined her, she had a grand old time. When she died—I particularly wanted to include this scene—they cut off her head and put it in a glass casket and stuck it on the altar in her own convent. People came on their knees from miles around to pay her homage.

 
More from Ken Russell and ‘The Devils’ including special documentary, photospread and Oliver Reed interview, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘We Should All Be Feminists’ manifesto to be distributed to every 16-year-old in Sweden
12.03.2015
01:50 pm

Topics:
Feminism
Literature

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Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is primarily known for three highly regarded novels: Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and, most recently, Americanah. In 2013, the same year that Americanah was published, a TED Talk by Adichie about the difficulties—and importance—of being a feminist in Nigeria became a minor internet sensation, amassing over 2.3 million views as of this writing.

Adichie has adapted the address into a tidy 64-page book called We Should All Be Feminists. As she explains, her introduction to the term feminist came when her friend Okoloma called her a feminist in “the same tone with which a person would say, ‘You’re a supporter of terrorism.’”

In Sweden, where a translation of the book was released on December 1, several organizations have joined forces to distribute Adichie’s book to every 16-year-old in the country.
 

 
The Swedish Women’s Lobby, together with publishing company Albert Bonniers Förlag, the UN Association of Sweden, and several other partner groups, announced on Tuesday that it would ensure that a free copy of the book finds its way to every second-grade high school student in Sweden. Already more than 100,000 copies of the book have been distributed; the Swedish Women’s Lobby also plans to distribute discussion guidelines to teachers in a few weeks.

According to Quartz, Clara Berglund, chair of the advocacy group, said in a statement that “this is the book that I wish all of my male classmates would have read when I was 16.” Adichie’s book, she said, will be “a gift to ourselves and future generations.”

At the group’s Tuesday press conference in Stockholm announcing the project, Adichie greeted Swedish high school students via video:
 

For me, feminism is about justice. I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world that is more just. I’m a feminist because I want to live in a world where a woman is never told that she can or cannot—or should or should not—do anything because she’s a woman. I want to live in a world where men and women are happier, where they’re not constrained by gender roles. I want to live in a world where men and women are truly equal, and that’s why I’m a feminist.

 
Interestingly, two weeks ago I was in a hostel on the southeastern coast of South Africa, and while there I was able to sample a small taste of Adichie’s popularity in Sweden: on the hostel’s “give a book, take a book” shelf was a copy of Adichie’s Americanah—I was looking for something to read and would eagerly have snapped it up, were the copy on the shelf not in Swedish!

Here’s the TED Talk that started it all:
 

 
via Internet Magic
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
William Burroughs’ ‘Thanksgiving Prayer’—now more than ever!
11.26.2015
09:08 am

Topics:
Literature

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“A Thanksgiving Prayer” by William Burroughs was written 30 years ago and it is as relevant now as the day Burroughs put it to paper. AIDS, the war on drugs, cops killing Blacks, homophobia, Big Brother…If anything, it’s gotten worse.

So what is there to be thankful for? The right to talk about it.

To John Dillinger and hope he is still alive.
Thanksgiving Day November 28 1986

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.
Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.
Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.
Thanks for the KKK.
For n*gger-killin’ lawmen, feelin’ their notches.
For decent church-goin’ women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.
Thanks for “Kill a Queer for Christ” stickers.
Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.
Thanks for a country where nobody’s allowed to mind their own business.
Thanks for a nation of finks.
Yes, thanks for all the memories—all right let’s see your arms!
You always were a headache and you always were a bore.
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Remembering Detroit’s legendary cult-zine, The Orbit
11.17.2015
09:33 am

Topics:
Literature

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Fabulous Cover Art for The Orbit Magazine Anthology
 
For decades upon centuries, revolution of various stripes has often had roots firmly wrapped around and within the print medium. From Martin Luther to Karl Marx, manifestos, underground papers, comics, fliers—the pen not the sword, in other words—have caused change. These are the occasions where the medium itself was indeed the message. When it comes to cultural revolution, this is all truth times nine and with the birth of the counterculture and especially its prodigal bastard child, punk, print media in the form of zines were an absolutely vital part of this.

But all of this pseudo-flowery historical talk is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Rob St. Mary’s incredible tome-tribute to Detroit’s alternative culture magazine, The Orbit Magazine Anthology: Re-Entry. Influenced by its forefathers White Noise (1978-1980) and Fun:The Magazine for Swinging Intellectuals (1986-1990), The Orbit managed to take the punk ethos of the former, the polished yet primed fuck-it-ness of the latter and out of both emerged a local publication whose shakes, quakes and reverberations could be felt not only outside of the Detroit area, but for years later after its demise in 1999.
 
Niagara on the cover of White Noise
 
White Noise featured interviews with punk stalwarts like DEVO, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers and Pauline Murray from the UK group Penetration. Fun had such biting political activity book whimsy like “Ronald’s Mind Maze,” where you get to navigate around such topics as world destruction and Jodie Foster in the former actor/president’s appropriately ghoulish head. Fun was put to bed permanently in the spring of 1990 and out of its ashes sprung Orbit.

Losing the politics and adding emphasis on local art, culture, humor and entertainment, this bi-monthly free alternative paper quickly established itself as the right mix of edge with just enough professionalism to make it truly subversive. At the center of this paper was its creator, Jerry Peterson, better known to some as “Jerry Vile,” the same man behind the two previous publications and self-described “sloppy perfectionist,” Peterson is revealed as an artist, musician, editor, writer and publisher as a controversially catalytic personality. If you want real creative impact, complete with cultural shrapnel, then you need guys like Peterson, whom might burn down the whole hen house to make the omelet but it will be an omelet you will never forget. The man pissed off everyone ranging from their only real competition, the Metro Times, assorted ex-advertisers and former staff members, including Film Threat editor Chris Gore (all of which is beautifully detailed in the Fun chapter), but his mark was and is undeniable, and the proof of that is all lined out in this anthology.
 
Head of
 
Created with the goal of being “friendly as possible for all readers while retaining a hip vibe” is a lofty one that can leave a veritable football-field sized room to fail, Orbit escaped this folly by enlisting a strong crew of artists and writers over its nine year lifespan. Influenced by magazines as seemingly divergent as Spy and Oui, Orbit stood out on a visual level alone, complete with its own mascot, “Orby,” a grinning, slightly smug looking globe-man loosely based on former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. Designed by illustrator Terry Colon, who would go on to create work for Time and Entertainment Weekly, Orby would gain further fame when featured on a T-Shirt worn by Quentin Tarantino in his 1995 film, Pulp Fiction. (Orbit was one of the earliest mags to write about the then indie-darling now Hollywood titan, when his debut, Reservoir Dogs first hit the screen back in 1992. It was a kind act the young director did not forget.)
 
Quentin Tarantino in Orby Tee in Pulp Fiction
 
Along with its own personal Alfred E. Neumann-ish mascot, Orbit would feature the work of established artists, like the inimitable and Bathory-like-in-her-ability-to-not-age Niagara, whose artwork was used for the most recent Kid Rock album, First Kiss. Niagara was also a member of both the terminally underrated psychedelic-punk-rock band Destroy All Monsters and the super group Dark Carnival, which also featured both Asheton brothers. But Orbit became known for breaking more artists into the world, including Glenn Barr (DC Comics,The Betty Pages Digest, etc), Tom Thewes (Hi-Fructose), Mark Dancey (Motorbooty Magazine, assorted rock posters) and more. Humans are visual creatures, so if you’re going to have hip content then you’d better have an outside that not only draws the readers in, but also visually reflects the trip you are about to take them on.
 
Glenn Barr's Art for the debut issue of The Orbit
 
Another facet of the arts was the weird array of local Detroit bands that got their first taste of fame via the pages of Orbit, ranging from Kid Rock (back in his flat top days)  and Insane Clown Posse to The White Stripes and His Name is Alive. Detroit’s rich and diverse musical history continued well into the 1990’s and all of that is reflected here. One of the biggest surprises is that Rock himself, who not only contributed $20,000 of his own money to the Kickstarter for this book but who also comes across impressively self-effacing within the pages. “Talk about someone trying to get attention—-running around with a flattop hair cut with too much Aqua Net screaming, ‘I’m the pimp of the nation!’” It’s enough to almost overlook the fact that this is the same man that wrote a song called “Jesus and Bocephus.” Almost.
 
Pimp of the Nation
 
Orbit also delves into the assortment of ways the staff writers would keep themselves and their readers entertained. A personal favorite was their concert listings section, called “Critical Dates.” There can be a certain type of beauty when a writer is bored and the “fuck it! Let’s have some fun!” instinct kicks in. My personal favorite was the write-up for an upcoming Eagles gig. “You would think with all the senseless violence in the world that somebody would get sensible and inflict some bodily hurt on these money-grubbing-has-beens. Hell Freezes Over?” And this was BEFORE the classic butt-rockers released an album only through Wal-Mart.
 
Niagara Detroit designed cover for The Orbit
 
That’s not even touching the borderline-Subgenius levels of prankdom, including throwing the world’s worst garage sale, where one could purchase such “treasures” as “two really ugly mens wigs,” “single rusty metal coaster,” “broken Sweet Valley High cassette” and “a latex sex device that was left in a garage for 20 years and is now covered in mold spores.” There were more serious moments, including Detroit historian and geographer Bill McGraw’s (using the pen name of Silas Farmer) column entitled “Detroit’s Shameful History” that delved into the city’s less covered and more unseemly past.

Orbit folded in 1999 but thanks to Rob St. Mary’s tireless research and academic-meets-pop-culture-sage approach with this Re-Entry, it will live on for both those who experienced it firsthand and those who never had a chance to hold an issue in their hands. The formatting on this book alone is a graphic designer’s sweet-laced dream but the content meets it riches for riches. To quote Orbit father, Jerry Peterson, “I really, really enjoy making people upset. I think that is my art.”
 

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
‘The Day of the Dead’: Putting Malcolm Lowry to jazz
10.28.2015
01:10 pm

Topics:
Books
Literature
Music

Tags:

001colldealowr.jpg
 
The loss of ignorance makes existence worthwhile. Two days ago I’d only vaguely heard of the late English composer and jazz musician Graham Collier (1937-2011) and would probably have never hooked up with his work if not for a tweeted image of his 1977 album The Day of the Dead that set me off on an Internet voyage of discovery.

Collier was a musician, composer and teacher of considerable note—which only underlines my paltry knowledge—and wrote a significant body of work before his untimely death. But my attention was drawn to this photo by the name of the author on the cover of the album: Malcolm Lowry—one of the great misunderstood and underappreciated authors of the 20th century, whose books demand to be read and kept permanently in print—currently only one of his books is available, not surprisingly it’s his classic novel Under the Volcano.
 
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Little ole drink anything me, Malcolm Lowry and his classic book ‘Under the Volcano.’
 
Lowry’s Under the Volcano is the Faustian tale of Geoffrey’s Firmin, a British consul to Mexico, and his descent into a personal hell. This book inspired Collier to write The Day of the Dead, which was then described as his most “sprawling and ambitious” work as a composer.

Too often there is an awkwardness born out of improvised jazz and spoken word (listen to Jack Kerouac’s recordings) which can ruin good music and good words, but here Collier managed to wed Lowry’s words (culled from Under the Volcano and spoken by John Carbery) with his storm-tossed, intense music. It’s a revelation and has been deservedly hailed as his masterpiece. As critic Thom Jurek wrote of the album:

Collier’s vision here is focused, intense, and spiritually charged by Lowry’s work. This is not some jazz with text, where a written text becomes the thematic cause of a group of instrumentalists, but more a series of passages that offered great textural and spiritual depth and dimension by this obviously on fire group of musicians.

This is vanguard music, but it is far from “free jazz.” The gorgeous chromatic range is almost overwhelming as these players entwine around one another, and the text, further extending the entire notion of collaboration between literature and jazz.

The totality of this set makes for Collier’s most ambitious work yet, but also his most realized statement on record for a group of this size. This is the text for British and European big bands to follow.

 
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Graham Collier creating ‘the text for British and European big bands to follow.’
 
Collier had an understandable obsession with Lowry, as the writer mined a solitary path against insurmountable odds. In fact it was incredible that Lowry ever managed to write anything as his fondness for alcohol often had the better of him—here, was a man who would literally drink anything, including aftershave and hair tonic.

But Lowry for all his demons was a man who understood and loved life—he thrived in the joy and complexity of existence, writing everything down in his notebooks before it was all too quickly gone.
 
Listen to Graham Collier’s ‘The Day of the Dead,’ after the jump….

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‘No Place Like It’: Read a short story by The Fall’s Mark E. Smith
10.15.2015
09:02 am

Topics:
Literature
Music

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The City Life Book Of Manchester Short Stories, published by Penguin in 1999, included a contribution from the city’s public fountain of bile, Mark E. Smith. The book’s editor, Ra Page, then on the masthead of Manchester’s City Life magazine, subsequently published a “making-of” diary that suggested the Fall singer’s inclusion was more Penguin’s idea than his own.

Scans of the two-and-a-half-page story have long been up at thefall.org, but it was actually simpler to transcribe this brief tale than to post the images. As far as I can tell, “No Place Like It” concerns the space-wasting activities of some unhappy Mancunians. I suppose someone has to be on the business end of Smith’s withering scorn; better them than me.

PONDERING at half-step on the gross arrogance, blatant incompetence and thievery of the white trash in their late twenties, and their shaven-headed middle class imitators, FRANK circumnavigated what seemed like endless sand-holes, foxholes, spastic-convenient kerb stones punctuated by upright, kicked-over, reddy-orange and white fences on his way through the doing up of the Manchester Victoria post-bomb development.
  It had been a muggy, slowcoach taxi ride, due to the incompetent driver, who in his porn-stupefied brain had not turned left before the Cathedral, where FRANK had made an early exit.
  The only thing he remembered was the three healthy kids who’d thrown two rocks at the passing vehicles near the Rialto in Higher Broughton.
  He was getting the black illuminations again, i.e. All Is Substance – You Have Contact With None, or There’s Been Nothing on Granada For At Least Ten Minutes, Never Mind the Digital Testing.

DELIVERING leaflets 22 hours a week was just about manageable, thought JOE, if it wasn’t for those big over-powered cars making him jump every time he crossed the road – they made him remember the small metal splint in his upper right thigh from that time he’d ventured into Rusholme, pissed, and got half knocked over. He’d agreed with most of the shit on that political leaflet that other bloke he’d bumped into was giving out, apart from that repeated phrase – It All Makes Sense, Doesn’t It QUESTION MARK.
  The men in the yellow hats sniggered as he limped by, and it seemed that they’d deliberately sanded near him, sending vicious particles coupled with lime flowing through the muggy, close, damp Cheetham Hill mid-afternoon on to his forehead and into his eyes.

STEWART Mayerling sat down in the Low Rat Head pub near the bottom end of Oxford Road, trying to work out how his plans to distract and confuse his English Drama lecturer hadn’t quite worked out. Mother was a teacher, and the attention/distraction games had always worked on her. The pager going off, mid-lesson, the showbiz titbit asides in the middle of Hamlet, my vegetarianism – how the jumped-up prole sneered at that, of course not understanding my code of internal hygiene, well advanced beyond that of mere travellers and their ilk, or polytechnic balding lecturers. For that matter – I think I’ll head up to Victoria, skip the lecture.

THE MITRE Arms, adjacent to the Cathedral, and next to The Shambles was empty this afternoon. FRANK walks in, having well given up on getting past Marks & Spencer, and blanching at the apostrophe on the Finnegan’s Wake pub sign, towards the station. Picking a table was fairly hard even though – only one large eight-seater occupied by Joe.

In walks STEWART.

  ‘Is it OK to sit here?’ he asks the seated two.
  ‘Sure.’
  ‘It’s crap out there isn’t it?’ says JOE.
  ‘Damn right it is.’
  ‘Let’s form a Party,’ says FRANK . . .

                                        THE END

 
After the jump, MES reads the football results… as only he can!

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
That time Gore Vidal porked Jack Kerouac
10.09.2015
10:01 am

Topics:
Literature
Sex

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Jack Kerouac, 1953
 
“What did you and Jack do?” Allen Ginsberg asked Gore Vidal one cold January night in 1994.

“Well, I fucked him,” Vidal was pleased to reply. On the night of August 23, 1953, the two men of letters had banged one out in a Chelsea Hotel room following a Greenwich Village bar crawl. Kerouac published a fictionalized account of the assignation in The Subterraneans but, aside from a morning-after moment of “horrible recognition,” he left out the sex. Vidal was annoyed, and said so:

I challenged Jack. “Why did you, the tell-it-all-like-it-is writer, tell everything about that evening with Burroughs and me and then go leave out what happened when we went to bed?”

“I forgot,” he said. The once startlingly clear blue eyes were now bloodshot.

Palimpsest, the first of Gore Vidal’s two memoirs, fills in the lacuna with a detailed record of the evening’s events. It began with William S. Burroughs. Kerouac and Vidal had met before, and in a 1952 letter to Kerouac, Burroughs expressed interest in meeting the author of The Judgment of Paris:

Is Gore Vidal queer or not? Judging from the picture of him that adorns his latest opus I would be interested to make his acquaintance. Always glad to meet a literary gent in any case, and if the man of letters is young and pretty and possibly available my interest understandably increases.

 

Gore Vidal on the back cover of The Judgment of Paris, 1952
 
The three writers met at the San Remo bar the following year, after Burroughs’ return from Mexico. Kerouac, Vidal writes, “was manic. Sea captain’s hat. T-shirt. Like Marlon Brando in Streetcar.” Burroughs asked about a Turkish bath in Rome that Vidal had described in The Judgment of Paris. They moved on to Tony Pastor’s, a lesbian bar; afterwards, Kerouac swung around a lamppost out front, “a Tarzan routine that caused Burroughs to leave us in disgust.” Vidal was ready to go back to his father’s apartment uptown, but Kerouac had a different notion:

“Let’s get a room around here.” The first law of sex is never go to bed with someone drunk. Corollary to this universal maxim was my own fetish–never to have sex with anyone older. I was twenty-eight. Jack was thirty-one. Five years earlier, when we first met, I would have overruled the difference, but I had also arbitrarily convinced myself that Conrad’s “shadow line” extended to sex: So from the age of thirty on, a man or woman was, for my purposes, already a corpse–not that I ever had much on my mind when it came to sex with men. In my anonymous encounters, I was what used to be called trade. I did nothing–deliberately, at least–to please the other. When I became too old for these attentions from the young, I paid, gladly, thus relieving myself of having to please anyone in any way. But now here I was stuck with Jack, who had certainly once attracted me at the Metropolitan when that drop of clear water slid down his cheek. Now there was real sweat. I stared at him. We were the same height and general build. With some misgiving, I crossed the shadow line.

At the nearby Chelsea Hotel, each signed his real name. Grandly, I told the bemused clerk that this register would become famous. I’ve often wondered what did happen to it. Has anyone torn out our page? Or is it still hidden away in the dusty Chelsea files? Lust to one side, we both thought, even then (this was before On the Road), that we owed it to literary history to couple.

I remember that the bathroom was near the entrance to a large double room. There was no window shade, so a red neon light flickering on and off gave a rosy glow to the room and its contents. Jack was now in a manic mood: We must take a shower together. To my surprise, he was circumcised. [...]

Where Anaïs and I were incompatible–chicken hawk meets chicken hawk–Jack and I were an even more unlikely pairing–classic trade meets classic trade, and who will do what?

 

Gore Vidal, 1948
 

“Jack was rather proud of the fact that he blew you.” Allen sounded a bit sad as we assembled our common memories over tea in the Hollywood Hills. I said that I had heard Jack had announced this momentous feat to the entire clientele of the San Remo bar, to the consternation of one of the customers, an advertising man for Westinghouse, the firm that paid for the program Studio One, where I had only just begun to make a living as a television playwright. “I don’t think,” said the nervous advertiser, “that this is such a good advertisement for you, not to mention Westinghouse.” As On the Road would not be published until 1957, he had no idea who Jack was.

Thanks to Allen’s certainty of what Jack had told him, I finally recall the blow job–a pro forma affair, which I put a quick stop to. At what might nicely be called loose ends, we rubbed bellies for a while; later he would publish a poem dedicated to me: “Didn’t know I was a great come-onner, did you? (come-on-er).” I was not particularly touched by this belated Valentine, considering that I finally flipped him over on his stomach, not an easy job as he was much heavier than I [...]

Jack raised his head from the pillow to look at me over his left shoulder; off to our left the rosy neon from the window gave the room a mildly infernal glow. He stared at me a moment–I see this part very clearly now, forehead half covered with sweaty dark curls–then he sighed as his head dropped back onto the pillow. There are other published versions of this encounter: in one, Jack says that he spent the night in the bathroom. On the floor? There was a shower but no tub. In another, he was impotent. But the potency of other males is, for me, a turnoff. What I have reported is all there was to it, except that I liked the way he smelled.

Alas, there is no sex tape, but you can watch part one of the fascinating Omnibus profile of Vidal below (part two here).
 

 

 

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