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David Mercer: The socialist playwright behind ‘Morgan’ and ‘Providence’
02.11.2013
08:52 pm
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The playwright David Mercer was born in 1928, in a working class district of Wakefield, in the north of England. He was raised amid the poverty and hardship that bred the instinctual Socialism of his father and uncles, which they had learned from experience, and gathered from books by Wells, Shaw, Lenin and Marx. This was Mercer’s first taste of the politics, handed-down, father-to-son, which was to influence all of his writing.

He quit school at 14, and worked as an apprentice technician, before he signed-on for 4-years with the Royal Navy. He went on to study at King’s College, Newcastle, then married and moved to Paris, where he tried his hand as an artist, before deciding he was best suited at being a writer. He wrote long, rambling novels influenced by Wyndham-Lewis. The practice taught him he could writer, but his novels were too abstract and had no relation to how he truly felt. This taught him that he could write but was not a novelist, he therefore started writing plays.

His first Where the Difference Begins (1961) was originally intended for the stage, but was produced for television by the BBC. The play was a valediction to the old men of Socialism, the Keir Hardie inspired patriarchical socialism being left behind by the active Marxism of a younger generation. The play reflected the difference between his father’s beliefs and Mercer’s own—though Mercer was smart enough to be critical of his own ideals.

The play was successful and he followed it with A Climate of Fear (1962), which dealt with conscience under the threat of a possible nuclear war, and The Birth of a Private Man (1963), concerning the problems of maintaining strong political conscience within an affluent environment.

Mercer brought a naturalism to the theater of ideas—he discussed issues of Empire, politics and patriarchy in plays such as, The Governor’s Lady (1965) and After Haggerty (1970), while his television plays, The Parachute (1968), which starred fellow playwright John Osborne, and On The Eve of Publication (1969) with an incredible central performance by Leo McKern, and Shooting the Chandelier (1977) with Alun Armstrong and Edward Fox, which have shaped TV drama right through to present day (in particular the works of Stephen Poliakoff or David Hare), though David Mercer himself is all too often forgotten.

Though a Socialist, Mercer was never blinkered to the follies and mistakes of Socialism, Communism and the politics of the Left. He was aware that the aim of political revolution was often frustrated by the inherited conventions of society, and by the frailty of human emotion and mind. This was shown to it great effect in the film version of his play, Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966), in which David Warner, had an obsessional relationship with Marxism, apes, and his ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave), that led him to (literally) become a revolutionary “gorilla” determined to derail his ex-wife’s new relationship. 
 

 
With thanks to NellyM
 
More from David Mercer and the theater of politics, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.11.2013
08:52 pm
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William Burroughs on the Occult
02.11.2013
04:45 pm
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Two of the earliest things that I read by William Burroughs were The Job, a book’s worth of interviews conducted by Daniel Odier, along with some shorter pieces that focused on revolution (and revolutionary technology for lack of a better term) and The Third Mind, his enigmatic collaboration with painter Brion Gysin about the “cut-ups” literary technique, and its occult implications. The cuts-up technique holds that if you randomly rearrange words via chance operation, that you’ll find their “real” meaning or encourage some sort of prophecy to leak through. Sort of like those “Magnetic Poetry” refrigerator magnets used as a Ouija board, to put it simply…

The “occult Burroughs” is my favorite aspect of his work. When the topic veers towards the use of occult technology in the employment of revolution, I prefer that even more (like “The Revised Boy Scout Manual”).

Burroughs had a strong interest in the occult all of his life, but aside from his own writings, there were precious few interviews where he’s speaking openly about his magical interests. The interviews that come to mind immediately are the ones Vale did in RE/Search #4/5 and a late in life Q&A that (I think) was conducted by the great Kristine McKenna around the time of Burroughs’ big LACMA art show in 1996 (I can’t find it online). Burroughs’ major biography, Literary Outlaw by Ted Morgan, barely touches on the subject, as if a major component of his subject’s worldview had sailed right over Morgan’s head, although Barry Miles’ more sympathetic El Hombre Invisible is much more satisfying in this regard.

Below, William S. Burroughs lectures to his writing class at Naropa University, on “wishing machines,” the paranormal, synchronicity, propaganda and dreams. You can hear Allen Ginsberg’s voice in a couple of places. Taped in Boulder, Colorado on June 25,1986.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.11.2013
04:45 pm
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Happy birthday William S. Burroughs!
02.05.2013
12:42 pm
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Photo by Kate Simon.
 
William Seward Burroughs, the literary prophet of everything weird that would happen during the latter half of the 20th century (including the 23 enigma) was born 99 years ago today, in St. Louis, MS.

Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift” while Norman Mailer described him as “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius.” J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War.” Richard C. Kostelanetz wrote that “Naked Lunch is one of the more truly original and exciting pieces of prose to emerge from the fifties.”

Then there was the flip-side of that: English critic Philip Toynbee called both Naked Lunch and Nova Express “bor­ing rubbish, insufficiently redeemed by passages of brilliant invention.” Writer John Wain wrote of Burroughs’ work “From the literary point of view, it is the merest trash, not worth a second glance,” while Burroughs’ arch enemy, Truman Capote, had this to say: “Norman Mailer thinks William Burroughs is a genius, which I think is ludicrous beyond words. I don’t think William Burroughs has an ounce of talent.”

William S. Burroughs traveled to the Western Lands at the age of 83 in Lawrence, KS in 1997.

Below, William Burroughs shooting Ralph Steadman’s William Shakespeare portrait dead. Video by Andrea Di Castro, Lawrence, Kansas, 1995.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.05.2013
12:42 pm
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Frank Zappa reads ‘The Talking Asshole’ from William Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’ in 1978
02.04.2013
04:24 pm
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Filling in for an AWOL Keith Richards (who had visa problems at the time, stemming a then-recent drug bust in Toronto), Frank Zappa reads “The Talking Asshole” routine from William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. The occasion was the Nova Convention, a three-day celebration of Burroughs’s work that took place in New York City in early December of 1978.

Others on the bill at the Nova Convention included Patti Smith, Robert Anton Wilson, Brion Gysin, Laurie Anderson, poet John Giorno, Timothy Leary, Philip Glass, John Cage and author Terry Southern, who can be heard at the beginning of the clip, introducing Zappa.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.04.2013
04:24 pm
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Happy Burns Night: Here’s a documentary on the People’s Poet Rabbie Burns
01.25.2013
06:18 pm
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Today is Robert Burns’ birthday, and across the world traditional suppers are held to celebrate the life and poetry of Scotland’s national Bard.

I have never been one for those couthy ritualistic gatherings, where toasts are given to the lads and lassies, and where some elder with a tartan to match his face, gives an address to the haggis. For me these suppers have little to do with Burns the man and poet, who could write such beauty as:

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom
is shed;

Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white - then melts
for ever;

Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;

Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm. -

Nae man can tether time or tide;

No, I prefer to see Robert Burns as great poet, a revolutionary, a socialist, an egalitarian, who believed ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’ and wrote to inspire a better world:

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

That man to man, the world o’er,

Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Burns’ idealism was often compromised by the financial demands of his everyday life - and what a life. A poet, a ploughman, a lover, a drinker, a revolutionary, a government lackey, a hero, a destitute. As Andrew O’Hagan points out in this excellent documentary Robert Burns: The People’s Poet, Burns was the equivalent of a rock star in his day, a writer of songs (“Auld Lang Syne”, “Ae Fond Kiss”, “My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose”, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye”) and poems (“Tam O’Shanter”, “Holy Wuillie’s Prayer”, “To A Mouse”, “Cock Up Your Beaver”) that enchanted a nation and the world.

It was his ability to touch the heart and mind of his readers and to make them empathize with his subject matter, whether this was love, revolution in France or simply a mouse:

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,

Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

He was idolized by the public, and was a hero and inspiration to the likes of Beethoven and Byron. At a time of great oppression he spoke out against slavery, inequality, and poverty. Burns wanted liberty and fairness for all. Yet he died in poverty, hounded by creditors, and near-broken as a man.

That Rabbie Burns is still read, performed and celebrated 200 years after his death, says all about his importance as a poet and the relevance of his belief for a better world, where all are equal and share the common wealth.

O’Hagan’s documentary Robert Burns: The People’s Poet is no hagiography, but controversially questions many of the assumptions made about this radical poet, and examines the incredible dramatic and often tragic circumstances of his life.

A selection of Burns poems read by the likes of Brian Cox, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Cumming.

Portrait of Burns by Calum Colvin.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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01.25.2013
06:18 pm
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Charles Bukowski tells his worst hangover story: ‘The strangest thing just happened…’
01.18.2013
12:26 pm
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It involves a lot of cheap wine, puking and… well, I don’t want to spoil it, I’ll just let him tell it.
 

 
Via The World’s Best Ever

Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.18.2013
12:26 pm
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‘Future Now’: A brilliant portrait of novelist J. G. Ballard, from 1986
12.20.2012
06:39 pm
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Writers need stability to nurture their talent and unfetter their imagination. Too much chaos dilutes the talent and diminishes the productivity. Writers like Norman Mailer squandered too much time and effort on making his life the story - when in fact he should have been writing it. J. G. Ballard was well aware of this, and he had the quiet certainty of a 3-bed, des res, with shaded garden and off-street parking at front. Yet, Ballard’s seeming conformity to a middle class idyll appeared to astound so many critics, commentators, journalists, whatevers, who all failed to appreciate a true writer’s life is one of lonely, unrelenting sedentary toil, working at a desk 9-5, or however long - otherwise the imagination can not fly.

That’s why I have always found suburbs far more interesting places than those anonymous urban centers. Cities are about mass events - demonstrations, revolution, massacre, war, shared public experience. Suburbia is about the repressed forces of individual action. It’s where the murders are planned, the orgies enjoyed, the drugs devoured, the imagination inspired. Suburbia is where dysfunction is normalized.

And J. G. Ballard was very aware of this.

Future Now is a documentary interview with J G Ballard, made in 1986 not long after he had achieved international success with his faux-biographical novel Empire of the Sun. Opening with a brief tour of his Shepperton home, Ballard gives an excellent and incisive interview, which only reminds what we have lost.

Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara have edited together a brilliant collection of interviews and conversations with J G Ballard 1967-2008, in one volume called Extreme Metaphors, which is a must-have for anyone with an interest in Ballard.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Postcards from J. G. Ballard


 
With thanks to Richard!
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.20.2012
06:39 pm
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Riffing on Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’: Rainy day women, Leonard Cohen and the Old Testament?
12.03.2012
08:46 am
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I recently found myself wondering–as you do–what, exactly, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” was all about. Precluding, that is, getting high (Dylan: “I never have and never will write a drug song”). My curiosity led me to the following observation by Dylan scholar Clinton Heylin, who observed that the title seems to allude to the following beauty from the Book of Proverbs (chapter 27, verse 15): “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.” (Well if that ain’t the Old Testament’s lightest moment!?) Heylin suggests the title was meant to throw off the censors. Better yet, though: a continual dropping: stoning! “Everybody must get stoned”: Every man (the ones that shack up with women anyhow) must get nagged. The “They” being none other than (Rainy Day) “women.”

Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end
Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
and they’ll stone when you’re playing your guitar

It all comes into focus when you picture a henpecked hubby– even, I fancy, “sent down in your grave,” which suggests the dirt dropped on hubby’s coffin lid by the surviving widow.

While Heylin’s sourcing of the title in Proverbs arguably seals the deal, it turns out plenty of sharper-eared listeners have long held this interpretation of the song (fair enough: it’s hidden in plain sight), and I found it suggested online that the “#12 & 35” element coincides with a woman’s peak fertility. “A continual dropping in a rainy day…” The song’s about PMT!

Having finally sussed “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (it’ll do me!), I moved on to the similarly enigmatic Blonde on Blonde classic “Just Like Woman.” Immediately, of course, we find ourselves assailed by a further “continual dropping” (Bob’s standing “inside the rain,” no less), but – as I chewed again on the song’s famous words – light was shed in an unexpected and entirely different direction…

Does the following verse of “Just Like a Woman” remind you of another famous song at all?

Ev’rybody knows
That Baby’s got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls.

How about Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”?

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

And if you’re still not convinced that Cohen is here (Dylan’s “new clothes” suggesting “no clothes,” after all) paying subtle tribute to the source of his song’s indelible refrain, remind yourself of the following verse also…

And everybody knows that it’s now or never
Everybody knows that it’s me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

Which is a stunningly imaginative way to recycle Dylan’s rhyme. Those guys eh!

Finally, here’s Al “right place/time/riff” Kooper specifically reminiscing about recording Blonde on Blonde in Nashville, describing his role as a “human tape recorder” who would go learn Bob’s emerging songs and then go prepare the musicians (sketching the odd arrangement too, by the sound of it).
 

Posted by Thomas McGrath
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12.03.2012
08:46 am
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Pioneering underground comic artist Spain Rodriguez has died
12.03.2012
03:03 am
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Very sad news: Underground comic pioneer Spain Rodriguez has died at the age of 72. Cause of death was cancer.

Along with R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez was among the handful of comic artists that I gave a shit about. I didn’t read comics as a child, but in my teens I couldn’t get enough of Zap Comix and virtually anything published by the Print Mint in Berkeley. I remember discovering Rodriguez’s work in the East Village Other when I first visited NYC in 1968. His anti-fascist, Marxist super hero Trashman was the first counter-culture comic strip I recall reading. My 17-year-old brain was scrambled by the idea that comic books could be so overtly subversive and dangerous. This was pop culture for a new consciousness. The images and messages were as indelible as the ink they were printed with.

It’s close to impossible for me to find the words to express how important Crumb, Wilson, Rodriquez and Bill Griffith were in helping to alter the ways in which teenyboppers like myself viewed the world. To say they were “mind-opening” is an understatement. Zap, Snatch, Despair, Big Ass were an assault on every wall built up around every taboo that any young hipster might be grappling with. Honeybunch Kaminski, The Checkered Demon, The Furry Freak Brothers, Zippy and Trashman shattered the status quo and the societal hangups that oppressed us. One of the most disreputable art forms was actually pretty fucking profound.

Yeah, some of us were actually liberated by comic books and mad geniuses like Spain Rodriguez. Devouring a new issue of Zap while sitting on a bench in Golden Gate Park was like receiving an affirmation from the comic book Gods that all my twisted little thoughts weren’t so unnatural and uncommon. I was not alone. There were others out there like me who thought the unthinkable and wrote about it and drew pictures of it and sent it out into the world for no other reason than to declare that it was all okay. And by making it okay, we could all move on to the real shit of changing the fucking world.

Here’s Spain discussing his book Che: A Graphic Biography, which was published in 2008. 
 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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12.03.2012
03:03 am
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‘The Street of Crocodiles’: Bruno Schulz was murdered 70 years ago this week
11.21.2012
07:52 pm
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That he was a genius was undeniable. Even from the little of his work that has survived it can be seen that artist and writer, Bruno Schulz was a genius. He was born in the small town of Drohobycz in 1892, which was then part of Galicia, a province of Austro-Hungary. Schulz lived a quiet, seemingy ordinary life - he taught art classes during the day, and by night dedicated himself to his writing and art.

His first exhibition was held in Warsaw in 1922. By the end of the decade he was writing the stories which would bring him fame, and would lead to the publication of his book The Street of Crocodiles in 1933. By 1938, Schulz was well on his way to becoming an internationally respected author.

This all changed with the Second World War, when Germany invaded Drohobycz in 1941. Recognizing that his life was in severe danger, Schulz began to send as much of his writing and art to his gentile friends across Europe. This included a hand-written copy his unpublished magnum opus The Messiah (allegedly sent to Thomas Mann), the manuscript for which has never been found.

Being Jewish, Schulz was placed under arrest, and was to be sentenced to a work camp or executed. Because of his artistic talents, Schulz was favored by the brutal Gestapo officer, Felix Landau, who was in charge of the extermination of Galician Jews. Landau admired Schulz’s talents, and as he was also in charge of the Jewish labor programs, had Schulz decorate his apartment, painting murals on his son’s nursery room. This position allowed Schultz certain privileges and some protection. It also gave him time to think and plan his escape.

On November 19th 1942, Schulz was walking through the Aryan District to his home in the Jewish ghetto. He walked past the labor exchange at 44 Mickiewicz Street, where the previous year Landau had rounded up 350 Jews and executed them in cold blood. As Schulz reached the corner of Czacki street, leading to the entrance of the ghetto, he was stopped by Gestapo officer, Karl Günther. Günther smiled, placed his Luger against Schulz’s temple, and shot him twice in the head, killing himself instantly.

Günther later told Landau he did it as an act of retaliation, ‘You killed my Jew - I killed yours.’

Today, all we have left of Schulz’ work are his drawings, letters, a handful of short stories, and the novels (or connected stories) The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Schulz’s work is beautiful, poetic, dream-like and mythic, and has been described as producing ‘the metaphysical feeling of the strangeness of existence.’ In 1986, the Brothers Quay made their classic stop-motion animation interpretation of The Street of Crocodiles, which compliments Schulz’s tales, rather than gives a literal interpretation.
 

 
Bonus documentary on Bruno Schulz, aftter the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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11.21.2012
07:52 pm
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