The writer Max Frisch once wrote that an author does nothing worse than betray himself. In that, a work of fiction reveals more of a writer’s thoughts, tastes, and secrets than any work of biography.
This, of course, may not always be the case, but for many it is true. Like Oscar Wilde, whose novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) revealed more about his tastes and thoughts and secret lifestyle than he ever ‘fessed-up to in public—as he once admitted in a letter to the artist Albert Sterner in 1891:
You’ll find much of me in it, and, as it is cast in objective form, much that is not me.
The parts that were thought to be Wilde—the story’s homoerotic subtext—led the press to damn the book as morally corrupt, perverse, and unfit for publication.
As for the parts that were not Wilde, they revealed some of the people who in part inspired his story, in particular, a poet called John Gray (1866-1934), who was one of the Wilde’s lovers. Gray later loathed his association with the book and eventually denounced his relationship with Wilde and was ordained as a priest.
Wilde thing: A portrait of Oscar in his favorite fur coat.
The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the story of a distinguished young man, Gray, whose portrait is painted by the artist Basil Hallward. On seeing the finished picture, Gray is overwhelmed by its (or rather his own) beauty and makes a pact with the Devil that he shall stay forever young with the painting grow old in his place. In modern parlance, consider it Faust for the selfie generation. Gray then abandons himself to every sin and imaginable depravity—the usual debauches of sex, drugs, and murder, etc.—in order to “cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul.” As to be expected, this has catastrophic results for Gray and those unfortunate enough to be around him.
Wilde disingenuously claimed he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray “in a few days” as the result of “a wager.” In fact, he had long considered writing such a Faustian tale and began work on it in the summer of 1889. The story went through various drafts before it was submitted for publication in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Even then, Wilde contacted his publisher offering to lengthen the story (from thirteen to eventually twenty chapters) so it could be published as a novel which he believed would cause “a sensation.”
It certainly did that as the press turned on Wilde and his latest work with unparalleled vehemence. The critics were outraged by the lightly disguised homosexual subtext, in particular, Wilde’s reference to his secret gay lifestyle:
...there are certain temperaments that marriage makes more complex…They are forced to have more than one life.
The St. James’s Gazette described the tale as “ordure,” “dull and nasty,” “prosy rigmaroles about the beauty of the Body and the corruption of the Soul.” And went on to denounce it as a dangerous and corrupt story, the result of “malodorous putrefaction” which was only suitable for being “chucked on the fire.”
One critic from the Daily Chronicle described the novel as:
...a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents—a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction…
While the Scots Observer asked: “Why go grubbing in the muckheaps?” and damned the book as only suitable “for the Criminal Investigation Department…outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys.”
The last remark related to the “Cleveland Street Affair” of early-1890, in which young telegraph boys were alleged to be working as prostitutes at a brothel on Cleveland Street. It was claimed the government had covered-up this notorious scandal as the brothel was known to be frequented by those from the highest ranks of politicians and royalty.
Little wonder that when Gray was publicly identified by the Star newspaper as “the original Dorian of the same name” he threatened to sue for libel. Gray asked Wilde to write a letter to the press denying any such association. Wilde did so, claiming in the Daily Telegraph that he hardly knew Gray, which was contrary to what was known in private. The Star agreed to pay Gray an out of court settlement—but the association was now publicly known.
John Gray: ‘The curves of your lips rewrite history.’
A friend described the late, lamented artist, writer, and renowned dandy, Sebastian Horsley as a kind and good man, who didn’t quite always think things through.
One winter, in Edinburgh, Horsley had taken pity on a poor down-and-out, who he invited back to his apartment, which he shared with another. Horsley genuinely wanted to help the man, and offered him food, drink, cigarettes, and a warm night’s sleep in bed. The poor man took to it immediately.
Horsley was rather pleased with his role as a good Samaritan, and was about to retire, when his roommate retuned to find a filthy, foul-smelling, piss-stained inebriate under his covers.
‘Why did you give him my bed?’ his roommate asked.
‘I thought he could do with a night’s sleep,’ Horsley replied.
‘But where am I going to sleep?’
‘O, I hadn’t thought of that.’
Here is Mr. Horsley (dressed in a black sequined suit, “looking half Liberace, half Nazi,”) displaying the charm, wit and honesty that made him such a well-loved man, as he discusses clothes, his ban from entering the U.S.A. (on grounds of “moral turpitude”), his autobiography Dandy in the Underworld, and why we should send “our ships out into uncharted waters—for this is the way we will discover ourselves.”
J. G. Ballard once said, if by some terrible calamity all art from the 20th century was destroyed except for the work of one artist, then it would be possible to recreate all of the century’s greatest artistic developments if that artist was Eduardo Paolozzi.
Deliberate hyperbole, but there is an essence of truth here, as Paolozzi produced such an incredible range and diversity of art that it has been difficult for critics and art historians to classify him. He began as a Surrealist, before becoming the first Pop Artist—a decade before Warhol put paint on canvas. He then moved on to print-making, design, sculpture and public art to international success.
Born in Edinburgh, to an Italian family in 1924, Paolozzi spent much of his childhood at his parent’s ice cream parlor, where he was surrounded by the packaging, wrapping and cigarette cards that later inspired his Pop Art. This early idyll of childhood was abruptly ended when Italy declared war on Britain in 1940. Paolozzi awoke one morning to find himself, along with his father and uncles, incarcerated, in the city’s Saughton Prison, as undesirables, or enemies of the state. Paolozzi was held for 3 months, but his father and uncles were deported to Canada on the ship HMS Arandora Star, which was torpedoed by a U-boat off the north-west coast of Ireland. The vessel sank with the loss of 630 lives.
Considered psychologically unsuitable for the army, the teenage Paolozzi studied at the Edinburgh School of Art, in 1943, before finishing at the Slade School in London, which he found disappointingly conservative in its approach to art.
After the war, Paolozzi moved briefly to Paris where he visited some of the century’s greatest artists, then resident in the city—Giacometti, Braque, Arp, Brâncuşi, and Léger. In his youthful boldness, Eduardo had telephoned each of these artists after discovering their numbers in the telephone directory. He was greeted as an equal, he later claimed, most probably because the war had just ended. The experience taught Paolozzi much, and emboldened his ideas. On his return to London, Paolozzi presented a slide show of adverts and packaging, which was the very first Pop Art.
Paolozzi developed his distinctive collages and multiple images of Marilyn Monroe long before Warhol and even Richard Hamilton, the artist with whom he showed at the now legendary This Is Tomorrow exhibition, at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956.
Paolozzi eventually tired of his association with Pop Art, as it limited his incredibly diverse artistic vision. The same year as This Is Tomorrow, he played a deaf mute, with fellow artist Michael Andrews, in the first major Free Cinema movie Together by Lorenza Mazzetti.
By the late 1950s, he had moved on to industrial print-making, before producing an incredibly awe-inspiring range of designs for buildings, sculptures and public art—from his mosaic for Tottenham Court Road tube station to the cover of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway, through to such epic sculptures Newton, outside of the British Library, Vulcan, Edinburgh, and Head of Invention, Design Museum, London.
In 1984, Paolozzi conceived and produced a brief strange and surreal animation 1984: Music for Modern Americans, which was animated and directed by Emma Calder, Susan Young and Isabelle Perrichon, and based photocopies of Paolozzi’s original drawings.
An all too brief extract from Sean Connery’s Edinburgh, a promotional documentary for the ancient Scottish capital, directed by Murray Grigor and starring the city’s most famous milkman.
This wasn’t Connery’s first documentary, back in 1967 he presented, produced and directed a brilliant (and rarely seen) documentary called The Bowler and The Bunnet, which examined the political tensions between the workforce (“bunnets”) and the employers (“Bowler hats”) at Fairfield’s shipyard on Glasgow’s River Clyde. Scripted by Cliff Hanley, the film revealed Connery’s natural mastery of documentary film-making, and it is only a pity that he didn’t continue to make similar films on other social and political issues.
Perhaps, with the imminent referendum on Scottish independence, Connery may yet return to make a documentary on the future of Scotland?
When Hugh MacDiarmid died in 1978, his fellow poet Norman MacCaig suggested Scotland commemorate the great man’s passing by holding 3 minute’s pandemonium. It was typical of MacCaig’s caustic wit, but his suggestion did capture something of the unquantifiable enormity of MacDiarmid’s importance on Scottish culture, politics, literature and life during the twentieth century.
Hugh MacDiarmid is perhaps best described by a line from his greatest poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), in which he wrote:
‘I’ll ha’e nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur
Extremes meet - it’s the only way I ken
To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt
That damns the vast majority o’ men.
It explains the contradictory elements that merged to make him a poet.
Born Christopher Murray Grieve, on August 11, 1892, he changed his name to the more Scottish sounding Hugh MacDiarmid to publish his poetry. He was a Modernist poet who wrote in Scots vernacular. One might expect this choice of language to make his poetry parochial, but MacDiarmid was a poet of international ambition and standing, who was recognized as an equal with T. S. Eliot, Boris Pasternak and W. H. Auden.
In politics, MacDiarmid had been one of the co-founder’s of the National Party for Scotland in 1928, but was ejected when he moved towards Communism. He was then ejected from the Communist Party for his “nationalist deviation.” He maintained a Nationalist - in favor of an independent Scotland - and a Communist throughout his life.
As literature scholar and writer Kenneth Butlay notes, MacDiarmid was:
..as incensed by his countrymen’s neglect of their native traditions as by their abrogation of responsibility for their own affairs, and he took it upon himself to “keep up perpetually a sort of Berseker rage” of protest, and to act as “the catfish that vitalizes the other torpid of the aquarium.”
In 1964, the experimental film-maker Margaret Tait made short documentary portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid, which captured the poet at home in Langholme, his sense of childish fun, his socializing his the bars and public houses of Edinburgh (the Abbotsford on Rose Street).
More on Hugh MacDiarmid, plus poetry and reading, after the jump…
‘We seem to attract quite a bit of it,’ Mick Jones said about the interest of the local Bobbies in Dundee, in this short film of The Clash on the road across Scotland, from February 1980.
Joe Strummer joked The Clash were giving the Tayside police a change from the usual drunks, giving them the opportunity to have some fun with some lads from down south. ‘And we could do well without it,’ Jones added.
An hour before their concert in Edinburgh, Strummer preps his voice with some honey and lemon. Outside young fans, some without tickets, have been waiting since 2 in the afternoon just to get a glimpse of their idols. Later, the band will let in a few of these youngsters into the concert for free.
This is The Clash when they were still living a precarious existence, hand-to-mouth, constantly on the move.
Mark E. Smith has occasionally claimed that Edinburgh is his favorite city. He lived there between 1988, when he performed I Am Kurious Oranj, with The Fall and Michael Clark’s Dance Company at the Edinburgh Festival, until around the mid-nineties, when he returned to England. Edinburgh has long captured the imagination of writers and artists - in part because of the city’s mythic history and role as “the Athens of the North” during the Enlightenment. But also because of its darker and more murderous associations.
This symbolic division is reflected in the city’s design of Old Town, with its original fortress and fishbone wynds off a cluttered HIgh Street; and the New Town, to the north, with its Georgian and Victorian splendor. This physical division symbolically underlines the duality at the core of the Scottish psyche and literature.
It was G Gregory Smith who first noted and defined the division in Scottish psyche and literature as Caledonian Antisyzygy - the “idea of dueling polarities within one entity”:
“...[Scottish] literature is the literature of a small country…it runs a shorter course than others…in this shortness and cohesion the most favourable conditions seem to be offered for a making of a general estimate. But on the other hand, we find at closer scanning that the cohesion at least in formal expression and in choice of material is only apparent, that the literature is remarkably varied, and that it becomes, under the stress of foreign influence, almost a zigzag of contradictions. The antithesis need not, however, disconcert us. Perhaps in the very combination of opposites - what either of the two Thomases, of Norwich and Cromarty, might have been willing to call ‘the Caledonian antisyzygy’ - we have a reflection of the contrasts which the Scot shows at every turn, in his political and ecclesiastical history, in his polemical restlessness, in his adaptability, which is another way of saying that he has made allowance for new conditions, in his practical judgement, which is the admission that two sides of the matter have been considered. If therefore, Scottish history and life are, as an old northern writer said of something else, ‘varied with a clean contrair spirit,’ we need not be surprised to find that in his literature the Scot presents two aspects which appear contradictory. Oxymoron was ever the bravest figure, and we must not forget that disorderly order is order after all.”
This notion of “a zigzag of contradictions” was further developed by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid who saw it as a key influence on Scottish Literature, for example R L Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It was also a theme in MacDiramid’s greatest poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, in which he wrote his own definition:
“..I’ll ha’e nae half-way hoose. But aye be whaur extremes meet – it’s the only way I ken…”
Jekyll and Hyde may be set in London but it is one of the best novels about Edinburgh and the Scottish psyche. Here is a fictional representation of such infamous Edinburgh characters as Deacon Brodie, who was a cabinet-maker by day and a burglar by night, or its Resurrection Men (Burke & Hare), and indeed, of Stevenson’s own experiences as a visitor to brothels with his student friends, one of which, a respectable family man, was implicated in the murder of a prostitute. This split continues today Irvine Welsh and his Edinburgh of Trainspotting, Filth and Porno.
Unfortunately, in this quirky and very brief tour of Edinburgh, Mark E. Smith only highlights his rather superficial likes and dislikes. His main dislike is the statue to Field Marshall Douglas Haig, the First Earl Haig, on the Castle Esplanade. It was Haig’s whose mismanagement during the Battle of the Somme and the Third Battle of Ypres, that led to the needless slaughter of thousands of soldiers during the First World War.
However, Smith does like the military statue to Blackwatch Regiment, situated at the top of the Mound. Smith’s old man was in the Blackwatch, and he claims he likes to visit it when he feels sentimental. But it’s the Scotch Malt Whisky Society that Smith describes as favorite location in the city.
: Bonus track ‘Edinburgh Man’ by The Fall, after the jump…
Scots who rushed to buy it have discovered that their new “smart” gadget can’t understand them. This is true despite the fact that their phones are set to “English (United Kingdom)” under the “language” setting for Siri, which doesn’t seem to take the distinctive Scottish burr into much account.
“What’s the weather like today?” Darren Lillie said hopefully into his iPhone recently here in the Scottish capital, in a demonstration for an American reporter.
Lillie, 25, is Edinburgh born and bred, and his thick accent shows it.
Siri thought for a moment, then decided it best to repeat what it thought it heard.
“What’s available in Labor Day?” it asked.
Lillie shook his head. “I don’t even know what Labor Day is,” he said ruefully to the American, who told him.
In other clips, “Can you dance with me?” gets misinterpreted as “Can you Dutch women?” and the question “How many miles are there in 10 kilometers?” elicits the helpful, if irrelevant, response: “I don’t see any email for yesterday.”
Lillie admits to adjusting his speech patterns to get Siri to understand him.
“I find I speak slower. It’s like when I speak to tourists,” he said to the American reporter, who felt at once both patronized and relieved.
Hardly news, and the kind of story best suited to the “Jings! Crivvens! Help ma boab!” kind of headline, allowing for the usual nationalistic rebuttal, name-checking Edinburgh-born inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell turning in his grave, and the success of such Scots accents as Schir Schean Connery, Ewan MacGregor, Kelly MacDonald, Robert Carlyle, Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson, mcetc mcetc. But really, it just made me of Stanley Baxter’s excellent Parliamo Glasgow from the 1960s, and this wonderfully apt sketch from present day and the rather splendid Burnistoun.
The German artist Joseph Beuys always seemed to be in Edinburgh, when I was young. Exhibiting at the Richard Demarco Gallery, or discussing art, democracy and socialism with whoever was around.
Born in Germany in 1921, his influence as an artist and an activist during his 64-years of life was so effective that we are, in many respects, all Beuys’s children. Take this as his defintion:
‘...one of the most influential and extraordinary artists of the twentieth century.
Artist, educator, political and social activist, Beuys’s philosophy proposed the healing power and social function of art, in which everyone can participate and benefit…’
Beuys’s best known works are the performance pieces How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965), Filz TV (1970) in which Beuys responds to a TV covered with felt, I Like America and America Likes Me (1974), where he shared a room with a coyote for 3 days, and the social sculpture 7,000 Oaks, which he explained to Demarco in 1982 as:
“I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heart wood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet ever since the Druids, who are called after the oak. Druid means oak. They used their oaks to define their holy places. I can see such a use for the future…. The tree planting enterprise provides a very simple but radical possibility for this when we start with the seven thousand oaks.”
Beuys always dressed the same in his artist’s uniform of Trilby hat and multi-pocketed fishing vest, to keep the focus on his art, as he believed art must work towards a better social order:
Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system that continues to totter along the deathline: to dismantle in order to build ‘A SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART’… EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST who – from his state of freedom – the position of freedom that he experiences at first-hand – learns to determine the other positions of the TOTAL ART WORK OF THE FUTURE SOCIAL ORDER. work included.
Political activism was important to Beuys. I recall in 1980, when he presented Jimmy Boyle Days, where he went on hunger strike in protest over convicted killer Jimmy Boyle’s move from Barlinnie’s Special Unit, where Boyle had rehabilitated himself as an artist and sculptor, to Saughton Prison, where he was no longer able to practice his art. Beuys saw little difference between art and activism, and his support for Boyle led to a huge outcry over the place of art in society, that led to the Scottish Arts Council removing its key financial support form the Demarco Gallery.
In 1982, he surprised critics and fans alike with his one and only single, “Sonne statt Reagan”, a disco attack against President Reagan’s stance on nuclear arms. The song’s title, “Sun Not Rain/Reagan”, was a pun on the German word “regen” for rain and Reagan. Some critics thought Beuys had sold out, but they failed to see his humor, and the serious intention behind the disc. Beuys may have been unpredictable, but his work is always life-affirming.
Joseph Beuys’ ground-breaking Filz TV, after the jump…
Starring Adam Sinclair, Kristin Kreuk, Billy Boyd and Carlo Rota, it’s based on Welsh’s novella, “The Undefeated”, taken from his book Ecstasy - Three Tales of Chemical Romance.
It’s 15 years since the film version of Trainspotting kicked in the doors and launched the careers of a young and new generation of talent, and while negotiations continue for its follow-up Porno, it’s hoped Ecstasy will be as good, if not better. Here’s hoping.
Here’s the most recent teaser for the Ecstasy, plus 2 others. For more information check here.
Alternative trailers for Irvine Welsh’s ‘Ecstasy’, after the jump…
In the Fall of 1982, Eric Bogosian traveled to Britain, where he performed in his two solo shows Men Inside and Voices of America. His tour took him from London’s ICA, through Cardiff, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Middlesborough, to Glasgow and Edinburgh, during the months of October and November , traveling with just one small suitcase of clothes, a black wool overcoat, and a selection of paperbacks to keep him company. Quite a feat at a time when things were organized without the advantage of the internet, emails, texts or mobile phones. It reveals much about Bogosian’s ambition and self-belief, as it does about his talents.
Bogosian had opened Men Inside and Voices of America that Fall, at the Martinson Hall in New York, where he was hailed as “the best performance artist I’ve yet seen,” by Valentin Tatransky in Arts Magazine. He had also been described as like “a man possessed, a medium, a schizophrenic,” by Sally Banes in the Village Voice, and as someone who could “perform the performer, and out-perform the performance artist,” in Flash Art.
At the time, I was a student, avoiding studies while editing the university magazine. How I’d heard about him, I can’t recall, a press release or flier most likely - my life back then seemed lived from the inside of an aquarium - knowledge, happiness, love and success were always beyond the glass. This disengagement with the external world might explain why I turned up late after his first show at the Third Eye Center, on Sauchiehall Street. Understandably, he was pissed, but I made my excuses and walked him back to his hotel on Cambridge Street, with arrangements to see and meet the following night in Edinburgh. These then are extracts from that interview.
Bogosian performed in a small stage area, surrounded by raised seating. He was imposing, for such a compact figure in black shirt, black pants. A bare stage except for one chair. Everything was suggested, created, from Bogosian’s physical presence. He walked onto stage and became a small child flying as Superman, talking to his father, mimicking adult bigotry before, shockingly, breaking into a stutter. So began the darkly comic Men Inside a carnival of souls from a troubled America - dysfunctional men, unable to interact with the world because of their bigotry and hate.
From Superman, Bogosian became a young man masturbating before declaiming his loneliness by saying “I love you” to a centerfold. Then on to a bored teenager, a stud, a bully, a sleaze-ball, a down-and-out, a Blood and Sword evangelist. It was loud, noisy and funny. Bogosian’s performance was as brilliant as his characters were low:
“Each character, each scene, flows into the next presenting different aspects of man gone wrong: his sexism, his racism, his hate.
It’s my effort on my part to try to communicate from a man’s point of view, trying to be sympathetic to men, saying this is how it happens, this is how a man ends up with these perspectives about women, about life - what can we do about it?
The thing I’m trying to lay out on women is the whole discussion of Women’s Liberation, Feminism, and the like, is all very complicated and that’s the first thing - it’s a complex issue, it’s not black and white. Women are perfectly justified in complaining about their situation, however, in different times men have also been put into situations that are not so great, the biggest one I can think about is certainly war.
War is Hell on Earth, and nobody should ever have to go through that. And of course, now, here in Great Britain people are thinking of the Falklands thing. I mean, it has to be thought about, if anything is sexist, it’s men should have to go off and die, that is sexist thing too. All I’m saying, we’re all people, let’s try and be a little sympathetic to each other, while we try to find out what exactly is going on.
I was in a restaurant on a Sunday morning in Vancouver, on tour, and I came in and had my breakfast around 10 o’clock in the morning, and there was all these men in the place, all by themselves: smoking a cigarette, reading a paper, eating a breakfast, looking kinda glum, kinda down. And these two couple came in, both in their sixties, and each guy was very dapperly dressed with his wife. And the women were happily chatting with each other and the men were sort of ushering their wives in. And you had a very strong feeling that these women were in some way protecting these guys, they were giving them something to do with themselves, yeah know. They weren’t like every other guy in this place, and you got the feeling that these guys were kinda looking across at these two couples, how these guys’ clothes were clean, their clothes were pressed, and how, how they had something to fucking do.
And all those other guys were just crumpled up pieces of paper. And here are these two guys, who because they stuck it out with a couple of marriages, now that they were in their sixties, had something to do. And somehow I wish people would admit this: that mean and women are different, and that for whatever reasons, whether they’re cultural or whatever, they are complimentary aspects of one another.
Bogosian was concerned that some of the Scottish audience was offended by certain aspects of his performance thinking they may have confused the views of the characters with the performer’s. After all, this was dangerous stuff to bring to a city more attuned to the Royal Lyceum’s revival of Noel Coward, than an act billed as a cross between Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor.
“I don’t expect anyone to be so critical about performance or experimental theater as I have been. I mean, it’s my life, it’s all I’ve been doing for the past 12-13 years, it’s all I’ve been doing - working in theater and complex theater. I don’t expect everyone who walks in off the street to understand about that - they’re taking it at face value, and they may not even notice the technique I’m employing.
For instance, the exotic dancer and the Led Zeppelin thing seem very alike, but their movements are very complex. You just can’t jump out and do that stuff, it’s all choreographed, and all rehearsed a lot, it’s just subtle. Someone might watch and go, ‘Hmm, not bad, that’s good movement.’ But not everyone’s going to understand that, what it’s about. They’re going to go ‘Ha-ha. look at that, he’s playing guitar,’ you know?
I can’t say if that’s something formal or theoretical in my work, it’s just something I’ve always done as an actor. It comes through from the inside. I don’t think any good actor can explain what happens when they become Someone. I become them totally and I know I’m inside them, and somehow it reads, and that’s the funny thing because at acting school they teach you how to relate what’s going on inside your head to what you look like outside. I don’t know what I look like, I’ve seen photos and stuff, but somehow what I look like is corresponding to what I’m feeling.
In a way that’s very direct and without any real training on it, I just hit the stage and it starts happening to me. But that’s just me, it’s like something I’ve got to my advantage, that I should make the best use of.”
The second half of the show was Voices of America a relentless tour of America’s airwaves, where every speaker, no matter how cheery or inane, seemed obsessed with death:
“If you had a choice to die from a nuclear holocaust (oh no!) or, a heroin overdose (oh wow!), which would you choose?” - ‘Voices of America’
This was all very much a hint of Bogosian’s Barry Champlain in Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio.
“Voices of America started out as a sort of finger exercise, so I could practice my voice, and it ended up as a piece.
At the time I was trying to get into advertising, so I made this demo tape of adverts and jingles and stuff, but the company thought it too cynical.
It’s very black. I’m interested in the way society’s fascinated with the lives of its stars and superstars, with its violence and consumption, its decadence.
Like how Keith Richard’s habits became published or how real death and real suffering are treated. How things are mass produced indifferently, and people’s suffering doesn’t come through, but is just forgotten.
Though I don’t think my philosophy or my ideas about anything are social or profound or anything, they’re just basic, mundane, liberal ideas, what we call liberal in America. It’s just like everyone else should be nice to everyone else, and how you can do it and go vote and I’m against the death penalty and for social programs. It’s just dumb stuff - I don’t mean these things are dumb - I mean I’ve got nothing to tell anybody that they shouldn’t already know. I’m just making stuff I’m interested in, it’s the piece I’m interested in - how can construct them and how can I act them out, it’s just all that stuff is in my head and it all might as well come out in the show, it might as well be there, as not be there.
And I know they’ll never put me on TV for saying these things, that’s the funny thing about it: I don’t think there’s anything radical about what I’m saying or doing, but they’ll never put me on a TV station saying this kind of stuff.
The current comedians in the States are just zany, they’re just crazy guys. Comedians with a conscience are not wanted in the mass media.
It’s just intuitive, a whole set of things are interesting to me, things that operate in my life. It’s like my face, if I get a nose job, and get my nose to be straight and my chin to be stuck out and stuff like that.
If I’m eloquent in expressing my particular set of perameters in my frame of mind they start to seem universal, or interesting or something like that, or, somebody at least might identify with them. I don’t start off with a theory and try to work it all out, it’s just that I try to express myself as best I can.”
Later, we walked out into the Georgian cobbled streets of Edinburgh’s New Town. It was late and cold, and the evening’s silence reminded us of our own past experiences of walking around empty streets at night listening for parties to crash.
Bonus clips of Eric Bogosian in performance, after the jump…
Is Tracey Emin any good? That’s the question at the heart of Anne-Claire Pilley’s documentary about the celebrated and controversial artist. Tracey Emin - Sex, Success and Celebrity, which was made to coincide with the 2008 retrospective Tracey Emin: 20 Years, pits two opposing voices against each other: neo-classical sculptor Alexander Stoddart, who claims Emin’s work is “horrendous, exploitative, and insincere,” a mix of “cynicism and sentimentalism”; and Guardian scribe and novelist, Bidisha who believes Emin is “a charisamtic, powerful woman,” who produces “real art work of value and tremendous beauty.”
Emin is a fine subject for this kind of documentary, as she has divided audiences and critics since her first solo exhibition at the White Cube Gallery in 1993, and while many may think the argument over Emin’s talent is redundant, her retrospective, Tracey Emin: 20 Years, proved it was very much alive and kicking. Laura Cumming in the Guardian, wondered whether the show was “self-pity or self-parody”:
Tracey Emin: 20 Years is an assault of a show. There is no escape from the agony. The corridors are lined with images of abuse, betrayal, sickness and abortion, tales from hell retold in embroidered banners and neon. The galleries are crammed with martyr’s relics: hospital tags, bloody plasters, painkillers, failed contraceptives, the famous bed with its stained knickers and stubbed fags - supporting evidence to further jeremiads in prose and video. The soundtracks bleeding from one room to the next alone would make you scream, except that Emin does it for you: at the top of her lungs and naked in Norway, in homage to Edvard Munch.
It has to be a joke, this video, doesn’t it? Emin couldn’t possibly expect us to take this absurd literalism seriously - or could she? This is a question for any visitor to her retrospective. Go round it solemnly by all means (and I never saw so much respectfulness as in Edinburgh), but every now and again ask yourself whether Emin mightn’t actually be sending herself up.
While, Lynne Walker in the Independent said, “Tracey Emin’s work crude and self-centered? That’s missing the point”:
...despite the graphic content of some of the work, the sequence of pictures of women with splayed legs, or the in-your-face curses and more enigmatic phrases on the beautiful and hugely detailed blankets, to dismiss her work as crude or self-centred is to miss the point. That’s just one aspect of Emin. By far the most touching examples of her work are Uncle Colin – the piece that, at least on the day I spoke to her, she would most like to save if all else were to be destroyed. A favourite relative whose sudden death traumatised her is immortalised in text and photos, just as the spirit of her grandmother hovers over the colourful There’s a Lot of Money in Chairs – mainly stuffed down the back of them, in this case. The bird drawings sing off the wall, while one of the most fascinating exhibits involves tiny photographic reproductions of work she destroyed in 1990.
It’s brave of Emin to expose so much of herself over such a long period. A short DVD, Why I Never Became a Dancer, tells a bigger story, while the reproduction, on a smaller scale, of Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made from 1996 is such a personal insight that it provokes wry smiles and even a tear.
Tracey Emin - Sex, Success and Celebrity was made as part of the BBC’s Artworks (which has a ghastly opening title sequence) strand, and includes interviews with Emin, and various contributors, and discussions on Emin’s works including Uncle Colin, Why I Never Became a Dancer, A Conversation with My Mum and It’s Not The Way I Want to Die.
Before you watch, here are 10 facts about Tracey Emin, as found on her website.
1. Tracey Emin might not be the kind of artist your granny would like. Her autobiographical style of work is all about exposing the kind of things about herself that most people would be too ashamed to reveal.
2. Her confessional subjects include abortions, rape, self-neglect and promiscuity, sometimes expressed with the help of gloriously old-fashioned looking, hand-sewn applique letters. Her dad quite likes the sewing, because it reminds him of his own mum.
3. One of her installations, called Everyone I Have Ever Slept with 1963-1995 is a tent, into and onto which she has sewn all these people’s names.
4. Some see poetry in the titles of her work. They include: You Forgot to Kiss My Soul; Every Part of Me Is Bleeding; My Cunt is Wet With Fear; and I Need Art Like I Need God. There is no Still Life With Bowl of Apples, as far as we know.
5. Emin has been accused of cynically exploiting the public’s darkest levels of voyeurism.
6. But her honesty can be disarming. She once told Observer interviewer Lynn Barber that the first thing she did when she started making money was to buy medical insurance, because: “I’m sickly and I get run down and I have very bad herpes, and I like knowing that the doctor’s there.”
7. Emin’s first move into the public eye was opening a shop in London’s Bethnal Green called, er, The Shop, with fellow artist Sarah Lucas. Emin’s stock included letters she’d written and ashtrays with pictures of Damien Hirst’s face stuck to the bottom of them.
8. Emin was the inspiration - if that’s the right word - for a latter day art movement called Stuckism, which is devoted to advancing the cause of painting as the most vital means of addressing contemporary issues. The movement was founded by her ex-boyfriend Billy Childish, to whom she had once said: “Your paintings are stuck, you are stuck! Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!”
9. White Cube curator Jay Jopling spotted her in 1994 and the big time called. She came to wider public attention during a live Channel 4 Turner Prize debate in 1997. A very inebriated Emin mumbled incoherently that “no real people” would be watching and that she wanted to go be with her mum and friends.
10. Two years later, “Mad Tracey from Margate” (her words) was shortlisted for the Turner Prize for an installation entitled My Bed, a testimony to her self-neglect and over-indulgence. She didn’t win, but Charles Saatchi paid £150,000 for it.
In 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut at the Oxford New Theater, in Lindsay Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.
The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:
David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….
...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.
The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempt to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.
After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968.
Bowie’s career throughout the sixties exemplifies Thomas Edison’s adage “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,” as the young hopeful musician worked hard and toured the length and breadth of the UK under various guises: The Konrads, The Hookers, Davie Jones and The King Bees, The Manish Boys, the Blues influenced Davie Jones and The Lower Third, Davie Jones and The Buzz, and The Riot Squad, a band described as:
“The Complete Musical Entertainers covering Pop, Tableaux, Burlesque and Parody”
Even at this early stage, Bowie was shedding musical styles quicker than he changed his hair - from beat thru Blues to Music Hall and Pop. With hindsight, you can see where he was going, but by 1967, the teenager’s first recording career had come to a halt after the release of his oddment Laughing Gnome after which, Bowie didn’t to release a record for another two years.
During this time, he fell under the influence of mime artist and performer, Lindsay Kemp, who helped Bowie channel his unique talent towards Space Oddity and later Ziggy Stardust. As Kemp later told journalist Mick Brown for Crawdaddy in 1974:
“I taught David to free his body,” says Kemp, smiling wickedly.
“Even before meeting, David and I had felt the need to work together. I’d identified myself with his songs, and he’d seen my performances and identified himself with my songs. I was singing the songs of my life with my body; he was singing the songs of his life very fabulously with his voice, and we reckoned that by putting the two together the audience couldn’t help but be enthralled. In other words, one large gin is very nice, but two large gins are even nicer.”
The two large gins became Pierrot in Turquoise, which was filmed by Scottish Television in 1969, and broadcast in July 1970. How a small regional TV station like STV, came to film this rather strange theatrical show is, no doubt, a tale in itself, but thankfully they did, even if one cataloguer at Scottish Screen Archives “found this quite creepy,” it is still well worth watching.
David Bowie as Cloud
Lindsay Kemp as Pierrot
Jack Birkett as Harlequin
Annie Stainer as Columbine
Michael Garret as Piano Player
It was filmed at the Scottish Television’s Gateway Theater in Edinburgh, and was directed by Brian Mahoney. Now if only STV made programs like this today…
In June 1993, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker kicked-off their official (sans Nico, who had died in 1988) Velvet Underground reunion tour with two nights at the Playhouse Theater, in Edinburgh. There had been rumors of a VU reunion for years, and these rumors slowly became real after Reed and Cale had successfully toured with Songs for Drella - their musical collaboration celebrating the life of Andy Warhol.
From their opening gig in Scotland, The Velvet Underground then played London, before taking their show to Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Switzerland, and Italy, where the tour finished on 9 July. During the tour, they also gave a headline grabbing performance at the Glastonbury Festival, and had a WTF? moment when they supported U2 for five dates.
The VU reunion was so successful that an American tour was planned, and a showcase on MTV Unplugged… was all but booked. However, before any of this happened, Reed and Cale fell out and all plans were shelved. In 1995, Sterling Morrison died. The following year, the VU were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Reed, Cale and Tucker reformed the Velvet Underground for the last time.
This footage is from the Velvet Underground’s performance at the L’Olympia, Paris, in June 1993.
More VU, ‘Femme Fatale’ and ‘Waiting for the Man’, after the jump…
Some bands just slip through and are never caught by the audience they deserve. I was reminded of this tonight by dear Tommy Udo, who refreshed the aging memory cells with a superb clip of The Hook ‘n’ Pull Gang. In the words of Mr Udo:
Another of the greatest bands you’ve never heard of. One single, a few gigs that I was too out of it to fully appreciate. Actually, no, I appreciated them like fuck. Just cannae remember them. The guitarist/singer formed Die Cheerleader after this. They were great too.
The Hook ‘n’ Pull Gang were Eileen McMullan (drums/vocals), Rita Blazyca (guitar/vocals) and Alan McDade (bass), who were part of Edinburgh’s late 1980’s indie scene. Described as “a cross between the Sex Pistols and the Ronettes,” they sang about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released only one single Gasoline, rarely gave interviews, were a great act live and appeared on FSd - BBC Scotland’s up-its-own-arse music show, which made some amends by premiering bands such as The Dog Faced Hermans, The Blood Uncles, and, of course, The Hook ‘n’ Pull Gang.