Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row.
*Cypress Grove is the man responsible for this year’s most interesting collection of songs that aren’t his own – a king among mixtape-makers, then.
*That it also represented a heartfelt paean to a king among music-makers is not particularly surprising – the role of the mixtape-maker is to draw as much attention as possible to others’ talents, not one’s own.
Basically, you could say his imagination has made him on of the best-connected men in music.
*And he’s already started putting together a new Jeffrey Lee Pierce tribute record which, I gather, is going to feature contributions from an even more compelling array of musicians than appeared on the first. Can’t tell you who though. Sorry.
*So we very much wanted to get his take on the Music As Reading project before he got too knee-deep in superstars. Being the resolutely cool guy that he is, he even made sure his choices would fit on one side of a C60.
(Cypress’ tracklist is, due to the same Spotify shortcomings as were brought to our attention last week (no BPB – and no Dylan either, turns out) our second YouTube Mixtape. Click on the individual track-title for audio/video. So as to provide some Spotify content though, here’s a link to a playlist containing both We Are Only Riders, Cypress’ remarkable take on the compilation record (also purchasable, obvs – on Glitterhouse Records) and the man who inspired that record, Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s most important achievement, the Gun Club’s first album, Fire Of Love. For a brief introduction to what We Are Only Riders actually was/is, along with some of Cypress’ thoughts regarding compilations/mixtapes/etc. I’d recommend going here.)
The Ghost Of Tom Joad – Bruce Springsteen
From the album of the same name. We had to read The Grapes Of Wrath at school. It was the first piece of American literature I had read, which in turn made me seek out the music of Woody Guthrie, and traditional American music in general. I owe that book a great debt. Brilliantly evocative and “dustbowly”, it is similar in tone to Nebraska, an album that Springsteen had recorded a few years earlier, which is probably his masterwork.
Desolation Row – Bob Dylan
Name checks for Ezra Pound and T.S Elliot – and Ophelia also gets a look in. Probably a stream of consciousness affair, but the imagery is dazzling. An unparalleled moment of truth from Bobby.
Ulalume – Jeff Buckley
Hal Wilner (who produced this) is of course known for his unlikely collaborations, and they don’t come much more unlikely than Edgar Allan Poe and Jeff Buckley. With bereavement at its core, it was a central theme for them both.
Tied And Twist – Lydia Lunch
As well as being a musician, Lydia is, of course, a writer. We met up for a drink recently and she brought me a copy of her book Amnesia. As the evening wore on, I started ranting about something entirely inconsequential. She listened patiently, then picked up the book and wrote in it ‘learn to forget.’ Best advice I have ever been given. An excellent human being.
More News From Nowhere – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Another musician who is also a writer. He excels at both. He is the polymath’s polymath. The title is apparently a reference to the Utopian novel News From Nowhere by William Morris. Plus Will Self appears in the video, but more importantly Beth Orton appears as a waitress.
Killing An Arab – The Cure
Another song inspired by a novel – L’Etranger by Albert Camus. Robert Smith takes on the role of the title character (Meursault) during the book’s central episode – the apparently motiveless murder of an Arab man in Algiers.
Thousands Are Sailing – The Pogues
One of the few Pogues-composed songs that MacGowan had no hand in writing. This was written entirely by guitarist Phil Chevron. ‘In Brendan Behan’s footsteps, I danced up and down the street.’ The album artwork also features a picture of James Joyce.
The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash
As opening gambits go, reciting from the book of Revelation is a surefire attention-grabber. One of many apocalyptic biblical references scattered throughout the song. An end-of-time ballad if ever there was one.
Brother and Sister – The Gun Club
Well, it does have D.H. Lawrence Jr. (AKA Debbie Harry) on backing vocals!
The guy up there – that’s David Strassman. The chap behind – Chuck, or in the show Strassman is currently peddling at this year’s almost-done Edinburgh Fringe, Zach. To understand why the name-change was necessary, I suspect you need to have seen Strassman’s previous shows, which I haven’t. Still, Chuck, Zach, in photo-form, the wooded thing’s way creepy right?
Right. Ventriloquists’ dummies are horrible. As anybody who grew up with even a peripheral awareness of Goosebumps would surely agree, ventriloquists’ dummies are waaaaaay creepier than Monster Blood and at least on the same level of creepiness as the utterly traumatising Barking Ghost. Nobody remembers the Barking Ghost. I do.
Creepy in photo-form. But not live. I very recently saw Duality, said Strassman show, which is completely brilliant by the way – apparently Strassman’s well worth looking up generally, I can’t comment (beyond pointing to this) but the way Duality riffs off the usual tired, clichéd questions of metatheatrical performance-existentialism in bounding, multi-facetted, ever-replicating, robotic and foul-mouthed ways is breathtaking. As theatre as well as paradigm-redefining NU-ventriloquism. But what was potentially most striking about Duality was the way that, in Strassman’s hands (hand), Zach wasn’t really creepy at all. The thing was fucking alive – just quite simply alive, talking, moving, alive. I frequently had to enter exactly the sort of interior monologue that the show centres on (as a way of understanding how and why ventriloquists ventriloquise) in order to convince myself that Zach wasn’t actually a real boy.
It’s this extraordinary sense, born out of the just-close-enough-to-human-ness of the design of an original ventriloquist’s dummy, that makes me think another protagonist in the ventriloquism renaissance that we’re sort of witnessing – Jeff Dunham and his palette of rather more cartoonish creations – is missing a trick. (Oddly, Nina Conti, the daughter of Tom Conti, Emily’s father in Friends, and an absolute babe to boot, doesn’t suffer from the same problem, despite the fact she puts her hand in a monkey. I can’t explain this. Maybe it’s because she’s an absolute babe. That monkey exists.)
And it also made me realise something: ventriloquism is the Rosetta Stone of live performance. To understand all of the best things, the most important things about live performance, one need only watch a ventriloquist.
Watching a man or lady attempt to compete with, I don’t know, Avatar via an fundamentally ridiculous talent (for even the best ventriloquists move their lips a bit, and look ridiculous when they’re not moving their lips because people actually move their lips when they’re not talking, it turns out, so really ventriloquism makes absolutely no sense) that celebrates the bloody-minded stupidity of human bodily craft for the sake of, best case scenario, an interesting take on the nature of interiority or vaguely surprising reflections on the notion of dialogue, worst case scenario, a framing method for tired jokes, should be an intensely depressing experience.
But watching said man or lady succeed in achieving a far more human, living, breathing artificial reality than any amount of apparently flawless technology will ever produce, via the teeniest details – a dummy’s eyes moving at the right time, a practiced, fluid body-language between person and puppet – is, it turns out, completely bloody heartwarming.
Human beings are a bit shit. Pinocchio really happened. Hans Teeuwen can sing a song and have Little Ronnie eat a Mars bar at the same time. This blogpost's a bit shit. Ventriloquism's a bit shit. Ventriloquism will, therefore, never die.
Cypress Grove, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and two acoustic guitars
This week’s mixtape, which will go up either tomorrow or Friday, is a pretty special one – it’s been put together by a chap called Cypress Grove, personally responsible for one of the most interesting takes on the ol’ mixtape/compilation/coversrecord/etc. blueprint I’ve ever come across. Silkworms obviously had a responsibility to therefore get the man to give us his interpretation of the Music As Reading mixtape project. And get it we did.
By way of an introduction to Grove’s comp pedigree – while you’re, y’know, waiting for the actual tracks – here’s a wee article/interview I did for the New Statesman a few months back (bastards never printed it) profiling both him and We Are Only Riders, his to my mind groundbreaking album. I’ve pasted it in whole, as it was, don’t currently have time to check it for any now-broken links or now-outdated comments so apologies if there are any of those, such is life.
As is so often the case, a compelling candidate for the (yes, pointless) title of best record of 2010 was released in the first few weeks of the year. We Are Only Riders: the Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project came out mid-January. You may well not have noticed: it was generally rewarded with unhelpful 150-odd word reviews in the forgotten corners of the broadsheets (such as this one) and an eager but rather quiet online response from blogs, zines and musicians (i.e. the people what actually know their shit) – see the comprehensive list of comments slash quotations on the record’s myspace page.
A great shame for at least three reasons: firstly, it is a magnificent piece of work. Jeffrey Lee Pierce was the principal creative force behind, arguably, the coolest band of all time, The Gun Club, the altcountry-inventing punk pioneers adored by the likes of Deborah Harry and Jack White (“why are these songs not taught in schools?” the latter once asked an interviewer) – a tragic figure whose alcohol-induced demise, a year or so shy of his fortieth birthday, occurred in the wake of his bassist-lover’s decision to elope with his drummer. An elegant tribute to JLP’s cut-short life and work appeared, in fact, in the New Statesman way back in 1999 – “Pierce and his various line-ups played like men looking to spit in death’s eye,” observed Richard Cook.
We Are Only Riders is, ostensibly, a tribute record – to Pierce, breathing new and eclectic life into a scattering of hitherto unreleased tracks discovered, in his attic, by one Cypress Grove, a friend and collaborator, on a scratchy, barely-audible tape the two men recorded together in the early 1990s. Over a three year period, Grove invited an intimidating assortment of friends and admirers of Pierce to re-arrange and re-record these songs and others. The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project ended up utilising the talents of Nick Cave, Harry, Mark Lanegan, Barry Adamson and the Raveonettes to name but a few. A humdinger of a tribute record then. All the more so for the riskier contributions it features, from lesser known (in these here parts, anyway) artists – hickabilly hero Johnny Dowd, say, or the criminally underrated Lydia Lunch – which in various cases overshadow the big names’ efforts.
Second, it represents an extraordinary labour of love. The album took Grove a full three years to put together. Speaking to him, I got some idea of why that is, via an anecdote detailing his attempts to get Jack White involved:
‘I diligently pursued Jack White right from the beginning. I first tried through his management. That was going nowhere. Then I got a couple of leads – people who knew someone who knew him at one time. Again, nothing came of it. I was convinced that if he got to hear about the project that he would want to do it, and the only way that was ever going to happen was to speak to him personally. So when he was in London with The Dead Weather in June, I thought this is the best chance I will ever get – I will know where he is at specific times. I knew he was playing a live BBC session at Maida Vale, so I went and hung out there for hours. I eventually asked the doorman what time the band were coming out (pretending to be their driver!) and he said they left ages ago through the back door!
‘A few days later he was playing The Forum in KentishTown, so I handwrote a letter (being aware of his distaste for anything digital) and headed off. I strolled round the back and as luck would have it the support band were just unloading their gear. So through a mixture of timing, luck and guile I managed to walk past the bouncers on the stage door and into the venue. There were about 20 other people in there I guess, and I was aware of being found out at any moment, so I watched the soundcheck as nonchalantly as possible. I rushed to the front and pitched him on the project in about 30 seconds. He looked initially dubious till I told him Kid Congo Powers was involved – then I had his attention. He was really into the whole concept of the project and seemed keen to do it. But Kid went to see him a few weeks later at his WashingtonDC show, and he said he would have to pass as his other commitments were too great and he simply didn’t have the time.’
It took, apparently, nine months to find a free day to get NickCave into the studio. Debbie Harry, the best part of a year.
Thirdly, and most importantly, though, the record also hinges on an intriguing innovation – with implications, I think, for the future of the cover version, the mythical ‘lost song’, the compilation record and musical ‘conservation’ as a whole. Recognising that recreating the songs as Pierce intended them would be an impossible, and apocryphal, task, Grove decided to organise recordings of three utterly different versions (by three utterly different artists) of each of the tracks on his original tape, so as to recreate something of JLP’s widescreen creative vision that would have, certainly, been lost on a single track – and make these the spine of the record. In short, nine of the sixteen tracks that make up We Are Only Riders are, in fact, only three tracks. Here’s how Grove himself explained it to me:
‘I am told that the multiple versions idea is quite a bold concept, and that a lot of people didn’t think it was going to work. I am pretty sure that it has never been done before, but I am willing to be corrected. For me it is the central concept, the core of the album, and the only intelligent way to deal with the material that I had at my disposal, in order to be satisfied that Jeffrey would be proud of what we were doing.
‘We were trying to achieve an approximation of how Jeffrey might have finally realised the songs himself, had he lived to do so. I have a friend who restores paintings, and he was given a portrait of someone’s great great grandfather in a military uniform to restore. It was in really bad condition and parts of the painting were missing. So in order to restore the painting to how it once was, he had to research military uniforms of the time, and use contextual cues from the rest of the painting. The end result may not have been entirely as the painter had originally intended, but it was a sympathetic restoration, and he brought his best mind to the work. I approached the Jeffrey tapes that I found in much the same way. We have only vague notions of how Jeffrey might have finally completed these songs, so here are three artists’ opinions on that. They all knew or admired Jeffrey, and the answer is probably close to an amalgam of all three versions.’
We Are Only Riders is an audacious, respectful, imaginative record that has the potential to change, for good, people’s ideas about what they are entitled to do with music which doesn’t actually belong to them. It deserves as big an audience of serious listeners as possible.
Just a quick one today – and this is going to be closer to a rant than the high-quality literary journalism you’ve come to expect from this publication.
(Pause for laughter.)
Poets, I always think – with a glum touch of envy – come to live reading events equipped like a soldier in the SAS. Not even that. Better than that. Equipped like an eight-year-old child acting out the fantasy of what it must be like to be a soldier in the SAS. Crowd are sullen? Rattle out the short poems like an assault rifle! Hit them with the grenade of the haiku! Get in close for some hand-to-hand audience participation, then slug away with the slow, intensely personal shotgun-poem! Maybe even the lightsaber of the love-sonnet, for good measure. An armament for every occasion.
Pictured: a poet.
Fiction writers (and I’m talking about writers of short stories all the way up to novels, not the cunning flash-fiction and prose-poem guerrillas) come to live reading events holding one of those enormous, immensely heavy medieval weapons that was essentially a cow-sized length of metal with a handle. It only really does one thing, and its impact depends on your being able to use it as quickly as you possibly can, which is not very.
Many poets, like fiction writers, are bad at giving live readings. But poets get a chance to slink away faster if necessary, picking and choosing their poems, getting through their set with the speed and precision of a Black Hawk helicopter while fiction writers are forced to clunk their way through page after page of solid prose as elegantly as Henry VIII in his later-life suit of full plate armour.
What's that? All these military references are making you sort of queasy? All right, we'll stop.
It’s a serious problem. You may think your three-page short story with the killer twist is perfect for live readings, only to discover that the previous reader has bored the audience silly and they’re now beginning to shift in their seats as soon as you’ve cleared your breath. Suddenly, you don’t have nearly enough flexibility.
This is a problem which has, in the past, resulted in me ‘panic editing’ – skipping out the more descriptive sentences and even paragraphs because I’m afraid my audience is getting bored. In part, I do feel bad about that, almost as if I should hold my ground against my listeners - maybe even annunciate every word as clearly and slowly as I possibly can. But, hell, shouldn’t there be some way of giving live readings of fiction which is flexible and exciting, instead of feeling like a written medium awkwardly transposed into an oral form?
Part of the issue, I’m sure, is the nature of literary readings themselves. When Virgil gave a reading, he’d have had his audience cheering for their heroes, booing for the villains, and hurling dormice at him where they felt the story was getting a little far-fetched. Today’s culture of sitting politely and occasionally grunting appreciatively can kill the energy fast. Damn it, the whole thing’s far too civilised, too sedate; and, as Bruce Chatwin might argue, it begins to stagnate as a result.
What fiction writers need, more than ever, to put a spark back in their readings, is a crowd supplied with some rotten tomatoes, and a drunken heckler at the front who thinks he deserves to be listened too by everybody. Far, far better than a crowd supplied with a dull stupor, and an elderly gentleman at the front who’s going to raise his hand at the end and tell you exactly how your story relates to his time as an Angolan silk-trader.
Not wanting to put an introduction after the rest of the week, I'll leave this as 'under construction' - as I'm heading to Edinburgh today, it seems appropriate to write about that when discussing live performance.
So for now...this week we will (at some point) we talking about Live Performance.
Oh, Roger Ebert. All is forgiven about that whole 'video games can never be art' assertion.
Seriously, no matter whether you agree or disagree with him, the man really understands the blogform's unique mixture of editorial opinion-column and public forum (and who else with as half as many comments takes the time to respond and debate to and with so many of them?)
But on the other hand, if you're facing an irrational, artificial controversy, is it better to speak out, or ignore it, when speaking out forces you to further publicise the issue, and even use the controversialists' own ingenious rhetoric, words that have been politically and emotionally tainted?
In fact, I'm just going to abbreviate it. This 'GZM' phrase is a horrid little meme. Death to it.
En-suite to our regular news bearing wall, it will serve as public art space. Like all gypsy-blooded things that don’t have legs, it often likes to change the scenery of its own little world, as such; it will hold mini exhibitions lasting only a week. A mini exhibition being three to five pieces of artowork that have a title and some cohesive idea behind them – so if you are a photographer, illustrator, painter, doodler, videographer, scuptor etc, and want to have your work up on display for the week then have a read of the submission guidelines below.
N.B We have made a bold choice in appointing Grapeface as curator. Loose-cannon, but if he had a nose, he would have a nose for art. So, we’ll see.
One last thing, just in case; please knock before you enter.
Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Send 3-5 images as e-mail attachment
Title e-mail ‘Richardsons' – ‘Your exhibition title’
Gallery space has a maximum width of 500 px. Height is infinite-ish.
Include your name, and if you wish a short biography.
This is a song about a superhero named Tony. It’s called Tony’s Theme.
There’s something important about this shard of intro – something other, I should add, than the impossible screeching brilliance of the actual track that follows:
He’s got the oil on his chain, for a ride in the rain No baloney Ride around on my bicycle like a pony I’m waving hi, hi, hi, hi, hi Gi-gi-gi-Gimme a scream Give me, give me the theme Of Tony
To-ny, To-ny, To-ny, To-ny, To-ny
A superhero named Tony. What a funny idea! A superhero named Tony in a song which rabidly emphasises that his name is, indeed, Tony, again and again and again. Written by a band with the sickest names in the history of bands. Black Francis. Kim Deal. Joey Santiago. The other chap whose name I refuse to google – I will remember it. Black fucking Francis! It all certainly begs the question, what is the role names play in our construction of heroes (and, I suppose, villains – a chap called Heinrich Himmler was only ever going to be a baddie. Adolf Hitler though… Adolf means, I believe, noble wolf. Noble wolf! I tell you what, it’s a real shame Hitler wasn’t a goodie because Adolf had the potential to be a very rad name. So much to answer for, that guy. So much to answer for)?
I should declare an interest at this point: as somebody who has grown up with a double-barrelled surname that isn’t just the product of a semi-feminist mother, names have always struck me as important. Not because I give a shit about my ancestors, mind. Rather, because strangers assume I’m going to be a public school prick based purely upon the number of letters in my surname. Sam Kinchin-Smith. My name sounds like the name of the sort of person I wouldn’t, in most cases, like. I mean, I'm as guilty of this as anyone. God, maybe I hate myself…
It’s precisely this kind of paranoid name-based internal dialogue that, presumably, inspired Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, 2nd Viscount Stansgate, to become plain old Tony Benn back in 1963, on the day the Peerage Act passed into law and made such a titular transition possible. He kicks off our list of five superheroes/villains named Tony (whose superpowers are, indeed, in some way linked to their being called Tony) – proof, not that it was required, that Pixies knew their shit:
‘Tony’ tied up with his renouncing of an aristocratic heritage, a crucial facet to his super-powered leftwing-ness.
‘Tony’ tied up with his ‘call me Tony’ Beelzebubish charm, an indispensable tool in his super-powered fight against truth, law and the point of his own party.
‘Tony’ tied up with his ‘ehhhh, Toneeeeee’ Italian-American, sensitive-vicious persona – the basis of his super-powered interestingness as a protagonist.
‘Tony’ tied up with the Daily Mail’s ability to write caustic (and yet curiously lengthy) headlines such as ‘There’s no oil slicks here, Tony: White House blasts BP boss as he watches yacht race 4500 miles away from Gulf disaster’ capable of making sense of Hayward’s super-powered, ocean-murdering, day-off-having, Obama-annoying sins.
‘Tony’ tied up with his ability to get the best out of Time Team’s Phil ‘Flint Knapper’ Harding (far right) whose rich Wiltshire accent rolls over the ‘o’ and the ‘y’ of Robinson’s name in a manner that sends Geophysics-esque ripples through my spine – at the heart, then, of the man's super-powered broadcasting abilities.
Okay, so Tonys can be superheroes – and supervillains – too. But as Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV realised, it’s much easier to know you’re looking at a hero when his name is Black Francis or Frank Black. It’s a truism that the Simpsons (as ever) probably expressed best in the episode where Homer changes his name to Max Power and everything starts going right:
Even better, there’s the bit where Homer meets a guy called Trent Steel. “Nice name,” the latter says. “Thanks,” says Homer. “I got it off a hairdryer.” Something like that anyway – oh, and at the end of the episode, Homer changes Marge’s name to Chesty La Rue, offering Busty St. Claire or Hootie McBoob as alternatives. Wonderful.
A good name can represent an invaluable gift for an artist, be he slash she musician or poet. One only needs to admire the character-make-up of Hamilton Leithauser (singer for the utterly superb Walkmen) or Toby Martinez de las Rivas (one of the first batch of Faber New Poets – one of the best of the first batch of Faber New Poets, I should add) to realise that. That’s why people come to university calling themselves Sam and leave it calling themselves Samuel – no, I didn’t do this, I’m a prick in other ways, but I bloody know several people who bloody did (or similar).
Of course, it’s more complicated than this. The tradition of people doing a Frank Black and taking a new name for a creative project is defined, in many ways, by bizarre decisions – why, for example, did sexy, sexy balladeer Engelbert Humperdinck decide to nick the name of a 19th century German composer who hung out with Wagner? I’m also fascinated by the phenomenon of what I call genre names – that is, writers etc. who adopt a pseudonym in keeping with the style of their work. Think King Of Goosebumps, the great R.L. Stine (oh lord, I’ve just checked the Wikipedia page for R.L. Stine and it turns out R.L. Stine is the man's real name! Does that mean he became a kiddie horror writer because of his name? Could he have been anything else? Fascinating!) And don’t forget kids, names can be a burden: Bowie’s sprog decided to sidestep all this association shit and go with ‘Duncan Jones’ – and a very good film he made too, by all accounts.
DAVID LOVERING – that’s the name of the other Pixies chap, the drummer. Turns out you didn’t have to have a super-rad name to be a Pixie after all. I don’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed.
Sam ‘I went to a grammar school, actually’ Kinchin-Smith,
“You alone understand that if we’re gonna win
We’ve got to get together – stay together – be together – stick together –
So tell me why can’t you understand
That there ain’t no such thing as a superman?”
You could take that quote of Dostoyevsky’s (all right, it belongs to the doctor mentioned second-hand in Brothers Karamazov, but still) about detesting man individually as a result of loving mankind as a whole, and vice-versa, and nod it towards Gil Scott-Heron, in ‘There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Superman’, bemoaning the American black community of his era’s tendency to look for saviours. That show of care for society over the individual could be to do with the nature of the civil rights movement of that time, the ‘stick together’ attitude, or it could be something to do with the modesty of the artist, who always seemed to see himself as a spokesman for the whole. Check out his concert recordings and count the number of times he drags each and every band member out of the shadows for a solo and a couple of rounds of applause. Or his obvious preference for ‘we’ (‘we’, the band, not the royal ‘we’) over ‘I’.
But it has its price. I shouldn’t be shocked that aspects of Gil’s music are racist. It was a more racist time, and if it was racism, it was directed by righteous anger towards racism among whites. On the other hand, I don’t want to add a qualifier to that statement above, something like ‘aspects of Gil’s music may seem racist to us today, but...’, because so many black US artists did work at attacking racist white authority while avoiding racism themselves. Can we really compare Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song to the brutal, nihilistic rap at the climax of his cover of Inner City Blues, where Gil glorifies Mark Essex (the ex-Navy dentist and victim of racial abuse who went on a rampage around New Year 1973, killing nine people, police and civilians, black and white)? Is this really the man who tapped into tangible, universal human emotions in Pieces of A Man, Home is Where the Hatred Is, or We Almost Lost Detroit?
“Did you ever hear about Mark Essex and the things that made him choose
To fight the Inner City Blues?
Yeah, Essex went to the rooftops guerrilla-style,
And watched while all the crackers went wild.
Brought in six hundred troops, brand-new, I hear,
Only to see them crushed with fear.
Essex fought back with a thousand rounds
And New Orleans was a changing town,
And rat-a-tat-tat-tat was the only sound.
Yeah, bring on the stony rifles to knock down walls
Bring on the elephant gun
Bring on the helicopters to block out the sun
Yeah, made the Devil want to holler,
Because eight was dead and a dozen was down
And cries of freedom to a brand new sound
New York, Chicago, LA, justice was served and the unjust were afraid
Because after all the years and all the fears
Brothers were alive, their courage found
And spread them goddamned blues around.”
It doesn’t help that Inner City Blues is one of my favourite songs of all time; but if you’re a fan of Dostoyevsky and G.K. Chesteron, you do already have ample preparation for coping with your artistic heroes’ occasional inhumanity (though you might start to wonder what the hell is wrong with you).
But communities are, by their nature, factional; they set themselves instantly against an ‘other’. It’s probably true that world peace and world unity could only be achieved if aliens, outsiders, were to attack and give us a collective foe. And it’s just as true that this wouldn’t solve the issue at all.
So me? I am (sorry, Gil) a believer in the individual Superperson. I’ve been reading Thus Spake Zarathustra again – an eternal delight for a reader, and a current delight for an article-writer, since pretty much every line is eminently quotable – and I can’t fault Nietzsche’s logic. “Where three men gather together, a fourth must die”; but the true individual, who can exist among others without ever joining a clique, will have no enemies because his or her values are entirely their own.
The only issue with this notion is the nagging possibility that it might be entirely impossible; that is, that humanity will never quite overcome its urge to become members of a tribe, rather than true, solitary individuals. Nietzsche himself didn’t ever quite getting round to including half of the species in his plan for ‘Supermen’, and managed to spend a surprisingly high proportion of Zarathustra being very rude about women. A certain infamous political regime of the 20th century did take the ‘Superman’ concept and attempted, rather than seeing it as a personal transcendence, to make it about race, and dictatorship. And I will always be haunted by those final lines in Seamus Heaney’s ‘Punishment’, which imply that tribalism is instinctual - something beneath our flesh that cannot be chiselled out.
“(I) who would connive
In civilised outrage
Yet understand the exact
And tribal, intimate revenge.”
Even Nietzsche believed we were not yet ready for the Superperson – all we can do is become his/her ‘heralds’ and prophets. It’s a creed I’m happy to adopt, since its aim is so lofty. But from the Second Coming to the Philosopher’s Stone, I do often fear that our species is always doomed to be on the very cusp of something, and never quite attaining the goal.
This week we will mostly be talking about Superheroes. Make sure you check back on Friday for the chapbook as we have a corker coming up from the brilliant Jon Stone.
Anyway superheroes, from classic comic books to forgettable movie remakes, the Superhero remains one of the most kick-ass characters you can create. Poetry superheroes are few and far between so I thought I'd have a go at creating one myself. I present 'The Gadfly'. Any ideas for super powers?
Facebook is already far too large to be described by a single narrative although The Social Network looks like it will certainly give it a good stab. Personally though, the story of a load of Harvard D-Bags getting rich through computer-geekery is not the story that I like to take away from facebook.
The thing that fascinates all of us about facebook is the fact that it is an on-going drama comprised of millions of sub-plots. Otherwise private existences which regularly spill out into the public domain in the time it takes to press ‘paste’.
Jobs are lost, relationships are ruined, hearts are broken and confidences are shaken daily on this internet phenomenon, yet it has the power to do such good as well. It means I can see what my best mate it up to in Brazil at the moment. It makes me feel less cut off from my old flatmate in Sweden. It gives me that warm fuzzy feeling when a red box pops up to say ‘Todd Swift likes your status’.
To this end, I have been doing a cursory trawl through the annuls of facebook anecdotes to bring you a selection, good and bad, of ways that this seemingly ephemeral cultural icon has changed lives.
“We had an incident at school in early August 2010 when a student came into my high school armed with a Samurai sword. This lead to the school going into a lock down which involved all staff locking classroom doors and hiding under desks. We used FaceBook to keep in touch with what was going on and we all collaborated what info we had to get a full story on what was going on. We were able to keep calm because of this.”
“Pass the syrup -- this lucky guy is eating breakfast at home instead of on Rikers Island.
A Brooklyn teen's playful Facebook message to his pregnant girlfriend about pancakes sprung him from jail and helped him avoid years in prison for a holdup he didn't commit.
Prosecutors dropped a robbery charge against Rodney Bradford, 19, after learning his Facebook account status had been updated with the inside joke "WHERE MY IHOP?" from a computer in his dad's Harlem apartment one minute before an Oct. 17 stickup of two men in Brooklyn's Farragut Houses.”
Lori Haas says that when she recognized her son's photo on the website, 'her heart went crazy'
Linda Nguyen, Vancouver Sun
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2007
Lori Haas never thought the journey to find the baby boy she gave up in a closed adoption 20 years ago would end on Facebook.
The closed adoption meant all the relevant documents were sealed, and Haas spent a decade waiting to get her son's name through an active registry, where the names of birth parents and adopted children are revealed at both of their requests.
When she got the name but no other identifying information, the 37-year-old nurse tried Google searches to see if anything would come up. It wasn't until June 24 that a friend suggested she try typing her son's name into the popular social networking website.