Sunday, 28 March 2010


Reading: Boyhood, J.M. Coetzee; Little Hands Clapping, Dan Rhodes

Listening: System of a Down; Scuba; Joy Division; Dillinger Escape Plan; Kylesa; Belbury Poly; Mission of Burma; Jaga Jazzist; Autechre; Mordant Music

Watching: I'm Alan Partridge S2; Alice in Wonderland (2010); Une femme est une femme (1961); The Tale of Desperaux (2008); Finding Nemo (2003)

Monday, 22 March 2010

The new Lady Gaga clip

New 8tracks mix featuring The Chinaboise, The Ex, The Feelies, The Tall Dwarfs, The Stickmen, The Au Pairs, The Sausage, The Black Box Recorder. The mix. The end.

In which I divulge one of my paltry ambitions

I can't remember where, or when, but I read somebody - don't know who, probably a "pundit" - complaining that many of today's young writers lack the ambition to do anything more than write a sitcom. "The nerve!" I said, then for emphasis I said it again, this time as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz: "The noive!" What, I wondered, was so bad about wanting to write a sitcom?

Granted there are loads of terrible sitcoms, but there are plenty of great ones too. I like a laugh, me, and while a list of my favourite shows would include such dramatic fare as The Sopranos and The Wire, most of the list would be sitcoms of one sort or another: The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Office (UK), I'm Alan Partridge, Black Books, to name some of the more obvious examples.

A few years ago, a friend and I were going to co-write a sitcom in which a middle-class book group meeting in the basement of a community centre managed to survive a nuclear holocaust. The guiding principle was: there ain't nothing funnier than THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT! Also: mutants. Think First Tuesday Book Club meets The Road. Think Jennifer Byrne and Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy discussing the charms of the latest (and - an upside of Armageddon - last) Ian McEwan novel whilst scrounging for food, fighting off cannibals, and (in the movie spin-off) careening down the abandoned blacktop in a customised V8 Falcon, a la Max Rockatansky. Fuck-ing hilarious.

It was a great idea until we sobered up. Several years down the track I am once more thinking that writing a sitcom is something I'd like to try. So far I have: no concept, no setting, no characters, no jokes, no title, no ideas. Things can only get better.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


Watching: Pierrot le fou (1965); Alice in Wonderland (2010); The Inbetweeners S02; I'm Alan Partridge S02

Listening: The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble; Joy Division; Kammerflimmer Kollektief; Big Star (RIP Alex); Mission of Burma; Jaga Jazzist; Monster Magnet

Reading: Boyhood, J.M. Coetzee; Best European Fiction 2010, Aleksander Hemon (ed.)

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


It was 1988 and I was in Grade Four. We learned a lot about the First Fleet that year, the tall ships and short ships and hardships. We also learned about general aspects of eighteenth century sailing, such as the invention of the sextant (cue uncontrollable giggling from assembled nine-year-olds) and James Cook's use of sauerkraut as a prophylactic against scurvy.

Our teacher seemed particularly taken by the latter, and invited one of the mothers (possibly Mrs Schumacher) to demonstrate to the class the art of making sauerkraut. The concoction was stuffed inside a ceramic pot, wrapped in a tea towel and placed in a cupboard underneath the blackboard, there to ferment until ready to be eaten.

Weeks later, however, when the pot was retrieved and opened, it was discovered that the sauerkraut had attracted the wrong sort of bacteria and was in an advanced state of decomposition. The sauerkraut, along with the pot and tea towel, was thrown in the bin.

Within days the entire class was dead from scurvy.

Great moments in art history #4

J.M.W. Turner, Who Farted?
(oil on canvas, 1834-1835)

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


"If they're artists, they may as well draw a cartoon on a wall of a man with dollar signs flowing from his fly. Because that's what's happening."


He ate too much, drank too much, watched too much tv, downloaded too much pornography, produced too much pornography, owned too many pairs of night-vision goggles, read too many books about killers and deviants, listened to too much Wagner, collected too many moths with markings that looked too much like the grinning rictuses of human skulls, smoked too many cigarettes rolled using papers that looked too much like human skin especially the ones with what appeared to be remnants of tattoos on them, bought too many cleaning products and other household chemicals in bulk, bought too many shovels and lengths of rope, watched too much reality tv, and drank too much coffee because he was unhappy, and he was unhappy because he ate too much, drank too much, watched too much tv, downloaded too much pornography, produced too much pornography, owned too many pairs of night-vision goggles, read too many books about killers and deviants, listened to too much Wagner, collected too many moths with markings that looked too much like the grinning rictuses of human skulls, smoked too many cigarettes rolled using papers that looked too much like human skin especially the ones with what appeared to be remnants of tattoos on them, bought too many cleaning products and other household chemicals in bulk, bought too many shovels and lengths of rope, watched too much reality tv, and drank too much coffee.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Joe's story

Joe would never forget where he was when Steve Irwin died: at the controls of his experimental mechanised stingray deathbot.

Great moments in art history #3

Caspar David Friedrich, Superman Forsakes His Fortress of Solitude For the Love of a Human Female
(oil on kryptonite, 1822-1824)

Sing, ping, wiggle or snatch

I don't know what it means but the all-new-old Hey, Hey, It's Saturday wants people who can do it for their Red Faces segment. Probably a fancy term for "lynching" or something.


Sunday, 14 March 2010


Listening: Baroness; Joy Division; High On Fire; Shining; Stevie Wonder; Kylesa; Polar Bear; Animal Collective; Between the Buried and Me; Zu

Watching: The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009); Reprise (2006); episodes of 30 Rock and The Inbetweeners.

Reading: Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, Mark Sounes; The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993, Charles Bukowski

Friday, 12 March 2010


New 8tracks mix, featuring: Monster Magnet, Hey Colossus, Kylesa, Ephel Duath, Tool, High On Fire, Baroness, Dillinger Escape Plan, Strapping Young Lad. Listen.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


There is nothing like receiving an old-fashioned letter, a proper letter, beautifully written in pen and ink on high-grade stationery, hand-delivered by a cheerful postman in full ceremonial postman regalia, just like in older, more genteel times when correspondence was a personal, more meaningful activity, in contrast to the instant everything society we now inhabit, a letter sealed with wax inside a handsome beige envelope, to which is affixed a stamp featuring the profile of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a letter written with deliberation and care, signed with a flourish, telling you that you are a cunt.

New review

I wrote a review of the Tim Lawrence's biography of Arthur Russell, Hold On to Your Dreams. You can read it here.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Reading: Hold On to Your Dreams, Tim Lawrence; Jules and Jim, Henri-Pierre Roché; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Pauline Kael

Listening: Autechre; Polar Bear; The JB's; Jaga Jazzist

Watching: The Inbetweeners S02; Valkyrie (2008); Up (2009); Bande à part (1964); Week End (1967); The Darjeeling Limited (2007); Jour de Fete (1949); Barcelona (1994)

Friday, 5 March 2010

Bullshit Hunger: A Manifesto (not a manifesto)

A fight, an actual physical fight, between Ian McEwan and David Shields would justify the existence of both men in a way that their fiction and non-fiction and general pronouncements on literature and the world at large do not. I'm envisaging body armour, broadswords, widow-makers, crossbows, tasers, lasers, phasers, bowie knives, Bowie films, water bombs filled with piss and bong water, chainsaws strapped to bloody stumps, bazookas at ten paces. I'm a sick fuck, me, and not at all interested in art.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Geoff Dyer: Venice and Varanasi

I am going to see Geoff Dyer speak next Monday at the Wheeler Centre, so I thought I'd post my review of his most recent book, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. The review was originally posted on a short-lived blog last year, which explains the first sentence.

Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is one of the best novels I have read in 2009. This comes as something of a surprise because I have tended to consider Dyer's novels to be of minor standing in his oeuvre. Paris Trance (1998), which I read recently, is perfectly enjoyable and often very funny, but has a perfunctory feel to it; what I've read of The Colour of Memory (1989) felt similarly lax. For the best of Dyer you have to go to the works that blend essayistic and observational non-fiction with Dyer's cavalier and habitual fictionalising: Out of Sheer Rage, But Beautiful, The Ongoing Moment, and so on.

That, at least, is what I would have said before I read Jeff/Death. The truth is that this pair of novellas - a "diptych" in Dyer's words; "A Novel" according to the cover - constitutes one of his best books. Aside from the simple fact that Dyer's writing is sharp and funny and all the rest, the key to the book's success is Dyer's attention to form. He is a very formally-conscious writer, perhaps unusually so for a mainstream English "literary" writer. But Beautiful, for instance, is a book about jazz, and jazz musicians, that is itself composed using jazz-esque notions of improvisation and quotation. Out of Sheer Rage, a book about trying to write a book about D.H. Lawrence, captures the frantic, digressive vitality of its ostensible subject in a way that a more formal study would lack. Paris Trance, by comparison, is a bog-standard comic novel that never attains any greater value than a certain superficial cleverness.

Jeff/Death is rather more interesting. The first novella, Jeff in Venice, is the tale of hack arts journalist Jeff Atman. (If your aptronym-senses are tingling give them a sugarcube - they're onto something.) In Venice to cover the Biennale, Atman finds friends (and plenty of frankly-described sex) with Laura, an American gallery attendant. Dyer is great at writing about connection, the conversational volleys and non-verbal positioning that conceals and propels the business of getting to know someone. Jeff and Laura fire off cannonades of witticisms and affectionate mockery in the manner of a screwball comedy duo. The Biennale parties are hilarious, and in typical style Dyer subverts the conventional wisdom that there's nothing new to say about Venice by writing about how there is nothing new to say about Venice.

Despite its general levity, Jeff in Venice ends on a note of quiet desolation, which sets the tone for the book's more sombre half, Death in Varanasi. Dyer shifts to the first-person viewpoint of an unnamed hack travel journalist, commissioned to write a newspaper piece about Varanasi. Once there, he finds himself unwilling - perhaps unable - to leave, strangely attracted by the eternal filth, cruelty and piety of the city.

This bleak - and often bleakly funny - story acts as a kind of distorted mirror image of Jeff in Venice. The analogies between Venice and Varanasi are present but never laboured; the characters and situations subtly evoke those of the Jeff section. Then there is the narrator: his similarity to Jeff is unmistakable but Dyer gives no overt sign that the two characters are the same man. The connection between the two is implicit, as is the connection between the two novellas. "A Novel" may be the publisher's preferred designation for Jeff/Death, but Dyer's "diptych" makes more sense. Dyer has said that he originally planned a more explicit integration of the novellas but decided to make the parts narratively discrete: "Instead of trying to make the narrative rope thicker and stronger, I'd just have these tiny, almost invisible filaments linking the sections, all these little echoes, chimes and rhymes."The two sections can actually be read circularly, creating a sustained loop of allusion and meaning. It is a brilliant conceit that enriches what is already an enjoyable, affecting book.


The new Autechre album, Oversteps, is beautiful in at least two ways. Sometimes it has a crisp, fresh feel, like - I don't know, what's a suitable journalistic simile? - like snowmelt trickling across the pebbled bed of a mountain stream in mid-winter, on a Saturday, about six a.m. At other times the beauty is sublime, like cresting a hillock to find nothing but a vertical chalkface and then rocks and spray and maybe a flock of some kind of carrion-eating seabirds circling expectantly. Facetious similes aside, the fact remains: Oversteps is beautiful.

I mock musical journalese, yet it is difficult to write about Ae's wordless, abstract, stylistically hermetic music. Most critics end up writing a lot of guff about factories and robots and "don't try dancing to this!" because we all know dancing is the only thing that doof doof crap is for. I'm being a lot more cynical than I set out to be. Sorry. But Oversteps is beautiful, and apparently there is no other way of saying that than to say it, and even then it is meaningless because it doesn't relate to anything. Beautiful how? Beautiful like... well, we've been down this deer-and-seabird-strewn path before.

The best, and probably only, thing to do is to just listen. Either it gets you in the guts or it doesn't. I have friends who are put off instrumental electronic music by the perceived lack of a sentient presence: to them it's just "computers talking". I don't believe this is true, but then I am not sure that I care. There is no sentience behind thunder, or a branch falling, or a fire crackling: the human ear and nerves and brain still conspire to be affected by these sounds. The human touch is great, fine, wonderful, but sometimes I want pure sound. I want the beauty of oblivion.


In anticipation of having less reading time this year, I am purging my rss reader of: personal blogs run by people I don't know in person or via twitter or other online association; book world chat/gossip sites, specifically anything focusing on "the future of publishing" or other publishing/media comings and goings; political blogs; photo blogs where each photo is a variation on a theme, eg. hats, not that I actually follow a blog dedicated to photos of hats, that's just a non-incriminating example; cooking blogs; blogs that I can't remember subscribing to in the first place; sundry other blogs and self-facilitating media nodes that I could really live without.

There are of course many exceptions in each category.

I promise I am not unsubscribing from your blog.