Filed under: Reading
Reading Under A Hoodoo Moon, an excellent autobiography by Mac “Dr John” Rebennack at the moment. It’s been co / ghostwritten but the flavour of the man definitely comes through, and it’s not always palatable. Rebennack is an intriguing character and he’s strong on what made the New Orleans sound, the origins of “fonk”, the major players.
It was published in the early 90s and I’m still in the mid-70s, before he started cleaning up, but the man’s had a hard paper-round. His obsession with music from an early age led him into some serious drug habits in his teens and prison in the early 60s, and along the way he did some pretty unpleasant stuff (pimping, violence, fraud etc). It does give him an interesting perspective on things – he saw a lot of the 60s debauchery and twattery by the likes of the Stones and the Who first hand, and was very dismissive – he thought it was just try-hard rich kid eccentricity (he’d also been on the wrong end of police interest for long enough to believe you never carried more drugs than you could eat, so bowls of coke and big bags of weed at parties made him anxious).
He’s also quite strong on mish-mash of spiritual traditions in New Orleans – Catholicism, santeria, voodoo, gris-gris, orisha and the rest – at one point, running Dr John’s Temple of Voodoo for some of the community. I could have used a little more of this, but it’s still of interest.
But the book’s key strength is in the portrayal of his early years – his teens and twenties in New Orleans before the Feds sucked the life out of it and the talent fled and before Rebennack got too fucked up. The constantly rotating bands, the endless gigs, the fusions of styles, the drag queens and dealers and gangsters and brass bands and voodoo mystics and the rest that make me pine for the chance to have been there, rough as it was. He tells a great story about the lack of respect for segregation / Jim Crow laws in the city, and how two adjacent venues, one purportedly white, the other black, would see the members of the night’s band swap, member by member, during the set (they simply ran from one venue to the other, mid-song) until each venue had a completely different band to the one they’d started out with.
Well worth a read, and I’d recommend digging out your Dr John, Professor Longhair, Huey Piano Smith and Meters records while you read it too.
Filed under: Reading
Step forward, Stewart Home, and prepare for recuperation..
Yes, the Guardian’s overview of 20th Century Literature (Time Lines) includes an essay by Nicholas Lezard about what it is to be a counter-cultural author, and how today’s counter-cultural author is tomorrow’s establishment set-text. After laying out his arguments about who is and isn’t countercultural (de Sade, yes – Kathy Acker, no – too knowingly academic apparently!), he comes to Home:
Our current best outsider is Stewart Home, who puts a spoke in the wheels of success not only with his scorn for the conventional niceties of plot and character but also by giving his novels titles like Cunt. Stewart Home is easily the example you reach for first as a contemporary “alternative” writer – but he is so observant, so dedicated to his work, so usefully enraged by mainstream ethical considerations, and personally gentlemanly to boot, that he, too, willy-nilly, will end up becoming respectable one day.
So, the game’s up Stewart – you’ll be on a Channel 4 Top 100 Books About Skinheads On The Art Scene before the decade’s out.
(it’s worth noting, however, that it’s Acker’s pic that heads the page.. )
Filed under: Reading
Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.
Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.
We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.
(Kilgore Trout’s epitaph)
I’ve just counted about 20 Vonnegut books on my shelves. For all their range – pulp sci-fi, allegory, collections of essays and absurdities, interviews – they all say pretty much the same thing in a variety of fantastic ways.
When I was a kid I really wanted him for my uncle, and now he’s passed, I feel about as sad as I expect I would if an uncle did.
Filed under: Reading
The cover looks like a tombstone with good reason.
“The land was gullied and eroded and barren. The bones of dead creatures sprawled in the washes. Middens of anonymous trash. Farmhouses in the fields scoured of their paint and the clapboards spooned and sprung from the wallstuds. All of it shadowless and without feature. The road descended through a jungle of dead kudzu. A marsh where the dead reeds lay over the water. Beyond the edge of the fields the sullen haze hung over the earth and sky alike. By late afternoon it had begun to snow and they went on with the tarp over them and the wet snow hissing on the plastic.”
I read this in about 3-4 hours late one evening (it’s not especially long) and then sat on the sofa and wept for a bit. And went to bed, and on waking felt cold and alone and unsettled.
The story of a man and his young son trying to stay alive in the aftermath of an unspecified apocalypse. What they’re willing to do to survive, and what they aren’t.
It’s probably the bleakest thing I’ve ever read. Left me in bits. Left me feeling pretty much the same as Idi I Smotri did after I watched it. There’s a couple of nods to religion, both in the way the boy behaves and the ending, and in the father’s attitude towards him. But it’s not overly intrusive and I can’t decide either whether McCarthy is pushing this aspect or merely commenting on it.
Nevermind. This is still one of the most astonishing books I’ve ever read.
“My job is to take care of you,” he tells his son. “I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you.” With everything scraped away, the impulse to sanctify, to worship, to create meaning remains. “All of this like some ancient anointing,” the man thinks after washing his son’s hair in an icy dead lake. “So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.”
edited to add: And John Hillcoat (Ghosts of the Civil Dead / The Proposition) is down to direct, and it’s staying independent / interference free. So that’s going to be a laff riot then….
I’ve realised that I’m finding it increasing difficult to write about things I like.
It’s no surprise that ‘positive’ writing is generally harder – I presume that’s taken as a given? – but I seemed totally hamstrung by it these days. I wanted to write a blog piece about The Rockingbirds – how much I love them, how much I feel they missed out on tremendous acclaim and success by being a couple of years too early the ‘alt-country’ thang – but it turned into some kind of wiki-style potted history. Every time I tried to write about how Alan Tyler’s songs make me feel, I just seized up.
So I’ve been thinking about why. It was easy when I was a kid. Even when I was in the more ‘industry’ bits of the ‘industry’, and thus wrote fairly functional reviews, I still had the odd outlet (bigger review pieces, contributions to Lime Lizard etc) to set out my stall in slightly more passionate ways. But now, it just makes me squirm.
I guess it’s about self-consciousness / self-awareness. When you’re younger you’re both happier to look dumb (or unaware that you DO look dumb) and less aware of what your words seem like to others. You can write your purple prose full of absurdly OTT descriptions of the transports of ecstasy that your latest favourite single ever delivers, and you don’t cringe as you do it. As you get older, and you’ve read similar pieces by others and winced at them, perhaps you look at your own writing and clam up.
It’s also, I suspect, a rare talent to write with a ton of enthusiasm and passion about music and not look like an arse. Somebody like Bangs could do it (his review of Astral Weeks is pretty much my benchmark for this kind of writing) but more often than not even he just sounded like a cough-medicine-addled tit.
And that’s why, I guess, you end up with the Mojo / Uncut school of music writing – long on references and analogies and comparisons, but pretty short on joy and excitement. The aforementioned Rockingbirds piece did all that – compared them, contextualised them, boxed them off. It wasn’t a bad piece, really, but you wouldn’t have come away with any real sense of why I love them so much. Which is a shame.
The flipside of this, of course, is that it never seems to get any hard to write damning criticism of things. Even things you don’t detest, exactly. In fact, as you get older and more cynical and you’ve consumed more ‘stuff’, it all serves as further ammunition, till you can spew out all sorts of clever bile about rubbish pop records and pompous indie goons. And for every review of the calibre of the Bangs one mentioned above, I bet I could name 10 brilliant demolition jobs where a writer has reduced some poor sod to a heap of fuck-all. At least, in the writer’s mind, and mine…
I’ve obviously been a bit slow on the uptake with this, but top reggae blogger / journo Dave Stelfox has a monthly-ish column called The Month In Reggae And Dancehall on the US music website Pitchfork. The latest column looks at Tanya Stephen’s tackling of the homophobia in dancehall issue on her Rebelution album, amongst other things.
(PS: Googling for the DFAH link, I also found this site, Murder In The Dancehall, which is a pretty in-depth examination of the problem, including a listing of 100+ of the most homophobic tunes, a critique of the various apologies proferred by artists and a look at the religious, cultural and political roots of the situation.)