Thursday, 29 July 2010
Is there a need for fanzines or are they simply a quaint throwback to pre-internet days? My hunch is like elsewhere in the publishing game it’s increasingly difficult to sell what people can get quicker, easier, and cost-free elsewhere so any fanzine will need to offer something different. Beat Scene, covering the beat generation, is a good example where I can’t think of an internet equivalent covering the ground it does in reviews, articles and interviews. Their website supports the magazine without duplicating it, making the printed version essential.
Throwing its 26 stapled A4 pages into the almost empty ring is Heavy Soul! - “A fanzine for today’s sussed generation”. One might call it a modzine. It has a big target on the cover and a random picture of Steve Marriott as clues. It costs £2.99 and another £1.50 postage and includes a free four track EP. The editor wrote on the Modculture forum he was “trying to get back to that authentic 80s/90s style of zine. Amateurish but readable”. I’d gladly take an enthusiastic amateur over a weary professional but thinking back to old zines of yore I wonder which ones acted as inspiration.
The best ones, even twenty five years later, stick in my memory. Extraordinary Sensations was a trailblazer both for content and opinion, Go-Go did an astonishing job in producing a monthly issue that pushed the generally accepted musical boundaries of the young moddybods, The In-Crowd was a blinking eyesore but covered every tin pot band in laudable detail, The Right Track made me laugh, and the production values and unique attitude of Hipster were outstanding. Then there were heaps of other simple cut and paste jobbies, now forgotten, that although crap at least had an undeniable passion in them. They were all very amateurish (bar Hipster) but did their best and acted as little central hubs of communication.
Does any of this apply to Heavy Soul!, you may ask. The fact I’ve built up to the answer suggests not and although I’m loathe to be too critical if I don’t offer some, hopefully constructive, balance no-one will and all you’ll read is “brilliant fanzine” comments on Modculture, when clearly it isn’t. It doesn’t come close to touching any of those attributes mentioned above and more importantly it stirs little passion or enthusiasm in its subject. Fanzines should be a labour of love, this looks like an ugly child born begrudging out of need. That need? For Rowed Out Records to offload its unsold stock.
One strong selling point is “our friends at Rowed Out Records have kindly donated one of their first and now collectable EPs”. Those “friends” feature quite a lot. Lots of advertising, promotional gumph and even a record review of “another storming release on the productive Rowed Out label”. Because, it seems, they are one and the same and Heavy Soul! is a convenient way to shift those “collectable” EPs (four current bands) that have been gathering dust for three years. I say “it seems” because the fanzine, incredibly, includes no contact details whatsoever. No name, no address, not even an e-mail. Who’d produce a mag and not put their name to it? Who’d not want people to get in touch? Bit weird. No editorial or introduction either. Odd. I’ve no problem with Rowed Out producing a fanzine; it makes good business sense, just no need to be so damn disingenuous and underhand about it. It could actually work well tying the two together. I’ve no idea how many copies they sell of their singles (low hundreds max) and I’ve never bought one before but would be more inclined to buy a fanzine with a free record than buy a single on its own and vice versa.
But, of course, that fanzine needs to have something to read in it (and something to say) and I’ve probably spent longer writing this review than any of the articles here. Heavy Soul! doesn’t say anything. It is mostly pages of filler, stolen filler at that. Two pages for Randy Cozens’ Mod Top 100. Oh Lordy, how many times has that been published over the last 31 years? It’s not relevant now, merely an old curio, mildly interesting, and yet it’s cut and pasted straight from a Modculture feature less than a year ago. Another page for DJ playlists, again lifted (uncredited) from Modculture a matter of weeks ago. Two pages about Pauline Boty. That’s more interesting, and it’s well written – it should be; it first appeared in the The Guardian. What about northern soul cover ups? The list is so ancient it’s totally pointless and looks suspiciously like something pinched from northern soul fanzine Soulful Kinda Music. Want a Slim Harpo discography? Use the internet. I’m paying for what I’ve read already here. Have I got mug written on my forehead? It’s lazy and insulting. A tick though, finally, for the review and photos of the recent Welcome To Dreamsville Mod Rally - a new piece (I think, I hope, I pray) by Keith Jones that gives a good sense of what the event was like. Hallelujah. More please. There are some single “reviews” but they’re so flimsy they read like adverts (bet they are) rather than genuine reviews. There’s a page plug for a Rowed Out band. Why not interview them instead? Write a feature? Fuck’s sake.
It isn’t 1985, 1995, or even 2005 any longer. It’s 2010 and the bar has been raised – by technology, by experience, by demand - things should be measured against that, especially if you’re charging increasingly hard earned money. Today’s “sussed generation” surely deserve better.
Heavy Soul! is available via eBay.
Modculture is available here.
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Picked for the complete record rather than the lyrics; I’ve just used them to save conjuring up the usual twaddle. One thing though, I read yesterday that it’s rumoured Clydie King was a secret wife of Bob Dylan and they had two kids. Jolly. Good on ya Bobby.
1. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup – “I’m Gonna Dig Myself A Hole” (1951)
“I might dig myself a hole/ Move my baby down in the ground/ You know when I come up/ There won't be no wars around”.
2. Butch Baker – “The Fat Man” (1966)
“When Fat Man hit Soulville, he was driving his Fatmobile”.
3. Otis Redding – “I’m Sick Y’All” (1966)
“Lord, I’m tired of it, honey/ Rain is cold, children/ Burnin’ my side, y’all/ Standing on the outside/ Water in my shoes, children”.
4. Clydie King – “Soft and Gentle Ways” (1966)
“Don’t use your misty eyes because I won’t fall again, I’ve seen those tears before”.
5. Merle Haggard – “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore” (1974)
“Maybe we laughed too soon/ Things aren't funny anymore”.
6. Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “There There My Dear” (1980)
“Let me try to explain, though you’d never see in a million years/ Keep quoting Cabaret, Berlin, Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Duchamp, Beauvoir, Kerouac, Kierkegaard, Michael Rennie”.
7. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – “2CV” (1984)
“We were never close if the truth were told/ All we ever shared was a taste in clothes”.
8. The Flaming Lips – “Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell” (2002)
“I was waiting on a moment, but the moment never came/ All the billion other moments, were just slipping all away”.
9. MGMT – “Time To Pretend” (2008)
“Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives/ I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars/ You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars”.
10. The School – “I Want You Back” (2010)
“Once upon a time I thought everything would turn out fine, just like lines in books”.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
A philosopher of sorts once wrote that no sooner a man achieves freedom than he longs again for those chains that bind. I can’t remember the exact quote or who it was but there’s always someone somewhere with a big nose who knows.
I’ve spent eight days without touching a keyboard, checking the same internet sites, deleting invites to poxy events on Facebook, texting inane drivel, writing guff six people read, fart arsing around sticking stuff on my iPod to play in the kitchen, wondering whether QPR have bought a decent centre forward, scouring the newspapers for news or watching crap daytime telly. The only things seeping through were the death of Alex Higgins and possibly the birth of a white baby to black parents. It’s been liberating. Cleansing even.
But that was then. Now, what time is Deal Or No Deal on?
Sunday, 18 July 2010
Absence of the Hero follows 2008’s Portions from a Wine Stained Notebook in gathering previously uncollected short stories and essays from Charles Bukowski written between 1946 and 1992. That might sound like a ragbag collection of inferior works – rarity collections often equate to “for fans only” i.e. “a bit shit” – but that doesn’t apply here. Both volumes whether taken as introductions or additions to his famous stuff offer more evidence of his brilliance and (like The Pleasures of the Damned reviewed in February) show a versatility and breadth of writing his naysayers don’t give him credit for.
“The Reason Behind Reason” gets things moving in 1946 with “Chelaski” playing baseball. He smashes a long drive and stands on the plate as players and supporters go berserk at him for not running. Chaos ensues but he’s motionless in the eye of the storm. He looks around and walks off. That detachment from the crowd, that shell, that climbing into himself is carried into “Love, Love, Love” as his mother asks him “why do you keep your eyes on your plate? Why don’t you look at people? Look at me…” It’s not quite misanthropy, as he wrote somewhere I can't remember it wasn’t that he hated people - he just preferred it when they weren’t around. Grumpy git.
There are 39 entries, selected and introduced by David Stephen Calone, covering the autobiographically based stories, the funny flights of fancy (check the gruesome yet deadpan hitch hiking story “Christ With Barbeque Sauce”) and studious examples of literary criticism that belie his drunken bum persona. It’s not quite as good as Portions but only in the way a 4-0 win isn’t quite as good as a 5-0 win; it still wipes the floor with the opposition. Absence of the hero? Who’s he kidding?
Absence of the Hero: Uncollected Stories and Essays Vol. 2 1946-1992 by Charles Bukowski is published by City Lights Books, priced $16.95
Thursday, 15 July 2010
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Not many could stand next to Bob Dylan in 1965 and equal his cool but Harley riding, Hell’s Angels associating, long haired, unfeasibly handsome, poet and playwright Michael McClure could - and did - as illustrated in Larry Keenan’s photograph. And his rock ‘n’ roll credentials didn’t end there.
McClure was in London last week to read from his new collection Mysteriosos. One of the last remaining lights of what we now call the Beat Generation, McClure’s first poetry reading was at the most famous – and influential – poetry reading of the 20th century: the Six Gallery reading in San Francisco during October 1955. Jack Kerouac, in the audience and too shy to read, acted as rebel rouser shouting drunken encouragement and later wrote of events in The Dharma Bums (and also wrote McClure as Pat McLear in Big Sur). Ginsberg’s reading of “Howl” lit the fuse for a nationwide hoo hah but the event and contributions from McClure, Gary Synder, Philip Whalen and Philip Lamantia marked the arrival of the San Francisco Renaissance era of The Beats and gave it momentum to become a discernable movement.
At the Six Gallery McClure read “For The Death of 100 Whales” and his interest in nature, ecology, the environment, biology and science has infused his work ever since. He only read from Mysteriosos in London and answered a few (three to be precise) questions. I wanted to ask about his influence on his friend Jim Morrison (and vice versa) but only gingerly waved a limp wrist and the moment was lost. One questioner asked if he still saw the benefits of psychedelics as an aid to consciousness expanding. Not only did he unequivocally concur but he railed against those careerists who privately agree but publicly stay schtum.
Any mild disappointment in the absence of further questioning or readings were banished with the debut capital screening of Abstract Alchemist of Flesh, a new film about McClure by Colin Still. Still was there to introduce it and over 55 minutes blends archive footage with new interviews with McClure and some high profile names, notably Dennis Hopper and Ray Manzarek.
We see McClure reading to Manzarek’s unmistakable Doorsy “Riders on the Storm” keyboard. His texts can be difficult to absorb and comprehend on the page, yet performed in this way it gives them rhythm and you can naturally absorb parts without trying too hard to understand the meaning of each line. Both in the film and during the reading McClure is prone to reciting haikus then pulling an expression that says “Yeah? Think about it”, a tilt of the head, a raised eyebrow, a knowing look, “you get it right? Sure.” Nope. Sorry, haven’t a Scooby.
My planned question is partly answered by the Manzarek collaborations. There’s more than a touch of Morrison in these – or rather there was more than a touch of McClure in Morrison. There’s a great mid-60s clip of McClure roaring his poems to lions at San Francisco zoo. Those lions were no fans of performance poetry. The thousands of bare footed hippy flower wavers at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park somewhat more appreciative.
Notoriety came a-knocking during 1966-68 with the production of his play The Beard. Charges of lewd conduct and obscenity dogged its performances, including a run of fourteen nights when the cast were arrested each time. Dennis Hopper tells how the pair were sitting in a bar when one disgruntled theatre goer - not keen on seeing Billy The Kid go down on Jean Harlow - punched McClure in the face. According to McClure, Hopper didn’t need much encouragement to jump off a table to practice his newly acquired karate skills before (in Hopper’s words) McClure “beat the shit out of him”. Peace and love man, peace and love.
In 1970 he wrote “Mercedes Benz” with Janis Joplin and Bob Neuwirth which Joplin recorded three days before she died. Michael continues to publish and perform.
Mysteriosos by Michael McClure is published by New Directions Press.
Abstract Alchemist of Flesh is released by Optic Nerve (www.opticnerve.co.uk)
Sunday, 11 July 2010
Like a lot of spotty pretentious youths without a girlfriend I was a big fan of The Doors. It’s been so long since I’ve listened to them I don’t know if I still am but back in those strange days between school and work they were my band of choice. I spent my first wages - from stocking freezers in Bejam - in HMV and brought home new albums regularly until Ma Monkey started the “why do you need more records?” line of interrogation. I distinctly remember smuggling L.A. Woman into the house stuffed under my bomber jacket.
Joel Brodsky’s picture of bare chested, lion headed, Morrison would be the one every dope spluttering, curtain haired student supposedly stuck to their wall, my preference – having never, as you can tell, been a student – was for the photo inside the gatefold of Morrison Hotel. All four Doors in a rough blue collar bar nursing Budweisers and tired looks surrounded by neighbourhood barflies. They look a band that for all their poetic and classical leanings were just as comfortable watching sport and the shooting the shit with drunks and Joes. I was jealous of those drinkers. Imagine The Doors wandering in your local for a beer. Years later I would sport a sheepskin jacket almost identical to Jimbo’s, no-one ever spotted the connection but at least I resisted the leather strides.
This exhibition coincides with the release of When You’re Strange – a new documentary on the band – and features photographs by Brodsky, Henry Diltz, Bobby Klein and Ken Regan. Brodsky’s famous picture and variations of the album sleeves he made are here, as are Diltz’s Morrison Hotel shots including contact sheets and previously unseen photos from that day. Klein has a series from their earlier less grizzled (and slimmer) days and Regan snaps them in concert. The press release talks of an “intimate look” and “private moments”. That’s stretching the truth as most – barring Morrison and Pamela Courson gazing lovingly - are from choreographed photo sessions and live performances but they take a good picture.
If you’ve a couple of grand spare you can buy one. Me, I’m off to pull a few old albums from the shelf.
The Doors – When You’re Strange is at the Idea Generation Gallery, 11 Chance Street, Bethnal Green, London E2 until 27 August 2010, admission free. The film of the same name is out on DVD in August.
Saturday, 10 July 2010
Charles Bukowski may be the cover star of the Beat Scene 62 but it’s the new nine page interview with Carolyn Cassady that steals the issue for me. She’s written and spoken many times about her husband Neal Cassady and lover Jack Kerouac but I’m never less than fascinated by their relationship. I still can’t grasp the hold Neal had over people – Carolyn in particular. Even his portrayal in On The Road isn’t flattering: a con-man and a rat who abandons a sick Jack in Mexico; and that’s without the bigamy and constant philandering she had to deal with. Maybe she was hip and I’m squarer than I’d care to admit.
Continuing the spouses theme, Richard Brautigan’s first wife Virginia Aste is also interviewed. There’s a good article about Kerouac and his time in Detroit with his first wife Edie Parker (who Carolyn memorably refers to as a weirdo and a nut case). Bukowski gets his coverage - reviews and extracts from a couple of newish books. Dan Fante writes about his father, John Fante, and fellow writers blacklisted by Hollywood during the 40s.
Loads of other stuff as usual within its 64 advert-free pages. Four pounds stirling.
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Howdy pop pickers. I've reviewed this album over at Electric Roulette and Modculture. Rather than repeat it again, here's the video to the opening track "Let It Slip".
Loveless Unbeliever by The School is released on Elefant Records.
Loveless Unbeliever by The School is released on Elefant Records.
Saturday, 3 July 2010
In a prolific career stretching back over fifty years Sir Peter Blake is known for one piece of artwork and design more than any other. It’s the most famous album sleeve of all time, housing a reasonable record, and although it’s become an irritation to the man there’s no escaping the name Peter Blake will always be synonymous with The Who’s 1981 Face Dances.
He will come to that, but first he recounts how he studied – initially more by chance and on a hunch than any predetermined plan - painting and design at Gravesend Technical College and then the Royal College of Art during the 40s and 50s and how both disciplines have shaped his career. He was told he’d never make a career as a painter so also took design classes and the main focus of his talk, lasting over an hour, is his design work to coincide with the forthcoming publication of Design, a retrospective by Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith. It is Brian Webb steering the questions giving the talk structure with a selection of images. Having seen a few talks at the V&A they can suffer from a poorly prepared questioner or a reluctant interviewee – neither is the case here. Webb knows his onions and Blake is an engaging speaker with anecdotes tumbling forth with only time restraints trimming his answers.
Self Portrait with Badges (1961), one of his most recognisable earlier paintings remains one of his – and my – favourites. The references to popular culture that make him the poppiest of the pop artists are clearly in evidence but without the nostalgic romanticism that came later. Webb remarks on his lack of angst and Blake explains artists have different incentives to create art: some for political reasons, some to show loss or mourning, his aim is to celebrate, “although I can do angst if you want”.
There is no reference to The First Real Target (1961) but Babe Rainbow (1968) and her growing family is joyfully covered. Watch out for future offspring.
There’s a section about his record sleeves which includes Face Dances, the “”Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single, surprisingly no mention of Stanley Road, but a fair bit on Oasis’s Stop The Clocks compilation. He’d originally produced an adaption of the Granny Takes A Trip shop front but ended with a photograph of items from his studio that Noel Gallagher liked the look of. He’d slyly hoped myths might develop about the significance of the items used but was disappointed when none did. Don’t worry Pete, I’d take that more as a reflection on the lack of interest in Oasis than you. The doll in the blue dress however was used in the garden part of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Oh yeah, Sgt Pepper. He doesn’t much want to talk about his “albatross” but both he and Webb know he can’t escape that easily, so he does. He tells about the making of it but wishes he’d done Pet Sounds instead. On his way today someone stuffed Pepper in front of him to sign and nowadays he charges ten quid to do it which he gives to a children’s charity. The previous week during one day alone he’d raised £1200. You can see the relief when the topic changes.
It’s interesting to hear him talk about working once a week on a computer (“a seventh of my time” which shows how busy he is) and how he could knock up a whole show in one day if he felt like it and that one design might only take him half an hour. Yet that balances against “fine art” commissions from St Paul’s Cathedral which could take a couple of years to complete.
After Webb rounds things up to the present day with the new book jackets for Penguin and a Glastonbury poster he offers the audience the chance to ask a few questions, “but not about Sgt. Pepper” adds Blake to everyone’s amusement. Yes, over there, first question. “I wanted to ask you about Sgt. Pepper…”
Peter Blake Design by Peyton Skipwith and Brian Webb will be published by Antique Collectors’ Club in November 2010, priced £12.50
Friday, 2 July 2010
After earlier plugs for Modern Toss this week it was an honour last night to be drawn by one half of the Tossers, Mick Bunnage. Looking at some of the other portraits I got off pretty lightly.
The exhibition near Brick Lane is extended another week until 11th July. Get down there if you can.
More at moderntoss.