Saturday, 7 January 2017

A Riot Of Our Own - Night And Day With The Clash - Johnny Green


There's been a fair few books written about The Clash but none by any of the members themselves. Joe Strummer, of course, has now passed away but there's still Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper. Isn't it about time Mick Jones wrote his autobiography? Could somebody have a word with him, please? Until that happens, however, the closest we've got to the story of The Clash as written from the perspective of the inner sanctum of the band is A Riot Of Our Own - Night And Day With The Clash by Clash road manager Johnny Green.

Johnny first got involved with The Clash in October of 1977 so wasn't actually there from the outset. He had helped transport their music gear over to Ireland for a gig at the start of the Out Of Control tour, and though he was by then already a fan of the band he hadn't at that point actually met any of them.
It was support band Richard Hell and the Voidoids who first offered him a job as a roadie and from there, due to the departure of both The Clash's regular roadie (the legendary Roadent) and their driver, was invited to step in and help out with The Clash. By this time, of course, The Clash train was already in motion going full pelt down the rails but Johnny jumps on board (and starts his story) and soon becomes almost a fifth member of the band; working for them full-time and becoming friend and confidant to all the members.

So what tales, insights and anecdotes from the Punk Wars does Johnny supply us with? Well, as you might hope, quite a few, actually. Firstly, he tells us (though not explicitly) that Joe had issues with identity, credibility and public perception - though we kind of knew that anyway. Mick was a prima donna though in many ways it was encouraged by everyone (Johnny in particular, it would seem) kowtowing to his demands. Paul was always more of an artist than a musician, which is what he eventually became. And Topper could play the drums, thus holding the band together musically but at the same time could also be inexplicably stupid.
There was no single leader of the band though fans thought Joe to be it, whilst Mick Jones presumed he himself was. Each member was integral to the success of the functioning whole though it was only once they had split up that this became clear to them. And by then it was too late.

Johnny tells us about some of the dealings he and the band had with manager Bernie Rhodes though it leaves us none the wiser as to what to make of him. Quite the enigma is Bernie and even Johnny fails to understand what he's about. A clue is given when Johnny visits Bernie’s flat and there being no place to sit due to the stacks of Marxist Internationals in the front room (along with hundreds of copies of the original Capital Radio EP, which was supposed to be a rarity).
Leading up to the the Rock Against Racism carnival of 1978, Bernie chips in by asking Johnny if The Clash members know what they're doing by getting involved with the event? "Do they really want to be knocking about with these student types?" he asks "Isn't it all a bit safe and cosy? Aren't they preaching to the converted? And what's it going to achieve?"
Johnny can't tell if it's a wind-up or does Bernie actually mean what he says? Interestingly, Johnny himself reveals a political naivety about Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League when he asks 'Just whose pole were The Clash tying their flag to? Was there a Left-wing group behind the Anti-Nazi League? Would The Clash be seen to be endorsing their politics?'
Which begs the question: Did Johnny (and The Clash) really not know that the Socialist Workers Party was behind Rock Against Racism and that the Anti-Nazi League was a front?

At a time when all the music press were throwing their weight behind The Clash and declaring them to be The Only Band That Matters, John Peel wasn't very impressed with them and their attitude when they were invited to the BBC studios to record a session for his show. The session was never finished and Peel accused The Clash of being 'unbearably pretentious'.
This was an extremely cutting criticism, made all the more powerful by the fact that it was coming from John Peel. Perhaps this is the reason why Johnny mentions the incident in his book, though he fails to give any real explanation as to why the session was abandoned. Was it simply a case of Mick Jones being a diva again?

For all this, Johnny Green is an amusing storyteller and tells us of such golden moments as when bumping into Lionel Blair after returning to a hotel following Joe and Paul having spent a night in police cells. He's wearing a full-length fur coat, a suntan, wrinkles and a huge cheesy smile.
"Morning, boys!" he says, having clearly heard about the previous night's fighting with bouncers following a Clash gig at the Glasgow Apollo. "Well, that's showbusiness," he smiles. "We're all in it together." As Johnny and the band just stand and stare at him.
And then there's rock god Ted Nugent trying to get backstage at a Clash gig in America because he'd like to jam with them. To Johnny's surprise, Joe agrees but then hands him a pair of scissors. "The band are looking forward to it," Johnny says to Nugent "But could you cut your hair first?" as he reaches for his locks. "The hell - " Nugent says, before storming off.

And then there's actress Vanessa Redgrave regularly calling the band in a bid to get them to play a benefit for the Revolutionary Communist Party. The Specials playing support to The Clash on a tour but having to camp out each night in a big Boy Scout-style tent on the outskirts of every town they're playing because they can't afford hotels. Martin Rev from Clash support band Suicide having his nose broken whilst performing one night by a disgruntled skinhead who's failing to appreciate their art. Topper taking over Sid and Nancy's flat in Maida Vale and having to wash the blood off the bathroom walls that Sid has sprayed with his syringes. Radio 1 DJ Mike Reid putting his arm around Joe's shoulders and congratulating him on getting an Ivor Novello lifetime achievement award: "Well done, well deserved," he says - and this from someone who never once played a Clash record on his show.

All of these tales and many others make for one of the best books written about The Clash. Johnny is clearly in love with the mythology of rock'n'roll and he's perfectly aware that The Clash now also fall into that pantheon of music legends. This, however, leads to the only fault in the book, that being his reluctance to shatter any of The Clash Myths and as we all know, there are quite a few of these.
For sure, he opens up about such things as the tantrums and the cocaine and heroin use but he also shores up walls around The Clash so as to protect The Myth. But then it would be naive to expect anything different because The Myth was erected by band, journalists and fans alike and to what and to whose benefit would it be if Johnny was to tear any of it down? No-one's. Which means that with The Clash, at the end of the day the dream may be over but in a strange way... the dream still remains.

John Serpico

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The Politics Of Experience And The Bird Of Paradise - RD Laing


When anything is ever written about Ronald Laing it often seems to be with a prefix of 'controversial' but for many people he was always thought to be talking absolute sense. Absolute common sense, in fact, if such a thing exists?
The Politics Of Experience And The Bird Of Paradise is a collection of essays detailing and expounding upon some of Laing's ideas and thoughts in the fields of psychoanalysis and psychiatry, along with a prose piece tagged on at the end that reads like something that could have leaked from the mind of William Burroughs before being cut up and folded in.

There's a lot going on in Laing's essays, so much so that to simply write up a quick review isn't really sufficient. Rather, a whole thesis is demanded but of course, I'm not about to do that here because this is The Art Of Exmouth not Psychology Today. The bottom line of (some of) what Laing is saying is that the world is an asylum. Reality is an asylum that we're all conditioned into adjusting and adapting to through actual violence, the threat of violence and (more controversially - there's that word again) violence masquerading as love.

"They fuck you up, your mum and dad," as Larkin put it which is what Laing was saying but years earlier and in far greater detail: 'From the moment of birth, when the stone-age baby confronts the twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father have been, and their parents and their parents before them. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities. This enterprise is on the whole successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are left with a being like ourselves. A half-crazed creature, more or less adjusted to a mad world. This is normality in our present age.'

What is so unsettling is how quickly this process of normalization takes hold and how we come to readily accept things that are inherently problematic. In one instance, Laing describes a woman grinding foodstuff down a goose's neck through a funnel and then asks if this is a description of cruelty to an animal? The woman disclaims any motivation or intention of cruelty so what does that leave us with? What is going on here?
'If an animal is debased to a manufactured piece of produce, a sort of biochemical complex - so that its flesh and organs are simply material that has a certain texture in the mouth (soft, tender, tough), a taste, perhaps a smell - then to describe the animal positively in those terms is to debase oneself by debasing being itself.
A positive description is not 'neutral' or 'objective'. In the case of geese-as-raw-material-for-pate, one can only give a negative description if the description is to remain underpinned by a valid ontology. That is to say, the description moves in the light of what this activity is a brutalization of, a debasement of, a desecration of: namely, the true nature of human beings and of animals.
... Meanwhile Vietnam goes on.'
To bring things more up to date, the normalization of the problematic continues as in the normalization of imposed austerity, the normalization of a sex predator as the President of the United States, the normalization of never-ending war in the Middle East, the normalization of powerlessness in the face of globalisation and the super-rich, and so on and so forth.

On reading some of the reviews of The Politics Of Experience on Goodreads, it's interesting to see how Laing's ideas come as revelations to a lot of people because by now I'd have thought a lot of this stuff such as reality being an asylum is old hat. Apparently it's not.
The thing to ask at this stage in the game, however, is what good does knowing any of this do us? What benefit is there in knowing for example that reality is an asylum? Does it lift a veil from our eyes? Well, to a certain extent yes, it does. It reveals the power structures in place; from parents, the family, society and the State that enforce that reality. It reveals to us that the reality in which we exist is an imposed one that we are all prisoners within.

But it tells us also that another reality is possible. That another reality can be created. And in that tiny straw to be clutched lies hope not only for the individual but for the whole of mankind.
John Serpico

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Soft Machine - William Burroughs


So, what is The Soft Machine by William Burroughs about? What does it mean? And come to that, what is anything about? What does anything mean?
On reading The Soft Machine it's very clear that Burroughs was way ahead of his time and in fact, we're all still trying to catch up. In this post-truth Donald Trump world, of Brexit and HyperNormalisation, infotainment and fake news, Burroughs is the perfect accompaniment.

Martin Amis once said of Burroughs that when reading a book, most people like to have the author up in the control tower guiding the planes not running around on the runway waving their arms about. Or words to that effect.
William Burroughs was a total genius but if anyone came upon this book (or any others by him, actually) would they take it for the rantings of a lunatic? Would they liken it to a man having just stumbled out of a jungle having been lost there for months surviving on a diet of lizards, bark and bugs? The senseless gibberish of a man in the throes of fever? It's very likely. And would they be appalled? I would hope not. Rather, I hope they would recognise that Burroughs was doing something totally unique within the idiom of language; subverting it so as to reveal the hidden layers underneath and subsequently blasting a portal into another dimension of human perception.

"Shoot your way to freedom, kid," writes Burroughs and he doesn't mean with a pistol. Up to Lexington 125, feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive. I'm waiting for my Man.
"Hello, I'm Johnny Yen, a friend of - Well, just about everybody."
'Green lizard boy with slow idiot smile poses on the bank of a stagnant stream under a railroad bridge A sleeping carrion hunger flickers in his eyes one hand rests lightly on his worn leather jock strap.'
"Cut word lines - Cut music lines - Smash the control images - Smash the control machine - Burn the books - Kill the priests - Kill! Kill! Kill!"
It's a scary world we live in when text derived from Burroughs' cut-up and fold-in technique from 1961 makes more sense and is closer to the truth than what is printed in the newspapers these days.
"We don't report the news - We write it."

How do you review a book like The Soft Machine? The answer is 'You don't'. The Soft Machine is beyond such things. You read it and that's all. In doing so, however, you're allowing its parasitical presence to invade your body so as to do battle with all the other parasites you're riddled with (whether you know it or not?). That's my understanding of it, anyway.
And if you're looking for a name to call your band, this is the place to go. Soft Machine has already been taken (Robert Wyatt had that one) as has Dead Fingers Talk, and even the term 'Heavy Metal'. 'Upper Baboonasshole' has a certain ring to it though, don't you think? Grab it quick whilst it's still going I'd advise, or you'll soon be seeing some act appearing on X Factor or Britain's Got Talent calling themselves it before they hit The Charts...
John Serpico

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Dubliners - James Joyce


In musical terms, A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and Dubliners by James Joyce are overtures whilst Ulysses is the full oratorio in excelsis deo. Finnegan's Wake is free jazz. The thing about all these works is that they're all masterpieces in their own distinct ways, with Joyce never putting a foot (or a word) wrong.
What is also interesting is that Joyce wrote all these books (particularly Ulysses) whilst living in desperate poverty, which tells us great art is not borne from material wealth and the comfort of riches but from adversity and (more often than not) a plebeian imagination. Moreover, what is doubly interesting is that the works of James Joyce have nowadays been claimed by academia and a self-proclaimed cultural elite as their own; proclaiming Joyce's books as being far too difficult for the non-University educated to even contemplate reading. It's called cultural appropriation.

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories first published in 1914 though written some years earlier, all being snapshots of life and events in Dublin during that period. Such is the brilliance of Joyce's writing that it's like putting a magnifying glass to these snapshots to show the finer detail, each detail being a universe unto itself.
Each story is distinctly different, the common theme between them being that for the main protagonist in each, it is a significant yet not fully realised event that is being captured. An additional yet more subtle spin at the end of each signifying another realisation that is unspoken yet just as if not more important.

So, in the story The Sisters, for example, a young man's (Joyce?) old vicar friend passes away and whilst hiding his own feelings so as not to betray how important the vicar was to him, records the thoughts and sentiments of those around him regarding the death. More significant is the revelation at the end that the vicar had been found alone one night in the confession-box of the chapel, laughing softly to himself. It was this that suggested to friends and family that there was 'something gone wrong with him'.
In the story The Encounter, two young boys (one of them Joyce?) bunk off from school and during the course of their day encounter a man who in the words of one of the boys is 'a queer old josser'. A pervert, in other words. The importance of the day and the experience of it is conveyed but more significant is when one of the boys (Joyce?) finds himself relieved to see the return of his friend after being left alone for some minutes with the man because in his heart he had always despised his friend a little.
In the story Counterparts, a man bullied by his employer takes a stand and humiliates him in front of others before dining out on the story in the local bars with all his friends. More significantly, he returns home that night and beats one of his children with a stick for letting the fire in the kitchen hearth go out.

Joyce casts no aspersions upon the characters in these stories but by revealing an additional insight into their lives - and significantly their inner lives - he shines a whole new light upon them. What he so beautifully describes in his writing is the life going on in the outer world but then shines his light upon the inner life. The life that might appear smaller and less significant than the outer one but that is actually far more expansive and much more meaningful.

To continue the music analogy, reading Dubliners is like listening to an LP, with each separate story being akin to an individual song. Any good LP can be listened to either as a collection of different tracks or as a complete piece, and with any good LP there is always going to be favourite tracks. So too with Dubliners there are also favourite stories, most people's being the one that brings it to an end, entitled The Dead.

According to the New York Times, The Dead is 'just about the finest short story in the English language'. According to Evan Dando (of 1990s alt-Punk band The Lemonheads) 'For me, it's all about the Dubliners by James Joyce. I love The Dead'. According to Will Self, Dubliners is 'startling'.
Being non-University educated and therefore unable to even contemplate reading Joyce, I hesitate in laying down any such similar grandiose declaration because I feel I've just not read enough short stories in my time to compare (and I've read a few). I would say, however, that The Dead is far better than that other much-lauded short story, The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I would also say that The Dead is a thing of beauty that in the sublime vision it presents, paints a picture of the universe that could be compared to Van Gogh's The Starry Night.
The Dead is the true precursor to Ulysses where Joyce zooms into the detail of the finite then out to the infinite; weaving time, heartache, exaltation and memory into a seamless narrative. If The Dead was a record then it would stand the test of time and be passed on from generation to generation, appreciated by all.
Forever and ever.

John Serpico

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Under Exmouth Skies (Part 38)


For some reason the track and particularly the video for Fatty Boom Boom by Die Antwoord always reminds me of Exmouth.
Not sure why.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Factotum - Charles Bukowski


I didn't know what the word 'factotum' meant so I googled it and lo and behold, it means 'a person who does all kinds of work'. You learn something new every day.
Factotum is also the title of Charles Bukowski's second novel, published in 1975 though set just at the end of World War Two. It chronicles him (or rather, his alter ego Henry Chinaski) going from one dead end job to another, maintaining a healthy drinking habit along with the inevitable hangovers. Going from one cheap boarding house and rented room to another, encountering and more often than not doing his best to avoid all the people in a similar situation to himself. It's a bleak, miserable and depressing story but for all that, it has its moments.

Chinaski's a writer and it's from his writing that he wants to make a living but that's easier said than done. His constant drunkenness thwarts him from holding down any job for very long but that's okay because there's always another equally rubbish job to move on to. Or at least there was in those days.
What's more troubling and far more depressing than the world as depicted in Factotum is that nowadays if anyone gets a rubbish job - and there are plenty out there that can suck the life, the blood and the soul from you and all for a basic minimum wage - then they cling to it like a drowning man to a raft in an ocean of circling sharks. It's a constant state of despair battered further by the imposition of austerity measures whilst the rich get richer. Is it any wonder that when there's a riot, alongside lobbing bricks at police, people make a grab for a few commodities out of smashed shop windows?

Chinaski's actually a very funny guy, talking to those he encounters with short, wry comments loaded with an awareness of the absurdity of the situation they're all in. There's also a cruel, mocking element to many of his comments as if to say 'At least I know this is all fucked up, which is more than you seem to'.
There's also, however, a respect for those ducking and diving in a bid to get by and for those who are genuinely witty without even having to try. Respect is also shown to those possessed of a similar awareness, even if they're drowning it in booze as he is doing: "Frankly, I was horrified by life, at what a man had to do simply in order to eat, sleep, and keep himself clothed. So I stayed in bed and drank. When you drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn't have you by the throat."

One of the high points of Chinaski's confessions is when he receives a letter from a New York-based magazine he admires by the name of Frontfire that he's been sending countless stories to in the hope of being published. Receiving rejection slips is the norm until one day he returns home from another day at another rubbish job to find an envelope addressed to him containing an acceptance slip for one of his stories (entitled My Beerdrunk Soul Is Sadder Than All The Dead Christmas Trees Of The World).
It's his very first acceptance slip and he can hardly believe it: "From the number one literary magazine in America. Never had the world looked so good, so full of promise." It's a very sweet moment but is countered later on in the book when he tries to get a job as a reporter with a Los Angeles newspaper. He fills out an application form and surprisingly gets a telephone call back from them:"Mr Chinaski?" "Yes?" "This is the Times Building." "Yes?" "We've reviewed your application and would like to employ you." "Reporter?" "No, maintenance man and janitor."
It's yet another depressing episode being added to the pile though coloured with a sense of humour to help swill the bitterness down.

Whilst employed at another rubbish job, he's called into the office one day by the boss of the company who is sat there with another man, both smoking expensive cigars.
"This is my friend, Carson Gentry," says the boss to Chinaski "Mr Gentry is a writer too. He is very interested in writing. I told him that you were a writer and he wanted to meet you. You don't mind, do you?"
"No I don't mind," Chinaski replies.
The two men both sit there looking at Chinaski as they smoke their cigars. Minutes pass. They inhale, exhale, and continue to look at him without saying a word.
"Do you mind if I leave?" Chinaski asks. "It's all right," says the boss.
Walking home later on, Chinaski ponders the difference between him and the two men smoking their cigars who have sat there looking at him in silence. "Were they that much more clever than I?" he wonders. He concludes the only difference is money, and the desire to accumulate it, along with the will to bleed and burn your fellow man and build an empire upon the broken bodies and lives of helpless men, women and children.

All that Chinaski wants is to be a writer, a problem being, however, that almost everybody thought they could be a writer too. Almost everybody used words and could write them down, meaning almost everybody could indeed be a writer if they chose to. Fortunately, Chinaski thinks to himself, most men aren't writers and some men - many men - unfortunately aren't anything at all.
His dream is realised in the end, of course, and Chinaski (Bukowski) over thirty years has thirty-two books of his poetry published, five books of his short stories, four novels, plus the screenplay to the film Barfly starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. Factotum too has been made into a film starring Matt Dillon (which is up on YouTube, as is Barfly).

Factotum is bleak, miserable and depressing though within its pages are glimmers of hope and rays of light and that's much better and much more than a lot of other books I could mention.
John Serpico

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Guilty Pleasures (Part 15)


The problem with someone (or something) like Psychic Sally is that she's an epitome of putting a dollar onto everything. It's a mindset of always thinking about how much money can be made from anything? What's its financial worth? How much can it be sold for? In Psychic Sally's case it's £24.50 per person, the cost of a ticket to get in to see her perform when her Call Me Psychic tour rolls into town. There's also Psychic Sally jewellery available alongside books, DVDs, greeting cards, bags, T-shirts and candles.

I understand how we all live in a capitalist society and that we've all got bills to pay so if you've got something to sell be it a certain skill or your labour, your time or your talent then you're inclined to use it so as to enable you to get by. Psychic Sally - or Sally Morgan, to give her her real name - uses her psychic powers.

Sally's a medium, communing with the dead and passing on messages from them to the living. I'm not interested in debating the truth of this because essentially, everyone is free to believe what they like and if anyone believes death is not the end then all power to them. It's their prerogative just as it's the prerogative of others to believe in what they wish be it reincarnation, angels, Heaven, Hell, or that dead is dead. Whatever gets you through the night.
No, the problem with what Psychic Sally does is her putting a monetary value on something that by its own definition stands beyond our earthly plain and therefore stands outside of any man-made system such as capitalism.

Is there nothing in this world that cannot be exploited? Is there nothing that can stand exempt of the profit motive and consumerism? It would appear not and that's why capitalism is so powerful and has been so successful as a system. It's this very strength, however, that is going to be its ultimate downfall because ultimately capitalism will exploit and consume itself.
Paradoxically, absolutely everything can also be exempt from being capitalised on and exploited but only if we so desire it. Regarding something like spiritualism and communing with the dead (because that's what we're talking about here) there are plenty of spiritualists and mediums out there who are happy and willing to provide their services for free. For nothing. Those who seek such services therefore have a choice to either go to those who are serious and are not wanting anything back in return, or to go to someone like Sally Morgan who say they are also serious but ask to be paid £24.50 for the privilege whilst putting tiny disclaimers at the bottom of their advertisements saying 'for the purpose of entertainment'.

So will I be going to see Psychic Sally at the Exmouth Pavilion? Will I fuck. Though I might just take a stroll down there on the night just to see what kind of people it is who are going. It would be funny though if it was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, wouldn't it?