Saturday, 27 February 2016

Queer - William Burroughs


On first moving to Devon it felt like stepping back into the 1970s before I realised it wasn't time that moved slower down here but news. Rumours are just starting to circulate, for example, that Margaret Thatcher has died. Could it be true? A nation will mourn, surely? Or perhaps not?
What this means is that there are people here who don't yet realise school is over and there are no more lessons to be learned. That the school gates are wide open and we're liberated - free to run riot.
What this also means is that you can be sat on a train reading Mein Kampf and no-one will bat an eyelid but sit down and start reading Queer by William Burroughs and blokes will start eyeing you up for either a fight or a bit of cottaging in the gents.

Compared to say, The Naked Lunch, Queer is a very straight story. Straight as in narrative, not in sexual orientation for there's lashings of homosexual lust in it. Actually, he's a bit creepy isn't he, William Burroughs? Lusting after young boys, gazing upon them as they play. Can this behaviour be forgiven? It was another world back then, of course, and for Burroughs it was really another world, distorted by junk sickness and strung out in heavens high hitting an all time low. But still, how are his confessions meant to be taken these days?

Queer relays the story of the love for a guy called Gene Allerton by William Lee (Burroughs' alter ego) and his attempts to get to know him and ultimately to get him into bed. It's a kind of love story, then, though also a story of obsession, addiction and junk sickness.
Lee does eventually get to bed down with Allerton but it's when Lee persuades him to go on a journey to South America that things get really interesting. Lee's on a quest to find a source of Yage and once they get going it allows Burroughs to slip into his florid descriptions and anecdotes that he's so renowned for, though in this book there's no evidence at all of cut-up. It's all his own work as fevered words trip off his tongue like a man delirious.

At one point, Lee's in a bar launching into a full-blown monologue about a time at the headwaters of the Zambezi where he traded a keg of paregoric for a boy, then later in Timbuktu trying to trade the boy for another model at Corn Hole Gus's Used-Slave Lot:
'Gus rushes out and goes into the spiel: "Ah, Sahib Lee. Allah has sent you! I have something right up your ass, I mean, alley. Just came in. One owner and he was a doctor. A once-over lightly, twice-a-week-type citizen. It's young and it's tender. In fact, it talks baby talk... behold!"
"You call those senile slobberings baby talk? My grandfather got a clap off that one. Come again, Gussie."
"You do not like it? A pity. Well, everyone has a taste, feller say. Now here I have a one-hundred-percent desert-bred Bedouin with a pedigree goes straight back to the Prophet. Dig his bearing. Such pride! Such fire!"
"A good appearance job, Gus, but not good enough. It's an albino Mongolian idiot. Look, Gussie you are dealing with the oldest faggot in the Upper Ubangi, so come off the peg. Reach down into your grease pit and dredge out the best-looking punk you got in this moth-eaten bazaar."
"All right Sahib Lee, you want quality, right? Follow me, please. Here it is. What can I say? Quality speaks for itself. Now, I get a lotta cheap-type customers in here wanna see quality and then scream at the price. But you know and I know that quality runs high. As a matter of fact, and this I swear by the Prophet's prick, I lose money on this quality merchandise."
...... "O.K., now, what can you give me on this Lulu-Effendi? Perfect condition. Just overhauled. He don't eat much and he don't say nothing."
"Jesus, Lee! You know I'd cut off my right nut for you, but I swear by my mother's cunt, may I fall down and be paralysed and my prick fall off if these mixed jobs ain't harder to move than a junky's bowels."'
And so on, until Lee suddenly looks around and sees that the bar he's in is empty and that he's delivering his monologue to no-one, so he pays for his drinks and walks out into the night. (In fact, this sounds like a typical night out down The Phoenix pub, in Exmouth, though that's a whole other story).

Whilst reading Queer a thought occurred to me: Did William Burroughs ever meet Timothy Leary and if so, did they get on? Opiates and psychedelics and did ever the twain meet? Thanks to the wonders of new technology and a quick Google search, lo and behold there they both are looking like the best of friends. Isn't the Internet wonderful? But I digress.

Queer isn't William Burroughs best book - for that I would nominate Cities Of The Red Night - but it's still very good, very funny and very interesting particularly if you know anything about Burroughs and his oeuvre as this is the book that for some reason wasn't published until 1985, over 30 years after first being written.
It's an enjoyable read but for enhanced enjoyment of it I'd recommend reading it on a train. In Devon.
                                                                                                                                                                               John Serpico

There they are

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Exmouth Bound Soundtrack (Part 4)


Up and down the Avocet rail line, in and out of Exmouth, day in day out... But it's not a chore, it's not a grind - it's a pleasure. It's time out. It's a beautiful view...

It's a time to relax. Kick back. Time to think, to read, to listen to music. To feed your head...

Saturday, 20 February 2016

A Confederate General From Big Sur - Richard Brautigan


Having recently been sexually assaulted by Nick Cave, I was in need of some love, tenderness and understanding so who better to turn to than Richard Brautigan?
A Confederate General From Big Sur was Brautigan's first published novel though it only came to the attention of a significant readership on the coat-tails of Trout Fishing In America, his second and much more successful novel. Brautigan is the narrator going under the name of 'Jesse' and he relates the story of a summer spent with his friend Lee Mellon (the Confederate General of the title) in a rudimentary shack on the cliffs at Big Sur, on the Californian Coast. He records various episodes of their time spent there, forming an almost straightforward narrative which for a Brautigan book is quite unusual.

The two of them live in abject poverty, existing on a diet of sea snails and dough. At night they're kept awake by the sound of croaking frogs and the only people who seem to pass by are thieves in the night trying to steal what little gasoline they have in their truck.
In a way they're like children playing in the dirt and all that keeps them going are their eccentricities and their imaginations. They're eventually joined by two girls, one a prostitute (with a heart of gold) and the other a college drop-out; then finally by another friend of Lee Mellon's who's carrying a briefcase containing $100,000 but who's also going through a mental breakdown.

It's all very amusing and entertaining in a light-hearted way, without too much fuss made about such things as 'likelihood' and 'probability'. For example, what might be the chances of them finding a bag of marijuana stuffed behind a rock in the fireplace? Pretty slim, you might imagine, but that's what they do which is alright because it leads to them all getting massively stoned, which makes for another episode for Brautigan to write about.

When Jesse (or Brautigan) first meets the college drop-out girl she asks him 'What do you do?' and he replies 'I live in Big Sur'. She asks him the same question a couple of times more to which he replies 'I'm unemployed' and jokingly 'I'm a minister'. What's interesting is that he never once says that he's a writer.
A little later on as they're driving back to Big Sur, Henry Miller makes a cameo appearance: 'We drove by Henry Miller's mailbox. He was waiting for his mail in that old Cadillac he had in those days. "There's Henry Miller," I said. "Oh," she said. With every passing moment my liking for her flowered another time. Not that I had anything against Henry Miller, but like a storm of flowers remembered during a revolution I grew to like her more and more.'

A Confederate General From Big Sur contains all the ingredients for what makes Richard Brautigan books so likeable: idiosyncrasy, innocence, imagination, unconventionality, surrealism, oddness, etc, etc. It also contains a very good ending or rather, it contains a very good infinite number of endings. 186,000 endings per second to be precise. And if you know anything about Brautigan as a writer you'd know this is the kind of thing that makes perfect sense when reading him.

Richard Brautigan is no longer with us so after sponging down with one of his books I fear it's going to be back to being sexually (and psychologically) assaulted by Nick Cave and his ilk again from now on...
John Serpico

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Death Of Bunny Munro - Nick Cave


I've met Bunny Munro. He's out there. I've met him in city centre pubs on a Saturday night, in night clubs, in work places, on building sites, in factories and in offices. I've met him in management boardrooms, in ranks of police, in the mansions of the rich and the slum tenements of the poor. From the canyons of New York, to the flat fields of Holland, to the beaches of Crete, to the streets of your town. He's out there.
I've met Valerie Solanas also. She's out there as well. I've met her at anarchist bookfairs, at political protests, political meetings and demonstrations, at parties, at gigs and in backstreet pubs. From the squats of West Germany of old, to the social centres of Italy, to the kraakpanden of Holland, to the tower blocks of London. She's harder to find but she's out there.

Bunny Munro is the central character in Nick Cave's The Death Of Bunny Munro and to say he's a horrible creation is an understatement. He has no redeeming qualities in the slightest. He's an ignorant, selfish, misogynist, cheating, stealing, sex-obsessed monster. Valerie Solanas is famous for shooting Andy Warhol and for being the author of the SCUM Manifesto - the Society for Cutting Up Men.

In her manifesto, Solanas states her case immediately in the opening paragraph: 'Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of it being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex'.
She then goes on to describe men thus: 'The male is completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, of love, friendship, affection or tenderness. He is a completely isolated unit, incapable of rapport with anyone. His responses are entirely visceral, not cerebral; his intelligence is a mere tool in the service of his drives and needs; he is incapable of mental passion, mental interaction; he can't relate to anything other than his own physical sensations'.
And so on and so forth. The SCUM Manifesto is extreme, militant, provocative and controversial. It also repeatedly hits the nail on the head when it comes to summarising men. For example: 'The male will swim a river of snot, wade nostril-deep through a mile of vomit, if he thinks there'll be a friendly pussy awaiting him. He'll screw a woman he despises, any snaggle-toothed hag, and, furthermore, pay for the opportunity'.
And who could argue with that?

Nick Cave has obviously read the SCUM Manifesto because his Bunny Munro character is the epitome of man as defined by Valerie Solanas, resulting in a very rude book but rude in a horrible way. Bunny is a door-to-door salesman of beauty products in Brighton and he's the best. He could sell a bicycle to a barracuda, as he puts it. He's a master of the art. He's also, as put by what might be the Devil, 'a fucking trip, man! Out of this world, baby'. In a league of his own. 'A fucking inspiration!'
Bunny's on a quest, searching for the holy grail. Seeking Valhalla. We're talking here, however, about a character in a book written by Nick Cave, he of the Birthday Present, the Bad Seeds, and Grinderman. So with that in mind, should it come as a surprise that Bunny imagines Valhalla might be found in Avril Lavigne's pants? And if a homeless, dying, junky girl turning blue from having overdosed on heroin happens to look like Avril Lavigne due to the black bags beneath her eyes resembling Lavigne's 'kooky' eye-liner then so be it. For Bunny - who thinks the song Spinning Around by Kylie Minogue is an 'orgiastic paean to buggery' - it matters not.

Nick Cave is a very good, very clever, very intelligent writer and there's a lot going on in The Death Of Bunny Munro: Recurring themes, premonitions, profane dialogue, comedy, tragedy, a relentless downward spiral, delirium and redemption. It has depth. All held together and made palatable by the inclusion in the story of Bunny's 9 year-old son whose love for his father never diminishes and is genuinely the stuff of heart-rending genius.
Cave's story is of a dead man walking and is often dark and at times disturbing. Light, hope and love, however, is shed by the son and it is he that in many ways the book is actually about. Why The Death Of Bunny Munro hasn't been made into a film yet is anyone's guess, as it's crying out for it. Though saying that, there's really no possible way that a film could better the book, so perhaps that's the reason? Also, might there be objections from Avril Lavigne? Who knows? If given the choice, perhaps she might even wish to star in it? Though unless she's looking for a serious change of image, I very much doubt it.
John Serpico

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Exmouth Bound Soundtrack (Part 3)


Up and down the Avocet rail line, in and out of Exmouth, day in day out. For many of us it's the chosen mode of transport as it's relatively cheap, it's quick, and it's relatively efficient. It also affords us the luxury of just gazing out the train windows at the world passing by outside.

It affords us the luxury of reading our books or of listening to music on our iPhones without any distractions. It affords us a moment to daydream, to gather our thoughts, and to ponder life...

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Hunter S Thompson


For reasons too manifold to go into, he's a man after my own heart is Hunter S Thompson. For reasons of his own, sadly he left us in 2005 but at least his masterpiece, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, remains as his ode to excess and the joy of drugs taken exuberantly.

We've all been on dangerous drug binges and blinding drug benders, have we not? But how many of us actually remember anything from them, I wonder? It's like the old Woodstock adage: If you can remember it, then you weren't there. Which calls into question the authenticity of Hunter's story but then whether it's authentic or not isn't really the point because this is Gonzo journalism. You just need to buckle-up and enjoy the ride and then at a place of your choosing, unbuckle and float away free from the restraint of reality and simply go into freefall.

Were it not for the drugs element (and it's a major element), Fear And Loathing would perhaps have been a little boring, centering around a journalist and his attorney going to Las Vegas to report on a giant off-road dune-buggy and motorbike race called the Mint 400.
Attending or better still, participating in such an event might be good, or even just viewing photos or film of it come to that, but who would want to read about such a thing? The story zigzags into them also attending a National District Attorney's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, an event it's hard to imagine would be much fun attending, participating in, or viewing photos or film of, let alone reading about. The introduction and massive consumption of drugs in the story, however, changes everything.
And of course, the drugs are introduced immediately in its famous opening line: 'We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold', which when it comes to opening lines of books is up there with Moby Dick's 'Call me Ishmael' and 1984's 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen'.

Grass, mescaline, acid, cocaine, uppers, downers, screamers, laughers, tequila, rum, beer, ether, opium, amyls, etc, etc. It's an impressive menu attacked with gusto and what I want to know is why this book isn't on the National Curriculum of every Secondary school in Britain for books to be read, rather than the likes of Animal Farm and Lord Of The Flies? Might it be considered too controversial? That it might be a bad influence upon kids? That it might corrupt them? If so, then whoever sets the Curriculum is seriously out of touch because Fear And Loathing is exactly the sort of book that would get kids away from their computer games and get them interested in reading. And that's a good thing, isn't it?

Importantly, beneath the lurid drug abuse there is a seriousness of intent in Hunter's tale; that being the quest of man to rise above the given and the accepted. The death of the Sixties Dream and the cause of it is pondered, taking in along the way Timothy Leary, Altamont, Sonny Barger and his Hells Angels, the drift away from uppers and LSD to downers and heroin, the prevalence of ignorance and the Dollar over consciousness expansion and life, the rush to self-preservation over experimentation and experience... and the breaking of waves...

There's no intrinsic value in gorging on drugs. It doesn't make you a better person but then neither does indulging in all that Las Vegas (as an example of gross Americana) has to offer. Drugs aren't 'cool', 'groovy' or 'hip' but neither are they 'square'. There's no need to mistrust anyone who's never done acid (as Julian Cope once suggested) but neither should those who have indulged be viewed in any way differently to any other sentient life form stalking this earth.
None of this alters the fact, however, that Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is an exceptionally good book. A masterpiece.
                                                                                                                                                                             John Serpico