Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Stand And Deliver: The Autobiography - Adam Ant


Believe it or not, children, but once upon a time Adam And The Ants were dangerous. Once there was a time when they were incredibly good, a time when they were amazingly hip.
Baptised in the fire-storm of Punk, Adam Ant was there at Year Zero, bearing witness to the Sex Pistols' d├ębut gig at St Martin's Art School then placing himself at the eye of the hurricane by becoming a regular at Malcolm McLaren's shop, the Roxy, and the Vortex. Friend of uber Punkerella and Pistols' inner circle member, Jordan, she not only managed Adam And The Ants but sang with them also. He was even there in 1977 on board the boat that sailed up the Thames past the Houses of Parliament on Jubilee night as the Pistols played God Save The Queen.

Dressed in leathers and Seditionaries, enhanced by kilt over trousers or even sometimes a Cambridge rapist mask, Adam would throw himself around the stage in a frenzy whilst the music press looked on aghast.
Adam And The Ants had an edge that went unblunted by constant criticism and consistent attacks of slander and lies from all sections of that same music press. Undaunted, they stuck to their guns and were rewarded with total loyalty from their audience who in them, Crass and the UK Subs saw the Punk flame still burning brightly.

So what went wrong?

Unlike most of their contemporaries, Adam And The Ants failed to be signed to a major label though at first this didn't really seem like a problem. Their first break came instead from being asked by director Derek Jarman to feature in his film, Jubilee, though due to it being an art-house movie and not the kind of Punk film a lot of people hoped it would be considering the cast involved, come its release there was disappointment all round.
Adam Ant persevered, believing better management of the band would be the solution and so with this in mind he ended up paying Malcolm McLaren to take him under his wing. It was probably at this point that the problems started for after a short while McLaren simply stole Adam's band to use for his own Bow Wow Wow project with Annabella Lwin taking over vocal duties.

More determined than ever to succeed, Adam linked up with ex-Siouxsie And The Banshees guitarist Marco Pirroni, forming a song-writing partnership that would lead to Burundi beats, duel drummers, spaghetti-cowboy film twanging guitar, and the song Kings Of The Wild Frontier.
A Top Of The Pops appearance led to an explosion in popularity and from there everything changed, with the Ants appealing to a whole new audience of children and their grandmothers. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but in the process Adam neglected his original audience who had shown him so much loyalty and pandered instead to the mainstream.
"The Ants could be really good," opined Mark E Smith of The Fall at the time "If only Adam would cut out this star crap." And with that the nail was hit on the head.

It's all well and good appearing on the Cannon And Ball Show with its audience of 15 million viewers but there comes a point when integrity goes out the window and then it's all just about shifting units, no different to how Heinz goes about shifting tins of baked beans. It's all consumerism and it's all show business. Then again, there's nothing wrong with a bit of consumerism because after all, we all take part in it; just as there's nothing wrong with a bit of show business. It was just that Adam was jettisoning every last vestige of integrity for the sake of success, show business, shifting units, and little else.

Around this same time, Adam was asked what he thought of those members of his audience who were also Crass fans and he replied: "I think they're pitiful. Very sordid and very dirty, and not much to do with anarchy. I really don't want to know about it."
It wasn't as if those audience members wanted Adam to be political, however, because he was never political from the start. They just wanted to see a bit of integrity and for him not to turn his back on them after all the support they'd given him over the previous years. And they certainly didn't want to see him playing the Royal Variety Show and have him bowing down to the Queen.
"We're no longer a Punk band," said Adam "We've moved on."

Stand And Deliver, Adam Ant's autobiography, makes for an interesting read due to the description of where Adam is from and for the bits of detail strewn throughout it as he relays his story. The problem with it, however, is that it often reads as though Adam is stretched out on a psychiatrist's couch like a patient trying to put his mind in order.
We now all know that Adam has been diagnosed as being bipolar but until this diagnosis is reached near the end of the book he carries within him a tightly-bound knot of frustration and this makes for some painful reading. His frustration almost leaps from the page, sucking the reader into the same whirlpool.
At one point Adam's got the whole world at his feet, he's been dating Amanda Donahoe (and a host of other beautiful women) and he's on holiday in Barbados but still he's frustrated, depressed and worried; damning Barbados as a 'tropical hell'.
"What the fuck's the matter with me?" he keeps asking himself but whatever it is, it makes him a nightmare to work with; binning off people left, right and centre for having the temerity to suggest something to him that he doesn't go along with or for daring to disagree with him. Marco Pirroni deserves his luxury penthouse flat and wealth for sticking with Adam throughout - one of the very few collaborators of Adam's that did. Marco's obviously some sort of saint.

Adam finally suffered public humiliation and ridicule from the now infamous gun-in-the-pub incident leading to newspaper headlines such as 'Adam Ant In Mental Ward - Pop Legend Cracks Up', and for his own safety, he was sectioned.
The book ends with him years later on the road to recovery, signing copies of his autobiography in Waterstone's where to his relief he finds that he's still very much loved by his old fans. And do we all still love Adam Ant? Of course we do. How could we not?

Adam Ant was once a Punk icon who became a Pop God but just like so many before him, crashed and burned. He was like Icarus flying too close to the sun but apart from memories both good and bad, what he's left us is a catalogue of some extremely good songs. How could we not love a man who once dared to kick back at the music press with the song Press Darlings? How could we not love a man who against all odds took on the world and won? How could we not love a man who once lost his soul, his mind, and his own self but then won them all back again?
He'll never truly be forgiven for betraying his original Punk audience and for bowing down to the Queen but yes... we all still love him.
John Serpico

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Monday, 22 August 2016

I Am Curious (Blue) - Vilgot Sjoman


The good thing about this book is that it exists at all. I mean, who would be interested in a paperback of the complete screenplay along with accompanying photos of an obscure Swedish art-house movie made in 1970?


I Am Curious (Blue) by Vilgot Sjoman sets itself an impossible task, really; so is it on a hiding to nothing? I think it might be. Trying to make some sense of and pin down in black and white a film that intentionally doesn't make a lot of sense in the normal filmic meaning of the word is like trying to square a circle. But then again, I'm not actually sure if this book is even meant to be read? It seems to me to be more of a curiosity item. A paperback for the coffee table.

To the uninitiated, at first glance it might appear to be a movie tie-in for a Seventies Swedish sex film but of course, it's nothing of the sort. The 'blue' in the title refers to the blue in the Swedish flag in the same way as the 'yellow' in Vilgot Sjoman's other film, I Am Curious (Yellow), referred to the yellow in the same flag. The same idea was used years later by director Krzysztof Kieslowski in his Three Colours trilogy of films (Blue, White, and Red) denoting the colours of the French flag.
Actually, Vilgot Sjoman has a lot in common with that other great film director, Jean-Luc Godard, as in his use of disjointed narratives, existential inserts and intrusions, voice-overs, experimentation, and importantly, a political point.

I Am Curious (Blue) is about a film being made of a film about a girl questioning Swedish society; its class structure, the relationship between Church and State, social democracy, prison (non)reform, and sexual attitudes. It doesn't really offer any answers or potential solutions to the social problems it highlights but instead throws everything into question, which at the time when the film was made and the book published was probably enough.
Nowadays the film and this book stands as little more than curiosity pieces and as an ode to cinema as an instrument for social change. This is still, however, more that can be said of others and for this reason gives them a value as historical documents if nothing else.
John Serpico.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Mark Rolle: His Architectural Legacy In The Lower Otter Valley - Alan Ford


Am I a geek?

Rather than spending time down the gym or shopping online or whatever it is you're meant to be doing these days, I sometimes just walk around (with my head in the clouds) looking at the local architecture. I tell you, it can be a rewarding experience.
Of course, it's not quite the same thrill but just as rewarding can be reading books on local history, one such book being Mark Rolle: His Architectural Legacy In The Lower Otter Valley by Alan Ford.

Let me cut to the quick immediately and say yes, it's a weird and wonderful book. Essentially, the Rolle family once owned half of Devon and in 1842 at the tender age of six, Mark Rolle inherited the lot. By all accounts he was a very moral man of 'delicate constitution and retiring disposition', and in 1865 for no financial gain on his part started a building programme in East Devon, repairing and building new properties for many of his tenants.
And that's it, basically. That's what the book's about. It's almost as if it was written for me personally because who else might possibly be interested in reading about this?

If you walk around East Devon and look at some of the old properties here - in Budleigh Salterton, East Budleigh, Otterton and so on - you'll see a lot of them have a signature stone at the front inscribed with the initials MR, and then a date. These are the ones that Mark Rolle had a hand in building or repairing.

There's a subtext to this story, however, and that's all to do with the abject poverty that many of the farmers and workers on the Rolle Estate were living in at that time. These people were paying rent for the pleasure of living in what can only be described as hovels.
For sure, Mark Rolle had no obligation to improve their living conditions and so Alan Ford praises him for doing so but I suspect none of it would have happened were it not for the subtle machinations of Rolle's land agent at that time, Richard Lipscomb, who I would say is the true hero of the story.

This is indeed a weird and wonderful book containing a great number of lovely photos of local barns and cottages to boot.

Am I a geek?
                                                                                                                                                                              John Serpico

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Soul On Ice - Eldridge Cleaver


Eldridge Cleaver? Fuck off. And I'll tell you as to why:
'I became a rapist. To refine my technique and modus operandi, I started out by practising on black girls in the ghetto and when I considered myself smooth enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out white prey.
Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man's law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women - and this point, I believe, was the most satisfying to me because I was very resentful over the historical fact of how the white man has used the black woman. I felt I was getting revenge. From the site of the act of rape, consternation spreads outwardly in concentric circles. I wanted to send waves of consternation throughout the white race.'
And then there's this:
'I, for one, do not think homosexuality is the latest advance over heterosexuality on the scale of human evolution. Homosexuality is a sickness, just as are baby-rape or wanting to become the head of General Motors.'
And then just to add icing to the cake, Cleaver ended up being a born-again Christian and becoming a conservative Republican. All well and good and all very normal you might say but what makes it all so very problematic is that sandwiched between his early rapist years and his latter day Republican stint, Eldridge Cleaver was the Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party, kicking some serious revolutionary ass and putting the frighteners on practically everyone in America possessed of a conservative bent.

Soul On Ice is a collection of Cleaver's writings, composed whilst serving time in California's Folsom State Prison. Published in 1968, what the book does is to chronicle Cleaver's transformation from a racist, woman-hating nihilist to a fully-fledged black revolutionary able and willing to work alongside other New Left radicals of whatever colour, class or creed.
Cleaver's conversion is brought about by three people: firstly - himself, through the reading of books by the like of Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Marx, Lenin and Bakunin. Interestingly, he admits at one point to taking Nechayev's book Catechism Of The Revolutionist as his bible - the ultimate advocacy of the 'by whatever means necessary' school of thought if ever there was one.
Secondly, through the inspirational and compassionate teachings of a teacher at San Quentin by the name of Chris Lovdjeff, whom Cleaver nicknamed 'The Christ' (and who he later metaphorically crucified after telling him he didn't love white people - Lovdjeff himself being white).
And then thirdly, through the words of Malcolm X whom Cleaver threw his full support behind and in doing so abandoned his racism and dropped the black supremacist ideas of Elijah Muhammed, the then leader of the Nation of Islam.

It's here that Cleaver was at his peak, casting a radicalised eye not only upon himself but more importantly upon the state of American society and the position of black people within it. With the help of his lawyer, Cleaver's writings were published to much critical acclaim from the liberal Left; the problem here being the general lack of criticism.
Were they blind-sided by him coming across as the real deal: a black man from the ghetto serving up cutting and insightful sociological and political analysis? Should he not have been pulled up for calling rape 'an insurrectionary act'? Should he not have been called out on his homophobia?
It was a different time and a different place back then, of course, but is that reason enough to forgive and to continue turning a blind eye? For sure, Cleaver regretted and rejected his past self and his early life and admitted he was wrong but then later as a born-again Christian and conservative Republican he did the same again but in regard to his Black Panther days. Which begs the question: When exactly was Cleaver right? When exactly was he not wrong?

The answer, I would argue, is to be found within the pages of Soul On Ice but a discerning eye is required. His observations and thoughts on the assassination of Malcolm X, Vietnam, Muhammad Ali, the Watts riots, and American culture are penetrating and spot on. Other times, however, he's way off the mark, particularly when writing about women.
It needs to be asked as well, who exactly was Cleaver writing for? Who was his target audience? Was he writing for himself or for his fellow black men (and women)? Was it for anyone and everyone, or were his writings aimed specifically at a white readership? At black America, or white America?
Not for one second would he have had me in mind but just look at who's ended up reading him now in 2016, in Babylon Devon, in the Exmouth ghetto...  
                                                                                                                                          ...John Serpico

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Meetings With Remarkable Men - G I Gurdjieff


"They open doorways that I thought were shut for good, they read me Gurdjieff and Jesu. They build up my body, break me emotionally, it's nearly killing me but what a lovely feeling. I love the whirling of the dervishes, I love the beauty of rare innocence. You don't need no crystal ball, don't fall for a magic wand, we humans got it all, we perform the miracles.
Them heavy people hit me in a soft spot, them heavy people help me. Rolling the ball, to me."

So it was that I was first introduced to Gurdjieff - via a Kate Bush song. I was just naturally curious and on hearing his name mentioned I wondered who he was? There was no Internet in those days, however, (can you imagine?) so it wasn't just a question of a quick Google search. No, for anything like this it required a bit of research and a bit of effort.
He liked his drink, did Gurdjieff, particularly armagnacs which he would sink by the bottle. In fact, Meetings With Remarkable Men starts with him gleefully contemplating the 200 bottles sitting in the wine-cellar of the house where he's resting. He intends to have the lot and not from typical liqueur glasses but from larger-sized tumblers, with the intention of establishing a rhythm of thinking to enable him to wiseacre in full blast.
Gurdjieff didn't half go on sometimes though, as evidenced by the 31 pages-long introduction from him at the start of his book which leaves you wondering why he didn't edit it down a bit and just get on with it.

So what do we know about Gurdjieff? Well, that he was born in Russia in 1877 where he trained as a priest and a physician before heading off for the remoter parts of Central Asia for 20 years in a bid to understand the meaning of human life. Like the prodigal son he then returned to Moscow where he began teaching his system of knowledge. On his escape from revolutionary Russia (or the time of 'the great agitation of minds', as he puts it) he ended up in Paris where he established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Gurdjieff passed away in 1949.
Meetings With Remarkable Men is exactly what it says on the can, describing and telling stories of the men who helped shape Gurdjieff's philosophy. And what exactly is Gurdjieff's philosophy? Now, that is the question.

What Gurdjieff seems to be telling us is that there's more to life than meets the eye. That there's another world alongside our own that the old philosophers of the East still recall but that us in the West have all but forgotten about. The gist of his message is that we need to wake up and become aware of this 'something other'. Either that or if we don't then we'll continue to slumber through life like automatons.

And what don't we know about Gurdjieff? Well, the main thing is that we don't actually know if he was genuine or if he was simply a liar, a fantasist and a con man.
'My aim is that the reader should obtain instructive and really useful material', he writes. I regret to inform you, however, that Gurdjieff provides neither or not in this particular book at least. Instead, all that Meetings With Remarkable Men does is to cause the reader to question the veracity of some of the stories.
What happened, for example, to the pre-sand map of Egypt he claimed he had? What happened to the idea of discovering a city of buried treasures beneath the Gobi desert? Did he and his brotherhood really journey to the centre of the Gobi desert on stilts? Why would they abandon such an expedition upon one of them being killed by a rogue camel? And why, just as Gurdjieff is about to reveal a holy truth as told to him by one of his remarkable men does he suddenly stop and say he's not going to expound upon it now but instead save it for his next book he intends to write? Why doesn't he just get on with it?

Was Gurdjieff bonkers and seriously so? In all probability yes he was though that's not meant as a criticism. Was Gurdjieff a master of the mystic arts? I'll pass on that one because after all, who am I to judge? I never met him so all I've got to go on are his books but reading them in this day and age what with all we know about the world (and what we know that we still don't know) it would seem that you'll get just as much enlightenment from watching the latest Doctor Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch than from reading Meetings With Remarkable Men.
John Serpico

Doctor Strange