Thursday, 23 November 2017

Suspect Device - Edited by Stewart Home


He's joking, right? He's got to be fucking joking. Someone please tell me that he's joking. I'm talking about Stewart Home, the person responsible for editing this collection of short stories published under the title of Suspect Device.
The cover's eye-catching and the title's good also, bringing to mind Stiff Little Fingers and their song of the same name, of course, and that's no bad thing. The contents, however, are a whole other kettle of fish that leaves something to be desired to put it politely. I mean, for fuck's sake. Did Home actually get paid for compiling and editing these stories? Did the publisher Serpent's Tail actually give credence to Home's judgement regarding what qualifies as 'hard-edged fiction'? Is it just me? Is it just that I don't recognise great, cutting-edge writing when I read it?

So what have we got? Well, it starts with a story entitled Blind Date about being bound up in rubber and fucked up the arse, and then progresses from there really. Bound up in rubber and fucked up the arse? Hmmmm, nice idea, you might think? Except when it reads as though it's been written with all the wit, flair and insight of a thirteen year-old boy.
Then there's some horse shit of a story entitled Vegan Reich, about a Khymer Rouge-style group of eco-terrorists who kidnap a bunch of bands at a music festival and ceremoniously burn them alive like in the end scene of The Wicker Man. Hmmmm, yummy, you might think? Same as before, however, except this time it reads as though it was written by a sixteen year-old? Maybe it was?
Then there's The Suicide Note, about some bloke who climbs down into a sewer to kill himself with an overdose of whisky and codeine, and it's at this point I just about give up on the will to live myself. Like the trooper I am, however, I persevere thinking it can't get any worse, can it?

'At last he'd found something that could approximate the alienation he felt from late capitalist society' it declares in the story Zyklon B Zombie, regarding the story's main protagonist. And that was? Throbbing Gristle's Second Annual Report LP. Really. And then the story Tradesman's Entrance which as might be guessed involves more anal sex but with added vomiting.
Fuck it. Out of twenty stories in total they can't all be rubbish can they? And indeed they're not. Law of averages, I guess. Three of them (to my mind, at least) are actually quite good and I'm happy to name them: St Andrew's Arena by Berholt Bluel (which I suspect might actually be Iain Sinclair writing under a pseudonym), Pig! by the late, great Steven Wells, and Last Train Home by John King. I must admit also that bits of Stewart Home's own piece are quite amusing as well.

The thing about Stewart Home is that the Richard Allen books of the 1970s that he emulates and parodies are actually far better than his own books. When they were first published, Allen's pulp chronicles of skinheads, boot boys, knuckle girls and suedeheads found their way out onto Council estates throughout the country where they were eagerly devoured by working class kids. So popular were they and so controversial at the same time that schools banned their pupils from reading them, or at least bringing them into school and reading them. Home's books have never found their way out onto Council estates in the same way and we all know they never will.
Richard Allen's books didn't pretend to be anything other than what they were. Stewart Home's books, on the other hand, are Richard Allen parodies with a wink, as if to say "Yes, we know this is sub-pulp fiction and because we know, it means it's art".
Richard Allen's books, though written in a supply and demand manner, were honest. Stewart Home's books (or if not all then a fair number of them) are dishonest because they're pretending to be something that they're patently not. They're trying to be brutal, they're trying to be extreme, and they're trying to be clever all at the same time but they fail and miserably so. As do seventeen of the twenty stories Home has selected for publication in Suspect Device but then I guess that's no surprise because if Home's own work is a reductive imitation of Richard Allen's, then any story emulating Home is going to be nothing but a pale shadow of that reductive imitation. Which means they're going to be even worse than Home's own stories. And that's the case (as I shake my head despairingly) with this book.
John Serpico

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Kiss This - Gina Arnold


On the 14th January 1978 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, Gina Arnold's universe suddenly opened up. It was the Sex Pistols' last ever gig and Gina was there in the audience and - as she describes in her book, Kiss This - it was like the moment when you learn to read, or when Dorothy steps out of her house in the Wizard Of Oz.
For the next 17 years years Punk Rock ruled her world until 1996 when it dawned upon her that Punk had become by then a meaningless philosophy; her epiphany being the announcement that the Pistols were to reform. So begins Gina's reckoning with the forces that had once so inspired her.

To Finland she flies to catch the Pistols on the first date of their comeback tour, then on to London and the Finsbury Park concert where she sees them being welcomed home like prodigal sons. Back in America, Gina considers Lolloopazola and various other mega-festivals where sponsorship deals are the order of the day. Beer companies, chewing tobacco companies and snow boarding companies are all chasing the young, white male market and there are no ends to where they'll go and what they'll do for it, from sponsoring concerts and festivals to sponsoring established and even unsigned bands.
Where did it all go wrong, Gina ponders, as she casts her eye upon the remnants of the Grateful Dead fan base still cluttering Haight Ashbury and all still buying into a lifestyle that is well past its sell-by date? Bought out, sold out and burnt out by capital and the death pickers of corporate America. Punk, in Gina's eyes, has gone exactly the same way as has Grunge and every other off-shoot of supposed teenage rebellion.
'History repeats itself,' she quotes Marx as saying 'The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.'

From here, Gina goes on to contemplate Green Day, Rancid, the 924 Gilman Street project, Bad Religion, and the Epitaph label; and if these names mean less than nothing to you then her book is obviously not for you but then this begs the question: Just who exactly is Gina's book for? Who exactly is she talking to? Well, I would suggest that Gina is essentially just talking to herself, that Kiss This is just one long navel gaze more suitable for an essay or an article rather than a whole book.
Essentially, there's nothing startlingly original or insightful about any of her concerns and there's nothing much really to be gained from her observations. For example, suggesting that Rap music is more DIY and in many ways more punkier than Punk is hardly an original thought. A turntable and a microphone are in all likelihood going to cost less than a guitar and an amp, and are going to be more accessible to a teenager in the Bronx or in Compton than all the paraphernalia required for starting a band.

So is Rap better than Punk in terms of what it has achieved? I suspect it might be but at the end of the day we're talking about musical taste, style and form, and it's what you choose to do with and and use these things for that actually counts. If turning a profit is the aim then whether it's through Rap, Punk, or Albanian nose-flute playing it doesn't really matter as it's all just means to an end. The same goes for more loftier aims such as, for example, creating a political or cultural stir, or even if the aim is simply to provide entertainment. Style and form are just ways and means and not ends in themselves. The medium is not the message.

Gina then goes on to cite Homocore as the only true form of radical Punk being made at the time of her writing, which is a debatable point. Whilst an openly gay Punk Rock band such as Pansy Division are brilliant, I fear they might mostly be viewed more as a novelty band than anything else. Not that there's anything wrong in being a novelty band, of course, but it doesn't make you a Punk Rock saviour as what Gina seems to suggest. And whatever Pearl Jam get up to in their spare time certainly doesn't make them Punk Rock saviours either, which is what Gina suggests also. The same goes for the Fastbacks who Gina declares to be 'the best Punk Rock band in America', and it's at this point that I lose interest. After 198 pages of wavering and shooting off at tangents, the point of her book has somehow been lost and has ended up as a Fastbacks tour diary. 'The best Punk Rock band in America' indeed. Ahem.

Listen, I used to believe that Punk was the most special, the most brilliant thing and I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt like that. My perception of the meaning of Punk evolved and changed over the years though it didn't take me too long to understand that it had very little to do with a style of music or a dress code but more to do with an attitude and a state of mind and even then it was a multi-faceted state of mind - like a diamond.
Who was I to dictate, for example, that Punk wasn't about getting drunk and falling over (and believe me, I witnessed an awful lot of that and in fact it even seemed at one point as though this was what it was all about and nothing else) but then I also knew that anyone can get drunk and fall over whether they were Punk or not.
No, Punk contained an idea, a notion that no other movement, genre or scene possessed. There was something unique within Punk though for all the talk of Year Zero I later discovered it had been inherent within Hippydom as well. I admit that for a while I did indeed believe Punk was an end unto itself and it took some time for me to realise that it was instead and in actual fact a stepping stone or a springboard to other things. An important and special springboard but a springboard none the less.
Inspiration gave them the motivation to move on out of their isolation, as a young Anarcho Punk Rock poet once wrote. Punk was an inspiration, an energiser, an urge, a way of saying 'No' where we'd always said 'Yes'; and in saying 'No' we were subsequently saying 'Yes' to a better life and the possibility of a better world.

Is Punk now dead, as Gina asks in her book? I don't really know but then nowadays - who the fuck cares?
John Serpico