Friday, January 12, 2007

Ewige Blumenkraft

Robert Anton WilsonOne of my complete, all-time, supergenii God-like heroes died yesterday. One of the few writers who succeeded in pulling my mind out through my posterior, kicked it around the room, and stuffed it back in the wrong (or perhaps the right?) way round, filled with new and glittering ideas. Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the mighty Illuminatus! Trilogy, and its blinding appendix, the Principia Discordia, author of Cosmic Trigger, Prometheus Rising, the Schrödinger’s Cat trilogy, and a host of other thrilling, mind-bending, confusing and enlightening literature died at home after a long illness.

If you’ve never read Wilson, it’s hard to imagine the sheer density of knowledge, wordplay and allusion present in his work – although a Joyce fixation gives some clues – or the humour of the man. I for one still believe that Dolphins can not only talk, they can travel through time and have created a canon of epic poetry that far exceeds our own in emotion and complexity. Wilson revelled in invented and revealed religions, most notably Discordianism, and formulated endless libertarian, anarchist manifestoes, including the resounding Celine’s laws. He taught me to laugh, question, and look for the fnords. I’ll try and post some of the best jokes over the weekend.

Wavy Gravy once asked a Zen Roshi, “What happens after death?”
The Roshi replied, “I don’t know.”
Wavy protested, “But you’re a Zen Master!”
“Yes,” the Roshi admitted, “but I’m not a dead Zen Master.”

Every man and every woman is a Pope. Hail Eris!

[UPDATE] So, I never did post those jokes, but if you want to know more about RAW, this article is a good place to start – links to obits, remembrances and more.

tags: Authors + Death + Personal History | permalink | 1 Comment

Friday, September 22, 2006

Not dead, only sleeping

And in honour of that get-out-of-jail-free headline, we’d like to present our favourite headstone in one of our favourite and most literary cemetaries, the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris:

[Stolen, shamelessly, from this lovely Flickr stream, but will be replaced by our own photos, and a longer post, as soon as the monkey on our shoulder has stopped trying to chew through our ear.]

tags: Death + Personal History | permalink | Comments Off on Not dead, only sleeping

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jack the Stripper: Paul did it

While we are semi-officially still on our annual August hiatus (try saying that with a mouthful of candy floss), we did appreciate a happy confluence of interests in Saturday’s Grauniad: Chris Petit’s review of David Seabrook’s Jack of Jumps. In the follow-up to his much admired (by Petit’s mate Sinclair, unsurprisingly) All The Devils Are Here, Seabrook looks at the not-quite-as-famous-as-the-other-Jack “nude murders” of West London in the mid-60s, which we’ve mentioned before in the form of Brian McConnell’s superlative (and better-named) Found Naked And Dead.

Petit clearly enjoys the book, appreciating its hard-won evocation of London as a “a city haunted as much by a lost popular culture as by its missing souls.” However, he makes virtually no comment on the facts of the case: an opportunity not missed by Stewart Home in his review of the book (as elaborated upon at a recent 3:AM event). Home considers Seabrook’s version of events both improper – he implicitly accuses an untried, and very possibly innocent, man – and unoriginal: the main thrust of the book is culled, uncited, from an old Times article.

Home also points to an earlier review of Jack of Jumps in the Grauniad‘s sister paper, The Observer, wherein the reviewer takes issue with Seabrook’s “rancid” and “lip-curling” distaste for the victims. Two reviews so far apart are unusual, and as much as we love Petit we can’t help but note that he is, like Seabrook, a Granta author.

This increasingly forensic examination of the details of past crimes brings to mind Alan Moore’s ruminations on the obsessive ranks of ripperologists he joined to write From Hell. What Petit considers “forgotten, luminous detail” (citing “On this occasion she bought a bottle of Lovibond’s Vat 30 whisky”), Moore, in the appendix to From Hell, sees as strip-mining the field, tracking over the same turned-over earth until it becomes a quagmire. Repeated investigations cross-reference one another, the amount of information increasing but it’s value dropping, forever trapped within the same area, in the manner of Koch’s snowflake; for the ripperologists it is Whitechapel, 1888, for Seabrook, McConnell, Home and others it is Hammersmith, 1964-5. Such an approach is not too distant from Petit and Sinclair’s filmic aesthetic either: the grainy close-up, the lurking camera, an attempt by art to recoup the damning immediacy of CCTV.

As such true crime accounts multiply, they increase the likelihood of others being attracted to the field. Just as it took decades for the Ripper crimes to start to auto-generate ever wilder potential murderers – the initial Jews, butchers and local psychos graduating to the police force, society painters, royalty – so it has taken 50 years to actually name a scandalous (i.e. conspiratorial, establishment) figure in the Hammersmith killings. We may now expect to see others piling in, the boundaries of West London expanding to envelop the smarter ends of Town.

For instance, it’s not hard to see how the hookers and coppers of the nude murders could be tied to that other defining trope of 60s London: the Fab Four. Much like the Ripper murders, the Hammersmith killings stopped abruptly, and in both cases criminologists professional and amateur looked to contemporary obituaries to explain such a sudden and unusual cessation of violence. Only a few years later, rumours began to surface of an even greater conspiracy: Paul Is Dead. Paul McCartney, Beatles’ guitarist, departed this earth scant months after the last known killing in West London, decapitated by the windshield of his Austin Healey on the streets of St John’s Wood. We think we should be told.


Update: For the sake of completeness, we also found this little piece of puff by Iain Sinclair in The Guardian’s summer reading recommendations (scroll down). And yes, we know Paul played the bass (see comments).

tags: Authors + Death + Debate | permalink | 6 Comments

Friday, May 26, 2006

No more getting up in the morning; slaving for bread, sir

Ah, goddamn it. Only the good die young. Well, at 64. We don’t usually spill over into music here, but we’re damn well going to make an exception for this one. Desmond Dekker has died [Also]. A couple of years ago, we were at a Skatalites gig at the Jazz Cafe, when suddenly they realised Desmond was in the audience and hauled him up on stage to sing Israelites with them – the band still including, at that time, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb and Cedric ‘Im Brooks among others. There was a lot of love in that room.

I don’t know where you are, but it’s miserable and pissing down in London. Here’s something to make you feel better.

Desmond Dekker – Israelites

All together now:

Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir,
so that every mouth can be fed.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.

Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir,
So that every mouth can be fed.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.

My wife and my kids, they are packed up and leave me.
Darling, she said, I was yours to be seen.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.

Shirt them a-tear up, trousers are gone.
I don’t want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.

After a storm there must be a calm.
They catch me in the farm. You sound the alarm.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.

Poor me, the Israelite.
I wonder who I’m working for.
Poor me, Israelite,
I look a-down and out, sir.

tags: Death + Music | permalink | Comments Off on No more getting up in the morning; slaving for bread, sir

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

“I don’t know nothing about the chicken, I’m a mole”

Other sites, quicker and more verbose than STML, have already noted the sad demise of Ivor Cutler, poet of the Scottish sitting room. STML has little to add bar personal reminiscence (John Peel, sadly missed, Andy Kershaw, Summer Lightning &c.), and as with all the best things the most suitable memorial is not biography but the work itself. So we are proud to present, in association with The Mic, eine kleine Cutler posted in accessible format for your pleasure. Sit back, press the play button, and enjoy…

(And yes, you can also click the links to download the tracks themselves. Thanks to the excellent for the files – check them out for more info. More Book Fair gossip on the way.)

tags: Death + Music + Poetry | permalink | Comments Off on “I don’t know nothing about the chicken, I’m a mole”

Monday, February 13, 2006

You’re gonna need a bigger boat

Peter BenchleySo, farewell then, Peter Benchley. You assured that generations of us can never, ever swim in the sea without a nervous tremor in our stomachs, turning to pant-shitting terror if we so much as brush up against some kelp. Ta for that.

Then again, you also gave some of us our first taste of literary lovin’. In STML’s school library, the most thumbed books were a copy of Benchley’s classic Jaws and some appalling James Bond ‘tribute’ wherein 007 had his balls coated in pig fat and hung out for wild dogs (please, someone else remember this).

Benchley’s original novel concerns itself more with the amorous adventures of Matt Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfuss in the movie) and Chief Brody’s wife Ellen. His clumsy seduction (“Some women have really tight ones.” “You sound like a comparision-shopper.””Just a conscientious consumer.”) is not exactly unwelcome (“That’s supposed to be every schoolgirls fantasy… To be a… you know, a prostitute”), leading quickly to a somewhat disturbing climax in a nearby “Kleenex and spit” motel:

A vision of Hooper, eyes wide and staring – but unseeing at the wall as he approached climax. The eyes seemed to bulge until, just before release, Ellen had feared they might actually pop out of their sockets. Hooper’s teeth were clenched, and he ground them the way people do during sleep. From his voice there came a gurgling whine, whose tone rose higher and higher with each frenzied thrust. Even after his obvious, violent climax, Hooper’s countenance had not changed. His teeth were still clenched, his eyes still fixed on the wall, and he continued to pump madly. He was oblivious of the being beneath him, and when, perhaps a full minute after his climax, Hooper still did not relax, Ellen had become afraid – of what, she wasn’t sure, but the ferocity and intensity of his assault seemed to her a pursuit in which she was only a vehicle.

Hooper’s frenzied intensity carries the others repeatedly out to sea, until the moment when Brody is given his last chance to look in the eye the man who cuckolded him:

The fish broke water fifteen feet from the boat, surging upward in a shower of spray. Hooper’s body protruded from each side of the mouth, head and arms hanging limply down one side, knees, calves, and feet from the other.

In the few seconds while the fish was clear of the water, Brody thought he saw Hooper’s glazed eyes staring open through his face mask.

Benchley aspired to higher literary ideals than the airport thriller, and the book shades in the grey areas that summer blockbusters bleach out. In the film, Quint (Robert Shaw) goes down for his cruel and unusual attitude to life (which, given the whole Indianapolis thing, seems a bit harsh), and cheery, beardy Hooper lives to dive another day. In the book, Hooper gets his righteous comeuppance, Quint is the victim of cruel, black fate, and only Brody, the one good man in Amity, gets to swim home.

tags: Authors + Death + Film + Sex | permalink | 1 Comment

Friday, September 9, 2005

Football Season Is Over

“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”


tags: Death | permalink | Comments Off on Football Season Is Over

Monday, July 11, 2005

Money, Girls & Guns (That’s Three Titles)

Along with quite a few other people, but rather more peacefully than some, Ed McBain, king of the police procedural novel, died last Thursday, after selling nigh on 100 million books in his lifetime.

Evan Hunter, McBain’s real name, had his first success in 1954 with Blackboard Jungle. This novel, which was turned into the successful movie with Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier, is essentially a youth exploitation tale and drawn from his own experiences of teaching in the inner cities. As such it bears many of the hallmarks of his later work as Ed McBain: hard-boiled stories with a strong but always compassionate moral core.

Less famously, but perhaps even more significantly, he also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcocks’ The Birds, which he and Hitch adapted from the Daphne du Maurier story.

It is as Ed McBain, however, that he will be remembered, and particularly for the 55 87th Precinct novels, the last of which is due in September. McBain invented the police procedural genre, which differed from the traditional American gumshoe or British detective novels in their recognition of whole teams of good (and occasionally bad) officers fighting the good fight (or otherwise, &c). He wasn’t much of a fan of the title himself: “Not procedurals,” a character in Romance (1995) complains when the label is applied to him. “Never procedurals. And not mysteries, either. They were simply novels about cops. The men and women in blue and in mufti, their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, lovers, children, their head colds, stomachaches, menstrual cycles. Novels.”

And it’s true: I dare anyone to pick up a McBain and not be lost after a few pages. They rattle by, full of genre staples: tough men, beautiful women, vicious weapons, but absolutely styled and compelling.

In print for over forty years, the McBain novels are a paperback hunter’s particular pleasure, as they’ve been out under a hundred imprints and a thousand covers over the decades. It is rare to find a bookshop or stall that lacks a few suitably yellowed McBains, and as they’re rarely more than a quid and frequently pocket-sized, they are an essential if nothing else catches the eye.

In fact, it’s become kind of a law. All lonely McBain’s will find a home with me. One down, a couple of hundred to go. Go pick one up yourself.

tags: Authors + Death | permalink | 2 Comments