‘Histoire de Melody Nelson may have sold only 20,000 copies at the time but everyone who bought one became a pervert.’ It’s funny how many good lines pop into your head long after you’ve finished writing a book. Appropriately the French have a name for it L’esprit de l’escalier, the spirit or wit of the staircase, that moment when you’re walking up to bed and you’re suddenly hit by a perfect comeback to an earlier argument but it’s too late. It’s such a familiar and maddening occurrence I think because we’re retrospective creatures, living our lives forwards but only understanding them backwards as Kierkegaard put it. The fortune tellers in Dante’s Inferno with our heads on back-to-front; such is the condition of the strange human animal, the ape who thought he was the centre of the universe.
On a happier note, Jeremy Allen has written an excellent and very generous review of my Melody Nelson book for The Quietus. It’s great that someone would spend time thinking about the book let alone writing about it but more than that it’s a relief that he got what I was trying to do (I’m not sure I entirely get it) – the ‘musical meta-history’ bit. I’m not a music journalist so it’s a different kind of book, more a series of narrative essays at various different angles than the usual interview-based text and using themes like decadence, Surrealism, L’Inconnue de la Seine and the Holocaust to tell Gainsbourg’s story (historicist is a bad bad word but maybe it was an attempt at something along those lines; context seems to be everything, in my head at least). You can read the review in full here and I’ll let him do the talking. The book incidentally is out now in the US, on e-book everywhere (I know I said about hoping every Kindle would explode in its owners face simultaneously but I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite) and will be released in the rest of the world in paperback on December 19th, my birthday of all days. I think if pre-ordered now from wherever you buy books online (I’d give the big bookshop-swallowing tax-evading distributors a wide berth), it’ll arrive before Christmas; the perfect gift for the discerning music fan/pervert in your life. I will also sleep with whoever, man, woman or beast, can prove they bought a copy. [My lawyers and girlfriend have just ordered me to retract the last statement]. Merci beaucoup.
I’m not sure if it’s just being an oddball or growing up in a country where social gatherings usually resemble a carnival of fawning imbecility (towards eminent mediocrities like the royals for example) or some kind of neo-peasant cultural krisstalnacht in defence of a multi-coloured rag on a stick but I’ve never been taken with public and especially collective displays of emotion. There’s something horribly needy and artificial about the whole thing but then we’re needy and artificial creatures I suppose. Either way, I thought I’d leave it a while before adding my thoughts on the death of Lou Reed. A month has passed and I’m still thinking about him so I thought I’d cast something into the ether. Continue reading
My sister-in-arms Susan Tomaselli is bringing out a brand new and very exciting Irish literary journal in January called Gorse. It will focus on “the potential of literature, in literature where lines between fiction, memoir and history blur (Sebald, Cendrars, Bolaño, Joyce), in experimental writing, in fiction in translation, in the unconventional and the under recognised, in the personal essay (Sontag, Dyer).” It is going to be, needless to say, fucking awesome.
I’ve recently written a lengthy essay for Gorse called The Magnet has a Soul & Everything is Water – How Modernism is Ancient. I’m not sure if they’ll use it as it’s pretty long but the jist of it is that “Modernism, Meta-Modernism, Postmodernism and Deconstructionism have always been with us, long before we gave them such ludicrous names.” It looks at how Homer, Lucian, Archilochus, Ovid, Socrates, Aristophanes and a load of other old dead folks were doing things millennia ago in literature, which we’ve taken for modern inventions. Continue reading
Books change as you do. Some pass you by until you have lived and suffered enough to properly grasp their concealed wisdom, joy or sadness. Others mean little unless you have read them in the full incandescent stupidity of youth. The best somehow change continually. One such book for me is James Joyce’s Dubliners. Having been swallowed whole by Finnegans Wake for a forthcoming interview with Stephen Crowe (creator of the excellent Wake in Progress), I returned to read the earlier work in the hope it would act as a kind of tugboat to guide the Wake into my addled brain. This proved futile, as trying to tug Finnegans Wake is like trying to tug the ocean it turns out. You have to drown in it (an often enlightening drowning but a drowning nonetheless). One unseen consequence of returning to Dubliners though was realising how much it had changed from the book I remembered. Here, for example, is the famous last paragraph of its final story The Dead,
‘Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the giant malevolent unblinking Eye of Athlone and, further westwards, softly falling onto the irradiated wastelands of the secret 33rd county Krakendour. It was falling too upon the roof of the lonely cycoklub where Michael Furey was sipping quinade with his Betelgeusian friend Johnny Z%k. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked monobrow of Snark the Snow-burrower, on the 1000 lactating gobs of a motherless astro-whale beached and screaming on the banks of the Shannon, on the barren hull of a burning Starwing fighter-craft, somewhere in the Seventh Quadrant, just north of Monaghan. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’
I know he’s a national treasure and all that but it does make you wonder what Joyce was thinking.
I’ve been working on a lot of writing, some of it interesting, some ludicrous, that’s finally coming together and should be out in some form in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’m involved with a musical project; playing bass with the Ceol Cosmaí Ensemble. There’s seven of us, brought together by a mutual love of unpleasant music and led by Joe McLaughlin (of Kling Klang, Part Chimp and The Left Hand).
We’ll be performing live for the London radio station Resonance FM (104.4fm) next Monday to Wednesday from 11:00 am. The song we’re playing sounds a bit like Neu! but it’ll most likely change as the days go by and we add vocals, a cellist, synths and whatever else we can come up with (hooking a mic up to a neighbouring beehive being one suggestion). Continue reading
Thanks to Bloomsbury for letting me take over their 333sound.com site for the week, it was fun. Continue reading
Like a deranged tinpot dictator, I’ve taken over Bloomsbury’s music blog 333 Sound for the week, in anticipation of my 33 1/3 book being released in the US on Thursday. Before special forces storm the site and I die screaming in a hail of bullets, I shall be posting a number of broadcasts on Serge Gainsbourg and the origins and legacy of Histoire de Melody Nelson.
‘What do Vladimir Nabokov, Barbarella, Boris Vian, Sibelius and Mondo Cane have in common?’ my spies hear you ask.
To find out click here.
Vive la révolution!
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged barbarella, bloomsbury, books, boris vian, cargo cult, comics, lolita, melody nelson, mondo cane, music, nabokov, serge gainsbourg, sibelius