Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life of a New Orleans Waitress [Extract]

Extract from an abandoned novel, circa. late 1990s. I have no idea where this one was going either.

My mother is from Monroe and my dad from Austin, as if that matters. When I was young I stuttered, and the other children at school used to tease me. I stopped talking, or even trying to talk, and then I stopped going to school. My only friend at school was Thoy, which you say like ‘toy’. I used to joke and say I was going to play with my toy, and me and Thoy used to laugh about that. Thoy was like a sister. She told me stories about Ho Chi Minh City, where she was born, and other far away cities. Even though I love New Orleans, I always imagined going to these places and Thoy made them sound so magical, just like other versions of New Orleans in fact. Thoy moved to New Orleans East when she was a girl. The East is called Vietnam Village on account of all the Vietnamese living there.

I always loved Asian women. I mean their grace and their coolness. Their style. I always wanted to be like them. I didn’t like the look of black women. They had no class. But it’s funny. I never really felt attracted to an Asian man. And of course I was attracted to black men, I mean, who isn’t. They have more class than their women. White men hardly ever entered into my equation. They all look the same, and they all look stupid. They don’t know how to dress, and they don’t know how to love. Not that it matters that much, well, sometimes. I did it for the first time when I was thirteen. Not that it matters.

She gazed out of the window, straight ahead. She always used to say how she liked windows, or at least the idea of them. In themselves there’s nothing really that intrinsically likeable about them.

Then she was looking down, across North Rampart Street, at the bar on the corner, with the red brick, and it reminded her of London. England. A bird flew overhead, making a noise, distracting her thoughts for almost a second.

One of her sisters was in jail, one was dating a drug dealer, another was a stripper on Bourbon Street, but she, Conchita (Conchita!), had done Europe and art and a German husband and even busking in Morocco, while her sisters had never even left Louisiana. She always knew she had her mother in her and her sisters had their dad. She hadn’t seen her sisters or her dad for over a month.

Thoy called her name. After finishing school Thoy had married an Australian, moved to Sydney, then went back to Ho Chi Minh City when her marriage ended, returning to New Orleans, along with her extended Vietnamese family and four year-old daughter, Liliana. She had found Australia dull, her husband dull, her life dull, and had left, just like that. And she had missed Conchita.

Conchita turned, smiled and and looked at Thoy, beautiful Thoy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tyneham ghost village

Like Imber in Wiltshire, the village of Tyneham near the Jurassic coast in Dorset is a ghost village. Commandeered by the Ministry of Defence in December 1943 for training purposes, the 252 people of the village were told they could return after the war but the military changed their mind. It's been used for training purposes ever since, though it seems better preserved than Imber. Each house has a description and photos of people who used to live there, adding to the sense of loss and desolation.

The surrounding area is littered with military signs warning 'Military Firing Range Keep Out', and, like Salisbury Plain, this has meant the countryside has remained a wildlife haven, being free from development and farming. I guess they don't mind the rusty tanks and occasional heavy gunfire.

(A short walk from the village leads to the Jurassic coast where we searched in vain for decent fossils. There can't be that many left.)

Bill Douglas, one of my favourite unknown film-makers, shot part of his last film Comrades (1986) in Tyneham.

Monday, August 23, 2010

All Circles Vanish – Crop Circle Video, 2010

A short video about crop circles seen this summer in Wiltshire and Somerset. I wasn't able to afford a helicopter (though they are only £80 to hire – maybe next year) so no beautiful aerial shots, just ground level and from nearby hills. This year's crop were popping up all over the place; Warminster (home of the first ones in the 1980s) had its first one for thirteen years and there was one near Westbury White Horse for the first time in years too.

The song chosen is from Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, a lovely album (and The Wire's album of the year last year), recalling innocent childhoods and TV theme tunes from the 1970s, tinged with an underlining tension.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Life branded a 'health and safety risk'

Health and Safety Officials across the UK have branded life – in which all humans take part – a 'severe health and safety risk' after discovering that some 600,000 people in the UK die every year – and many more injure themselves. Officials are currently compiling a comprehensive list of possible health risks including walking, running, driving, working, eating, drinking, smoking, swimming, youthful abandon, old age – in short, almost everything humans do can be said to pose a health risk.

A concurrent list – shortly to be published – includes specific objects which may be harmful. These include surprisingly familiar items such as spoons, knives, cigarettes, poison, hanging baskets, wardrobes, walls, wine, foxes, guns, trains, architect drawers, cars, asbestos, tigers – to name but a few. Local governments are hoping to implement a scheme whereby every object in the world is labelled with a red sticker stating, 'Warning! Could possibly be bad for your health', similar to the government's health warnings on cigarette packets.

Life, it seems, is bad for your health, but the red sticker scheme could prevent needless accidents and deaths happening, officials say.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Priddy Fair: horses need passports too

Priddy fair is a sheep- and horse-buying event that takes place every August in the Mendip hills in Somerset. It's been going every year since 1348 and has only been cancelled twice – in 2001 and 2007, because of foot-and-mouth disease.

It's a great day out even if you're not buying animals (apart from sheep and horses there's also rabbits, cockerels and dogs on offer). There's a fairground, stalls selling gypsy paraphernalia, food (whole pigs being roasted), lots of cider and a chance to learn a country skill such as dry-stone walling . But what's most interesting is the people there – an assortment of farmers, tourists, locals and – best of all – gypsies, looking as if they're on a night out in Newcastle, not a day spent in muddy fields in the middle of nowhere.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Powell Peralta Paraphernalia

Clockwise from top left: Powell Peralta ad; decks on the wall (like art!) in Slam City Skates, late 80s; two of my now pretty ratty T-shirts; Bones sticker; The Search for Animal Chin teaser ad

What I liked almost as much as the editorial of Transworld Skateboarding magazine was the adverts: Vision Street Wear, Stussy, Jimmy Z, Gotcha, Santa Cruz, Venture – and, perhaps best of all, Powell Peralta.

I loved their graphics (skulls, snakes); T-shirts, decks, even their videos – a friend and I used to watch The Search for Animal Chin (the skateboard equivalent of a porno film – poor acting, dialogue and plot, and all we really wanted to see was the skateboarding footage) over and over, in hysterics. It was so rad. We worshipped The Bones Brigade, made up of skaters including Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero and Mike McGill.

Powell Peralta are currently revisiting their 80s glory days by re-issuing some of their classic boards of the era.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Transworld Skateboarding Magazine Covers

Top row, from left: June, August, October, December 1987
Bottom row, from left: February, April, June, October 1988

I was a hopeless sk8er during both UK waves – first in the 1970s, then in the 1980s. But at least the 80s had the cool brands, graphics, boards and magazines. I used to buy Thrasher occasionally but Transworld Skateboarding was far more rad – and I had to go all the way to Slam City Skates, downstairs from Rough Trade in Notting Hill, to get a copy, which made it seem more elitist (you could buy Thrasher in your local WH Smith).

I never knew at the time that it was art-directed (from 1984-88) by the hugely influential graphic designer (and professional surfer) David Carson – but it was always the visuals that appealed to me: bold use of photography (some taken by Spike Jonze), experimental layouts and funky typography. Not quite as experimental as Ray Gun (1992-95), the magazine for which he is famous, but a nice primer, perhaps. Typical, maybe, of Carson's unorthodox style, is the Bryan Ferry interview in Ray Gun. Carson found the interview boring and printed the whole thing in the typeface Dingbats – made up purely of ornamental icons, and hence unreadable. Now credited as the creator of grunge type, he has a lot to answer for.

His first graphic design book, The End of Print (1995), is the biggest selling graphic design book of all time (though, with only 200,000 copies sold, it's not really saying that much).

Previous magazine covers: Flaneur; Sight and Sound; Time Out

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Still/Rise: the World is Enough

'I like the smile on your fingertips,
I like the way that you move your hips,
I like the cool way you look at me.
Everything about you is bringing me misery.'

– Bob Dylan, Buckets of Rain

On Friday night I went out with Alan and my NZ cousin, Chris, to some pubs in the West End. We called on Grace who works as a barmaid at the First and Last on Dover Street. Then we went to a tacky night club in Covent Garden. I liked it, it was kinda fun. People were dancing and laughing and kissing. I like seeing happy couples and smiles, it makes me feel happy. It was all a bit of a joke. it looked like it was full of people from Essex. A hen night or two.

I thought there was a girl who was giving Alan the eye. I saw her look at him a couple of times. I told Alan and ten minutes later he plucks up enough courage to go and talk to her. 'Fuck off,' she says, and walks away. Alan dances to a cover version of the theme song from Only Fools and Horses. After we've all danced for a bit, Alan has a bit more luck: two pretty teenage German girls. He dances with them for a bit, then the three of them go and sit down. Me and my cousin are standing around looking like idiots. I tell Chris to go and join Alan and the Germans. 'Why?' he asks. Just go, I tell him. What for? He asks. Just go, I tell him, and I push him. He joins them, then it's just me standing there like an idiot. I go and join them all. I'm tired now. I don't even talk to the Germans, but they seem nice.

At about one we all went home. The tubes had shut; I waited for a bus home. A handsome Asian man kept looking at me. He winked at me. I was tempted. I was bored. The bus came and I went.

When I got home I put the key into the front door. It wouldn't open. I kicked it. I knocked on it. I tried to force the key. Nothing. I knocked on my neighbour's door. It was raining lightly but steadily and I was drunk. Sue, my neighbour, eventually opens her door, none too pleased. For some reason, because of the rain, I guess, she wants me to take off my white shirt. I won’t. I climb out her window and over to my bedroom window, next door, which is slightly open. I climb through. The front door lock had got caught. It's now a matter of hours before I have to meet Casey at Liverpool station.

The train journey to Stanstead was completely pleasant. It seemed that we left London abruptly, with buildings suddenly just ending and then we’re in countryside.

If it wasn’t for the Guggenheim and Go! doing cheap flights to Bilbao, the city would have stayed the poor, insignificant, industrial place it always was. As it stands now, thanks to Frank Gehry, ‘most significant architect of the last century’, etc, Bilbao has transformed itself into a cultural beacon. All that remains of its past industrialisation is a chimney. Who says art doesn’t have the power to change? At least at a superficial level.

Bilbao is: freaks, gays, winos, rudeness, coffee, mantequilla, Jeff Koons, no food, impossible to get drunk on ŕose but a large G&T helps. Bagpipes near the beach (sponsored by Go! airlines).

In a gay cafe, the only place in Bilbao open past ten, Casey was ruder and nastier to me than anyone else has been ever. I won’t go into detail. I went to the bathroom. I locked the door. I burst into tears. I looked at myself in the mirror. These were the first tears for many years. My face was red, my eyes were red, I looked like shit. I splashed water on my face. Looked at myself in the mirror again. I looked the same. I went back out. Casey could tell I’d been crying. She apologised.

The film Holy Smoke seemed to echo our relationship. I'd see it on DVD when I got back.

On a train to the beach I was looking out at the factories, the graffiti, the cranes, and I knew she was looking at me. After a while, I looked back at her. We were looking at each other for a bit. She was looking like she hated me. She turned away, casual and cool, detached and bitchy. I continued looking. Then I looked elsewhere.

We went into the Basque shop in Bilbao and bought souvenirs of Northern Spain. The idea of north and south held us rapt. Stickers of Che Guevara. A car sticker saying ER, another one saying CANT. The fun with language. Still/Rise, there it was again: graffiti on a garage door like an underground movie title. No one knows where the Basque language comes from. It has no relation to any Latin or European language: it looks and sounds more like a cross between Chinese and Welsh.

Always on our last night, our last day, do we find our way – we get the point of things, we know our way around, we’re natives, and then it’s time to leave. It’s probably for the best. Every journey feels like it’s going to be our last together. As soon as we arrive at a place, she’s already looking forward to the next place we’re going.

Casey had told me about her pink knickers, one night in a French restaurant in Soho, just before we had an argument, and she'd called me a freak. Before then, I'd had no interest in her sexually at all. I'd always liked her eyes. I'd always liked her mouth and her hands. I liked the clothes she wore. Isn’t that a song? Anyway, I didn’t get to see her pink knickers.

When we arrived back at Standstead, I knew me needing the toilet at just the wrong time would be a defining moment. I had to go. I went.

When the lift was coming down I heard the whistle for the train, and then I heard the train departing. I looked at my watch: llpm. There wouldn't be another train for half an hour. I knew Casey had got on it. I said to myself: if she's got on it, we're never going to see each other again, we're never going to speak to each other again. If she hasn't got on it, we're going to be friends for years. We're going to be lovers. We're going to make films together. She’s going to have my children. The lift door opened and my heart was beating fast. I thought I saw her but it wasn't her. I bought a ticket and walked up and down the vast, dark, cold platform. There was no Casey.

When I get back I’m cheered up by Alan's email girls: He’s got Algerian, South African, Indian, Argentinian and Spanish, but he’s not really getting anywhere with them.

I went home and phoned Casey every day for a week. On the Saturday I must have phoned her ten times, when I was with John. We went to an Alcoholics Anonymous disco in Mile End, just for the fun of it, but it was no fun; obviously there was no alcohol, and everyone looked really tense. A year later John would be dead. Casey wasn’t answering her phone. Finally she did, on Sunday. She said she’d been ill, had a rash, and hadn’t been answering her phone. We had been seeing each other every week for about a year, but now something had changed and we didn’t see each other that much anymore. And when we did, Casey was late or in a bad mood. Does the heat affect thinking, creativity, sexuality and temper? Obviously. And the cold?

(Bilbao, Spain, 1999)

Monday, August 09, 2010


‘I haven’t been to any place I wanna go back to, that’s for sure.’
– Warrren Oates in Bring me the Head of Afredo Garcia

Is that your name?
Or do you live here?
Dark sunglasses
In the morning
Do you work here?
Shanty town
Not tinsel town
Do you like it?
He’s a wanker
Do you like it?
Can you imagine anything else
Besides it?
Won’t help it
House white
Casa Sport
But he’s no sport
Cigar smell
City hell.

(Casablanca, Morocco, 1995; to be sung to the tune of Bryan Ferry's song Casanova, from which I 'borrowed' a few lines. Not a single shot of the film Casablanca was actually shot in Casablanca.)

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Codeine Nights

A WOMAN, looking like a black Brixton prostitute (her words) with turquoise leggings, big gold earrings, etc, takes off her high heeled shoe and throws it at a man, white, thirty (tirty! – almost), wearing a pin-striped suit and cheap black brogues. The man turns and catches it in his hand, just before it hits him in the head. He turns. They face each other, ready to do battle. Just like in a film. In fact, it is a film. Or at least it was going to be (the final scene was to be a chase on horseback through Brixton High Street).

Casey and I planned to write our kick-boxing film (this was around the time of The Matrix and when we both did kick boxing), working title Grey Belt or South London Kick Boxer, as well as act parts of it with a camcorder. As it turned out, Casey, two days before we left, got a toe infection and could barely walk let alone produce side kicks.

We flew to Marseilles. My uncle and aunt picked us up, and we drove to their villa near Nice, a beautiful place with a vineyard, swimming pool and Wendy house the size of a large shed, for their young daughter.

Amazingly (for me), I woke at 6:30am to take photos of the day beginning, a dip in the pool, coffee, breakfast, etc, long before Casey was even up. When she finally did rise she was in a mood at me for waking her. Later we are driven to the supermarket, then to Mougins, where we stayed together for the week.

Mougins is the village near Cannes where Picasso spent the last thirteen years of his life. Why, we’re not sure. It’s a village made for people rather than cars, which is nice. The roads are narrow and more like alleys. But once you leave the village, there are no people, no pavements, only cars. Just like L.A. Me and Casey, sans voiture, are stuck here. The village is atop a hill; it’s circular. There are expensive restaurants and tacky art galleries but not a sign of Picasso.

We get taxis to Cannes; there was no other way. On the beach, we are all the same, like sheep or pigs. Devoid of suits and skirts, almost naked, exposed to the sun and each other, it is not sexy. We all look foolish and don’t mind.

Even breasts don’t look sexy on the beach. I see Casey’s for the first time. They just look like lumps of flesh. Which they are. I guess it’s about context. I’m sure they’d be sexy, say, in bed. The naked four-year old girl looks exactly the same as the topless twenty-six-year old woman. Just a person, devoid of dignity and clothes. We’re all the same underneath, give or take.

Cannes near sunset, along the promenade, just like Manila bay. The boats in the distance, the hazy blue mountains, the promenade, the light, the palm trees; even the people and their stances.

Back in Mougins, we watched a lot of videos, bad ones, children’s ones, French TV. I read a bit of Samarkand by Amin Maalouf and Ratner’s Star by Don DeLitto; Casey is reading Ballard's Cocaine Nights. I did basically what I do at home, read books and watch films. At least I was doing it in another location, with a nice coffee in the morning and Casey. We were going to live together. Make films. Write. Paint. Casey bursts into tears at some point. I'm naked except for a bed sheet wrapped around me like a toga. She gets another toe infection which reminds me of one I had in Morocco.

On our last night we went to a restaurant in Mougins for the first time. We deserved it. We showered and both looked nice and clean. Casey said we had that just made love look. The restaurant was lovely and the bill was over £100. The wine alone came to £25. Something came over me and I told Casey I’d pay the bill. Fuck it. Casey ended up paying for the wine.

(Mougins, France, 1999)

Previously with Casey: The Cherry Tree and The Stowaway

Friday, August 06, 2010

Random Film Review: Cocksucker Blues

Dir: Robert Frank | 1972 | USA | 93mins

Sex (literally)! Drugs (lots of)! Rock 'n' Roll (not enough of)! Mick masturbating! TV set thrown out of hotel window! Extravagant room service (strawberries, blueberries and three apples)! Notorious but rarely seen, The Rolling Stones' quasi-documentary charts the band's 1972 tour of America in all its grainy, hand-held, 16mm black and white glory. Filmed and directed by photographer Robert Frank, who had recently shot The Stones Exile on Main Street LP cover, it's a revealing, occasionally shocking, often dull look at the band two years after their infamous Gimme Shelter film, which showed a young man being stabbed to death by a Hells Angel biker. It's as if Mick said 'Let's see if we can make this one even more fucked up'. Up to a point it succeeds. Though certain scenes seem obviously set up, a lot of it seems to capture the mix of outrageous and mundane backstage life that no other rock documentary, or rockumentary, if you will, would dare to. In this it stands alone and makes other cinéma vérité rock films such as Dont Look Back look like kindergarten.

Like the similarly-almost-impossible-to-see Renaldo and Clara or Eat the Document (both classic Dylan films), Cocksucker Blues is sadly short of live concert footage, but the segments that are included are great (their 1972 American gigs are said to be among The Stones' best ever), including a guest appearance by Stevie Wonder on stage.

Considering he can't act, Mick Jagger (and The Stones) have had a fairly interesting film career. Four documentaries about the band have been filmed by respected directors – Sympathy for the Devil (1969) by Jean Luc Godard, The Maysles Brothers' Gimme Shelter (1970), the aforementioned Cocksucker Blues (1972) by Robert Frank and the recent Shine a Light (2008) by Martin Scorsese.

He may not be able to act – but he can perform: witness Performance, Jagger's 1968 debut playing a washed up rock star, directed by Nic Roeg and Donald Cammell. Around this time Mick and Keith befriended experimental film-maker Kenneth Anger, and Jagger ended up providing the soundtrack – a rather painful, repetitive Moog synthesizer noise – for Anger's Invocation of my Demon Brother (1969). The embarrassing Ned Kelly (1970) would signify an end to his short-lived acting career.

Pretty safe extracts from Cocksucker Blues were recently shown on Stones in Exile, a BBC film exploring their 1972 album Exile on Main Street, but you can watch it all here if you like.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Last of the legends

We saw Kris Kristofferson in concert last week. He was great – amazing. And 74! He stood alone on a bare stage with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica for company. This is really all we want of our legends – to stand before us naked (metaphorically of course) and play the old tunes (some new ones if they're good), pouring out their heart and soul to complete strangers.

Kris Kristofferson is one of the last great music* legends. A Rhodes scholar and helicopter pilot, he was a janitor at the Nashville studios where Bob Dylan was recording Blonde on Blonde in 1966. He flew a helicopter onto Johnny Cash's lawn. He acted in and provided music for Hopper's The Last Movie. Starred as Billy the Kid in the Peckinpah movie. Had an affair with Janis Joplin (I'm still not sure of Leonard Cohen's story of sleeping with Joplin because he pretended to be Kris Kristofferson – I mean, didn't she know what Kristofferson looked like? If I was around the Chelsea Hotel in the late 60s and bumped into Janis, could I have gotten away with pretending to be Kristofferson or even Leonard Cohen? Was she that drunk?). He has since starred in A Star is Born, Heaven's Gate – not half as bad as people say it is, even though it destroyed a film studio, Lonestar and the Blade trilogy alongside Wesley Snipes, an odd partnership which sort of works because it's just so incongruous. Kristofferson has been married three times and has eight children.

According to Wikipedia Kristofferson wants three lines from Leonard Cohen's Bird on the Wire on his tombstone: Like a bird on the wire / Like a drunk in a midnight choir / I have tried in my way to be free. I guess he's forgiven Leonard for impersonating him.

But I'm getting worried about my musical legends – they're all either dead or old. Dylan, Young, Cohen, The Stones, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Al Green, Chuck Berry, Ornette Coleman, Gil Scott Heron (to name just a few) are all either in their sixties, seventies or eighties. Who's going to supersede them? Robbie Williams? The Gallagher brothers? Kylie? The thing with modern pop stars is they're mostly spoilt brats who were catapulted into stardom as teenagers and haven't really lived a life outside of being famous. So they lack that wealth of experience that someone like Kristofferson draws from.

The old legends all contributed to the advancement of music in some way. Nowadays (I realise I'm ignoring newer forms of music here from hip hop to dubstep – perhaps I should look there for future legends) musicians are derivative at best. It's said that while the Beatles took their influences from such diverse places as Victoriana, psychedelia, pop art, surrealism, early rock 'n' roll, ragtime and Indian music (to name just a few), Oasis got their influences from, well, The Beatles.

* There are other kinds of legends too: writers, actors, politicians and sportspeople can all be called legends. The term, like genius and masterpiece, is somewhat bandied around a bit nowadays though. Apparently one can even become a legend for kicking a ball around – this is otherwise known as football. Extraordinary.