I saw this Hunter S Thompson meme on Facebook and it got me thinking about the mood altering power of, well, let’s call it art, though I can never figure out why all of a sudden singers, musicians, actors etc decided they were ‘artists’. When did being a singer, songwriter, actor, or musician stop being enough?
Anyway, back to the thing. I remember when I was in Borneo (as you do), sitting, looking out at the jungle, cold beer in one hand, Kerouac book in the other. Life was good, I felt good. I then pulled out the Ipod, scrolled to Exile on Main Street and…God, I suddenly felt so much better than good. It felt more akin to some sort of religious ecstasy. An endorphin rush even Dr Keith’s 24 hour pharmacy would struggle to match. By the time I got to tumbling Dice I was mesmerised with the wonder of Keef and Charlies perfect groove. Strip all else away and I could have listened to them for all eternity, eyes joyously wet, mouth fixed in a mad beaming grin, head nodding, but never as rhythmically as K and C, as such a thing is far beyond mere mortals. Heaven existed and it was tuned in open G.
I’ve found that talking to people about music falls into two categories: 1/ People who ‘get it’ and 2/ People who don’t. The way you can tell the difference is in the length of the conversation, and in the eyes. With people who love…I mean really love music, their eyes come alive and the conversation can last for hours. Sure, the names will change (singers, bands…not fucking artists), but that’s as it should be as we really are all different. But the passion, the effect on you when you listen and even more importantly the impact it has on your life, is the same. The intensity of it can be impossible to overstate. These people become heroes, not just because of their musical skills or because they look cool on a T shirt, but because, to paraphrase Lennon, they transform black and white lives into colour. The Stones certainly did that for me and more, and I rue their deaths as much as a family member, such is their influence been on my life. It’s a ruing made all the more present by the passing of such seeming immortals as Lemmy and in particular, David Bowie, a man of such creative and personal courage. And certainly an artist. Never saw that one coming. Still can’t quite believe it.
But try and explain any of this to a category 2 fan…it’s glazed eyes and a short conversation, as doomed as seeds scattered on barren soil. I used to feel so frustrated by this. Now I feel something more akin to pity. I know for them music is something literally in the back ground (where most of it belongs). Naming names, I know that Take that, Adele, Coldplay and the XFactor spawn will never really affect them on any emotional level, never change their lives or the world, which is how Punk truly felt like at the time. It’s just entertainment or something to dispel the silence (a much undervalued sound).
So, to the million dollar question. Can books make you feel the same as albums? Can writing produce the same emotional response? Can writers change lives? Okay, three million dollar questions. Truth?.. I don’t know. Whereas music is about the gut and the heart, writing can seem mainly aimed the head…But, and I say this as someone who neglected reading for years, in my recent reading frenzy I am feeling it. A year or two ago, on holiday in exotic St Andrews, while everyone else went out shopping I stayed in and read Thompsons ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. I also read it completely in one sitting, the first time I’ve read a book in a day since childhood (Enid Blyton in those heady days). It’s a book whose style and subject suits speed reading, which I usually do anyway, just the way my brain is. (my comma use is probably all over the place but fuck it). Reading it made me feel as wired and detached from reality as the characters in the book, but happily without the fear and loathing. So yes, writing can get under your skin, into you nervous system and flick those switches. Some Kerouac has done the same. The rhythm of it as well as the words. Sometimes the words don’t even matter. Who cares what the notes are, just fucking listen. Others I’ve read can alter your view of life or just leave you in awe with the genius of the writing. Some writers, like their rock n roll brothers, can energise you inner middle finger and that’s always a good thing. So it is there. No doubt people will be screaming (if anyone actually reads this) of course it does you fuckwit, read X, Y, Z (sounds like a boyband) and that process is underway. Ask the Dust by John Fante, took my breath away at times, such was its evocative beauty. The Road by Cormac McCarthy, page after page of…just a man and his son walking the road, trying to survive in some sort of post-apocalyptic future. A book with arguably no real plot…yet utterly engrossing.
But I’ve yet to read something which produces the same endorphin rush as great music and maybe that’s the difference. A song or an album, like a drug, is something you can indulge in repeatedly, putting it on every time you want a ‘fix’, with gratification instant. Maybe that’s one reason rock stars make more money than writers. Literature is different. You don’t listen to a book again and again. Maybe 2-3 times over your lifetime if it’s really made an impact. But still, it’s a different habit, a different analogy, different effect…and just different.
So, what about writing it? Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it. Staring at a blank screen wondering if you can fill it with the wonderstuff , or with anything at all. Fear and loathing right there. Genius or delusional shite. Succeed? Fail? What does that mean and who cares anyway. It’s the trying that counts, and the fucking mad, heroic, gloriously conceited endeavour it is. To draw a smile, a tear, or a middle finger… and maybe that second or third read.
NEWS: My next novel is currently being edited. It’ll be called ‘For all is Vanity. Out early Spring.
ON THE SEVENTH DAY – MARK WILSON
Some may be offended by this book, may consider it blasphemous. NRA sponsored militia’s in the ‘bible’ belt may. Those Christians who would turn their back on refugees fleeing warzones may. Those church goers who would snatch what little dignity the poor have left may. If that’s you then I’m glad you wasted your money, though given the blurb well, that would make you Donald Trump stoopid. And as your reading this you’re obviously none of the above.
It is irreverent, no doubt. Such is the nature of satire. Satire also makes you think. Given the current state of the world, if there was a God, does the idea of him / her pressing the reset button seem so far-fetched? If you’re a Christian, a proper one, not like them in the previous paragraph, wouldn’t you think after yet another act of cruelty…fair enough? Fuck it, this isn’t working?
But like good satire it’s also entertaining. There are two threads interwoven. One, Jesus (Jay) and Moses (Mo) trying to save the world. The second has Satan (Nick) sitting in a bar telling his woes to a girl (haven’t we all) about how it came to this. I have to say I empathised most with the Nick character. What that says about me is between me and my team of therapists. Story details, how it all ends…read it and find out. Unless your one of those first paragraph people, in which case I can recommend a great film called ‘The life of Brian. Trust me you’ll love it.
It takes guts to take on something like this. It takes writing skill to pull it off. Mr Wilson has both in spades.
TOLLESBURY TIME FOREVER – STUART AYRIS
Some books are a bit special, and this is one of them, beginning with one of the most intriguing prologues I’ve read.
It’s a book of two halves, and two very different halves at that. Part one finds Simon, the subject of the book, transported back in time to an older Tollesbury, frightening and bizarre, leaving the reader as disorientated as Simon, before he goes with the flow of this strange, dream like new reality and its mix of chilling and childlike characters, until an incident occurs which drags him back to, well, the other reality.
Part two begins with Simon under psychiatric evaluation for his schizophrenic episode, the coldness of which in some ways gives the book its power, as the reader, like Simon, is forced to abandon his fantasies and get back to the nitty gritty of ‘normal’ life. But what is the true reality? The one you see or the one which keeps you out of hospital?
A real mix of surreal poetry, tale telling and stark realism. A fascinating read and one I plan on revisiting.
DOWN IN THE DEVIL HOLE – DAVID JAGGERS
I first came across David as part of the ‘Rogue’ anthology and decided to give this a go. No regrets. ‘Down in the Devil hole’ is a series of gritty shorts set in a rural America untroubled by social graces and populated by a bunch of characters who simply ooze off the page.
There’s an interesting use of a storm to link the pieces together as dark and menacing as the stories themselves, stories which have a common flavour but avoid repetition. Jaggers writing is fast paced and evocative, his characters twisted but authentic in a world without mercy.
Some very enjoyable storytelling which will keep you reading into the night.
NEXT TIME: Some new release news, updates…Hopefully nothing about people dying. RIP Dave.