Archive | June, 2011

Brautigan and my continuing obsession

26 Jun

Ok, I now have revised copies of my introduction and first chapter on Brautigan up. Hoping these are now ok and I can move on to gender, postmodernism and time. It’s been a long weekend…

…but I’ve broken up the work with a few dips into my current obsession:

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Hahah, I sneaked that in didn’t I? I told you I wouldn’t shut up easily. That one reminds me a lot of Radiohead.

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A nice busking version of Christmas in Adventure Parks. I like it. Nice and lo-fi. He’s got a great voice though…

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And is it just me or is this very Placeboesque?

 

Mania

25 Jun

ma·ni·a

[mey-nee-uh, meyn-yuh]

–noun

1. Excessive excitement or enthusiasm; craze: The country has a mania for soccer.
2. Psychiatry: manic disorder.

My personality is about as far as you can get from manic. I don’t mean by that that I don’t enjoy things, but my enthusiasm is almost always contained. There are, however, two exceptions to this. The first is gambling. I don’t gamble, or rather, I don’t gamble very often. The reason why is that I can become quite cavalier about it. I chase losses like an idiot. I’ve never lost a significant amount of money – not a ‘month’s rent’ or ‘food for the kids’ amount – but I have gone somewhere with a budget of say a tenner and thanks to the glories of chip and pin technology walked out forty or fifty pounds worse off. And then comes the sick-in-the-stomach feeling when I think what I could have done with that £50 instead of blowing it in the heat of the moment.

The second exception is music. I have these episodes every so often where I discover an album or a new band and I become quite literally obsessive about them. Not in a teeny-bopper, let’s chase the Beatles around parked cars type of way. But what I will do is relegate every other CD I own to the rack in the living room and I’ll listen to my new find over and over and over. I’ll seek out every bit of information I can find on the band in question. I’ll bang on about them to anyone who will listen. It’s quite tiresome really. Luckily, it only happens every now and again. The last one was about seven years back. John Frusciante (the guitar player from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers in case you don’t know who he is) started releasing some solo material. He played right into my hands. I bought the first record and loved it, then found out he planned to release one per month (YES, one PER MONTH) for the better part of a year. Needless to say, I bought them all. I listened to them until they were almost worn out. I bored everyone I know to tears. And although I’m not really a Springsteen fan, for god’s sake don’t mention Darkness on the Edge of Town to me because you’ll find yourself slipping into a coma – I am really that enamoured with that one album. And all the outtakes from that album. And the history behind that album. You get the idea…

Anyway, it’s starting to happen again. I reviewed this album by a new German band called Get Well Soon for Amazon Vine about three years ago. I loved it at the time, I thought it was great. But something must have derailed my usual descent into obsession because I then kind of forgot about them. However, I was looking back over my Amazon reviews the other day and my review for their first album was obviously there in amongst them. I dragged the CD out, blew the dust off it and stuck it on in the car. It’s just as marvellous now as it was back then. Then I made my first mistake – I googled them. Found they had two more albums out. Found they had a free EP to download. You can see where this is going, right?

I didn’t have a Blog when Frusciante mania hit. Unfortunately for you, I now do. Because I’m going to hijack it today with this:

And this…

And even this…

Be warned, I may be bugging you about these guys a bit more over the next week or two. I apologise in advance. Then I’m on holiday for a fortnight so it might burn itself out.

You could help me actually, give me a hand to get over it. You could tell me you think they’re alright, or even that you might buy one of their records, or at least download their free live EP which is available here. Who knows, I might then consider my unbridled enthusiasm to have served a purpose and then may actually be able to shut up about it all and move on with the rest of my life…

Psychedelia and me

20 Jun

It occurs to me I might be becoming a bit of a grumpy old bastard. I spent Friday talking about books I don’t like and have tonight just thrown a book across the room in frustration. It could be a classic case of displacement: the weather’s a bit shit, work is pissing me off, I’ve only had one day off in a year and we’re having some trouble with neighbours at the moment. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know how hard it is to write. God knows how hard it is to write something that is regarded as great – I obviously don’t know anything about that. And by expressing a dislike for something I’m not in a million years trying to suggest I’m better than these other writers were. Not at all. Jesus, I’d probably slap myself around the head if I ever got that egoistical. I just think it’s right to be honest and to try to show why you feel the way you do about things.

Anyway, the book I threw across the room tonight was Revolution for the Hell of It by Abbie Hoffman. A book about countercultural ‘revolution’. I read it to help bolster my account of Brautigan’s association with the counter culture. He had nothing to do with Hoffman – he was just fleetingly associated to The Diggers – but in order to explain his placement I have to contextualise it in relation to other ‘revolutionary’ factions. The Hoffman book irritated me. It irritated me for precisely the same reason all psychedelic literature/theory/criticism/music/theatre/art does. Because in there are moments of staggering insight and genius. And wrapped around these moments are absurd and toe-curlingly embarrassing epsiodes of twee nonsense. You know what I mean – sure you do. It’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps immediately preceded by The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill on The Beatles’ White Album…

One of the novels I hold in really high esteem is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I think it’s an incredible parable of American society, of any society. I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was interested, and bemused, by turns when reading about Kesey’s life with the Tricksters. Well, the man came to Liverpool in 2000, a year before his death. He turned up with the remaining Tricksters in Matthew Street and I went down to see the bus and to get a couple of books signed. The following night he was reading at The Royal Court and I went along to that too. The first half was fantastic. He stood on the stage and read from Demon Box and I loved it. Then we had a brief intermission and he emerged on stage dressed as a jester and performed, with his ensemble, some bizarre (and pretty incomprehensible) hippy pantomime that culminated in a live jam where he played the theramin for about half an hour. On one level it was kind of funny, on another it was kind of dull. I would probably have rather watched Amy Winehouse pissed off her face trying to remember the lines to her hits.

Anyway, that’s me and psychedelia. A true love/hate relationship. Imagine if I’d have been around forty years ago and went to a Tim Buckley concert? I’d have been shaking his hand for Sing a Song for You and resisting the urge to punch him for Phantasmagoria in Two… Golden rule – if there’s a jester in it somewhere, or even worse a fucking harlequin, then you’d better warn me so I can get out in time…

Sacred Cows

17 Jun

I think I’m going to be a bit controversial today. What the hell, it’s almost the weekend. I’ve been thinking about reviews and opinion, and how subjective taste is. And I saw this post on Iain’s blog: Matters of Opinion, which contrasts positive and negative reviews of self-published work. It’s quite funny. I thought I might do something similar on books that are highly praised in some circles.

Stavrogin – aka Oli Johns, aka who knows? – had a thread running on Amazon forums for a bit where you had to guess the classic from its worst reviews. I lost hours of my life on that thread. But one that stuck in my mind was this one:

“I think this work is a good book for pseudo-intellectuals to cling to. I can’t see any merit in reading this book at all.”

Not much to go on there? Ok, what about this:

“I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so absurdly over-rated and over-hyped as [this book]. I found it shoddily-written, repetitive, dull and about 200 pages too long. Much has been made of [the author’s] attempt at capturing the 80s zeitgeist, but I felt this aspect of the book was crudely-done and clumsy.”

Getting warmer?

“The message is conveyed within 10 pages (well, less actually but let’s not be controversial). It is then 385 long dull pages of hammering the same thing home. Forget the brouhaha about ‘what it all means’ because all that is simply secondary to the fact that this is a dull, poor novel. “

I got it from that last description, primarily because I agreed wholeheartedly with it. But ok, this has to be the clincher:

“The constant references to Labels, restaurants, bars and clubs, the obsession with physical fitness, the racism, the sterotypical ‘Wall Street workers’, the gratuitous, graphic violence and sex all become deeply tedious VERY quickly…

Other reviewers talk about how it’s poking fun at the Yuppies – Duh… if you don’t get that in the first 3 pages you’re probably on a life support machine.

This book could be subtitled “Irony for Dummies”, it’s so heavy-handed.”

Yes, it is of course American Pyscho. For me this is a very very strange book, because on the face of it it should be precisely the kind of thing I would love. Satirical, edgy, dark social commentary. And yet, I hated it. I didn’t finish it, I gave up. After something like thirty pages of references to nothing but labels I wanted to gouge my own eyes out. I genuinely don’t get the buzz that surrounds it and I’ve lost count of the number of people who have recommended it to me. ‘Irony for Dummies’ is a good label. The comment about it making its point in the first few pages and then hammering the same thing home again and again and again was precisely how I felt about it. It was so incredibly dull. And I know the author was trying to convey a sense of emptiness and, well, dullness, but then that to me should have been his challenge. How to convey dullness interestingly.  Am I being pretentious when I say there is no challenge in describing a piece of shit as “just a piece of shit”? I mean, I can see the aesthetic statement in that, but I don’t think you can sustain it for a 300 page narrative, or can you?

Moving on, there was this one on the thread also:

“…This book is dull, repetitive and dated. The labourious plot has been lifted with limited competence from the Scooby Doo cartoon, complete with thrilling wig lifting scene and a subsequent lengthy explanation of a pointless deception.”

Yeah, I didn’t guess it from that either. I spent a week wracking my brains over Scooby Doo. This might help a bit more:

“I read this novel years ago and have just watched the BBC adaptation in the (vain) hope that I may have missed the point of the book. Prepared to give a dull story a second chance, how wrong I proved to be. The book has no points to make other than fatuous, obvious ones. And almost zero plot. If this is literary fiction, then God help us all. It puts style above content and has nothing to add to the life of anyone who sits past average on the great bell (end) curve of human intelligence.”

Hahah, I love vitriolic reviews. As an aside, one of my favourites was a review of the eponymous album by the band Yes which was reviewed in a newspaper upon its release with the single word “NO”. Anyway, I digress. The book above is Money by Martin Amis. Anyone who knows me knows I dislike Amis. That’s a big opinion to have I know, and partially it’s my problem. I read everything he ever wrote up to Time’s Arrow when I was a teenager because my A-Level English teacher had told me he was great and in my naivete I just assumed this was what literary fiction was and that I wasn’t clever enough to be getting it properly. Because of that Amis has become caught up in this web of shame/bitterness/spite I cast about myself when I decided to reject what other people told me was good and work things out for myself. I have to be fair and say I actually quite enjoyed Time’s Arrow, and I thought Einstein’s Monsters was ok, but everything else left me cold. “Style above content” – yes, yes, yes. That’s what I feel about Amis. Great style, remarkable style, but so what? What does it tell me about anything? I see the purpose of literary fiction to be the analysis of ideas and the transmission of these alternative points of view into my head to make me think more. Slipping into my IT persona, that is what makes literary books “fit for purpose”. Analogy time. If I bought a mobile phone that looked fantastic, that had loads of little design gizmos on it, touch-screen, useful little apps, it even made toast for me, that would all be great but I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t send a text or make a call on it. “Style above content”, style without substance – bells and whistles are useless if there’s nothing of any purposes beneath them.

Ok, one more. And this is the one that people berate me for. I’ll make it easy because this post is getting too long:

“The passages on whaling are the most interesting, and give an idea of what it must have been like to go after whales in hostile seas in a small open boat with hand-thrown harpoons. What happen to the whales after harpooning is described in fascinating and gruesome detail. Disappointingly Moby himself does not appear until the very end of this whale-sized book. But insted of building up tension the disjointed rambling nature of the book just generates frustration and impatience.”

God, I had three attempts at this one. I finished it by sheer willpower alone. The fifty or sixty pages that described the different species of whale left me wanting to go swimming with sharks. Digression upon digression upon digression. Where was the theme of manic obsession? I think it might have been in there somewhere, it just got buried under a mountain of other things far less interesting.

Ok, I’d better wind it up. My point (if I ever have a point) is this: don’t believe the hype. Just because ‘they’ (the mysterious they, the ones who appoint themselves to be guardians of our culture and our intellectual capability) tell you something is great, don’t just take their word for it. You’re free to disagree. And don’t think disagreeing makes you seem stupid. If you can articulate the reasons why you think something isn’t so brilliant, then go for it. I look back at the seventeen year old me and think, “what the hell was WRONG with you?” But, of course, I was only in the same trap we all blunder into in. I didn’t want to appear an ignoramus. If nigh on twenty years of studying literature has taught me anything it’s that the people who try and shout you down don’t know any more than you do. They have theories and arguments, that’s all, and opinions. Maybe I’ve been reading too much sixties literature, but we do as a society seem to appoint people with the tag of “expert” far too readily and then abstain from challenging their ‘learned opinions’. Big words do not an intellect make. Tell them what you think, let them deal with it.

Stupid Promo Superhits (The Best of)

10 Jun

You know, the first time I stuck up a stupid promo on Amazon I came away feeling a bit chastened by the way it divided opinion. And I vowed not to do it again. Then, after a few months of having even my most inane and insipid comments voted down and objected to, I came to the conclusion that actually it doesn’t matter what I say, it won’t please everyone. With that in mind I re-entered the fray. I also figured, with no real upturn in sales and with no publisher to censor me, the least I should do is enjoy myself a little bit. And bizzarely, not one of the subsequent ones has generated anywhere near the amount of ire that first one did. With this in mind, I now present the official Best Of album of Schiller’s stupid promo threads.

Track 1: Woud anyone like to reed are books?

Track 2: April 30th is international ‘read a depressing short story’ in the bath or in the dark day

Track 3: Warning – ridiculous, stupid Infomercial Promo Thread

Track 4: Please Help the Writers

Track 5: The BEST three books on kindle (featuring Stavrogin on guest vocals)

BONUS TRACK 1, previously only available as a B-Side – Spam-post

“original and brand-new kindle book products for your first choose.do you want to get short stories with fast shipping?do you want to get witch novels at cheapest price?do you want to get items with best service?let’s go to click and browse–dodgybooks.com
Email: [dodgybloke@spamaddress.com]
paypal is not acceptable!one click fine is.off me am now long time to learn english good”

BONUS TRACK 2, the as yet unreleased (but will almost certainly be the next single) – Help – looking for a book, and a Backlight, and a collection-organising monkey slave

“First of all, can anyone help me find this book? I’ve been wracking my brains for ages about it. All the info I have, which I know is not a lot to go on, is that it’s called Ljubljana Witch and was written by a bloke called Stavrogin. I read it days and days ago and I know there was a bloke in it, and a witch, and a city I couldn’t pronounce the name of. I remember reading it in the garden of this house I still live in, back when I was about a week younger. It was wonderful and has always stayed with me. Does anyone have any ideas? Does Amazon even stock this book? I know it’s a long shot but hopefully someone will recognise it from the vague memories I have…

Also, while I’m here, can anyone tell me if Kindle has a backlight? I’ve been searching for it on all the menus and have unscrewed the back cover to see if it’s stuck inside. Will this invalidate my warranty? When I screwed it back together I accidently trapped a fruit pastel in there and now all my books have a sugary red glow to them. I need the light to be able to pierce through the gloom and darkness of this book I’m reading – Oblivious by Neil Schiller. It’s really good, I’m told, and has been in the top 9,981 of the Kindle store for 6 months now. Wow, it must be good then if 9,981 people have read it. I really want to give it a go as someone said it was (almost) long listed for the Book Manner award. Or it might have been in that Punch and Judy book club thing.

I was going to ask as well if anyone knew how I can organise my books into ever changing collections that psychically predict my mood – but I’ve just found out that’s been requested for the next generation device so I’ll have to wait until then I guess. But hopefully they’ll also take those terrible screensavers of dead people off as well. Agatha who? And Steinbeck – what’s the point of having a picture of the bloke who founded a coffee shop on there? I don’t get it.”

Book Trailer

7 Jun

Everyone else has a book trailer. It’s taken me about two months to work out how to do one without having any film footage. So here’s my first attempt. Er, yeah, it’s ok, DIY ethics at their most basic…

Brautigan Thesis and Connections

3 Jun

I’d forgotten I had this. As part of my course we had to design a poster for display that conceptualised our work. This is the poster I came up with, inspired by the piece of art ‘The Great Bear’ by Simon Patterson.

I’m also putting it up here as part of a discussion – James, it was this idea of connection and relationship that was running through my mind. Haven’t figured it out fully yet, just thinking out loud really. I don’t think this would work necessarily for what you have in mind, but something that visually maps somehow…

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