Happy Birthday Richard Brautigan

I thought I should do a post on Richard Brautigan as 30th January is indeed his birthday. However, I couldn’t think of a goddamn thing to say. Having spent so long writing stuff about him, I’m all out of ideas. So I’m going to cheat. This is instead an extract from my thesis – a section I haven’t put up on the blog which deals with his engagement with autobiography:

…in his writing, intellectual digression and sensual interpretation are geared towards the representation of a consciousness in transit. The scenerios and narratives of his novels, the imagery and physical stimuli of his poems, are secondary to the manner in which the narrator or the authorial voice perceives and rationalises. The device is bared at all times: “expressing a human need, I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word Mayonnaise” (Trout 10). Brautigan inhabits a synchronously self-aware and disposable world, a riotous landscape of evocative symbols that trigger the processes in his mind which become his primary source of interest. How these symbols manifest themselves is purely arbitrary: they can be anything from an umbrella or a seagull to an airport terminal. Terence Malley categorises this technique as a “fascination with everything and anything”, “a lack of proportion” (87), but it is a much more significant feature of Brautigan’s writing than this suggests. As Bokinsky asserts, it is more an illustration of the cognitive method itself – Brautigan “looks at life in terms of analogies”, “one form of experience, or one particular observation, is like something else” (97). Cross-reference is how he, and how we all, “impose […] order on the world’s chaos […] giving meaning to the meaningless” (97). The author’s sensory inhibition represents, in fact, an attempt to redefine the concepts of the autobiographical or impersonal text, to challenge the very purpose of the written form itself.

Brautigan’s work, when taken as a whole, is entirely autobiographical, but in the truest sense of the term. The texts do not recount the events of his life in a linear or synchronous manner, but engage the reader instead with the very fabric of the author’s awareness: how it engages with the physical world, how it assimilates the information being fed to it via its senses, and how it constructs meaning from this raw data through an application of previous experience and knowledge. Elements of the author’s own past emerge as he brings these preconceptions into play and strives to impose order to this haphazard stream of consciousness. Because these elements are never explicitly rationalised, however, they retain a distinctly disembodied character which is entirely in keeping with the objectivity inherent in Brautigan’s model of perception. In essence, his novels are all autobiographies of the present tense in which the personal history of their author is but an indistinguishable element in the much more elaborate fabric of concurrent awareness. It is therefore difficult to find the validity in Terence Malley’s assertion that Brautigan is “curiously elusive” (18), when in fact he seems anything but. “I was about seventeen” claims the narrator of ‘1/3, 1/3, 1/3′, “I was about seventeen and made lonely and strange by that Pacific Northwest of so many years ago” (Revenge 10). He does not elaborate on what exactly it was about the Pacific Northwest that made him this way, but the reasons do not matter in the context of what the author is trying to convey here. Consciousness exists only in the present: it may recall previous instances of its existence, previous present moments that it has moved through and beyond, but these are no more than mere components in the myriad of influences that inform its current state of being. It is this astounding convergence of impulses and interpretations that constitute the current moment that interests Brautigan. For him, this is the essence of the human condition that must be set down and expressed, and quickly before it passes, “so the wind won’t blow it all away” like so much “dust” (So 49).

Two readings about music

Public reading is something I had absolutely NO experience of about six months ago. I’d spent about fifteen years scribbling away in a back room, telling nobody about it, mouthing the words quietly to myself when proof reading in case, god forbid, anyone heard it. The first time I went to my writing group and read something out – in front of other people – I was shaking that much I could hardly focus on the words on the page. My voice was all over the place and it gave away my nerves. That was in front of about ten people…

As of now, I’ve read in public a grand total of five times. I’m still not great at it, but I’m getting there. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t perform – I read. In quite a deadpan manner. I’m quite envious of the writers who can get up there and deliver a monologue as compellingly as a trained actor. Some of the guys at the New Libertines night were awesome at it. I don’t think I’ll ever be quite in that league, but at the same time I kind of like the deadpan approach – it probably suits me better anyway.

Someone said something quite surprising to me this week. A member of our writing group commented that I have a good reading voice, that it conveys the work well, that it has some gravitas. I have been told that once before but I didn’t believe it – I think my voice is a bit monotonous and lacks emotion. In any case, I wanted to put a reading up here on the blog – mostly just because it’s something a bit different from the usual text entries.  I’m willing to accept I may be wrong about how awful my voice is, but I remain convinced I have the proverbial ‘face for radio’, so no video I’m afraid – it’s audio only all the way…

In keeping with the often musical theme of this blog, I’ve done two short sections of different stories that both deal with music:

Short Extract from ‘Brand Awareness’

Short Extract from ‘Werner Herzog gets Shot’ (unpublished short story)


If you’re reading this you’ll have noticed already that I decided to revamp the blog a bit. Don’t know why it never occurred to me before but suddenly, this afternoon, ‘Neil Schiller’s Writing Pages’ seemed like the shittest blog title ever. So I’ve renamed it ‘Twenty-Two B’ after the Kepler planet. The random stuff I stick on here is pretty much like visiting planet Schiller, so it seemed to fit somehow.



<< NOT Kepler 22b, just what some bloke thinks it might possibly look a bit like…



Anyway, yeah, new theme, new photo from my amateur stock collection. I like it actually, it looks alright…

Inspiration and Motivation

Had an absolutely great night on Monday. Went to see Dan Holloway’s New Libertines show in Manchester. Probably the best venue I’ve ever seen for spoken word stuff (it was at the 3 Minute Theatre in Affleck’s Palace) and a superb line up. I was expecting it to be good, but the atmosphere was just terrific.

Anyway, I came away a bit inspired. I think I needed it. Hinterland has been stalled for a while and I’ve been kind of avoiding it. I still liked the first four chapters (albeit I knew the very end of chapter four needed some revising), but after that it was just drifting. It was becoming something very different from what I wanted to write. Galvanised a bit by some of the great performances on Monday night, and some nice comments from people on what I’d read out, I came to a conclusion: I had to cut. So chapters five to eight are gone. Amputated. Consigned to the bin. I sat in my hotel room in Manchester in the early hours of Tuesday morning, a bit the worse for wear after too much red wine, and I wrote a new chapter five. Suddenly it’s come back to life on me. Thank God. Below is the first couple of paragraphs, the bits that came to me as I was walking back across the city and making my way up to my room in the lift:

“Guilt, shame, grief; self-help, self-hate, self-harm; fuck off. I heard it all. Baby steps. Progress. The weeks becoming months, becoming something like eternity.

‘You have to be willing to help yourself.’

Well, that was the problem then. I have never cared about anything less than those sessions I had to go to. The ones I’m still going to. Well, maybe not now.

‘Sufferers of traumatic stress often exhibit symptoms of denial at first.’

I didn’t get it. I wasn’t in denial. There were no muddy waters here, no conflicts of emotional response. It felt like a game, a con. Just switch your perspective and you’ll feel well. The guilt can be coped with. Except I didn’t feel guilty. I hit a stranger over the head with enough force to damage his motor functions. Fuck him: he had my daughter. I wasn’t struggling with any ethical complexities here. Does that make me a bad person? Seriously, who cares? That’s the problem right there. As soon as you make morality contextual, you’re pretty much screwed from there on in. For me, there was no moral issue. There was something that needed dealing with and I dealt with it and we walked away onto the next thing. That’s what being a parent is. That’s what being an adult is.”

That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense outside the context of the story, but what the hell, I’m just happy it’s sparked back into life.

Seriously though, if you ever get the chance, go and see a New Libertines show. Dan is a great guy as well as a great writer. And he has a knack of drawing together some of the best new and alternative writers around. Hopefully he’ll do something else up North soon, but failing that I’ll be looking out for events in Oxford and London and trying to align them to anything else I’ve got going on that means I could get there…

Big Tobacco

Another post on an album review I did on Amazon. This one is for Joe Pernice’s Big Tobacco.

Once or twice to kill my pain, and once to bring it back again…

The first line of the first song sums this album up for me. It’s a masterclass in bittersweet songwriting, and possibly Joe Pernice’s best record. A bit more stripped back than the harmony laden production of The Pernice Brothers or Chappaquiddick Skyline. But no less infectious.

I discovered this guy by accident while messing about on iTunes, and having heard quite a bit of his music now I’ve been left wondering why he isn’t more of a household name. You can, I guess, throw about the alt-country or Americana tags but his music kind of transcends that. Lovely vintage pop harmonies and melodies, solid musicianship and well crafted songs.

The highlight here for me is ‘Bum Leg’. The guitar part has a great gothic alt-country feel to it that reminds me of Wim Wenders films, small town dustbowl America. But for me, it’s the lyrics that lift it to something else. Very understated telling of a violent encounter under a bridge. Very gritty and compelling. Clever songwriting too – at one point he gets quite a wordy section to fit the melody and sound like it rhymes even though it doesn’t. “Could you walk a little slower/my legs don’t work so good in this cold weather”. Brilliant stuff.

What does all this rambling tell you about the record? Well, that it’s a good one. Joe Pernice should be a bigger star than he is. Buy it, I think you’ll like it.

Book Trailers

I’ve seen a few book trailers now, some of them quite good, some not so good. However, I think this guy has it in the bag for the best one ever:


If you like that, you have to check out his correspondence with a reader who objected to his sense of humour here. In fact, his site in general is pretty much one of the funniest things I’ve come across in a long time. I’m especially fond of the CD he made as a Christmas present for his friends and colleagues: David Thorne Hums the Theme from Space 1999 and other Christmas Classics. Genius.


Nothing of note to say today, I just love this song…


I put up a review of the album on Amazon (as I do for things I like) and in the absence of anything else to Blog about, I thought I’d put it up here as well:

Left Me Speechless

There’s good music, there’s great music, and of course there’s rubbish music. Every once in a while I come across a record that is something else entirely. And this is one of those records. On the first listen it literally left me speechless. I couldn’t explain to my other half what I liked about it, I just knew it was something a bit special. I haven’t felt that way since the first time I heard Grace by Jeff Buckley.

This is not an easy listen. It is probably one of the most depressing albums I’ve ever heard. But there is just something incredibly compelling about it. It’s highly original, but that’s not what grabs you: it’s the honesty, the pain, the sheer intensity of the emotion packed into it.

At times, ironically, there does seem to be the odd musical nod to Jeff Buckley. There are some occasional Nick Cave-esque lyrics about redemption. But apart from that, it’s not really quite like anything I’ve heard before. Looking at the reviews here I’m not overly surprised that it has split opinion somewhat. Because it is a bold and uncompromising album. It won’t be to everyone’s taste. Bouncy, sing-a-long pop music it certainly isn’t. Posturing, riff-laden rock music it certainly isn’t. But if, like me, you think there should be music out there that pushes the boundaries a little bit, that delivers something new and worthy of your attention, then this has to be it. I disagree that it’s tuneless. The melodies are subtle and are broken up at times, quite cleverly in my opinion, by the more wordy sections of the lyrics. Sometimes the melodies do disappear and are replaced instead by disembodied guitar phrases that I think are just beautiful. It’s a clever and unique way to present music. And it fits perfectly the highly personal, whispering confessional style of Pearson’s singing.

I suspect this will be one of those records that gets looked back on as a template for all manner of things that follow it. A future classic that is spoken of as being a bit ahead of its time. Seriously, I do believe it’s that good. I don’t often agree with music critics but they have it right on this one. Wow, what a way to start 2012 for my music collection.