Wednesday, 30 November 2011

POEM: 'Data Transmission Networks On Heat'


stairs are psychic,
their cult of violence
disfigures history

telephones ring
only discreetly,
perspire in free fall
and learn new dance steps

japanese cars
are cathedrals
preaching from
luminous showrooms,
their time-lapse photos
show cells of slime-mould

deserted garages
collapse into themselves
where the sunlight is different,
with gobs of tennis,
tides of femalos, and
stretches of beach that turn
pastel in time-lapse photos

stairs in free fall
collapse into themselves,
preaching from
disfigured cathedrals and
cults of telephone violence
which learn new dance steps
through data transmission
networks of

Published in:
‘PERIAKTOS no.1’ (UK - November 1985)
‘HANDSHAKE no.56’ (UK – June 2004)
‘OMEGA no.4’ (UK –April 2005)
‘TALVIPAIVANSEISAUS SPECIAL no.8’ (Finland – July 2005)
& on website ‘ALTO TRADIMENTO no.5: SOMMARIO’
in translation by Frederico Frezza (Italy - Summer 2002)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Steve Wilson's 'The Lost Traveller'


Book Review of:
(Macmillan London Ltd 1976, Panther Granada
Paperback 1984, ISBN 0-586-05870-2 – 252pp,
USA St Martins Press, 1977)


Desolation row revisited. Holocaust Alley slight return. A motorcycle grail quest epic, a Science Fiction Western, a ‘Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by the MAN WHO WAS THERE! A gamma-ray Easy Rider. All this, and more. The legacy of the atomic storm – ‘a convulsion, a climax of the energy dance’, has produced the REAL ‘Greening Of America’. Coalescing out of the radiation-debris crawls all of the mythic archetypes of Americana, all of the counter-culture heroes from the hard-nosed free-living bohemian legends. A wino’s crazy midnight fantasy of endless green plains, of Hells Angel legions with ‘the blades of the drug working in their eyes and their blood’, of long-distance interstate truckers working the juice-route across the nuclear dead-lands, of noble visionary Native American tribes in touch with the transcendental pulse of the universe…

Steve Wilson alchemises an intriguing mix – one not entirely dissimilar to the one attempted by inveterate Deviant Mick Farren in his ‘Texts Of Festival’ (1973) and the ‘Quest Of The DNA Cowboys’ (1976/7) trilogy, and there are some this-way-that-way stylistic feedbacks. In Farren’s initial novel, salvaged Rock ‘n’ Roll vinyl – Bob Dylan, the Doors, is revered as mystic revelation by the survivors of World War III. In the Steve Wilson novel there’s a Jerry Garcia quote plus references to the San Francisco hip poetry revival in the person of Gary Snyder, with great gob-fulls of Beat-styled prose and drunken visions of ‘bubbles of saliva between its teeth, the freckles on its glistening gums’. In the Farren novel literates take the names of Rock writers – Nanker & Phelge, while in the Steve Wilson mythology they assume the names of poets, Wordsworth, Eliot and Hemingway.

‘The Lost Traveller’ is Steve Wilson’s first novel. Born in 1943, the son of Sports-writer Peter Wilson, he read Modern History at Oxford and gained a Diploma with distinction in English Literature at London University. Then he took a ship out for Argentina, crossed to Chile, thumb-tripped and bussed it to Mexico City and up to L.A., then spent the psychedelic summer of 1967 on the West Coast involved with the San Francisco Diggers. His group, called the ‘Communications Company’, distributed leaflets in the acid-happy Electric Kool-Aid Haight-Ashbury zone for ‘the survival/amusement of its inhabitants’. It could be said he’s still working in much the same vein, still sees the salvation of America brought about through the traditional-pioneer ethics within its chemistry that are now relegated to its outlaws, its outsiders, its odd anarchistic sub-cultures. It could be that he’s right. ‘Principally’ he writes, ‘a central government which concentrates power and wealth in itself, serves its own preoccupation with control and growth, and ignores the real needs of the communities it subjects. The growth preoccupation automatically leads to abuse of the land and of human resources, and to the creation of phantom enemies – projections of itself’. He contends that ‘if we fear our enemies past a certain point, we take on their worst characteristics, we become them’. See the contemporary relevance’s…?

But this is no barren eco-political tract, it’s all about energy. It may be allegorical, but it’s also vastly immensely readable, with just the exact blend of sex and violence to make it move. Wilson won the 1974 ‘Club International’ short story competition, and went on to text-illuminate the pages of three further issues, and those of its soft-porn stable-mate ‘Men Only’. The sexual charge one would expect from such jazz-mags overflows into ‘The Lost Traveller’ – including a three-way Hells Angel gang-bang session on a riverbank. The novel opens on an almost comic-satiric note when, in the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse thermonuclear exchange – BLAM!, the US President is ‘making his drug-fuddled way to the White House West’ only to be rescued from murderous looters by a division of Angels. ‘President embraced President’, and two brief wasteland centuries later the Angels have become an integral part of the independent Fief republic. The quest-proper begins when three of the Angels – Belial, Milt and the pre-cog Long Range John embark on a journey across the devastated continent towards the Empire Of The East, to rendezvous with a scientist who’s about to defect. As the west coast embodies all that is hip, the East embodies all that is straight, is W.A.S.P, is founder-family orientated, tracing its speech modes back to England and its military battledress to grotesque machismo parodies of conformist American Football armour. But as you’d expect, the novel’s premises are not quite that simple, not quite that two-dimensional. The Angel’s freedom is also partially illusory, partially a form of parasitism, or at best a form of interdependence. The Angels ‘group ethos would seem to be stoical. But also unexpectedly conservative’.

The atomic deluge is a cleansing fire, a baptism of flames from which the world is reborn. The Native American nations endured the nuclear-war to emerge as the only wholly creditable group in the entire novel. They ‘felt the coming of a new age. They freed the few buffalo that had survived, like themselves, as captives of the whites, and together they journeyed to the plains, and there they lived, men and animals, and grew in numbers and in spirit. The old ways returned, and there were mighty warriors, for they felt they were living the birth of a new first age, an age of great spirit power. And they remembered how their people had been deceived before by the Wasichu into surrendering their hunting and their lands, and being shut away from the earth’. Long Range John, an outsider among neo-barbarian outsiders hits metaphysical truth with the Lakota tribe halfway across the trek, and emerges from the rituals and incantations as some kind of existential messiah. Yet the novel is not anti-technology, merely against abuses of technology and State Power as typified by the Empire Of The East. Motorcycles represent limitless freedom, it’s technology and power-structures that are inexorable. Faced with the challenge from the east, and with Wilson’s assertion about ‘taking on the worst characteristics’ of a feared enemy, the Fief inevitably must reject the Angels, the Native American tribes must again be decimated. The salvation of freedom, Wilson seems to be saying, must be a personal thing – the inward-looking route as taken by Long Range John.

But Wilson makes the diverse fusion work, carrying the coincidences of the plotline effortlessly (the killing of the father, Badhand, for example). He has skills to conjure the plot-ingredients together, investing its concepts with the power and sensual thumbprints of reality. Science Fiction has never been as amoebically eclectic as it was in the late 1970’s, drawing elements from multiple mythologies to refurbish its idiosyncratically shambling and baroque tradition. ‘The Lost Traveller’ is a first novel, and displays many of the distinguishing characteristics of the species, attempts to rearrange an entire literature through often garish wide-screen techniques, attempts to be instantly significant and profound on as many levels as possible, attempts to create a major tour-de-force through a basically naïve intellectual overkill of concepts and art. But ‘The Lost Traveller’ is unique to the genre in that Wilson has the ability to carry the overkill pretensions and aspirations. From the vast scenario, to the small poetic observation – ‘wind whining and singing through the chinks in the walls, in the corners, by the larger gaps, snow lay where it had blown in, in neat lines, as if it had been poured from a sack…’

Grab this novel!

When this feature first appeared in print Steve Wilson was so pleased to have found a reviewer he considered to so-exactly have caught the full nuances of his writing that he immediately straddled his high-powered BMW motorcycle and revved it clear up the M1 all the way to Ossett to stay over and make direct contact. He’s a great guy. We got on fine. I later published one of his stories in an issue of the ‘Ludds Mill’ magazine from Eight Miles Higher. He gave me a copy of the ‘Twelfth Ghost Book’ anthology (edited by Patricia Parkin & James Hale, Barrie & Jenkins, ISBN 0-214-20216X, February 1977) which includes his fine story “Ghosts There Must Be With Me In This Old House”, plus a motorcycle article from ‘Men Only’ (November 1977), ‘The After Midnight Ghost Book’ (edit James Hale, Hutchinson, 1980) with his “O Keep The Cat Far Hence”, & ‘The Twilight Book’ (edit James Hale, Gollancz, 1981) which includes “My Breath Is Inside You”. He also talked about his projected book ‘The Complete British Motorcycles 1950-1977’ (commissioned for Macmillan) which eventually appeared as ‘Classic British Motorcycles: The Cutting Edge – Road Bikes 1950-1975’ (Salamander Books, May 1998). It also led to me writing about his subsequent ‘Dealer’ novel-series…

Steve Wilson's 'Dealer' Books

Book Review of:

(Macmillan hardback, 1978, Granada Paperback
ISBN 0-333-24214-9 & Granada Paperback 1980,
ISBN 0-586-05421-9)

‘This is what we find, this is what we find,
the hope that springs eternal,
springs right up your behind…’
(Ian Dury quoted in ‘Dealer’s War’)

Steve Wilson once pawned his watch to get to see a Doors concert in Frisco. That was way back when he worked on an early incarnation of ‘Crawdaddy’ Rock-zine, dwelling in Haight-Ashbury with the ‘Diggers’, interviewing the Rolling Stones at their most satanic, and FURTHER… A period he scrambled through acid-surrealism into his debut novel (‘The Lost Traveller’), and a series of short stories featuring evocatively-named characters such as Spliff, Dolly Dagger, and Arthur Lee, fuelled on a regular spattering of Rock/Dope culture-references, leading inexorably to these ‘Dealer’ thrillers.

When it’s suddenly vogue for New Age Psychedelicatessens like Julian Cope, Artery, or Miles Over Matter to relate their tales of chemical mind-excursions to and beyond the Outer Limits of consciousness, it’s perhaps worth remembering those of earlier High Times who quick-fried their brain-cells on similar narcotic grail-trails for god, instant karma-satori or a glimpse of ecstasy. While hallucinogenics have been bohemian aids to the creative juices at least since Coleridge, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, it’s pertinent that for every peak experience reached by a stoned Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, or a tripping Jimi Hendrix, there are acid casualties with cerebral cortex’s wiped clean as erased recording tape.

Steve Wilson describes ‘Dealer’s Move’ to me as being about Jack, ‘a dope dealer living on out to Edge City’. Dealer’s way is ‘army surplus, old bikes, deals and highs, quotes and scraps of knowledge like driftwood sculpture’. He lives on Chinese take-aways and amphetamines, while constructing his life ‘out of random and discarded elements, things that no-one values’. The only continuity he holds fast to is ‘a dream of freedom – freedom from moral responsibility’. He’s devious, shifty, unreliable. His attitude to the drugs he deals extends no further than ‘all dope should be legalised. That would be the only way you would get quality control and proper information disseminated to the people who are going to use the drugs anyway’ – with the proviso ‘if it wouldn’t put me out of business’. The books are set now, rushed out as a double-pack by Granada on an adrenalin-rush of flash-reviews, quoting ‘The Times’ and ‘The Daily Telegraph’ no less, who extol their virtues as tense and compulsive Thrillers. Which is true, they are. But for the Rock cognoscenti the time-fix will seem more accurately mid-to-late seventies when the drug-culture ‘left over from the sixties’ is gradually going bad, while being taken over by crime syndicates and the French Connection mob. Dealer himself, self-describing himself as a cross between ‘the mature Eric Clapton, Brecht in the fifties, and Manson in the slammer’, thinks of himself as ‘part businessman, part public servant’, he even quotes Bob Dylan’s ‘to live outside the law you must be honest’ to justify his lifestyle. But inevitably such freewheelin’ naivety, and independence is riding for a fall.

‘Dealer’s Move’ documents his first violent run-in with the Kray-style heavies responsible for brutally murdering his friend, Neil. His revenge is a punishment-scam ripping off a hundred pounds of hashish from the gangster Nutting Brothers – Arnie & Alfie, which results in a high-tension pursuit across France in retaliation, leading to a stunning climax confrontation in western Scotland (in a siege-sequence part-choreographed with poet Steve Sneyd). The climatic stalking game set among the ‘bleak wind-ruffled tarns and sedge-covered boggy bottoms’ of the highland wilderness with eccentric laird Teddy Sirk has elements of John Buchan classicism while remaining wholly contemporary, ‘a shooting match with the London team from which only the two of us walked away’. The geography-hopping chain-reaction repercussions continue through ‘Dealer’s War’ where Jack is first glimpsed entering Heraklion harbour, Crete, still in hiding, on course for Matala. Until he, his girlfriend Julie ‘Jools’ Owens and ex-Vietnam Marine Dan Ericson are forced into a final desperate scam by kidnapping amiable Eddie, the son of Charlie Mondello, an American Capo Mafioso mobster, and smuggling him back to Norfolk, in order to buy off that same retribution. The action comes relentlessly fast, to the shock dénouement, with Eddie blasting his own father to death moment before he’s riddled with a stream of Uzi-bullets. With the Mob beheaded, and power-struggle factions on the loose, Jack is again alone, hiding out, and swearing off the drug-life. As he muses ruefully, ‘I had a lively awareness of the pitfalls attached to hanging out around drugs’. You suspect the aversion will be strictly temporary. The pacing is – no pun intended, addictive. But where Steve Wilson scores hardest – again, no pun, is in his meticulous flourish of detail, Magnum shooters, 350 Matchless motorcycles, and the seedy sub-world of the hazardous sleaze-life which he describes tactile-sharp from first-hand knowledge.

Of course, it’s misleadingly wrong to suggest Dealer’s problems spring directly from the properties of the nefarious substances he deals, rather than from their criminalisation, but the nervous-systems of the two are most likely so inextricably mixed it makes no odds. The end result is the same. Long before the celebrated forays of Irvine Welsh or Howard ‘Mr Nice’ Marks into the same general terrain, I suggest Dealer stacks up well against the new generation of walking-wounded clients surfing in on more recent psychedelic waves, from which Steve Wilson richly deserves to pick up a host of new readers. You know it makes sense!

The third volume of the ‘Dealer’ Trilogy – ‘Dealer’s Wheels’ (Macmillan, 1982, ISBN 0-333-32232-0), was followed by ‘Thirteen’ (Panther books, 1985, ISBN 0-586-06255-6) – ‘a searing novel of motorbikes and bloody violence…’

Thursday, 24 November 2011

WRECKLESS ERIC: Live In Bradford

Gig Review of:
at ‘Bradford Alternative Cabaret'

‘DEATH. It comes to us all eventually, so we might as well… take the piss out of it!’ Of the original Punk Packet-of-Three making up ‘Stiff Records’ freak assault on late-seventies boredom, Ian Dury’s hits now come in digitalised CD special-editions, Elvis Costello has become a country-Americana god… while Eric?, he’s back in all-over black, uncoordinated spasmic twitch still as deranged as some terminal disorder of the nervous system. Eric’s a real GONE kid, THE wacko, and superannuated Punks crawl from city-wide woodwork just to come here to Manningham Lane to grovel at the black-shod feet of an ORIGINAL. ‘Bradford tonight’ he muses distractedly, ‘I’m doing Macclesfield tomorrow. And I’m playing PARIS Tuesday. And my car only goes fifty-miles an hour!’ He’s making it up as he goes along, tuning and de-tuning, grinning ludicrously when shimmers of unexpectedly delicious guitar escapes. His set is one-man DIY, a one-off, his amped acoustic lasts two numbers before it’s ‘blunt’, and he switches to electric, screwing the volume up with lewd delight at the sheer physical sensation of pure NOISE. He’s as unpredictable as an earth-tremor, as natural as an eclipse, and irradiates as much energy as a supernova.

Wreckless Eric (aka Eric Goulden) spawned an oddball hit – “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World” (a highly collectible Stiff BUY16, August), as unique a taster for 1977 as anything from the Pistols/Clash/Damned triumvirate. He does it tonight. Its escalating tensions rise from low insidious strum to shattered flash-walls of power, manipulating splinters of light and shade (in muso-speak) – but giving every impression of total spontaneity in his hands. It blueprints his set from “Swimming Against The Tide Of Reason”, about a suicide pact, through “Young Upwardly-Mobile & Stupid” (both from his 1986 ‘Len Bright Combo’ guise), and even into the brief rhyme “She Destroyed Me Fuck By Fuck” (from ‘Le Beat Electrique’ in September 1989).

Judy Radul, a Canadian poet with William Burroughs credentials and fantasy gardens of sexual politics opens the show. She neatly contrasts Eric’s obsessively English eccentricities – Eric’s “Final Taxi” has a bleak black-humerous Morrissey-Northerness while “Semaphore Signals” (original ‘B’-side of “Whole Wide World”) recalls Ray Davies’ ‘Terry meets Julie’ hard urban romance. There’s pack-a-snack and supermarket checkout girls in quirkily affectionate mock-ups of tacky seaside resorts, cheap TV ‘Comedy Time’ dross, and dead Soap stars. ‘They won’t let me sing that one with my band. They say it’s wet. If you agree you can chuck glasses at me, or summat…’ No-one chucks even a beer-mat…

‘WRECKLESS ERIC’ (Repertoire RR4217) thirteen quirky masterpieces on a CD reissue of his debut Stiff LP, with bonus tracks – includes ‘Reconnez Cherie’, ‘Rags & Tatters’, ‘Waxworks’, ‘Telephoning Home’, ‘Grown Ups’, ‘Whole Wide World’, ‘Rough Kids’, ‘Personal Hygiene’, ‘Brain Thieves’, ‘There Isn’t Anything Else’, ‘Semaphore Signals’, ‘Be Stiff’, ‘Be Stiff (Take 2)’

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Book Review: 'Earth Abides' by George R Stewart

The Last American

George R Stewart’s 1949 book 'Earth Abides'
examined by Andrew Darlington

Although published in 1949, George R Stewart’s sprawling epic Earth Abides was neither the first, nor the last fiction to delete homo sapiens from the world. For Stewart, it is a virus that wipes out the human race. But mass-extinction had been a popular theme for writers at least since Mary Shelley’s The Last Man in 1826, in which a viral-plague devastates civilisation, followed by the awful anguish of Matthew Phipps (MP) Shiel’s sole inheritor of a world depopulated by The Purple Cloud (1901). After Stewart’s novel the Cold War thermonuclear confrontation gave atomic catastrophe the added frisson of terrible political relevance, with world-ending cataclysm brought about by a regular arsenal of frightful doomsday weapons. In fact, Stewart alludes to global war as his character – Isherwood Williams, muses on the irony that ‘the trouble you’re expecting never happens’. People have ‘been trembling about destruction through war’, and ‘having bad dreams of cities blown to pieces’, but that ‘it’s always something that sneaks up the other way’. It’s an idea that’s been picked up and re-envisioned numerous times since in various inventive ways, with humanity variously drowned, grilled, frozen, irradiated, crystallised, burned and eaten by perambulating plants. Stephen King acknowledging the influence of Earth Abides on his The Stand (1978, revised 1990), with echoes up to Will Smith’s cinematic last man in New York in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend’ (2007), or the ongoing Twenty-Eight Days Later movie series (2002 & 2007)....

For Full Feature Go To:

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Movie Review: Elvis Presley 'Blue Hawaii'


‘Ecstatic Romance! Exotic Dances!
Exciting Music! In The World’s
Lushest Paradise Of Song!’

There are two perspectives you can use to look at ‘Blue Hawaii’. The first is as it must have appeared at the time of its release, in relation to what had come earlier. The other is with hindsight, knowing what would come later. Both perspectives are useful. Elvis had a tendency to complacency. With good reason. When he felt challenged, when he felt his status was threatened, he was well-capable of retaliating with work of extraordinary intensity. As with his so-called ‘67 Comeback TV Special’, launched when his career was at its lowest post-Beatles ebb, and designed to vindicate his intensity as a live performer. Problem was that for much of his career his position as the planet’s biggest music-star remained unchallenged. Whatever slapdash dross he chose to inflict sold just as many copies as his best and most groundbreaking work. The unquestioning loyalty of the fans who bought up everything with his name on it meant he had no real incentive to try harder. And because he didn’t have to try, he didn’t try….
Full review and background history of Elvis Presley: ‘BLUE HAWAII’
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