Wednesday, 28 January 2015


(For Stephen Singleton circa 
Vice Versa-Neutron Records) 

This is 
post-modernist po/ 
etry designed for use in 
hypermarkets, offices, 
telephone answering services, 
air-terminals, in-car systems, 
and pedestrian precincts. 
Functional poetry with 
stylistic malleability, 
angle-poise connotations and 
audio-visual connectivity. 
Conceptual poetry that 
is its own medium, 
modified and attuned to taste. 
This is post-modernist po/ 
etry with the appliance 
of science. 
Ideologically unsound sound 
for limited attention spans. 
Post-modernism is a 
synthesis placed at the 
correct cultural nexus, and has 
interchangeable/ mix and match 
influence components. 
It is shrink-wrapped 
and date-stamped for 
an ideal shelf life 
of three and a half minutes. 
This is post-modernist 
environment-specific poetry 
for subliminal subversion. 
Soundtrack jingles for discord 
imprinted on/ symptoms of 
rapid eye movement. 
Retinal shadow shows in 
hygienic cellophane packs, 
ready for use. 
This is 
post-modern po/ 
etry with a disposable 
of the next 
three and a half minutes…

Published in:
‘TEMPUS FUGIT no.8’ (Belgium – December 1988)
‘WORKING TITLES no.2’ (UK – February 1990)
plus my collection:
‘POWER LINES’ (Unibird Publications) (UK – October 1988)
on cassette:
‘ULISES DOG NR.9’ (C60 Vec Audio) (Netherlands – July 1981)
‘L.P.G no.2’ (UK – July 1981)
my own cassette:
‘SLITS IN AEROSOL GREEN’ (Eight Miles Higher) (UK – January 1981)
and on:
‘DIAL-A-POEM’ telephone service (8 August 1980, Liverpool)

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Sheffield Music Interview: VICE VERSA & CLOCK DVA


I’d interviewed Genesis P Orridge for the ‘Styng’ underground 
newspaper, defended Marc Bolan’s up-switch to electric guitar in 
‘Melody Maker’, and done a scattering of music-related features for 
various fanzines. But encountering ‘NEUTRON RECORDS’ and the 
Sheffield bands VICE VERSA and CLOCK DVA was a revelation 
 that shocked me around and altered the trajectory of my writing. 
 This is what I consider my first real piece of Music Journalism. 
This is what started it all for me. 
 Everything that followed, had its origins here…

Clock DVA has ten legs. It is lost behind a storm of strobes. From where I’m sitting at the ‘F-Club’ in Leeds, backed up against the amp stack, I get fragmented repetitive impressions of green luminous digitals set into the high-technology backdrop. A mangrove-bearded saxist shreds bits of John Coltrane into spacio-temporal dislocations. A guitarist in white pointed-toe boots (which I envy), plays with two broken strings. And a vocalist with a Tommy Steele quiff and bagged uniform pants rasps what remains of a tormented bow across a violin. Now seen in silhouette, now in stark white leprous light. Clock DVA is doing “Brigade”, a nuclear love song which is their contribution to a seven-inch 33-&-a-third rpm compilation EP of Sheffield bands called ‘1980: The First Fifteen Minutes’. It’s an industrial romance.

When the nukes start to fall, and the evening (of civilisation) is high, we will celebrate this way…!

It’s a strange night. Earlier, Genesis P Orridge, in military fatigues, supervised setting up Monte Cazazza’s equipment, synching the tapes, triggering soundcheck reverb careening over packed heads and poking holes in the smoke. Now, theirs is a two-piece fifteen-minutes of musique concrète white noise. A girl, who is probably Cosey Fanni Tutti in leather, sits engrossed in evoking discord from a guitar, while a guy with a synthesiser howls incomprehensible “Sperm Song” lyrics through voice distortion, then another about child-strangler “Mary Bell”. It’s cut-ups of sound like Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen used to construct in Paris arts-labs in the late-fifties, the kind of thing usually aimed at elitist modern classical audiences and critically deconstructed in ultra-serious arts magazines. A little more aggressive now perhaps, but here in Leeds, kids are bouncing up and down like it’s Blondie or something. Spontaneous reactions striking intuitively deep at unprepared brain-centres.

Lights around the stage event horizon drill upwards. As it gets hotter and the air gets more congested the lights get buried beneath mounds of discarded leather jackets. Internal combustion results in columns of toxic smoke drifting hazily across the snaking wires and control boxes. People stand around, watching like it’s Special-FX, Queen’s Dry-Ice or something. I’m watching, lager in hand – but at fifty-pence a pint I’m not about to offer to extinguish the imminent conflagration. Sound grates on. From the back of the stage Genesis P watches plumes of smoke gather and dissolve, and starts gesticulating like a refugee from Martha Graham’s Modern Dance, until Roadies slam to the front hurtling smouldering leather jackets – with button-badges of Throbbing Gristle/ Police/ Toyah, at odd trajectories into the crowd. A strange night.

Let’s take a CRUISE to oblivion, this time we’ll REALLY get high…!

Shift of location. Now Clock DVA is playing dates in Rotterdam, ‘Jazz Violence’ with label-mates Vice Versa. A venue that is a converted shipping refinery where Joy Division once played and William Burroughs read excerpts from his next novel. Vice Versa has six legs. It is a three-piece post-Modernist post-Rock band, which means they don’t use guitars, and have no drummer. What they do have is sharp intelligent songs fused through Punk-fuelled adrenalin-rush and processed by a daunting armoury of electronic noise. They have an EP – ‘Music 4’ (September 1979), on their own Neutron label (PX1092), which opens with “New Girls Neutrons” and “Science Fact”, then flips into a soundtrack sequence running “Riot Squad”/ “Camille”. A chillingly tactile threat cannibalising spoken inserts which fade into focus before being submerged in multi-layered incandescent electronics.

Vice Versa spout the regulation New Austerity spiel, their ‘product’, their ‘advertisers perception of truth’. Yet behind such cutesy relentless modernity they have the intellectual intensity to give it content, making it more than just a this-year’s-model stance. This is Rock with the appliance of science. They make all the correct cultural connections and write a mean Manifesto that arch-Futurist Filippo T Marinetti would smile on. When you buy Neutron, you buy a conceptual package deal. You buy the full corporate image, the whole shrink-wrapped, date-stamped philosophy. The music is not necessarily the product. It is the vehicle, the weapons-strike delivery system through which the product is targeted, channelled, and communicated.

“Modern As In Mary Quant” is an as-yet unrecorded song, their paean to consumerism. ‘Mary makes the most of your trash aesthetic, Mary is messiah of the trash aesthetic.’ It is contagious, it irradiates the stage with lethal hook-lines. I hear it once, and I can’t get it out of my head.

In the corner of a Sheffield pub some time before the gig, Mark White talks in fast humorous epithets. He is around twenty-one, and intends staying there, has freshly shorn dark hair he keeps irrigating obsessively with the fingers of both hands. He disclaims my tentative analogies with other synthesiser bands. ‘All the clichés are there now. It’s all become so stereotyped. You’re either Gary Numan or the Human League.’

So what about chart bands like, say, Cure or Orchestral Manoeuvres? ‘No. We work against that to produce a reaction. We do everything conceivable to discount this. Anti-feeling. In a way it’s negative, but it produces a positive thing.’

Martin Fry speaks more carefully, as though calculating effect. On stage he will later lead a between-numbers ‘Ommmm’ chant that will perplex the nouveau trendy, and rekindle memories of the Fugs and Allen Ginsberg in those who – like me, have been around long enough to remember. The most recent addition to Vice Versa, his effect on the trio’s direction has already been considerable. ‘I was always interested in synthesisers. It was such a stylistic revelation. We were into that kind of feeling. But we’ve already exhausted that form of synthesis.’

White punctuates and emphasises with infectious animation, a constant infusion of mainline energy that he will exorcise on stage in a ritual auto-destruction of his jacket. Each balletically-induced tear captured by the voyeuristic swoop of a video camera freezing the event for future scrutiny.

I suggest that the rigidity of the drum-machine works counter to improvisation, straight-jacketing (pun intended) spontaneity. ‘Yes, it does in a way, but that’s good because the improvisation then comes out vocally. We don’t stick religiously to it because then you’re just static. We are developing towards a kind of Funk Vision.’

Speed-reading their biographical-data print-out/ Manifesto – ‘Our methods involve seduction by cheap sexual fantasy, lies, appealing to the consumer’s greed and the implications of romantic blackness and modernity. The effect is of shrink-wrap beef burgers.

Vice Versa come from Sheffield and their motives are ‘Situationist or subversive, moral and Dada’. Only Stephen Singleton, insistent propagandist and some-time sax-player is missing, being interviewed by local Hallam Radio. Stage frontman and vocalist Mark White sits balanced on the edge of his chair, leaning forward to establish conversational territory. Percussionist and synth-player Martin Fry slouches back in the well-worn leather upholstery, a slur of blonde hair infiltrating his forehead, voice sometimes dropping beneath the level of background Pub inanities.

From them, I piece together genealogies. The band coalescing around 1977, drawing inspiration from Punk, but resisting the cliché of falling into the three-chord thrash, channelling it rather into more unorthodox forms. I list other possible influences for reaction.

David Bowie? ‘He’s offered a lot of blueprints.’

Sex Pistols? ‘There wouldn’t be a massive underground now if it wasn’t for the Pistols, the climate wouldn’t have existed where a whole underground could spring up.’ A calculated pause. ‘All right, it’s gone a bit sour, but a lot of things have come up which wouldn’t have happened otherwise, which EMI would not have supported, which CBS would have let die.’

The Dada anti-art movement? ‘The thing about Dada is that – whether they call it Dada or not, it’s a permanent force, a perpetual revolution. It’s a substitute word for Punk, I suppose. The original Cabaret Voltaire connection. Hugo Ball. Tristan Tzara.’

Chic, Giorgio Morodor? ‘Disco is an excellent vehicle.’

Acid Punk? ‘The Standells. Thirteenth Floor Elevators. The Electric Prunes “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night”. I bought Lenny Kaye’s excellent ‘Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era’ (1972) double-album, ‘cos I was desperate to get hold of first statements.’

Early group experiments dispensed with the bulky human drummer in favour of rhythm-generator, and they took improvisation into the realm of formless aural mosaic. This direction was also curtailed as an incestuous self-indulgence. Masturbation limited in appeal to both listener and musician. The further disposal of guitars in favour of synths and a variety of prepared tape segments initiated a miniaturisation policy in preparation for the becoming the first attaché case commuter band.

Martin Fry originally came round to interview the band for his ‘Modern Drugs’ fanzine, and he never left.

So there’s still a chance for me? ‘We’re sizing you up!’

Martin redirects conversation to Neutron’s current preoccupations. ‘What interests us now is the speed of operation. Shelf-life for everything. Everything is marked ‘Sell by…’ Records should have a sticker on, ‘this will be out of fashion in three-and-a-half minutes’.’

Mark concurs. ‘And the way things are burning themselves up. We did a song – “Artists At War”, exposing the cyclical nature of fashion. Mods coming back – you didn’t think it had gone away, but it’s back! Gradually speeded up. A snowball effect. You can’t even see them they’re going so fast. Now you get one-hit Disco wonders, which is a true Andy Warhol fifteen minutes.’

Fry admits to ‘walking in a dead man’s shoes’ through his first months with Vice Versa (replacing founder-member David Sydenham). They toured with Cowboys International, treading the line between energy and experimentation, meeting and subduing-deflecting skinhead opposition at the Middlesborough ‘Rock Gardens’. They recorded “Genetic Warfare” for the ‘1980: The First Fifteen Minutes’ EP compilation (Neutron NT003), alongside Clock DVA, “Beautiful People” by the Stunt Kites, and “I Don’t Know” by I’m So Hollow, lovingly wrapped into a six-sided fold-out sleeve. Organisation of the record was done along democratic lines, each of the four bands allotted four minutes vinyl time and thirty-six square inches of art area within its lavish sleeve. Neutron pressed it up in successive tranches of one-thousand. It was voted ‘Best Package Of The Week’ by ‘Melody Maker’, and scored heavily on various alternative charts.

Meanwhile, Vice Versa supported the Beat at Sheffield’s ‘Top Rank’, played a series of half-hour sets in the local Virgin store interspersed with customer-relations chat, and performed a slot at the Leeds Queens Hall ‘Futurama 2 Festival’ (14 September) as part of a two-day bill with Clock DVA, Soft Cell, and Bill Nelson, headlined by Siouxsie & The Banshees.

But now it is 1980 – the next fifteen minutes…

‘The next THIRTY minutes’ asserts Martin Fry confidently.

The material that’s become manifest since he joined the trio provides evidence of a remarkable evolution. Three numbers – in particular, stand out. The aforementioned “Modern As In Mary Quant” and “Artists At War” – urging ‘slash your wrists!’, ‘always forward!’, ‘anti-age’, ‘be dynamic!’, plus “Jazz Drugs, Jazz Violence” – ‘jazz drugs, jazz look, jazz age, jazz mambo, jazz waltz, jazz damn thing to love...’ – the latter two available in cassette form as part of their Neutron C60 ‘Eight Aspects Of April ‘80’ (later retrospected – quoting this feature, at Julian Cope’s ).

‘On the earlier recorded material, the lyric were mine’ offers Mark. ‘Since then they’ve been a combination of the band. We did “Body Sculpture”, “Jazz Drugs”, and it was quite different. The sound is much denser. More dark, less erratic. We’ve pooled together more on these songs.’

Will this product be placed on vinyl? ‘At the moment we’re a bit disillusioned with the independent market. It’s just saturated with rubbish. We appreciate the Punk ethic – ‘do what you want, anybody can do it’. But it’s got no commitment. It’s manifesting itself in Rough Trade’s attitude. They are becoming more and more selective. With the independents you’re reaching a certain market. A certain ideology. We don’t want that, we want populism. You’ve probably heard this line before from bands. It’s a dangerous line between populism and crass commercialism. You tend to sacrifice one for the other’ (in fact, the full Vice Versa catalogue would not be re-mastered and issued on vinyl until November 2014 with the brilliant 4-LP Box Set ‘Vice Versa: Electrogenesis 1978-1980’, ).

Shift of location. After the Continental tour they play home turf. At Sheffield City Hall, Vice Versa ride that dangerous line, and acquit themselves magnificently. And Clock DVA is a nihilistic Captain Beefheart with a black, black light show of repetitive verticals and pure monochrome Bridget Riley grids. A full frontal pandemonium shadow-show with deranged vocalist Adi Newton and mangrove-bearded saxist Charlie Collins as components in a tightly-controlled visual-audial spectacle. A full relief cerebral massage. They figure in all the correct mythologies. Tape-coaxer Adi was involved with the two founder members of the now-Human League in an enterprise called the Future. While DVA’s contribution to journalist Nigel Burnham’s North-Eastern compilation LP ‘Hicks From The Sticks’ (Rockburgh Records ROC 111, April 1980) – “You’re Without Sound”, was produced by Cabaret Voltaire at their Sheffield ‘Western Works’ studios.

Adi compounds the band’s mystique, contending that ‘your dislike is our wanted reaction.’ With ‘events too perverse to perform openly, too decadent for Sheffield by far.’

Clock DVA-tions? ‘From the very beginning our aim was to provoke, to gain adverse response, to create the perfect, pornographic, electronic violence. A wall sound that sweeps.’ It’s a devastating multi-purpose concept that they’re capable of translating into an all-encompassing sensory event, encapsulating on vinyl, or placing on film. Their movie ‘Genitals And Genosis’ features ‘pornographic surrealism’, splicing news-film of the Myra Hindley and Ian Brady trial with domestic scenes of Genesis P Orridge at home.

In performance the voice is treated as just another instrument, a device for generating sound and atmosphere rather than a conveyance medium for lyrics. It’s melded well down into the aural wash to be distorted into incomprehensibility. Even the two poems read at the City Hall, with their Cold War allusions, are treated as a sonic – rather than a literal, exercise. An ‘aural wallpaper’ using ‘unconventional music on conventional instruments, form and formless.’

It provides the demarcation line between the two units. For Vice Versa there is no such deliberate obscurantism. Their lyrics may be staccato, cut-up, and prevocational, but they’re also well-structured, and their importance to the band is not to be underestimated. I will remember this fistful of nights…

Shift of location. Shift of form. To misquote Chuck Berry, I look at Clock DVA, it’s a quarter past 1981, and THIS is the next fifteen minutes! The Genesis P Orridge connection has reached maturation in the Fetish-label album ‘Thirst’ (Fetish FR2002). You know the rest, you’ve read the reviews, been seduced by the superlatives, seen the Indie chart submit to the inevitable force of the year’s most ponderously hypnotic and intense album.

And for Vice Versa the Neutron first-year plan closes with the imminent release of a single – “Stilyagi” c/w “Eyes Of Christ” from Rotterdam’s Backstreet Backlash Records, a kind of Glitter Band backbeat over Eurasian shortwave Pop-pulse. Eulogising Russian Teddy-Boys as ‘we want to meet you, we are foreign as you,’ it uses a fizzy synthesis and hard-nose foot-stomping that takes technicoloured crayons and paints out all the grey. Ironically its release comes at a time when the group itself is undergoing metamorphosis. They are charting new assaults on shelf-life through a re-packaging of product. A remake remodel that mutates the Funk vision through a biological extension of drummer David Robinson and bass player Mark Lickley.

The new ID is ABC, a radical dance faction aimed at the world’s first swaying elite. They mean business. It is very much in your interest to stay tuned…

This piece was picked up by ‘Hot Press’ – the Dublin-based 
fortnightly paper which was then expanding its circulation 
into England. Unfortunately, by then, Vice Versa 
were in the process of rebranding themselves into ABC, 
and they made it quite clear to me that they no longer 
wanted an interview about Vice Versa to appear! I was 
in a desperate quandary. This was my chance to get a 
major feature published in a wide-circulation 
newsstand music paper, I didn’t want to lose that opportunity. 
So I was on the phone to ‘Hot Press’ then I was on the 
phone to Vice Versa. I hastily rewrote the last two 
paragraphs to update it, reading the amendments out 
aloud on the phone to Dublin. And eventually the 
group agreed to the interview going ahead, on the 
understanding that I’d then do a follow-up feature on ABC. 
Which duly happened. My twenty-year stint with ‘Hot Press’ 
was up and running. Incidentally, ‘New Musical Express’ 
had turned this interview down, but within months they 
were falling over themselves to get interviews with both ABC 
and the amazing Clock DVA…!

Published in:
‘WOOL CITY ROCKERS no.12’ (February 1981 – UK)
‘HOT PRESS Vol.5 No.4’ (Eire – March 1981)
‘ROCKERILLA no.9’ (January 1981 – Italy)

Thursday, 22 January 2015

HERBERT HUNCKE: Notes From The Beat Underground

(9th December 1915 - 8th August 1996)

‘Huncke, whom you’ll see on Times Square, somnolent and alert, 
sadsweet, dark, beat, just out of jail, martyred, tortured by 
 sidewalks, starved for sex and companionship, open to 
 anything, ready to introduce new worlds with a shrug’ 
                                        Jack Kerouac, “Now it’s Jazz” 
                                         (Desolation Angels, Chapter 77)

Herbie Huncke (rhymes with JUNKIE) is dead.

Who cares? A low-life hoodlum, shiftless thief, liar, Rent-Boy, Junkhead, he ‘lived in other people’s apartments all his life’ and ‘seldom got a habit unless someone else paid for it.’ But if the term elegantly wasted still has any currency value, then he embodies it.

J Edgar Hoover once called Beatniks the third greatest threat to the American way of life. And Huncke was the Godfather of Beat. The first hipster. He not only defined its curiously diseased attractions, but gave it its name. If, to William Burroughs ‘Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life,’ then he learned that ‘Junk Equation’ from Huncke’s Monkey. Allen Ginsberg uses Huncke’s hustler story-telling and Junkie jargon as poem rhythms and source material. And if Burroughs and Ginsberg become totally immersed in Huncke’s subterranean milieu, Jack Kerouac is only slightly more detached. He observes the corrupt romance of its decayed dissolution, and makes Huncke the devious nihilist outlaw of his novels. Even John Clellon Holmes uses Hunke, as ‘Ancke’, in his influential novel ‘Go’ (1952).

Huncke stays over with Burroughs in the squalor of ‘Naked Lunch’ Algiers, and steals the only thing of value there. A rug. He crashes over with Ginsberg and steals his phonograph. ‘The more anyone has done to help him, the more certain he is to steal from or otherwise take advantage of his benefactor’ Burroughs warns Ginsberg in a letter.

To Burroughs, Huncke is ‘small and very thin, his neck loose in the collar of his shirt. His complexion faded from brown to a mottled yellow... his mouth drawn down at the corners in a grimace of petulant annoyance’ (‘Junkie’). To Kerouac he’s a ‘dark, Arabic-looking man with an oval face and huge blue eyes that were lidded wearily always, with the huge lids of a mask. He moved about with the noiseless glide of an Arab, his expression always weary, indifferent, yet somehow astonished too, aware of everything. He had the look of a man who is sincerely miserable in the world’ (‘The Town And The Country’).

Hunke is a 42nd St Hustler for four years, turning tricks, doing blow-jobs, stealing from cars. Spends six months at sea trying to kick a heroin habit, second cook on a rusting tanker ferrying high-octane gas from New Jersey through the Panama Canal to Hawaii. But making an on-board connection he does the trip ‘in a morphine glow’. Later – January 1946, back in a low-rent New York Rooming House on Henry Street, under the Manhattan Bridge, Burroughs makes his first call. Already lured by fringe-criminal sleaze, and hoping to find an underworld connection to fence a stolen machine gun and some morphine syrettes, his first impression of Huncke is of ‘waves of hostility and suspicion (that) flow out from his large brown eyes like some form of television broadcast.’ Huncke’s paranoia has mistaken Burroughs for an FBI agent! But he’s soon hitting on him for ‘spare change’. Burroughs is fascinated by this cool parasite, and the inept bohemian black comedy growing from their collision is to become a bizarre 1940’s ‘Trainspotting’, soundtracked not by Underworld or Leftfield, but by the fragile beauty of Billie Holiday on a wind-up phonograph, or by the frantic Bebop of all-nite jazz dives. It will revolutionise and reverberate all the way through literary and anti-Lit America, igniting new confusions of incandescent possibility that have yet to be exhausted.

Burroughs – soon an ice-cold hipster in an anonymous suit locked into heroin dependency, introduces Ginsberg and Kerouac to the chemical compound ‘characters of the underworld’. Including Huncke, who not only anti-hero’s in Kerouac’s first novel as ‘Junky’, but gets first Beat Generation use of the word ‘Beat’ in print. A word plucked from Huncke’s real-life speech-patterns. United by (what Ted Morgan calls) links between ‘students and thieves, book-smart and street-smart’, and a mutual interest in recreational pharmacology, they share a 115th Street Crash Pad. The proto-Beats raging euphorically through sexual, narcotic and artistic conundrums, while finding their vocabulary through essential lifestyle-catalysts provided by Huncke, ‘always high on something – weed, benzedrine, or knocked out of his mind on ‘goof-balls’’.

He tour-guides eighteen-year-old Ginsberg around the nomadic floating population of Times Square, the meat-racks and dives where he scores drugs, makes mysterious connections and feeds his cellular needs with petty crime, then the bus terminal where he regularly steals suitcases. To Ginsberg the ‘utter sordidness of my NY’ becomes ‘A Vision Of Apocalypse’. While Kerouac, exploring ‘states of consciousness’ through benzedrine (even its suicidally depressive come-downs providing ‘brooding introspections useful to the writer’), gives Huncke further pivotal roles in the monumental ‘On The Road’ (as Elmo Hassel) and ‘Book Of Dreams’ (as Huck).

A second scene develops as drug busts and Rikers Island ‘cures’ take their toll. Burroughs sets up in New Waverly, a wasted run-down property in Texas where he intends growing marijuana. Huncke joins him, driving regularly into nearby Houston to score for them. Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (Kerouac’s ‘Dean Moriarty’) arrive. Huncke himself recording the ensuing chaos in his ‘The Evening Sky Turned Crimson’ (Cherry Valley Press, 1980), a minor – but sought-after Beat artifact.

Huncke’s own infrequent writing leaks scant and wilfully unreliable details of his own origins. Born in December 1915 in Greenfield Massachusetts he’d always been a deliberate misfit, rejecting the safe dull hypocrisy of a middle-class background to wander the lower depths of the Gay and narcotic underside of America, living on his wits and his sexual talent – ‘my Mother had gone west to California. I had nothing whatsoever to do with my father, and, finally, with my brother. As far as friends were concerned, those that I knew were a dime a dozen. I just didn’t want to be bothered with any of them. I had had one sort-of love affair, so I thought, with a young fellow from the University of Chicago. I had really hurt him, no getting around it, and he certainly didn’t want any more to do with me. I began to realize that I was a pretty insensitive sort of person, that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I’d been, and that there were people doing things in life, and I was doing nothing’ (‘Guilty Of Everything’).

By the time he gravitated to the red-light subworld of New York he was ‘a beautiful kid’ recounts Burroughs’ character Bill Gains, ‘the trouble is, he lost his looks...’ Huncke’s extensive sexual history even attracts the attention of the Kinsey Institute For Research In Sex, Gender & Reproduction, who interview him – and measure his penis (soft and erect!) for the best-selling ‘Kinsey Report On Sexual Behavior In The Human Male’ (1948).

Through the final months of 1946 he’s in Bronx County Jail for possession. Then, released from a further stint on Rikers Island and warned off the Times Square zone by Police, he spends February 1949 wandering homeless, ‘sick dirty and more dead than alive,’ living on Benzedrine, coffee and doughnuts, walking ‘all night with (his) shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steamheat and opium’ as Ginsberg – at who’s door he eventually fetches up, recounts it later in the epochal ‘Howl’.

Ginsberg’s biographer Barry Miles knowingly observes that ‘under Huncke’s veneer of misery and impotence there was a calculating mind that would exploit Allen’s every weakness,’ and Ginsberg’s gullible generosity and sanctuary extends indefinitely. Not only is Hunke now living with Ginsberg in his New York 1401 York Avenue apartment, but he’s using it as a hot goods storage-space for stolen property; cameras, radios, pornographic books, clothes – and even a huge cigarette dispensing machine. The stay-over inevitably results in colourful disaster. Caught inadvertently in a car chase and autowrecked with two of Huncke’s accomplices Ginsberg desperately phones ahead to warn Huncke that the Cops are looking for him, imploring Hunke to ‘clean up the place’. Beat chronicler Ann Charters writing that as the Police arrive Huncke is laconically sweeping the floor oblivious to the mounds of contraband all around him!

Ginsberg gets sent down for psychiatric observation. Huncke gets five-years, emerging from Sing Sing in Fall 1959. By then the seismic publication of ‘Howl’ and ‘On The Road’ have ignited the Beat Generation into notorious celebrity. He recontacts Kerouac for a $25 loan. Kerouac turns him down. But already, to poet/artist Jeff Nuttall, Huncke’s become ‘half-legendary’, a shadowy but vital figure, and as Beat mythology complexifies increasingly into archivist obsession he’s tracked down with greater regularity.

The Beat relationships remain – if slightly more distanced, into the sixties (despite further arrests for methedrine). Ginsberg edits Huncke’s attempted fiction while interest in Beat minutiae gives him a fame by association to writers like Gerald Nicosia researching and publishing Beat histories. Diane Di Prima publishes ‘Huncke’s Journal’ (Poets Press) in 1965, a first collection of his fragmentary stories and prose. It’s followed by ‘Elsie John And Joey Martinez’ (1979) and ‘Guilty Of Everything’ (1991). Then, when Ginsberg organises his ‘Literary History Of The Beat Generation’ celebration at the University of Colorado in Summer 1982 Huncke (rhymes with JUNKIE) is there giving workshops alongside William Burroughs, Michael McClure, Timothy Leary, Greg Corso, Abbie Hoffman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the rest.

And then, August 1996, he’s dead. A ghost heroin-pale presence behind the guises of the century’s most hip writers. That’s no small achievement for a lowlife hoodlum, shiftless thief, Rent-Boy and Junkhead.

Published in:
‘THE SUPPLEMENT Issue.49’ (UK – March 2010)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Book into Film into Book into Film: KARL ALEXANDER'S 'Time After Time'



 Book Review of: 
(Panther, 1979 £1.25, 320pp ISBN 0586-050795) 

You’ll probably see, or already have seen the movie ‘Time After Time’ (August 1979), currently doing its late-night re-runs on various digital TV-channels. So you’ll probably know the plot concerns HG Wells – played by Malcolm McDowell with moustache, inventing a real Time Machine, said Time Machine being hijacked into the future by Jack The Ripper – portrayed by David Warner, and Herbert George’s pursuit of this villainous quarry into today, that is – into 1979. McDowell, in a more sympathetic role than we usually expect from him, is as excellent as ever.

And it’s a feel-good soft-centred serial-killer thriller balanced with humour and romance, as Wells and his former friend compete for possession of the ‘return key’ of the time machine, which has become an exhibit in the San Francisco museum. But despite the surface protestations ‘Now A Major Film’ the Karl Alexander book tie-in, purportedly expanded and fleshed out from director Nicholas Meyer’s original screenplay, seems to lie more in the genealogy of the ‘Star Trek’ merchandising-novel, or the ‘ET’ novelisation. Although the full interactions between and betwixt film and book are a little more complex than that, it’s still difficult to judge it as a real work of Science Fiction, as distinct from a mainstream movie spin-off. If viewed as the former, the diligent critic would be conscience-bound to point out that, although playfully intriguing, the core-themes are by no means original.

As early as 1967 Robert Bloch wrote a first, and far more chillingly convincing Ripper-projected-into-the-future story – “A Toy For Juliette”, followed that same year by Harlan Ellison reworking the theme in his ‘Dangerous Vision’ “The Prowler In The City At The Edge Of The World”. Christopher Priest wrote HG Wells as a character into his enjoyable fantasy ‘The Space Machine’ (1976), while Jherek Carnelian converses effectively with a sceptical Wells on the topic of Time Travellers in Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Hollow Lands’ (1974). Moorcock also evokes a far more tactile picture of Victorian London than Alexander’s second-hand American view condescendingly-affectionately extracted from previous Hollywood imaginings.

Similarly there’s little development of the Time Travel concept. Needless to say, there’s none of the temporal conundrums mapped out by Isaac Asimov (‘The End Of Eternity’, 1955) or Poul Anderson (‘The Corridors Of Time’, 1966). While none of the ideas are taken to the staggeringly complex consummation of Barrington J Bayley’s novels (‘Collision With Chronos’, 1973 and ‘The Fall Of Chronopolis’, 1974) with time spliced, looped, overdubbed, phased, and wiped clean like so much recording tape. But that is never its intention.

Karl Alexander, for example, has Wells snatched out of 1893 London into what the DVD blurb calls ‘The Wildest Chase Of The Century’. Once in a 1979 San Francisco of McDonalds and Hari Krishnas, he sees the ‘Star Wars’ movie. But there’s no suggestion that, so inspired, he returns to the nineteenth-century to write ‘War Of The Worlds’, published just five years later. Because that’s not Alexander’s purpose – because this isn’t a real SF novel, surely it’s more a movie merchandising vehicle aimed at a wider public? So it should escape such sectarian scrutiny. The Time Machine is a plot device, just as much a gimmick as the modified DeLorean in ‘Back To The Future’ (1985), useful only in that it brings the characters together in one space-time location. A Disneyfied fantasy around which he builds a mildly comic, charmingly romantic, highly entertaining novel of ‘time-crossed lovers’, crime detection, and gentle satire. Isn’t that enough? Can’t spin-offery also be creative? After all, Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock and Simon Clark have all contributed to the ‘Dr Who’ library of tales.

In that he has any motive other than entertainment, Alexander’s main concern is to mirror the Jekyll & Hyde nature – to subsume yet another Victorian-lit archetype, of technological ‘progress’, seen through the reactions of his two protagonists. A duality represented by Wells’ idealistic optimism contrasted with John Leslie Stevenson’s (the Ripper’s) nihilistic negation, ‘ninety years ago, I was a freak’ he protests, ‘today… I’m an amateur.’ The morally ambiguous muddle of 1979 is competently delineated. The accuracy of Wells’ naïve enthusiasm occasionally even jolts our own carefully nurtured cynicisms. He sees a culture that has ‘seen it all, has done everything, but doesn’t have the time to reflect upon one iota of it.’ Although we’ve yet to achieve the scientific utopia he anticipated, Wells alone recognises the immense strides in social progress that have been made, but which it is so fashionable to ignore, counterbalanced by the palliative of the price paid. Perhaps that price is really not as high as we imagine?

Hindsight nudges forward the corrective that Wells’ own perspective shifted considerably in later life, reaching its darkest expression in his final bleak tract ‘Mind At The End Of Its Tether’ (1945). But the Ripper’s vision, as devil’s advocate, is equally laser-bright, recognising that 1979 reflects more exactly his own philosophies. He prefers Alice Cooper’s mayhem to Fleetwood Mac’s soporific – never having got as far as Sid Vicious!, and he feels slighted by Charles Manson’s greater notoriety. He plans to use the Time Machine to literally carve his manifesto clear across the ages, by ‘surprising Cleopatra in her boudoir. He could be assaulting and butchering her voluptuous body before Anthony ever reached the shores of the Nile. A few minutes further along the Fourth Dimension, and he could be sodomising Helen of Troy… Mary Magdalene could be his too, raped and slaughtered before Jesus ever had a chance to save her wretched soul… and he could violate and murder Joan of Arc.’ Fortunately, he never gets to carry out this catalogue of vile deeds.

There’s tension and fast-paced chase-sequences as Stevenson abducts Wells’ bank-teller love-interest Amy Catherine Robbins (played by Mary Steenburgen), and tries to use her to bargain for possession of the time machine’s control key. Wells, in deerstalker hat, is mistakenly arrested on suspicion of the murder of Amy’s co-worker, who has fallen foul of the newly-styled ‘San Francisco Ripper’. Wells even uses the machine to take Amy on a three-day hop into the future, where she’s shocked to see a newspaper headline reporting her as the Ripper’s next victim. There’s a final confrontation around the machine itself. ‘You have my word as a gentleman’ promises the Ripper, before reneging, ‘I would have expected that you’d noticed by now, that I am not a gentleman.’ The struggle results in him being hurled endlessly into the future, while Wells decides to return – with Amy, to his own time, where he intends to destroy his invention. It has too much potential for evil to be allowed to exist.

One reviewer adjudged Karl Alexander to be a keen student of all things Wellsian. And that Nicholas Meyer’s screenplay was actually based largely on his ‘uncredited’ novel, which was unfinished during the time of filming, incorporating a story by Alexander, and by Steve Hayes. So definitions become more blurred than on first assumption, with some elements of creative interaction at play. Yet I’d instead gauge the research to be more the result of a hasty speed-reading of a Wells biography. No matter, the characters are drawn well enough to induce reader-identification, and they function well in their roles as ciphers. Wells becomes something of a bumbling eccentric, his socialism conveniently diluted – bad for the US market! While his lover – Amy, was real, even if she did originate in Putney and not San Francisco.

Alexander is on more shaky ground with his Ripper speed-reading, even if one concedes that some scene-shifting was necessary to compress the two protagonists into the same timeframe. In fact the Ripper’s last attributed murder was on 9 November 1888 – five years before the novel’s setting. Similarly, the murder detailed in the opening chapter – that of Elizabeth ‘Long Liz’ Stride, was only his third victim anyway. However – despite being out of time, the setting for the event is carefully and accurately described, clear down to the witness-authenticated ‘International Workers Education Club’ meeting nearby, overhead singing the “Internationale”. Alexander’s accuracy is only undermined by his description of her ‘butchered’ corpse. Beyond the fatally slashed throat, Liz Stride’s body was not mutilated. But what the hell, gory murder is a reliable plot ingredient – and it IS an extremely entertaining novel. Not one to change your life irrevocably, but it will pass an hour or two most enjoyably, and comes cheaper than getting the 2008 Warner DVD from Amazon.

You’ve probably already seen the movie on its late-night re-runs on various digital TV-channels. Borrow a copy of this book some time too.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Live: NAZARETH in Hull, September 1981


Gig Review of: 
at ‘City Hall’, Hull 
(17 September 1981) 

Humberside might be in recession, but for Nazareth it’s business as usual. The ‘City Hall’ is a large echoing labyrinth of Victorian excess better suited to Symphony Orchestras, and more than several bands have retired defeated by its eccentric acoustic properties. But the Naz ride smooth and effortless through a set distinguished by pristine competence, if topographically undistinguishable from any other set they’ve done over the last ten years. Their galvanisation of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight” made perfect radio programming sense in 1973 – a no.11 hit, now they do it note for note with big-haired Dan McCafferty’s voice slewing alarmingly from a leap to a hoarse crawl over a vocal range that would stagger seismic print-outs, yet running through the entire gamut of emotions from A to B!

Next they’re doing Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew”, thumb-printed by all the Naz stylistic flourishes, Pete Agnew’s gut-thumping bass riff churning and vibrating on hot rails to hell, yet that energy paced, the climaxes spaced, the sound well balanced. Originally featured on their debut LP ‘Nazareth’ (November 1971), it could’ve been a hit in 1974, or 1976, or 1978, but no – it’s reconfigured into their new 1981 single! Deep Purple archivists in the audience tonight might recall that Roger Glover recorded the song as part of Episode Six in 1966. That same Roger Glover who took producer credits for Nazareth’s breakthrough ‘Razamanaz’ (May 1973) album – boasting hit singles “Broken Down Angel” and “Bad Bad Boy” (no.9 in August) – ‘we’re gonna razamanaz you tonight, we’re gonna razamanaz you ALL night!’, as well as its equally successful ‘Loud ‘n’ Proud’ (November 1973) sequel. ‘Damn right!’

Which was part of the problem, even though it might not have seemed so at the time. The early 1970’s was a weird transition period. Singles hits were suspect. Zeppelin never issued any. Deep Purple and Black Sabbath both had Top Ten hits, but they were spin-offs from epic albums, they were career-exceptions sensibly not followed up. Nazareth – by contrast, embraced the full hits thing, with regular ‘Top Of The Pops’ promotion, caught up partially at the periphery of the sartorially flash Glam thing. “Broken Down Angel” was no.7 in a June chart headed by Wizzard, Suzi Quatro and Sweet. Which devalued their credentials within the heavy-osity pantheon. Too slick and too Pop-melodic for the new Heavy Metal tribes, yet too mechanistic and flash to interest other sub-cultures. The audience tonight is a disparate miscellany with few unifying labels, some denim, some AC/DC flashes, some long-hairs.

“Love Hurts”, the self-pitying Roy Orbison ‘Mills & Boon’ weepie was lead track on the US edition of their mega-selling ‘Hair Of The Dog’ (April 1975), and radio-play highlight on their 1977 no.15 EP – despite a rival Jim Capaldi revamp of the same song. Here it’s treated to full overkill kitsch, dripping theatrical heartache at full Richter intensity. Best for me, though, is their retread of the Yardbirds’ “Shape Of Things” with Manny Charlton’s tasteful lead guitar embroidering at length all around Jeff Beck’s old vinyl-imprinted chording patterns, McCafferty’s lyrics pleading ‘please don’t destroy these lands, don’t make them desert sands’ suddenly regurgitated into Cold War relevance all over again, his Dunfermline phrasing there in the ‘time and tide’ line. Then they slot JJ Cale’s “Cocaine”, “Every Young Man’s Dreams” and “Hearts Grown Cold” in and around for light and shade, with Darrel Sweet, behind a massive drum-array, never less than adequate. Nazareth is (are?) timeless. Technically awesome, if emotionally vacuous.

Afterwards, the promoters can be heard bemoaning the mere six-hundred punters who traipsed here to be assailed by this near two-hour album-full-of-hits spectacle. But if Nazareth fall between several stools, there’s plenty of empty ones here to fall between! Restraint, like intelligence and ability, don’t exactly bring kudos in what passes for the current Music Scene. But, inoculated into sheer competence by marathon American tours, I doubt if the Naz even notice…