whalers on the moon: curious despatches from an old dream

It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

scribesQuite apart from anything else, the past — even the very recent past, maybe especially the very recent present — is a mass of detail that’s hard to take in and process (not least because you have to push away the immediate present to do so). My conference produced a little over 12 hours of conversation in one large (often quite hot, by the end quite airless) room, and the discussion has continued elsewhere, in nearby pubs or bars after the two days of debates; also here at ilm, here at Freaky Trigger, and here and here on tumblr. Resonance 104.4FM broadcast it nearly in full on 25 May and have put the eight extracts up on their mixcloud site here (I don’t know how long for). Continue reading

… a kingdom called not, which although it is, yet is not…

Sun RaIn 1989, I was flown to Germantown in Phildelphia to interview Sun Ra (for The Face). Ra is long gone now, and so’s The Face: and while a couple of longish quotes of the interview ended up in the piece about Black Science Fiction I wrote in The Wire just before I became editor, there was a lot of the (quite one-sided!) conversation that ended up on the cutting-room floor. A while back, Conor Gillies of WBUR in Boston, MA, got in touch to tell me about a new series he was helping work on — it sounded my kind of thing but I was super-busy and the only thing I could think might fit one of their projects was to send them the audio for the Sun Ra interview. I’ve been lamentably slow to publicise this — still super-busy is my only excuse — but the series, Stylus, has already started: you can hear Ra towards the end of this ep.

you can never go back back BAACK!

In which I take a break from organising a quasi-historical not-very-academic (but very exciting) conference (at Birkbeck, 15-16 May) and reflect on the ways your personal backpages as a hack begin to intersect with the public record etc etc.

COVER034-35A few weeks back, Marcello asked if I had any thoughts on this TPL post (about, among other things, Johnny Hates Jazz and The Wire as it was in 1986/87). Well, I did and I didn’t: I did because this era of my mentor Richard Cook’s project is very much the making of me, and I absorbed an enormous amount of his sensibility and thought a lot how to advance it best (whether or not I did is for others to judge; sadly he’s no longer with us for his perspective). But I didn’t (at least tactically, for now) because I have for most of this year been organising a conference on UK music-writing in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, trying to focus on how things had evolved from roughly 1968 (and the discussion of rock in the underground press) through to maybe 1985, when (in my judgment) Live Aid hit the inkies hard sideways, and changed their political ecology for good (Geldof’s revenge, you could call it). The serious social potential of pop began to be more and more of a topic for the tabloids and the broadsheets: the inkies began more and more to fold in into their own niche, exploring less and less. In this they were reflecting changes in the world, to be sure — but they were also amplifying and accepting these changes. Continue reading

seven (and then there’s tiger rag)

nelsonbluescomplaining as usual that too many ppl begin (and end) their jazz quest w/kind of fkn blue, i realised i was probably required to suggest better points of entry from the same era: hence this*

i: timewise i think you can start anywhere
ii: but there are better and worse places to start!
iii: if we’re saying, what’s a start-point 1956-64, these are my suggestions

*edit 19.2.15: i hoisted the comment into a free-standing post and added some stuff

through less short passages of time

The Minotaur 1885 by George Frederic Watts 1817-1904There are days when passing through London feels like an immense, patient, intricate unwinding of the thread through the labyrinth laid down — without much forethought — years before. I’ve lived here 31 years: there’s a bus strike, I’m going to be walking down roads and clocking buildings I haven’t thought about for decades. More to say one day about this feeling as it applies to my mum, my dad and the town of my birth, but one way and another yesterday was a good day to be casting my mind back.

on remaining an amateur between the specialisations and the genres

the notion that disciplinary expertise is a kind of blindness is not new; nor is the idea that the blindness will be made worse by the (often hidden) interdepartmental struggles for resources; and worse still when a pre-modelled version of this struggle, including desired outcome so-called, is imposed by an unaccountable (same thing: indiscussable) management layer

also likely not new: the claim that institutionalised “critical theory” very quickly began to function as a kind of higher-level intellectual bureaucracy, busily shutting down what better sense academia — and the vanguard media — had formerly had of the value of the arts and humanities as (tacitly?) informed perspective not yet destructively invaded by the (fairly comfortable, not unpowerful) interests of those who apparently so feared or distrusted them

i guess if i’m going to crowd-source my distrust — and let’s face it, we all do this in some way, it’s what politics is — then i’d prefer to crowd-source it wide rather than narrow: not least because there are a thousand skills i don’t have, which means millions of people i can learn from

(cartoon by sam gross, originally in national lampoon in the 70s, i think: i see wikipedia says he’s drawn more than 27,590 — but this is the one i remember)

“the wood beyond the world”: or “this bus has a new destination”

Walking round the William Morris exhibition with my friend Julio earlier today, something struck me — about what isn’t in it, or rather (since it’s a smallish exhibition curated to make quite specific political links, somewhat misleadingly summarised via the word “anarchy” in the title) the element in art and sensibility in Morris’s time, and before it and after, which presents as the shadow side to the Arts and Crafts movement. The name of this aspect is of course “the Gothic” — and what actually fell in to place wasn’t so much about what this exhibition lacked; as what’s never touched on in the show currently at the British Library (which I went round last week with my friend Vick). They’re undeclared siblings; and (to be gothic about it) incestuous siblings at that. Continue reading

from the box labelled “Assorted Swell Things To Hit Dog On Head”

Thinking this through in the light of day, there’s probably a deeper reason I’ve been hunting for and posting all these various recent pix of little rubber monsters and plastic spacemen the past few evenings. Clearing and selling my late parents’ house was a BIG TASK, of course: and not undertaken solo — my sister was there with me, with her little daughter in the evenings — but the kind of thing you have to face in a kind of solitude all the same. And afterwards to mark a boundary and detoxify, we all went on family holiday together (the first such not w/mum and dad).

Holiday over and back in London (w/sister et al gone to their home), I have many many excellent friends, and more on-line, but the specific sense of solitude definitely welled up again this last week, especially in the evenings: because it’s not really about company as a cure, it’s about how you process your past — what’s gone and what remains.

One element of that past, when mum and dad were themselves young still, not yet dauntingly ill, not yet seriously disabled, was, basically, my army of monsters and spacemen, tirelessly gathered from toyshop cheapie shelves and gumball machines and (now and then) rescued off the pavement. Silly and small perhaps, but this is often where the intensity is concentrated.

Family notwithstanding — my sister in particular (we were close as kids and remain so now) — I was a pretty solitary kid: when I wasn’t reading I made my own amusement; fashioned and peopled my own worlds. There was an element here of compensatory activity and self-absorption: my dad was diagnosed with Parkinsons when I was 7; by 12, I was certainly actively/subconsciously distancing myself from committing to certain kinds of emotional bond — because I (half)knew and (semi)anticipated the pain of future loss that is always embedded in such bonds. Safer to stick with my wee rubber guys: at least until punk rock began to glint and beckon (I’m simplifying and cartooning, but not enormously).

So yes, this is a trivial indulgence; and yes, it’s something I evidently needed to do for a brief season — which brief season is probably not ended; and nor (I’m guessing) is this going to be the only manifestation.

(Crossposted at tumblr)

“They’re your dad”

There’s a reason Alex Harrowell’s name is bigger than Adorno’s in my tag-cloud. Here he is on UKIP’s current electoral make-up, following on from here: and noting that there’s a fuck-off HUGE split in the party between its new intake and its upper organisational structure (which is made up of posh-boy cranks, basically: “the sound of flapping white coats,” as John Major once said of Sir Richard Body).