Posts from 8th August 2003

8
Aug 03

Lawrence Block and the continuing unease of genre

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 455 views

Lawrence Block and the continuing unease of genre

Although it seems as if these days almost every literary commentator acknowledges that genre fiction can be as good as fiction in the literary mainstream, it’s just lip service. Nods are made to Chandler and Hammett (and sometimes James M. Cain too) long after they died, to Ballard and Dick who found braod acclaim only when their mainstream fiction started appearing. The occasional odd exceptions need a hook, and the hype is much more them than their work – Ellroy’s dark past, and William Gibson wrote Neuromancer without ever having used a computer: use other facts please. But nonetheless, getting anyone to give much serious credit and exposure to the best who remain within their genre’s bounds, and who haven’t yet died, seems difficult.

Lawrence Block is a great writer. Not just a great crime writer*. In fact, I’m not sure he is a great crime writer: the most interesting things in many of his novels are the characters, the pastiches, the themes, the literary stuff. The workings out of the crimes, the question of who done it, is often of comparatively cursory interest (and is sometimes ludicrously contrived and awkward). That this is true of many of the greatest writers in the genre is an interesting point. Who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep? Even Chandler had no idea, and I’m not sure that any of the crime writers I admire enormously wrote great whodunnits, created puzzles to match someone like Agatha Christie, who is perhaps negligible in strictly literary terms. But who wouldn’t rather read a good novel of character and mood and meaning and depth with added guns and killings and action?

*I should note that a minority of his novels fall outside the genre’s bounds anyway – Ariel is a ghost story, and the first half of the great Chip Harrison omnibus (I’ve seen this superb volume at remaindered prices in the UK) is barely crime fiction, and might be his best work.

TOM’S TOP 12

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No comments on FT blogs anymore, so I have to explain myself a little. TTT’s purpose is to indulge myself and give you some download ideas for those spare file-sharing moments, so a little context won’t be a bad idea.

Sean Paul‘s ‘Like Glue’ is out here in a few weeks; it’s his best pop single though doesn’t quite roll like ‘Get Busy’ did. Baby‘s ‘What Happen To That Boy?’ is pared-down hip-hop with a very creepy brrrrrrr noise. Madonna‘s ‘Gambler’ is a bit of a ‘lost’ single and a great reminder of how exciting she sounded when she started making records. ‘You Said No’ is surely Busted‘s masterpiece, a disco rejection epic with a wonderful chorus.

Tim Finney recommended ‘Sweet To The Belly’, Vybz Kartel‘s Summer heat dancehall antidote. Outkast‘s ‘Hey Ya’ has Dre 3000 going quirk-rock — very infectious. A.R.E. Weapons‘ ‘Hey World’ is my favourite indie record this year — a handclaps’n’synths monster and youth lament that’s at once preposterous and affecting. The Capleton single I downloaded from an ILM recommendation and it’s awesome — Capleton toasting over Marley Marl’s ‘The Symphony’ beat, uplifting stuff.

The Pet Shop Boys you know — ‘Being Boring’ is the elegiac lead-off to their ‘grown-up’ album and wears its 13 years well. Bubba Sparxxx — ‘Deliverance’ was rightly tipped by Jess here — it lures you in with an addictive chorus and then spins you a tall gothic tale of Bubba’s redemption. Eurythmics — ‘There Must Be An Angel’ is simply one of the prettiest records of the 80s. The Darkness — ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ still won’t budge from my brainstem or stereo — eye-popping pop-rock bombast getting the balance between jokey and witty precisely right.

What a good idea

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 295 views

What a good idea: Smoke is a London fanzine. Not a fanzine about dodgy London pop music but a fanzine about London itself. Perhaps it has pretensions to be a literary magazine, but it neatly sidesteps them by billing itself as ‘A London Peculiar’. Very nice.

I’ll have trouble talking too precisely about the contents of Smoke because my copy has already disappeared into the curious hands of friends and I’ll be surprised if I get it back. That’s the mark of a decent read though, no?

Somewhere near the middle of the magazine is a photo of a blackboard on the street somewhere in town (is it outside a pub? Possibly). Someone has chalked a few sentences from Calvino’s Invisible Cities up there, and that’s my dream for Smoke: I’d love it to be made of weird fragments of London-experience simultaneously strange and recognisable. That need not mean swirly (sub)urban (sub)dreamscapes: I’d like the pieces to look to surprise as much as confirm, to avoid falling into observational humour.

Which this first issue does, for the most part. It leans a little heavily on a wry tone, an arched-eyebrow take on town. I like a bit of wry as much as the next man, but it can get a little stifling. I’m sure this is first issue syndrome (is there such a thing as first issue syndrome?).

Particularly pleasing in a fanzine published in the unfashionable paper-and-ink way is a healthy respect for unfashionable brutalism: Clare Wadd’s piece on the Empress State Building and someone’s nod to Bow’s dear old Balfron Tower, architecturally superior to the Trellick but so far away from fashionable West London…

(This article was pirated from my little-read and now defunct weblog.)

Thus I have won

I Hate MusicPost a comment • 311 views

I’ve only just noticed – and not because of the reason you might imagine. Possibly what that Tom Ewing fellow thought, I would be head down in an alcoholic stupor coming up only for alka-seltzer when he pulled this fast one. One day I return sluggishly to my computer and what do I see. Do You See?

I was momentarily shaken. Freaky Trigger has been the home of this admittedly lazy column for three years, and as star columnist surely I deserved a say in what was going on. A further delve uncovered something known as a brown wedge. I was aware of Pumpkin Publog before, I knew its proprietor was a bit of a skin flint when it came to the spirits based rounds. But all this was new to me. What has happened.

Then I read Tom’s intro. Does not mention the stirling work I have put in, but I got the gist. For all his saying that he was interested in other things only one throught resounded through me mind. Freaky Trigger used to have a subtitle. “We write about music”. Now it doesn’t.

Readers – I have won this battle. I see the hateful NYLPM is still around and while it is so will I be to batter and belittle musicians everywhere. But do not underestimate the importance of this victory dear reader. I Hate Music abides.

For Mentalists Only

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For Mentalists Only: Nostalgia site TV Cream’s rundown of the first 20 NOW albums. My first thought was that the greatest series of compilations in the world…ever! deserves a bit more than this finickity if comprehensive rundown, but then I realised I had no idea how I would approach the NOW series with the respect they deserve. These records are to Freaky Trigger what Blonde On Blonde and Forever Changes are to Rolling Stone, notwithstanding the fact that I don’t own any of them. (And I’m not likely to – NOW 4, the first to get a CD release, goes on eBay for over 200 quid). The flavour of this site is caught in this quote: “the only daredevil indication came in the description of Culture Club’s Victims (“Almost certain No.1 by the time you have this LP” which of course, never came true)” – how you react to that “of course” may determine what you think of the page. (Thanks Alan for the link.)

It was the best documentary series but it ruined factual TV: each ep of

Do You SeePost a comment • 174 views

It was the best documentary series but it ruined factual TV: each ep of World at War ended with a cliff-hanger from Sir Larry – “Retribution would come… from THE SEA” – and then the picture faded to b&w benday dots and the music swelled up to the size of yr aching heart…


Problem is, every thesp who’s been hired to ham up a Horizon now attempts the same dud stunt. Bernard “Gissa Posh Job” Hill in last night’s (BBC2, repeat) of the Freak Waves mystery – short version: old salts who cla im really big waves exist despite mathematical impossibility are correct, bcz lubber mathematoids were using a very primitive model of wave action – did all the hushed pauses and pregnant “more things on heaven and earth” melodrama he could think of… wh ich of course undermines lots of interesting stuff (for example, how ordinary city technician-like most modern sailors are… the post-wave wreckage of one ship’s bridge looked like a magazine design office after a break-in). Plus CGI’d freak-wave reconstructions look like the cartoons they are, and we’ve all already seen bigger-than-freak-waves so many times (in Deep Impact for example) that we’re blase.

If I’d been directing this, I’d have used the cut back to the dapper officer standing under the bows of the QE2, a plump little Captain Birdseye (old skool) of a figure, and turned his seadogged tale – “It was big as a house! I never saw the like!” – into a scratch-mix sample, a deliberate Morley-esque repetition. And I’d have remembered that those who never felt the call of the sea already assume that ALL stormwaves are 30 metres high or more.

VERONICA GUERIN (by way of The General and When The Sky Falls)

Do You SeePost a comment • 362 views

VERONICA GUERIN (by way of The General and When The Sky Falls)

In Veronica Guerin Cate Blanchett plays Joan Allen playing Sinead Hamilton in When The Sky Falls who is actually Veronica Guerin. Its okay, if that looks confusing there is a precedent for this; Kevin Spacey playing Brendan Gleeson playing Martin Cahill in The General as Martin Lynch in Ordinary Decent Criminals (possibly taking a few hints from Ken Stott’s performance in the TV movie Vicious Circle as Martin Cahill). Oh, did I mention that Martin Cahill turns up in Veronica Guerin too?

I’ll make no bones about my admiration for John Boorman’s film The General. Certainly it was a piece of mythologizing popularism, but when you have a lead character so wracked with contradiction as Cahill there is no surprise that people keep coming back to it. But to have the character played five times (three by name) in under seven years is quite remarkable. The Cahill we see briefly in Veronica Guerin is a vicious little pipsqueek, still recognisable from Gleason’s performance but with a really bad scrape over hairdo. But the fact he is there at all shows part of the problem of Veronica Guerin as a film. The story is just too complex.

It needn’t be so. There is at its heart a very simple story of a very driven journalist eventually being murdered. Blanchett certainly earns her star performance here, filling every scene with determination to justify exactly where it is going. But in its desire to both explain the complexity of Dublin’s crime scene and vilify the culprits (some of whom are now out on appeal) it loses sight of its central story. Is this a story about drugs in Dublin, or the tragedy of a woman’s murder. It wants to be the former – to justify Veronica’s death, it ought to be the latter.

Oh and Joel Schumacher watch: he is amazingly subdued until the last ten minutes when all hell breaks loose and he blows his Bruckheimer budget on slow motion, crane shots and a trad Irish ballad sung by a specially trained chipmunk. The odd thing is the murder should have been moving, the family reaction should have raised a tear. But the overstated sadness means that you only really feel for it when the last of the (overused) inter-titles pops up. It states that 189 journalists have dies doing their job round the world since Guerin died. If they all get at least two films made about them then good luck to ’em. I think we can leave 1990’s Dublin behind now – please.

Something Interesting About The Beatles!

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Something Interesting About The Beatles!: article from the Guardian (licensed from History Today) on growing up in Soviet Russia listening to the band – gets a bit dewy-eyed towards the end when it draws conclusions but mostly the article is an excuse to string a line of great pop anecdotes and factlets together.

Last night on Bad Girls

Do You SeePost a comment • 424 views

Last night on Bad Girls, Christopher Biggins (playing himself) and his partner adopted Buki’s six year old disabled son and invited her to live with them on her release in 4 months time. Also, we discovered that new screw Selena has joined the prison service with the sole purpose of being reunited with her patricidal peroxide lifer lover. Who she is two timing with another woman. Just 2 reasons why this is the best show in the world ever.

Kathleen Kiirik Bryson’s Wilderness

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Kathleen Kiirik Bryson’s Wilderness
Prowler Stores, Kings X, London, til 8th September
The exhibition here covers roughly a decade of one person’s need to create images. A series of mental collages, hybrid beings and iconic wicked-women, created out of what seems like a feverish need to stick things down, cut things up, and embroider with paint and white out. Here’s a gift for the Time Out headline writers: “Mixed Medea”. Do you see? It simulataneously reminded this viewer of both Swedish embroidery and an archeological exhibit of a dead society.

Bryson’s creative instinct usually classifies her, as she admits herself, as an “outsider”. I hope this is something she privately despises, as it is a redundant term in this context, and Bryson obviously has a public who need her, as the succesful opening night saw many paintings sold on the spot.

Wilderness is part of a series of Lesbian art events hosted by Prowler Stores, including readings and film screenings