My friend Kevin Pearce has just published A moment worth waiting for as an e-book. It has no subtitle, very possibly because there is no way you could even begin to sum up the book’s contents in half a dozen or so words. But perhaps if you did try, it might read: a young man’s peregrinations through the music of the early 1980s. Except that the young man in question doesn’t confine himself to the 1980s, instead time-travelling here, there and everywhere as he traces lineages back as far as Music Hall and anticipates futures yet to happen. Beginning with Vic Godard, ending with easy listening pianist Peter Skellern (whom Vic used to put ‘on his battered bone-armed record player’), and taking in along the way the ZE, Postcard, Rough Trade, Y and On-U Sound record labels, as well as any number of characters on, around and beyond those labels, it’s as much the mapping of the fruits of an individual voyage of discovery as a detailed account of how that individual made those discoveries – at times through a process of gradual absorption, more often by instinctively and gleefully seizing upon leads from music journalists, as well as the kind of chance encounters or intuitive leaps of faith which result from having a curious mind and a relentlessly hungry pair of ears. In this respect it reminds me of Rachel Cohen’s wonderful book A chance meeting: intertwined lives of American writers and artists, which espoused a similar interest in unearthing what you might call cultural interconnectedness in the pre-internet age.
It’s also very much the journey and work of a lifetime. The depth of the research – and / or recall – is amazing; key to the book is the contemporary music criticism upon which Kevin draws, so obviously influential in terms of his developing taste. But those well-remembered moments of discovery are merely the beginning, and it’s the lifetime of subsequent listening and exploration which adds lightly disguised layers of retrospective understanding to each instance of musical epiphany.
With a cast of thousands and a no limits approach to the genres of music covered, even knowledgeable readers are likely to feel somewhat bewildered from time to time – perhaps there are too many leads, too many clues for any one reader to follow up on – but the tone of the writing remains engaging, generous and sure-footed. The transitions backwards and forwards in time are likewise handled with ease, and the effect of the whole is to do what any great writing about music should – indeed, what those music journalists of the early 1980s did for Kevin himself – which is to make the reader wish to listen again with freshly syringed ears to the records they know, and make haste to track down those that have so far eluded them. I came away with a long, long list of those.
Anyone with an interest in not just independent music of the 1980s, but the entire history of popular music, will learn something from – and find fascination in – every chapter of Kevin’s book. Moments and words worth waiting for, indeed.
I was saddened to read of the early death of Sean Body while researching the latest entry in the Backed with annals. Reading Sean’s book Wish the World Away: Mark Eitzel and the American Music Club was – I thought – the first time I had come across him, but I hadn’t realised that he was the co-founder of both the Helter Skelter publishing concern and the bookshop of the same name in London, in which I had happily browsed and bought on several occasions, even attending the odd book launch there.
I never met Sean but I’ve got a sense of him through reading his book about Eitzel, and like to think we’d have rubbed along fine if we’d ever struck up conversation in the Angel, the pub that was nearest Helter Skelter.
At the end of Wish the world away Sean gives a personal selection of the best less well known American Music Club songs, and a song called ‘Mrs Wright’ is number one. A Mark Eitzel home demo from the time between California and Everclear, it obviously meant a lot to Sean, and in his memory, it deserves a wider audience. This is what he wrote about it:
It is often easy to exaggerate the brilliance of unreleased songs, because they have a mystique missing from released material. Also, they are judged against much weaker yardsticks than an artist’s best released work, set against which they might often be found wanting. It would be difficult to sustain an argument that ‘Mrs Wright’ in its demo-ed version is a better piece of work than finished Eitzel tracks such as ‘Western sky’ or ‘Blue and grey shirt’. Nonetheless, it is somehow strangely more compelling than many of his better-known songs. The introduction lasts only four bars, before Eitzel begins singing, and the performance itself is less than two minutes. … When the final passage turns out only as a half-verse, the effect is startling. What we are left with is a mystical, beautiful fragment – the shadow of a ghost or a fading dream. Because of the technological and commercial processes involved in making a record, there is often very little mystery in pop, but this home recording of ‘Mrs Wright’ remains inscrutable, undocumented and frozen in time – untainted by either artistic or commercial compromise. … It would be difficult to imagine this fragile performance worked into a full band arrangement, without taking something more pure away. And in this, the song is representative of some of Eitzel’s fundamental problems in bringing his music to a wider audience, both in terms of the double-edged sword of musical collaboration, and with regard to commercial considerations. Nonetheless, with ‘Mrs Wright’ Mark Eitzel realised his quest to make timeless, beautiful music. In terms of his artistic achievement alone, it may not really matter that the song was never released. In AS Byatt’s novel Posession, the narrator comments: ‘There are things which happen and leave no discernable trace, are not spoken or written of, though it would be very wrong to say that subsequent events go on indifferently, all the same, as though such things had never been.
Robert Forster’s collected music writings 2005-09, The 10 rules of rock and roll has found its way here from Australia. The piece which gives the book its title is appropriately succinct, covering less than a page. My favourite of the ten are:
o The second-last song on every album is the weakest.
o Great bands tend to look alike.
o The guitarist who changes guitars on stage after every third number is showing you his guitar collection.
o The three-piece band is the purest form of rock and roll expression.
Reading this piece and the rest of Robert’s writings (together with having been at this game myself in some form or fashion for over twenty years) suggested the following 10 rules of rock and roll criticism.
1. Three facts and a gag.
My friend Mark Morris once told me that this was Steve Lamacq’s rule for reviewing an album or a gig. It’s a method that underpins Robert Forster’s criticism, only in a rather more refined and artful sense than you suspect Lammo was after from his NME freelancers. Robert takes his duties seriously, gives you the salient facts, and has the same dry humour in print as he does when crafting lyrics.
2. Tell the good from the bad.
Throughout this collection Robert demarcates between the good songs on a record and the fillers or missteps. He’s generous with his praise and sharp with his criticism.
3. Make the reader want to hear the music.
The obvious one. What is it that makes this a great or a great but flawed record? Put across its particularities and peculiarities; what it does both for you personally and what it might therefore do for anyone that goes out of their way to listen to it. There are at least half a dozen records I would never have sought out that I want to listen to as a result of reading Robert’s pieces about them: Sarah Blasko’s As day follows night, Espers’ II, Beth Orton’s Comfort of strangers, Paul Kelly’s Songs from the south, Neil Diamond’s 12 songs, and Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson’s Rattlin’ bones.
4. Don’t get so excited that you lose all sense of measure; equally don’t be so measured that you lose all sense of excitement.
It’s a difficult balance which Robert almost always gets tightrope-wire perfect. Bloggers are prone to the former; journalists the latter.
5. Bring the knowledge you have to bear.
In Robert’s case this means a thorough understanding of the value of production and the way songs are arranged and rendered; and what might be thought an old-fashioned – or a recording artist’s – concern for the balance of an album, its rightness as a set (Cat Power’s The greatest gets this wrong in Robert’s eyes, despite the great songs it contains). This gives his criticism a revealing edge. He is also honest about what he doesn’t know, a rare trait among critics.
6. Don’t be a snob (or a knob, for that matter).
Robert writes with openness and fondness for Australian rock and pop music, and in so doing gives the measure and depth of it on terms that I’d not previously encountered. There are many ways to be snobbish (or knobbish) about music; disdaining your own is one of them. As is pooh-poohing the efforts of allegedly less fertile pop musical cultures.
7. Don’t ignore the lyrics.
That means pointing out their infelicities as much as their wonders. As a lyricist himself, Robert treats the words with a seriousness that isn’t common among music critics.
8. Don’t give way to sentiment.
A great album doesn’t make the next great. A hero can develop feet of clay.
9. Don’t let yourself be bought, whatever the currency offered.
This is what damages music and music criticism most.
10. Surprise the reader, at least every now and again.
It’s the pieces about artists whose records you suspect the reviewer would not ordinarily have gone out of his or her way to listen to that are often most revealing, both about the critic and the artist. So, like Robert, challenge yourself, and your readership.
There are two presents I would like for Christmas. The first is a McLennan Monkees t-shirt. The second is a copy of Robert Forster’s book, The 10 rules of rock and roll, which collects together the music criticism previously discussed here. There’s a new piece in the book called ‘The 10 rules’. That I can’t wait to read – the 10 rules in the opinion of the man who wrote ‘Rock’n’roll friend’.
In other Go-Betweens news, brought to us by the ever dependable Go-Betweens.net, the group are having a bridge named after them in their home town of Brisbane. It’s called the Go Between Bridge. Not the Go-Betweens Bridge plural, but Go Between singular. More of a referencing bridge than one named explicitly after them, I suppose.
This post is also an excuse to post the cover of one of my most cherished CDs. The Go-Betweens, Robert Foster, Grant Mc Lennan & me was given away as a cover-mount CD with French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles in 1991, and comprises six songs by the group, and three each from Grant and Robert’s first solo LPs. It doesn’t have anything a Go-Betweens nut wouldn’t have these days but at the time the remixed, alternate version of ‘Head full of steam’ was notable for the extra lines that Robert sings: ‘Steam may rise, steam may dare / Can I come to your place, and can I wash your hair?’
And it would be a dereliction of duty not to point you in the direction of a later Go-Betweens CD for Les Inrocks, which gave the French-speaking world a chance to hear acoustic demos for 16 Lovers Lane. These didn’t make it onto the enhanced version of the album released by Lo-Max Records in 2004, so I’m guessing that if you’re a fan, you’ll want to head down under and visit our friends at That striped sunlight sound.
The three printed issues of Fire Raisers can be downloaded in PDF format there or here:
In case you’re coming to the conversation late, here are the previous parts:
Here’s the third part of a series of four reflecting on Fire Raisers, the magazine that Alistair and I co-edited in the early nineties. The last part will be appearing over at Unpopular before long.
All three issues are available as PDFs via either of the links below or as paper copies for purchase. Do feel free to comment, whether as a contributor, a reader from back in the day, or on the basis of coming upon the magazines for the first time.
Daniel: Was it a pain having a co-editor? Would you have preferred absolute power?
Alistair: As a self-acknowledged control freak, I suppose I should answer yes to that. But actually no, it was fine. It was good to have someone else make some decisions about content etc, and of course your proof reading skills have always far outshone mine! Looking back though, I don’t actually remember how much real editing was needed. Did we turn down any contributions? Did we actually do any physical editing of other writers’ work?
I think the sense that we were properly collaborating was novel to us both, and exciting, and of course it never lasted long enough for serious issues to arise.
D: I think we took the ‘produced naturally’ approach to editing (analogous to groups recording without direction from an ‘auteur’ producer, leading to an end product whose audio quality is diminished but has greater charm). I’m sure that stemmed (a) from how sensitive we personally would have been at that time to editorial suggestion or interference, and (b) because we were a long way from having the skills you need to be an editor (some might say still are, if they’re wading through this!).
We did however turn down several proposed contributions, including one by a member of a certain pop group of whom we were fans. I meanly decreed in my mind that he should stick to music and leave the writing to us! I’ve always felt bad about that since.
But yes, I totally agree that the experience of working together on something was exciting – and instructive to two habitual loners like ourselves. Our chief obstacle as co-editors was of course one of us being in Scotland and the other in London in the days before email.
D: What reactions do you recall the magazine getting?
A: I don’t remember a huge amount, but then it was so long ago and many things have sunk into the depths of lost memories. I do recall the feedback from Richey, as noted previously. That would have been around the time of the Manic’s first Heavenly singles I think. I also remember doing a phone interview with David Belcher at the Glasgow Herald. Belcher was something of an iconic figure in the Scottish broadsheets at the time, championing lots of music and culture that the English broadsheets wouldn’t have touched with a bargepole. I sent him a copy of Fire Raisers on the off-chance he might like it, and then he phoned wanting to do a short feature. I’m sure I have the cutting somewhere in the vaults… The thing is, I remember thinking at the time that the article was a great coup and that it would surely increase sales. The truth was that it had an almost no impact at all. Except possibly to have the Scottish Library write to me and demand copies of all issues for their collection. They never paid, either.
Some years later, however, I sold a copy of my third Melody Haunts My Reverie fanzine to a bloke in The Cavern in Exeter. He came to be a good friend (even published my book of Pop witterings!) and it turned out he remembered buying copies of Fire Raisers at the local small press outlet and being impressed. So you know, people did take notice.
D: Having been tipped off by you, I made a special trip to King’s Cross early on the morning that particular edition of the Glasgow Herald was published to get hold of a copy – feeling somewhat like a playwright on the morning after press night, or Kerouac buying the New York papers the day On The Road was reviewed when I read: ‘Fire Raisers fits in somewhere between Granta and Sniffin’ Glue’!
That’s quite heartening, that Rupert had encountered Fire Raisers before he’d encountered you. It’s a perennial concern when you’re sending out writing into the world in no matter what form: are your words connecting with people and having an effect? Or are people completely disinterested? How can you know?
Being the hoarding type, I’ve kept a file of letters that first my fanzines and later Fire Raisers generated, and there are a fair few. There’s a great one from a Shaun Johnson of Melton Mowbray, who tried to get his local radical bookshop to stock the second or third issue of Fire Raisers only for them to refuse because ‘it didn’t sell well last time’! Shaun went on to say that Fire Raisers ‘is the best literary magazine on the market’, which may not be that far from the truth, given that the lifetime of literary magazines then as now tended to be brief, leaving plenty of windows where there wasn’t much or even any competition.
Other radical concerns were keener – a publication called the Exeter Flying Post got in touch to ask for ‘a statement of our aims’, which I presume I gave them.
And it was through Fire Raisers that we made contact with folk like Robin Tomens, who would later go on to write for Tangents. He bought the first issue in Rough Trade and wrote recognising Fire Raisers and his Ego were kindred spirits. Balancing up Richey’s verdict, Robin said he loved Carrie’s ‘Snowboots’ story, and Sam Matthew’s piece in the first issue. And that Fire Raisers was ‘beautifully produced’.
A: Although I would say it, I also liked Snowboots. Not sure what Carrie would think of it now, though perhaps she will let us know in the comments.
D: I think the tale of the beach shelter needs to be retold.
A: Oh gosh, the beach shelter… This was for the cover photo for FR 3, for which we wanted to borrow Paul Morley’s infamous ‘boredom or Fire Engines, you can’t have both’ line. I had this idea of painting the slogan (with ‘Raisers’ in place of ‘Engines’ of course!) on a beach shelter in my then hometown of Troon. I did the painting on the wall at around midnight after a night at my friend Stephen’s ‘Subculture’ club (I spent the night with a paintbrush and a small jar of white paint in my pocket) and then we went down the following day to take the photos. The cover star was a Subculture regular called Rozlyn, who I barely remember now. I think we asked her because she had a parka, though you can’t really tell that from the photo. There is also a photo from a few weeks later when you hitched up to Troon, I think. I’m standing beside my artwork, dressed in anorak and desert boots. Height of fashion.
The real interest in the story though is from several years later, when I had left Troon and was living in Devon. My mum mentioned on the phone that there had been a story on the front page of the local paper about an arson attack on a beach shelter in town. Seems the paper thought that the graffiti on what remained of the torched shelter (touched up just a few weeks earlier by our friends Andrea and Suzy) suggested that there were a group of arsonists at work in the town… naturally my mother was anxious about a visit from the local constabulary! I suspect the truth was that a bunch of glue-sniffing casuals got bored and cold on the front one night and decided to warm themselves.
The shelter was rebuilt, and these days the only graffiti you’ll find on it is of the ‘Baz 4 Shaz’ type. No imagination in the young people these days…
Alistair has posted the second of our four-part reflection on Fire Raisers, in which we get our teeth stuck into taking risks, stylistic tics, and graphic design. Part one is here, and part three will appear on this blog next week. All three issues are available as PDFs or paper copies for purchase via either link. Do feel free to comment, whether as a contributor, a reader from back in the day, or on the basis of coming upon the magazines for the first time.
About twenty years ago, having respectively produced a fair quantity of solo publications, Alistair Fitchett and I joined forces to co-edit a new magazine that for many and various reasons we stopped short of calling literary or cultural, though in truth it had aspirations to be both. In the first of four parts which will alternate across this blog and Alistair’s Unpopular, we discuss our motivations and the place in the world of such a magazine back then. We are making all three issues of Fire Raisers available in PDF format, so that you can make sense of the conversation, and perhaps enjoy the magazines in their own right.
We also have a few paper copies of each issue left; click here to purchase these perfect early Christmas presents for the literary fanzine fetishist in your life. Or for yourself, of course.
Oh, and if there do happen to be any Fire Raisers contributors or readers lurking out there, feel free to pitch in your comments as we go along.
Daniel: Was the motivation behind Fire Raisers the same as that which led us to produce our solo fanzines? What do you think we were we aiming to achieve?
Alistair: After so many years it is difficult to recall exactly what motivations might have been driving me personally, yet I suspect they were very much the same as they were when making the solo fanzines in so much as they were about fulfilling a need to communicate and to share enthusiasms. Indeed that motivation is one that has been largely unaltered in what I’ve done myself since, with other solo fanzines, through Tangents and blogs etc. Having said that, I also concede that the motivation for Fire Raisers was probably subtly different, given that it was a shared idea. Perhaps we felt that Fire Raisers was a step up from the solo fanzines, a sense of getting a bit more serious and grown up about things. Certainly looking back at them now there is a sense of that, I think.
That said, I also think in many ways we didn’t raise our sights high enough, didn’t get anywhere serious enough. In retrospect that sense of refusing to compete in the traditional market place and staying resolutely underground held it back, I think. Looking back on the premise of Fire Raisers, I wonder if that had been a pitch for a more mainstream magazine with advertising and so on, it might have worked. Maybe not at the time, but certainly in the later ’90s and early noughties perhaps.
But then, that idea of being a ‘proper’ magazine was not really what we were trying to achieve anyway, so it seems a moot point. And actually it seems telling that we probably defined our aims in terms of what we DIDN’T want as opposed to what we did. And whilst the ‘manifesto’ editorial inserts still seem stirring and passionate, I’m not sure it’s exactly clear where those manifestos intended to lead. In short, I’m not sure we really had the slightest clue about what we intended to achieve! I’m not sure that we particularly cared either…
D: Yes, there was that sense of ‘Oh my god! We’re doing it… we’re fuckin’ doing it’, as the caption we used from a cartoon showing a subverted, rioting version of Tintin had it. It almost didn’t matter what exactly it was that we were doing. My hazy recollection is however that we were actually collectively quite sure about we thought the magazine should be, but I don’t think we were at that point quite able to articulate it with any great subtlety in print, especially when we tried to produce text co-operatively – to my mind it reads as a particularly contrived and diluted Alistair-Dan hybrid.
We were certainly totally clueless about marketing and selling the ‘concept’, as well as antagonistic towards the compromise inherent in giving over time and energy to those practices; it was all about the words and pictures, and putting them together. Still, each issue shows a marked progression in terms of making the magazine more accessible, at least in a superficial sense – the cover got more inviting with each outing. That came about partly because of the dressing down I got from the man in Compendium bookshop in Camden, who took it upon himself to critique the cover and contents in forensic detail one day when I dropped in to see how issue one was selling (not very well). I didn’t fancy that happening again so we took on board his suggestions!
Had we persisted beyond three issues – had desktop publishing been accessible to us then; had I not disappeared off to France – I think the penny might have dropped, and we would have tried to put the magazine on a more professional footing. The notion that it was a step up from our solo efforts suggests that too.
A: Ah, isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Really though it’s impossible to consider those ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ isn’t it? Because the needs that drove you to France, and the impending (or eventual) arrival of affordable publishing technologies were very real and, one could argue, equally undeniable. Our collective fiercely held opinions on commercialisation and almost OCD level obsession with not ‘selling out’ would also have inevitably hampered much forward movement for some time too, I fear. Not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, but nevertheless I think it would have been a very real barrier to making progress in terms of creating a product with much of a potential audience.
Interestingly I met with an old colleague from Art school the other week. We had not seen each other in twenty years, but he told me that he sometimes uses my old fanzine experiences as an analogy in business coaching situations. It all hinges on that sense of micro-conflicts between otherwise apparently similar people, or at least people with similar interests and roles. So that whilst as a fanzine writer I might have been arguing openly and heatedly with another fanzine writer about, say, which Talulah Gosh single is the best, to an observer it appears an illogical source of conflict. To the outsider it seems like, ‘hey, both these people love this group I’ve never heard of! Why don’t they use that shared love to make something great happen?’ So the micro-conflicts are damaging and holding back potential growth or positive development. Of course you can argue that those very micro-conflicts are at the heart of obsessive pop-cultural consumption, and that they are indeed desirable in that media and age context, which means that maybe the analogy doesn’t cross-contextual boundaries. Nevertheless I think it’s very useful, and I think helps to explain why I don’t think Fire Raisers could have grown beyond what it was within the context it found itself.
D: I was party back then to more micro-conflicts than I care to think about! Politics is of course also largely about micro-conflicts, with the same resulting positives and negatives.
D: Who or what were our inspirations, and our enemies?
A: I’m struggling to think of inspirations. Didn’t we think we were very much out on a limb, doing something different? I like to think so. And I like to think that we were fairly true to that. Certainly there were lots of dire small press fanzines that were doing fiction and other such things, but were they mixing it up like we intended? I’m not sure. Certainly I suspect things like Debris were a reference point, and to some extent people like i-D and The Face perhaps, at least in terms of those publications’ original ethos. Though by the time of Fire Raisers i-D and The Face were probably seen as much as enemies as anything else. I think perhaps the idea of the ’60s underground press was a reference point. IT and such like. Also, I would guess the more politically minded situationist publications were in your mind Daniel?
But yes, there was a lot of importance put on the idea of enemies in those days, wasn’t there? I am not sure if that was a reflection of the age, or of ours. I am not sure if people of that age now feel the same sense of having to take sides, of being for this and against that. I suspect in reality things are not much different and that the percentage of any given generation that really cares about such things at a given age remains roughly the same. But as for who our enemies were? Is ‘everyone else’ too flippant an answer? Perhaps so, and yet it feels honest and indicative of our glorious naiveté.
D: Oh yes, I don’t think it was until a while after the ashes of Fire Raisers had cooled that I finally got myself out of that situationist straitjacket. It was an unfortunate part of the baggage that stopped us from trying to sell or market the magazine. Situationism’s critique of capitalism was so devastating, and its political aspirations so remote, that for a long time I felt bleakly trapped by it. That came out in what I wrote for Fire Raisers. Having Guy Debord and Mark Eitzel as chief inspirations is not a great combination if you’re after producing happy text, or for that matter, a happy bunny writing it.
The fact that we felt unable to name more than a couple of even vaguely like-minded enterprises in the first issue – both in any case the projects of people who contributed or went on to contribute to the magazine – suggests that what you say is right. We did feel out on a limb. Debris was great, but it was more properly journalistic in its approach than we ever envisaged being. I never really bought into The Face and i-D thing, though later, when I lived in Bristol and started going to clubs , I bought them out of curiosity (and a lack of anything else to go for) in terms of that culture.
I think I was hoping to elicit from you particular individuals who inspired us as well as publications, whether that was personally or in a literary sense. As well as Debord and Eitzel, I was big on Georges Perec at the time; an excellent stylistic corrective to all the Kerouac I’d read. And personally Ross Reid (Cornish fanzine writer and sports journalist) was also a huge inspiration for me – in fact (now it can be told) he was the subject of ‘Spike’, the opening article in issue one. In February 1990 – in a classic example of micro-conflict! – he sent out a circular called ‘Anger the angels’ to certain friends and two of the Esurient groups with one of the classic photos from the May ’68 riots on the front, telling us all to ‘wake up!’ and issuing me with an injunction about getting on with Fire Raisers: ‘don’t fiddle with matchsticks while you can/could blowtorch the fucking lot.’ He demanded – alongside what I now see is an isolated and ever-so-slightly paranoid plea for contact – that we think big. We tried.
And of course we should direct a nod of appreciation in Max Frisch’s direction, for it was his play’s title that we appropriated for the magazine. Likewise a nod to Fiona of our Devonian contingent of friends (and contributors), who originally passed it our way. I haven’t reread the play since, but what I recall is a blend of Brecht, anarchism and something more conservative, the end result being not dissimilar to the recent German film The Edukators.
Anyone else you would add to the list?
A: Well, as you were perhaps moving on from the Kerouac obsession, perhaps I was moving into it. Hence the large photo of the man himself accompanying my new Orleans missive. I think there was something of the stream of consciousness prose in the Big Flame extracts too, although that was tempered with some conscious stylistic editing too. I suspect my Sylvia Plath obsession came slightly later…
Like you, I had never particularly bought into the i-D magazine culture, although as an Art student perhaps I was more inclined to dabble. Certainly I had loved The Face since the early ‘80s, and Blitz (which was run partly by Paul Morley, yes?) was a regular on my desk, although by the time of around ’86 into ’87 I’d had my head turned by things that would shortly coagulate into the dreaded ‘indie’ style, and this was very much seen to be in opposition to the glossy ‘style’ magazines.
I always thought it was funny that several of the images that were in my first (handwritten!) fanzine Delight In The New Wonderland were from fashion spreads in The Face. And I liked that the image we used to accompany the ‘Helsinki’ piece in Fire Raisers 3 about clubs came from i-D.
D: Was there a place in the world at the time for the kind of magazine we were aiming to produce? Is there one now?
A: This is something I’ve thought about often over the years, not specifically in reference to Fire Raisers, but in general. And I must admit that it is with something of a resigned sigh when I conclude that no, there isn’t and no, there wasn’t. Not if one wanted to make a living out of it at least.
I think if you drew a Venn diagram of potential markets for the things that ‘we’ like(d), then you are left with a tiny area that, globally, may never amount to any more than a few thousand people. Which in real terms is less than negligible. Our disinterest in pretty much anything remotely approaching ‘mainstream’ (or that our interest in anything remotely mainstream is placed in unfamiliar contexts) also precludes the potential marketplace for anything we might produce.
That’s not a criticism though, and nor is it a reason for not doing something. It’s just an observation and an acknowledgement.
D: I suppose it depends upon how much ground we might have conceded to the mainstream, or, to put it less grudgingly, how hard we might have worked to bring what we liked in a cultural sense to a readership that might be less familiar with it. Certainly we were never going to make a living from the magazine itself, but it might have led more directly to the chance of making a living from freelancing. But we were actively engaged in the enrichment of our own cultural lives, if no-one else’s. A salary, food and a roof were never going to be enough, with all due admission that we were and are lucky enough to be living in a time and place when we can say that.
If the cultural blend had been suitably varied – and I think it was well on the way to becoming so – we might have generated interest in and – to use your analogy – shaded a fair number of those intersections at the centre of that Venn diagram. If the way the internet has evolved proves anything, it’s that there are an almost infinite number of overlapping or interlinked musical and cultural localities; in our own small way, with our contributors’ collection of varied interests, we anticipated this – and contributed to that evolution itself when it began to happen.
A: There’s a symbiotic relationship, isn’t there, between our understanding of those cultural connections and the media through which we exploit the links. So without the possibilities offered by the Internet, for example, would our sense of connectedness be lessened? Or increased? Does the physical size of those distributed networks impact on that? So for example, is there any less a sense of belonging to a group when the membership is measured in the millions as opposed to the hundreds? And how ‘real’ is the sense of belonging? And how do you measure or judge the ‘reality’ anyway?
Sorry, that’s a lot of questions and thoughts starting to get up their own arses, but I do think it’s interesting. And I don’t think that Fire Raisers could have increased its audience without changing its fundamental form. Which ties in to what we were saying about contexts.
Not so long ago the Factory fan behind The construction in hand moved to Amsterdam. He has cunningly used this relocation to perform the conceptual act of writing about the entire Factory Benelux catalogue from within the ‘Ne’ of Benelux. While eating space cake and drinking Westmalle. The three-part result is unusual for a sustained piece of music criticism in that even as it imparts notes on the cultural education that can be achieved by paying close attention to sleeves, inspirations and lyrics, it is also very funny. Though the comedy is probably enhanced if you happen to be a Factory nut too.
The excellent Memory lapses are also well worth reading.
The development of the fanzine / magazine in electronic form continues with Manzine, ‘a publication about the male phenomenon’, which is being presented via the intriguing platform of Issuu.
The contents are I suspect a little more diverse than those of your typical men’s magazine (top shelf or lower down): umbrellas, the Royal Artillery Monument, a problematic piece (in my opinion) on the mental health risks of blogging, social mountaineering, Belgian beer as felicitous aid to the imagination, a voyage from Israel to Greece on a cargo ship, high-visibility clothing, Brian Eno, the Tweed Cycling Club, and what appears to be a score by everyone’s favourite anti-artist and musician, Bill Drummond.
On the basis of the first issue, it very roughly approximates a cross between Smoke, the Idler or the Chap, and [insert the name of your favourite style magazine here], but should it continue, Manzine may well settle into genre-defying idiosyncrasies of its own.
Try Typealyzer with your favourite blog (whether that’s your own pride and joy or someone else’s). It in no way depends on an in-depth knowledge of Myers-Briggs personality tests, nor subscription to the validity of personality testing in general. I merely present it to you as an amuse-bouche. I have three blogs, and evidently each offers a different facet of my personality.
A jumped-up pantry boy – ENFP – The Inspirers
‘The curious and insightful type. They are especially attuned to possibilities that involves peoples potential. They usually have a lot of relations and are very perceptive and often unconventional.
They enjoy working together with people and to make use of their enthusiasm. Lonely work and environments with many distractions make them scattered and often gloomy feeling overwhelmed withdraw further.’
Backed with – INTP – The Thinkers
‘The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.
They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.’
A wild slim alien – INFP – The Idealists
‘The meaning-seeking and unconventional type. They are especially attuned to making sure their beliefs and actions are congruent. They often develop a passion for the arts or unusual forms of self-expression.
They enjoy work that are aligned to their deeply felt values and tend to strongly dislike the more practical and mundane forms of tasks. They can enjoy working alone for long periods of time and are happiest when they can immerse themselves in personally meaningful projects.’
The day I was Myers-Briggsed at work I had a raging headache, so I was never sure I came out right anyway. Even less sure now. Though it looks like I’m defintely an N, definitely a P. Wikipedia may help those who are curious make sense of their four letter indicator. How many of you are saying ARSE, SHIT or FUCK right now? It’s all Jung’s fault.
The best piece that Robert Forster has penned for the Monthly is ‘A true hipster’, about his friend and song writing partner Grant McLennan. But there’s also this Sunday Times piece which appeared around the time that The evangelist was released – Robert on how he finished off the songs that Grant left behind.
‘Old age suits him. It suits him the way being young did. It’s a natural fit, for both are the traditional places where wisdom can flower: the fired minds of the young and the dusty, wily utterances of the old. It’s all the time in between that’s the trouble. Dylan, though, survived all the crashes and the madness of his years, and survived well enough to leave himself fully stocked for a fruitful and significant late period.’
If, like me, you have struggled with Bob Dylan post-Blood on the tracks, then you might find this enthusiastic primer by (award-winning critic) Robert Forster useful. It’s one of a series of monthly articles he has been writing for the (Australian) Monthly, which may or may not become available for free after a year to eighteen months. Robert listens with a potential producer’s ear, and writes with a great lyricist’s gift for metaphor. Unless you feel driven to take out a subscription, you’ll have to wait a while before you can find out what Robert makes of Vampire Weekend, but in the meantime there are pieces on the pop genius of the Monkeees, Joe Boyd’s White bicycles, Augie March, and even Nana Mouskouri to enjoy.
Issue 12 of Smoke: a London peculiar is out – has probably been out for a while (it’s difficult to tell). Nominally a mayoral election special, going to press before the buffoon that is Boris entered the eye of City Hall, but sensing the way the wind and the Evening Standard was blowing, Smoke 12 is somewhat resigned to losing Ken and determined nevertheless to continue to celebrate versions of London that are very likely obscured from mayoral view by that floppy fringe of his; but not, er, by the floppy fringe of editor Matt Haynes, the Stephen Fry of psychogeography (a field of study not noted for whimsy, at least not since the original concept of the dérive was repurposed by the likes of Ian Sinclair).
Alongside regular features like ‘London’s campest statue’ and ‘Words found written on the steamed-up windows of late-night buses’, the latest issue has not untypical stories about the Caledonian Road market; the ghost of the motorway that was meant to connect the river and the M1; and about regularly falling asleep next to a particular stranger on the train into Waterloo, a practice more common than you might imagine among commuters whose outer limits location forces them to rise before six a.m.
While Smoke takes pride in being a paper-based entity, there is a website, and now a blog, Danger: void behind door, which seems to have four purposes – 1) to detail (amusingly) the frustrations of being the editor of what I think we’ll have to call a literary magazine; 2) to act as an outlet for Smoke-y pieces which are perhaps a little short of the roundedness that its published pieces posses; 3) to field interest in Sarah Records, of which Matt was one half; and 4) to return to the light of day some of the pieces he wrote as inserts for the label’s releases, which were frequently of much greater interest than the music. Driftmine reads uncannily like something from one of the better ‘pure writing’ blogs like An unreliable witness. Except that it was written in 1991.
Incidentally Matt also has another past life as a fanzine editor and he may not thank me for it but I quote him in this piece about Hurrah!
This review of the third part of Travellers’ century by the always entertaining TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith deftly sketches the charismatic character and life of Patrick Leigh Fermor (although it isn’t true that he wrote A time of gifts and Between the woods and the water entirely from memory fifty years after the journey across Europe that the books recount). But she omits any mention of the key moment for anyone who has read both books, kept back by presenter Benedict Allen until last – the moment when he braves asking the 93 year old author how he is getting on with the final part of the trilogy. It was heart-sinking but not entirely surprising to hear him reply that it was about half-done; at which rate – given that the second part was published in 1986 – he will have to retain both his breath and his marbles until he is 115.
It was time to admit what PLF admirers have no doubt long since guessed – that his publisher will offer us an unfinished draft only after he is gone, assuming he hasn’t left Larkinesque instructions to burn everything. Unless, that is, the complete draft that he professed in the programme to have slashed remains extant and salvageable. His severe estimation of his own work suggests that this version wouldn’t be far-off the previous parts in terms of crystalline lucidity. Hope springs eternal – and in its ongoing absence, there are always Mani and Roumeli, his books about Greece, strangely overlooked by Benedict Allen.