Starting Over

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

All Ears

I'm now over half-way through my re-reading of Dennis Coopers "George Miles Cycle" and interrupted this to read his All Ears. Cultural Criticism, Essays and Obituaries, published by Soft Skull Press and comprising work previously published in Artforum, Artscribe, Detour, George, Interview and largely Spin. The book includes interviews with Keanu Reeves and Leonardo DiCaprio (before that were really famous), Bob Mould and Stephen Malkmus, and features on Courtney Love, Nan Goldin, the impact of the AIDS epidemic on young homeless LA street-kids, the rave scene, William Burroughs, the UCLA Fine Arts programme, and heroin in contemporary music.
This is an intriguing and delightful collection, well-presented aside from a few minor proof-reading omissions (and for not stating where the original pieces were published - but maybe I'm just pedantic about that sort of thing). Cooper captures a great deal of trust from his interviewees and subjects and in return offers some of himself, producing honest and revealing work that is both passionate and informative.

Pet Shop Boys at the National Portrait Gallery

It was a couple of weekends ago when we decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery to check out the David Hockney exhibition - viewing the crowds already there on a Saturday afternoon (and the number of middle-class mothers and their children) we decided that Hockney warranted a visit at a time when we could enjoy the work better and with less people around to distract from the work and force you on the the next in your allocated 2 minutes is up kind of way.
So we popped downstairs to see the Pet Shop Boys display, which marks the twentieth anniversary of their first album and coincides with the publication of a major new book, Pet Shop Boys Catalogue (Thames and Hudson), a history of experimentation, re-invention and collaboration with leading artists, film-makers, designers, typographers and photographers including Derek Jarman, Sam Taylor-Wood, Mark Farrow, Bruce Weber and Wolfgang Tillmans. This small diosplay focuses on the work of photographer Eric Watson, who helped create the early and enduring dynamic of the band, and includes both photographs and one monitor with videos displayed. Its a definitely good way to spend half and hour or so in central London.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art

This was on at the Hayward Gallery, but we went towards the end of the run and I've only now got to write a bit about it. So its finished - but it was good and you can still check out the website at:
The exhibition presented work from the Arts Council collection - a kind of highlights of the last 60 years of acquisitions encompassing painting, sculpture, video, photography and digital media... and 130 artists. The Hayward space is very well suited for this type of exhibition and presented a diverse range of work really well. Highlights for me included Hockney's We Two Boys Together Clinging, (which made me really keen to see his current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - sadly too crowded to endure last Saturday) ; Steve McQueen's video work Bear?; Cerith Wyn Evans Diary: How to Improve the World (You will only make matters worse) continued 1968 (revised) from 'M' writings '67-72 by John Cage; Sarah Lucas's Self-Portraits; and the photograph covered by a large sheet which you had to crawl under to see the work itself (artist and work name both escape me, but it was fun!).

In Awe of Scott Heim

The thing I really want to say is "Scott, when is the next book out - please?!"
In Awe is Scott Heim's second novel, after the now out on film Mysterious Skin. It follows three friends - all outsiders in the mid-US - who find themselves the target of a campaign of terror and violence. Harriet (62) is the mother of Marshall who has recently died of AIDS; Sarah (32), was Marshall's best friend - a feisty but vulnerable young woman working in a convenience store, living in a disused mini-golf centre and obsessed with B-grade horror movies and their heroines; Boris is a 17 year old orphan - befriended by Sarah, Marshall and Harriet - who lives in the local detention centre and is obsessed with writing the ultimate zombie novel and with Rex (beautiful but straight and at the centre of the gang of teenage boys who target the three friends). Amidst the escalating violence that surrounds them Heim writes a book that explores what it means essentially to be a friend - to love, to protect, to understand and to support those you care for. His characters despite their eccentricities (or maybe because of these) are made very real and there's a great sense of tension and suspence (as you'd expect with a book that in a small part pays homage to the horror movie genre). Its a pleasure to read and a delight to recommend.

Dennis Cooper

Dennis Cooper's blogger site was hacked a few days ago and currently redirects (a few days ago it was to a porn listing site and now its plywood) as well as the underlying content being lost. Dennis has a new site at:

Monday, November 13, 2006

Magical Thinking/ and The Year of Magical Thinking

OK, aside from titular similarities (and the fact both were read on my recent trip) it might seem perverse to discuss Joan Didion's exploration of loss and grief (The Year of Magical Thinking) and Augusten Burroughs' latest collection of memoir/stories (Magical Thinking. True Stories).
Burroughs prefaces his collection with a definition of Magical Thinking - "A schizotypal personality disorder attributing to one's own actions something that had nothing to do with him or her and thus assuming that one has a greater influence over events than is actually the case." The following stories are entertaining, but feel like they add little to his previous works except perhaps a greater sense of Burroughs own sense of self-absorption (one which to be fair he acknowledges). It would be good to see Burroughs wit and humour and real ability to write exploited in a more fictional work which uses other voices.
Didion's memoirs outline the death of her husband and daughter in a year of "magical thinking". No doubt she had a different concept of the term in entitling her work, but to some extent the above definition rings true. In her carefully written and deeply moving account Didion reveals the extent grief is a total experience - completely absorbing and centred around one self - ones sense of loss and responsibility. Didion debates with herself - if I had? if I hadn't? - attributing influence or power to herself that didn't exist, and hopes for some means of bringing back the man she loves. Yet, the fact that death, however tragic, can just happen makes for uncomfortable experience. Didion reveals her own experience of loss and grief in a skillful way, without falling into the genre of the 'how hard my life was' memoirs publishers have been so keen to force on us in recent years. Her work brings an understanding of not only her experience but also I think of grief in general. Its a powerful book that makes me wat to explore her earlier work.


Excited as I was at seeing that Almodovar's earlier movies are available in 2 DVD box sets (and yes, there is a Xmas pressie hint there) Volver was in some ways disappointing, perhaps the victim of expectations that were not met.
Volver takes three generations of women ( Penélope Cruz, Yohana Cobo, Lola Dueñas, and Carmen Maura, and exposes them to easterly wind, fire, madness, superstition and even death in a light-touched comedy. Carmen Maura's mother, who died in a fire lying next to her husband, comes as an apparition to her sister and then her daughters, one of who has just killed her own husband. This situation is exploited to provoke both comedy and genuine emotion. And it does this well.
However the combination of the obscuration of the sub-titles by the person sitting in front; and expectations of something more outrageous and more surreal meant that this was unfortunately a disappointment despite its qualities.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Arthur and George

Julian Barnes has written an entertaining work which made for an excellent travel choice. His fictional work exploresa real-life case of mis-justice which brings together the son of an Parsi vicar in a small Staffordshire village and Arthur Conan-Doyle - writer and believer in the psychic world. Arthur and George is a carefully nuanced work which avoids sensationalism in exploring the inner worlds of two very different men, as well as ideas and notions of nationalism, race, spiritualism, class and culture. Barnes succeeds in making these two characters come to life as real human beings, as well as carefully controlling his unfolding narrative through these two men and those close to them.

Edmund White - My Lives

Edmund White's My Lives contains ten short self-contained chapters, exploring different aspects of his life, concentrating on the personal rather than a work exploring his writing. These range from his relationships with his mother and father, to his shrinks, to hustlers, sexual partners, friends and to Europe and to Jean Genet. The book is frank, honest and engrossing. White brings the benefit of time past and age to looking back on a life well-lived, as well as a writers keen eye for telling a good story. My Lives outlines (for me) some sense of what it would be to have lived as a gay man (albeit a privileged one) in a different country in different times - both more repressed and more free.

Books I brought back to London

Dennis Cooper's Wrong (which he signed for me in San Francisco many years ago), Closer, Horror Hospital Unplugged and the beautiful Jerk. Also in the brought back to London pile were Scott Heim's In Awe (also signed I think but not sure how I got that one) and Mysterious Skin; Herve Guibert's To The Friend Who Did Not Save my Life; Christos Tsiolkas's Loaded; William Burroughs' Ghost of Chance; Derek Jarman's Garden; Jean Devanny's The Butchers Shop; Gary Indiana's Rent Boy; and James Courage's A Way of Love. So lots of re-reading in store.

Back again

Was too busy to keep this up to date, then away in New Zealand for nearly a month - so some catching up to be done! But bear with me as lots of exciting stuff to add.