This is a very unlikely but probably true story of Marcel Petiot, doctor, serial killer, mayor, thief, fraud, author and...by my guess, a psychopath.
...moreThis is a very unlikely but probably true story of Marcel Petiot, doctor, serial killer, mayor, thief, fraud, author and...by my guess, a psychopath.
I NEVER HEARD OF A DOCTOR-SURGEON-MAYOR-MURDERER IN FACT OR FICTION, MUCH LESS ONE WHO WAS ALSO A SPY, OR INTELLIGENCE INFORMER, WRITER, CARTOONIST, ANTIQUE EXPERT, MATHEMATICIAN, OR WHO CALMLY CLAIMED POSSIBLY A HUNDRED AND FIFTY VICTIMS … HE HAD LOST COUNT. —Dr. Albert Paul
This book follows him dashing through the annals of history, avoiding justice, getting caught and finally getting sentenced. Despite the high number of people he was convicted of killing - 26 - he probably killed more than that.
He claimed to have been a very high-ranked member of the French resistance and killed every single one of his victims as part of a very covert operation. Trouble was, his clinic-cum-torture-and-killing-chamber was not only filled with corpses upon his unveiling, but also with a lot of suitcases, clothes and jewellery belonging to his victims. Most of them are believed to have paid Petiot large sums of money to have them transported out of then nazi-occupied France. From the book:
Concealed in a cupboard in Petiot’s basement were some twenty-two toothbrushes, twenty-two bottles of perfume, twenty-two combs and pocket combs, sixteen cases of lipstick, fifteen boxes of face powder, and thirty-six tubes of makeup, mascara, and other beauty products. There were also ten scalpels, nine fingernail files, eight hand mirrors, eight ice bags, seven pairs of eyeglasses, six powder puffs, five cigarette holders, five gas masks, four pairs of tweezers, two umbrellas, a walking cane, a penknife, a pillowcase, a lighter, and a woman’s bathing suit.
What I deem to be psychopathic traits, were shown early in his youth but also during his military service; from the book:
After Petiot’s arrival, the unit began to enjoy an unaccustomed variety of dry sausages, cheeses, candy, wine, and other luxuries, no doubt obtained from daily and nightly foraging excursions. Petiot seemed to glow after each triumph. The soldier remembered one conversation about the morality of theft, Petiot arguing that it was completely natural. “How do you think that the great fortunes and colonies have been made? By theft, war, and conquest.” Then morality does not exist? No, Petiot answered, “it is the law of the jungle, always. Morality has been created for those who possess so that you do not retake the things gained from their own rapines.” Petiot would later claim that he learned a lot from war.
Before being captured for his crimes, but while being wanted by the authorities, Petiot not only claimed to be his brother while visiting the fresh crime-scene, but also posed as Captain Henri Valeri in order to discuss the case about the case...
[...] with the procureur de la république, who later said he had been impressed by Valeri’s thoroughness, energy, and command of the facts of the case. “It’s unbelievable,” Valeri’s secretary, Cécile Dylma, said to Inspectors Lucien Pinault and Émile Casanova, about learning the identity of her boss. “He’s a man so sweet, so calm. Captain Valeri has never shown a single act of anger towards us.” At the same time, she acknowledged that he declined most invitations and generally kept quiet about his private life. “To think that I have been alone with him in his office for a month,” Dylma said, “it makes me shudder.”
The way King has documented the trial of Petiot is well done, considering the undertaking; Petiot marshaled the whole thing as a ringmaster would his circus, but constantly staying manic and defiant throughout the entire process. He even made fans out of some in the audience and signed copies of his books during recess.
In the end, Petiot met his doom, but loads of questions still remain riddled throughout this case, regarding a man who at the time of his capture remained on a pension for a mentally disabled person. He was still working as a doctor at the time.
This is a quite astonishing tale, and King tells it well, without demonising Petiot too much; he seems to realise that just telling the facts is enough to amaze anybody who reads this book, and I've read quite a few books on serial killers.(less)
This was a horrific read, quite similar to that from Anne-Marie West, the daughter of Rosemary and Fred West, who had to suffer through seemingly into...moreThis was a horrific read, quite similar to that from Anne-Marie West, the daughter of Rosemary and Fred West, who had to suffer through seemingly intolerable amounts of abuse.
Kristina Hansen seems to have been through hell, which came in three parts: her father, the main abuser, her mother, who ducked away whenever things were too bad for her to handle - indirectly sacrificing her daughter in the process - and society, mainly through the social services but also through school, the police and hospital staff both in Norway and Sweden, where everybody seemingly let the buck pass to "somebody else", despite the veritable mountains of abuse visible to all, even through Kristina's absence.
This book is told in a very no-nonsense, don't-feel-sad-for-me way, which makes it radiate even more powerful than otherwise. Still, I have the feeling everything in the book is the truth; the first 30 pages nearly made me weep and the remaining 90% of the book weren't easier to my system.
Very well-written, and Kristina Hansen is incredibly strong to have undergone what she has been through, seemingly remaining dented and strong.(less)
From the beginning of this book, two paragraphs spring to mind to not only contrast the mind of what I deem as the psychopathology behind major corpor...moreFrom the beginning of this book, two paragraphs spring to mind to not only contrast the mind of what I deem as the psychopathology behind major corporations, but what also separates murderous decisions from having to be the one at the end of the whip, so to speak:
Quickly, Cheim learned the method. Every day, transports of slave laborers were received. Prisoners were identified by descriptive Hollerith cards, each with columns and punched holes detailing nationality, date of birth, marital status, number of children, reason for incarceration, physical characteristics, and work skills. Sixteen coded categories of prisoners were listed in columns 3 and 4, depending upon the hole position: hole 3 signified homosexual, hole 9 for anti-social, hole 12 for Gypsy. Hole 8 designated a Jew. Printouts based on the cards listed the prisoners by personal code number as well.8 Column 34 was labeled "Reason for Departure." Code 2 simply meant transferred to another camp for continuing labor. Natural death was coded 3. Execution was coded 4. Suicide coded 5. The ominous code 6 designated "special handling," the term commonly understood as extermination, either in a gas chamber, by hanging, or by gunshot.
One December morning, even as the numbered man Cheim, in his tattered uniform, stepped quickly toward the Bergen-Belsen Hollerith office to stay warm and to stay alive, another man, this one dressed elegantly in a fine suit and warm overcoat, stepped out of a new chauffeured car at 590 Madison Avenue in New York. He was Thomas J. Watson. His company, IBM—one of the biggest in the world—custom-designed and leased the Hollerith card sorting system to the Third Reich for use at Bergen-Belsen and most of the other concentration camps. International Business Machines also serviced its machines almost monthly, and trained Nazi personnel to use the intricate systems. Duplicate copies of code books were kept in IBM's offices in case field books were lost. What's more, his company was the exclusive source for up to 1.5 billion punch cards the Reich required each year to run its machines.
Even though IBM still, to this day, negate their cooperating with the nazis, evidence stands clear. Thomas Watson received a medal from Hitler in 1937 and the war started in 1939, and despite this IBM still cooperated with the nazis. The pressure on Watson to return the medal didn't stand in the way of American IBM of controlling IBM in every part of Europe in every facet.
It was an irony of the war that IBM equipment was used to encode and decode for both sides of the conflict.
Indeed. Hitler and the Allies came to the same conclusion: they could not be without the machines that IBM owned, the ones that made all the automatic calculations work. All the counting of people, arms, gender, sexual preference, nationality, whether or not the person counted was a jew or not, one-half jew, one-fourth jew, one-sixteenth jew. The statistics collected was staggering and used by the Reich to fast-track The Final Solution.
IBM was in some ways bigger than the war. Both sides could not afford to proceed without the company's all-important technology. Hitler needed IBM. So did the Allies.
IBM was there every step of the way, and their personnel not only serviced the machines that made the punch-cards work, but the machines were leased - not sold - to the Reich, so that IBM could make as much money as possible. And traipsed along with IBM across Europe as the nazis exploded their boundaries and willen.
Fascism is good business, as the book says.
Watson and his international cohorts went to great lengths not only to help kill anybody to make a buck, but also to secure as many patents as possible to eliminate their competition likewise. And then, ultimately, tried to murder any trail that was left after their doings with Hitler as they realised the nazis were in fact going to lose the war. Of course, that was in the pipes from the start. IBM was, after all, a self-professed "solutions company".
The Final Solution.
Which is merely one - albeit the biggest cog, of sorts - of the many bits of the war and the book that exposes the far-reaching, blood-curdling operation that IBM ran, but chilling precision:
After nearly a decade of incremental solutions the Third Reich was ready to launch the last stage. In January 1942, a conference was held in Wannsee outside Berlin. This conference, supported by Reich statisticians and Hollerith experts, would outline the Final Solution of the Jewish problem in Europe. Once more, Holleriths would be used, but this time the Jews would not be sent away from their offices or congregated into ghettos. Germany was now ready for mass shooting pits, gas chambers, crematoria, and an ambitious Hollerith-driven program known as "extermination by labor" where Jews were systematically worked to death like spent matches. For the Jews of Europe, it was their final encounter with German automation.
And, as stated, there was The End of WWII:
In many instances, elaborate document trails in Europe were fabricated to demonstrate compliance when the opposite was true. Nonetheless, the true record would be permanently obscured. During the war years, IBM's own internal reviews conceded that correspondence about its European business primarily through its Geneva office was often faked. Dates were falsified. Revised contract provisions were proffered to hide the true facts. Misleading logs and chronologies were kept.
In the years that followed, IBM's worldwide stature became even more of a beacon to the cause of progress. It adopted a corporate motto: "The Solutions Company." Whatever the impossible task, IBM technology could find a solution. The men who headed up the IBM enterprise in Nazi Europe and America became revered giants within the corporation's global community. Chauncey became chairman of the IBM World Trade Corporation, and the European subsidiary managers were rewarded for their loyalty with top jobs. Their exploits during the Nazi era were lionized with amazing specificity in a promotional book entitled The History of Computing in Europe, published in 1967 by IBM itself. However, an internal IBM review decided to immediately withdraw the book from the market. It is no longer available in any publicly accessible library anywhere in the world.
More information also surfaced about IBM president Thomas J. Watson's involvement in Germany. A former IBM employee, now in New York State, discovered a pamphlet in his basement and sent me a copy. It was the commemorative program of a luncheon held in Watson's honor just before Watson received Hitler's medal during the 1937 Berlin International Chamber of Commerce festivities. The program includes a picture of Watson surrounded by grateful Hitler Youth, and the text of toasts by Nazi finance wizard Hjalmar Schacht appealing to Watson to help stop the anti-Nazi boycott.
All in all, this tome is extremely well-researched and well-written. I'm just waiting for a newer edition with even more information that's come up since 2003. And there's www.edwinblack.com.(less)
This is a practical guide on how to write a living eulogy of your Self, as though it is a martyr pretending to something else.
Crisp's wit and intellig...moreThis is a practical guide on how to write a living eulogy of your Self, as though it is a martyr pretending to something else.
Crisp's wit and intelligence is his saving grace in this, his autobiography written in the middle of his life, but his despondent attitude constantly leaned me to think him a whiner. His seemingly inadvertent bravery in coming out as homosexual in the 1920s is more than remarkable, and he even stood up for in a court case where policemen accused him for attempting to prostitute himself; the case was dismissed.
Crisp's writing is at times essential and a great example of intelligence and humor intertwined, e.g.:
For about twenty years I lived in a state of intoxication with my own existence and, perhaps for that very reason, excess of alcohol was one of the extremes to which I felt no urge to fly. I asked many people why they drank so much but never received an explanation that I fully understood. It was the tales of their escapades while under the influence of drink that brought me nearest to comprehending their need for it. It seemed to give them a few hours of freedom from rates which, during the rest of their lives, they reluctantly obeyed. If this was true, then in the example of my life lay a cure for drunkenness, though it was hardly an answer which Harley Street would have approved. The prophylactic is, never to conform at all.
In short, a mostly interesting, saddening and self-made tragedy made by a man who transformed himself into a work of art and shed himself of music and love. Do see the documentary "Resident Alien" on Crisp, made as Crisp was turning 80 years of age. He moved to New York at the age of 74 and the documentary does give a few very different views on his life, at least as it was lived during the latter part, which shows this autobiography as a work of art onto itself, but knowing Crisp - and most people - how could it be anything else?(less)
"The thing about hip hop that people keep forgetting, is that it’s not just one definite thing."
A third into this book, I noted:
"The bad thing about this anthology is the amount of repetition: no more about Herc, Flash and Bam, please!"
Apart from the incessant repetition - not only related to The Big Three - this anthology is really worthwhile. It's big. It's intimidating, but there are such nuggets here that the academic vocabulary - which sometimes really got on my nerves; should I hear the word "diaspora" soon again I'll scream - can be overcome.
The edition of the book I read is dated but there is actually a new version printed and sold starting in August 2011! I still really recommend David Toop's brilliant, brilliant book on hip-hop, called "Rap Attack!".
This massively big anthology, however, starts from the start of hip-hop, and delves deeper back in time than that. The elements of hip-hop are of course much more complex than just the verbal, for example the graffiti:
By summer 1971 the appearance of the mysterious message “Taki 183” had sufficiently aroused the curiosity of New Yorkers to lead the New York Times to send one of its reporters to determine its meaning. The results of his search, published on July 21, 1971, revealed that Taki was an unemployed seventeen year old with nothing better to do than pass the summer AU. [...] He explained, “I just did it everywhere I went. I still do, though not as much. You don’t do it for girls; they don’t seem to care. You do it for yourself. You don’t go after it to be elected president.” The reporter interviewed other appropriate neighborhood youths, including Julio 204 and Ray A.O. (for “all over”), who were following in the footsteps of Taki, to whom they referred as the king, and he spoke with an official of the MTA who stated that more than $300,000 was being spent annually to erase graffiti. Patrolman Floyd Holoway, a vice-president of the Transit Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association questioned by the reporter as to the legal machinery relating to graffiti writing, explained that graffiti was barred only by MTA rules, not by law. Thus writers under the age of sixteen could only be given a lecture, not a summons, even if they were caught in the act of writing on the walls. Adult writers could be charged with malicious mischief and sentenced to up to a year’s imprisonment. Taki confessed that as he grew older, he worried more about facing adult penalties for writing graffiti but admitted, “I could never retire...besides...it doesn’t harm anybody. I work. I pay taxes too. Why do they go after the little guy? Why not the campaign organizations that put stickers all over the subways at election time?"
And if you think the Wu-Tang Clan were the first Asiatic influence in hip-hop, you're off:
Crazy Legs is considered by many to be the main focal point of the transition from old school to new school. Having invented many of the new breakdance moves like backspins and windmills, Crazy Legs is the one to whom many of the new school breakers of today are indebted. But other breakers along the way had their influences on the new school of breaking. Not only breakdancers, but media stars like Bruce Lee and other Kung Fu film stars and martial artists had a major influence on breakdancing culture. As said before, the popularity of Kung Fu films during the mid- and late 70s around the world, and especially in New York City, has had a great impact on breakdancing style. Many of the breakdancers were avid fans of martial artists like Bruce Lee. A large number of martial arts moves were incorporated into breakdancing through the influence of the films and the interest in martial arts vis-à-vis Bruce Lee. The Chinese, like many other folk around the world, mainly the Russian peasants and African slaves in early America, had a dance or style of movement that was influenced heavily by the animals on which they depended for survival. Instead of manifesting itself in dance like in Africa, or through sports like the gymnastics of the Eurasians and eastern Europeans, the Chinese animal emulation was expressed through martial arts. Styles like the white crane, tiger style, five star praying mantis, eagle, and monkey style were means of expressing body movement and fighting techniques through the imitation of animal movement. By imitating animal movement a human was able to do moves and body movements that served as a martial art. Kung Fu, with its imitation of animal movements, is a stylized form of human expression. Its heavy emphasis on style and rhythm was a natural influence and inspiration to breakdancing. The films featuring Bruce Lee and other great Kung Fu martial artists appealed to the working class aesthetics of the Bronx and the rest of New York street kids. Since most Kung Fu movements hug close to the ground and use the whole body, both the hands and feet, it was a natural influence on breaking moves. Windmills, which are gyroscopic body movements, are very similar to certain Kung Fu moves.
And then, the music hits. Hard. From a period piece in a national paper, pre-1980s:
NEW YORK. A funny thing has been happening at Downstairs Records here. The store, which is the city’s leading disco product retailer, has been getting calls for obscure r&b cutouts such as Dennis Coffy’s “Son of Scorpio,” on Sussex, Jeannie Reynolds’ ”Fruit Song” on Casablanca, and the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock” on Pride. The requests, for the most part, come from young black disco DJs from the Bronx who are buying the records just to play the 30 seconds or so of rhythm breaks that each disk contains. The demand for these records, which the kids call B-beats, has gotten so great that Downstairs has had to hire a young Bronxite, Elroy Meighan, to handle it. According to Meighan the man responsible for this strange phenomenon is a 26-year old mobile DJ who is known in the Bronx as Cool Herc. It seems Herc rose to popularity by playing long sets of assorted rhythm breaks strung together. Other Bronx DJs have picked up the practice and now B-beats are the rage all over the borough, and the practice is spreading rapidly.
David Toop has done some extraordinary detective work on where New York rap came from: Rap’s forebears stretch back through disco, street funk, radio djs, Bo Diddley, the be-bop singers, Cab Calloway, Pigmeat Markham, the tap dancers and comics, the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Muhammad Ali, a cappella and doo-wop groups, ring games, skip rope rhymes, prison and army songs, toasts, signifying and the dozens, all the way back to the griots of Nigeria and Gambia.11 The mix is very rich. The radio DJs Toop refers to were the jive-talkers of the be-bop era like Daddy O Daylie, Dr. Hep Cat and Douglas Jocko Henderson (the “Ace from Space”).
As Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash basically created the scene by DJing, introducing MCs and building the scratching techniques that are used to this day. In an interview with Source Magazine, all three are into it:
THE SOURCE: Who was the first person to take the record in the bathtub and wipe the labels off?
FLASH: That was me. People were getting too close, you know. I will give all due respect to my boys right here, but you know, other people.
HERC: He put us on a wild goose chase [everyone laughs].
BAM: I had a way of telling things from the color of the album. I could know if it was Mercury or Polygram. Then I would try to see who it sounded like.
FLASH: Hey Bam, I followed you on a Saturday with glasses on. I seen one bin you went to, pulled the same shit you pulled, took that shit home—and the break wasn’t on the muthafucka [everyone is hysterical].
BAM: I used to tell people, “Do not follow me and buy what I buy,” and I went into a record store and everyone was waitin’ around to see what I pulled. So I pulled some Hare Krishna records [everyone laughs]. It had beats but . . .
FLASH: You couldn’t play that bullshit. I got a crate full of bullshit.
After graduating in electronics, Flash began combining his two main interests: sound technology and hard funk. He made his own system and would play at night in local parks. To get the power he needed to operate the system he would run a cable from the decks and amplifier to the nearest street light. Flash became an expert at punch phasing. This is when the DJ hits a particular break on one deck while the record on the other turntable is still playing. The punch works in hip hop like a punctuation mark in a sentence. It helps to give shape to the flow of sounds on the record in the same way that a comma or a full stop helps to shape the flow of written language. And just as punctuation brings time to the pages of this book by telling the reader when to pause, so the punch in hip hop can be used to accentuate the beat and the rhythm for the dancing crowd. Flash was also one of the first hip hop DJs to work with a beat box: a machine that produces an electronic drum beat. Together with his MC crew—headed in those days by Melle Mel—Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five produced a hard rapping style that became their trademark. As Flash leapt from deck to deck using multiple turntables Mel would rap in an aggressive, staccato style to the raw, stripped down electronic beat.
This makes me want to go back in time:
Afrika Bambaataa likes mixing things up, too. He has been known to cut from salsa to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Yellow Magic Orchestra to calypso through Kraftwerk via video game sound effects and the Munsters television series’ theme tune back to his base in James Brown. And in 1982 he made a record with the Soul Sonic Force called Planet Rock that was a big hit. In its own way, Planet Rock is as bizarre as Adventures on the Wheels of Steel. But the Soul Sonic Force didn’t use the edgy staccato rapping style of the Furious Five. Instead their voices weave in and out of the pulsing party beat with lines like “More bounce to the ounce” and “Planet Rock. It just don’t stop it’s gonna drive you nuts!” Meanwhile Bambaataa mixes in snatches of song and sound effects round the steady electronic beat. The rhythm of a rap record by Captain Sky called Super Sporm is crossed with the computer-generated rhythms and melodies of records like Trans-Europe Express and Numbers by the German electro group, Kraftwerk. This is then mixed up with the theme from the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars More. (The Eastwood themes composed by Ennio Morricone had also made a powerful impact on dub producers like Lee “Scratch” Perry in Jamaica in the 1970s.)
A large part of the disc jockeys’ mystique and power is their resourcefulness in finding unknown or obscure records that can move a crowd. These can be rarities, white-label pre-releases, acetates, unreleased tapes or simply good songs that slipped through the net at the time they were released. Given the obvious difficulty of identifying tunes in the non-stop collages of the b-boy style, the most creative DJs in the Bronx were able to build up strong local reputations as “masters of records”—the librarians of arcane and unpredictable sounds that few could match. In time-honoured fashion their secrecy extended to soaking records in the bath to peel off the center labels or giving records new names. Previously jealously guarded lists, emerging gradually at the beginning of 1984, make bizarre reading. Bambaataa was one of the most outrageous: The Bronx wasn’t really into radio music no more. It was an anti-disco movement. Like you had a lot of new wavers and other people coming out and saying, “Disco sucks.” Well, the same thing with hip hop, ’cos they was against the disco that was being played on the radio. Everybody wanted the funky style that Kool Herc was playing. Myself, I was always a record collector and when I heard this DJ, I said, “Oh, I got records like that.” I started digging in my collection. When I came on the scene after him I built in other types of records and I started getting a name for master of records. I started playing all forms of music. Myself, I used to play the weirdest stuff at a party. Everybody just thought I was crazy. When everybody was going crazy I would throw a commercial on to cool them out —I’d throw on The Pink Panther theme for everybody who thought they was cool like the Pink Panther, and then I would play “Honky Tonk Woman” by The Rolling Stones and just keep that beat going. I’d play something from metal rock records like Grand Funk Railroad. “Inside Looking Out” is just the bass and drumming . . . rrrrrmmmmmmm . . . and everybody starts freaking out. I used to like to catch the people who’d say, “I don’t like rock. I don’t like Latin.” I’d throw on Mick Jagger—you’d see the blacks and the Spanish just throwing down, dancing crazy. I’d say, “I thought you said you didn’t like rock.” They’d say, “Get out of here.” I’d say, “Well, you just danced to The Rolling Stones.” “You’re kidding!” I’d throw on “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”—just that drum part. One, two, three, BAM—and they’d be screaming and partying. I’d throw on The Monkees, “Mary Mary”—just the beat part where they’d go “Mary, Mary, where are you going?”—and they’d start going crazy. I’d say, “You just danced to The Monkees.” They’d say, “You liar. I didn’t dance to no Monkees.” I’d like to catch people who categorize records.
The daring of Bambaataa’s mixes and the black political input that he has made into hip hop have inspired other artists. Air Force One built a hip hop record round Ronald Reagan’s famous gaffe when he made a “joke” at a TV station. Reagan had claimed in jest that he had the solution to the Russian “problem.” “Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Americans,” he says, barely able to restrain the laughter, “We begin bombing in five minutes.” President Reagan was unaware that he was being recorded at the time. See the Light, Feel the Heat begins with Reagan’s “announcement.” The phrase “We begin bombing” is picked out and repeated several times as the funk rhythm breaks and crashes in a series of explosions round Reagan’s voice.
At the same time, it's interesting and a bit sad to see how people were really naïve and green in the start of the recorded rap-game, as when most artists start out, I guess:
But while he shares these high hopes, a seasoned veteran of “the business” like Charlie Chase remains acutely aware of the pitfalls and distortions involved. After all, he had witnessed firsthand what was probably the first and biggest scam in rap history, when Big Bad Hank and Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records used a rhyme by his close friend and fellow Cold Crush brother Grandmaster Cas on “Rapper’s Delight” and never gave him credit. The story has been told elsewhere, as by Steven Hager in his book, but Charlie’s is a lively version. This is how it happened. Hank was working in a pizzeria in New Jersey, flipping pizza. And he’s playing Cas’ tape, right? Sylvia Robinson walks in, the president of Sugar Hill. She’s listening to this, it’s all new to her. Mind you, there were never any rap records. She says, “Hey, man, who’s this?” He says, “I manage this guy. He’s a rapper.” She says, “Can you do this? Would you do this on a record for me?” And he said, “Yeah, sure. No problem.” And she says, “Okay, fine.” So he calls Cas up and says, “Cas, can I use your rhymes on a record? Some lady wants to make a record.” You see what happened? Cas didn’t have foresight. He couldn’t see down the road. He never imagined in a million years what was going to come out of that. He didn’t know, so he said, “Sure, fine, go ahead.” With no papers, no nothing. And it went double platinum! Double platinum! “Rapper’s Delight.” A single. A double platinum single, which is a hard thing to do.
The playfulness of early hip-hop and how it can be at its best in an instrumental sense...
Although much is made of rap as a kind of urban streetgeist, early rap had a more basic function: dance music. Bill Stephney, considered by many to be the smartest man in the rap business, recalls the first time he heard hip-hop: The point wasn’t rapping, it was rhythm, DJs cutting records left and right, taking the big drum break from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” mixing it together with “Ring My Bell,” then with a Bob James Mardi Gras jazz record and some James Brown. You’d have 2,000 kids in any community center in New York, moving back and forth, back and forth, like some kind of tribal war dance, you might say. It was the rapper’s role to match this intensity rhythmically. No one knew what he was saying. He was just rocking the mike.
And no, people didn't really like "The Message" that much!
Like disco music and jumpsuits, the social commentaries of early rappers like Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel were for the most part transparent attempts to sell records to whites by any means necessary. Songs like “White Lines” (with its anti-drug theme) and “The Message” (about ghetto life) had the desired effect, drawing fulsome praise from white rock critics, raised on the protest ballads of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. The reaction on the street was somewhat less favorable. “The Message” is a case in point. “People hated that record,” recalls Russell Simmons, president of Def Jam Records. “I remember the Junebug, a famous DJ of the time, was playing it up at the Fever, and Ronnie DJ put a pistol to his head and said, ‘Take that record off and break it or I’ll blow your fucking head off.’ The whole club stopped until he broke that record and put it in the garbage.”
Funny bit about Sylvia Vanderpool:
And rap and reggae have a common root in a record called Love Is Strange by Mickey and Sylvia. This record was released in 1956 at the time when ska and soul and rock ’n’ roll were just beginning. On this record, guitarist Mickey Baker and vocalist Sylvia Vanderpool sing a bantering duet over a lilting Caribbean-flavored shuffle rhythm. In the middle there is a sort of mini-rap between the two. Mickey asks Sylvia how she calls her lover boy. As Mickey keeps asking the question: “And if he still doesn’t answer?,” Sylvia calls back to him in a voice that gets sexier and sexier. The record made the top twenty in the States. It was a hit in Jamaica too. It is sometimes classified as a “rhythm and blues calypso hit.” And almost a quarter of a century later, it was Sylvia Vanderpool who set up Sugarhill Records with her husband. This was the company that released the first Bronx-style rap by the Sugarhill Gang before going on to record Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
It's interesting to see how hip-hop at times could be parasitic onto "itself", e.g. "black culture", while being a magnificent political tool:
Although rap would later enhance its technical virtuosity through instrumentation, drum machines, and “sampling” existing records — thus making it creatively symbiotic — the first stage was benignly parasitic upon existing black music.
I think there are five things that are integral to this, the semiautobiographical tome of Ice-T:
1. His upbringing.
MY FATHER, who was a church-going, n
...moreI think there are five things that are integral to this, the semiautobiographical tome of Ice-T:
1. His upbringing.
MY FATHER, who was a church-going, nine-to-five guy—did his best to raise me on his own after my mother died. My aunt who lived right behind us helped to raise me, too. My father also had a housekeeper named Miss Sanoni—she was from the Deep South—and she would come over every day and cook these Southern dishes for dinner. So they all chipped in to raise me. Well, raise me? That’s kind of a stretch. Wasn’t too much raising going on. Just like my mother, my father wasn’t much of a talker. He was more of a supporter. The bills were paid. I ate. Nurturing? Naw. That wasn’t my pops’ style. Nobody in my immediate circle talked to me much. Nobody asked about how I was feeling. That’s the main reason that, these days, I talk to my kids a lot. I talk to my wife a lot. But in my house as a kid, there was just not a lot of conversation. My parents and my aunts weren’t made in that let’s-talk-it-out mold.
2. His need for adrenaline in connection with crime while growing up.
From the minute we woke up, we were constantly scheming to rob someplace. Pulling licks. We’d stand around, playfully taunting each other. “What? You scared of money? Nigga, you scared of money?” That one phrase sent more people to prison in my neighborhood than anything else.
Apart from his use of gender as an extremely jaded, stereotypical form of view - notably on his first album covers - his views on "pimpin'" and how women like pimping (as opposed to men, I see) is sadly telling. Also, his views on his daughter as opposed to none of the above applied to his son are telling, even though it's quite the joke:
But now that I’ve transformed, Tesha’s starting to look for guys that are more like the new me rather than the old me. When she was growing up, I was hustling. That’s who I was. I was doing dirt every day. She went after those criminal-minded guys. Now that I’m on TV—who the fuck knows? Maybe she’ll go after an actor.
4. His ability to take the piss out of himself and to have a good view on things.
Here’s one real jewel from the game. Pimps and hoes don’t fall in love, they make love. I like to use the strip club example because most men won’t cop to having been with a hooker, but they will admit they’ve been to the strip club. When you’re in the club, that girl giving you lap dances, looking into your eyes, doesn’t love you. She’s making love to you. Your dumb ass thinks she loves you and you give her all your money. Sorry. She doesn’t give a shit about you, dog. The big bosses at NBC don’t love me; they make love to me. They act like they love me because my fucking show is making money. I’m putting millions of dollars into their bank account. I’m a top-shelf ho, but I’m still a ho.
5. A big dash of narcissism.
In retrospect, I understand: Dude is a child. As a child you don’t really have guidance. Maybe he doesn’t know about the ground-breaking artists who laid the foundation for him. Maybe he doesn’t know enough to pay homage to those men. Or maybe he isn’t capable of making better music. I mean, it’s not his intent to destroy hip-hop. Soulja Boy doesn’t know me from a can of paint. Good luck with his career. Good luck to everything he’s trying to do.
I'm glad to say that Ice-T is very straight-forward in this book. Everything basically is what it is, and he doesn't duck issues by blaming others; he doesn't even lean into the fact that his parents both died when he was young, even indicating that/they might be to blame for his early adolescent choices in life. True, they might be, having cold-fronted him in a variety of ways (see point #1 above).
At the same time, he makes valid points as how come a lot of damaged childhoods end up with gangs:
Yeah, I was detached. But looking back on my childhood, I don’t think there was an attachment. In other words, even when I was a little kid and I’d fall off my bike, skin my knees and want to cry, there was nobody to really cry to. So I learned to suck it up really quick. I’d hit the ground, dust my ass off and not show anybody that I was fucked up. I wasn’t one of these kids who was always coming home with hurt feelings, running to hug my mother. None of that clingy, emotional shit was my reality. I grew up in a nonaffectionate household. I think kids are trained to know what they’re going to get, and once they get a taste of it, they’ll always want more. It’s like that shit with Pavlov’s dog. If you cuddle a kid a lot, he’ll want more cuddling. If you don’t, he’ll just accept that as his reality. He doesn’t look for the added affection. Everybody in the family was bugging out that I didn’t cry when my father died. They remembered how I hadn’t shed a tear for my mother, either. But I just wasn’t built like that. Wasn’t wired like that. I didn’t have an ounce of self-pity in my bones. It didn’t hit me, Damn, I’m an orphan. Even as a twelve-year-old kid, I knew I was going to have to make it on my own, and my survival instincts were kicking in. ========== Ice (Ice-T) - Highlight on Page 26 | Loc. 389-405 | Added on Saturday, July 23, 2011, 05:40 PM
I was deep enough in the life to understand one crucial thing about the gang life: The flip side of the violence and negativity is the love. And that’s some extreme love. Extreme love. I only realized this recently: When I got to Crenshaw High, that’s the first time I’d ever heard someone say love to me. My aunt never said she loved me. My mother and father were never big on that word. You get to Crenshaw, and you got a male friend saying, “Cuz, ain’t nothin’ never fin’ to happen to you, homey. You safe, cuz. I love you.” That’s some heavy shit. Like a lot of the homeys, I was getting something I wished I’d gotten from my father. When I was a little kid and something happened to me, I didn’t want my dad to call the police. Fuck that. I wanted to say, “Go get ’em, Dad!” Of course, hardly anybody has it like that in real life, but every little kid wants to believe that his pops is Superman. And that protection you get from the gang is something most people in the ’hood don’t get from their families. To me, it’s interesting that some of the kids who came from big families, families with four or five brothers, didn’t need to join the gangs. Because they had that unconditional protection. “Yo, don’t fuck with me—I got a couple of brothers that will come see you, nigga.” I didn’t have that big family structure. And like everybody else, I wanted that feeling that someone had my back. Yes, the first I really heard love expressed was with the Crips. Not only heard the word “love,” but saw it firsthand. Saw it manifested. Saw that if you fuck with one of us, you fuck with all of us. That’s very enticing. That’s very attractive to a young brother. It’s human nature. We’ve always had armies and tribes, teams and squads. That sense of loyalty, brotherhood, love—it’s very primal, it’s at the core of what it means to be a human. And it’s authentic love—as real and as deeply felt as any love out there—but it’s just misdirected in gangs.
There's also what I think is a very important aspect to his life, discipline, life on the streets and the view of that, crime and his later, more legit way of life: his four years in the military:
There’s something civilians often don’t realize about the military. You’re really only trained to do two things: Kill people and take over shit. You’re not coming home with too many other useful skills, unless you plan on becoming a police officer. Today, we’ve got young vets touching down from Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve killed a shitload of people, and if they’re not properly reprogrammed to come back into society, it’s not like that “kill switch” is an easy thing to turn off...
And yes, there are a lot of funny sides of the book, both legit and not:
We snatched all the furs and disappeared into the catacombs, moving too fast for any pursuit. We got outside and were laughing because we’d got away so easily. As I looked at the mountain of mink and fox coats, I was already doing the mental calculations and figured they were worth maybe $50,000. We could sell them that same night for about $10,000. We started loading and stuffing all the minks into the trunk, backseat, and front seat and got into our car. We couldn’t see out the windows because the mink was piled all the way up. The driver had to clear a little rectangular space so he could see where he was going. When we pulled away in the car, people kept staring at us and laughing, because we looked like a fucking furball driving down the street.
Now, looking back on it, this is what I learned: Yes, you have the right to say whatever you want in America, but you have to be prepared for the ramifications of what you say. When I yelled “Cop Killer,” I did not prepare for the fallout. I’d been dissing rappers for years; they didn’t do shit. Then I dissed the cops—and they came after me like no gang I’ve ever encountered. Then Charlton Heston, Tipper Gore, and the President of the United States himself came after me.
When this shit happened, when Charlton Heston went into that shareholders meeting, thirty million dollars went into the balance. Charlton Heston, as the head of the National Rifle Association, impacted the Warner Bros. bottom line. He stood there in the meeting reading my lyrics like it was a page from the Planet of the Apes script. I GOT MY 12 GAUGE SAWED OFF I GOT MY HEADLIGHTS TURNED OFF I’M ABOUT TO BUST SOME SHOTS OFF I’M ABOUT TO DUST SOME COPS OFF … He didn’t even know what he was talking about. “These are the lyrics to ‘Killer Cop,’ ” he said. “Oops, I mean ‘Cop Killer.’ ” He’s so outraged, yet he doesn’t even know the name of the record? It was some crazy, hypocritical bullshit.
All in all, a nice read. There's a lot of preachiness in the latter part of the book but then again, he's over 50 years old. And he's got a lot to say, and has so far lead an exceptional life, being one of the grandfathers of rap and gangsta music; he's been first in quite a few fields, and has a living acting career, not to mention his seminal hardcore band Body Count.
This book is often about tidbits that Caine - birthname Maurice Micklewhite - has plucked from Hollywood. For example:
I was browsing through the power
...moreThis book is often about tidbits that Caine - birthname Maurice Micklewhite - has plucked from Hollywood. For example:
I was browsing through the power tool display when I popped my head round the corner and there in the next aisle was Klaus Kinski buying an axe. Never has a shop full of DIY aficionados cleared so quickly...
As such, it gets a bit tedious at times, but given that Caine was 77 years old upon finishing it and has a dry, yet interesting sense of humor, it's quite forgiven. Very linear, but still straightforward in a way that he writes of his own life, often plodding thoughts about people in films he's been with, apart from some dull food-recipes at the end.
He was around for more than a decade before becoming famous, "resting" between roles with other unemployed friends like Terence Stamp and Sean Connery.
When he first started out in theatre...I'll quote him on it:
Even so, I understood fully the sarcasm behind the young critic’s assessment of my performance. ‘Maurice Micklewhite played the Robot, who spoke in a dull, mechanical, monotonous voice, to perfection.’ Bastard.
He also provides food for laypeople as far as acting is concerned, and is humble and credits people who've taught him:
In one play I did in Lowestoft I was cast as a drunkard and at the first rehearsal I came rolling onto the stage and staggered about. The director held up his hand to stop proceedings. ‘What do you think you are doing?’ he demanded. Feeling rather aggrieved, I said, ‘I’m playing a drunk.’ ‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘You are playing a drunk – I am paying you to be a drunk. A drunk is a man who is trying to act sober; you are a man who is trying to act drunk. It’s the wrong way round.’ Spot on.
Some paragraphs are really lovely and reminded me of a time when courtesy and "taking the high road" was often the case, and why:
The horse was as quiet as can be, I was assured, and had been chosen with me in mind. His name – I should have suspected something – was Fury. My first few rides on Fury were uneventful and I began to relax. But on the first day of shooting, he seemed to switch personality. I had changed into costume and had planned to start the day with a little trot. The trot began sedately enough but soon turned into a canter and then began to gather speed until it turned into a gallop I had no chance of controlling. We were eventually brought to a screaming halt (it was me doing the screaming) by a jeep from the unit, three miles from the set. I have rarely been angrier and let rip at the director, James Clavell, as soon as I was back. He sat calmly absorbing my anger and then got up, took me by the arm and led me to a quiet corner and gave me one of the best lessons of my life. ‘I was a prisoner of the Japanese during the war,’ he said, ‘and the reason I survived and others did not is that I never lost face. If you lose your temper in front of people you do not know, you lose their respect and it is almost impossible to win it back. You must keep control – if you cannot control yourself, then you have no chance of controlling others. The reason the horse ran away was that your sword was slapping against his side as you began to trot. He thought you were urging him on to go faster and faster.’ I have never forgotten his advice.
Also words on John Houston, who also directed Caine's favourite actor, Humphrey Bogart, upon acting in his film "The Man Who Would Be King":
In The Man Who Would Be King, John Huston lived up to every inch of his reputation as a great director. Throughout the making of the movie he addressed Sean and me as ‘Danny’ and ‘Peachy’, even off set, and he was somehow able to convey with the minimum of fuss or explanation exactly what he was looking for in a character. He didn’t tell you much, he just watched you very closely and you knew you were doing it right just by looking at him. He held the view – rare among directors – that good actors know what they are doing and should be left alone to do it if at all possible. I said to him once, ‘You don’t really tell us much, do you?’ And he said, ‘Two things, Michael. The art of good direction is casting. If you cast it right you don’t have to tell the actors what to do. Also,’ he went on, ‘you’re being paid a lot of money to do this, Michael. You should be able to get it right on your own – you don’t need me to tell you what to do!’ He only ever stopped me once mid-take, when I had to tell Christopher Plummer (who was playing Rudyard Kipling), what Danny and I were up to. Kipling warns us that what we were planning was very dangerous and Peachy replies, ‘We are not little men.’ I put the emphasis on the word ‘not’, but John held up his hand. ‘We are not little men,’ he said. I shrugged and did it his way and when we finished the take I saw he was smiling. He was right. We were not little men – under Huston’s direction we became giants.
And one of the many signs that Caine has come a long way since his poor beginnings:
The first lunchtime on the set just before we started filming, we were all given personal Geiger counters to test the food for radiation. The first thing we all did was buy new batteries. Radioactive or not, the food was terrible and Shakira would go back and forth to London, returning to St Petersburg with Marks and Spencer’s steak and kidney pudding and other goodies to keep us all going.
A more precise account of this was given upon his recollections regarding "lazy" youths in the high-rise building areas where he acted in the film "Harry Brown"; he stated that he has previously thought that criminals should basically just be locked up for a long time, but that mingling with these youths made him think that there might actually be reasons as to why they're out and about, learning bad manners along the way. Oh, brother. Intertwined with stuff like this, I wonder why that took him such a long time to grasp:
In Britain if you are successful and from a working-class background, you get this sort of thing all the time. It’s often a tiny and insignificant comment made by a tiny and insignificant person, but it’s annoying – a bit like being bitten by a flea you can’t quite ever squash. I remember talking to a reporter years ago about my elder daughter, Dominique. ‘Oh,’ he said, trying to stifle a laugh, ‘so you named her after the singing nun, did you?’ (There had recently been a number one hit called ‘Dominique’, by a Belgian nun.) ‘No,’ I said. ‘I named her after the heroine of the Ayn Rand novel The Fountainhead, Dominique Francon.’ I can still see the look on his stunned face: how could this ignorant Cockney bastard have read a book like that? Class prejudice works in weird and wonderful ways in Britain. A supreme example of this is our planning system: thousands of apartment blocks were built for lower-income families after the war, with nowhere for tenants to park their cars. I suppose at the time the planners didn’t envisage that the working class would be able to buy cars.
While quoting history, this note of his angered me some (if it's indeed true):
The very worst thing about the London social scene in those days was that everything shut at ten thirty – pubs, theatres, cafés, buses, tube, everything. I once heard a member of parliament explain that it was to make sure the working classes weren’t late for work the next day. You can imagine how that went down with my friends and me...
And, the illustrious Swinging 1960s...
Working-class actors like Terence Stamp, Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole and me were blazing a trail, too – and we were all taking full advantage of a much freer attitude to sex and booze, to have the time of our lives. Peter was probably the wildest of us all. During my time understudying him in The Long and the Short and the Tall in 1959, my main job was to bring in the drink and find the parties, but I soon learnt to start the evening off with him and then duck out. God knows, I love a party, but I just couldn’t keep up. On one Saturday night after the show we were about to set off when he suggested that we line our stomachs first at a fast-food place in Leicester Square called the Golden Egg. This seemed to me to be perfectly sensible and I was encouraged because Peter’s diet hadn’t to this point seemed to include any food, so I went along and ordered a fry-up. I have absolutely no idea what happened after that because the next thing I remember is waking up in broad daylight in a flat I had never been in before, still wearing my coat. I nudged Peter, who was lying next to me, and asked him what time it was. ‘Never mind what time it is,’ he said, ‘what fucking day is it?’ Our hostesses, two rather dubious-looking girls I really don’t remember having set eyes on before, told us it was Monday and it was five o’clock. The curtain went up at eight. Somehow we got to the theatre in time – we hadn’t even been sure we were still in London – but instead of being pleased to see us, the stage manager was very cross. It seemed that the manager of the Golden Egg had already been round: henceforth we were both banned. ‘But what did we – ?’ I began. Peter nudged me. ‘Never ask,’ he said. ‘Better not to know.’ The voice of experience. They say that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there. And this was only 1959...
His recollection of Austin, Texas, filled me with longing for the place again, one of my dream cities:
The film was shot in Austin, the capital of Texas. Austin is a very rich town with a massive university and a lot of steak houses. The most famous one at that time was Sullivan’s and it was here that the then governor of Texas and his cronies always ate: we saw George W. Bush there every time we went. Everything in Texas is big, including the onion rings. Benjamin and I were at Sullivan’s one lunchtime and just about to start eating, when we saw a woman approaching us with a smile and a camera. It happens all the time when you are well known: not only is your meal interrupted with the photograph, but attention is drawn to your table and so everyone else thinks it’s OK to interrupt you, too. Anyway, as she came over, we both put a brave face on it and prepared to pose, but she completely took the wind out of our outraged sails by saying, ‘Can I take a picture of your onion rings? The folks back home just won’t believe how big they are!’ With a sigh of relief, we both said yes . . . Austin is a strange town – and the citizens know it. I have a souvenir mug that says ‘Keep Austin Weird’, and they are doing a pretty good job. Sandra was going out with Bob Schneider around the time we were making the film and she took a group of us to see him play. When he came on, the young female fans at the front lifted up their blouses and flashed their breasts at him. Sandra said that they always did that to him as a greeting. It would have made my day back when I was fourteen, but it seems a pretty odd business to me now. The weirdest thing I saw in Austin was from the window of our hotel, which was on the banks of the Colorado river. Shakira and I arrived back at the hotel late one afternoon and the receptionist told us rather mysteriously to go out onto the balcony of our room at precisely six o’clock and look at the bridge over the river on our right. We did exactly as she suggested and saw that there were crowds of other guests standing on their balconies, too, and a host of people standing below, all with cameras ready, waiting for something to happen. Not wanting to miss anything, I rushed back inside to get my camera and got back just in time to witness one of the most extraordinary sights I’ve ever seen. At dead on six o’clock, two million bats flew out from under the bridge in their nightly search for food. There’s no other word for it – weird.
All in all: a fair autobiography. I'd love for it to have been more detailed in the introspective, but I guess that's just how Caine writes.(less)
This is a short and very appealing read. To me, Ellis is noteworthy because of three things:
1. His world-building with words 2. His ability to build a...moreThis is a short and very appealing read. To me, Ellis is noteworthy because of three things:
1. His world-building with words 2. His ability to build a story 3. His intelligence
Of course, the three above points mean very little when he is publishing notes from when he's been drunk or just rants like an old man with a huge love for technological gadgets, which doesn't happen rarely. Instead, it's a mix of the above with his heart that does it. To quote him from the beginning:
This Is What It Means To Be Me: wake up at 1pm. Check mail. Open envelope full of free money. Go to pub. Laugh. Because I am a Writer.
You have to be able decipher some tongue-in-cheek to be able to realise that Ellis isn't a plain town crier here, in this collection of stories from his blog.
When his points come across, they can be boiling and refreshing:
And certainly we're in a time where anger in art has largely gone away. This isn't the cool detachment of post-modernism, so much as just a turning inward. The kind of stuttery lurching rise of emo over the last couple of years is a case in point: a total defanging of pretty much any working definition of punk in service of whining about how you've got no fucking girlfriend. "Emotional punk" = Crying Ugly Kid Music. There should be a sign in guitar shops: "We reserve the right to refuse sale to people who want to write songs about wearing glasses and being dumped by girls who didn't know your name anyway." It's understandable, and certainly it doesn't hurt for Manson to bolster the "outsider" self-perception of his audience. But it bugs me nonetheless. Is it a creative reaction, to answer "nothing's happened" with "nothing's going to happen and you can't do shit about it"? Is that doing anything more than prepping an alienated audience for a doomed life of dyeing your hair back to brown and getting a job in insurance? Is that where we've ended up? That all popular culture has to say is, "well, fuck it"? Even as a transient pose? The lesson of the 1930s is that, in a time of encroaching conservatism and creeping repression, the correct response is not to flush your fucking spine down the toilet.
April 28, 2008 The last half of this month has felt completely out of sync. Like the planet jumped tracks. Everything's a bit 1986. Gather, children, and I will tell you of 1986. It rained all the time, no-one could smile without bleeding, and Boy George was on The A-Team. 1986 was one of those years where we were waiting for the spaceship to land... Things were so bad we were actually having to talk about Paul Simon's "Graceland" like it mattered. now, 1987, that was an interesting year... (descends lnto senescent unconsciousness) Where's my fucking coffee Buried under messages reading: "i was a discoloured zygote floating in the pool of beer and sperm that was my mothers womb in 1987."
I sit down every day to tell myself a story. Usually full of either stimulants or depressants, playing some kind of soundtrack to the experience of writing, aware of my environment, sitting in my own little writer's movie and telling myself a story. Anyone who tells you they write to an audience is either an idiot or a fake. You write for yourself. If the story doesn't affect you in some way, it won't affect anybody else. I don't write for the trunk. I'm well aware that someone else is going to read this. But if I don't respond in some honest, gut way to whatever I'm writing, you'll never get to see it. I know writers who play Stone Soup with everything. They'll generate half an idea on the back of a fag packet, ring up half a dozen other writers, tell it to them and ask what they think, and at the end of a phone marathon they'll have their story, with all the ingredients chucked in by their friends. For me, writing happens on my own. It's exactly the same as a ritual, or sitting down at a campfire, or initiating a vision state in silent darkness. It has to come from me and the spaces in my brain.
...and intertwined with music (oh, when is it not?):
Did you ever hear My Bloody Valentine, around the time of "Feed Me With Your Kiss"? An ear-wrecking field of noise where they didn't play the note, so much as all the notes that get you to the note? It's kind of like that, without the note at the end. Just a field of dissonance. A song turned inside out and wearing its guts as its skin. A pretty picture, no? So, at this point, I'm playing wak-a-rat, running around with a hammer hitting all the bits that stick out and go off the progression to a note.
While travelling with Grant Morrison:
I'm in Glasgow with Scots comics writer Grant Morrison, who's just scored some brown acid off Bryan Talbot and is explaining to me how time works in comics. He explains to me his discovery that any comic is in fact its own continuum, an infinitely malleable miniature universe from Big Bang to heat death, and that in reading it you can make time go backwards, skip entire seons, strobe time itself, re-run geologic-scale periods in loops... reading a comic is in fact controlling time from a godlike perspective. He was, of course, very full of hallucinogens at the time. This is why people were warned about the brown acid at Woodstock.
...more about music and living like it's music:
[...] i don't think Bo Diddley met a second chord in his life, he made status quo look like Segovia for that. It's all about that beat. "I play the guitar as if I were playing drums," Diddley said.
And, as he says at the end:
The line I always quote in talks like these, the one I want you to take away with you, is something the comics writer Harvey Pekar said: "Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures." And the nice thing about comics, the blessing of the paper craft, is that there's really no-one to stop you.
Very recommendable for those looking for refreshment for the mind. It's like listening to the Ramones: if you don't like one song, don't worry, the next will be along in a minute.(less)
This was quite the rollercoaster book, as the Americans might put it; yes, in the sense that it throughout the first 20% was quite dull and linear, th...moreThis was quite the rollercoaster book, as the Americans might put it; yes, in the sense that it throughout the first 20% was quite dull and linear, the later 30% made me go on from some elegant sentences - structure, punchline - and the following 50% bored me completely. Bar the graphical chapter. You'll know what I mean. That was good.
Too bad Egan's introductory quote from Marcel Proust was so self-condemning without her knowing it:
"Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success."
There are some funny, Sam Lipsyte-ish moments in the book, bar the puns. Example:
His son took a fat pinch of gold flakes and put them on his tongue. Bennie tried not to think of the money. The truth was, he’d spent eight thousand dollars on gold in the past two months. A coke habit would have cost him less. Chris sucked on the gold and closed his eyes. “Dad,” he said. “It’s, like, waking me up from the inside.”
“Talk to me, Scotty,” Bennie said. “You have a demo tape you want me to hear? You’ve got an album, a band? Songs you’re looking to have produced? What’s on your mind.” He was leaning against the front of the black lozenge, ankles crossed—one of those poses that appears to be very relaxed but is actually very tense. As I looked up at him, I experienced several realizations, all in a sort of cascade: (1) Bennie and I weren’t friends anymore, and we never would be. (2) He was looking to get rid of me as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle. (3) I already knew that would happen. I’d known it before I arrived. (4) It was the reason I had come to see him.
The interpersonal moments are the best in this book. The author's reflections aren't as up-to-speed. And then you have a few funny bits, like:
“So,” Kitty said, “is this where you bury the bodies?” The general glanced at her, not understanding. Arc stepped quickly forward, as did Dolly. Lulu came too. “Do you bury them here, in pits,” Kitty asked the general in the most friendly, conversational voice, “or do you burn them first?” “Miss Jackson,” Arc said, with a tense, meaningful look. “The general cannot understand you.” The general wasn’t smiling anymore. He was a man who couldn’t abide not knowing what was going on. He’d let go of Kitty’s hand and was speaking sternly to Arc. Lulu tugged Dolly’s hand. “Mom,” she hissed, “make her stop!” Her daughter’s voice startled Dolly out of a momentary paralysis. “Knock it off, Kitty,” she said. “Do you eat them?” Kitty asked the general. “Or do you leave them out so the vultures can do it?” “Shut up, Kitty,” Dolly said, more loudly. “Stop playing games.” The general spoke harshly to Arc, who turned to Dolly. His smooth forehead was visibly moist. “The general is becoming angry, Miss Peale,” he said. And there was the code; Dolly read it clearly. She went to Kitty and seized her tanned arm. She leaned close to Kitty’s face. “If you keep this up,” Dolly said softly, “we will all die.” But one glance into Kitty’s fervid, self-annihilating eyes told her it was hopeless; Kitty couldn’t stop. “Oops!” she said loudly, in mock surprise. “Was I not supposed to bring up the genocide?” Here was a word the general knew. He flung himself away from Kitty as if she were on fire, commanding his solders in a strangled voice. They shoved Dolly away, knocking her to the ground. When she looked back at Kitty, the soldiers had contracted around her, and the actress was obscured from view. Lulu was shouting, trying to drag Dolly onto her feet. “Mommy, do something, do something! Make them stop!” “Arc,” Dolly called, but Arc was lost to her now. He’d taken his place beside the general, who was screaming with rage. The soldiers were carrying Kitty; Dolly had an impression of kicking from within their midst. She could still hear Kitty’s high, reaching voice: “Do you drink their blood, or just use it to mop your floors? “Do you wear their teeth on a string?” There was the sound of a blow, then a scream. Dolly jumped to her feet. But Kitty was gone; the soldiers carried her inside a structure hidden in the trees beside the landing pad. The general and Arc followed them in and shut the door. The jungle was eerily silent: just parrot calls and Lulu’s sobs.
The best moments are quoted above. The worst are the ones where you feel the author has recognised a brain-wave when writing this book, and thought "Oh! This will throw them!" - and yes, it all sadly did. Instead of this, let me recommend Kevin Sampson's "Powder" (for the music) or Chuck Palahniuk's "Rant" (for truly innovative time-warped writing) instead, for more revelatory and shining moments.(less)
**spoiler alert** This is a very easily read book. Very reminiscent to the style of Palahniuk, Lipsyte and Vonnegut, this is a tale told by an I, a 34...more**spoiler alert** This is a very easily read book. Very reminiscent to the style of Palahniuk, Lipsyte and Vonnegut, this is a tale told by an I, a 34-year-old Englishman named John Self, who is employed in the pornography trade. As he delves into the USA he becomes set in old ways.
Refreshed by a brief blackout, I got to my feet and went next door. The mirror looked on, quite unimpressed, as I completed a series of rethinks in the hired glare of the windowless bathroom. I cleaned my teeth, combed my rug, clipped my nails, bathed my eyes, gargled, showered, shaved, changed — and still looked like shit. Jesus,'I'm so fat these days. I tell you, I appal myself in the tub and on the can. I sit slumped on the ox-collar seat like a clutch of plumbing, the winded boiler of a thrashed old tramp. How did it happen? It can't just be all the booze and the quick food I put away. No, I must have been pencilled in for this a long time ago. My dad isn't fat. My mother wasn't either. What's the deal? Can money fix it? I need my whole body drilled down and repaired, replaced. I need my body capped is what I need. I'm going to do it, too, the minute I hit the money.
It's a bit Dashiell Hammett, too. The sleuth. But no sleuthing here, just living. Self, with his money in the pocket, trying to find Selina, seemingly the woman of his dreams. Is he sure? How can he be? Self's an alcoholic, always on the bend, never on the mend.
Extremity is the only element of surprise. Hit them with everything. No quarter.
It feels as though Amis has given it his all to write a daily diary as though the alcoholic I is a child, a no-gooder who doesn't remember and gets told of what he's been through and deserves. At times this works, other times it feels like a dull knife, an author jaded and not driven by anything than a deadline:
At once I grimly instigated my miracle flu cure. You go to bed, wrap up warm, and drink a bottle of scotch. Technically it's meant to be half a bottle, but I wanted to make absolutely sure.
Amis even writes himself into the book, running into the I a few times.
'Your dad, he's a writer too, isn't he? Bet that made it easier.' 'Oh, sure. It's just like taking over the family pub.' 'Uh?' 'Time,' said the man behind the bar. 'Time. Time.'
...which is something I don't think works very well. But considering Amis' slow, rambling style without loads of sentences directly aimed to thrash the reader, it's an easy get-by. You simply wait for the next good thing.
So what is the next good thing in this book? There's no real plot. There's no magical "oh!" in it. It simply is, without much effect. It owes quite a lot to alcoholism and noir detective stories.
Other times, Amis seems to aim for yob wordplay:
The French, they say, live to eat. The English, on the other hand, eat to die.
And at a few times, it's funny, as when Self meets his dad:
'I want you to meet Vron.' 'Vron?' He's doing it with robots now, I thought. He halted me with a tug of my hair. 'Yeah. Vron,' he said. 'Now you behave.'
Vron sounded bad enough when I said it. My father has trouble pronouncing his r's, owing to some palate fuck-up or gob-gimmick. Vron sounded a good deal worse when he said it.
And the drunkenness goes on, which is the strength of this book, in a way:
Martina sighed. 'You were drunk. You know, it's quite a lot to ask, to spend a whole evening with someone who's drunk.'
... I had always known the truth of this, of course. Drunks know the truth of this. But usually people are considerate enough not to bring it up. The truth is very tactless. That's the trouble with these non-alcoholics — you never know what they're going to say next. Yes, a rum type, the sober: unpredictable, blinkered and selective. But we cope with them as best we can.
His inadvertent/blind chase for Martina, a girl who actually cares for him, seems to pass his blind face by.
All in all: entertaining and worth the read, but I really would have preferred a hefty amount of editing.(less)
This is a logical, slower step forward in this canon. Unfortunately, it's all a bit same-old, but the fantasies don't stop coming. In my eye, the very...moreThis is a logical, slower step forward in this canon. Unfortunately, it's all a bit same-old, but the fantasies don't stop coming. In my eye, the very last bit in this book regarding Tommy is the best, including the very last chapter which isn't about him at all, but about the continuing saga in the life of a very nasty and desperate psychopath.
I'm looking forward to part 5, dropping in January 2012.(less)
Dave Eggers once wrote that he spent an entire month reading this when it was released. And added that it's impossible to mutter an "eh" when fin...moreWell.
Dave Eggers once wrote that he spent an entire month reading this when it was released. And added that it's impossible to mutter an "eh" when finished with it, saying the book will change your life for the better.
I think he's right about it changing things.
The first 15 pages stormed me. Then, I felt David Foster Wallace was merely trying to impress and masturbate onto pages in some self-loving way that Jonathan Franzen can be prone to coming close to; after appx. 150-200 pages, however, that went away.
This book is filled with subjects and words and places but it's coherent, funny, inspiring and disgusting, bewildering, simple and complex. At times it felt like a drag, but mostly it's really, really good.
Every sentence feels thoughtful and sincere, and at the same time, I got the feeling (which is still in-place) that's simple; all you need is genius.(less)