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Tuesday, Jun 12, 2007

EXCLUSIVE Podcasts: Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer


Following in the footsteps of PopMatters’ exclusive five-part series of excerpts from the new Joe Strummer biography in May, we now offer the podcast accompaniment.  Chris Salewicz’s book, Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer, is the most in-depth and in-the-know look ever at Strummer, a genuine rock and roll legend, as well as the history of the Clash.  Pop these podcasts into your pod-like musical device or stream them right here.  Then head over to Amazon post-haste and pick up this essential book for any music fan.


In the first installment, beginning with news of Strummer’s death, Salewicz remembers Joe’s drive, humor, and constant internal conflict.
Read the excerpt here.
Part One: Straight to Heaven—2002 [MP3]
     


Hop aboard the Anarchy tour bus for an exclusive ride with everyman’s thinking man and his smart band: the Clash’s first tour, first single, and their first album.
Read the excerpt here.
Part Two: Under Heavy Manners—1976-1977 [MP3]
     


Strummer hangs with Warhol; Thatcher comes to power, and after a lot of sweaty work in a shadowy space in the back of a garage, London Calling is unveiled like a gleaming, bad-ass drag racer.
Read the excerpt here.
Part Three: Red Hand of Fate—1979 [MP3]
     


Megavitamins and beer, egos and conflict, Combat Rock goes on tour and Mick Jones gets the (combat) boot.
Read the excerpt here.
Part Four: Anger Was Cooler—1982-1984 [MP3]
     


Earthquake Weather sets Strummer wandering solo through his “wilderness years” in the not so barren climate of Southern California.
Read the excerpt here.
Part Five: On the Other Hand…—1988-1989 [MP3]
     


Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - Redemption Song



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Saturday, Jun 9, 2007

Let me begin with a disclaimer: when I expressed interest in reviewing this book, I wasn’t aware just how young were the “Young Artists” for whom this book is evidently intended. Niedzviecki, founder of the art zine Broken Pencil, is something of an indie guru, and I’d assumed this would be a book for the art college crowd about zines, blogs, websites, and other ventures in self-publishing, along the lines of Ellen Lupton’s fantastic D.I.Y: Design-It-Yourself (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007). In fact, however, it’s actually a book for young teens. Now, I don’t know any young teens, and it’s a long time since I’ve been one, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway, so please bear with me.


The Big Book of Pop Cultureby Hal NiedzvieckiAnnick PressApril 2007, 176 pages, $14.95

The Big Book of Pop Culture

by Hal Niedzviecki

Annick Press

April 2007, 176 pages, $14.95


The Big Book of Pop Culture may not be as glossy, as big (or as pricey) as similar books aimed at this age-group, and the examples might date pretty quickly (which is always the case with pop culture), but it’s packed full with projects, ideas, plans, and inspiring sidebar interviews with young people who did it themselves: the producers of zines, blogs, self-published books, magazines.


In fact, I wish I’d had a book like this when I was a kid. Not only is it handy sized, appealing to the eye, and neatly produced, but it’s also full of projects that look like they’d be great fun to try. Quick and easy ideas, like keeping a family journal or writing fictional stories about your problems, are designed to help emerging artists get ready to tackle more ambitious works, and Niedzviecki is full of encouraging advice about what to expect, how to get things done, and how to avoid feeling disheartened when your ideas don’t work out as planned. Once these easy projects have been mastered, there are lots of suggestions about how young artists can use the tools of modern media to make popular culture of their own, in the form of print (self-publishing zines, comics, and books), video (making movies and shows), CDs (creating original music), or online (blogs and webzines).


Significantly, The Big Book of Pop Culture isn’t just about how kids can make culture of their own, it’s about teaching them to recognize mainstream pop culture, and to understand where it comes from and how it circulates. Niedzviecki has a strong and clear message here, and it’s a message about the corporate system and how it works to limit the kind of narratives kids tell about themselves and their experiences. By explaining to young adults how power works, how popular culture emerges, and how it has a tendency to co-opt independent ventures, Niedzviecki suggests ways for kids to think about models of success and self-expression that are different from those espoused by the mainstream media. This, ideally, will help them to create new communities and more personal kinds of grassroots-level cultural expression, which really do have the potential to transform our future, whatever age we might be.


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Sunday, Jun 3, 2007

Last month I bought a copy of Pliny’s Natural History at a library book sale. Now I know at least a dozen things that I hadn’t known before. For example, if I am having trouble with excess phlegm, I should kiss “only the little hairy muzzle of a mouse.” That will make the phlegm go away. If I am eating bread and a crumb gets lodged in my throat, I need to take two pieces from the same loaf and place them in my ears. That will dislodge the crumb. If I have the same trouble with fish, the cure is to take bones from the fish and put them on my head.


To give birth to a black-eyed child, eat a rat. To heal a cancerous sore of the gums, administer powdered sheep dags. The “black liquor” found in cuttlefish, if burned in a lamp, will “make all those in the room to look like blackamoors or Aethyopians.” Blackamoor isn’t Pliny’s word, of course. The Natural History I bought was a reprint of the 1601 translation by Philemon Holland, Doctor in Physic. A wonderful book. It cost 50 cents.


Our largest local library, a 20-minute walk away, has one of these book sales every month. The Friends of the Library lay out tables and boxes of books, they man the grey tin box in which money is kept, they offer help to people who are struggling with armloads. They can be frosty if crossed. All are named Joyce.


Normal prices range from 50 cents to a dollar. The larger books are set aside and individually priced: three dollars, five dollars, depending on the book. For two months running they had a special price, five paperbacks for a dollar. That’s Trainspotting, Women in Love, all four of Colette’s Claudine stories, A Spy in the House of Love, an autobiographical Michael Ondaatje, and so on, all for 20 cents each. They’re good for gloating, library book sales.


I hoover up stacks of books and retreat into a corner by the men’s toilets to sort them out into piles which I mentally label ‘Keep’ and ‘Put back.’  At least one person will come and hover wistfully over my pile. Occasionally they try to steal a book. “Sorry,” they say when I fix them with my glowering eye and frowning brow. (To darken the eyebrows rub them with ant eggs, writes Pliny.) “I didn’t realise that was yours.” I believe them; they didn’t. They’re so flustered. A middle-aged Chinese woman once trailed me around the room, lusting after my Bacon.


“He is a very good writer,” she said. “The book is a very good book. I wish I had found it.”


She was right, he is, but I wasn’t going to give him up. Is it strange to wonder why a Chinese woman with hesitant English should be so in love with to Bacon’s essays? Well, I once found a copy of Paradise Lost in a Japanese library with Japanese annotations hand-written in the margins from beginning to end—translations of words like “glozed” and “virtuosest”—so why shouldn’t she be? How many English-speaking readers finish Paradise Lost, never mind Japanese-speaking ones? Who wrote those annotations? And what were they doing in Mito, a middle-sized administrative town known for fermented beans and a dead aristocrat? Lord Misukuni Tokugawa was an author, though: he started a series of history books, the Dainishonshi. There is a copy of this series in the Mito City Museum, another wonderful place, dark inside, full of glass cases and stuffed animals and insects in dioramas. The museum in Melbourne used to be like that before they built a new one and rehoused the dusty animals (the tiger with its glazed and gleaming teeth; the native fauna staring glassily) in a series of well-lit, open spaces that stole away their mystery and made them seem tatty.


There’s territoriality at book sales. People shove. If confronted, they apologise in pale, blushing voices. They do not shout. The only person who raises his voice is a bearded man who comes along every month and declaims at the Joyces. In an ideal world he would be a Dickensian figure, a dotty Mr Dick, fixated but loved. In reality he is self-important and bossy and he irritates them. He never seems to notice. Pliny does not give a solution to the problem of deluded men with beards. But did you know that “malefactors or suspected persons” can be made to tell the truth if they consume the herb Achaemenis in wine? “For in the night following they shall be so haunted with spirits and tormented with sundry fancies that and horrible visions, that they shall be driven perforce to tell all”? Do the people at Guantanamo Bay know about this? It sounds a little quicker than the current system.


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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Benedict Shaw is my new kid-hero: eight years old and he’s managed to read more than 60 books for a library reading challenge. To score a gold medal in his school’s Monster Reading Challenge, Shaw need only have ticked off 24. He’s tripled that and more. Benedict’s mum told the Omskirk Advertiser that her son is a chronic reader, staying up long nights finishing chapter after chapter. Her other son, a chipper four year old, is, she notes, as keen on stories as his older brother.


This got me thinking; reminiscing really, about a reading challenge I participated in yearly when in primary school. I looked forward to the MS Read-a-thon like most kids looked forward to the swimming sports. The read-a-thon worked as a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis, with money raised through individual sponsorship. I’d get about a dollar for every book read, and only from my parents as I wasn’t prone to door-knocking for solicitations like some other kids I knew. For me, though, it was never about the money—I used it as a chance to show off my reading habits, which I thought were way awesome. This was the one time out of every year, you must understand, that reading books was suddenly cool. I filled out my “Books read” form with vigor, proud to record my re-readings of Ralph S. Mouse and The BFG next to the hordes of easy-peasy kiddie books I’d scan just to get the form entirely filled up.


Still, with all that reading, I wouldn’t have come close to Benedict Shaw’s haul. I do secretly wonder, though, how many “Tom has a ball” books he’s flown through to grab those extra gold medals, but that’s the primary school competitor in me talking, who just knew the kids at my school weren’t reading half the books they said they were. I remember Lizzie Wyke, for instance, including Stephen King’s It on her form, but never once telling me in any detail exactly what the book was about. I know she mentioned snakes. Snakes? But I’ll take Benedict’s word for it—I’m not in competition with him, after all. Then again, perhaps I am. I’ve long been a recorder of books read, so I’m well aware 60 books takes me over a year to get through. Sure, there’s less time these days. And with my new full-time job, I’m anticipating less still. I dream about a life like Benedict’s—under the covers with a torch, turning those pages, not worrying about falling asleep in class the next day because those books were a proper education, free of written tests and recess (and swimming). There’s just no hiding in the back room at work to read, and barely enough time before bed to get that last chapter in. Ah—to be eight again.


As it happens, the MS Read-a-thon still exists. A Google search reveals the challenge going strong in Australia and in Canada. The fundraiser, turns out, is over 30 years in existence, and continues as a major event for the MS Foundation worldwide. I hope Benedict discovers it soon.


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Monday, May 21, 2007

I Tell Ye Sorr ...


Judged by any of the normal standards, William Hope Hodgeson was a bad writer. He had a tin ear for prose (he sounds most artful when he’s writing in a strange Ye Olde mix, doubtless inspired by the same current of social thought that led to Lord Dunsany’s stories, William Morris’ handiworks, and the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites) and his characterisation is thin to the brink of fatal anorexia. The people in his books are often little more than names (Tonnison, George, Monstruwacan) or accents (“I tell ye sorr, ‘tis no use at all at all thryin to reclaim ther castle. ‘Tis curst with innocent blood…”). It’s easier to remember them for what they go through (grim battles with Yellow Things; disorienting trips through time) than who they are.


But Hodgson the writer (I have no idea if this extended to Hodgson in everyday life) dwelt in a state of extraordinary and vivid terror, and it is this emotion that gives his stories their power. To read his books is to watch a man fighting to dig an elusive core of fear out of his mind and see it in daylight. He does not wallow in it, as a Stephen King does. He does not revel. When King describes a boy’s brains sounding like snot as they hit the wall in Needful Things, he seems to be standing aside and almost chuckling at the overdone grimness of it all. Hodgson didn’t have King’s facility with words; he never manages a throwaway tone; he is not funny. “I want you to try to understand,” his narrator cries urgently in Carnacki the Ghost-Finder as he describes the advent of the evil Hog. “I wonder if I make it clear to you,” he says. “Can you understand ... Do you understand at all?” Hodgson was serious about his monsters, as Lovecraft was serious about his Old Ones even when he was giving them ridiculous names.


The Hog is “a seemingly motionless, pallid swine-face rising upward out of the depth.” A page later it is “a pallid, floating swine-face” and then “the dreadful pallid head.” Like Lovecraft, Hodgson is trying to write about forces so alien to nature that they can’t be described with any accuracy. Our human language can only grope around them, throwing out the word “pallid” again and again in the frustrated hope that it will give the reader a faint idea as to the colour of this unearthly thing.


No wonder H.P. found him inspirational. “Despite,” he wrote, “a tendency toward conventionally sentimental conceptions of the universe, and of man’s relation to it and to his fellows, Mr. Hodgson is perhaps second only to Algernon Blackwood in his serious treatment of unreality. Few can equal him in adumbrating the nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities through casual hints and insignificant details, or in conveying feelings of the spectral and the abnormal.”


Hodgson died in 1918, which means that he is not around to complain about copyright and some helpful people have put large parts of his work on the internet. You can find him at Project Gutenberg, but I prefer the cleaner-looking site at Adelaide Uni. I’d recommend that you start with The House on the Borderland and move on to Carnacki the Ghost Finder, then The Night Land. After that, take the rest at your leisure.


(On a tangent, the Adelaide University site also has Virginia Woolf’s wonderful Two Parsons, which stays in my mind like no other book review I have ever read.)


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