Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is author Amy Kuivalainen! Good morning Amy, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Can I take your parasol?
Absolutely, but do be careful…it bites. Lovely to be here with you today.
Oh! My goodness, what a disturbingly sentient promenadial accessory – although I imagine it comes in extremely useful! How was your journey here from your own dimension? I hope you were not waylaid by any skywaymen…
Original article from the Conversation by Joy McEntree, a look at Hunter S Thompson and his Gonzo work. He’s a favourite writer of mine and I can’t help but wonder what he would be writing about at the moment with the current political climate…
American journalist Hunter S Thompson is a mythical figure, partly by his own design, and partly, perversely, against his wishes. Norman Mailer called him “a legend in successful self-abuse.” Biographer E. Jean Carroll reported Thompson’s daily working regime, which allegedly started at 3pm.
While writing he consumed: Chivas Regal, Dunhills, cocaine, orange juice, marijuana, Heineken, huge helpings of food, LSD, Chartreuse, clove cigarettes, gin and pornographic movies. He then spent some time in the hot tub with champagne and Dove Bars.
We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw either and two dozen amyls … The only thing that really worried me was the ether.
The parallels between the Duke persona and Thompson’s own life have led to a conflation of the two. This arises in part from the approach which Thompson made famous: Gonzo journalism.
Far from being an objective observer of the action, the Gonzo journalist becomes a participant in it and reports on it subjectively. Thompson went further: he was often a provocateur. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a fictionalised account of two trips Thompson made with his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta from LA to Las Vegas.
It was published by Rolling Stone magazine in 1971 under the byline of Raoul Duke, but Thompson’s name does appear. Presented with a photo of himself, Duke identifies it as Thompson: a “vicious, crazy kind of person”.
Rather than effacing himself as a chronicler of the scene, Thompson injects himself, via his Duke persona, as a character. Acquaintance Peter Flanders observed:
Hunter was a theatre. He was a roving kind of theatre. He was not just a writer … he was an actor. He was creating his own subject matter.
The aim of Gonzo journalism and other kinds of New Journalism was to write factual reporting that read like fiction. In Thompson’s case, the truth was outrageous, and then it was outrageously embellished by means of fantasy and hallucination.
What is the book about?
“It was time,” says Duke, “for an Agonizing Reappraisal of the whole scene.” The novel confronts “the brutish realities of this foul Year of Our Lord, 1971,” when the “whole scene” consisted of the state of America as a nation, the squandered promise of the 1960s counter-culture, and the inadequacies of traditional journalism to cope with the chaos that confronted it.
As a reading experience, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a wild torpedo ride through some of the strangest scenes in American fact, or American fiction. Or whatever bizarre hybrid of fact and fiction this book represents.
In terms of its plot, the book falls into two halves. In the first, Duke, a journalist, and Doctor Gonzo, his attorney, travel at high speed in a red convertible from LA to Las Vegas so Duke can cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. He fails conspicuously to do so, and they wander in a drug-addled state among the various sensory intensities of Vegas. They behave despicably, “burning the locals, abusing the tourists and terrifying the help.”
They thoroughly trash the hotel room and run up a stupendous room service tab. They destroy the car. They flee before there is a reckoning. Duke, however, encounters a highway patrol officer who interferes with his plans, so he turns back to cover the National District Attorney’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He feels it is his obligation to represent the drug culture.
The conference only serves to demonstrate how out of touch law enforcement is. The second half of the book follows much the same trajectory as the first, with the pair compounding their felonies of (statutory) rape, fraud and larceny.
Duke and Doctor Gonzo must be admired for their sheer bravado, if condemned for the political unsoundness of their behaviour. The novel alternates hilarious scenes of madcap knavery with elegiac essays on the lost promise of the 1960s, but it does not become bogged down. This is because of its gleeful, manic energy.
Tom Robbins says:
It lifts you out of your seat when you’re reading it. It’s out of control … in an exhilarating, hallucinatory way.
Anthony Bourdain has said:
Thomson’s wild, hyperbolic prose … showed me not only a whole new way to see and think about things … a whole new way to live. I embraced the doctor wholeheartedly, developing a lifelong love for melodrama, overstatement, lurid imagery and damaged romanticism.
Christopher Lehman-Haupt described the novel’s “mad, corrosive poetry.”
The setting of Las Vegas is exploited for the surreal images it offers, and because the protagonists’ enormities are accepted. As Raoul Duke says: “the mentality of Las Vegas is so grossly atavistic that a really massive crime often slips by unrecognized.”
This might not be as disturbing as it is if the trip to Vegas were not also a quest for the American Dream.
The American Dream
Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s trip is “a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country.” Their ostensible mission is covering the Mint 400, but their actual goal is ill defined:
What was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.
Alger was a 19th-century author who typically wrote rags to riches stories; in Vegas, his relevance is about greed as a distinctively American quality. In fact, Duke eventually finds the “main nerve” of the American Dream in the Circus-Circus casino. The owner, who dreamt of running away to join the circus as a child, now has his own circus, and a licence to steal. He, it is said, is the model for the American Dream. If this seems cynical, so it should.
Other references to the contemporary condition of America include discussions of Nixon’s perfidy about the Vietnam War. Of Thompson, the anti-war Democrat Senator George McGovern once said:
Hunter was a patriot… [but] he was not a jingoist. He hated that war in Vietnam with a passion. He hated the hypocrisy of the establishment. Basically, I think he wanted to see this country live up to his ideals. And he wanted us to do better.
One of the things Thompson wanted America to do better was fulfil the promise of the 1960s. Some of the novel’s most trenchant criticisms are levelled at counter-cultural gurus like Timothy Leary who, it seems to Duke, set up new regimes of authoritarianism to replace the old. One of the novel’s most famous passages reveals its bitter nostalgia:
San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. … It seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time … There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. … that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. …. Our energy would simply prevail. … We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. … So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
Finally, the novel addresses a contemporary crisis in journalism. Duke starts out full of his professional obligation to “cover the story,” but quickly abandons all pretence. Throughout the narrative, there are traumatic encounters with traditional news coverage, from mendacious TV broadcasts about the war in Laos and Vietnam to newspaper reports on police killing anti-war protesters, to grotesque stories about the consequences of drug taking. “Against this heinous background,” says Duke, “my crimes were pale and meaningless.”
This culminates in a cynical statement at the end:
Why bother with newspapers, if this is all they offer? …The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits.
Thompson might proudly have self-identified as a misfit, but he was also a journalist, so this seems a strangely self-castigating statement, until you consider what it was that he did for journalism, which was to redefine it. This is his contribution to the American canon.
Pondering all this in the age of Donald Trump, another of Thompson’s books comes to mind: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72, in which he covered the campaign of the Democratic Party’s nominee McGovern (the Presidential race was eventually won by Richard Nixon). Profoundly critical of the relationship between political processes and the media, this collection of articles again attacks both America and journalism at the same time.
Perhaps it is now, more than ever, that we need Gonzo journalism to help us understand the bizarre nature of US national politics today.
In nineteenth-century Boston, a young doctor on the run from the law falls in with a British confidence artist. Together, and with dire consequence, they bring back to the light something meant to be forgotten.
A world away in London, an absent father, haunted by the voice of a banished angel, presents his daughter with an impossible friend…a clockwork ballerina.
For two centuries, a bullet-removal specialist has wielded instruments of angel bone in service to a forgotten power . . . and now he vows to find someone else to shoulder the burden, someone with a conscience of their own, a strong mind, and a broken will. For a hundred years he has searched for the perfect contender, and now he has found two: a brother and a sister. Walter and Hope. Either will do.
Last night something stepped from little Walter’s closet and he never woke up. Now he travels the dark road between worlds, no longer entirely boy nor wholly beast, but with one goal in mind: to prevent his sister from suffering the same fate as he. Only the creature he has become can save Hope. But is it too late to save himself?
Disclaimer: I’ve written this blog four times and failed to capture my thoughts so if the following seems bouncy it’s because..well..fuck..I don’t think the book has finished processing in my head, or it keeps changing in my head, and when I go back to reference something the words are different.
I will however say this…………..
Some books are made for things. They are made of sunlit beaches, lazy Sundays, train ride, cafes and dinners by yourself. Some are meant for rain, to be shared in book clubs, giggled about over wine with your girlfriends or clutched tight in times of grief.
The Music of Razors is made for midnight and storms and low lit fireplaces. For knives in alleys and whiskey in dirty glasses.
It is not recommended for writers going through a moment of doubt about their craft as it’s a gamble as to whether it will snap you out of it and make you work a lot harder, or it will make you think seriously about maybe doing that accounting degree that your Dad always wanted.
I’ve seen it described as Gaimanesque.
Reviewers and critics love to throw the term ‘Gaimanesque’ around; like it’s somehow become an umbrella genre for anything that’s strange, incredibly well written and that leaves you feeling fucking unsettled. It is a term that limits both Neil and the other writer it’s referring to in my opinion. It’s the box builders in this world trying to make something different fit.
Also, Gaimanesque sounds like a sex position.
It would be more accurate to call it ‘uniqueness’ and The Music of Razors is nothing short of unique. Don’t be fooled by it’s size or innocent appearance. The writing is tight.
“There are two things to remember in this life: That the worst crimes are committed in the name of love, and that everyone makes mistakes.”
You think it’s going to be about angels and demons (the opening pages had me fan girling for freaking joy) and then you find it’s going to be about monsters. Really, mostly, it’s monsters; the ones that protect, that hunt, that wear men’s faces…the ones that you become.
‘Everyone gets a monster. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are ugly, and sometimes they are nothing like that. But they all look like the one thing that scares you most. And that is how it keeps your nightmares away: it scares them, too. Everyone gets a monster.’
Here there be terrors my friends but something I found the most unsettling was the sheer failure of people, monsters and the Devine alike. God creates an angel that allocates power and leaves it with this burden, Lucifer won’t have him because it’s his fault for putting rebellion into his malakhim DNA. Henry is disappointed by his father as well as Dorian. Millicent is disappointed in Dorian as a neglectful father. Walter and Hope’s parents themselves are turned into monsters through tragedy. Suni’s mother is cold and ambivalent. Walter and Suni fail Hope in multiple ways. The book is not afraid to be a Jenga Tower of fucked up failures that all inevitably crash down around everyone.
It’s also about change in everyday shape and form.
‘People change. The interesting ones, at least. You start life as one thing, and become something else. Upgrade or downgrade, it’s all change – it’s all vital-and besides…up and down is all relative to the angle at which your head’s been twisted.’
It’s hard to talk about it without wanting to dissect and as I said…I’m pretty sure I’m still trying to figure it all out in my head. The writer in me wants to get my tweezers and scalpel out and start cutting ( ‘Oh ho! I see what you did there Cam…wait..what? where the fuck did that extra appendage come from?’ ) but the cleverer writer part of me knows that it’s not the best way to go about it. Like my other great find of the year Library at Mount Char it’s going to take a couple of months of thinking about it and mulling over drinks and another re-read to capture all the tricks and find pleasure in all the little parts I may have over looked in a first read.
Cameron recently released the novelisation of the game Quantum Break (that he also helped write) and it’s on my list to read regardless of the fact I’ve never played the game because his writing is so damn good. I’m sure his games are fucking magnificent but after reading Music an irrational part of me thinks he needs to be writing more books. Shoot, I could do with a whole book just from the opening chapter of Music.
I heard him on a panel talk about villains…when I walked out of there I was pretty convinced he was one. After taking the time to hang out in his head my opinion on this matter hasn’t changed. He’s the kind of villain that is also a really nice guy at the same time so yeah..watch out for that. Really, keep an eye on him and follow what he does closely. Buy the books and learn everything you can to arm yourself. He’s like a fucked up Pied Piper and The Music of Razors is a song that get’s stuck in you head that you can’t stop listening to.
Seriously, stop reading this blog, do yourself a favour and buy the fucking book ok? Get it here, here and here.
I have a strange love hate relationship with poetry. I can be in equal parts thoroughly confused and delighted when I read it. Poetry takes work. It extracts a cost from both reader and writer. Good poetry will wrap its hands around the sorest parts of yourself and squeeze, leaving you emotionally exhausted and strangely purged.
Harnidh Kaur’s The Inability of Words is modern, fresh and yet there is something of timelessness to her themes of love, heartbreak, magic, anger and belief (and is confirming my suspicion that Indian writers are where it’s at, and drinking deep from the source).
Emotion is captured in its rawest form in Anger Management that echoed so much of my own rage ( ‘I’m convinced I’ll leave a smoking burn on whatever and whoever I touch’) and the relatable anxiety attacks in Panic (‘I’m not human, I’m just a wind up toy with gears and nuts and bolts in my body in place of skin and sinew and flesh and bone.’)
My own sting of being judged by Good Institutional Christians was revisited in Of Sins and brought up memories of my confusion at how people weren’t acting the way the God they professed to follow told them to (Love one another as I’ve loved you, judge not lest you be judged). Were we even loving the same God? I don’t think so. This feeling that’s always gnawed at me was addressed beautifully and completely in Blasphemy.
This one hit me the hardest, especially now in these times when extremists are trying to shape their Gods in their own image, twisting them in forms of hatred even though they seem to forget they are all painting the same Abrahamic Tradition with their own vile colours. This hatred comes from the heart of man, not the heart of God. This is the face of the Gods men have created. Look long and hard at the horror of your own soul.
The point I’m trying to make is that The Inability of Words does what poetry should do – hold a mirror up to the human experience and force you to self reflect. It hits you where it hurts, makes you pause and feel it. Good poetry will always make you uncomfortable like that.
Find the book here and stalk Harnidh Kaur the Pedestrian Poet here.
I’ve been reading a lot of great fantasy lately after a relatively dry spell and discovering Simon Morden has been an absolute treat. I actually found his great blog first and was blown away by his thought provoking essay Sex, Death and Christian Fiction that mirrored so many of my own thoughts and feelings.
I saw an ad for Down Station and three sentences into the description I knew it was a book for me:
A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through…and find themselves on a wild shore backed by cliffs and rolling grassland. The way back is blocked. Making their way inland they meet a man dressed in a wolf’s cloak and with wolves by his side. He speaks English and has heard of a place called London – other people have arrived here down the ages – all escaping from a London that is burning. None of them have returned. Except one – who travelsbetween the two worlds at will. The group begin a quest to find this one survivor; the one who holds the key to their return and to the safety of London.
And as they travel this world, meeting mythical and legendary creatures, split between North and South by a mighty river and bordered by The White City and The Crystal Palace they realize they are in a world defined by all the London’s there have ever been.
It would be really hard to give this story a proper review without spoiling it for everyone so apologies if I seem a little vague. There is a lot that I really enjoyed about this book. One, you guys know how I feel about doors to other worlds so when a gateway opens to another world as workers try and flee a burning London Underground I was giddy with anticipation. Into the world of Down stumbles a rag tag group of strong personalities who are torn between trying to find a way back home and accepting there’s no home to go back to.
The world building in the story is magnificently in flux as the land manifests what it’s occupants need and desire. It is also a place that heightens what ever you are deep down inside. For example the character of Stanislav hides a deep rooted anger and violence that grows and changes him, while Mary, a street kid trying to go straight, has the ability to use a magic that has always been inside of her. Down feeds off its inhabitants, shaping itself as it needs to.
My favourite character in the book is Crows, a Myrddin Wylt type mad magician that hordes maps of Down and can travel between worlds. His motivations are guarded and ambiguous and you never really know what side he is on. Despite that you can’t help but like him. He’s an enigma.
The book also doesn’t seek to over explain magic – something I always appreciate. Magic in Down just IS. The writer could have spent hundreds of words describing the complex mechanics of how the magic and Down fit together but he hasn’t. There is a mention of magic being stronger on ley lines and thats about it. Magic in Down is as common as dirt. You accept that its apart of the scenery.
The writing itself is very clear and concise and to a not so well trained eye could almost seem a simplistic style of storytelling. Writers reading it will quietly marvel (as this writer did) because they know such writing is extremely difficult to execute with any kind of narrative success. Each sentence is carefully selected. There are no unnecessary flourishes, no fatty bits that could be done away with. Its lean and more powerful because of it.
I like books that make me question things and you can’t help but self reflect by the end: If I went to Down…what would I become?