Thursday, 17 July 2014

OASIS BOOK REVIEW ROUND-UP

Well well well, treatments of the Oasis book are now coming in thick and fast ...

First up, David Stubbs wrote an excellent long-form review essay in Review 31 under the lyrically apposite title: On the Crest of a Wave. It's a great piece of prose in its own right, and contains the seeds of a longer argument DStubbs is developing all about (I think) 1996 as the pivotal year in recent cultural history.

Nextly, under another great title (Are Oasis Socialists?) VICE's Noisey blog published an interview I did with Josh Hall (also, incidentally, another top-notch writer - see for example here). The VICE copy-editing leaves much to be desired, but once you've waded through the typos there's some very valuable stuff in there, particularly about the Left and heritage.

There's that psychogeographical tour of Manchester thing on the Bloomsbury blog I mentioned in the last post.

Most bizarrely of all, perhaps, I managed to get Oasis into this week's TLS. Yes, that's right, the Times Literary Supplement has actually gone and fucking reviewed my book about Definitely Maybe. The piece is relatively short and isn't available online if you're not a subscriber. What's more, it was written by Joe Charlton, one of the two or three people from my Northumberland comprehensive school with any shred of influence in the contemporary British culture-sphere. But still. The fucking TLS. What would Liam Gallagher make of that, I wonder?

Finally, and most importantly, my intellectual soulmate Rhian E. Jones has written a cracking essay over at Velvet Coalmine, which glances at the Oasis book, but is really just a spot-on summary of everything that matters most in the world right now. Praise her, with great praise.

Oh - and Rhian and I were both interviewed by Dorian Lynksey for a piece about Britpop in this month's Q. Paolo Nutini is on the cover, which is, I suppose, pretty shit. But still, the piece itself is good, and at least this time around I haven't incurred the Twitter wrath of an entire region with a couple of quotations from a phone interview I barely remember.


There may yet be more to come ...

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

DEFINITELY DEFINITELY DEFINITELY OUT NOW

Well friends the Oasis book has finally emerged from the primordial swamp and is now available from at least some good bookshops in the UK and the rest of the world.

The launch is this Wednesday, 16 July, at 7.30 at the Peckham Pelican, Peckham. I'll read a short extract from the introduction to the book, and the inimitable David Stubbs will play some 1994 tunes. Everyone is welcome and there's no ticketing.

Extracts from the book have been published at ...

Stereogum

Flavorwire

+ The Quietus

Bloomsbury's 33 1/3 blog is also publishing some associated features this week as part of "Oasis Week".

First up: my short autobiographical take on the album. I barred first person from the text proper for various stylistic and political reasons, but thought it might be nice to do a brief sketch all about ALEX NIVEN for the sake of scene-setting, empathy, identification, all that shite. Later this week there will be a Video Vault feature nodding at the album's influences and a psychogeographical tour of Manchester featuring Maine Road, Mr Sifter, and Adolphe Valette.

More to follow on reviews, talks &c.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

NOTES ON THE GUARDIAN NORTH-EAST/DETROIT ARTICLE

Perhaps because the football season ended so anti-climactically this weekend, the north-east of England has since taken a diversion into socio-cultural terrain to enact a now familiar ritual of tragedy-as-farce played out in the national press. (See also the social media accounts of pretty much everyone from the region over the past couple of days.)

Seeing as I was one of the interviewees for the piece by Andy Beckett that started the whole fuss on Saturday, here's some of my thoughts about both the article and the response to it ...

Firstly, some notes about the format of the piece. My contribution was to be interviewed by Andy over the phone some six or seven months ago. The conversation lasted about an hour, and although a part of me was initially sceptical about the fact of the article being written by someone from [evil voice] The South, I was impressed by Andy's intelligence, inquisitiveness, and above all, his sympathy - arising, I think, out of his own socialist beliefs and certain of his life experiences - in highlighting the profound social and economic difficulties the north-east has faced in recent years, difficulties that have often been occluded and even ridiculed in the mainstream media. Inevitably, in the final version of the article, my comments had been whittled down to two or three short quotations (which are, by the way, kind of embarrassingly ungrammatical - proof of their spontaneous, extemporised origins I think).

I fully expected this to happen and nothing in the piece misrepresented my feelings in any way. At the same time, of course there was a hell of a lot of stuff that I mentioned in that 1-hour phone conversation that didn't make it into the final cut.

On the one hand, I'm tempted to to follow incumbent politician Chi Onwurah's lead by claiming that the choice of quotations and the overall thrust of the article was selective, that there was a lot of more positive stuff mentioned in the interview with Andy that wasn't used in the published version. I could go on about how I think the north-east is the greatest place on earth (I do), talk about how desperate I am to get back there (4 unsuccessful job applications this year and another pending), reel off soundbites for the sake of balance about the growth of tech start-ups in the region, moderate increases in house prices, the fact that Newcastle's nightlife is still thriving, the continued outstanding creative achievements of the area's sons and daughters, how wonderful the landscape is, and so on and so forth.

All this stuff is true, but to be honest, I'm not writing a tourist industry brochure or massaging PR for the Nissan car factory. Besides, as the ever trenchant Ross Lewis pointed out on Twitter: "You can love the best of a place and also be ashamed of it and try and change the worst aspects".

I don't want to speak for Andy Beckett, but I should imagine there are a couple of reasons why his article was not entitled "The North-East of England: Some Pros and Cons" or "A Rounded Portrait of a Part of the Country That is Essentially Quite Similar to Everywhere Else".

The first, obviously, is that no editor would have published it and no reader would have bothered to read it through to the end. Outside the world of corporate hospitality literature and marketing hyperbole, articles about a particular subject will of necessity take a specific line of argumentation, and the Guardian piece was in my opinion an entirely fair-minded exploration of the (factually indisputable) notion that the north-east has suffered in recent years from socio-economic decline. If this premise was subsequently simplified on a superficial level by headlines, choice of images, pull-quotes, the Detroit parallel, etc, then that's the nature of journalism, and it's surely not all that difficult to see beyond this paraphernalia in order to see the nuances of the discussion contained in the actual text. Accusations of a "hatchet job" are laughable, and should be rejected out of hand by anybody with any sense.

The second reason I think for the critical angle taken in the piece is that criticism of the way recent political history has unfolded to the detriment of certain parts of the country are much-needed. If I knew the Detroit analogy would be used in the quite the way it was, I might have been more wary of deploying it in conversation with Andy. But then again, I think the parallel is pretty apt (though of course only partially so), because Detroit is the archetypal example of a post-industrial city/region that has suffered very badly over the last three decades - in a broadly similar way to the NE - from the neoliberal double whammy of deindustrialisation and massively reduced social spending.

I think that anyone who cares about the north-east is likely to feel a sense of anger about the fact that it has, inarguably, suffered in certain concrete statistical ways in the post-Thatcher period. Nitpicking about the finer points of the Detroit analogy seems to me pretty foolhardy in light of the essential connection between working-class Western cities that have been continually passed over in the race to liberate the market and bolster the wealth of the super-rich in the last three decades. (Moreover, looked at another way, as someone pointed out on Facebook, isn't being compared to Detroit - cradle of Motown, Eminem, MC5, and Iggy Pop - quite a bit better than being compared to Croydon?)

I have sympathy with some of the defensive reactions to the Guardian piece. Perhaps there's always something slightly questionable about being told by an outsider that the place you live in might have problems, and it's a natural human reaction to respond to such claims with proclamations of local pride and useful additions to the discussion that try to provide examples of north-eastern resilience and ingenuity in the face of social and economic marginalisation.

But I think a better way to react to the article than trumpeting local success stories and worrying hysterically about how negative PR might deter capitalist investment (which I'm going to go out on a limb here by suggesting might not necessarily be a plausible or even a worthwhile solution to the problems faced by the vast majority of north-easterners), is to use the example of the way the region has been shafted by the London-based institutions of the English Establishment over the last few years as fuel for political anger and constructive determination to change things. The former ultimately plays into the hands of the Tories, while the latter offers the hope of something much more valuable.

There are way more than 100 reasons why it's great up north, but right now offering a coherent, organised alternative to the south-east and its capitalist mega-city is not one of them.

It could be.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

LONDON RADICAL BOOK FAIR, 2014

This Saturday!

Myself and the incomparable Tamar Shlaim will be hosting the Zero stall 10-5.

Blog here. Come doon.


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

CREATIVE BLOG PROCESS TOUR

I'm not quite sure of the of the origins of this series, but I was flattered to be asked to contribute by esteemed Manchester blogger, novelist, and dapper man-about-town Greg Thorpe, by way of Emma Jane Unsworth I think (and also somehow Zoe Lambert, who've I've never met but who seems like a very nice lass judging by the writing on her blog).

Greg's answers are here. My nominees are sensational cultural critic/fiction writer Rhian E. Jones and music critic, poet, and all-round literary renaissance man Darran Anderson.
 
What am I working on?

At the moment I'm waiting for a couple of books to come out, and tying together some other ideas in the hope that they'll coalesce into a new project. There's an essay for Glasgow quarterly The Drouth about the Anglo-Scottish borders which will hopefully come out around the time of the independence referendum: a Yes vote is looking increasingly likely so I think we have to start thinking seriously now about what will happen to the North of England after Scottish secession. Aside from another, more academic essay about Ezra Pound's late poetry, I'm trying to work out how to corral my willfully disparate output into a single book about something or other. I've done two short-ish books now so something a bit bigger would be good. The poetry is ongoing too, and sporadic, as poetry tends to be - the latest accretion is here.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Following on from the last question, I think one of my biggest preoccupations is trying to work out what genre is best for saying the things that need to be said at this moment in time. I think it's quite a strange period for art in general and countercultural art in particular - lots of the old forms and genres are a bit lost, a bit enervated, and we're awaiting some sort of social development that will re-organise culture in a way that will give a bit more shape to the way we experience art collectively. At the moment the culturescape is a kind of Darwinian sludge pit, with lots of competing individuals and not much agreement about the underlying point of it all. I think that both the big strength and the big weakness of my writing is that it's not yet quite committed to one genre, but hopefully interesting because it's trying to think about how you might create a new genre that's responsive to the spirit of the age and anticipatory about the big societal bang - whatever it may be - that's just around the corner. Maybe something like lyric criticism or lyric non-fiction would be a good term for it. And I think with poetry, similarly: lyric realism or something like that.

Why do I write what I do?

Look, I'm just doing what I'm doing do and if anyone else likes it ... Only joking. I'm trying to say a handful of things that I think are important - I don't really have a problem with that fundamental bedrock. It's more the stuff about genre and form and positioning, and of course trying to persuade people to publish that's the hard part.

How does my writing process work?

I don't really have a set method, partly because, like most people, I live and work pretty precariously with very little routine or long-term job security. When I get a book project to work on it's quite liberating, and I try to work for five hours a day, morning to afternoon, five days a week, until the book's done, if I can. More than that and your concentration starts to slip. I tend to write in short, closely worked-on chunks of 500-700 words at a time and keep the editing at the end to a minimum. Poetry is obviously very different - short bursts followed by continual revisions, sometimes over many years, mainly tied up with the issues of publication and cultural positioning outlined above.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

FREUD, CHRIST, MARX & THE BROTHERS GALLAGHER: A 300-WORD PRAYER

With Easter approaching, here's a short, obliquely religious reading of Live Forever by Oasis (pruned and abstracted, as you might imagine, from the 33 1/3 book).

Whatever else Oasis were, there is no doubt that they embodied, in their early days, a kind of religious fervour, channelling a quasi-spiritual urge Sigmund Freud once characterised as oceanic consciousness (a “feeling … of being indissolubly bound up with the whole of the world outside of oneself”). Oasis’s great achievement was to advocate a spiritualised form of collectivism in a neoliberal society where such practices had been outlawed. Just ten years after the Miners’ Strike, Definitely Maybe suggested that maybe, just maybe, the spiritual core of working-class identity had not been purged completely by Thatcher and her radically individualist regime, that solidarity and towering hope could be put back at the centre of British pop culture by a heroic project of melodic forcefulness and blind belief. The tragedy, of course, was that Oasis quickly became paid-up members of the Thatcherite music industry establishment they had once reviled. But this makes their original mission statements all the more poignant – indeed, sometimes unbearably so.

Live Forever condensed Oasis’s radical working-class spiritualism into a raggedly glorious pop song about eternal life built around one of the most affecting lyrics in pop history: “maybe you’re the same as me / we see things they’ll never see / you and I are gonna live forever”. Buried in this fragment is a kind of Christian Marxism – it is easier, after all, for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. But perhaps more important than Live Forever’s impassioned belligerence is its belief in a visionary togetherness that can unite people when they realise, in a moment of leaping bewilderment, that they are unequivocally the same as each other. This special kind of grace has many epithets – comradeship, friendship, solidarity, brotherhood – but perhaps its most familiar name for religious believers and humanists alike is love.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

DEFINITELY MAYBE 33 1/3

Right folks, the campaign trail for this here Oasis book is starting to stammer into life, just as the 20th anniversary season approaches a point of scarcely creditable hysteria.

Apparently some North American readers are beginning to receive copies. Here's one pictured with a first edition of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov (thanks to the estimable David Soud for this):


(By the way, this is uncannily apt, as there's a quotation from the Brothers K on my epigraph page - if that seems incongruous, well, it's not, and I will tell you for why if you ask me.)

The media campaign is also up on the rails ...

Here's a comment piece published in the Guardian this weekend, which gives a hyper-condensed summary of the book's argument.

Meanwhile, a handful of speaking events have been scheduled, with more to follow. At the moment these are:

26 June, 2014, Rough Trade East, Brick Lane, London. Q&A with fellow 33 1/3 authors Pete Astor (Richard Hell's Blank Generation) and Darran Anderson (Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson).

14-17 August, 2014, Green Man Festival, Glanusk, Wales. Q&A with Agata Pyzik (author of the excellent Poor But Sexy). Details tbc.

1 October, 2014 (exact date tbc), Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London. Legacy of Britpop panel discussion featuring Owen Hatherley (author of Uncommon: An Essay on Pulp) and Rhian E. Jones (author of Clampdown: Pop-cultural Wars on Class and Gender).

More details as and when they come in. And if you'd like a review copy, or want to open high-level negotiations for an event/reading, do get in touch via the email address on the sidebar.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

SENSE AND SECTIONALITY


Reading Sterne's Sentimental Journey, I'm struck by how much its ethical guidebook for the haute bourgeoisie resembles our own RaceSexualityGender doxa. In both cases, morality is abstracted - and pseudo-systematised - through a series of jargon terms for the initiated. Whereas we have PoC, intersectionality, trigger warning, mansplaining, brocialism, the eighteenth century had sentiment, sensibility, nature, decorum, sympathy, etc.

In both cases, ethics becomes a kind of manneristic exercise to be perfected if one is to acquire maturity and attain the degree of cultivation required for social advancement (in the eighteenth century - the church, the court, the judiciary, the army; in our own time - academia, politics, the commentariat, and indeed any profession - ie. the vast majority - in which social liberalism is preached while the most punitive form of neoliberal economics is practiced).

The weakness of both systems is their largely performative aspect - using the appropriate terminology and adopting the correct standpoint today with regard to, say, sexuality, is precisely equivalent to eighteenth-century displays of sensibility (the gentleman doffing his cap or handing the young lady his handkerchief at exactly the right moment). The point is that these are what we might call courtly gestures - largely superficial acts of performance that attract applause and approbation in the short term and in the social foreground but do not extend substantially into the realm of actual social organisation. Indeed, in most cases, the former actively stands in for the latter.

Sunday, 23 March 2014