Christopher Gray: Leaving the 21st Century

May 27, 2009 at 1:55 am (Uncategorized)

Christopher Gray, who introduced many in the English speaking world to the Situationist International through his collection Leaving the Twentieth Century died May 14 in London.

Charles Radcliffe, the editor of the English journal Heatwave, and a contributing editor for the US IWW/Surrealist publication Rebel Worker, mentions in his appreciation of Gray that he met him around the time Rebel Worker 6 was published in June 1966. At that time Gray was already well travelled and well read, and four months later, Radcliffe and he were to join the Situationist International.

This partnership was not to last. Radcliffe left the SI the following year, and Gray was later expelled. Gray was involved with King Mob . Gray is also allegedly the person who came up with the idea for a totally unpleasant pop group . words that reached an art student who hung around the frgninges of the King mob milieu, Malcolm McClaren.

In 1974, Gray published his own translations of SI documents, Leaving the Twentieth Century. The book was criticized for its loose translations and  somewhat free opinions. Nevertheless, until Ken Knabb’s Situationist International Anthology in 1981, it was pretty much the only collection of SI texts in English. Of  late the text has become better received and was republished a few years ago.

Look, after so many, many pages, let’s try and be honest, just for a moment. I feel very fucked up myself, and I know it’s my responsibility. Yet whenever I go out on the streets my being somehow reels back appalled: these terrible faces, these machines, they are me too, I know; yet somehow that’s not my fault. Everyone’s life is a switch between changing oneself and changing the world. Surely they must somehow be the same thing and a dynamic balance is possible. I think the SI had this for a while , and later they lost it. I want to find it again – that quickening in oneself and in others, that sudden happiness and beauty. It could connect, could come again. Psychoanalysts and Trotskyists are both silly old men to the child. Real life is elsewhere.  

– Christopher Gray – Leaving the Twentieth Century.

NB: The original version of this post stated that Charles Radcliffe was expelled from the SI. The above version corrects this error.


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Music Notes May 2009

May 24, 2009 at 8:01 pm (Uncategorized)

The monthly round-up. (and nothing about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs this time!)

1. John Foxx

Ultravox? Midge Ure’s band right? Er, no. Earlier, earlier. Take one part Roxy Muisc, one part David Bowie and then throw in a dollop of Kraftwerk. And you get three great albums: Ultravox!, Ha, Ha Ha and Systems of Romance.

Then John Foxx quit because he thought the machine was going to be all. His 1980 album, Metamatic was all of that. Stark, cold, yet ingrossing. Music to read J.G. Ballard’s Crash to. The album has been reissed several time, once with extra tracks, another time with a whole new disc.  

Under his real name, Dennis Leigh, Foxx is a successful grapgic artist. The cover to Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh is his.  

Cool web site.

2 .The Last Poets – When the Revolution Comes

And you thought rap groups used the N word a lot.  I first heard of the Last Poets around 1980. I had bought the Pop Group’s album For  How Much Longer Can we Tolerate Mass Murder? and the Last Poets had contributed a song to it, ‘One out of Many.’ But it’s hard to find their stuff. I came across this CD which is actually their first two records complied after some months of looking. Man, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Sparse percussion and words. But those words punch. Racism, revolution, up against the wall. Forget Public Enemy, forget Rage Against the Machine. They mean it.  

3 Doctor Feelgood

Julian Temple has chosen ‘the best local group in the wolrd’ as the focus for his new film entitled Oil City Confidential. Anyone who thrilled to his films about the Sex Pistols and Joe Strummer will no doubt like this one too. Dr. Feelgood were one of the great pre-punk bands: Lee Brilleaux on gruff vocals and harmonica, Wilko Johnson on a savage guitar, and the rhythm section of John B Sparks and the Big Figure. There’s a story of a party in New York in 1975. In attendance were members of Blondie, Talking Heads and the Ramones, as well as Richard Hell and Johnny Thunders. The record played over and over again: The Feelgood’s debut Down by the Jetty. One of the things that amazed me about Temple’s other films was the amount of new footage he had assembled. can’t wait to see this one. Here’s an article from the Independent on the movie.

4 The Decemberists

This morning my wife asked me if I was going to listen to the Decemberists all the time until the Toronto concert? (the concert is in August).  Yup: all Decemberists, all the time. OK, maybe not, but when I discover something new, I often get a little obsessive about it. Working my way through the early Kill Rock Stars CD now.

5 The Kills – Keep on Your Mean Side

After the show earlier this month, I picked up the new edition of the Kills’ debut Keep on Your Mean Side. The CD has been repackaged withe Black Rooster EP. It’s the grimiest record the Kills have made, but that’s not a put down. Very nice. Driving guitar and chatter between the tracks. It has a very rough, live feel to it.  The EP features a track where Alisson Mosshart chews gum and asks someone (Hotel?) if he likes it. Also their version of Captain Beefheart’s Dropout Boogie.

6 The Crocodiles  – Summer of Hate

Don’t know too much about this band. From San Diego I think. But if you miss those early Jesus and Mary Chain or Spacemen 3 records, you might get into this.  No web site, but a myspace page.  The big buzz single, ‘Neon Jesus’ isn’t on the album though.

7 Meg White

Hey, I hear Meg White is was supposed to get married on May 24 to Jackson Smith, the son of poet performerPatti Smith  and ex-MC5 guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith. How cool is that? Congratulations.

8 Alabama 3

Yeah, I know, The Sopranos. It’s too bad when a big single overshadows everything a band does. A friend of mine fervently hoped the follow-up to Nevermind would suck so the band could then go back to being  good. Actually, the south London fusion of country rap and techno (to name just a few elements) is quite inspired. Have a listen on their site 

9 Three Imagionary Girls

Yes, I know I’m late on this one too. Since 2002, a part of Seattle’s indie rock scene. Billed as ‘Seattle’s sparkly indie-pop press.’ Lots of fun reviews and features.

10 TV Smith

After many years of crying, hoping and waiting (Sorry Buddy), I finally get to see TV Smith of the Adverts play in Toronto. Smith was the singer and songwriter for the Adverts, as well as TV Smith’s Explorers and as a solo artist as well. Smith is a criminally overlooked songwriter and performer. The show is June 29 at the Mod Club in Toronto. My only complain is that he’s supportfor Jay Reatard, rather than a headliner. Oh well, still very excited.

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You’re Gonna Miss Me

May 23, 2009 at 6:18 pm (Uncategorized)

Salvador Dali once reported said, ‘The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad. The relationship between madness and creativity is a complex and long debated one. Just read Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization with his discussion of the historical evolution of the idea of madness, the concept of the Holy Fool and the Ship of Fools. (and to cite a contemporary pop culture example, in Arkham Asylum: A very Serious House , the Joker observes that Batman belongs in the asylum with them).

In pop music too. Syd Barrett is only the most famous pop musician to suffer from mental illness. It’s a relationship which is often glamourized, but as Butthole Surfers front man Gibby Haynes points out in the Keven McAlester’s documentary You’re Gonna Miss me about Roky Erickson, it’s a bitch to be mentally ill.

Roky Erickson was born   Roger Kinnard Erickson on July 15, 1947. His first band was the Spades, but Erickson’s initial fame dates to the 13thFloor Elevators which he formed in 1965 along with Tommy Hall. The Elevators were arguably the world’s first psychedelic rock band.

But as great as the Elevators were (and the recent issuing of a ten CD box set confirms that), their drug consumption was even greater. To make matters worse, Erickson began to show signs of mental illness. Following an arrest for drug possession, Erickson pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was eventually sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally insane.

After his release, Erickson’snext three decades were a harrowing tale of squandered talent, mental illness and living condition. Despite recording some incredible records (the mid-70s work with Doug Sahm for example), Erickson was involved in an  increasingly bizarre series of incidents. He was arrested for mail theft after he collected mail from a neighbour who had moved, and pasted it to his wall. Erickson also had a declaration authorized in front of a judge indicating he was an alien.

McAlester’s film documents all of this, but focuses on Erickson’s brother’s attempt to gain guardianship of him from his mother. Erickson’s mother at one point, criticizes psychiatry one the basis of the lack of spirituality shown by the two brothers in the TV show Frazier.

Summer Erickson is successful, and Roky does improve. In a somewhat odd extra at the end of the film, Summer helps Roky to gain his own independence, but also professes a belief that there is no such thing as mental illness, essentially the position that their mother endorsed.

For anyone who is a fan of the 13th Floor Elevators or Roky Erickson, McAlester’s film is well worth watching. There is some amazing rare footage, and candid performances. But, it’s also a fairly harrowing tale of a giant talent largely unrecognized.

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Dating Guide for the Left-Wing Writer

May 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm (Uncategorized)

A participant on a discussion list about the world economy, posted this piece at the Dissident Voice  newsletter. Very good. I do agree with Dan L (mentioned below). Orwell had some odd political positions, but he was one hell of a writer.


Writing, as Virginia Woolf said, is like sex. You may try your hand at it, but to do it well takes flair. These days, however, left-wing authors get pitiful results. Let’s face it — the communist, the socialist, the anarchist and the plain radical aren’t the hottest material around, partly because they’ve messed up too many times, and partly because of the Che Guevara t-shirts.

In desperation I’ve put together this brief guide — just follow three basic steps to win back your reputation in style.

Step 1: Look for a Serious Relationship

You’re a mature and serious author, not a serial dater, so don’t be so self-centered that you forget why you write. Write only about things you really care about. If you do, you’ll want to say something true and valuable about them; if you don’t, you’ll turn everybody off.

Sorry, but you can’t cover up a poor performance by going on and on — a text that is long as well as dull is unbearable. Gary Provost said it — ‘writing gets more interesting as it acquires precision, not length.’

If your commitment slacks, you need to work harder. Do your research. The more you know about your topic, the more irresistible you’ll find it.

Step 2: Hold the Other Person Your Equal

Think of writing as a love triangle between author, topic and reader. This ménage will only work if you grant the reader the same dignity you owe the topic and yourself.

Be clear and direct, but don’t dumb yourself down. Share your insights, but don’t try to impress or intimidate. Avoid jargon. ‘The great enemy of clear language is insincerity,’ said George Orwell, so don’t cheat. When in doubt follow the Writer’s Golden Rule as laid down by Joseph Williams: ‘Write to others as you would have others write to you.’

Step 3: Prepare for Your Big Night Out

Now that you have respect for topic and reader, it’s time to groom your writing skills.

You wouldn’t show up on a date in an egg-stained sweater; then don’t neglect to check your facts, spelling, grammar and punctuation. Find a decent outline and polish every detail. Have you cleaned your nails and smoothed your transitions? Are you using too much make-up or not enough verbs? How enticing is your lead? How satisfying your ending?

If this final step terrifies you, do seek professional help – study the best in the trade, join a class and read as many how-to books as you can. Be humble enough to realize your job is not only to seduce but also to learn, and you’ll quickly gain confidence as well as wisdom.

I asked Dan Lazare, a writer with thirty-five years’ experience, how he does it. ‘It’s easy,’ he said. ‘I love good literature of all kinds. I do my best to emulate the clear, simple prose of people like Orwell. Yes, politically he’s all over the place, but as a stylist he’s top notch. I’ve a four-volume collection of his essays, letters and journalism that I’ve read cover to cover…’

Plus, you couldn’t picture Orwell in one of those t-shirts.


Fryxell, David A. Structure and Flow. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1996.

Orwell, George. George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. Boston: DR Godine, 2000.

Provost, Gary. Make Every Word Count: A Guide to Writing that Works – for Fiction and Nonfiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1980.

Strunk, William. The Elements of Style: With Revisions, an Introduction, and a Chapter on Writing by E.B. White. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.

Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1987.

Williams, Joseph M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. New York: Longman, 2000.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

Paula Cerni is an independent writer. 

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Montreal anarchist bookfair

May 12, 2009 at 11:30 pm (Uncategorized)

This weekend is the 10th annual Montreal anarchist bookfair. Always loads of fun. Check the link to get all the details.

Come by and say hello. I’ll be at the Red and Black Notes/Notes from Underground table.

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The Kills In Toronto

May 9, 2009 at 10:02 pm (Uncategorized)

I almost didn’t go to this show. I waited until almost the last minute to get my ticket, but I’m certainly glad I did. Last Thursday was one of those great moments, when your expectations collide with reality.

I arrived at the Phoenix concert Theatre around 8:30, just in time for the first opening act The Magic Wands.  I’ll admit some apprehension. The band’s myspace page offering sounded a bit poppy to my ears, and I wasn’t convinced about the name: was it Harry Potter or a dildo? Thankfully, live the  Nashville based duo were much more engaging. Although the vocals weren’t always audible, the band built momentum throughout the short set.

Now, I’ll admit I had never heard of The Horrors before the show. I checked around the net, and it looked good. The sound was good. Influences included the Sonics and the Fuzztones, and even if a couple of members looked as if there had been a part of Good Charlotte, it was OK. Just outside the venue, I overheard one attendee telling a friend, ‘I really want to  see the Horrors.’ So far so good.

The band looked great. Full of rock star moves, but unfortunately, the sound mix was so muddy, it made the band’s job ten times harder. The mix seems to have put all the instruments at the same level creating a sludge like sound in which the vocals were completely buried. Too bad, as the swirling sound did grow on me. they looked very nice though.   

And then the Kills. I don’t know if I’d say the Kills are my favourite band at the moment, but they’re certainly up there. They’ve put out three outstanding albums, Keep on Your Mean Side (now reissued to include the Black Rooster EP), No Wow, and Midnight Boom, and there’s also a rather cool I-Tunes sessions to be had.

The band performed on a sparse stage: Just Jamie Hince and Allison Mosshart, their amps, a drum machine, and a black backdrop. But from the opening number ‘U.R.A. Fever’ to the 14th and final number ‘Fried my Little Brains’, it was an intense experience.  OK, they didn’t play Rodeo Town, but perhaps I didn’t yell loudly enough. Anyway, anyone who plays Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’, the Velvets’ ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and Screaming Jay Hawkin’s ‘I Put a Spell in one evening ought to cut a little slack. 

Simply a great show.

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A final word on Dollhouse…for now

May 9, 2009 at 9:23 pm (Uncategorized)

According to unnamed sources at Fox, Dollhouse is ‘on the bubble.’ It other words, it might be renewed for a second season; but , it might not. After last night’s season finale ‘Omega,’ it seemed as if Joss Whedon and the other people at Dollhouse were expecting to continue, but just in case they crafted a final episode which allowed the series to end there.

‘Omega’ was the conclusion to last week’s ‘Alpha.’ And just in case of cancellation, Whedon tied up a lot of loose ends for us: Who is Alpha and just what happened to make him who his is? Well, it seems that mad scientists from Victor Frankenstein on  on down have failed to learn the lesson that when you want to play God, make sure the material you use is high grade. In Alpha’s case, he was a serial killer in the making who traded time with the Dollhouse for a shorter sentence. A lab accident later and Alpha’s 48 personalities convince him he is a higher being (literally Deus ex machina). He kidnaps Echo to create a similar being with all of her imprints. Echo is naturally sceptical after hearing Alpha’s plan along with his nietzschean overtones: Creating a high being along with a little German, what could go wrong?

But even as the episode moves into high gear with a very satisfying showdown between Alpha and Echo, the show falters. Alpha escapes across the rooftops giggling while Echo crawls to retrieve Caroline’s personality. It was a letdown.

The first few episodes of Dollhouse showed promise, but , in my opinion, it’s only as the story swings away from the assignment-of-the-week to the back story, and the continuing development of the Echo that the show becomes essential.  The ending seemed a step back.

But that’s not to say the show didn’t have its delights: Alan Tudyk’s scene stealing performance as Alpha was brilliant. Likewise Topher, who got the lion’s share of the memorable lines in this episode. It was perhapsinevitable too that Agent Ballard would come to work for the dollhouse (I though he would become Echo’s handler, but there’s still time), although exactly why (just to save Millie?) and the terms of his contract are not quite clear. Lastly, lovely Amy Acker’s character Dr. Sanders turns out to be a doll too, formerly the most popular active Whiskey (disfigured by Alpha as part of his evolving serial killer signature). And what does she mean when she asks Topher why he had to make her hate him so much? Ooh, who else is a doll?  

Enough to warrent a second season? I hope so.

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May 5, 2009 at 2:01 am (Uncategorized)

‘I knew I was making a mistake before I threw the first punch.

Hell, I knew I was making a mistake when I felt the impact of the gravel crunching under my shoes…

But there was no stopping by then. And I have to admit…

Sometimes making a mistake just feels so fucking good. ‘

Thus opens Ed Brubaker’s new five part super-hero noir series Incognito. Brubaker has written many mainstream comic titles, and he currently most famous as the man who killed Captain America, but it is his noir series Criminal which is his masterpiece.

Anyone familiar with Scorsese, the Soparnos or any of the mob dramas knows about the Witness Protection Program. In exchange for testimony, the state agrees to protect former criminals from their old life. Quite often though, it’s a boring life to which the con, like the junkie who thinks one last fix wont hurt, has trouble adjusting.  

Incognitodevelops that scenario, but with a twist. Zack works in the mail room in a office in a company in Noweheresville, USA. His job is boring, people don’t notice him, life sucks. Welcome to the real world and you’ve got Harvey Pekar’s job.  But once upon a time, Zack, along with his twin brother  Xander were the Overkill Brothers, a pair of super-powered criminals working for the Black Death, the leader of a gang of super-powered villains.

When the Black Death is captured, he arranges for certain members of his gang to be wiped out including the Overkill Brothers. Xander dies, Zack survives. In Witness Protection, Zack is forced to take drugs to cancel his abilities. But the others drugs he does to stay sane have an interesting side-effect: they cancel the ones the feds are giving him. By accident, Zack discovers his abilities are intact, and he begins to use them again.

Unfortunately, Zack’s low-key activities catch the interest of the feds, and his old friends in Black Death.  

Featuring corny or brilliantly named supers like Max Gazer (who can see everyone’s future except his own), Ava Destruction , Firemouth, DoctorLester and more, Incognito is an amazing ride. Each issue features a little essay on a pulp hero. So far, the series has profiled Doc Savage, the spider and of course the Shadow. Well worth hunting down. I’ve poured over each issue, just in case I missed some little detail. Find it, devour it.

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Happy May Day

May 1, 2009 at 8:45 pm (Uncategorized)

I listened to the Utah Phillips CD We Have Fed you All for a Thousand Years as my May Day event. The CD starts with the p0em, ‘The Boss.’

Praise Boss when morning work-bells chime
Praise him for bits of overtime
Praise him whose wars we love to fight
Praise him fat leech and parasite

Initially, that was going to be my May Day post, but then I decided that the emphasis was wrong. May Day isn’t about the boss; it’s about the workers. Our struggles, our sacrifice, our blood. From before Haymarket, and beyond.

And while I know that Bread and Roses is more often associated with International Women’s Day, the demands, not just bread, but quality of life too, are just as fitting. Happy May Day.

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!
As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.
As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.
As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.

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