Thursday 30 June 2016



this poem is expendable,
this poem is not the kind of thing
any right-thinking person
would ever admit to reading,
must we keep flinging this blasphemy
at our rock ‘n’ roll children?
I despise you and everything you stand for,
this poem has outlived its usefulness
this poem is obsolete and
should be humanely put down
in its own sad tawdry squalor,
this poem deserves the merciful
kiss of euthanasia by Dignitas,
to be mourned by widows in black lace
and argued over by outraged tabloids,
please do not read this poem
it will only offend you,
you may be driven to pluck out
your own eyeballs afterwards
in disgust and degradation

this poem is the missing child
found murdered in the canal,
this poem is the squaddie mutilated
by roadside ordnance in Afghanistan,
this poem seeks its own
exit from the eurozone
and dances on its own grave,
I don’t like this poem
or anyone who reads it,
this poem is just a stream of meaningless
images with no literary merit,
don’t waste your time reading it,
you’ve got better things to do
with your life than reading it,
this poem is expendable

this poem is a cartoon of the prophet,
this poem is the winning ticket
in the lottery of the damned,
this poem has downloaded
obscene images from dubious websites
and stored them on its hard-drive,
this poem uses cookies
and knows your most secret passwords,
this poem spits on politicians
and ridicules bishops,
this poem celebrates perverse sexuality
and seeks commercial sponsorship
from human-traffickers, drug cartels
high-street banks and other criminal networks,
this poem votes Republican and is then
discovered with a pre-op transsexual
prostitute in a Midwest motel,
this poem will not reclaim thousands of ££££s
of miss-sold PPI on your behalf,
this poem contains permitted contaminants
including cadmium, MSG, histamine,
rat faeces, trans-fats and insect-parts,
it may cause projectile vomiting
and allergic toxic-shock reactions,
this poem is being investigated for historic
abuse offences by operation yew tree,
this poem includes offensive language
and inappropriate images of
nudity, violence and drug-taking
please don’t ‘Like’ this poem on Facebook
or stream it on your iPad,
forgive me father, for this poem has sinned…

My new poetry book – ‘The Poet’s Deliberation On The State Of The Nation’ (Penniless Press) is now up there on Amazon. From the cover, specially-commissioned from Californian artist Karen Smithey who incorporates my gas-mask image into the art, it’s ninety+ pages of uncollected or unseen stuff, a lot of it previously only glimpsed on websites or Facebook pages such as Ron Androla’s ‘Pressure Press’ or Belinda Subraman’s ‘Gypsy Art Show’. One of the oldest – “Manifesto”, goes back to my 1983 Faber ‘Hard Lines’ flirtation, but dug out anew for the Wakefield Unity Hall ‘100 Poems By 100 Poets’ night from A Firm Of Poets, and with amends, is now uploaded to YouTube. “If The Pump Don’t Work, Don’t Vandalise The Handle” was on the ‘IT (International Times)’ site, while “The Old Man Who Falls Down” is unpublished, a weird-humour tale inflated from a real-life incident walking the towpath in Mirfield last year. I’ve tried for a vague tight-but-loose time-arc around the title-thematic, with hard-edges jostling squelchy chaotic-sex…. because it’s impossible to escape this planetary absurdism.

Tuesday 28 June 2016



An interview and overview of 
 William Burroughs and Psychic TV 
at the ‘Hacienda Club’, Manchester

This can be no neutral tract of reportage.

We’re crammed in on wraparound concrete stairwell. A bodyguard like a Mormon salesman, smart suit, laser-set hair. William Seward Burroughs shakes my hand, but avoids eye-contact. Is courteous and pleased to talk, but – distant, amputated, disconnected. Jeff Nuttall’s ‘nervous hypnotic man.’ Not quite registering anything. L’Homme Invisible stood like a dead ancestor. Philosopher-King designate of a private fantasy zone. Adrift like a muttered trance on a killing floor…

A single bronze-wood table, solid, lathe-turned legs. A ‘v’ of angled silver mikes zigzag in. Burroughs wasted, thin and expressionless, in green shirt, brown patterned tie, brown jacket, C&A white-‘n’-grey sectioned jumper, grey sox, an air of bored grey resignation. It’s unreal. A mid-Manchester Club vaulted tram-shed high, cat’s eyes and M-way bollards fencing the dance area into a traffic island, industrial severe and austere. Twin huge screens slurred with Factory Records direct relay video slicing in at table, mikes, aged Beat relic, heroin novelist, subversive fag nihilist. A humourless humourist. Slightly unhinged. Freeze-dried in a cerebral slum of spiritual numbness.

The camera is the eye of a cruising vulture at a slaughterhouse carnival.

There’s much ratty satin-‘n’-tat. Dressing down in Oxfam chic. Much movement and bored ritual display. It’s frayed at the edges and veered off into wrongness. Sure, there’s a token infiltration of Lit-freaks and word-junkies, but I’d guesstimate most here know Old Bull Lee largely from cryptic notes dropped obliquely in Bowie interviews. Item: ‘Cracked Actor’ (BBC2, 26 January 1975), film with cut-up lyrics in the backseat of a speeding Chevvy. And who here among this throng of pathetic, repressed, sexless, repressive, cultural beggars knows that Burroughs’ jaded influence has spread way beyond that point, like a nerveless discomforting disease to so irradiate Rock culture it goes undetected? The lead exhaust in the air you breathe? How does THAT stand cold and old, frail, vulnerable and antique, here in the epicentre of Now? What’s been did is history, and what is yet to do still indeterminate. Their attention drifts, a lethal dissection of metal and flesh without discrimination.

 I’m here with pirate publisher/fantasist Michael Butterworth, and his Japanese Lady. She speaks fractured English, so our describing Burroughs in ‘Ladybird Books’ keyword-manual vocabulary and elaborate semaphore mime isn’t easy. CP Lee hangs on from his ‘Lord Buckley’ review, while clusters of self-nominated celebs hang out beneath the screens. The Burroughs-(An)tony Balch cinema verité movie ‘Towers Open Fire’ (1964) swivels few heads, there’s spasmic jerky monochrome movement, panning across Tangiers Harbour 1962, syringes in wooden flesh, firearms, narcotics, retributive atrocity exhibitions of the several senses, flashes from the archives of Beat Hotel oblivion, Rue Git-Le-Coeur in Paris, the orgasm gun. The lens blurs in ferocious hand-held distortion, an iron brain spewing out random codes and scrambled components that escape into the two-dimensional auto-suggestion of flat celluloid. 

Released from film. He coughs. Sips some what-looks-like water. Shuffles fleshless legs and shuffles A4 typescripts. No introduction. No warmth. Just straight into ‘Place Of Dead Roads’ (1983) recited in a dead language void of inflection or emphasis. Autobiography? ‘he has a dark side to his character – and he loves it.’ Paranoia? ‘dead people are less frightening than live ones.’ Scripts and dark dark spliced sentence fragments that hit like knee-cappings from blurry speakers, soaking like acid corrosion, like Virus B-23. Malcolm Whitehead’s video bounces and out-focuses from green haze to alarming razor-cut clarity. Germ warfare with smallpox-impregnated Bibles. Equestrian telepathy, tales of Junkie cannibalism. A statement from the Immortality Control Board, ‘immortality is the only goal worth striving for… immortality is something you have to work and fight for, like everything else in this life and another. We want the whole tamalé! It’s ours and we’re going to take it.’

These are head dramas dense with narrative threads running vertiginously. Like the ghosts of unwritten novels. Blueprints to wrest control from the ‘Boards, Syndicates and Governments of the Earth’. From the conspiratorial systems of social, cultural, genetic and sexual coercion. “Shoot-Out At Dead-Ass Saloon” with the Wild Fruits. You must ‘identify with death’ he instructs, to rapt attention, providing open cranium image trax from ‘Ah Pook Is Here’ (1979) and ‘Port Of Saints’ (1973). New codes. New as in ‘Nova’. There’s laughter and jumpy applause at the more grotesquely blood-spattered gross-outs of the ‘Dr Benway’ tract (‘performing cut-rate abortions in subway toilets, operating with one hand, beating the rats offa my patient with the other’), the ‘Do-Rights’, and the ‘No Nukes Is Good Nukes’ punchline.

His words are a disease that attacks cell-by-cell. Already I’m jet-lagged from going nowhere. A zone of drones. But there’s no doubt he’s closing all kinds of synaptic connections in unprepared brain-centres with the mere black opacity of his presence, underscored by his understated delivery. He ends his Final Academy some twenty minutes later with “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” from ‘Nova Express’ (1964) – ‘cross the wounded galaxies we intersect, poison of dead sun in your brain slowly fading’, and he’s gone. Doubtful if he saw the audience, if their presence even registered. But against the odds he’s spun the weight of a four-decade mythology and come off with it intact. What’s been did, and what’s yet to be done.

New York poet John Giorno slots on. By contrast with Burroughs’ minimalist starkness, Giorno’s pugilistic projection tags loud Disco-mix tapes onto his powerful “We Got Here Yesterday, We’re Here Now, And I Can’t Wait To Leave Tomorrow”. It’s a massively charged incantation, and he’s a pioneer of this Rap delivery. It’s eager and aggressively anxious to please. Then Genesis P Orridge’s Psychic TV videos flash up. A skull test-card. A print-out reading ‘THOSE WHO DO NOT REMEMBER THE PAST ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT’. And a twenty-three minute chromatic montage running a repeating image-chain of technological violence, castration, napalm, ritual torture, fellatio and military chic. Burroughs’ lateral implications and junk-games ripped off the page onto naked celluloid. Words falling. Photo falling. Breakthru in grey rooms. Then and now. Then into now.

But I’m already worming backstage over cables and power-lines, crammed in on wraparound concrete stairwell, shaking Burroughs’ cool, smooth, pressureless hand. A guy who tokes so much impedimenta of legend that what do you say he hasn’t already been fed seventy-two times? He looks bored, humourless, sad, a look of borrowed flesh. And there’s something else, something vaguely unnervingly absurd about a tall angular sixty-eight-year-old St Louis gentleman hung out behind the soundstage of a Manchester Disco. He seems amiable, accessible, mellow even. It’s a peak experience for me, cool gone beyond boiling point, syllables cracking open and clogging in the back of my throat like a stuttering fan. Just two people I’ve encountered REALLY scared me. Bo Diddley was one. WSB is the other. Both times the barriers are on my side.

I insert an opening wedge gradually, suggest it must be gratifying to get such reactions from this charnel-house assembly. ‘Absolutely. They are a good audience’ he replies. His voice dry, a monotonous desiccation to it. His eyes avert, to pace across the copy of my magazine which I’ve passed to him.

The biggest responses came to the more obvious obscenities and the more visceral passages in the ‘routines’ I offer guardedly. Do you think you’re always appreciated for the right reasons?

‘I’m not prepared to say what makes people react. Or whether their reasons for reacting are right or wrong.’ But do YOU respond to their reactions when you’re performing? ‘I may make changes as I go along, according to how I feel an audience is reacting.’ He speaks of his ‘routines’ as ‘almost like a stand-up Comic act, when you analyse it. Short pieces. Usually comic. Very pointed.’ The humour of Lenny Bruce reconfigured by the Marquis De Sade and ghosted by Dr Goebbels. Everything viewed through anal-tinted spectacles and fed through that Burroughs Adding Machine computer brain, tapes shredded and spliced.

How do these audiences compare with… ‘with the last time I was here?’ Alright, sure. Let’s relate past to present. What’s been did and what’s yet to be done.

‘They are more alive this time,’ spake without conviction. But also – perhaps, on this trip – as distinct from his six-year London period, there IS less vehemence. Less perversity. On this trip he DOES seem to enjoy his fame-notoriety. And if what he says is anything more than platitude then that could be interesting. They once tagged him ‘Guru for the Flower-Power set’. An inaccuracy. Allen Ginsberg, yes. Jack Kerouac even, yes. Their vision has an optimistic naïveté segueing neatly onto that movement. His friends/lovers – yes, but William Burroughs was always too cynical and cold, too evil to catch that role. He’s more at home here with the dead 1980’s generation. He catches, but also challenges the cult of defeat, of disillusion. What he laid down in the past comes truer now than then.

There are elements of ‘Happening’ at the Hacienda, I suggest, but the atmosphere, the garb is wrong. ‘The way of dressing is a demonstration, and it is useful as such,’ delivered in a scabrous drawl.

‘I wasn’t involved in the sixties at all’ he concurs unbidden. ‘I was out of the country (out of the USA) most of the time. I really led a very secluded life. Apart from the Democratic Convention in Chicago, which I wrote about.’ He speaks low, now side-face, and in a rush so’s I miss some of it. He paces up and down in the confined concrete cell talking. Yes but I’ve read the ‘Exterminator!’ (1973) account of those trendy riots, mace, night sticks, busted heads, shattered glass, truncheons, ‘youths washing teargas out of their eyes in the fountain’ (“The Coming Of The Purple Better One” originally for ‘Esquire’, November 1968).

But before I get chance to cut in and get to specifics, he switches tack. ‘Do you live here?’

And I explain how I’ve travelled some sixty miles, and a literary lifetime, across the Pennines to reach this place. But a small price. I wouldn’t be writing the style I’m writing now were in not for ‘Naked Lunch’ (1959), ‘Soft Machine’ (1961, revised 1966), ‘Junky’ (aka ‘Junkie’, 1953), ‘The Ticket That Exploded’ (1962, revised 1967) et al. This CAN be no neutral tract of reportage.

He’s politely interested, but amputated. Restless with a nervy edge. The Mormon salesman smiles beatifically and benignly while glancing at his watch. A single frame in ‘Towers Open Fire’ shows a right hand with index finger missing. The hand – I’d been assured, was Burroughs’. The missing digit a self-inflicted mutilation, severed as token of a mild homosexual crush. I note his finger-count is complete, and the story collapses. But Burroughs attracts myth, and – aware of their potency, refuses to confirm or deny any of them.

Pity tour organiser Genesis P Orridge couldn’t make it tonight, I suggest. ‘No. He couldn’t be here. He’s ill with some skin infection or something. But there are the films…’

…And it’s a fascinating exercise to compare the films. The contrasts between – say, ‘Towers Open Fire’ and ‘Psychic TV’, the then and the now. The ‘sex magic’ that’s also present in Burroughs’ then-current novel ‘Cities Of The Red Night’ (1981). The shift in perception that occurs when Burroughs’ textual sex and death preoccupations get naked visualisation in – um, less subtle mediums. The differences…

‘But there are similarities. I feel there are common points too. They are statements of a kind.’ In Burroughs’ fiction the medium of print, celluloid, and vinyl get intermeshed. He experiments at length with tape-effects both in the ‘Ticket That Exploded’ novel, and on his Industrial-records LP ‘Nothing Here Now But The Recordings’ (1981, with Brion Gysin, Industrial IR0016) with P Orridge’s sleeve-scrawl, while his character Agent-23 gets literally sucked through the film barrier. ‘Most parts of a film are left in the cutting room, as in music or recording as well. But because a written text is visual does not necessarily mean that it’s cinematic.’

‘Naked Lunch’ itself was compiled in this cutting-room tape-editing fashion. ‘For every ten published pages there are fifty pages of notes to be edited, some on tape, and some filed.’ And the guy who once quoted ‘writing techniques are at least fifty years behind those of painting’ now deals in frames-per-second, enthuses about Malcolm Whitehead’s video from tonight, and encapsulates his words as often on vinyl as in print. Main soundtrack source for much of the Hacienda texts tends to be the new Burroughs-Laurie Anderson-John Giorno live ‘Red Night’ double album ‘You’re The Guy I Want To Share My Money With’ (1981, GPS, Giorno Poetry Systems), on which WSB sprawls and drawls across all of the third side. While vintage-1965 ESP-Disk ‘Call Me Burroughs’ has been reissued in cassette form by S Press of West Germany (and then by Rhino Word Beat in 1995). Each edition adds new dimensions and emphasis to his work, indicating new directions and consolidations for future explorations.

But aren’t there also dangers? He comments aside that the authorities ‘use sex as an addiction for control, just like alcohol and drugs.’ But extracted from the context of Burroughs’ dense prose and projected up stripped down into video visualisation, or marketed through the vinyl circus, isn’t there a danger that the images get subsumed into that control? He provides his own pre-emptive answer. ‘That’s true. Absolutely. It’s a very old tactic. The English are particularly good at that, at absorbing dissident elements. The authorities always try to put dissent into a category where they can deal with it more easily.’

Burroughs’ form of dissidence is more difficult to categorise. But before I can get down to analysis, at a signal, he turns to go. ‘Desolate thin blue overcoat, far to go, a sweet sadness in his eyes looking for a name.’ He hesitates and comes back again. Re-offers that same bone-ridged hand, but still not his eyes. Then he’s gone.

The smiling Mormon (James Grauerholz) blocks me. ‘Was that alright?’ voiced like a post-coital ritual. And even though circumstances fall far below optimum levels I can only confess that yes, it was way more than alright.

William Seward Burroughs was born 5 February 1914. His contribution to the Rock-Lit infrastructure is second to no other writer, although he claims no great love for it, preferring older music forms. He near-invented the literature of verbal assault, and now that some claim the power of language is exhausted and debased by repetition, he returns to show it not only stunningly alive, but more essential than ever before. Immortality now his only goal worth striving for. An earlier interviewer flung a line at him – ‘I am bound to the past’, from ‘Cities Of The Red Night’, and asked how it applies to William Burroughs in 1982.

He dismisses it. ‘It’s the statement of a character. Obviously I intend to continue…’


In a subsequent correspondence, James Grauerholz, Burroughs’ business manager and eventual literary executor, chides me in an amused way for characterizing him as a Mormon salesman



Original Review of: 
 ‘William Burroughs: 
The Final Academy Documents’ 
with Anthony Balch, Brion Gysin, John Giorno 
‘IKON FCL’, 86 Palatine Road, 
West Didsbury, Manchester 20 
1982, VHS & Betamax format – £25 + £1.50p&p 

Do not adjust your VCR. There’s a fault with reality… or something very much like it.

Video labels have gone indie. According to ‘Double-Vision’ supremo Paul Smith, funding a group’s first video-release can be cheaper than investing in its vinyl equivalent. ‘We expected a flood of independent videos in the wake of our ‘TV Wipeout’ compilation, like the independent record scene. But so far, it’s not materialised.’ Nevertheless – labels like Sheffield’s Double-Vision and Manchester’s Ikon now have catalogues expanding in both depth and quality. They trade in product that stands on technology’s leading edge, but with all their essential functions controlled from the comfort of your own chaise longue.

William Burroughs, for example, he’s now available in affordable consumer video. A name synonymous with the subterranean, in the advance guard of the avant-garde, can now be cued into your grey TV-eye for a mere £25. ‘The Final Academy Documents’ come in two neat cassettes box-jacketed in plush red vinyl. The picture quality is (deliberately) variable, going up through several warp-factors, but the picture-search time-shifting ability of rewind-FF just adds to the archival elements of this vintage sleezorama.

The first, and most riveting tape documents 1962-1963, from the earliest transcribed sixteen-mm film – “Ghosts At No.9”, through random footage and a ‘cut-up’ by Psychic TV, to the legendary Tony Balch collaboration “Towers Open Fire”. Once minority-appeal cult films, they can now come down through the medium of the ever-multiplying domestic screen, and they stand up well. The eerie sense of unreality transfers from big spools to compact video-cassette stunningly, with often cornea-peeling effect.

Viewing “Towers Open Fire” is akin to dipping your fingers in a piranha pool of itchy camerawork and smeary colours that has you jabbing the remote-control rewind stud to see each section twice, and then again. Even the street scenes – with Brion Gysin and others, are cut with trick-frame repetitions or focal overlays that reduce Burroughs’ face to cubist abstractions. But sometimes it’s just down to sheer alienness of perception that reinvents New York or Tangiers to a narcotic-frozen SF surrealism. From 1982 there’s live footage from the actual ‘Final Academy’ event itself, with Burroughs and John Giorno reading from the stage of the ‘Hacienda Club’, caught by the nifty lens of video-scratching pioneer Malcolm Whitehead.

Together, the package forms an un-putdownable reference work to the root of everything now considered (Some) Bizarre and experimental. Every right-thinking trendy, industrial-art poseur, every squat, bohemian pad and Beat cell should have one.

We now return control of your VCR…

Now issued by Cherry Red DVD in January 2009, this is my original 1982 review. I’ve made no attempt to amend or update the text

Saturday 25 June 2016



Album Review of: 
(May 2016, Rhino)

Hey Hey… it really is the Monkees! There have been a number of partial reunions across the years, with varying line-ups, some less convincing than others. This Fiftieth Anniversary project is not only the first to feature all four original members – the late Davy Jones present in the form of a salvaged tape of him singing Neil Diamond’s “Love To Love”, but the first full team effort with all the original writing partnerships too. Harry Nilsson, who wrote “Cuddly Toy” for the Monkees fourth album, writes the title song. Goffin-King, who wrote the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” single from the same ‘Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd’ (November 1967) album, are represented by a banjo-strewn “Wasn’t Born To Follow”, already done by the Byrds and Lemon Pipers but overdue for a retread. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who wrote most of the platinum-selling ‘The Monkees’ (October 1966) debut LP – including ‘The Monkees Theme’ itself, contribute “Whatever’s Right” with its familiar “Last Train To Clarksville” rush. Peter, Michael and Micky add one new song each. But is it possible to recapture all that stupidly-dumb fun which made them huge way back then? 

In 1966, with America’s complacent Pop-domination stunned by the British invasion, the Monkees were the ‘imaginary band’ concocted to be the industry’s high-profile fight-back. Today, assembling a Boy Band is part of the reality-TV machine. Back then, Screen Gems fortuitously formula mix-matched The Monkees following Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider’s September 1965 adverts in ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ and ‘Daily Variety’. Urban legend has it Paul Williams, Danny Hutton, Stephen Stills (true) and Charles Manson (untrue) failed audition, so – in some alternate universe, “For What It’s Worth” was a Monkees hit, before the group degenerated into a satanic death-cult.

Of course, in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (July 1964), John, Paul, George and Ringo play augmented docu-versions of themselves, escaping fan-mania, having comic encounters on the train journey, doing the TV show, but with written-in guests (Wilfred Brambell as Paul’s clean grandfather) and prepared repartee. Liverpudlian writer Alun Owen takes and amplifies their quip-heavy humour, even their speech-patterns, when George says ‘I’m quite prepared for that eventuality’ it’s perfectly pitched to his drawling pronunciation, while the visual-grammar of the “Can’t Buy Me Love” speeded-up Running Jumping Standing Still sequence borrows from Richard Lester’s earlier Peter Sellers project. The film is what they now term Scripted Reality. The Monkees sit-com takes the ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ template one step beyond.

Brian Epstein was scandalised when Joe Orton submitted a proposed Beatles script in which all four Fabs slept together in the same bed. The Monkees play an aspirant Pop group who live together in the same crazy pad, albeit in separate beds. And they drive the Monkeemobile – a modified Pontiac GTO pun on the Batmobile from Adam West and Burt Ward’s Dynamic Duo ‘Batmobile’ that was simultaneously ratings-chasing on ABC. We all knew that singing-drummer Micky Dolenz had been cocky orphan ‘Corky’, getting into scrapes as NBC’s ‘Circus Boy’. But his vocals give “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m A Believer” the bite of authenticity. We knew that beneath his trademark woolly hat, Michael Nesmith wrote “Different Drum” for the Stone Poneys – which is Linda Ronstadt, and hence pretty cool. And he would later contrive “Listen To The Band”, one of the Monkees underappreciated gems. We knew that beneath bassist Pete Tork’s gnomic utterances, was a proficient Greenwich Village Folkie.

And because they’re replicating the Mop-Top Beat Group format, the token English addition of Davy Jones makes logistical sense, despite his former TV role as Ena Sharples grandson on ‘Coronation Street’, as a kind of jazz-hands media-brat with an affection for Vaudeville dance-steps. Although Dolenz is always the best front-voice, Davy was nudged to the microphone because teenyboppers think he’s cute. He shakes tambourine and shakes his hair, so his fan-mag approval-rating determines he must sing on Neil Diamond’s “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” – in fact, he’s the only Monkee present on this, the group’s third consecutive American no.1 single. While the jokey dialogue play-in to their fourth and last US no.1, “Daydream Believer” – with Davy asking producer Chip Douglas ‘what number is this, Chip?’, the other Monkees chiming ‘seven-A’, and Davy protesting ‘alright, alright, there’s no need to get excited, man, just ‘cause I’m short, I know’ plays shamelessly to fans protective sympathy. Although later on Davy also sings “Valeri” – another of my favourite Monkees singles.

And though the half-hour TV-episodes are now unwatchably bad, the singles were perfect. With some justification it’s pointed out that “Last Train To Clarksville” charted before the TV shows first screened, but from session-player Louie Shelton’s opening ‘Paperback Writer’ Rickenbacker-jangly guitar-figures it was exquisitely-crafted by writers Boyce-and-Hart to do precisely that. This is where Power-Pop began for every Busted, McFly or Vamps. But seldom done better. And as mega-hit album followed album – ‘More Of The Monkees’ (January 1967), ‘Headquarters’ (May 1967) and ‘The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees’ (April 1968), they fight for greater control over their own careers.

I remember watching ‘The Monkees On Tour’, the closing episode of series one which documents the Phoenix stop-over on the group’s first live tour, Nesmith eulogising-to-camera ‘we’d like to thank everybody, for making it a great stay. We’d like to thank The Rolling Stones for being a great group. We’d like to thank The Mama’s and Papa’s for making it good. We’d like to thank Lovin’ Spoonful for making it happy, but most of all we’d like to thank the Beatles for starting it all up for us.’ By making this humble yet sincere tribute, he’s also deliberately tying the Monkees into the same continuity. Because – like Leonard Nimoy becoming a real Vulcan, it might have been this moment they’d outgrown the session musicians and Don Kirshner’s contractual cuteness to become a pretty good little band in their own right.

There were a number of partial reunions across the years, with varying line-ups, some less convincing than others. Now, opener “Good Times” immediately announces the intention of ‘dancing in the street again and music everywhere’, with Dolenz duetting with the original 1968 demo guide-vocal that Nilsson did with Mike Nesmith. ‘Instrumental’ quips Micky as the vocals break. Then, ‘with one bound’ XTC’s Andy Partridge’s “You Bring The Summer” incarnates the classic airy sixties-Pop ‘chips and dips and root-beer beach volley-ball ‘dum-diddly-dum-diddy-dum’ song-structure, the fade ornamented with reverse guitar and novelty vocal effects. The third bite by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, “She Makes Me Laugh” has the appealing jangle-guitar riff and harmonies that lend themselves to images of the silly video-style antics that were the speciality of their TV-shows.

Mike ‘Nes’ takes vocals for “Me And Magdalena”, changing the pace into a more reflective mood while ‘driving south through Monterey’, before Boyce & Hart’s guitar riff for “Whatever’s Right” pitches it straight back up again. Nesmith’s own “I Know What I Know” is a slow typically “Rio” wordy vagueness with mellotron strings. Adding diversity, or maybe losing focus, Peter Tork’s “Little Girl’ is both as sunny side-up and ‘shining and soft’ as his songs. Davy’s vocal “Love To Love” takes an unmistakably Neil Diamond melody, ‘revisited and completed in New Monkees sessions’. Then original Monkees producer-activist Jeff Barry uses a ‘Hi Heeled Sneakers’ spine for “Gotta Give It Time”. And if Noel Gallagher never got to write for the Fabs, he catches this last train to write “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” for the Faux Four instead, edging into ‘Head’ (the 1968 movie) territory with Paul Weller and some phased-swoosh effects, tempo-change inserts and false ending.

Micky’s writing contribution – with producer Adam Schlesinger, the party-atmosphere album closer “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time)” has that ‘if you can remember the sixties you weren’t there’ vibe, with Dolenz protesting ‘I dropped my sticks’ in the fade-out groove. If Micky does sound occasionally patchy here, and maybe the album total doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts, of course it’s not possible to recapture all the stupidly-dumb fun which made them huge way back then, but they get about as close as we could reasonably hope for. As on the spin-off single, receiving heavy Radio Two airplay, when ‘you come around, you bring the summer.’ Hey Hey… they’re no longer the Young Generation, but they still got something to say.

Friday 24 June 2016



Book Review of: 
(Granada paperback – 1978 - ISBN 0-586-05211-9) 

Pohl and Kornbluth are the Simon & Garfunkel of science fiction. Except that they’re not, for unlike Paul and Art, writers Frederik and Cyril were much more an equal-opportunities act. According to the introduction of ‘Wolfbane’ ‘each one wrote sections, starting where the other left off, and through long experience they developed an almost telepathic awareness of each other’s intention.’ If that is so, it’s impossible to find the joins, their collaboration is so seamless.

Wolfsbane is the common name for the genus aconitum, a highly poisonous plant also known as Devil’s helmet or Monkshood. As well as being used for euthanasia in ancient Greece, it has long-attributed supernatural powers related to lycanthropy, right through to its walk-on appearance in Harry Potter. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly the relevance of this to that, plant to fiction.

‘Wolfbane’ itself is a strange novel. It first appeared as a two-part serial in ‘Galaxy Science Fiction’ magazine, with a Wallace ‘Wally’ Wood illustration of the story taking the cover of the October 1957 issue (Vol.14 no.6). It then emerged as a 140-page novel from Ballantine in September 1959, with jacket by Richard Powers. Although considerably revised and rewritten by Pohl for a June 1986 edition from Baen, my own copy is the 1967 Penguin edition, which is the version I’m using.

It consists of eighteen short bite-size chapters that take the reader deep into the year 2203, two-hundred years after a rogue wandering world – a ‘runaway planet’, has ripped the Earth from its orbit and dragged it beyond the outer rim of the solar system, out past Pluto into interstellar space. Leaving a ‘decimated, fractionated, reduced to what is in comparison a bare handful of chilled, stunned survivors’ beneath the loom of the ‘terrifying sky’. Earth’s new binary ignites the Moon into a series of Suns on a five-year re-creation cycle to illuminate the worlds. It has also set an impenetrable slaggy midnight-blue tetrahedron squatting on the planed-off peak of Everest, for no obvious purpose. And there are insubstantial ‘eyes’ that condense out of the air, and watch people…

Unlike co-writer Pohl, Cyril M Kornbluth is probably best remembered now for their collaborations, rather than for his own extensive body of work. Which is unfortunate. Born 23 July 1923 in the Inwood neighbourhood of Manhattan he was still in his teens, and a member of the ‘Futurians’ fan-group, when his stories began appearing in the likes of Pohl’s ‘Super Science Stories’ (“King Cole Of Pluto” as by ‘SD Gottesman’, May 1940), and ‘Stirring Science Stories’ (“The Rocket Of 1955” in April 1941). The latter, reprinted from an even earlier fanzine appearance, takes a characteristically clear-eyed unromantic view of the Space Race as an opportunity for Confidence tricksters to milk a gullible public, with sideswipes at Einstein and jingoistic patriotism. ‘Quicksilver bright… he was also a sardonic soul’ recalls Pohl (in his introduction to ‘The Best Of CM Kornbluth’, Ballantine Book, 1976). ‘The comedy present in almost everything he wrote relates to the essential hypocrisies and foolishnesses of mankind.’

Interrupted by war service as an infantryman – commended for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge, he returned to the SF field while acting as bureau chief for a Chicago news-wire service, contributing more maturely-crafted description-dodging stories across a spread of magazines, using such aliases as ‘Cecil Corwin’, ‘Kenneth Falconer’ or ‘Cyril Judd’ (for his collaborations with Judith Merril). Among his finest are “The Little Black Bag” (‘Astounding SF’ July 1950) – later adapted by Rod Serling for his TV ‘Night Gallery’, and its converse “The Marching Morons” (‘Galaxy SF’ April 1951). His perfectly-polished tales are seldom of the straightforward starships and BEM’s variety, ‘he seldom gave us an alien being as a character’ muses Pohl. His tales frequently work on a number of levels, suggesting artful satire and social observation, showing what Charles Platt calls ‘a sophisticated awareness of the dark undercurrents in life and society.’ A sensibility that makes his work seem just as relevant now as it was then. Maybe it was he who devised ‘Wolfbane’s calories-to-population equation, as a satiric poke at the then-contemporary consumer-culture in which ‘they manufacture an enormous automobile to carry one housewife half-a-mile for the purchase of one lipstick.’

In “Shark Ship” (aka “Reap The Dark Tide”, ‘Vanguard SF no.1’, June 1958) an ocean-going culture is forced to return to land, finding an America depopulated as a result of a fetishistic mass racial suicide orgy of violence. Yet, although it’s framed as a group-jeopardy adventure, there’s a deliberately exaggerated unreality about it, an arch suggestion that it’s also an ironic playful game. His “Two Dooms” (‘Venture SF’ July 1958) references Oppenheimer’s Los Alamos project and peyote ‘God Food’, while anticipating Philip K Dick as his protagonist Edward Royland inadvertently visits an alternate USA controlled by Nazi and Japanese regimes. Yet he uses the theme to pose a powerful argument in favour of using the atomic bomb to end World War II. As Pohl recalls, ‘just before his death, Cyril finished two major pieces of work. One was the final revision of our last novel in collaboration, ‘Wolfbane’. The other was this. Cyril’s name for the story was “The Doomsman”.

The opening chapter of ‘Wolfbane’ is deliberately stilted and formal, reflecting highly ritualised social codes designed to conserve energy and minimise heat-loss in the frigid conditions of the marooned Earth – ‘the ancient gait of fifteen-hundred calories per day, not one of which could be squandered,’ as they hesitantly await the forty-sixth ‘re-creation of the Sun’. In the tight community of Wheeling in what was once West Virginia, the narrative contrasts Citizen Roget Germyn’s ‘necessary calm’ of prescribed gestures and thought disciplines – the sheep who accept, with Glenn Tropile’s more anarchic behaviour as a ‘Son of the Wolf’, who is ‘reckless of grace’.

By chapter two Tropile takes advantage of Citizen Boyne running ‘Amuck’, to raid the bakers. But is seen, captured, and sentenced to Death by Lumbar Puncture, a highly unpleasant spinal-tap from which his fluids will contribute to the community’s nutritional intake. Whereas Boyne accepts his execution with a citizen’s calm resignation, Tropile uses his devious Wolf-nature to contrive escape from the ‘House Of The Five Regulations’. There’s no violence or contrived Pulp-heroics, no-one gets shot. Although Tropile reaches Princetown, a community of Wolves, and Boyne is ‘harvested’, their destinies remain entwined.

SF has conjured up a wealth of alien species. Few as enigmatic as the pyramids of Earth’s binary. In a perfectly-turned phrase that describes their attitude to their captured and confused human culture, the narrator asks ‘who bothers to take a census of the cells in a hang-nail?’ The Earth is merely a ‘wrist-watch’ components-mine, from which individuals are ‘translated’ through a form of meditative self-hypnosis, to be spliced by neurosurgery into a machine, as part of a huger machine. Tropile’s citizen-part tendency allows his ‘translation’. After which he wakes to finds he has sixteen hands. He’s become part of a circuit, an eightfold mind in an octopule unit, a sort of eight-branched snowflake, each branch a joined human body. A shared consciousness ‘in eight-part counterpoint rather than in human melodic lines,’ operating on Rashevsky’s Number principle. ‘The Pyramids were not interested in him as an entity capable of will and conception. They used only the raw capacity of the human brain and its preceptors.’ Again, in the perfectly-turned analogy, to them, ‘it is not desirable that your bedroom wall switch have a mind of its own; if you turn the lights on, you want them on.’

But Tropile’s Wolf-nature overcomes his passive acceptance and allows him awareness, makes the snowflake – of which he’s become a part, to become the virus in the program, corrupting and multiplying the sequences and functions in marvellously detailed ways. As the poison in the machine. The Wolfbane. ‘They had done the binary planet a century’s worth of damage in a matter of hours; they were being excellent mice.’ As the perambulating snowflake explores the limits of the planet, and its history in the derelict Polar Library, learning that the Pyramids – or ‘Omniverters’, are machine-intelligences or A.I.’s who destroyed their own creators, the Pyramids themselves become aware of the threat in their midst and begin their retaliation in scenes that anticipate the machine-assault on the subterranean city in the later ‘Matrix’ films.

As the Simon & Garfunkel of SF, Pohl and Kornbluth’s relationship was not always harmonious, not always flawless. ‘Cyril and I were good friends, but there was too much ego in both of our cosmoses for the relationship to be always tranquil. We had our differences.’ They ‘often borrowed from each other’s heads, both for collaboration and once in a while for our own individual work,’ but there were fall-outs too. Kornbluth’s own first solo novel ‘Takeoff’ (1952, and later serialised in ‘New Worlds’) was written in one long seventy-two sleepless hour session, but only after joint discussions, comments and replotting ‘late night in my kitchen’. It was followed by ‘The Syndic’ (1953) – in which mobsters have taken over America, and ‘Not This August’ (1955, later revised by Pohl) a ‘Red Dawn’ telling of a 1950s Soviet invasion and the underground American fight-back.

But it was to be his collaborations with Frederik Pohl that were to become his most celebrated books, ‘The Space Merchants’ (1953, aka ‘Gravy Planet’) – the classic satire on multinational corporations, consumerism and advertising, and ‘Gladiator-At-Law’ (1955) – which extends the field into corporate law and legal machinations, plus ‘Search The Sky’ (1954). ‘Working with Cyril… was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life’ Pohl relates in his autobiography ‘The Way The Future Was’ (Gollancz, 1979). ‘I always did all the dealing with editors and publishers… Cyril and I had a working treaty. After the rough draft of the book was done, he was out of it. I always did the final revisions (except on the last novel we did together, ‘Wolfbane’).

Kornbluth’s war service – ‘lugging a .50-calibre machine gun around the Ardennes Forest, had left him with a ‘constant ringing in the ears’ plus what Pohl terms a ‘strained heart’, hypertension which contributes to his premature death on 21 March 1958, aged just 34. He shovelled snow from his driveway, ran to catch a train, had a heart attack on the station platform, and died on the spot. This means that their unique ‘Wolfbane’ was published posthumously. Although there’s occasional satiric humour, it is a novel unlike any other. With a detailed structural density defying most of the usual rules of fiction, it nevertheless becomes an absorbing trip into genuine strangeness. Typically, there’s no neat resolution to the novel either, with the Pyramids deactivated, and the characters settling back into their familiar life-tracks, Tropile – the ‘sick crazy-sounding messiah’, finds no solace in his triumph. Instead, he yearns for more than the worlds can offer him, for the expanded consciousness of the Snowflake, and the glimpses of eternity he’d seen through alien eyes.

Pohl loyally nurtured their legacy, completing a number of unfinished stories, including “The Meeting” which earned a Hugo Award, and of course continued as an innovative writer-activist until his own death in 2 September 2013, aged 93. What Kornbluth could have achieved remains open to conjecture, although Pohl suggests his accelerating genre-dissolving momentum would have taken him out of SF restrictions entirely into mainstream work. He’d already written historical fiction, and a curious exploitational lesbian pulp novel as ‘Jordan Park’ with Pohl (‘Sorority House’ in 1956).

Meanwhile, we have ‘Wolfbane’.