Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Toonage #4

I'm currently plowing through a doorstep of an e-book that purports to be the definitive oral history of punk so, in light of that wee morsel of literary information, for Monday's Toonage I have to plump for  'Nobody's Scared', the Subway Sect's debut single from 1978:

One of the great lost punk bands from that era. And Mr Godard and assorted friends are still doing the business 35 years on. First class!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Maigret Goes Home by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1932)

It was a bank like any other in a small country town: a long oak counter, five clerks bent over desks. Maigret made for the section of the counter marked Current Accounts, and one of the clerks stood up to serve him.

Maigret wanted to inquire about the exact state of the Saint-Fiacres’ fortune, and, above all about any deposits or withdrawals in the last few weeks, or even the last few days, which might provide him with a clue.

But for a moment he said nothing, simply looked at the young man, who maintained a respectful attitude, showing no sign of impatience.

“Emile Gautier, I suppose?”

He had seen him go past twice on a motorcycle, but he had been unable to distinguish his features. What revealed the bank clerk’s identity to him was a striking resemblance to the steward of the château. Not so much a detailed resemblance as a resemblance to the same peasant origins: clear-cut features and big bones.

The same degree of evolution, more or less, revealed by skin rather better cared for than that of the farm workers, by intelligent eyes, and by the self-assurance of an “educated man.”

But Emile was not yet a real city person.

His hair, although covered with brilliantine, remained rebellious; it stood up in a point on top of his head. His cheeks were pink, with that well-scrubbed look of country yokels on Sunday morning.

“That is correct,” he said.

He was not at all flustered. Maigret was sure that he was a model employee, in whom his steward had complete trust, and who would soon obtain promotion.

His black suit was made to measure, but by a local tailor, in a serge that would never wear out. His father wore a celluloid collar, but he wore a soft collar, with a ready-tied tie.

“Do you know me?” Maigret asked.

“No. I suppose you are the police officer … ”

“I would like some information about the state of the Saint-Fiacre account.”

“That’s a simple matter. I am in charge of that account, as well as all the others.”

He was polite, well mannered. At school, he must have been the teachers’ favorite.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall by Luke Haines (William Heinemann Ltd 2009)

Colonel Klutz

December 1993. End-of-year round-ups in the music press. American bands still holding up – all polls feature Nirvana, Lemonheads, Belly and the Juliana Hatfield Three. Tindersticks by the Tindersticks is album of the year in Melody Maker. New Wave is at number 19. In the NME Writers' Top Fifty Albums of the Year Bjork's Debut is number one, and New Wave comes in at 18. In Select magazine New Wave is voted the seventh-best album of the year. And the best album of 1993 as voted for by the writers of Select: Giant Steps by the Boo Radleys. Suede lurk around the top three of most critics' polls, and Mr Blobby gets the Christmas number one in the singles chart.

The singer – who could now pass for an East End villain – has me pinned against the wall. After our, ahem, early-evening opening slot there had been an ominous knock on the dressing-room door.

'Can I have a word – outside?' says the singer, gesturing grimly towards me. Drunk and stoned post-gig, I follow obediently. I know what's coming. I orchestrated it so I'm looking forward to it. Quick as a flash the headline act pulls off some nifty pugilistic footwork and squares up to me. Jesus, what a knucklehead. I hadn't imagined his reaction to my onstage comments would be quite as physical. True, last night, with righteous anger and adrenalin raging through my veins I had been spoiling for a fight, but now I just wanted to be sacked – minus pasting.

'How much of a fucking prick are you gonna look when I kick the shit out of you onstage?' the singer asks unreasonably. It's a good question, and one that I assume is rhetorical. I drift off into a vision of myself being chased around the stage by a man in a gorilla suit, the gorilla's clumsy paws finally managing to grab me by the scruff of the neck before drop-kicking me high into the air to the whooping delight of the audience. Oh man, that would be entertainment.

'Well, answer me, you fucking cunt.' Not rhetorical then. I snap out of my reverie and slump back against the wall. I'm back in the playground about to take a hiding from a dim bully. There's nothing to do but let the scene play out. Shouldn't take long.

. . .

On paper it was unpromising. In real life it looked even worse. The Auteurs are booked to support Matt Johnson's band The The on a UK tour. All of this organised months in advance, before the recent setbacks, when life was a breeze and I would skip over lawns of freshly mown grass without a care in my head, laughing and doffing my hat to a cartoon bluebird as I bent down to pick a buttercup.

Tour with The The? Sure, if it keeps everyone happy and it sells some more records, why not? My levity lasts for about a day and a half. Reality dawns. The truth is, I don't care too much for Matt Johnson. He's some guy who sold a ton of records in the 80s, and now he's got some new dreck he's trying to flog. Coincidentally, some of the work on the new Auteurs album has been done at a recording studio owned by one Matt Johnson. The studio walls are covered in terrible paintings: some recognisable originals of The The album sleeves, others perhaps specially commissioned. The theme of the paintings seems to be ghastly men and ghastly women giving in to all manner of bodily functions with grim abandon. Oh, and imminent nuclear destruction. A clear indication of Johnson's faultless yet simplistic world view. Human race: awful. Never mind, will probably be extinguished in some sort of self-inflicted Armageddon. Told you so. The bastards deserved it. As I said, sold a lot of records in the 80s.

On no account attempt to tour the UK in December. Your limbs will become brittle with cold as you trundle up and down the country in a freezing tour bus and no one will come to your gigs as they are attending Christmas parties. Christmas parties in your hotel. Oh yes, the late-night bars of the Holiday Inn, Ibis and Radisson hotels – the après-gig drinking stations of the lower- to mid-level rock band. Every nook and cranny of these corporate flophouses taken over by drunken reps and violent drones from the frightening world of real honest work. Civvy Street – pissed up, embittered, trying to get over another empty year and on your fucking case.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dr. Yes by (Colin) Bateman (Headline 2010)

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

Spring was in the air, which was depressing enough, what with pollen, and bees, and bats, but my on/off girlfriend was also making my life miserable because of her pregnancy, which she continued to accuse me of being responsible for, despite repeatedly failing to produce DNA evidence. She whined and she moaned and she criticised. It was all part of a bizarre attempt to make me a better man. Meanwhile she seemed content to pile on the beef. She now had a small double chin, which she blamed on her conditions and I blamed on Maltesers. There was clearly no future for us. In other news, the great reading public of Belfast continued to embrace the internet for their purchases rather than No Alibis, this city's finest mystery bookshop, while my part-time criminal investigations, which might have been relied upon to provide a little light relief, had recently taken a sordid turn, leaving a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth, although some of that may have been Pot Noodle.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Nine Inches: Stories by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin's Press 2013)

Sixth period was endless. Vicki stood by the Smart Board, listening to herself drone on about the formula for calculating the volume of a cylinder, but all she could think about was Jessica Grasso, the heavy girl sitting near the back right corner of the room, watching her with a polite, seemingly neutral expression. It was almost as if Jessica grew larger with each passing moment, as if she ­were being inflated by some invisible pump, expanding like a parade float until she filled the entire room. 

She hates me, Vicki thought, and this knowledge was somehow both sickening and exciting at the same time. But you ­wouldn’t know it from looking at her.

Vicki hadn’t known it herself until last night, when she read what the girl had written about her on She had stumbled upon the post while conducting a routine self-­google, exercising a little due diligence so she didn’t get blindsided like her old friend and former colleague Anna Shamsky, a happily married mother of three who’d lost her job over some twenty-­year-­old topless photos that had appeared without her knowledge on a website called Memoirs-­of-­ The site was the brainchild of an ex-­boyfriend of hers — ­a guy she hadn’t thought about since college — ­who had decided in a fit of midlife bravado that the world needed to know a little bit about every woman he’d ever slept with”

(From 'Grade My Teacher'.) 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Maigret Mystified by Georges Simenon (Penguin Crime 1932)

The most disturbing thing, perhaps, was to see Monsieur Martin flung like an unconscious spinning-top into this labyrinth. He was still wearing gloves. His buff overcoat in itself implied a respectable and orderly existence. And his uneasy gaze was trying to settle somewhere, without success.

'I came to tell Roger . . .' he stammered.


Maigret looked him in the eyes, calmly and penetratingly, and he almost expected to see his interlocutor shrivel up with anguish.

'My wife suggested, you see, that it would be better if we should . . .'

'I understand!'

'Roger is very . . .'

'Very sensitive!' Maigret finished off. 'A highly-strung creature!'

The young man, who was now drinking his third glass of water, glared at him resentfully. He must have been about twenty-five, but his features were already worn, his eyelids withered.

He was still handsome, nevertheless, with the sort of good looks that some women find irresistible. His skin was smooth, and even his weary, somewhat disillusioned expression had a certain romantic quality.

'Tell me, Roger Couchet, did you often see your father?'

'From time to time!'

'Where?' And Maigret looked at him sternly.

'In his office . . . Or else at a restaurant . . . '

'When did you see him last?'

'I don't know . . . Some weeks ago . . . '

'And you asked him for money?'

'As usual!"

'In short, you sponged on him?'

'He was rich enough to . . . '

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Busconductor Hines by James Kelman (Phoenix 1984)

On the platform the two entertainers in red trousers, tartan waistcoats and red bowties, singing a song and accompanying themselves on accordion and rhythm guitar. At the next table Sandra was smiling at something being said by McCulloch's wife; and she smiled at Hines when she noticed him watching. He prised the lid off the tin. The waitress had arrived again, her face perspired; quickly she transferred the drinks from tray to table and collected the empties. Why don't you join the Foreign Legion, he grinned. Either she failed to hear or she ignored him. He reached for the water jug and added a measure to his whisky.

Reilly was talking. He was saying. No chance, they'll never give in without a fight. Look at that last bother we had over the rise; I mean after the autumn agreement it was supposed to be a formality, but was it? was it fuck?

Aye and we're still waiting for the backpay, said Colin.

What they'll do is toss it into us at Christmas week then every cunt'll think they've had a bonus!

Hines laughed with the others.

McCulloch shook his head at Stewart. You're just encouraging them.

Ah you cant escape politics.

Dead right Stewart, but it's no good telling this yin.

What you want to do is get a transfer down to our garage, said Hines, then you'll find out: bunch of fucking houdinis so they are.

They laughed again. Rab's right but, continued Reilly. It's murder polis. You've just got to mention the word strike and no cunt'll speak to you for six months.

No wonder. Union union union, muttered McCulloch.

See what I mean?

Aye well fuck sake if I started talking about the job yous mob'd soon be shooting me down in flames.

Hines frowned. That's actually true.

I know it's fucking true!

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Bloody Bolsheviks on your hands

There's something to this 1930s ad for Scot Tissue Towels:

If your eyesight is as bad as mine, the text reads:
“Try wiping your hands six days a week on harsh, cheap paper towels or awkward, unsanitary roller towels — and maybe you, too, would grumble. Towel service is just one of those small, but important courtesies — such as proper air and lighting — that help build up the goodwill of your employees. That’s why you’ll find clothlike Scot-Tissue Towels in the washrooms of large, well-run organizations such as R.C.A. Victor Co., Inc., National Lead Co. and Campbell Soup Co.”
Hat tip to 'RF' over at Facebook.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Street of No Return by David Goodis (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard 1954)

Bones frowned. Then he took a deep breath as though he were about to say something important. And then he said, "I wish we had another bottle."

"I wish to hell you'd shut up," the other man said. He was a short bulky bald man in his early forties and his name was Phillips. He had lived here on Skid Row for more than twenty years and had the red raw Tenderloin complexion that is unlike any other complexion and stamps the owner as strictly a flophouse resident.

"We gotta get a drink," Bones said "We gotta find a way to get a drink."

"I'm trying to find a way to keep you quiet," Phillips said. "Maybe if I hit you on the head you'll be quiet."

"That's an idea," Bones said seriously. "At least if you knock me out I'll be better off. I won't know how much I need a drink." He leaned forward to offer his head as a target. "Go on, Phillips, knock me out."

Phillips turned away from Bones and looked at the third man who sat there along the wall. Phillips said, "You do it, Whitey. You hit him."

"Whitey wouldn't do it," Bones said. "Whitey never hits anybody."

"You sure about that?" Phillips murmured. He saw that Whitey was not listening to the talk and he spoke to Bones as though Whitey weren't there.

"I'll give odds on it," Bones said "This man here wouldn't hurt a living thing. Not even a cat that scratched him."

"If a cat scratched me I'd wring its neck," Phillips said.

"That's you," Bones said "Whitey ain't made that way. Whitey's on the gentle side."

"Gentle?" Phillips had a thoughtful look in his eyes as he went on studying Whitey. Then he said, "Maybe gentle ain't the word. Maybe the word is timid."

Bones shrugged. "Whatever you want to call it. That's the way he is." He spoke to the third man who sat there, not saying anything. "Ain't that so, Whitey?"

Whitey nodded vaguely.

"He ain't even listening," Phillips said.

"What?" Whitey blinked a few times. He smiled mildly and said, "What are you talking about?"

"Nothing," Phillips said. "Let it drop."

Whitey shrugged. He aimed the mild smile at the empty bottle. The curved glass showed him a miniature of himself, a little man lost in the emptiness of a drained bottle. Aside from what he saw in the bottle he was actually on the small side, five feet even and weighing 145. His eyes were gray and he had the kind of face that doesn't attract much attention one way or another. The only unusual thing was his hair. He was thirty-three years old and his hair was snow white.

Another thing not really unusual along Skid Row, was his voice. He always spoke in a semiwhisper, sort of strained and sometimes cracked, as though he had a case of chronic bronchitis. At times when he spoke there was a look of pain in his eyes and it seemed that the effort of producing sound was hurting his throat. But whenever they asked him about it he said there was nothing wrong with his throat. They'd insist there was something wrong and then he'd smile and say that his throat was dry, his throat was very dry and he could use a drink. Some of them would check on that and treat him to a drink and maybe two or more shots. But no matter how many shots he had, he went on speaking in the strained painful whisper.

He'd arrived on Skid Row seven years ago, coming out of nowhere like all the other two-legged shadows. He made the weary stumbling entrance to take his place in the soup lines outside the missions and the slow aimless parade up and down River Street. With nothing in his pockets and nothing in his eyes he joined the unchartered society of the homeless and the hopeless, to flop on any old mattress and eat whatever food he could scrounge and wear what rags he could pick up here and there. But the primary thing was the drinking, and was always a problem because there was always more thirst than cash to purchase drinks. In that regard he was identical with the others, and when they saw he was no different from themselves, they didn't bother to ask questions. He was accepted and included and completely ignored. There was an unspoken agreement that they'd leave him alone, they'd pay no attention when he got drunk and stumbled and fell and passed out. It applied to any condition he was in; they'd definitely leave him alone. That was all he wanted and that was why he liked it here on Skid Row.

The three of them sat there with Bones and Phillips discussing the alcohol issue and Whitey staring at the empty bottle. It was getting on toward midnight and the wind from the river was colder now, and much meaner. On both sides of River Street the taprooms and hash houses were crowded. In the hash houses there was a demand for hot soup. In the taprooms they hollered for double shots and gulped them down and hollered again. The bartenders hollered back and told them to be patient, a man had only two hands. The sounds of drinkers and bartenders were reaching the ears of Bones and Phillips and they were getting irritated and sad and then irritated again.

"Listen to it," Bones said.

"I'm listening," Phillips said. But as he said it the sounds he heard were not coming from the taprooms. These were new and abrupt noises from several blocks away. It was a clamor of shouts and screams, glass breaking and things crashing and footsteps running.

"They're at it again," Bones said.

"The hell with them." Phillips waved wearily in the direction of the violent noises.

"They buried two last week," Bones said.

The sounds were coming in waves, getting higher and higher, and at the top of it there was someone screeching. It was on the order of the noise an animal would make while getting crushed by a steam roller.

"It gets worse every day," Bones said.

Phillips made another weary gesture.

Bones said, "They've been at it for more than a month. You'd think they'd have it stopped by this time."