Found in the crease between pages 67 and 68 of the London A-Z...
Proudly declaring itself "#49 in the top 100 albums of the 80s as voted by Rolling Stone" is a reissue of The Feelies' scratchy masterpiece 'Crazy Rhythms', in which skinny white boys with glasses unearth a glittering strain of suburban voodoo.
The Feelies were never big, but their thing ran deep. Novelist Rick Moody claimed 'em as an inspiration. You get it in the endlessly re-iterative patterns of his early prose. The band in 'Garden State' are based on The Feelies. (That would be the novel; let's not get into the disappointingly limp movie. Ang Lee's adaptation of Moody's novel The Ice Storm took suburban America's temperature much more accurately. I expect. I have never actually been to Nixon-era Connecticut.)
The Feelies have a cameo, sort of, in Moody's short 'Wilkie Fahnstock, The Boxed Set', which tells the story of a heroically undistinguished loser through a series of mix tapes. It's a neat conceit; BS Johnson would have dug it. And there's more: director Jonathan Demme dropped The Feelies into Something Wild. (Storefront Hitchcock is Demme's great music movie, imho. This despite the fact that the idea of Robin Hitchcock is frequently better than the reality.)
The Feelies also provided the soundtrack to the 1982 movie Smithereens: a decent, punk-inspired, no-budget indie featuring Richard Hell of Television. Here's what I wrote about that, followed by two stabs at 'The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness'.
A 19-year-old punk scams and scrounges her way through the edge of the New York music scene in Desperately Seeking Susan director Susan Seidelman's 1982 debut featuring Richard Hell
In its own slightly shambolic way, Smithereens helped push open the door for a new wave of American indie filmmakers. Susan Seidelman's slice of street life was the first US indie to compete at Cannes, and it told a familiar story - frustrated, fame-hungry outsider tries to make the scene in the city - from the perspective not of an ambitious male hustler, but a belligerent girl-against-the-world in plastic shades and dirty Converse who, as Richard Hell sang on 'Blank Generation', was probably asking to be let out before she was born.
Wren is the Jersey punkette who races into the East Village with a snatched pair of sunglasses, then plasters the subway system with photocopied pictures of herself bearing the question 'Who is this?' Paul is the homely but homeless boy from Montana who makes the mistake of trying to find out the answer. Wren shacks up with Paul in his van for a while, but it's rising musician Eric (former Television guitarist and Voidoids frontman Hell) on whom Wren's greedy gaze eventually settles.
Wren hustles for a place in Eric's life, but he proves as flaky and self-obsessed as she is. Eventually he promises to take her to LA, where he's working on his next album. It never happens and finally Wren walks out of the film as chaotically as she entered it, now trailing a wake of (self) destruction.
It took Seidelman two years to make Smithereens, production stopping and starting according to the availability of cash and crew. Like Jim Jarmusch's debut Permanent Vacation - another micro-budget, post-film school project about a hip outsider running after a dream - the film catches a moment in both the culture and the life of New York, which is presented here as a warren of seedy streets, cold water flats and dingy clubs. Allan Moyle's 1980 punk drama Times Square unfolded in a similar version of the city, but Smithereens has none of that film's optimism or romance to sweeten the deal.
In telling the story from Wren's point of view, Seidelman gives her film an oblique feminist slant; Smithereens' anti-heroine has the same thrift store chic, the twin instinct for self-promotion and preservation and the superbad attitude of Madonna in Seidelman's next film, Desperately Seeking Susan.
So bad, in fact, is Wren's attitude that eventually it becomes difficult to sustain any sympathy for her at all. That may be because while Seidelman's second film was the glossy magazine version, Smithereens - in which story and characters chase each other through the East Village in ever-decreasing circles of futility - is the real deal. The clue is in the title: Smithereens is about ducking as the shards of a broken teenage dream ricochet around the warehouse walls.
Seidelman would go on to work on 'Sex And The City' (she directed the pilot episode) and co-writer Ron Nyswaner (whose work here is far from memorable) was responsible for the Oscar-winning Philadelphia. Their subsequent work suggests a commercial instinct rarely apparent here, but the film is propelled by its own jittery energy, a convincingly seedy atmosphere, and by a great soundtrack of skittering post-punk by New York's own The Feelies.
Any excuse for this. Television doctors confirm: the snake will die first.
The bass odyssey continues. In his excellent book 'Memoirs of A Geezer', our favourite mystic-dub-master Jah Wobble describes this mix (by Paul 'Groucho' Smykle) of King Sunny Ade's Ja Fub Mi as "the best dub record that I have ever heard... It is truly outstanding."
Fighting talk, there, from a man who knows what's what. At least, I think it's this mix he's referring to. Either way, it's a tasty seven minutes and thirteen seconds.
Below that, 'How Much Are They' - Wobble's dub-inspired collaboration with Can's Holger Czukay, dedicated to Ian Curtis. The title - and the vocal sample - came from a couple of girls who wondered into the studio. Wobble told them he liked to wire his body up to the instruments in order to achieve an incredible high. Then he offered to sell the instruments to the girls. 'How much are they?' they asked.
Patrick Keiller's film Robinson In Ruins is out. So here, pulled from the dusty archive, are pieces on the first two films in this loose trilogy, London and Robinson in Space. I've not seen it yet, but Robinson In Ruins seems to be about the countryside - that strange, unenclosed area occasionally visible from trains and motorways. Keiller has always sought to map an England inaccessible to most of us. In the coutryside he may have breached the final frontier.
These days, Keiller's style of writing and filmmaking might qualify as 'hauntological' - a teasingly vague term adopted from Derrida and applied to many things which suggest nostalgia for a non-existent or imagined past, yet which contain some kernel of current resonance. It's a theory which stretches through film and into music, particularly those spectral strains of dub-inspired echo-delica where the past, the present and the future literally occur simultaneously. Fanciful critics love hauntology, precisely because it's so evocative yet pleasingly vague.
In the book 'Lights Out For The Territory', mentioned somewhere below, hauntolgy's overlord Iain Sinclair tracks the character of 'Robinson' - or more accurately, a variety of strangely similar characters all bearing that name - back to the US poet Weldon Kees, who may have had Robinson Crusoe in mind. Kees was the Ritchie Manic of Modernist verse. He vanished in San Fransisco in 1955, his car found empty near the Golden Gate Bridge. He was never seen again.
Kees' version of Robinson was an enigmatic, melancholic urbanite drifting restlessly through fashionable Manhattan, untouched, unattached and yet mysteriously troubled by things he could never quite name.
Chris Petit, director of Radio On and Content, in which the past exists forever in the form of information technology, also named his 1993 novel 'Robinson'. His version of the character is a far more sinister and manipulative figure than Kees' or Keiller's, though Petit prefaces the novel with a quote from the poet. These lines from the poem 'Robinson' catch some of Kees' bitter flavour:
All day the phone rings. It could be Robinson
Calling. It never rings when he is here.
Patrick Keiller's visionary essay about the secret life and history of the capital, narrated by Paul Scofield "It is a journey to the end of the world," says the narrator (Scofield) of Patrick Keiller's extraordinary psychogeographical urban odyssey. "Robinson is on the verge of a breakthrough in his investigations. He says I should come before it is too late."
The mysterious Robinson, like Keiller's nameless narrator, remains unseen throughout, but among the many things London is about - history, literature, politics, art - are the dreams and ghosts of the city's vanished artists, what the writer Iain Sinclair, whose book 'Lights Out For The Territory' explores a similar landscape, calls 'the reforgotten'.
Like Sinclair's book, Keiller's film is a scholarly attempt to map London according to new coordinates: as the capital of a country whose crisis stretches back decades; as a machine that crushes all those unable to accept its isolating orthodoxies; as a quasi-mystical landscape haunted by the work of artists who attempted to define the city, but ended up redefined by it themselves.
Scofield's narrator has arrived back in London after seven years at sea as the photographer on a cruise ship. It's 1992 and the endless transition to which the city is subject is at an acute phase. The IRA is operating a ferocious bombing campaign. The Conservative government, into its fourth term now, also holds the city to ransom, punishing Londoners with homelessness and poor transport.
Robinson, the narrator reveals, is a former lover, now employed part-time as a teacher in Barking, and wholly immersed in his project to "solve the problem of London". Robinson, says the narrator, "believed that if he looked hard enough he could cause the surface of the city to reveal to him the molecular basis of his own sorrowful events, and in this way he hoped to see into the future." Their method will be "psychic landscaping, drifting and free association". If the city has a purpose, if art has ever been relevant, if there's a history that wasn't written by the victors, Robinson intends to unearth it.
The pair undertake a series of pilgrimages along some of the city's less travelled paths during which Robinson outlines his obsession with the fin-de-siècle French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine. The election comes and the Tories win again. The pair visit the site of a massive IRA bomb blast in the City where Keiller's camera settles on the face of a blown-out building, its blinds fluttering through the windows like streamers. The pair embark on a lengthy trip from Stockwell to Stoke Newington, where Edgar Allan Poe went to school, then investigate the northwest suburbs, where Robinson hopes to glimpse an artistic rebirth inspired by retail parks and supermarket cafes. It's not there.
The pair are avowed "materialists" yet there's a fascinatingly esoteric aspect to Robinson's studies that leads him to declare Canary Wharf and the Telecom Tower as monuments to Rimbaud, and to pronounce Cannon Street and the number 15 bus route "sacred". In Fleet Street he has a vision of civic renewal: the City reclaimed by artists and turned into a bohemian playground. But his optimism is short-lived. The English, he decides, are fundamentally suspicious of cosmopolitan life - too obscure, too private, too foreign.
Keiller, whose background is in architecture and art, offers a vision of London as broad and subjective as the city itself, his wry erudition occupying a fertile area where prose blossoms into poetry. His camera tends to be static and scenes are formally framed, but the film is illuminated by a dry and self-effacing wit: Baudelaire's definition of Romanticism is accompanied by the image of a vast Ronald McDonald gazing out across the golden arches; a Wembley high street becomes the apotheosis of city life; if Robinson were a poet, he declares, he'd spend his days hanging around Brent Cross shopping centre.
It's both tantalising and immensely satisfying that Robinson himself should remain invisible. For Keiller, the character is a nexus for hidden connections. Chris Marker's similarly visionary Sans Soleil is probably London's closest relative, and the range of references here is vast: Turner and Reynolds, Sherlock Holmes and Robinson Crusoe (one of several clues to the character's provenance), Montaigne and HG Wells. Keiller weaves their impressions of the city into his own so deftly that time, as Robinson had hoped, is transcended. As London's detritus is shipped out towards a landfill in Essex, Rimbaud's 'Bridges' sequence from 'Les Illuminations' takes on a sudden, contemporary resonance.
For a film so dedicated to recording the city's secret history, it's perhaps right that Robinson should conclude London's true identity "is in its absence": that its residents are too atomised and anxious to form a properly functioning civic body. But Keiller's film is all about penetrating the everyday, reshaping the familiar so that it takes on an exotic new form. The film's capacity to change the way you think about London is endless, and in that respect it more than fulfils Keiller's aim: to alter the city's own psychic geography, just as the subjects of Robinson's great obsession did before him.
It's a film of intense richness and great wit, loaded with ideas about literature, politics, history, art, and the strange impulses that underscore urban life. The greatest film about the city, and arguably any city, ever made.
Robinson In Space (1997)
Paul Scofield narrates Patrick Keiller's sequel to London. The enigmatic protagonist undertakes a series of journeys across England and attempts to gauge the state of the nation Patrick Keiller's 1994 film London was a visionary essay in which the unseen Robinson and his unnamed companion - the Holmes and Watson of psychogeography - set out to solve "the problem of London". Robinson In Space, Keiller's 1997 sequel, applies the same freeform yet scholarly approach to the rest of the country, once more employing history, literature, politics and art as tools to unpick the lock to England's heart.
It's 1995, and after some time apart from Robinson, the narrator (Scofield) heads out to Reading where his old travelling companion, after a period of depression, is both better and worse. He is still subject to strange obsessions and sudden maladies, but having published the results of his investigation into London, he has been commissioned by an advertising agency to consider the "problem of England".
What follows are seven journeys through the "interior" of the country, based on Daniel Defoe's 1726 'Tour Through The Whole Island Of Great Britain', and inspired, in an inversion of the first film's cryptic methodology, by Oscar Wilde's assertion that "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."
They find not, as you might imagine, a country in decline, but one in a state of muddled transition: the traditional manufacturing sector's workforce is much reduced, replaced by retail parks, distribution centres, empty container ports and unapproachable business parks. While passing through this anonymous and yet strikingly shot landscape the pair unearth strange connections between economics, espionage and the military, some literal, some symbolic, some esoteric - such as Robinson's obsession with buckminsterfullerenes, cosmic molecules found by scientists on Earth-bound meteorites and for which, Robinson tells the narrator, hundreds of patents are pending.
Whereas London looked back to the capital's hidden Romantic history, Robinson In Space is much more engaged with the contemporary landscape, and Keiller's writing, though still rich and lyrical, is more explicitly journalistic. The pair's investigations, however, turn up odd emblems of Englishness: Robert Burton, whose 'The Anatomy Of Melancholy' expresses Robinson's own disillusion; Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science, who committed suicide in 1954 after enforced hormone treatment following his arrest for homosexuality.
Things take a turn for the unexpected when Robinson himself disappears off for sex with a stranger he's contacted on the internet, then purchases some handcuffs and visits the UK's largest manufacturers of the latex sheeting used in rubber fetish gear. Near Preston "Robinson starts to act strangely", first declaring that he intends to steal a piece of equipment from a Saudi Arabian Tornado jet, then explaining his conviction that life evolved on Earth after the arrival of those mysterious buckminsterfullerenes from space.
This is an intensely personal yet sharp and learned analysis of England's new and, at times, arcane economic landscape, the writing and images marked by Keiller's keen, dry wit. Anyone in search of an intellectual road trip might care to follow the pair's peregrinations up and down the county, but for those for whom that option isn't open, watching the film and following up the allusions is, in its own way, the start of an equally satisfying imaginary journey.
...in the case of Beasely Street."
John Cooper Clarke on the state of the nation's distress, 1980.
Dnhdesign's cheerfully inspired video collage put together from free Google images.
The extraordinary thing about producer and bass warrior Bill Laswell - one of the extraordinary things anyway - is that back in the days when we bought CDs in shops, you'd have no idea where to look for his stuff: jazz, dub, experimental, ambient, metal. You get the idea from his Sacred Dub podcasts, all of which are available here. Every single one is an exercise in bone-shacking bass - similar in intent to Burial's eerie, dubbed-down soundscapes but with the added bonus of mad jazz, beaten-up hip-hop and squally noise.
This is Laswell's remix of the epically spacious Beatundercontrol, who played at the Malicious Damage night out last night. I couldn't go, so let's try and recreate the experience together.